Characters in the shadows: Gehazi

Gehazi had it all. He was next in the lineage of the greatest prophets in the nation of Israel. Greatest? What about Isaiah, Daniel, and the others who wrote entire books into the canon? No, those were in Judah.

Elijah’s Lineage

Elijah is regarded the greatest prophet from the Northern Kingdom, the one we usually call Israel (or sometimes Ephraim). I’ve always marveled that God would send Moses to his nation at a time when they completely excluded Him from their daily lives and even national life. And, almost to remove all doubt about His unconditional love, He did it again for the apostate nation of Israel, this time with Elijah. Isn’t it interesting to observe that those two, the ones sent to the apostate nation, are the ones who appeared with Jesus Christ at the transfiguration, and who feature prominently in Revelation? Not Isaiah, Jeremiah or Daniel.

It’s interesting how few times physical progeny work out in leadership. Whether in politics, business or ministry, it’s extremely rare that a son or daughter follows fully in the footsteps of their great father. Those who become great and impactful normally do so alone.

And so it was with Elijah: God picked him out of the blue, and then his successor, and instructed him to go recruit Elisha and train him up. Elisha served Elijah in what we today would call an apprenticeship or internship.

Elisha succeeded Elijah in time, asking for a double portion. If you look at this listing of miracles performed, it looks like he indeed performed twice as many recorded miracles as Elijah.

Modeling what was done to him, Elisha then recruited Gehazi to be his servant/intern/apprentice/successor. This gave Gehazi an opportunity most of us would give our eye teeth for.

But, ministry is not for the faint of heart, despite appearances to the contrary. It is also not for those seeking earthly gain.

The Choices

Elijah had no place of residence we know of, and appears to have lived a minimalist existence. Indeed, he seems to have spent a lot of time on the run from the law. He would have fit right in with the hippies of the sixties and seventies. This value system and m.o. were undoubtedly transferred to Elisha, who learned the distinction between the temporal and the eternal by living the life of his mentor. Can you imagine the dinner conversations over a campfire those two had over the years?

God had demonstrated through the ravens by the brook, and the angel on the flight path, that He was well able to meet all of Elijah’s temporal needs. Elisha picked that up, both from what Elijah modeled and from his own walk with God.

The occasions when we have to make life choices are often not of our own choosing. Elisha, when asked what he wanted more than anything else, chose a double portion of what Elijah had. Elijah had nothing in the temporal, but a fortune in the eternal. Elisha knew the difference, and he got his wish.

He followed the strategy of his mentor, ministering and performing miracles. Then, like his mentor, he hired an intern — Gehazi. Gehazi learned from Elisha, the double portion man. No doubt Elisha told him of Elijah’s exploits and we know Gehazi witnessed several of Elisha’s own miracles first hand. Seeing them having many a dinner together is not too much of a reach, maybe not over a campfire, but in the kitchen, because Elisha settled down in Dothan. 

And, just like Elisha, the day dawned unexpectedly where Gehazi had to make a choice that set the direction for the rest of his life. You know the story: Naaman arrived with fancy clothes and other gifts the rich and famous give each other, in order to compensate the man of God for the healing. The man of God knew he had no need of any of those things, and so he declined them.

Gehazi didn’t. He had all the knowledge. Sojourning in Shunem with his boss, the widow had to have told him about the oil. And he witnessed God’s power, raising her son from the dead. He saw God’s all-sufficiency, both temporal and spiritual.

But there’s one thing Gehazi had not learned: the things of the world come with invisible ties — ties to unhappiness, unfulfillment, dissatisfaction, frustration, emptiness, jealousy, miserliness. Is it a coincidence that, when his boss confronted him, he felt compelled to lie? Funny how that works: you start on the path of the world, all innocent and without sin. But it’s not long before the direction of that path, away from the things of the Lord, brings you to a place where you have to lie or do something else you ordinarily would avoid, just to keep on that path. The narrow path of the Lord never brings you into situations like that.

You would think Gehazi, hanging out with such a straight man of God would have figured that out. Sadly, you’d be wrong. There’s more: the things of the world, fame, money, position, power, “success,” those all attract the weirdest and most illogical responses from others — mostly negative: jealousy, criticism, entitlement, judgment, deception, greed, even outright hatred. When the world presents those enticements, that is conveniently omitted from the brochure. But it’s real — ask any lottery winner or millionaire athlete.

None of those outcomes are inevitable, of course. Plenty of wealthy people have kept their heads (and hearts) straight. But the ties are there, with a life of their own. Cut them off, and tomorrow they start growing right back. If you’re aware of that and keep your hand on them, like on weeds, they won’t ensnare you. However, even that distracts from a focus on the things of eternity.

It’s no coincidence that Jesus, when He walked the earth, maintained a life devoid of temporal distractions. Same with Paul. None of the early church leaders utilized this incredible new power they were endowed with from on high for their temporal benefit. And the church prospered.

Gehazi didn’t see any of that. When Naaman came, he saw the gifts the rich and famous give each other. Let’s be honest, those are all very nice things. It’s nice to dress in fine clothes, eat fine food, stay in five star resorts, drive (or be driven in) grand cars, and live in luxurious homes. So it’s easy to see what Gehazi saw in those things. 

Gehazi didn’t get killed like Ananias and Safira for lying. He was left with the riches to enjoy them. But the tie in his heart to the temporal things meant he had to leave the service of the King of kings.

After accepting Naaman’s rich clothes, he put them to good use, and we can deduce that he climbed the social ladder in a hurry. He could drop names, having shaken hands with the likes of Naaman and Elisha. It wasn’t long before we see him hanging out with the king of Israel, shooting the breeze over dinner. “So, Mr. G,” the king said, “Tell me a little more of all your exploits from your Elisha days.” (II Kings 8:4). Well, having been an eyewitness to Elisha raising a boy from the dead, he was in a perfect place to tell the story.

We don’t know how Gehazi’s life ended. Elisha replaced him, but we aren’t told by whom. This was the (unnamed) servant who witnessed the hidden armies of the Lord surrounding the enemy contingent sent to capture Elisha.

We know there was no prophet who followed in Elisha’s footsteps. Gehazi looks like he was designated for that, but he opted to pursue the things of the world instead. Who knows how different things might have been if he desired what Elisha desired… and obtained.

The Lord Jesus said where our treasure is, our heart will be also. It’s easy if you’re never offered the opportunity to walk the walk of the rich and famous. It’s different if you are given that opportunity, especially when you don’t expect it. Who knows? None of us can say, but sometimes I wonder if God knows what we would choose and, for our own protection, spares us the opportunity to make that choice. Not saying, just saying…

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Characters In The Shadows: A Nameless Boy

They don’t see me. They don’t even know my name. They don’t remember me. They’ll surely never miss me. How often have thoughts like those drifted through your mind?

Today’s story is about someone the gospel writers didn’t know. But being unknown and insignificant didn’t stop the Lord Jesus from using that person to be part of one of his most famous miracles.

I’m talking about the boy whose bread and fish Jesus Christ used to feed the crowd.

The Only One?

Jesus  multiplied bread twice, once feeding 5,000 and the other time 4,000. It’s interesting to note in passing that the only miracle all four gospels mention is the first one, where our Lord fed 5,000 people. For the mystics among us who look at numbers, the Bible tells us seven times how Jesus multiplied bread to feed a crowd. But only the seventh description (John 6) includes the detail of where the original food came from: that nameless lad.

We don’t know his name, but his willingness to part with his much needed lunch is recorded forever.

When we read about it, we hardly even pay the lad any attention. What better time, then, to do it than now?

Have you ever gone to a picnic and thought, “Hmmm… the weather could get chilly, let me throw a jacket in the car, just in case?” And, sure enough, some clouds and a breeze indeed decided to crash the party. You felt vindicated by your foresight.

But… someone else didn’t have your foresight and forgot to bring a jacket. The upshot? You give them your jacket… and now your suffering just doubled: it’s one thing to get caught unprepared, but that just shifts to another level when you were careful to prepare, but you end up suffering anyway. I can’t count how many times I brought chairs to a picnic because I don’t like sitting on the ground. You guessed it: I usually end up having to sit on the ground anyway, even if I bring four extra chairs… because there’s always someone with puppy dog eyes who didn’t bring a chair and wants to sit in our circle (if only for the chairs).

Back to the lad. Having a good Jewish mama, he was prepared. Those around him may have just hurried along the lakeshore to hear the fast-becoming-famous young preacher, not giving a thought to lunch or dinner.

But not our lad. He had lunch. He was prepared.

Prepared for what?

There’s no way his mother woke up that morning saying, “I’ve got to fix my boy a good lunch, because that’ll get him a nice mention in that new book they’ll be writing in a decade or two.” Perhaps the lad was sent to help his dad or a neighbor work a field. We know kids, they never come prepared for anything; they have to be told. And even then, there’s usually some reluctance to follow instructions. But mothers are mothers, always taking care of business, even when those who benefit fuss and moan about it. So she packed him a lunch and made sure he took it.

We’ve all experienced it: you walk along the sidewalk when suddenly you see three people gathered together, looking intently at something across the street. What do you do? You stop, of course, join the group, and look in the same direction to see what they’re looking at. It’s just what we humans do.

So, here was the lad, on his way somewhere, when suddenly there was this mad rush along the shore of Lake Galilee. What does he do? Join the rush, of course. Would his mother have approved? Probably not.

We know the diversion was worth it, because this young preacher had wisdom nobody had heard before. Everyone was so captivated by the teachings of the carpenter’s son from a few villages up the road nobody noticed time flying.

Until the good Master said, “That’s all, folks.” Then, to his close followers: “Okay, let’s eat. Hey, guys, go feed ’em!”

We know the story. The disciples were aghast. (Interesting aside: you would think if the Master multiplied bread once to feed 5,000 people they’d know He can do it again without breaking a sweat. So, why then were they aghast again the second time this happened? That’s something I’ve not heard anybody preach on, but I’ve always wondered: what does that say about the disciples?)

Anyway, the disciples looked to the crowd to answer the Lord’s question:

What do you have?

Have you ever thought about it: are we to believe that in a crowd of 5,000 people only one single person brought food? Impossible. Too many Jewish mamas in the neighborhood for that to happen. I think the more likely explanation would be nobody else wanted to part with their lunch. “Sorry, buddy, I’m not giving my lunch to someone who can’t think farther than their nose!” The Jews of the time all wore robes of some sort, so it would have been easy to hide their lunch.

Jesus no doubt knew that.

He easily could have used the situation as a good opportunity for a fast and perhaps a good, home hitting message related to fasting or loving thy neighbor, but He knew when to stop preaching, and opted to bless instead.

Using the humble lunch of an anonymous boy.

It’s not your name or fame that’s important. It’s the courage of your obedience that really matters in God’s kingdom.

He knows your name.

He remembers you and He uses each one of us in ways we cannot foresee.

If you will offer up what little preparation you made, there’s no telling how many people He can feed with it.

Lunch

Characters In The Shadows: Naomi

In the preceding posts we read about Nahshon, Shalmon and Boaz, three generations of leaders in the young nation of Israel. This family, as we saw, was well connected and held in high esteem in the nation.

It’s not too much of a reach to surmise that the uncles, aunts and cousins of Israel’s first family were probably regarded highly as well. You’ll recall from the previous thrilling episode of As The Lion Turns that every Jewish mother worth her salt probably was trying to find a way to get her daughter to marry Boaz, who steadfastly withstood the relentless onslaught.

Well, if Boaz wasn’t the marrying type, then the next best option would be his brothers and cousins, right? It’s probably fair to assume that only the upper echelons of society figured they had a chance to have their daughter marry into the extended family of Shalmon and Boaz.

Elimelech

We know of one of those close relatives. His name was Elimelech, meaning “God, King,” or God is King. From the end of the story and the sequence of redemption, we can conclude Elimelech was a first cousin of Boaz, with an older brother (also Boaz’s cousin) who refused to redeem.

With the background we have, it’s easy to think Naomi was not just a common girl. In order to be selected to marry into the elite of the nation, she had to have been remarkable enough to set her apart from the competition. She was probably their culture’s equivalent of the smart cheerleader, who happened to be good looking and have a pleasant disposition — quite the catch, in other words. Who knows? She may even have been proposed as a potential bride for Boaz himself, before being let down as gently as Rahab could.

On Elimelech and Naomi’s wedding day it’s easy to imagine great expectations all around. But the subtleties in the narrative kind of lead us to believe things went downhill from there.

Famine

All the Bible tells us is there was a famine. Now, I’ve heard several preachers link things like famine to sin in the land, but that’s not accurate. Yes, there were times when the Lord sent a famine in response to something. But there are also other times when famines just happened in the normal course of life. Abraham had two famines so severe he had to leave the country, but nowhere in the Bible is there any suggestion that God was punishing Abraham for anything.

Famines, then, are part of the course of nature: they happen every now and then. In our times, we can think of recessions as the modern equivalent of famines: shortages brought on by forces beyond our control. And part of life.

Although a famine affects everyone, it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Here are two cousins: Boaz and Elimelech. The same famine struck both, but one prospered and the other lost his property.

From what we know of their society, Elimelech went into debt as the famine caused his revenues to dip below his expenses, and he used his property as security. When he defaulted on the debt, Elimelech had two choices: go into slavery to work off the debt, or flee. He fled.

Moab

To Naomi, this had to be a bitter blow. The homecoming queen had to face the equivalent of bankruptcy, and had to leave her circle of well-heeled friends in shame. Moreover, the place they went to, Moab, was the place of Balak, who called on Baalam to curse Israel not too long before.

Naomi no doubt hoped that Elimelech would find a job or some source of income with which to repay his debts back in Bethlehem. That clearly didn’t happen, and the years went by in Moab. Naomi went from somebody to nobody: a homecoming queen on the fringes of Israel’s first family to a struggling stranger in the land of a traditional enemy of her nation.

It got worse. When the time came for their oldest son to get married, Elimelech and Naomi selected a local girl. We read that in the Bible and move right along.

No.

Stop.

This is not a trivial thing. The right and proper thing would have been for the parents to make an effort to find a good girl from Israel.

And they didn’t.

If you have a mental picture that Elimelech and Naomi moved to the end of the earth, think again. From where they lived, a good Jewish girl was no more than about 10 miles away — an easy day’s walk. Abraham sent his servant way further than that to find a bride for Isaac. Ten miles is nothing. In all likelihood it would have brought them to someone from the tribe of Manasseh, so it’s not like they would have had to face the shame back in Bethlehem. Why didn’t they do that? Or at least try? We will never know. All we know is: they didn’t.

The picture we get of Elimelech is not a flattering one. If Boaz could not only survive the famine but prosper, why not Elimelech? And the others? We don’t read of anyone else leaving the country. Neither do we get the inference that the famine was unusually severe.

And now he was allowing his sons to marry into the enemy.

Naomi

This all had to be hard on Naomi. But, it seems, she did the best she could with the hand she was dealt. We get the impression that she got along well with her neighbors and, more importantly, her two daughters-in-law.

To no avail. One by one, her meal tickets literally died. In those days there was no Rosie the Riveter. Women depended on their husbands and their sons to earn a living. When all three died, Naomi’s world, second class as it had become, ended.

She had no choice but to return home, face the shame (“Oh, look at poor Naomi! Marrying into the top family of Judah, and look where that got her!”) and accept the provisions the welfare system allowed widows.

It’s easy to see why Naomi, when she returned, said, “Listen, don’t call me Sweet (Naomi). My name is Bitter (Mara). I’m a different person now. God has dealt harshly with me and, as a result, my identity, my nature, has changed.”

The Bible writer(s) ignored her wish, and kept on calling her Sweet.

We know why. Because we know how the story ended.

When they got back, Naomi still had a good working knowledge of how to snag the top bachelor in the nation, and wasted no time getting Ruth hooked up.

Happily Ever After

And Ruth and Boaz lived happily ever after.

But… so did Naomi. When she hit rock bottom, the Lord provided for her in the most miraculous fashion. She went from the poorhouse of Moab, right into the granny apartment Ruth made sure Boaz built for her. And she no doubt returned right back to having tea with her old acquaintances from way back.

It’s interesting to me how God reached out and took care of Naomi, even though she broke every rule in the modern charismatic book: she made one negative confession after another, had absolutely no faith, insulted God and even went so far as to change her name to reflect her bitterness.

God, though, is so much bigger in his His love and grace, isn’t He? Even when we mess up, even when we do everything wrong, even when it looks like we blew every chance we got… even when we give up looking and just resign ourselves to the misery we think is unchangeable, God can reach down and with a flick of His finger set our feet back on a rock and reinstate us back into the best place of our lives.

Simply because He loves us sooooo much!

Characters in the Shadows: Leah

God has a heart for the overlooked. Jesse’s young shepherd son David was disrespectfully overlooked. Tamar was wrongfully overlooked by Judah. Mordecai was forgetfully overlooked after saving the Persian king from an assassination plot. God, though, accomplished His purposes in each case. God’s plans are not hindered by mortal man overlooking one of his appointed vessels.

Jacob probably didn’t even notice Leah. He was young, with a rich dad, and he arrived in Padan-Aram with a track record as a go-getter. Rachel was the golden girl he wanted, the one with personality and beauty, and he set about to get her. God, though, had other plans.

For some reason, God had more of a heart for Leah than for Rachel. The Bible’s description of her physical appearance is not flattering. She wasn’t dynamic. In a word, Leah was imperfect. The more we read the Bible, the more God seems to seek out the imperfect among us for His work. The royal line of King David and Jesus Christ went through Leah and not the golden girl, Rachel.

Jacob, self-absorbed at this time, didn’t ask God what His plans were; he just chased the golden girl. God wasn’t fazed, though; He just used Laban to out-Jacob Jacob and Jacob literally woke up to find Leah in his bed. Imperfection, or being overlooked, never stopped God from accomplishing His purposes.

A very good friend and I were talking about this the other day. The first thing we talked about was God’s heart. He had compassion on Leah, the overlooked one, and therefore gave her sons. There is a therefore there. But my friend pointed out something I had never noticed before: With her first three sons, Leah strove for validation, approval and love from her husband. There was a difference with the fourth, Judah. It seems she surrendered her desires for Jacob’s love to the Lord, and her response to the birth of Judah was simply to praise the Lord. No ifs, ands or buts. And that son happens to be the son God chose for His royal tribe. Judah represented Leah’s surrender to God, and she did it without knowing what His plans for her or for her sons were. She just surrendered. Unconditionally. And in doing that, she set God’s purposes in motion. The surrender of the imperfect, that seems to be what God thrives on.

Leah lived her entire life as the overlooked one. But in the patriarch’s burial plot, Jacob has only wife lying beside him. That wife is Leah. Man may overlook, but God never does.

Being imperfect, even overlooked, looks more and more like the best qualification for use by the Lord in the accomplishment of His plans. In that, I’m more qualified than most. To get from qualification to use, all we have to do is add surrender, complete surrender.

God accomplishes His plans through the surrender of the imperfect.

How imperfect are we? How surrendered are we?

The road ahead, imperfectly seen

What?

Why has the flow of blog posts here dried up? (Both readers noticed! 🙂 )

Two reasons: first, I’m putting together a website to be the focus of my writing, albeit in a slightly different vein, and that has taken a lot of time. But that’s not the main reason. As I’m reading through the Bible, I’m in 1 Kings, just passing over to 2 Kings. I’ve read these stories many a time, but this is the first time I’m experiencing some emotional reactions.

Aghast might be an overstatement, but not by much. As I read about each of the northern tribes’ kings rejecting Jehovah as their Lord, I find an incredulous anger in me that’s new. What a bunch of idiots! And what a moronic clown king so-and-so was! (And all of them were.) Scratching my head, I can’t help wondering: if God knew in advance this would happen, why did He embark on this course (splitting the kingdom)? Why did He pick out Jeroboam when He knew he would be such a loser? And it’s not just one dynasty – four times He tossed out a dynasty and installed a new one, and every time with the same result. Why?

I have no answer. Knowing God, I’m sure there is one; there always is. So I’m reading the history with this undertone of frustrated incredulity, when the Mt. Carmel event shifts into view. I settle down. I know this is going to be good. After the parting of the Red Sea, this was probably the most stunning miracle God dropped from the sky to show humanity who God is and who is God. Mentally, I begin rubbing my hands and reading slower to savor the unfolding of this drama. In this sea of crappy futility, we’re approaching an island of heroic victory. This is guaranteed to be good!

Sure enough, the bad guys get zapped, just like I knew they would. But then, surprise! I see something I never saw before, and this just crumbles all the hopes I stored up for the reading of this event. The Great Miracle turns into one of the biggest let-downs, even tragedies, in the Old Testament!

Ask yourself: what exactly did this awesome miracle accomplish? No matter how hard I look, I just can’t see any answer but zip, zero, nada. Nothing! Nothing changed. All the leaders of the nation were there at Ahab’s command. That would be like a joint session of Congress: all were in attendance. All witnessed an incontrovertible and dramatic demonstration of Jehovah’s power. And they all confirmed it by saying, “Jehovah, He is God!” And then they killed the false prophets to top it off. Nice, right?

Wrong. Nothing changed after that. Great emotional event, but nothing changed. Ahab and Jezebel, and the nation’s leaders, made not one single change after proclaiming that Jehovah alone is God. When the sun rose the following morning, Baal was still their god. Less than 24 hours after being shown up as a loser god, totally worthless, Baal is their god again. Can you imagine that??? I am still shaking my head, trying to wrap my mind around that. Hardcore apostasy at its worst.

Oh, then there’s the rain. Elijah said it would stop until he said. Well, after the Great Miracle he said, and, sure enough, it rained almost immediately. What more did Ahab and the nation’s leaders need?

If I was Elijah and I had just facilitated the second greatest miracle in the nation’s history, and I saw myself and my God get blown off like that, how would I have felt? Devastated, incredulous, angry, frustrated, shaking my head and my fist. What, Lord, what? Why are we even doing this?

I can imagine Elijah taking all this in. Blown off like a wisp of steam from a cup of tea. Then, worse, he had to run for his life! I always wondered why he felt the need to flee, but I’m beginning to understand. The Great Miracle didn’t work. It didn’t even last 24 hours. And, rather than the hero and savior, he found himself a fugitive. A fugitive! This was not supposed to happen; this was not in the script. He had pulled off the Great Miracle flawlessly, but… no impact, no change.

How do I know nothing changed? God Himself said so. When Elijah, all devastated and discouraged, was whining to the Lord in the cave about the futility of it all, the Lord told Elijah He had seven thousand people in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Seven thousand? Out of a nation of three or four million? Really!? Remember, this is barely a month AFTER the Mt. Carmel miracle! That miracle, by God’s own math, had zero impact on the nation. God, remember, has total knowledge; He would have an immediate tally of any and all who repented and were added to His number. And none apparently were.

I could go on and make application to us today. (What would happen if you or I did a Mt. Carmel miracle in Times Square or the Mall today?) Israel’s history leaves me too dismayed to go there, though.

What am I missing? Please, talk to me!

Thanks.

The Mall

Pebbles to Campfires

Goliath learned it the hard way: pebbles kill. As he crumpled to the ground, he couldn’t tell: was it the skill of the trash talking youth or his God’s divine intervention that did him in?

In a management training session long ago, our instructor made the statement that success is opportunity and preparation meeting each other on the same side of the street. The more we prepare, the more success we achieve. How true is that in our spiritual lives? How much of our success comes from our preparation and how much from God’s sovereign move? On one hand, we can point to the Lord sovereignly performing miracles, and on the other hand we can see the diligent lifetimes of people like Billy Graham and Mother Theresa. But what about me? If I want to bring revival to my community, how much do I do and how much do I step aside and let the Lord do?

Let’s take a longer look at David’s legendary victory over Goliath. What would we have done after a major victory like that? We probably would have published a book or two, had several articles in Christian magazines and interviews on Christian networks, and perhaps even have ended up starting a new denomination, something called God’s First Sling Church, complete with its own Slinger School and Seminary. Every disciple would be trained in the use of their slings. When you encounter your next giant, you gotta be prepared! We may have developed different types of sling: the nursery sling toy, the Trainer Sling, the Warrior Sling and for the prize winning slingers, the Expert Sling. We’d have an annual Slinger National Christian Conference with several satellite MiniSling conferences. No giant would stand a chance against our ranks of slingers.

How much of that did David do? Did he start his own Slinger Squad? No, he didn’t. David never used his sling again. Rather than enshrining a dramatic  miracle into a formula, he reached forward to what lay ahead, as Paul described it a few centuries later. Unskilled in the art of war, he abandoned the sling, left behind his shepherd days and entered the army as a rookie. It’s not hard to imagine that he was a cocky kid when we listen to what his brothers said and even to what he said as he approached Goliath. Nevertheless, he humbled himself and continued his preparation, learning conventional warfare from the ground up. With his growing military skill and confidence (let’s be kind and call it that) he earned the respect of the men around him and his rise through the ranks was popular and fast. In short order, he became possibly the youngest general Israel ever had. By then, his shepherd days were a dim memory, and his sling lay forgotten at the bottom of his weapon box like one of Andy’s toys in Toy Story. He had become the nation’s hero, the slayer of tens of thousands, and the king’s son-in-law. His preparation for the throne, to all appearances, was complete.

Appearances deceive. David’s preparation had not even reached the halfway mark. He authored the first phase, from shepherd to general. Just when David thought he was done preparing, the Lord took over. With no warning, David’s life fell apart through no fault of his own. The God to whom David sang all those praise psalms in the sheep pasture, the One who gave him success and favor, seemed to vanish from his life. David had no choice but to run. While running for more than a decade, we can see how his cockiness gradually gave way to a humble confidence. His psalms of this period reveal that the Lord of his youth was still with him and still loved him. His circumstances were dramatically different, but his God was still the same… and in control.

We know the end of David’s story. In his changing circumstances, we can see how the Lord prepared him for the opportunity He had waiting for him. David’s preparation was to watch sheep, praise the Lord, fight lions and bears, and learn how to use the sling. God’s preparation was humility, learning conventional warfare, and learning leadership and patience in adversity. God’s preparation was a lot tougher than David’s, but much more valuable once David stepped into his destiny as Israel’s greatest king.

What was David’s role during the time of God’s preparation? He had to keep running to survive. That might sound nonspiritual, but it was all that was required of him. In the evenings, though, he could build a camp fire, relax in the love surrounding him, and praise the Lord. Fleeing and building campfires, that’s all he needed to do. God and time were taking care of the rest. David even made a few mistakes along the way, but none of those mattered.

Do you feel like David on the run? You think you have a calling, and you may even have seen some progress, but somehow have things stalled out, if not fallen apart? Do you wonder if your card might have accidentally fallen out of God’s Rolodex? Do you wonder if you are “missing it?” Does it seem that sheer survival has become so consuming, the persecution so relentless, that your calling, even the kingdom of God itself, has faded to a distant chimera? (Your daily word to look up.)

Relax. We can take heart from David’s story. God never abandoned him. If we search after the Lord like David did, He will direct our paths. While running to just survive, we still have those campfire moments to soak in the love around us and praise the Lord. Let’s relax and enjoy those, and let the Lord take care of the rest. He does such a good job!

If All Your Dreams Came True…

Imagine all of your dreams coming true. Can you? Has it ever happened before? We know of one: King Solomon. He is the only person of which the Bible says that the Lord loved him so much that He wanted to change his name to Jedediah (beloved of Jehovah). Wow, imagine that! Did it show? Let’s see: Displaying the golden spoon in his mouth from an early age, Solomon grew up in a palace as the heir apparent to the greatest king in the history of God’s own nation. And God promised his reign would be even more majestic.

En route to his destiny, all the drama and intrigue of his father’s reign passed him by. He didn’t need to go and fight in any wars; his dad had Joab. When Absalom conspired to take away his inheritance, others fought that battle for him. All he did was enjoy all the fun, games and good times of a king’s kid. Solomon didn’t have to assume the responsibility of the crown until he was forty, which gave him lots of time to enjoy himself any way he wanted. Unlike Jonathan, he didn’t display any interest in warfare, and wasn’t active in his dad’s army, and nobody seemed to mind. Make love, not war, seemed to be Solomon’s motto . Being the heir apparent of the superpower of the day, Solomon got to marry a princess of the only other superpower worth mentioning: Egypt. And, get this: Solomon didn’t have to provide a dowry, as was the norm. Pharaoh wanted so badly to have his daughter marry Solomon, HE provided the dowry! That pretty much fits what we expect when we think of God loving someone enough to want to change his name, doesn’t it?

Isn’t this what we all wish for and dream about? Be honest: if you could write the script of your life, could you do any better than that? Solomon did. When it looked like he might lose his kingdom to Adonijah’s connivance, his mother and Nathan simply stepped in and protected his interests for him; he didn’t have to do a thing. But wait, as those late night TV ads say, there’s more. Once Solomon ascended the throne, he got a personal visit from the God who wanted to change his name. This wasn’t a fairy tale genie, it was the God of heaven and earth, telling Solomon he could have whatever he wanted. Well, it seems Solomon, on top of everything else, was smart, too. He asked God the right question and then, just like hitting the daily double on a TV game show, he got “everything else” thrown in (as if he didn’t already have everything).

Solomon then proceeded to build an extravagant temple for God, but even for this, his dad had already bought most of the materials. All he had to do was put it together. And when that was done, Solomon received a second visit from Lord–not an angel, the Lord Himself. This visit, though, had a gentle warning.

The fairy tale life of Solomon continued unabated. Because his dad before him was so powerful, and because God loved him, he didn’t need to fight any wars. And, if that wasn’t enough, all he had to do was rake in the money everyone was throwing at him. It was almost like you walking into a bank and the manager taking you aside and insisting that you please take this check for a million dollars.

Could we get used to that? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bottomless bank account, our face on the cover of Time magazine and our choice of marriage partner? And if that person displeased us, all we do is speak to the chief of staff… who simply finds a better one? Add to that absolute power: if someone cut us off in traffic, we simply get on the cell phone and security takes care of not only the problem, but the person, too? When we dream, isn’t that how we dream? Seriously.

Solomon had all of that. He is the one person we know of who truly had the life we only dream of.

So… how did it work out for him? Was this the first happily ever after? Sadly, no. God has (still has) a body of common sense instruction. We call it by many names, most of them unflattering: the law, Old Testament, legalism, and more. Solomon, wise though he was, didn’t follow these guidelines. We know about the woman thing, but there were several other ways in which he blew off the Lord’s guidelines. And over time, gradually but inexorably, Solomon turned his back on the Lord. Sad, very sad.

Solomon received a third visit from the Lord, the one who a few decades earlier had wanted to change his name to Jehovah’s Beloved. This time, though, all Solomon received was a stinging rebuke, and the only promise he received was that his kingdom would be ripped apart, and it was his fault. Going forward, because Solomon turned his back on his heavenly Father, he would have war, dissension and strife. As we know, God turned his back on the glorious temple, too, which was ransacked a few short years later by none other than Solomon’s father-in-law.

Having all his dreams didn’t work out well for Solomon after all. What about us? Could it be that having all our dreams come true might not be the best thing in the world for us? Below the photo, there’s a link to a real life sad article (from a very credible source) about the billionaire scion of the Anheuser-Busch fortune/dynasty, who locks himself in a huge mansion these days. It might not be representative, but it is thought provoking.

Do I still want the Lord to give me all those nice things (sandwiches) I used to ask for? I’m not so sure any more.

How about you?

Simple Pleasures, Vieques, PR

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/fall-of-the-house-of-busch-07012011.html

(Warning: it’s a long read, and not all that edifying.

Sandwiches 2: Of rings and tattoos

She was good looking and friendly. A few days ago, I had to return something to one of the chain stores we all know. The woman at the customer service desk was one of the most helpful I had encountered in a long time. She also had the tattoo of a wedding ring on the ring finger of her left hand, where a wedding ring would go.

The first thing that struck me was how permanent that tattooed ring was. We think of a ring as the symbol of a lifetime commitment. Yet, as we all know, rings come off all too often in our day and age. I’m not a tattoo person. (I know, I know. All I can offer in defense is nobody’s perfect.) But this tattoo struck me for its location and symbolism.

As I waited for her to do her computer processing thing, I wondered why this tattoo made such a strong impression on me. We all see tattoos every day, but none has ever held my attention for more than a second or two. Then it dawned on me. I’m a notorious mind changer, and the very first thought that comes to my mind when I see a tattoo is: what if I change my mind? I have an uncle who had a tattoo on his arm way back in the fifties. I think it was an anchor or something like that. He changed his mind later in life, and it’s no trivial thing to have a tattoo removed, I learned. At the rate at which I change my mind, I’d be keeping the entire medical community in business for life, and so I’ve just kept tattoos off my radar screen. Until I saw that ring.

When we commit our lives to the Lord, isn’t that the most permanent commitment of all? What better symbol to use for the ultimate in eternal commitments than a (gasp) tattoo? I would be happy to have an engagement ring on my  finger as a symbol of my impending marriage to the Lamb. Wouldn’t that be something? And what’s more permanent than a tattooed ring? I don’t even have to take it off when I work in the garden or on the car. What a symbol of a permanent commitment! Hmmm…

I was brought back to planet earth when the customer service gal turned back to me. As she handed me my paperwork, I pointed to her tattoo and said something like nice, tattoo, pretty permanent, eh.

“Yes,” she replied, “unless you have $1,600 to remove it.”

“How do you know how much it costs to remove?” I asked.

The sadness was inescapable as it clouded over her face. “Because I asked for quotes,” she replied softly. I couldn’t miss what she didn’t say. Her heaviness walked out the door with me: someone had changed a mind (again) and someone got hurt (again).

I’m a notoriously slow processor of emotions. And so it wasn’t until a day or two later I realized what an idiot I was. I could have, should have, prayed for that nice woman. At the very least, I should not have ruined her day by reminding her of her misery! To quote Julie Andrews from My Fair Lady: “What a fool I was…what an addlepated fool, what a mutton-headed dolt was I!” (And yes, addlepated is a real word. Have fun looking it up! 🙂 )

I need to expect the unexpected. When I walk in to a store to buy or return something, I have to have my mind focused on the kingdom of God… not my sandwiches! 🙂 We never know when our paths will cross with His plans.

Crossing Paths

Jacob: The Patriarch of Imperfection

God had just made a covenant with a cheat. Jacob had just used deception to receive Isaac’s blessing, and he was on his way, on foot, to find a bride in the land of Padan-Aram. He had a blessing, a walking stick, the clothes on his back and that’s all. Early in the journey, not far from home, he lay down to sleep. That night his life changed. In a dream, the God of his father and grandfather extended the covenant He had made with them to Jacob. God had just made a covenant with a cheat.

Jacob fled to Laban to find a wife, but also to avoid getting killed by Esau. When Jacob saw Rachel, he probably thought to himself: “Hmmm… pretty girl! Let’s see. I have no money for a dowry, but if I commit to Laban that I’ll work for his daughter, that could work for me in more ways than one. I’ll not only get the pretty girl for a wife, but Laban will be obligated to protect me from Esau. Two birds with one stone, this could be really good!”

Actually, there was a third bird, but Jacob didn’t find that out for seven years. God (for reasons known only to Him) decided that Leah, not Rachel, was to be in the earthly lineage of Jesus, and Jacob found himself (a) with a wife he didn’t bargain for and (b) paying the same high price for her as for the wife he really wanted. To Jacob’s credit, and we often overlook this, he didn’t whine, pout or throw a hissy fit. He didn’t grab Rachel and escape into the night. He could have; he had a deal and Laban was the one who broke the deal. But Jacob didn’t do that. Why not?

You know, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the posts on this blog admiring God’s overlooking of our imperfections. And, of the heroes in the Bible, Jacob was probably the most imperfect of all. However, amidst all of Jacob’s questionable behavior, two things are easy to overlook: his resolute faith that God is true to His promises, and his unquestioning obedience to God’s instructions. Jacob took the trip to Padan-Aram in obedience to his father and mother (see Genesis 28). Then, when the Lord told Jacob to return to Canaan, he was on the road within 24 hours. That is obedience with a capital O!

In addition to obedience, Jacob also trusted the Lord totally. God told him at Bethel that He would take care of him, and Jacob trusted Him enough to work for free for 14 years. How radical is that? Honestly, I don’t know if I could trust the Lord enough to work for someone, especially someone as dicey as Laban, for 14 years, let alone for free. I mean, really! The only reason Jacob could do that is because he trusted his God. That is some serious trust! And look how the Lord rewarded that trust: after the 14 year slave labor contract, God made Jacob a millionaire in just six years. How? The Lord came to Jacob in a dream and told him what to do with the pregnant sheep at the drinking trough. Those instructions were pretty off the wall but Jacob, obedient and trusting, followed them to the letter. Seriously: who would have expected stuff in the drinking water to affect the color of the lambs born to the ewes drinking the water? That hasn’t been done before or since that event. So it had to be God, honoring Jacob’s faith and obedience.

God may love and covenant with people like us, who are imperfect. That is wonderful and reassuring. However, there is another side to this picture of love and grace: Our loving Father appreciates and enjoys it when we trust Him enough to surrender totally and obey completely, even if the instructions may at times appear a little off the wall to our puny brains. Moses trusted the Lord enough to obey and stretch out his staff over the Red Sea and divide it. Nobody had ever divided a sea with a rod before, so that was a pretty wacky instruction from a human standpoint. Moses obeyed, though, and the rest is history.

Do we trust God enough to obey Him when He gives us an off the wall command? Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding–isn’t that written in the Bible somewhere? It seems to me God is calling His children across the world to trust Him enough to obey Him when He says to trust Him for healing when that doesn’t seem likely, for provision when there seems to be no way, or for something else so impossible we can’t even mention it. He may take a detour, and He may wait a few more years than we think He should. But He has proven that he can be trusted.

So, what happened to Jacob when he obeyed the Lord and took off to return to Canaan? He got chased from behind by an angry Laban and he received word that Esau, the one seeking to kill him, was coming from his front with a whole army of men. Did Jacob sweat? You bet he did. Did he scheme and try to wiggle out of it? Sure he did. Did any of those actions make any difference? Absolutely none. God spoke to Laban and told him to leave Jacob alone. The Lord took care of everything. (Oh, by the way, He did that in spite of Rachel smuggling idols into the camp.)

If we surrender our lives to the Lord totally, trust Him completely and obey Him to the letter, we can sit back and drink that Diet Coke John Wimber used to talk about.

Cheers!