Your Transfiguration

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Kings 2:1-12 New International Version

Elijah Taken Up to Heaven

2 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

4 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.

5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.

7 Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

It is Well!

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5th Sunday in Lent
2 Kings 4:18-37

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus,

What causes you stress? There are these studies that rate different events in life as to the amount of stress that they cause a person. You can probably guess what some of the top ones are: divorce, incarceration, major injury or illness, job change, move, but what is always in the top five if not number one? The death of a spouse or the death of a close family member or loved one.  I think we’d all agree that the tragic loss of life is one of, if not the most, stressful thing that we face in life. And it makes sense. You can recover from an injury or illness or relationship break, adapt to a new job, but there’s a certain finality that comes with death. God tells us that the reason we face death is because of sin. The wages of sin is death.

Today in our Lenten journey to our Savior’s cross we’re looking at this opposition of life vs. death. How does our Savior give us the calmness, give us the peace to be able to say even in the face of death, “It is well”?

What we have in our text this morning is an incredible account of something that happened during the ministry of the prophet Elisha. Elisha served in the Northern Kingdom of Israel and as a whole, the Northern Kingdom was a spiritual mess, full of idol worship and many had abandoned trust in the true God. But we see a refreshing difference here. As a prophet, Elisha would travel around to different places sharing the Word of God. One of the places that he went to was this place called Shunem, an area in the northern kingdom. While he was there a certain lady, in fact, she’s not even named, just called the “Shunammite” who was wealthy served Elisha meals when he came. Then, she decided to build an addition on her house so that Elisha would have a private room to stay in when he came to Shunem. In return Elisha wanted to do something for her since she had been so gracious to him. But she pretty much told him, “I’m content. I don’t need anything.” Then Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, said, “Well, she has no son and her husband is old.” In this time and in this culture not having a son was about the worst thing a woman could experience. First of all, that meant that the father’s name would die out and all their inheritance would have to go to someone else. It also meant that the woman had no social security. A son was the main way for a woman to be taken care of after her husband passed away and we’re told that her husband was old. If she was young, she faced many years of being a lone widow. So, Elisha promised her in a year she would have a son. To which she responded, “Don’t mislead your servant, O man of God!” She didn’t want to get her hopes up, she had been down this road many times, she had resolved herself to the fact that she would never have a son. But, in a year, she had a son, just like Elisha had promised.

That’s where our text picks up. One day her son, as a young boy, was out with his father in the harvest field when he complained, “My head, my head!” He was suffering probably from a heat stroke. His father has him carried in to his mother. His mother held him till noon and tragically the boy died. Now, imagine being in that situation. What would you have done? I know I would have been distraught, probably panicked, frantically trying to do something or just despaired. What does she do? She goes upstairs, lays the boy not on his own bed, but on the bed of the man of God, shuts the door and goes out. She calls her husband to send a servant and a donkey so she could go to the man of God. He’s confused, why go to the man of God now? She responds by saying, “It’s all right.” The KJV translates it “It shall be well.” The Hebrew simply says, “Peace.”

She sets off on the some 20 mile journey to Mt. Carmel where Elisha was. He sees her in the distance, knows something’s wrong, tells Gehazi to run to meet her and ask, “Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?” She responds, “Everything is all right.” The KJV says, “It is well.” The Hebrew simply says, “Peace.” She pretty much blows Gehazi off and arrives where Elisha was, falls down at his feet grasping them. Gehazi comes over clearly upset and is about to push her away. He’s the Elisha’s executive assistant, who does she think she is coming in to Elisha without an appointment! But Elisha stops him. Then she says, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?

Elisha then knows something has happened to her son. He sends Gehazi with his staff to run to the child and lay his staff on the boy’s face. Now why would Elisha do this? He thinks time is of the essence and Gehazi is young so he sends him to run the 20 miles to her home and since he’s a prophet he has a staff so he sends his staff. It’s like the doctor sending his stethoscope to the sick person. The woman, however, refuses to leave Elisha so Elisha heads out toward her home. Gehazi gets there tries what Elisha told him to do, but nothing. Finally, Elisha arrives, goes to the room where the boy’s body was lying, shuts the door. The first thing he does is pray to the Lord. Then he stretched himself out on top of the boy and the boy’s body grew warm. He got up, walked around some more, then got down again on the bed and stretched himself over the boy – mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. Elisha called for his mother and said, “Take your son.” She came in, fell at his feet, bowed down, took her son and went out.

Who’s the hero of faith in this account? It’s not the husband, he’s hardly involved. It’s not Gehazi, he gets in the way. It’s not really even Elisha, he’s not really sure what to do! It’s the woman, it’s the mother. How does she do what she does? She does some incredible things here. Her little boy, her son, her only son dies. Can you imagine? Some of you can. What does she do? She lays him on the prophet’s bed, tells no one, not even her husband, and just sets out to God’s prophet. She lets nothing get in her way. When people ask her if everything is all right, what does she say? “It is well.” How can she do this? How can she say, “It’s all right, it’s well”? She just lost her only child! She’s clearly hurting and troubled, but she’s also well, she also has peace. How is that possible? How can she be in pain and yet at peace?

I think we can all agree on the number one stressor in life, the number one thing that causes grief and pain in life is the loss of a loved one. But what do we learn from this woman of faith? How did she have such poise and peace? What did she do? She didn’t ignore it, didn’t pretend she wasn’t hurting, nor turn to self-medication. Where did she go? She went to God. She went to the one individual who spoke for God, God’s representative, God’s prophet. In other words, she clung to her Lord for help. Elisha was just the messenger, the ambassador for God. She knew the only source of help in life and in death is the Lord. In the face of bitter pain, agony, and grief she clings to the Lord.

And what did the Lord do for her? She received her dead son back. Why? To show that God has the power over death. Now, you might think, that’s nice- she got her son back, I didn’t. I don’t know about you, but it’s a nightmare of mine to think about losing my wife or losing one of my children. Death is an unwelcome guest in every home, in every life. It haunts, it hurts, it gives you stress and anxiety. Why so? It shows us the stark reality of our sin- the wages of sin is death. So what do you do?  You can turn to any number of things to try to deal with the stress – anger, bitterness, self-medication, your own remedy. But those will never give peace. Rather, like this mother, cling to your Lord and Savior.

What’s interesting is what Elisha does. Apparently, the Lord instructed him to do this bizarre thing and climb on top of the boy mouth to mouth, eye to eye, hand to hand. God’s prophet, His messenger completely covers the dead boy with himself and the boy is raised to life. I don’t know why Elisha did this, but I do know that someone has done this to you. You see, Jesus has covered your dead body mouth to mouth, eye to eye, hand to hand. How so? We’re told, “God made him who had no sin (Jesus) to be sin for us.” In other words, God transferred the punishment of your sin and my sin to Jesus on the cross, he covered you taking your punishment on Himself. If you’re in a fox hole with a friend and someone throws in a grenade you have two options. You can jump out of the hole and save yourself killing your friend or you can jump on your friend, covering your friend and absorbing the shrapnel, losing your life but sparing your friend. That’s what Jesus did on the cross for you and me. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” He’s completely covered you with His holy and perfect life. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus because all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” Through baptism God brought you from spiritual death to spiritual life and now sees you covered with Jesus. Through faith you were brought to new spiritual life, eternal life. That means you’re eternal! Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life those who believes in me will live even though they die.

How can we face life and death with the poise and the peace like this Shunamite woman? It’s clinging in faith to our God who has the power over life and death. Yes, this woman received her son back, but that was only temporary. Far more importantly because of Jesus one day in heaven we will receive all our believing loved ones back just like this woman. Jesus will take your hand and say, “Here, take your son, your daughter, your loved one.”

We have an illustration of this peace right before us. In a few moments were about to sing a hymn. It was written by a man named Horatio Spafford. He was an American lawyer who lost everything in the great Chicago fire of 1871. Two years later he sent his wife Anna and their four daughters on a ship across the Atlantic to England for a trip. The ship hit another ship and began to sink. As it was sinking Anna gathered her four daughters and they began praying. The ship went under and everyone was scattered and the four little girls drowned. Anna was found unconscious by a rescue ship floating. They rescued her and took her to England. She wired her husband back two words: saved alone. When Horatio was on the ship over to England to bring his wife home he began to write this hymn. Notice what he says, just what the woman said, “It is well.” How could he write about peace and being well with such grief? Look at what the hymn is focused on: Jesus. My sin not in part but the whole is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.

That’s where peace is found. When grief strikes- cling to the Lord Jesus and know I’m not being punished, look at the cross God punished all my sins there. When I think God doesn’t care – look at the cross – there God forgave all my sins. Look at the cross where God says, “See I’ve lost a child too, not involuntarily, but voluntarily, for your eternal salvation.” It’s there where in the midst of grief and sadness you can say, with this Shunamite woman, “It is well.” Amen.

Self-Deprecate!

4th Sunday of Advent
2 Kings 20:12-19

Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom us the captive Israel! Amen. In the name of Jesus, who humbled himself to save us, dear friends in Christ,

How many of you here today have bought or made gifts for at least one other person for Christmas? How many of you anticipate (whether you want to or not) receiving at least one gift from someone this Christmas? How many of you understand why you’re giving or receiving gifts at Christmas time? What’s the history behind giving gifts? To a secular person who doesn’t believe God’s Word, gift giving at Christmastime supposedly originated with a pagan Roman festival called Saturnalia that was celebrated at the end of December. People would party, become intoxicated, and exchange cheap gifts as a means to secure a prosperous new year. A secular person will claim that Christians hijacked this festival and Christianized it and adopted the act of gift giving so people wouldn’t become upset. As a Christian, however, you can trace gift giving back further than that to the time of the Magi who came with gifts to honor Jesus. But even more importantly at Christmastime we may exchange gifts as a reminder to each other of the greatest gift of all: our Savior.

Well, long before the Roman festival of Saturnalia, before the Magi, even before Jesus’ birth, we’re told here about Hezekiah who received many, many gifts in his life. We’re continuing in our preparation for Christmas with one final week: Self-deprecate.  Our text probably happened actually before the Assyrian’s had invaded Judah and were about to lay siege to Jerusalem (which we looked at last week). Some messengers from Babylon came to Judah to give a gift to Hezekiah. Why would the king of Babylon do this? Well, Babylon is struggling under their enemy, the ruthless Assyrian kingdom. And when the king of Babylon hears that Hezekiah isn’t going to cater to Assyria- this is good news. Any rebellion against Assyria will lighten the pressure that he feels against him from Assyria. So sending messengers was kind of his way to encourage this little insignificant kinglet Hezekiah without making any formal agreement, alliance or commitment.

But what does this mean from Hezekiah’s point of view? This is huge! This is an opportunity that doesn’t come around every day! Little Judah is being favored by the Babylonians! He’s thrilled! If he can curry the favor of the Babylonians, they can be a very useful ally against Assyria or any other major threat. But he’s forgetting about who’s an infinitely greater ally than any nation: God.

So these messengers from Babylon come. Hezekiah has a prime opportunity here. He has right before him a ready made opportunity to glorify God, magnify God’s greatness and glory and grace to these pagan Babylonians. But what does he do? That’s not what he does. Instead he succumbs to glorifying himself and trying to prove to the Babylonians what a worthy partner he could be if they wanted to team up together. And so we get this picture of Hezekiah scuttling and scurrying around showing off his little treasures and the Babylonians are giving their polite approving nod when really they had seen treasures way greater, way bigger in their own nation. It’d be like me trying to show off the glory of my bank account or possessions to millionaire who would politely nod and say, “Very nice.”

Well, what happens next? Isaiah the prophet shows up. Notice that Hezekiah didn’t call upon Isaiah, invite him, summon him. Isaiah just shows up. That must have been somewhat disconcerting to the kings of Israel. At any moment a prophet from God might just show up to call you to account and rebuke you for some sin in the Lord’s name. (How would you like to have your pastor just all of a sudden show up on your doorstep after you commit some sin? J) Isaiah questions Hezekiah: what did those men say? Where did they come from? What did you show them? And how does Hezekiah respond? He knows that he can’t get out of this so all he can do is try to make it look like he was being hospitable. And you can almost sense some defiance from Hezekiah: “They saw everything in my palace…there is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.”

Then Isaiah announces the sad news that one day all the treasure is going to be hauled off to Babylon and Hezekiah’s own descendants are going to be servants to another foreign king.

Hezekiah had a prime opportunity to glorify God, but he didn’t. Instead he was prideful and tried to glorify himself. He wanted to look good to other people. He treasured the gifts and ignored the Giver. Do we do that? Does God give us prime opportunities to glorify him but we take the opportunity to try to glorify ourselves? Do we take credit for what we’ve achieved in life, what we have in life, where we’ve come in life, or does the glory go to the Lord?

Now there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the things you have, enjoying the talents you have, enjoying your life achievements. Provided one thing: provided you acknowledge who has given them all to you, who they all really come from and that’s the Lord. A proud person will take credit for anything they achieve or get in life, a humble person will see it all as a gift from God. Pride is claiming to be the author of that which is really a gift.

But perhaps there’s a more subtle and deeper way that pride infects us. It’s the entire way that you view life. You can either view your life as worse than you deserve or you can view life as better than you deserve. You can go through life with this deep sense of owedness. You can go through life thinking that you deserve it, you’re owed everything. But here’s what will happen: you’ll be miserable. Because either when good things happen to you- you’ll react by saying, “It’s about time, this should have happened sooner.” You won’t even be able to enjoy good times. Or, when bad things happen to you, you’ll react by saying, “I don’t deserve this, this shouldn’t be happening to me, what did I do to deserve this?”

But you know what that is? At the heart that’s exactly the problem Hezekiah had- it’s pride. It’s like sitting around the Christmas tree expecting to get presents, expecting to get certain presents, and being disappointed with your gifts. But, you see, for this whole gift giving thing to work, a gift, by it’s very nature is undeserved, unearned, a surprise.

The reality is, your whole life is a gift. Hezekiah’s life, your life, my life is way, way, way better than what we deserve. What do we deserve? We deserve God’s wrath, His abandonment, we deserve eternal pain and suffering, we deserve punishment for our sins, we deserve eternal death in hell. But that’s not what any of us get! We get a life way, way, way better than what we deserve and way more!

Hezekiah did a foolish, prideful, arrogant thing here. But that’s not to negate the fact that Hezekiah was a good and godly king. But he wasn’t The King. We need someone better than Hezekiah. We need someone who has perfect humility, who did not come to be served but to serve and give his life up as a ransom for many, we need a King who had perfect trust in God and perfectly glorified God. And that’s exactly the gift that God has given to each of us in that tiny baby placed in the manger. In that baby Jesus is the ultimate gift- God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son. With the gift of Jesus, you have life, you have peace, you have joy, you have eternity, you have heaven!

And if that’s all that God gifted us, we’d have more than enough reasons to praise and glorify him for all eternity. But that’s not it! “If God did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Everything you have in life is way better than you deserve, everything you have in life- your spouse, your children, your job, your wealth, your health, your stuff- it’s all a gracious gift from God. It’s all dessert! My wife likes to cook and she’s good at it and I like to eat. But there are times, like on my birthday, where she made this breakfast dessert that my mom used to make growing up- I had no idea that she had made and she surprised me with it- it was great. But that’s exactly what everything you have in life is- it’s all dessert, it’s all a surprise, it’s all undeserved.

Because of that baby in the manger all of life is a gift. It’s all a gift! It’s all mercy! It’s all a surprise! It’s all dessert! And that’s what it means to self-deprecate, to be a gospel humble person: to see everything as a gift from God and glorify Him for it. Because of that baby in a manger you have the greatest gift of all: forgiveness, eternal life – everything else is icing on the cake, frosting, dessert, a gift. So prepare this final week of Advent by being humble, seeing your whole life as a gift. Amen.

See God’s Generosity all around You!

10th Sunday after Pentecost

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, “It was right in front of your nose the whole time!”  Ever heard those words?  A while back a friend of mine had given me a significant gift card as a gift.  I had taken it out of the card and thought I had given it to my wife for safe keeping, maybe in her desk or purse or the safe.  Well one evening I began to think about that gift card and asked my wife what she did with it.  However, she said she had never seen the card.  So after an hour or two of frantic searching everywhere, after trying to convince my wife that she was the one who had lost it, we started giving up.  Then poor Lucas, our 13 month old, maybe it was Lucas, maybe he found it and it managed to end up in the recycling which I had just taken to the transfer station that day.  So as a last ditch effort I headed out to the transfer station to dig through the dumpster and as I drove up, there was the truck just driving away with the dumpster.  Uggh!  So then stressed and depressed I decided to re-check a briefcase that I had already looked in and lo and behold, right in front of my eyes, and in a pocket right in front of my nose, there it was!  So much grief and stress could have been spared, if only I had remembered or had only opened my eyes!  I’m guessing you’ve all had similar experiences!  J

Well the same is true for so many things in our lives.  How much grief and stress and heartache and worry and anxiousness in our lives could be spared, if only we opened our eyes a bit.  If only we’d look at the reality around us every day.  If only we’d open our eyes and remember God’s generosity to us.

Our text for this morning gives us a lesson on God’s great generosity in providing for His people.  It’s an account that isn’t very well known.  In fact, I’m wondering if I asked for a show of hands not too many would remember this account from Bible history.  Well, about 850 years before Jesus did the awesome miracle of feeding the 5000, Elisha did a similar miracle.

Remember that Elisha was the successor of Elijah.  They lived during the time in Israelite history after the Israelites had taken the Promised Land, after the time of the Judges, after the time of King Saul, David, and Solomon.  This is now when the nation of Israel was split between the Northern Kingdom ruled by one king and the southern Kingdom of Judah which was ruled by another king.  After the nation split into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom went into fast spiritual decline.  They began by mixing in the false religions of the nations around them with worship to the true God and then digressed to worshipping primarily false gods like Baal and Ashtoreth.  But while the Israelites were unfaithful to God, God remained faithful he sent droughts and famines into the land to call them to repentance and continued to send prophets, like Elisha, to call them back to Him.  We find Elisha in our text teaching God’s Word at a sort of school with 100 men, perhaps like a Seminary.

Remember this was a time of drought and famine and food was difficult to come by.  But then here’s this unnamed man who comes to Elisha.  All we know is that he’s from: Baal Shalisha.  This shows us the spiritual condition of the time that they were even naming their cities after the false god Baal.  But he was different, he trusted in the true God so much so that he brought his first fruits, 20 loaves of bread from his first fruits of grain to Elisha.

In appreciation for God and His Word and for Elisha who shared God’s Word with him he brought this offering.  This was certainly a generous offering from one man, but remember it was 20 loaves, not 20 party subs from Subway.  The barley loaves were probably not very big, they were probably small round loaves.  They were small enough that one man could carry 20 of them at once.  Then Elisha directed his servant, “Give it to the people to eat.”  To this Elisha’s servant started doing the math- 20 loaves, 100 men, no way, “How can I set this before a hundred men?”  Sharing it with so many would be silly, it might be enough for one or two, but now no one will get enough to eat!

In the Gospel this morning the disciples also did some math:  “We couldn’t even buy enough bread for everyone to have a bite!”  “How far will five small barley loaves and two small fish go among so many?”  Yet, we, too, know all too well how to do that kind of math, don’t we?  “How is this pay check going to cover the mortgage, utilities, bills?”  “How will my social security check cover all these medications I have to take?”  “How can I afford to these high fuel prices, these high food prices?”  “I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this!”

How often aren’t we filled with stress and anxiousness as we consider providing for our daily physical needs?  It’s all because we fail to open our eyes to what is right in front of us.  We fail to remember the promises God has given us.  We so often blind ourselves from seeing the beauty of God’s concern and God’s providing care in our lives.  We focus our attention on ourselves and how we can solve our problems.  And that always leads to worry, doubt, and fear.  We too easily forget the many blessings God has placed all around us and worst of all fail to thank Him with gratitude in our hearts for all He has done and given us.

This servant of Elisha didn’t know what to do, Jesus’ disciples didn’t know what to do, we often face problems and don’t know what to do.  But notice what Jesus did.  While we might worry and fret over what we can do, Jesus already had in mind what He was going to do.  While we often fail to praise and thank God for the blessings He’s given us, Jesus took the boy’s meager offering and gave thanks to God for it.  In every way that we have failed, for every time we have looked in all the wrong places, Jesus always looked in the right place.  And He did so for you!  He was perfect in every way for you!  Now He gives you the strength to look in the right place, to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all of these things will be given you as well!

God continually provides for you and me and God wants us to see that.  Sometimes it takes a miracle for God to get our attention.  With even less provision than Elisha had and with far more people to feed than 100 men, Jesus provided for the multitude of people and there were leftovers!  There’s a miracle going on all around us too and it involves a “math equation”.  You see, God who is both perfect and holy ought to have nothing to do with us humans who are totally sinful.  Yet the same Jesus whose hand distributed food for more than 5000 people gave the same hand to soldiers who nailed it to the cross.  Why?  So on that cross He could pay for our sins in full, so He could bring us back to God, so He could make us God’s dear children.  And that is what we are!  If God didn’t care about us, we would simply cease to exist.  But just open your eyes and see!  It is God who blesses us with minds to think and reason, it’s God who blesses us with hands and feet to do things and to work, it’s God who gives us our health and abilities to accomplish things, it’s God who gives us air to breathe and a peaceful society to live in, it’s God who causes seeds to sprout and plants to grow to provide us with food, it’s God who causes air to exist and the sun to shine in order that things can live on the earth, finally every physical blessing we have is a gift from God’s gracious hand for us!

Certainly God who created the laws of nature and who gives them their power is not bound by them.  God can provide for us in supernatural ways and through miracles like He did with Elisha and by feeding the 5,000.  Perhaps we’ve even heard of people who have been cured from some illness without any medical explanation.  God can use miracles, He hasn’t directly promised us He will, but He can.  But let’s not let that distract us from what God does do all around us every day.  We eat food and it satisfies us not simply because it does, but because of God’s command and His will that food should fulfill that purpose.  We take medicine or herbs and they heal, not because of their power, but because of God’s command and His will that they should carry out certain functions.  If God withdrew His power and His will no food would satisfy nor any medicine heal.  So in everything around us if we just open our eyes we will see God’s continual care and constant concern for our lives.

And notice something else.  Notice that God used this unnamed man, during a drought, to bring his first fruits to someone else.  See how God used that man’s gifts to give leftovers to 100 men!  See how God used a young boy’s 5 loaves and 2 fish to give leftovers to over 5,000 people!  God could have had Elisha snap his fingers and take the hunger away from the men, Jesus could have done the same, but He chose to use people.  And He wants to use you and me too!  He wants to use you to be a blessing to someone in need, to help someone who needs help, what a joyous thing, what a marvelous blessing, what an awesome privilege for us to be God’s agents through whom He gives blessings and leftovers to other people!

But that can be difficult for us to do!  So what does God do?  He gives us examples like these.  He gives us His promises.  Notice that Elijah said, “According to the word of the Lord.”  You see, God never goes back on His word.  Trust in His promises.  Trust that He will continue to provide for you as he has done your whole life and as He has done for His people throughout history.  We know He will provide for us and take care of us.  How so? Because He has taken care of our most important need: He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not along with him graciously give us all things?  You see, in Jesus God’s paid for your debt of sin, freed you from sin’s prison, rescued you from eternal death, provided for you eternally in Jesus your Savior.  If He’s taken care of that need, He’ll take care of the rest as well.  So be thankful and trust in God’s faithful promises and open your eyes and see God’s generosity all around you!  Amen.

 

Celebrate! God is on your side!

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Grace, mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance through God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.  Dear friends in Christ, things aren’t always what they seem to be.  Are they?  One of the jobs I had in college was to drive truck.  I remember one of the big contracts we had during the summer was a great big outdoor country music festival.  It was several days long and so lots of people camped out there.  As I drove through the campground, I remember lots of people coming up to me and asking, “Can I purchase some fresh water from you for my RV?”  I would usually smile and say, “No, I’m sorry, I…I really can’t help you, you see that big, shiny, clean tank on my truck…well that’s not water…I work for the port-a-potty company.”  Things really aren’t always what they seem to be, are they?  And for many reasons it’s very good for us to realize that.  It’s also true in our lives as Christians.  What you see is not full reality.  That’s what we’ll find out in our text for this morning.  But first a little background…

The Israelites finally made it.  Beautiful, fertile, lush land…and it was all theirs!  The Israelites made it to the Promised Land.  But it wasn’t easy.  Questions needed to be answered, questions like “what happens when an argument arises, who’s going to solve it?  Who’s going to protect us from the nations around us?  Who’s going to rule us?  We need a king like all the nations around us.”  So, in love, God let them have a king.  He gave the people of Israel king David.  King David was a great king, ruled the nation well, but he had some shortcomings.   After him his son Solomon took over.  He started off great…but soon married many different women and even sought after false gods.  In fact, it got so bad that God promised that He would take the majority of the kingdom away from Solomon’s family and give it to someone else.

Well, when Solomon died, this is what happened.  Israel was split: the southern kingdom of Judah stayed in David’s family and the northern kingdom of Israel was ruled by Jeroboam.  God promised the new king, Jeroboam, “If you’re faithful to me, then I’ll bless your kingdom and your ruling.”  But unfortunately what was one of the first things Jeroboam did?  Disobeyed God and set up altars in rebellion to God’s Word.  So, the northern kingdom continued to decline spiritually.

But God remained faithful.  He continued to send prophet after prophet to the people in order to win their hearts back to Him.  One of those prophets was Elisha.  Elisha took the place of the great prophet Elijah.  Elisha spoke the Word of God to the people calling them back to the Lord.  God let Elisha do all kinds of miracles in order that the people would see that he’s serving the only true God.  The nation continued to have enemies.  One of their enemies was the nation of Aram (or Syria).  The king of Aram wanted to attack and take Israel over.  But there was a problem.  Every time he’d move his army, God would let Elisha know where they were and he would tell the king of Israel.  Do you think that would be of some advantage?  I’m thinking so!  But, the king of Aram got pretty upset about all of this so he sent his army out to capture and probably kill this Elisha guy who was messing up all his plans.  So his army surrounded the city where Elisha was in.  That’s where we pick it up… (read text)

The reality is God’s in control.  Really?  What do you suppose Elisha’s servant was thinking as he gazed over the city at the possibly thousands of enemy troops surrounding him?  “Hmm…this is sure a funny way for God to show His power, wisdom, and love to many people.”  I’m guessing probably not.  I’m guessing he was thinking things like, “What in the world!  This is what happens to us even after serving God faithfully, teaching God’s Word truthfully!  Now we’re going to be captured and probably die!  Just great!  Well, we’re going to have to take this into our own hands…but I don’t know what to do… I don’t know what to do!”  Fear and fright?  Yep.  Taking matters into his own hands?  Sounds like it.

Sounds a little familiar to us too, doesn’t it?  For a moment take a look at your own life, what do you see? How might you describe your life?  Hopeful, but also still full of worry, fear and sadness?   Happy, but at times also depressed, disappointed, and disillusioned?  Medical problems, fractured relationships, financial difficulties?  A successful job, but still unsatisfied?  Decent income, but still feeling like something’s missing?  Calm on the outside, but guilt of the past, frustration, and anger inside? Do you see some of that, most of that, all of that?  Ouch!  Are those things sometimes all you see when you look at your life?  And don’t we often answer all this with thoughts like,   “I guess I’ll be facing life on my own today.  What can I do to make my life better?  How am I going to handle the pressures today?  What am I going to do?”

But brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s far better for us to ask a different question: What’s the reality?  Thank the Lord that things aren’t always as they seem to be.  Listen to God’s Word, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  Certainly there are things that make life difficult, make life uncertain: pain, hardship, temptations, threats, disasters, etc.  If our hope rested only in the things that we see, soon we would discover life to be… hopeless.  But there is One who stands far above everything in this world.  A God who is far more capable, far stronger, and far more superior than anything in this world.  There is a God who holds the ultimate authority of heaven and earth in His hands.  There is a God whose infinite power controls all things.  That’s reality.

Take a look as God opens your eyes to the reality.  Things aren’t always as they seem; God’s people aren’t on their own to fend for themselves.  Through His Word God opens our eyes to the reality, just like He opened Elisha’s servant’s eyes, “and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”  God Himself is certainly powerful enough to watch over the lives of His people night and day.  But God doesn’t deal in minimums, no He piles on the comfort and assurance.  He’s given His thousands upon thousands of angels the task to guard over and protect His children day after day.  Angels all around serving God’s people, watching over them, intervening on their behalf!  Yea, things aren’t always as they seem, angels are all around carrying out the will of God!

Take another look as God opens your eyes to the reality.  Does everything always make perfect sense in your life?  I’m guessing not.  Do you think it made sense to Elisha?  To lead this blind army into the capital city in order to sit them down for a feast?  Things aren’t always as they seem to be.  Why did God do this?  God showed both the Israelites and this army of many unbelieving Arameans that He’s in control, things will work out according to His plan.  Safety isn’t found in military strength, but in the Lord.  It’s useless to oppose God and His people.  God isn’t out to annihilate people; He is a God of love who wants all to be saved.  Can you see God’s plan now?

Finally look at something else that wasn’t quite as it seemed.  He was a man familiar with sorrow and suffering.  A man accused and sentenced to death on a cross.  It seemed like He lost everything; it seemed like His followers were the greatest losers.  But things aren’t always as they seem.  Yes, Jesus gave up His life on that cross, but He wasn’t losing, He was winning; we’re not losers, we’re winners.  Take a look into that grave, it’s empty!  Jesus won the ultimate victory for you and me!  Jesus won the victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil for you and me!  Jesus won you for God and so that God, who controls all things…He’s your God!  He is worthy of your trust.  He knows what’s best for your life.  He’s looking out for you, He cares about you.  He’s with you.

Yea, there are many reasons why it’s good to realize that things aren’t always as they seem to be.  Not only for practical things like telling the difference between a water truck and a porta-potty truck, but also for spiritual things.  I don’t know what’s happening in your life right now, but no matter how things seem to be, know for sure, that the God who remains in control of all things, who has an invincible army of angels at His command, who finally works all things out according to His plans, who can turn anything around for good- that God-that one and only God- He’s on YOUR side, He’s YOUR God, and He’s fighting for YOU!  Amen.

Rejoice! God is on your side!

6th Sunday after Easter

Grace, mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance through God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.  Dear friends in Christ, things aren’t always what they seem to be.  Are they?  One of the jobs I had in college was to drive truck.  I remember one of the big contracts we had during the summer was a great big outdoor country music festival.  It was a couple of days long and so lots of people camped out there.  As I drove through the campground, I remember lots of people coming up to me and asking, “Can I purchase some fresh water from you for my RV?”  I would usually smile and say, “No, I’m sorry, I…I really can’t help you, you see that big, shiny, clean tank on my truck…well that’s not water…I work for the porta-potty company.”  Things really aren’t always what they seem to be, are they?  And for many reasons it’s very good for us to realize that.  It’s also true in our lives as Christians.  What you see is not full reality.  That’s what we’ll find out in our text for this morning.  But first a little background…

They finally made it.  It was the most glorious place in the world.  Beautiful, fertile, lush land…and it was all theirs!  The Israelites made it to the Promised Land.  But it wasn’t easy.  Questions needed to be answered, questions like “what happens when an argument arises, who’s going to solve it?  Who’s going to protect us from the nations around us?  Who’s going to rule us?  We need a king like all the nations around us.”  So in love God let them have a king.  He gave the people of Israel king David.  King David was a great king, ruled the nation well, but he had some shortcomings.   After him his son Solomon took over.  He started off great…but soon married many different women and even sought after false gods.  It got so bad that God promised that He would take the majority of the kingdom away from Solomon’s family and give it to someone else.

Well, when Solomon died, this is what happened.  Israel was split: the southern kingdom of Judah stayed in David’s family and the northern kingdom of Israel was ruled by Jeroboam.  God promised the new king, Jeroboam, “If you’re faithful to me, then I’ll bless your kingdom and your ruling.”  But unfortunately what was one of the first things Jeroboam did?  Disobeyed God and set up altars in rebellion to God’s Word.  So, the northern kingdom continued to decline.

But God remained faithful.  He continued to send prophet after prophet to the people in order to win their hearts back to Him.  One of those prophets was Elisha.  Elisha took the place of the great prophet Elijah.  Elisha spoke the Word of God to the people calling them back to the Lord.  God let Elisha do all kinds of miracles in order that the people would see that he’s serving the only true God.  The nation continued to have enemies.  One of their enemies was the nation of Aram (or Syria).  The king of Aram wanted to attack and take Israel over.  But there was a problem.  Every time he’d move his army, God would let Elisha know where they were and he would tell the king of Israel.  Do you think that would be of some advantage?  Certainly!  The king of Aram got pretty upset about all of this so he sent his army out to capture and probably kill this Elisha guy who was messing up all his plans.  So his army surrounded the city where Elisha was in.  That’s where we pick it up… (read text)

The reality is God’s in control.  Really?  What do you suppose Elisha’s servant was thinking as he gazed over the city at the possibly thousands of troops surrounding him?  “Hmm…this is sure a funny way for God to show His power, wisdom, and love to many people.”  I’m guessing probably not.  I’m guessing he was thinking things like, “What in the world!  This is what happens to us even after serving God faithfully, teaching God’s Word truthfully!  Now we’re going to be captured and probably die!  We’re going to have to take this into our own hands…but I don’t know what to do… I don’t know what to do!”  Fear and fright?  Yep.  Taking matters into his own hands?  Sounds like it.

Sounds a little familiar to us too, doesn’t it?  For a moment take a look at your own life, what do you see? How might you describe your life?  Hopeful but also still full of worry, fear and sadness?   Happy but also depressed, disappointed, and disillusioned?  Medical problems, fractured relationships, financial difficulties?  A successful job, but still unsatisfied?  Decent income, but still feeling like something’s missing?  Calm on the outside, but guilt of the past, frustration, and anger inside? Do you see some of that, most of that, all of that?  Ouch!  Are those things sometimes all you see when you look at your life?  And don’t we often answer all this with thoughts like,   “I guess I’ll be facing life on my own today.  What can I do to make my life better?  How am I going to handle the pressures today?  What am I going to do?”

But brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s far better for us to ask a different question: What’s the reality?  Thank the Lord that things aren’t always as they seem to be.  Listen to God’s Word, “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  Certainly there are things that make life difficult, make life uncertain: pain, hardship, temptations, threats, disasters, etc.  If our hope rested only in the things that we see, soon we would discover life to be… hopeless.  But there is One who stands far above everything in this world.  A God who is far more capable, far stronger, and far more superior than anything in this world.  There is a God who holds the ultimate authority of heaven and earth in His hands.  There is a God whose infinite power controls all things.  That’s reality.

Take a look as God opens your eyes to the reality.  Things aren’t always as they seem; God’s people aren’t on their own to fend for themselves.  Through His Word God opens our eyes to the reality, just like He opened Elisha’s servant’s eyes, “and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”  God Himself is certainly powerful enough to watch over the lives of His people night and day.  But God doesn’t deal in minimums, no He piles on the comfort and assurance.  He’s given His thousands upon thousands of angels the task to guard over and protect His children day after day.  Angels all around serving God’s people, watching over them, intervening on their behalf!  Yea, things aren’t always as they seem, angels are all around carrying out the will of God!

Take another look as God opens your eyes to the reality.  Does everything always make perfect sense in your life?  I’m guessing not.  Do you think it made sense to Elisha?  To lead this blind army into the capital city in order to sit them down for a feast?  Things aren’t always as they seem to be.  Why did God do this?  God showed both the Israelites and this army of many unbelieving Arameans that He’s in control, things will happen according to His plan.  Safety isn’t found in military strength, but in the Lord.  It’s useless to oppose God and His people.  God isn’t out to annihilate people; He is a God of love who wants all to be saved.  Can you see God’s plan now?

Finally look at something else that wasn’t quite as it seemed.  A man familiar with sorrow and suffering.  A man accused and sentenced to death on a cross.  It seemed like He lost everything; it seemed like His followers were the greatest losers.  But things aren’t always as they seem.  Yes, Jesus gave up His life on that cross, but He wasn’t losing, He was winning; we’re not losers, we’re winners.  Take a look into that grave, it’s empty!  Jesus won the ultimate victory for you and me!  Jesus won the victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil for you and me!  Jesus won you for God and so that God, who controls all things…He’s your God!  He is worthy of your trust.  He knows what’s best for your life.  He’s looking out for you, He cares about you.  He’s with you.

Yea, there are many reasons why it’s good to realize that things aren’t always as they seem to be.  Not only for practical things like telling the difference between a water truck and a porta-potty truck, but also for spiritual things.  Despite whatever is happening in your life right now, no matter how things seem to be, know for sure, that the God who remains in control of all things, who has an invincible army of angels at His command, who works all things out according to His plans, who can turn anything around for good- that God-that one and only God- He’s on YOUR side, He’s YOUR God, and He’s fighting for YOU!  Amen.