Simple Enough

Read 2 Kings 5:1-19

One of my employment opportunities in the past was in insurance sales. I was not very successful in this profession but I did acquire some beneficial training and skills. Early in my training, a colleague passed on some advice to me which I first attributed to him but later learned that the United States Navy noted it in the 1960s. My colleague shared an acronym to follow… K.I.S.S., keep it simple stupid. The principle points to how often we want to make something more grandiose or extended than it really needs to be. While I do not like the last word choice in the acronym, I have found the principle very applicable in many situations.

The reading for today is a Biblical story which applies the KISS acronym. We are introduced to a beloved Aramian commander who suffered from a skin disorder which was given the common name, leprosy. Naaman, the commander, learned of a Samarian prophet who may be able to cure his skin disorder. The king of Aram sends him to Samaria with his blessing and a request to the king of Israel to be sure Naaman is cured. When Naaman comes to the prophet  Elisha, he receives a message from Elisha to go and wash in the Jordan seven times (or completely). Naaman is angered by this because Elisha did not even come to see him. The commander expected some great action to take place for him to be healed. His servants convince him to at least give it a try and when he does, he is healed. Naaman then wants to reward Elisha but Elisha refuses to accept anything so Naaman vows to only worship God from now on. Naaman expected something elaborate but Elisha knew it only needed to be simple.

For us, it is easy to relate with Naaman. We often view events in life as the old adage which says… Go big or go home! In some ways it seems logical to us that the Creator of the universe and all that is in it would choose to use a powerful and noticeable action to get things accomplished. However, we quickly discover that God acts in quiet and simple ways much more often than in loud and attention-getting ways. Our God does not need a flashy show to establish a presence and affect change. God’s power and authority is best experienced in the quiet surprises and subtle changes. Seems like a pretty good example for us to follow.

Good News

Read Isaiah 61:1-3

Think about a time when you have been chosen to deliver good news to someone else. The occasion may be the birth of a baby, the engagement of a couple, or the return of someone who has been away for an extended period of time. In my own life I have had the pleasure of delivering such good news many times. Having this opportunity creates excitement and high levels of joyful feelings. These experiences are definitely more enjoyable than being the bearer of bad news.

Isaiah, and all the other prophets of God, were most frequently delivering messages filled with bad news. The passage for today is one of the exceptions to the trend. Isaiah declares that he has been chosen to share some good news with the people, especially the poor, broken hearted, captive, imprisoned and mourners. The news he has to deliver is that their fortunes are changing. No longer are they to suffer and be made low but now they are going to be as mighty as great oaks on full display for the Lord.

As followers of Christ, we have the opportunity to be ones to proclaim good news as well. Each of us have experienced times when God has lifted us from troublesome situations. We have had times when we have been low and have suffered at the hands of others. The Lord provided healing and restoration from these experiences, sometimes through the work and words of others. Sharing these experiences with individuals makes us like those great oaks of which Isaiah speaks. Our anointment to bear good news is found in the words of Jesus, “Therefore go…” (Matthew 28:19). We are to share the news that the Lord has changed our situation in life and will do the same for them at the right point. 

Just As I Am

Today I ran across the lyrics of one of my favorite childhood hymns, Just as I Am. This hymn was written by Charlotte Elliot in 1835. One night before a fundraising event hosted by her brother who was a pastor, she lay awake, troubled by her doubts and fears regarding her usefulness and her salvation. The next day, still troubled, she sat down to write her understanding of the Gospel message. The verses which she wrote became the hymn we have today. (This history was found on Wikipedia.)

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Charlotte Elliot, 1835

The words of this hymn resonated with me as a young boy and at various times throughout my life. Elliot’s words remind me that I can, and should, approach the Lord exactly as I am. I do not need to hide any part of myself. I do not need to have it all together in some proper way. All I need to do is come. When I do, I am certain to find love, acceptance, forgiveness, healing, and cleansing. There is no reason to doubt, fear or struggle in the Lord’s presence.

Conflict Resolution

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Matthew 18:15-17 (NIV)

Humans have conflicts when they are in a relationship with one another. This occurs in every type of relationship because each of us is unique and has different perspectives. We form opinions based on our personal experiences, our interpretation of information, and the various influences in our lives. Because each of these are different for each person, the opinions formed will be different. These differences can be small and easily resolved or they can be large which often lead to conflict arising. The manner in which we handle conflict can lead to a reconciliation among people or a severance in the relationship.

The body of Christ on earth is not immune to differences of opinion or conflict. Jesus was aware of this reality even before there was an official organization of his followers. So he provides a road map for conflict resolution. He instructs his followers to go to the other person and make them aware when they have created conflicts which cause you some sort of pain. This first step may be the only one necessary if the conflict is resolved. Failure in the first step should be followed by bringing one or two others to witness the attempt toward reconciliation. Unachieved reconciliation leads to bringing the matter before the body so mediation and resolution may result. Jesus says if this still does not restore absence of conflict and injury, the accused should be set aside.

When we read this step-by-step plan, it appears simple and logical, at least until the final step. The last step can appear to be harsh treatment and most church bodies refuse to take it. Yet, the plan Jesus lays out here has the full intention of healing and reconciling a relationship. The plan does not call for hasty and emotion-filled actions. There is opportunity for awareness, mediation and support. There is also accountability woven throughout the approach. Punishment does not surface until the very end and there is no permanency even at that point. The opportunity to reconcile always is available. Important also is an emphasis on the health of the body, the church, and the health of the individual members of the body, both the accused and the accuser.

Conflict and hurt will occur, how we choose to respond to it will impact the outcome. Jesus gives as a healthy roadmap to follow.

Authority

When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Luke 7:1-10 (NIV)

Have you ever noticed how some individuals seem to exude authority whenever you encounter them? The person seems to command a room from the moment of entering the room. Everyone in the room senses this authority even if they have no idea who the person is or what title the individual may carry. There are others who only have authority over people because of their titles. In some of the latter cases, the title does not fit the personality and the authority is not natural. True authority respects authority and earns the respect of others.

Jesus is one who exudes natural authority. This can plainly be seen from today’s passage. Jesus had just finished teaching on a hillside and was entering his home base of Capernaum. His reputation precedes him so when a centurion heard of Jesus’s return to the city, he sought help for a beloved servant. The Roman centurion respected and believed in Jesus’s authority. Understanding the dynamics of going through proper channels, the centurion went to the city’s Jewish leadership to request Jesus’s healing powers. When it appears that Jesus may come to his house, the Roman leader acknowledges Jesus’s authority and healing power. In this recognition of his power, Jesus is impressed because this is a recognition that most Jews had not even given him.

This passage begs the question of us, “Do we acknowledge Jesus’s authority and power?” Maybe we are like the people of Israel who admit Jesus is a unique servant of God but with limitations, and certainly not the Messiah or Savior. By acknowledging the authority of Jesus in our lives, we can unlock the power of the Lord to make a difference in our lives. Scripture tells us that the Father has given all authority in heaven and the earth to Jesus. All we must do is to believe and respect that authority.

Confession

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Psalm 51 (NIV)

One of the most challenging actions for most people is admitting when he/she has done wrong. There is not a person alive who has not taken an action or said something which impacts another in a negative way. As humans we make bad choices, act in hurtful ways, and say hurtful words. How we handle conversations with others afterwards, especially someone we may have wronged, speaks directly to who we are as a person. It has been said that confession is good for the soul. The reason for this is by not honestly admitting our shortcomings a burden is placed upon us which impacts us emotionally, spiritually, and even physically. Relationships can be harmed when we do not own up to our negative behaviors. The well-being of others can be strongly impacted by our silence or lies used to cover up. Confession releases all the negative and allows for reparations and healing.

The psalm for today is a confession. It has been attributed to David. He seems to have written it after Nathan confronts him regarding Bathsheba. This is a confession to the Lord with a request to be forgiven and cleansed of sin. It is a psalm where most of the words could be said by almost all of us at various times, or possibly daily.

Let us follow David’s example. With contrite hearts, come before the Lord and acknowledge any sin. Request forgiveness and cleansing. Receive the Lord’s compassion which comes for unfailing love.

Unbelief

14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Mark 9:14-29 (NIV)

In the Star Wars movie, “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,” Yoda is attempting to train Luke Skywalker in the Jedi ways. Luke is impatient and quickly gives up when the tasks which Yoda gives him prove extremely difficult. As part of his training, Yoda instructs Lake to use his mind and the Force to lift Luke’s X-wing fighter out of the swamp where he crashed. Luke does not think it will be possible but tells Yoda that he will try. Yoda responds, “No. Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.” Yoda emphasizes that only by believing you can will anything be possible.

In Mark’s account of Jesus’s ministry, we witness a scene when a man brings his son to be cured of an unclean spirit. When the man arrives with his son, Jesus is on a mountainside with three of his closest disciples. The remaining disciples attempt to cure the boy in Jesus’s absence but are unsuccessful. When Jesus rejoins them, the man requests Jesus’s help but begins the request with, “If you can…” Jesus repeats those words back to the man with what appears to be a bit of frustration. He then goes on to say that belief can make things possible. Jesus’s words prompt the man to declare his belief and requests Jesus to assist him in overcoming his unbelief.

Yoda has to show Luke the importance of believing in himself. Jesus has to show the man the importance of believing in Jesus. Frequently, we need to be reminded of the importance of believing. Believing not to just get something we desire but believing as the starting point in accomplishing in the midst of difficulty. The man’s response to Jesus is one which we all can echo. Even in the midst of our belief, we have areas of doubt or unbelief. Some of these doubts are not easy to overcome. We need to reach out to the Lord for assistance. Through the Spirit we can receive the tools to overcome our doubts. Sometimes those tools are provided through other people placed on our path. Sometimes these tools are only found in the midst of prayer as Jesus states at the end of our passage. Still other times, we receive the tools through the study of the Word.

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.”

Necessary Retreat

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Mark 1:29-39 (NIV)

There is nothing better than traveling to a secluded place where you can spend some time recharging. Most individuals spend a large amount of time occupied with work or some type of tasks. There is less and less downtime. The United States Bureau of Labor reports that most workers do not even use all of their vacation time each year. Even when we attempt some vacation, or downtime, our electronic devices keep us connected through emails and messaging applications. It is not uncommon for individuals to respond to work emails or have online meetings while on vacation. We need to start disciplining ourselves to take true times of retreat.

Jesus was not immune from having many demands upon his time. We read today that after spending a full day teaching in Capernum’s synagogue, he goes with four of his disciples to the home of Simon’s in-law. The woman was suffering from a fever. Jesus heals her and that evening is spent physically and spiritually healing many others. Truly an exhausting day of ministry.  Before anyone could seek him out the next morning, he awakes and went to a secluded place. He knew that he needed a retreat to recharge and be in conversation with the Father. When the disciples tracked him down, he was re-energized and ready to continue his ministry in nearby communities.

Jesus once again sets an example for us to follow. Early in the history of God’s people, God established a day of retreat each week when the people were told to take a sabbath. Jesus models for us this as an important part of his ministry. Research has shown us that our productivity and quality of work suffers when we do not have regular times of retreat. Our relationship with the Lord also suffers when we do not have regular times of communicating with and focusing on the Lord.

All of this serves as a reminder to deliberately take time to go to a secluded place. We should use this time to recharge physically, mentally, and spiritually. We can commune with our Lord while communicating in prayer.

Not Here, Well Maybe

The church is filled with perfect people.

Some churches are full of sin but not mine.

At my church we make sure that we protect against those type of people.

Our pastor is an example of a very righteous person.

We are a group of people who have done away with our sinful behaviors and follow the Lord.

Everybody is friendly in my church, takes care of one another and accepts everyone.

Which of these statements do you believe? Amazingly, these are actual statements which I have heard people make regarding their congregation. Add to these statements the perceptions that some people have from the outside. An observer would come to the conclusion that the church is a place where sin does not exist. This conclusion could not be any farther from the truth. The church is as full of sin as any other group in the world.

Since the church consists of humans, the church is going to have sin. We are reminded in the letter to the Romans, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, NIV). When a person becomes a member of a congregation, either formally or informally, this reality stated in Scripture does not change. This being the case, there is going to be sin in the church. In fact, one of the many sins is lying about this truth.

Honestly, I do not think that anyone truly believes that the church is without sin. Yet a lot of people in congregations everywhere want to downplay or deny this truth in an attempt to present a better image to those outside the walls. I am not sure if they feel that this will cause others to desire to join the congregation or if it is a case of them wanting to show they are better than what is in the world. Either way, this image of a sin-free church does more damage for the ministries of the Lord than it could ever benefit.

Instead of trying to state that the church is a place where sin does not exist, we should actually be sharing a more important message. The message of the church should be that it is a place where forgiveness is given unconditionally. After all, this is the message that Jesus Christ gave over and over again in his actions and teachings. This is the message which the apostle Paul declared as he and others fulfilled Christ’s commandment to go into the world.

Within the church there are lies, hatred, bigotry, hypocrisy, theft, divisions, sexual misconduct, and all other sinful behaviors witnessed in everyday life in a multitude of places. Sinners exist within the church. More importantly though, within the church there is forgiveness, love, grace, restoration, healing, support, encouragement and acceptance. These are the traits which the church should show as it strives to demonstrate to the world an alternative to sin.

Sin exists in the church at the same level it does anywhere else but here it is always forgiven and reconciliation is possible.