Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments
2 Kings 4 records an incredible story. In verse one we are introduced to a poor widow who has just hit rock bottom. She didn’t know what to do or where to turn and in her pain and sorrow she did the only thing she knew she could do; she turned to God. She “cries out to Elisha” and the Hebrew word for “cries” literally means that she was wailing in anguish. This widow was heartbroken and in need. But this account reveals to us some comforting truths about God. By studying this account we can find peace in knowing that God has a solution to our problems.
Elisha says to her, “‘What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?’ And she said, ‘Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.’ Then he said, ‘Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside’” (2-4). This woman had nothing but a jar of oil, but not for long. She does what Elisha tells her to do and the jar of oil filled every single vessel she collected.
And that’s the end of that story. The widow came to God while she was at her lowest, and God provided for her. He gave her the oil she needed to fix her problems. The end.
But what about MY oil? Maybe you’re thinking, “When is God going to fix my problems and provide my oil? When will He give me the money for an electric bill? When will He fix my broken heart? When will God take care of me?” Let me tell you about the oil that God has given you. If you’re a christian, God has already taken care of you. He has blessed us with a gift far more precious than gold. He has promised to one day wipe away every tear from your eyes. If you’re a Christian, God is already taking care of your most valuable possession–your soul.
God has given us the oil that never runs dry. Now that’s not to say that God will do for us physically what we ask, but even if he doesn’t He has already shown us more love and care than anyone else on earth. God is more concerned with my spiritual state than my bank account. God is more concerned about my work as a Christian than my 9-5 job. God is more concerned about my soul than whether or not I am comfy here on earth.
God never promised us that if we become Christians we would be financially blessed. But He HAS promised to give us a reward like no other if we are faithful in times of trouble. God has and will provide for those who are faithful to Him.
I’d like to suggest that the account from 2 Kings 4 isn’t necessarily about the oil. It was about the widow’s faith, it was about her obedience, and it was a demonstration of the power of God. But from this account we learn that God provides for those in need, and we can find peace in knowing that our most valuable possession is in the hands of Almighty God.
It’s common in the age we live in to get stuck on the “daily grind.” We wake up, drink coffee, get dressed, go to work or school, come home at the end of the day, and start all over again in the morning. It’s repetitive and the days can seem to blend together. On top of this monotony, you have your own problems to solve. We’ve got our own responsibilities to keep up with. For some it’s family and for others it’s homework or any number of other duties. This can cause anxiety or depression. Those thoughts that are familiar to so many can creep into our minds. Thoughts like, “why am I even doing this? What’s the point?” Our shoulders are tired with the burden of life. There’s too much going on and we may just want to shut down or sleep to escape the day. The weight is heavy.
So try something. Wake up! When our minds are full of our problems and our responsibilities and everything that’s wrong with our lives and our circumstance, we miss something precious. We miss out on the lives of everybody else that also share this planet. Solve your problems and shake the daily grind by branching out. Strive to achieve selflessness by loving others and showing compassion. Solve your problems by trying to help others with theirs. If I personally have my own problems as a young adult, I know that there are others with problems much bigger than mine. Their shoulders are killing them and they’ve been carrying the weight longer than me.
There are people all around you struggling with the same things or worse. The next time you Tweet, begin to create a Facebook status, or blog, are you about to be another problem for someone else? Or are you about to ease their aching shoulders?
For a small child, having an open space park just outside your neighborhood was a dream come true. My younger brother and I would spend entire summers exploring, building forts, and fishing in that beautiful place. One day, as we were playing in the creek, we found a beaver laying in the middle of the water— it wasn’t moving. Without getting too graphic, we made several plans for this new prize find. We could make a hat out of the skin, or perhaps stuff it and put it in our room. The only problem was, mom would never allow us to drag this fifty pound beaver into the house. Besides this, the house was almost a mile away. In order to preserve our trophy we decided that the safest option would be to string the beaver up by the tail and hoist it up over the branch of a near by tree. That branch sagged under the weight of the beast while water dripped from it’s wet coat and onto the bike trail directly below. Without thinking about the terrible location we had chosen, Carl and I gave a high-five and began the long walk back to the house. We were beaming with pride and excitement because this was our little secret. A few weeks later, we returned to the spot and were outraged to find that someone had cut our swinging beaver down! Looking back, we still laugh as we think about the many bikers and joggers that ran down that path only to be surprised and confused by this animal carcass hanging over the path.
The church is a wonderful place to be, especially when you find yourself a member of a healthy congregation. When the church is functioning in accordance with scripture, the impact She can make is endless. One aspect of keeping God’s family healthy on the inside is keeping sin on the outside. Sadly, there are some congregations that have blatantly accepted the sinful lifestyles of individuals. It’s as if there were dead beavers hanging in their midst, but instead of cutting it down they choose to turn a blind eye. The longer it stays, the stinkier it becomes. This is a gruesome, but appropriate description of sin. Paul spends two letters rebuking the church at Corinth because they had allowed several horrific sins to divide and erode the Body there. They didn’t sever the hanging carcass, and as a result the stench of sin provoked Paul to write some of the harshest words to be penned in the New Testament.
Paul will give them five commands in chapter sixteen that we would do well to apply to our own lives as well. He says, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all you do be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:13-14). With these two short verses you can backpedal through the letter and see how these five imperatives would have saved them from not only a harsh rebuke, but many heartaches that were also consequences of their sins. They were stricken with disease and death in both the physical and spiritual sense. The apostle commands them, through inspiration, to be aware of their surroundings. Be alert. He reminds them to firmly stand on the truth of the gospel. He bluntly tells them to act like men, because they were acting like children. Then he tells them to be strong, but in a different sense. This strength is that inner strength that it takes to conquer temptation and carry on righteously in the midst of evil. These four commands are then to be carried out with love. A sacrificial love for one another means having the willingness to confront sin problems that are damaging the Bride of Christ. Not out of anger, but out love for His church and for the soul of the guilty member. This is the recipe for a healthy congregation through every age. It worked in Corinth, and it works today.
If there’s a beaver hanging in your congregation, the best thing to do is to cut it down!
My problems are so big, my worries so mighty, there’s nothing my anxieties can’t do. Wait, that’s not how that song goes. It’s been said that the there are more stars in the known universe than all of the sand on earth combined. That being said, in just one grain of sand there are more atoms than all of the stars. That’s pretty amazing. Our planet is but a speck in the grandeur of space. Countless stars, planets, galaxies, lightyears and somehow God is well aware of the happenings of people.
Have you stood on the mountain tops? Have you observed the power of the oceans as the waves crash on the shore? Has your heart almost stopped after the vibrating sensation of a thunder clap resinates in your chest? The might of the Creator is everywhere in the world around us and at times it just demands to be noticed.
1 Kings 19:11-13 is a section of scripture that is mysterious and fascinating. The Lord of hosts is about to show Himself to a depressed and exhausted Elijah, but in a way that he would never forget. “The Lord said, ‘go out on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out to stand at the mouth of the cave. Then the voice said, ‘what are you doing here Elijah?’” In the hush of Horeb, Elijah seeks to avoid the troubles of his world. The acoustics of the mountainous area along with the time spent in silence must have made the shattering rocks, raging fire, splitting hills, and rumbling earth all but deafening and definitely a terrifying display of divine power. Then in sharp contrast, a still whisper comes. This gentleness, no doubt, is the reason Elijah decides to cautiously emerge from his hiding place. God is teaching His worn-out servant a lesson that holds true for us today.
The fact is, there is no more God, His wisdom, power, and presence in an earthquake than there is in the sweet breath of a blooming flower. The quiet ticking of a wrist watch reveals just as much intelligence and purpose as does the striking of a clock tower’s bell. One may walk out into an open field at night and stare up into the vast sky, lit up with numerous twinkling stars and declare, “I’ve found God!” But God is no more in the sky than He is in the blades of grass flattened beneath your feet. The question came to Elijah from that still voice, “What are you doing here?” To the prophet, his problems were too great and too large and his solution was to run and hide. God, in a magnificent way, is trying to remind Elijah of his place. Our place in life is not to take matters into our own hands or solve life’s many difficulties on our own. The answer is not to run away, but to walk humbly with our awesome God. He is strong enough to lift our burdens, wise enough to counsel us, patient enough to allow us to learn, and loving enough to constantly forgive. My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do— for you, too.
Problems aren’t inherently negative. Will you remember that? The middle-aged man with the persistent pain goes to the doctor, who discovers the malignant mass and gets him to the surgeon. The man’s life is saved by pain. The teenage Christian girl who endures the hurt of breaking up with the boy who is ungodly but who she loves feels pain. Eventually, though, as she raises her four children and enjoys marriage with a strong Christian man, she thanks God for that former pain. Illustrations of this point are endless.
How do you view your pain? By human nature, we tend to view suffering as the very worst thing that could happen to us. The anxiety of the medical test, the chronic disease that impacts every portion of our day and life, the permanent loss of a loved one through whatever events, or a rift in the family all can seem unbearable.
Will you remember that, as with the physical body and the emotional makeup, pain in our spiritual lives can have a positive benefit? We can learn from the painful thing. Pain can cause us to grow. Pain can serve as a spiritual refinery. After all, problems aren’t inherently negative. It is how we respond to the problems that makes all the difference. If we give up due to the problems we face, it’s devastating. If we sin in response to our pain, we fail and inflict damage on ourselves and others. If we blame God, we are in danger of allowing our pain to conquer us.
Despite those possibilities, though, none of these things have to occur. The encouraging thing is that how we respond to our problems is fully under our own control. We can be the example, in our suffering, that leads a lost soul to Christ or an erring Christian back home. We can be the role models others remember when they go down the road of trouble. We can bring glory to God by faithfully enduring such things.
Problems aren’t inherently negative! Thank God for this.
Springtime in the plains is a notorious time for storms. I was driving through northwest Texas near the time when three storm chasers were killed southwest of me on Tuesday afternoon. They died pursuing the storm, not directly because of it. They were there because conditions were ripe for tornadoes. 17 people were killed by tornadoes in 2016, but 24 have already died in them this year. Hollywood has captured our awe and fascination with them since The Wizard Of Oz. We view storms as mysterious, ominous, powerful, and frightening. They come in so many forms—hurricanes, floods, blizzards, cyclones, and more. But “storms” are synonymous with fear and sorrow.
Wouldn’t you classify some of the major, traumatic events of your life as storms. They build and threaten, they strike, then they leave aftermath. The storm may take but a moment, but recovery can take days, months, or even years. Not surprisingly, the Bible uses the storm metaphorically to describe such moments in our lives. David wrote, “I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest” (Psa. 55:8). The man we most associate with such figurative storms, Job, laments, “You lift up the wind and cause me to ride; And you dissolve me in a storm” (30:22). Most frequently, the Bible uses storms representatively to describe God’s judgment. But, as Job and David show, sometimes storms strike the innocent and undeserving.
What do we do when facing a storm? We heed precautions. We take shelter. We wait and endure. We ask for and trust God’s protection.
The world is full of people riding out storms today. That includes Christians. These storms are assaulting their bodies, bank accounts, relationships, spiritual strength, and spirits. Some feel safely sheltered, while others feel as if they are barely holding on. How do we face our storms?
* Seek help from others (Heb. 12:12-13; Ecc. 4:9-10).
* Search for possible benefits from it (Psa. 66:10; Rev. 21:3-4; Js. 1:2-4; etc.).
* See God’s power to help in it (Psa. 18:19; Rom. 8:28-38; 2 Pet. 2:9a).
* Shelter in the place of safety (Exo. 33:22; Psa. 91:1; Mat. 7:24-27).
God doesn’t cause evil or sin, but He allows it. We will always struggle with the “why” of this. But, we can grow our dependence on our great, perfect God when we are being battered. He is faithful. He wants to help. Lean on Him through your storms!
That’s what Tidewater resident Laila Cheikh might want to know. She made a cash withdrawal for her cab company drivers from her Newport News, Virginia, Bank of America branch and got an unexpected “gift.” Someone accidentally included a dye pack, like those given to bank robbers, in her bag of cash. It exploded, leaving a huge mess and a foul smell. That was on August 14, 2008. In March, 2009, she sued Bank of America for bodily injuries from the dye (via USA Today Online, 8/14/08; Janie Bryant, The Virginian-Pilot, 3/14/09). It’s unclear if the case has ever been solved.
I imagine you have had a day or two when you were delivered a less than pleasant surprise. It may have been a dose of bad news. Perhaps it was that person whose apparent color-blindness regarding the red light roped you into a fender bender that changed your morning plans. It might have been a pink slip from a company you’ve faithfully served for years. So many things can happen unexpectedly which alter your course or have a negative impact on you.
Though it will not compare to the day Job had (Job 1-2), it will test your character, your attitude, and your Christian example. What you do when the unexpected and unpleasant “blows up in your face” is crucial! You can be a light or you could cross over to the “dark side” (cf. Matt. 5:13-16; 1 Th. 5:8-10). It’s up to you. You never know what might be in the “bag of life.” Be ready!
(*) They used to give new customers a toaster when they opened a bank account (before my time).