Thursday, September 7, 2017

A Complicated Story

His name isn't given, simply his title: "a man of God." But he is called "a man of God" seventeen times in one chapter! And to be honest, it's a rather unusual story.

According to Wikipedia, "man of God is a biblical title of respect applied to prophets and beloved religious leaders." This nameless man was a prophet. He was sent to Bethel by a revelation from the Lord. He boldly called a curse against the altar that King Jeroboam had built and was in the process of burning his sacrifice on. When Jeroboam reached out his hand to have the man of God arrested, his hand withered.

Upon request the man of God restored the king's hand, but refused his invitation to go home with the king and be refreshed and receive a reward. This man had been commanded by the word of the Lord that he was not to eat bread or drink water or go back the way he came. In obedience to the word of the Lord, the man of God turned down the king's invitation and went another way home.

This is where the story gets confusing. There was an old prophet that was living in Bethel, and his sons had witnessed what the man of God had done. As soon he heard about it he instructed his sons to saddle his donkey and he went in pursuit of the man of God. When he found him he invited the man of God to go home with him to eat some bread. The man of God repeated to the old prophet the same thing he'd told the king. However, the old prophet responded by saying that he was a prophet like the man of God. He told him that an angel had spoken to him by the word of the Lord and that he had been given instruction to bring the man of God back with him so that he might eat bread and drink water. He deceived the man of God. But he really was a prophet. And when he went back with him to his house to eat bread and drink water, the word of the Lord came to the old prophet and he cried out that because the man of the God had rebelled against the commandment of the Lord his corpse would never reach the grave of his fathers.

When the man of God has finished eating the bread and drinking the water the old prophet saddled  a donkey and sent the man of God on his way. But he never reached his destination because a lion met him along the way and killed him. Then the lion just stood there and so did the donkey! The old man went and retrieved both the donkey and the man of God.

Are you confused? Maybe just a little? I have not been able to get this story out of my head all Summer. It's like a riddle I'm trying to solve. And somewhere in the riddle I think there is a message. I think the story is confusing because some truths are hard to understand.

The first tangle I want to untie is the part that says that the old prophet deceived the man of God, but that the man of God's life was cut short because he rebelled against God's commandment. In trying to sort this out I thought about when Satan tempted Eve to disobey God's commandment. First there was the temptation. Then, once Satan got Eve to look at what was forbidden, she was deceived. She was deceived because she chose a believe what Satan said instead of what God said. Next came rebellion and then death entered the world.

I've been thinking about this pattern, and the more I've thought about it the more I've begun to recognize it repeated again and again and again. The book of James says,"No one undergoing a trial should say, 'I am being tempted by God.' For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn't tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death" (James 1:13-15).

Back to the story of the man of God and the old prophet. The old prophet takes the corpse of the man of God and buries it in his own grave. He grieves over this man of God and instructs his sons to bury him in the grave where the man of God is buried and to lay his bones beside the bones of the man of God.

This is not the last time the man of God is mentioned. Three hundred and forty years later his prophecy was fulfilled. Josiah, who had been mentioned by the man of God, asked about a monument that had been constructed beside the altar. When he is told about the man of God he declares,"Let him rest. Don't disturb his bones." There is no question that, though his life was cut short, he was a man of God.

There is no question that this story is about a man of God, but what happened to him and why did it happen? Just as Eve was deceived and consequently chose to rebel against God by eating the forbidden fruit, the man of God was deceived and rebelled against God by drinking water and eating bread. One rebellion took place in a garden, the other took place in enemy territory. Both resulted in death.

I have been thinking about this story all Summer. I have looked at it from all different angles. Day after day, then week after week, and finally month after month, I have considered this man of God. I have wondered how to share all I have learned, but to be honest I'm not sure how. If you live long enough you begin to grasp that life is very complex and there are often no simple answers. I believe that this story illustrates that reality. This story also reminds me that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

*1 Kings 13, 2 Kings 23:17,18

Monday, September 4, 2017

Healing the Bruised Soul

Growing up in the South I spent most of the Summer barefooted. This also meant that often my foot would strike a hard object and I would end up with something called a stone bruise. I would go limping and crying to my mother and beg her to do something to make the pain go away. Her answer was always the same, "Some things simply take time to heal."

The last couple of years has been really hard, and the other day I realized that I had a soul bruise. I realized this while I was listening to the radio. The man on the radio was talking about the money he had lost when there was a stock market crash. He told his financial adviser that he considered the money God's money and God could do whatever He chose with His money. I thought about all the ways my life has changed in the last couple of years and I prayed, "Lord, the same is true with my life. It belongs to You and You can do with me whatever You like." Then I cried.

My prayer was simple and honest, but why did I cry? I cried because when my life hit hard places my soul was bruised. There are hurts that are real, there are adjustments that I'm struggling with, there are times I just want to turn back the clock. But I can't. So I take a deep breath and pray, "Lord, my life belongs to You and You can do with it what You will. I choose to trust You."

My prayer of surrender to God is not a magic formula that takes away the pain. One of my goals as a Christian is not to pretend that I am stronger than I am, or that I am immune to the sufferings that comes from living in a broken world. I want to be honest. I want to be humble. And so just like I did as a child with a stone bruise by going to my mother for comfort, I go to my Heavenly Father and pour out my pain and confusion. Then I wait.

I wait, still hurting, still feeling the tender bruise in my soul. There are times when I feel a deep sense of confusion and I can't understand the why. This is when the who is more important than the why. I gave my life to Jesus and I believe with all my heart that what He allows He will redeem. Sometimes it just takes time. So I wait. I wait with expectation. I wait with expectation because I have tasted the sweet water produced by desert streams. I have rejoiced in the azure blue sky that is hidden at times by the clouds. And I know that my redeemer lives.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Friday, August 4, 2017

When You Don't Know What to Do

The situation caught me by surprise. It took my breath away. I could taste the cold, metallic taste of fear. I felt small and vulnerable. All reason fled from my mind leaving me with only one thought. I. Don't. Know. What. To. Do!

My eyes were wide with fear but I could see nothing. My heart was racing. I was barely able to breathe. Again my mind screamed, "I don't know what to do!" Suddenly there was a knock at the door. When I reached to open the door I found that the handles of the bolt were dripping with myrrh. I breathed in the dark rich aroma as the smell of the perfume filled my senses. My breathing and the beat of my heart began to slow. My panic was replaced by peace. That is when I saw him.

The situation that I faced was overwhelming. The reality was that I truly didn't know what to do. But when he knocked I opened the door. I breathed in the fragrance of his presence and looked deeply into his eyes and heard him ask, "May I come in?" I was no longer alone. The weight that had almost crushed me was lifted from my shoulders. The taste of fear was replaced by the taste of bread and the taste of wine.

When he entered through the door I had opened, he invited me to have communion with him. Time seemed to stand still. I still didn't know what to do, but my eyes were fixed on him. I accepted his invitation and found before me a banqueting table.  Above my seat was a banner of love.

These were thoughts that I had as I woke this morning. I lay in bed letting these truths bathe my mind. The truth is that there are times in life when the battles that I face overwhelm me. There have been many times when I have cried out in desperation, "I don't know what to do!" But these times have been followed by a simple prayer, "My eyes are on you." I have opened the door of faith so that I can look into the eyes of Jesus. I breathe in the fragrance of the Prince of Peace and I know that the battle belongs to the Lord. In sweet communion with him I taste and see that the Lord is good.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

A Lamp Not A Candle

Though they both give light there is a difference between a candle and a lamp.

From the instant a candle is lit it begins to consume itself. The darkness is expelled, yes; the light is given, yes; but it is only a matter of time before the candle wax begins to drip and the candle becomes less and less. As long as there is candle to burn there will be light. But the time will come when the candle is consumed. When that time comes there will be one last flicker, one last gasp of light, and then darkness will reign.

When a lamp is lit the light it produces does not come from the lamp itself, but from the oil that it is filled with. As long as the lamp is being filled with oil the lamp will give light. The lamp is not consumed by the flame, because the purpose of the lamp is to hold the oil.

As a Christian I am called to be a light in a dark world. I have tried to produce that light in my own strength. In my desire to reach out to hurting people I have known what is like to be a candle. I wanted to give light, and for a time I was successful. But after a while my strength was spent. The light was gone, and both I and the one I wanted to help were plunged into darkness.

However, I have also known what is like to be a lamp. When I humble myself and recognize that I am not the source of the light but simply the vessel that contains the oil, then the light comes. The light that comes from the lamp truly illuminates the darkness. This light takes you beyond what mortal eyes can see. The light shine as long as the lamp is filled with oil. The One who provides the oil is always willing to fill the lamp.

                                                          He Giveth More Grace

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father's full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

Annie J. Flint

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Mental Health

When I saw him fear rose up in me and it was as if the light of the sun had been blotted out by a dark cloud. Suddenly a fearful storm was raging all around me. I found it difficult to breathe, much less think. Standing before me was someone I loved almost as much as I loved life itself, but he was so altered, so changed, that if had I seen him in a crowd I doubt I would have known him.

My first thought was, "Dear Jesus! He looks like the Gadarene demoniac!" That was when I began to let grace, mercy and peace wash away the paralyzing anxiety that had thrust me into darkness. I took a deep cleansing breath and repeated, "He looks like the Gadarene demoniac." I prayerfully put on the helmet of salvation.

I thought about how Jesus had told His disciples that they needed to cross over to the other side of the lake. Why? Why did they need to cross to the other side of the lake? It was because someone was waiting for them; someone who was living hopelessly among the tombs. A man bent on self-destruction who no human could tame. So, Jesus needed to get to where the demon-possessed man was because He had come into the world to seek and to save the lost.  

I recognize that there are times when I find myself suddenly facing a raging storm and my gut feeling is that I'm going to drown. Isn't it interesting that when Jesus told His disciples that they needed to cross the lake He was sleeping in the boat when the terrifying storm hit? When they woke Him with the question,"Don't you care that we're going to die?" He responded by rebuking the wind and the sea, "Silence! Be still!" That was all it took for the wind to cease and the great calm to come. Then He turned to His disciples and said, "Why are you fearful? Do you still have no faith?"

I would be lying if I said that I am not afraid when I find myself in an unexpected storm. I often find myself terrified when I see those I love living among the tombs, crying out and hurting themselves. I, like the disciples in the boat, would perish in the storm if I put my faith in myself alone. And I and those I love would live haunted lives among the tombs if Jesus had not come to seek and save the lost. But He did come. And so I put my trust in Him. By faith I take the helmet of salvation and place it on my head. I choose to take every thought captive. I choose to exchange my fear for faith. In doing this I choose mental health.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Show Up!

The sermon was the regular length for a sermon, however, I can only remember two words of it, "Show up." I think these two words spoke so loudly to me because of an illustration that preacher didn't verbalize.

I didn't have my brain surgery in my home town, so in order to come to the hospital to see me it meant a two hour drive. The day after my surgery, Tom May, my pastor, showed up. I confess I was pretty sick and unable to communicate. But the fact that he had taken the time to show up at the hospital communicated to me that he cared. I felt valued.

My great aunt came to my high school graduation. She didn't speak to me before or after the ceremony. You might wonder how I knew that she showed up. Well, I'll tell you. Aunt Sit always wore a hat. In fact, I think she always wore the same hat because as I sit here writing this I can see it in my mind's eye. I remember that when I walked into the auditorium and saw my great Aunt Sit's hat, the only person wearing a hat in the auditorium, I felt honored. I felt like I had value. My Aunt Sit cared enough to show up.

Now I know without a doubt that I have opened up a wound for some who are reading this. I have awakened the memory or when you were alone in the hospital and no one showed up. I have touched a memory from your childhood when your eyes searched for a familiar face in the audience but found none. The memory is a wound. In time the wound becomes a scar, a hard place in your heart where life cannot flow.

I understand. I have those wounds too. But what I have found is that I can take them to the God who did show up. I can stand in His presence with my wounded heart exposed and I ask Him to touch those hard, cold, lifeless places. He not only heals the hurt but He also redeems the pain by giving me the assignment to relay to others that they have value and that I care enough to show up.