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…

Characters In The Shadows: Shalmon’s Son

The Firstborn

If you look back in the history of Israel, you can’t help noticing their tradition that the oldest son has a special place in the home, and in their society. In fact, the parents had to buy back their oldest son from the Lord, to whom the firstborn belonged.

However, you also can’t help noticing how often that didn’t work out as planned. In the case of Israel, it was even more pronounced: he had to disqualify not one, but three of his oldest sons before settling on Judah as the de facto oldest son in his household and in the subsequent nation. And lest you think Judah was lily white, he ended up losing his two oldest sons and maintained the royal line only through some subterfuge by his daughter-in-law, Tamar. Aaron’s two oldest sons had an even more dramatic fate: they were killed by no less than the Lord Himself, together with all their families, and Eleazar, who actually was Aaron’s third son, became the next high priest. And we think today’s soap operas are far-fetched.

It’s reassuring, then, to see that during the time Israel crossed the Red Sea, traversed the Sinai wilderness, conquered Jericho and settled Canaan, the leaders of the tribe of Judah were not blowing it royally, and the firstborn of each generation took his rightful place, right on schedule.

But that almost ended with Shalmon and the first family the royal line raised in Bethlehem.

The House of Shalmon

If you understand just little bit of Hebrew culture, you can picture the scenario. In this new town, Bread City (which is what Bethlehem means) the unquestioned leader was Shalmon, head over the entire tribe of Judah, one of Joshua’s spies, and the hero who married Rahab.

Every Jewish mama in a hundred mile radius had one goal: to have her daughter be the one chosen to marry Shalmon’s son. What honor that would bring to their family! Being the in-laws, they would be invited to join at the seat of honor reserved for the greater Shalmon clan. Married into the Main Man’s dynasty: every mother’s dream.

And so, it’s not hard to imagine the jostling and positioning, subtle and often not so subtle, Rahab had to endure as all these Jewish mamas threw each of their daughters’ hats into the ring. The more strong willed ladies would no doubt have laid the guilt trip on Rahab with a shovel: “Look, lady, don’t think you’re someone. We know where you came from. Now, if you want to stay in our good books, you just make sure little Becky here gets to meet your son, and you make sure to tell him what a nice girl she is and what a great mother she’ll make for your heirs. And if you’re even thinking of getting uppity, we’ll make your life a living nightmare.”

Rahab, you can imagine, probably had to think “Oy!” by herself many a time. But she couldn’t complain. This was the price you paid for the place of honor in the community, the ultimate backhanded compliment.

In time, as her son grew up, Rahab must have screened out many candidates out of hand, but she also must have felt honored to have her son be in such demand. It certainly beat the alternative.

As time went by, the line of prospective brides continued, but… something was not right in the home of Happily Ever After, Bread City.

The Problem

We don’t know why, but Shalmon’s son never married.

In the beginning, it probably didn’t surprise anybody. Look what happened to Prince Charles and Lady Di. You can’t be too careful with these things. This isn’t just the family next door, this is the Big Line. We have to choose carefully. And so everyone probably commended the young man for not jumping at the first pretty face brought to him for approval.

After a few years, though, approval must have turned to concern. At first, the mothers of the rejected daughters probably whispered that the Shalmons were getting big heads. “What? Our girls are suddenly not good enough for them any more? Who do they think they are, anyway?

Rahab, I’m sure, had many talks with her son, trying to figure out what the problem might be. The Bible doesn’t tell us what the problem was, but (romantic that I am) I think it was as simple as the young man simply didn’t meet anybody he liked. Were his standards too high, perhaps? We will never know.

I think that as the nation settled in to its new identity of a free nation under God, with its own country, Gen FLIP (Finally Living In Peace) might very well have decided they don’t want to just be told what to do. That was so “slave-identity.”

This we do know: Shalmon didn’t raise an idiot. His son might not have married, but he knew how to take care of his affairs, and he was highly honored and very successful in his financial dealings. The time came when the area experienced  a severe famine. Others, even one of his cousins, lost it all. Some even had to leave the country. His cousin did, a broken man, in order to avoid slavery in his own nation. Shalmon’s boy, though, thrived, and became wealthy. Not only was he from the right stock, he was smart, honored… and filthy rich as well.

You can just imagine the conflict this caused in their society. This was their first and best opportunity to fill the land, as the Lord commanded, and the number one bachelor in the nation was not doing his part. What was his problem?

The famine in the land ended, and Shalmon’s son just grew richer… and older.

How many evenings did he and his mother sit around the dinner table talking about this? Hundreds of times, is my guess.

Happily Ever After

Then, one night, everything changed. Rahab must have noticed the bounce in his step, and over dinner, she must have said, “Okay, Son, spit it out. What happened today?”

“Mom, I think I may have met someone.”

“So? How? Who?”

“It’s a foreign girl. Quite pretty!” I’m sure his eyes glowed. “She just showed up today and asked to work in my field!”

But then his eyes clouded over. “But I don’t know. I mean, she’s not an Israelite. What will people say?”

“Oy!” Rahab must have replied, rolling her eyes. ” What are you doing to me?”

The next few nights, over dinner, you can just imagine the dialogue continuing, covering the dilemma from every angle. Shalmon’s son must have been a fairly headstrong fellow, given the hundreds of marriage proposals he turned down, and he was not letting go of this notion that seems to have entered his head.

The mothers in the community must have gotten wind of this new development, hoping it would blow over, as all their previous attempts at match making had blown over.

Who knows? Maybe Rahab’s son was so old they just resigned themselves to the fact that Shalmon’s line was not destined to continue.

As the days passed, though, it became evident that the stubborn son was getting more and more set on the notion that maybe, just maybe, this foreign girl was The Girl for him. And, who knows, Rahab may have sat with the women of the town, and lamented. “Golda, what can I do? I’m the last person on this earth to tell my son to forget about marrying a foreign girl! I’m Rahab, for goodness’s sake, who am I to talk like that?”

And, a few days later, I can imagine Rahab saying, in an exasperated voice, “So, Boaz, my son, who is this foreign girl you’re thinking about marrying, then?”

“Her name’s Ruth, Mom. Remember cousin Elimelech, who got wiped out in the famine a few years ago? Well, it turns out he and Naomi went to Moab and their sons married local girls there. Then, when all the men died, Naomi came back and Ruth came back with her. You remember the land Elimelech pawned to raise money? Because I’m his cousin, I’m second in line to redeem his land, and Ruth comes with it. How cool is that?”

Well, you know the rest of the story. Shalmon’s son, this week’s character in the shadows, is none other than Boaz, gread-grandfather of King David.

Amazing how God puts pieces of the puzzle together.

Hey, who knows, He might even be putting something together with you…

Characters In The Shadows: Freedom Identity

Two posts ago you met Nahshon, leader of the tribe of Judah and Israel’s tribal council, and last week you met his his son, Shalmon.

Reading about the camp and these leaders in the shadows, it’s easy to overlook something else, something bigger, that was happening during the time of these two men. And, before we continue reading about Shalmon’s son (who is, by the way, an extemely interesting person, as you’ll hopefully see soon) I wanted to take a time-out to ponder that “something else.”

Nation

Where were you 400 years ago? Where was your nation in 1613? Did it even exist? Four hundred years is a long, long time. That’s how long Israel spent in Egypt.

One man’s family disappeared from view like a caterpillar spinning into its cocoon. (The Bible has no history, or even genealogies, covering this 400 year period). Then, what disappeared as a caterpillar family emerged from that cocoon as a fully fledged nation.

But what kind of nation? When you mention nations like Spain, China, Brazil or the United States, each one brings a different identity to mind. No two nations are the same, not even close. Nations, even ones less than 400 years old, have distinct personalities — identities — which were forged by their histories, environments and the leaders they produced.

Israel arrived in Egypt with parties all around. One of his sons was the Vice-President of Egypt, and the king actually got into his limousine chariot to come and pay the patriarch a courtesy visit. The family settled in a fruitful land and they prospered like crazy — the Bible’s version of “happily ever after.”

Then things changed. Israel wasn’t a slave family when they moved to Egypt, but slaves they became… through no sin of their own. It was “just circumstances.” They lived in peace, raising their livestock when, next thing you know, they were slaves.

For a very long time. Exactly how long, we don’t know, but at least a couple of generations.

Then, as we know, the Lord rescued them in a way that makes even Hollywood look like amateur hour. All of us have seen a nature program where one animal chases another one for dinner. Our sympathy almost universally goes to the antelope or rabbit, frantically running for its life. “Run, rabbit run!” And we can’t help but break out in a cheer when dinner makes that final leap to safety, and stands there, wide-eyed, panting, nervously looking around for the next threat to its life.

Israel’s escape from Egypt was just as frantic, if not more so.

Can you imagine the scene when the waters covered the Egyptian army, as the nation stood on the banks of the Red Sea, panting and sweating, debating whether to continue running or keep looking?

Identity

What an escape… by a bunch of slaves.

Someone recently told us something interesting: almost all people who win the lottery end up back where they were before they hit the jackpot. And millionaire businessmen who lose it all are millionaires again after about ten years or so.

There’s something in us, some nebulous thing we call “identity” that shapes our values, which in turn shape our decisions, which over time bring about our destiny. Millionaires have something inside of them that made them millionaires and, when you take away their money, that innate something that caused them to be millionaires once will cause them to repeat.

This identity thing runs deep, very deep. It’s hard for us to even put our finger on it, let alone change it. With God all things are possible, of course.

And so it was with Israel. All they knew as an identity was “being a slave.” They weren’t used to owning anything, and they were certainly not used to thinking for themselves.

The miracle of the Red Sea was a physical miracle, but it ushered in so much more. One of the big miracles that happened slowly, over several centuries, was that thing of becoming a nation.

The second miracle was the shedding of a slave identity, and mentality, and putting on the identity of freedom.

Freedom

Freedom is a twofold thing:

  • freedom from something and
  • freedom to do something.

This was new to Israel. God, in His infinite wisdom, sent Moses to Kingdom Training School at the biggest and best run kingdom in the world at the time, and Moses set about instructing the nation on how to live and behave as a nation of free men under God, and not a bunch of hooligan slaves running amok.

Transition

If we look at recent American history, we can see how the generation of the 60s broke away from the values and beliefs of the generation before them. And it seems each successive generation acquires its own unique identity. Terms like Generation X or Y are becoming commonplace.

Israel, likewise, had to transition from Generation Slave to Generation Free Wanderer, to Generation Land Possessor, to Generation Finally Living In Peace (Gen FLIP).

In the genealogy of the tribe of Judah, then, Amminadab was probably from Gen Slave, Nahshon from Gen Free Wanderer and Shalmon from Gen Land Possessor. Being one of Joshua’s two spies, he no doubt was part of the army that settled the land.

And it was Shalmon, then, who probably was the one who staked out the clan’s land around Bethlehem, and did what no generation had done for centuries: build a home.

This is not a trivial thing. Imagine nobody in American having their own home since 1613. Now, for the first time, they were able to have a home of their own. Some they built, but most were already built for them by the Canaanites.

All they had to do was move in.

Settlement

Now you have a mental picture of the peaceful scene in Israel, as the new nation settled into the new land, the land of milk and honey, the land the Lord promised them, a land with cisterns, houses and vineyards all prepared just for them.

This was the first generation that was able to raise their kids in a home of their own. And this generation, Gen FLIP, was the first generation EVER in this new nation that grew up in this new-fangled notion: a parents’ house.

Can you imagine the joy throughout the nation? What a dream come true! Your own property, your own home, your own vineyard, flock of sheep, and orchard.

This, then was the setting for the home Shalmon and Rahab made for their kids. Shalmon was still the leader of the tribe of Judah, and still The Man at the annual Leadership Conference the fledgling nation held.

But he was the first one in the long line of Judah that had a permanent home, in a permanent, promised land, in which they raise a family. His oldest son, Bar-Shalmon, may have been born by the time they moved in, but he was the first generation in the new nation that actually grew up in “our house.”

Next time we’ll see how that turned out for the young man, the next in the royal line of Judah…

Characters in the Shadows: Shalmon

We’re all human, aren’t we? That means we’re imperfect and deal with imperfection all around us. However, the Lord never lets that get in his way. He accomplishes His plan with imperfect people, living and working in imperfect circumstances.

Imperfect doesn’t mean bad, though. It simply means we don’t know everything and can’t do everything… but God accomplishes His purposes anyway.

We’ve seen before in this series how God lifted imperfect Leah out and established His royal line through her, and not the beautiful, winsome Rachel.

Ever hear the saying: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know? Well, I’ve often wondered: how do you get to know “who you know?”

Knowing The Right People

Shalmon, Nahshon‘s oldest son, was someone who knew the right people.

How?

Remember the diagram of Israel’s camp? (Click the image for a larger picture.)

Israel camp

This layout shows how about 2 million people lived. Even today, that’s not a small city. As a comparison, greater Denver has about 2 million people, and it’s easily 10-15 miles from one side to the other in any direction. And this is without all the cattle, sheep and whatever other animals traveled with them.

When that many people live together, neighborhoods develop naturally. When you step outside of your tent, the first people you meet and interact with are your neighbors. Why would you walk three hours across a hot desert to hang out with someone when you have your immediate family and neighbors at your doorstep?

The diagram shows that Nahshon’s clan had probably the most privileged location in the tent city, given that their tents butted right up against those of Moses and Aaron.

Shalmon grew up rubbing shoulders with the mucky-mucks of Israel in a most natural and comfortable way. Aaron was his uncle by marriage, and Eleazar, the new high priest, was his cousin.

Joshua, being from Ephraim, lived all the way on the other side of town, and was the only person who had to walk a long way to work every day, to be with Moses, his boss. Looking at the camp layout, it’s no surprise that Joshua would forego a 3-4 hour round trip for lunch and just hang out in the tent of meeting between assignments. That, in turn, makes it easy to see that Joshua got to know Shalmon as he and Eleazar chased each other between the tents, growing up before his eyes.

And so, as Moses, Aaron and Joshua looked around them to see who the next generation of leaders would be, it’s easy to see how Eleazar and Shalmon knew the right people, and were in the right place. They couldn’t plan it that way, it just happened in the “natural” course of events.

The Spy

The Bible doesn’t name Joshua’s two spies. However, I believe one of them was none other than Shalmon, and here’s why:

Authority

Did you notice that when one of the spies spoke to to Rahab, he spoke not as a youth, chosen for his athleticism and bravery? It had to have been someone senior, with authority. When he interacted with Rahab, he spoke for, and bound, the entire nation: if you do this, we (the mighty nation) will do that. He didn’t send a fax or carrier pigeon back to camp to ask for authorization. He just spoke up on the spot, and he spoke with authority, committing the entire leadership of Israel to save and incorporate a woman about whose character some question might have existed, and her family, into their nation. Not a trivial matter.

Nahshon by this time was dead, because everyone of the earlier generation died before the Jordan crossing, which meant that Shalmon was one of the leaders in the tribal council. The pair in Jericho…

  • … knew the will and ways of the Lord.
  • … knew the will and ways of the nation’s leadership.
  • … had the confident authority that they could speak for both.
  • … had confidence that the Lord and the leadership would back them up.

Who in the nation but Eleazar and Shalmon had that? (The romantic in me just believes Eleazar was the other guy, and he went undercover with his cousin, and that’s why their names aren’t recorded — it wouldn’t do for the high priest to be known to have gone undercover on this exciting mission, would it? But that’s just me.)

Rahab

The narrative in the book of Joshua omits the end of this particular story, but the genealogies caught it. Call me a romantic, but I believe that when Shalmon and his coworker wandered around Jericho, there had to have been at least the tiniest little spark, that spontaneous thing none of us can explain, between Shalmon and Rahab.

What!? How can you say that?

Why would someone give shelter to the enemy, at great risk to the lives of her entire family? How did Shalmon happen to even strike up a conversation with a woman? (Jesus at the well tells us what a no-no that was back in the day.)

But, biggest evidence of all: who married Rahab, the foreigner, the stranger, the non-Israelite? None other than… Shalmon! My imagination says that’s because he got to know her, in a time of great stress, when our characters get revealed. And he loved her. He had the option to marry anybody in the nation, being he was the number one bachelor in the entire nation at the time. But he married Rahab.

Shalmon

Shalmon, then, emerges as one of those characters in the shadows, unnamed for the most part, who simply did his part, trusting the Lord in all he did, and living in unity with and submission to the authorities of his day.

His faith in the Lord made him do outrageous things, like volunteer to go inside the enemy’s camp, and make outrageous promises, fully persuaded that he was doing the right thing and that he would be backed up by his leaders.

And he got a remarkable woman as his wife. How remarkable? When everyone in her city cowered with fear, she saw the works of Jehovah, the God of Israel, and she believed. So much so that she, a foreigner,  made it into the Hebrews 11 “hall of faith.”

What a remarkable couple that must have been.

Imagine growing up in their house.

Hmmm… that sounds like a great idea. Let’s do that next time. 🙂

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

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!

The Well Revival

The first revival in the world wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did. And when it did, it happened all wrong. In a society dominated by men, it was a woman who caused this first revival.

Who was this super-saint who shifted the spiritual atmosphere? The town slut, that’s who. The townspeople knew exactly who and what she was. Jesus knew who she was the moment He met her. She didn’t pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, but, then again, she didn’t try. Starting a revival never even crossed her mind; she just came to fetch water. This doesn’t fit our script for how revival should happen, does it? But revival happened anyway.

Revival wasn’t supposed to happen before the crucifixion… but it did. A woman wasn’t supposed to talk to a man, least of all a strange man, and most certainly not with a Jew… but she did. A Jewish man was not supposed to talk to a woman, and certainly not a Samaritan woman… but Jesus did. In Mark 7, Jesus explained to the Syro-Phoenician woman that He only came for the lost sheep of Israel, and so He shouldn’t have engaged with a Samaritan woman… but He did.

There were no announcements or ordinations. There was no stadium, town hall, or even farmer’s field set aside for the occasion. There was no mention of hell or any eternal damnation, no oratory, no sound system, no liturgy, no altar ministry team, no worship team, no team at all, in fact. There were no miracles or healings we are told about. There was no altar call. Jesus wasn’t even supposed to be there. He was chased away by the religious order of the day, because they heard he and his team had baptized more people than John. Rather than stay and fight, they retreated to Galilee and just happened to stop in the forbidden territory.

How does that work? How does a slut cause a revival, even (or especially) when Jesus knows who she is? It started with her listening when the Lord spoke. Jesus didn’t offer any threats or enticements to cause this revival. In order, this is what He said (like listening to one half of a phone conversation):

  • Give me a drink (request, asking for something)
  • If you knew the gift of God and who it was asking you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water (preach and challenge)
  • Whoever drinks this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks My water will never thirst. It will become a fountain of water springing up to eternal life (preaching, slightly mystical)
  • Go, call your husband (asking the impossible)
  • You said it: you had 5, now you’re not married (word of knowledge, speaking truth)
  • The hour is coming when worship of the Father won’t take place here. The hour is here when true worshipers will worship in spirit and truth. God is Spirit (mystical prophesy and theology)
  • I who speak to you am He

Nowhere did Jesus threaten her with hell, promise her anything, or tell her what to do. He told her the simple truth: who He was and who she was. Then He backed it up with a word of knowledge, which pointed a finger straight at her sin, unflinchingly, yet with no condemnation. The way He said it assumed she knew her sin; there was no need to rub it in.

He then proceeded to demolish the parochial theology regarding the irrelevant question of where worship physically should take place. As with her sin, He managed to do so without softening any truth, yet with no condemnation. In this exchange, Jesus displayed His unique way of pointing straight at sin and error, but never in a way that attacks the person. He simply stated the facts and then stopped. He laid out the future, but with neither threat nor promise.

After listening to Jesus, she responded by going back to town to tell everyone what happened. Was she a credible witness? Hardly. They knew her, oh, they knew her! “Isaac, if I catch you as much as looking at that women, you’re a dead man!”

It’s easy to overlook how remarkable it was that she spoke to the townspeople, and even more remarkable that they listened to her.  The very reason that she was at the well was because she was an outcast. The women of a village would normally come to get water around sunset, when it was cooler. That would also be the social gathering spot, kind of like the water cooler at the office. Not her. She had to go get her water at midday, in the heat of the day, because she wasn’t worthy of inclusion into their community.

However, the impact of Jesus on this woman was so strong that she forgot her ostracism and simply blurted out her story to all who were in earshot, whether they were listening or not. Something in her shifted. Without realizing it, she was suddenly speaking with authority and urgency. Where did that come from? Could it have been the Holy Spirit? The words she spoke resonated with people who wouldn’t give her the time of day. Why? Could it be that her words had wind under their wings, the wind of the Holy Spirit?

We don’t have to do revival right. I don’t need to be an angel to cause a revival. All I need is a real encounter with Jesus. The Holy Spirit takes care of the rest.

 

Sandwiches

I had a dream a while ago. In it, I saw the board of directors of the Ford Motor Company having a routine board meeting. When lunchtime arrived, sandwiches were brought in to allow them to continue with the meeting. Of course, these were nice sandwiches, Ford being a Fortune 500 corporation and all.

It was a pretty innocuous, if unusual, dream. I asked the Lord what it meant. “What is Ford all about?” He asked me right back.

“Well, cars and trucks,” I replied.

“Are you sure?”

Was that a trick question? “Of course I’m sure,” I ventured.

“Those were awfully nice sandwiches, weren’t they?” He asked. “Are you sure Ford is not all about sandwiches?”

What kind of question was that? “I’m pretty positive the Ford Motor Company is not about sandwiches,” I replied, this time with conviction. “Why are You asking me these questions?”

After a few days I heard the answer, but not in a direct conversation. It was more of an awareness that dawned on me as I meditated over this somewhat unusual exchange.

What is the kingdom of God about? Is it about people/souls, or is it about money, possessions, houses, jobs… and parking spots? Just as, in the picture above, the board members received sandwiches to keep going, we receive things we need to keep going (like money, houses, parking spots, etc.). But, just as Ford is about things bigger and more important than those sandwiches, God and His kingdom are about things bigger and more important than the stuff we need to keep going.

There is nothing wrong about having to keep going, needing jobs, food, a house, and all the other things we need to live on earth. There is also nothing wrong if those are nice (or not so nice). There is nothing wrong about being responsible and diligent about those things.

But those are not the higher things. They are merely the sandwiches.

What do we pray about the most? Sandwiches or the kingdom of God?What dominates our day timers and smart phones?

The board of directors of Ford are not elected to their positions of honor to receive sandwiches. They are there for bigger things. They leave every board meeting remembering not the sandwiches (even though they enjoyed them) but the decisions they made about the corporation they serve. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with us being sandwich minded, but that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to serve in the kingdom of God. Salvation is a free gift, and that’s behind us. Now we’re in the kingdom of God and, if we wish, there are positions for all of us to fill so we can become co-laborers. It can be helping out with children’s ministry at church, it can be street evangelism, it can be making sandwiches (literally) for those who are going without. The list truly is endless. What all of these positions have in common is they involve serving other people in one way or another. They all are part of… the greater thing.

The kingdom of God is about people. It is about their (and our) salvation first, and then about their (and our) attaining to maturity and intimacy with our loving Father. The “sandwiches” are not unimportant, just much less important.

Bon appetit!  🙂

What about David?

It didn’t happen on purpose. When I started the blog, I had no intention of writing a post every day (except Sundays) but it just worked out that way. Neither did I intend to write as much about our imperfection as I did. Maybe it’s the time of year. Isn’t January always the month of New Years Resolutions? And is there anything that drives home our imperfection as much as New Years Resolutions? It’s simple, really: if we weren’t imperfect, we’d never have New Years Resolutions, would we? Whatever the reason may be, here we are, conscious of our imperfection, but reminded that God is totally unfazed by any of our imperfections.

And we need that reminder, don’t we? We somehow believe God is waiting for us to achieve a state of beautiful perfection before he opens his filing cabinet to retrieve his plans for our lives. Isn’t our imperfection the reason why we’ve been so use-less so far? The answer is no, that’s not the reason. God’s plans for our lives have already been taken out of the cabinet. They’re spread out on the table, and God is waving us over to come and take a look and a listen.

Why have I taken so long to punch in and get to work in God’s kingdom? Yep, it’s that perfection thing. I’m not perfect, and therefore God has to take a deep sigh, sit down heavily, roll his eyes, pour Himself a cup of coffee and drum his fingers on the table, wondering when.ever.is.this.doofus.going.to.get.his.stinking.act.together??? At least that’s what I think. Is that what you perhaps think?

Think again. Who in the Bible are the giants, the ones through whom God accomplished the most? David is close to the top of that list, isn’t he? I just finished the history of David in my through the Bible journey, and I am struck by his, well, imperfection. We all know about Bathsheba-gate, and that’s not what I’m talking about, bad as it is. There’s a whole lot more where that came from. David’s oldest son raped his half-sister, and David did nothing about it. He didn’t protect Tamar (incidentally, named after a forebear who was also maltreated) and he didn’t punish Amnon. Not good. This opened the door for Absalom to exact justice, and David didn’t punish him for that either. Not good. When Absalom was allowed back in the palace, David was passive-aggressive and wouldn’t talk to him for two years. Not good.

Lest someone be tempted to pin these events to the punishment God promised David, let’s look at David’s earlier days. When he fled from Saul the first time, he stopped at Nob and lied to the priest to get food. Not good. He then continued his journey to the land of the enemy. There, he pretended to be crazy when they investigated him further. Not good. While his actions toward Saul certainly were noble, his reaction after the second time he saved Saul’s life wasn’t. First, he accused God of not being true to His promise (“Saul will certainly kill me”). Then he went (again) to the land of the Philistines. Not good. There, he murdered entire villages, women and children included, and lied to his ruler about it. Seriously not good. When he eventually was made king, he betrayed his cousin, Joab, who served David faithfully and competently, by giving his job to Abner while he was away, serving David. No integrity there. Integrity would have dictated that he talk to Joab first, but David simply was a wuss in personal relationships. He did the same thing again a few years later. After Joab rescued David from Absalom (who only dishonored him and wanted to kill him) David gave his job to another cousin, Amasa. Again, no integrity, and certainly no gratitude. Those were but a few examples to prove the point: David is down there in imperfection with you and I.

And yet, as we all know, God called David a man after his own heart. And God certainly gave David a lot of success, militarily and as a ruler.  Why is that? David’s heart was after God when he was a shepherd in the field. His heart was after God when he fled from Saul. His heart was after God when he became king. And his heart was after God when he messed up. His heart was always after God. Anyone doubting this need only read a few Psalms. That was the key. That is what God wants more than anything else: a heart after Him.

God, to achieve the purposes of His kingdom, needs hearts after Him. That’s all. He does the rest. No perfection required, only pursuit after Him. In fact, the purpose of our imperfection is to drive us closer to Him. It’s the enemy who wants to use our imperfection to put distance between us and our Father. Who do we listen to?

When we pursue God, our hearts are after Him, after His own heart. And isn’t that what God called David: a man after His own heart?

It only took me 60 years to get this. How long is it going to take you?

Sunrise over Mt. Baker, Victoria, BC

Finding You

I’m fascinated by the early history of Israel. Here was a most imperfect bunch, and yet God selected them to be His people. We looked at Leah a few days ago, and saw how the Father gave her a place of supreme honor.

The Lord did this more than once. When the nation came to Samuel to demand a king, the Lord did a peculiar thing. When Jacob died, Judah was appointed as the royal tribe. He wasn’t the oldest son, he was the fourth. But the three older sons disqualified themselves from their position of privilege, and so the mantle of tribal leadership fell to Judah. When the nation left Egypt, Nahshon was their leader, followed by Salmon and then Boaz. Boaz, as we know, married Ruth and fathered Obed, who in turn had Jesse as his oldest son. This was the royal line, from which any king was supposed to come. Supposed to.

We can speculate all we want as to why God bypassed Obed and Jesse, but He did, and Saul became king. Yet another imperfect person. In this case, though, the imperfection was overwhelming and God decided to find someone else. This time he tried again to find someone from the royal line. Someone also imperfect, but someone pursuing Him.

In those days, ordinary people didn’t have the access to places of worship like we have today. Even though they were supposed to show up at a tabernacle a few times a year, many never did. They didn’t have Bibles and they weren’t really allowed to pray to God without a priest, and so it’s hard to imagine a great deal of practical worship. And yet, there were always a few people who just pressed in, regardless. It’s almost as if they didn’t let the religious rules of the day hold them back. Two come to mind: Hannah, who had a pressing personal need, and David, who just took his guitar into the field and praised the Lord for no apparent reason at all. As the youngest, he got stuck with the lousiest job in the household. Rather than pout, he saw in it an opportunity to go get closer to God.

David was hidden from sight. When the famous prophet Samuel returned to the royal line for the next king, get this: EVEN THE MOST FAMOUS PROPHET OF GOD overlooked David! Can anyone be more inconspicuous and  hidden than that? But… God tracked him down. He always does.

Do you feel hidden? Do you feel overlooked? Even by your own family? When a famous prophet like Bob Hazlett or Mel Kunau comes to your church, do even they overlook you?

Yes? Then smile, you’re in good company: Gideon, Saul, David and, yes, even Jesus (can anything good come from… Nazareth??) all got overlooked by people, even “spiritual” people.

They’re wrong. They’re all wrong! Who’s wrong? Everyone who says it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Because what you know tops everything, and here is the “what” to know: God knows you, He knows your name and address. He knows the license plate numbers of all the cars you’ve ever had. He knows where you were last night. He knows your phone numbers (all of them). He also knows your email address, Facebook and Twitter IDs and even all your IP addresses—He knows them all by heart. He knows you so well He doesn’t even have to look them up on his Contact List.

And (best part) He loves you. Even though you are imperfect. And when He needs you, He WILL find you. He always does.

High enough to see the earth's curvature