The middle of the night is a good time to hear things it seems. I woke up this morning remembering Elisha’s incident with the women of Shunem:
One day Elisha went to the town of Shunem. A wealthy woman lived there, and she urged him to come to her home for a meal. After that, whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for something to eat.
9 She said to her husband, “I am sure this man who stops in from time to time is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s build a small room for him on the roof and furnish it with a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp. Then he will have a place to stay whenever he comes by.”
11 One day Elisha returned to Shunem, and he went up to this upper room to rest. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Tell the woman from Shunem I want to speak to her.” When she appeared, 13 Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tell her, ‘We appreciate the kind concern you have shown us. What can we do for you? Can we put in a good word for you to the king or to the commander of the army?’”
“No,” she replied, “my family takes good care of me.”
14 Later Elisha asked Gehazi, “What can we do for her?”
Gehazi replied, “She doesn’t have a son, and her husband is an old man.”
15 “Call her back again,” Elisha told him. When the woman returned, Elisha said to her as she stood in the doorway, 16 “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!”
“No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.”
17 But sure enough, the woman soon became pregnant. And at that time the following year she had a son, just as Elisha had said.
18 One day when her child was older, he went out to help his father, who was working with the harvesters. 19 Suddenly he cried out, “My head hurts! My head hurts!”
His father said to one of the servants, “Carry him home to his mother.”
20 So the servant took him home, and his mother held him on her lap. But around noontime he died. 21 She carried him up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and left him there. 22 She sent a message to her husband: “Send one of the servants and a donkey so that I can hurry to the man of God and come right back.”
23 “Why go today?” he asked. “It is neither a new moon festival nor a Sabbath.”
But she said, “It will be all right.”
24 So she saddled the donkey and said to the servant, “Hurry! Don’t slow down unless I tell you to.”
25 As she approached the man of God at Mount Carmel, Elisha saw her in the distance. He said to Gehazi, “Look, the woman from Shunem is coming. 26 Run out to meet her and ask her, ‘Is everything all right with you, your husband, and your child?’”
“Yes,” the woman told Gehazi, “everything is fine.”
27 But when she came to the man of God at the mountain, she fell to the ground before him and caught hold of his feet. Gehazi began to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone. She is deeply troubled, but the Lord has not told me what it is.”
(2 Kings 4:8 – 27)
One of the traps of any ministry is that you think you have to always perform, know all things, always be able to carry out the ministry. But that is not God’s way. Not only did Elisha not know what was wrong with his friend but even when he did, he entrusted the miracle to a corrupt man who couldn’t help her. The woman knew better than Elisha in this case: she didn’t trust Gehazi though Elisha apparently did.
28 Then she said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?”
29 Then Elisha said to Gehazi, “Get ready to travel[a]; take my staff and go! Don’t talk to anyone along the way. Go quickly and lay the staff on the child’s face.”
30 But the boy’s mother said, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I won’t go home unless you go with me.” So Elisha returned with her.
31 Gehazi hurried on ahead and laid the staff on the child’s face, but nothing happened. There was no sign of life. He returned to meet Elisha and told him, “The child is still dead.”
32 When Elisha arrived, the child was indeed dead, lying there on the prophet’s bed. 33 He went in alone and shut the door behind him and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he lay down on the child’s body, placing his mouth on the child’s mouth, his eyes on the child’s eyes, and his hands on the child’s hands. And as he stretched out on him, the child’s body began to grow warm again! 35 Elisha got up, walked back and forth across the room once, and then stretched himself out again on the child. This time the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes!
36 Then Elisha summoned Gehazi. “Call the child’s mother!” he said. And when she came in, Elisha said, “Here, take your son!” 37 She fell at his feet and bowed before him, overwhelmed with gratitude. Then she took her son in her arms and carried him downstairs.
Elisha was used in astonishing ways. This account of him raising someone from the dead is the first of two, the second raising from the dead occurred after Elisha died!
But the lesson from this passage is that Elisha was very fallible and not a good judge of people it would seem. When we start being used by God it would be good to remember what we are.
Worth learning off by heart. Hopefully this mind map helps:
The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1:25
Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
A sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.
Proverbs 26 v. 12, 16
Fools come in for a rough time in the Scripture. In Proverbs in particular they get a very bad press. There is a moral element to the definition of a fool in Proverbs that adds to the negativity of the word. Fools rage against all common sense, speak words of death and cause mayhem to those who employ them.
Yet the Scripture says there is more hope for a fool than for someone who is unteachable (wise in their own eyes). And even worse is someone who is lazy and unteachable. Wise people will answer discreetly in the presence of this kind of person. The wise recognise that there is no point in confronting this person’s laziness nor their unteachability. The result is that this lazy, unteachable person thinks that they are wiser than those who have not confronted them. They continue to make excuses for their laziness and justify their behaviour in their own eyes.
According to the Scripture, a lot of what we go through as Christians is related to character building. This is a huge topic in itself but one place it is summarised is in Romans 5: 3-4:
we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Persevering through suffering is not something that is taught often in our churches nor in our homes. Instead clever doctors and psychologists invent pleasing names for conditions that parents and we can all hide behind. Conditions like under active thyroid, ADHD, ME, autism, asberger’s syndrome are not always representative of a life threatening or life altering condition. People’s reactions to these diagnoses often show whether they are letting them build character or whether they are simply using them as excuses for opting out of things. We all know stories of people who rose above their conditions to bless those around them and the world. These are often people with conditions that are very often much harder to deal with than some of the ones covered by the names we invent these days.
There is no one in this life that is free from tribulation but how you respond to it is crucial. We all have seen people commit suicide from despair. According to the Scripture at least one way of avoiding that despair is to persevere through trouble. As the Word of God says:
The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness,
But who can bear a broken spirit?
The Gospel that I believe, the Good News of Jesus Christ is that our spirits are made whole when we are born again. We can rejoice through trouble as so many disciples have done and continue to do because of what God has done in us through the Holy Spirit.
The trouble may not go away but we can still glorify God by our attitude in it.
Paul makes this interesting observation in Galatians 3:8:
Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”
So what was this gospel? “All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3 NLT).
Paul goes on to explain that this promise (and others made to Abraham) were spoken to Abraham and his main Descendant:
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. Galatians 3:16.
It is hard to overstate the extraordinary impact of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, on our society, morals and culture. Moral norms that we take for granted are enforced using principles of law keeping and justice that are all based on the Word of God, in particular the 10 commandments (Exodus 20). Peace treaties and the principles that save nations from war and bring healing are based on Christian thinking, specifically the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5,6 & 7). Nearly everyone’s sense of fairness in Christian countries is modelled on what Jesus considered fair. His Name, that is, his attitude of compassion, humility and justice to the poor are the ideals we all look up to whether we call ourselves Christian or otherwise. The roots of Western Civilisation are deeply inspired by Jesus Christ and grounded on the Word of God.
As you look around the world, or even out your front door, you realise that most people live in peaceful families, enjoying the common comforts of warm homes, good food and friends. The extreme examples of domestic violence that the news stations and many people’s minds seem to love to focus on are the exceptions rather than the rule. Our nations are generally not at war with each other and most people rest secure in their beds at night. Christian charities are effective the world over in reducing poverty.
I believe all this is the fulfillment of the gospel, good news, preached to Abraham: “All the families on the earth will be blessed through you.”
For some reason, Evangelical Christians can sometimes be the last people to see things this way. I think one reason may be because of the pre-tribulation rapture and the great tribulation yet to come eschatology that so many people have been taught. Unless things are really terrible in the world it is hard to justify God bringing the literal apocalyptic terrors of Revelation upon our neighbours. So people who believe that they will be taken out from the trouble that is coming, and that the Lord is returning soon, must see things as getting a lot worse in the world despite all the statistics that say the opposite. I only wish I didn’t have to link to a humanist book to prove that point. I will address this downside of pre-tribulation rapture thinking in another blog.
Another thing Evangelical Christians can do a lot is downplay the general good to the “unsaved” that the gospel brings. The reasoning goes something like this: Eternity is long and this life is vanishingly short by comparison. Therefore why try and improve people’s lives in this life when we have a so much more important thing to do, that is, preach the gospel to them so they get saved.
It is not an either/ or thing though. Preaching the gospel so that people can believe and appreciate the salvation Jesus has won for them is critical if they are really to know peace, joy and love in this life and to have assurance of eternal life. But there is a danger it will just be words and as James says:
Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 3:18
My wife and I go to a church which majors on the evangelical aspect of things and we support it fully as do our children. We are also involved in other types of Christian charity (as are our children and the church itself) which don’t make telling people that they have to be saved a precondition to doing good to them.
In the same letter to the Galatians Paul explains how he first met with the other apostles in Jerusalem and what they thought was important when preaching the gospel:
James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along. Galatians 2:9 & 10
Don’t underestimate the preserving power of the Gospel for all of the world’s peoples.
Isaiah compares the governance and work of the Lord in Jerusalem to the gently flowing waters of Shiloah in Isaiah 8. Shiloah is generally recognised as being the same word that is translated Siloam or “Sent” in John 9. It is the place Jesus sent the man blind from birth to wash and come back seeing.
The gently flowing waters of Siloam refers to the ebb and flow of the waters that passed through a tunnel in the very centre of Jerusalem. This tunnel had been dug during Isaiah’s time. An inscription has been found dating from the period which uses the same Hebrew word “ ” that Isaiah used to describe the waters flow. The lengthy inscription explains that the tunnel was built from both ends at the same time. One set of workmen started at the Gihon spring and the other started in the centre of Jerusalem. The workmen met in the middle – which wasn’t easy to do.
In the very heart of the City of God there flows a river that makes the Lord glad (Psalm 46:4). It is a gently flowing river of healing and it needs to be directed and revealed by the work of godly men.
Our churches are places of healing but it takes the work of godly men to reveal that. The healing streams are there, we just need to dig and work hard together to meet in the middle so they can be revealed and everyone be refreshed.
There is a story of twins talking to each other in the womb which is going about the internet in various forms. Here is my take on it.
The babies are not far from birth and well developed but still completely ignorant of what is to come. They cannot conceive of what they are about to experience since they have absolutely nothing in their current existence that they can relate to it. So that is why I have called this blog “Conceiving the Inconceivable” and also because I love puns and playing with words.
The first problem you experience when you start to try and write this is that the twins don’t have words. They are immersed in water so they cannot speak. We know that babies in the womb can hear and respond to sounds and that the normal existence for a baby in the womb is to be on their own. Even this is analogous to our existence now in comparison to what we will be. Now we are profoundly disconnected from one another because of time and space. In the next life I believe there is no time nor space in the way we understand those terms and so perfect intimacy and knowledge of one another and God is the inevitable result.
“So you still think there is some existence beyond this?” Thomas was having his daily tete-a-tete with John.
“Undoubtedly” John replied. “Don’t you hear all those sounds and Mom’s singing?”
“Nah, that is just the vibrations of this watery world we live in. You move around and I move around and we disturb the waters and they make noises.”
“Beautiful, coherent noises which can only point to someone greater than us.” John was in his usual philosophic mode.
“No, they happen by chance. It is like everything else in here, it all started with us being nothing and then the fluids and all the chemicals interacted together and here we are. You know that we evolved out of creatures which were smaller and less intelligent than we are.” Thomas had an answer to everything and usually answers that made as little out of any idea of a Mom and Dad as he could. “We grow up in here until we can no longer fit and then, Boom!, it all explodes and our pitiful existence comes to an end in a terrible mess.”
“I don’t believe all that dystopian future nonsense you seem to indulge in all the time.” John replied. “For me it is obvious we are here because our Mom and Dad wanted us to be here. They have wonderful plans for our lives after we are delivered. Even in here I can hear their loving words and concern for us. I have felt them on the walls of our barriers, telling me not to fear. In Mom, we live and move and have our being. She is love and tells me about love.”
“You can’t prove any of this,” John retorted. “It sounds great but you know that we are going to die. You have said yourself that you believe that after delivery (as you call it) we will no longer have water to breathe in. So what then? All your stories are just optimistic fairy tales designed by your clever mind just to make this cramped existence more bearable.”
You can see where I am going with this. It seems to me obvious that a thoughtful meditation on our existence before delivery can be very useful. It is a way of helping to explain the enormous gulf in our understanding between where we are now – in time and space – and where we will be after we die (or after we are raptured) in eternity.
Eternity is not lots more time and infinite space. Eternity is a different state of things altogether, as expansive and as inconceivable to us now as being able to breathe air, talk and walk is to babies in a womb.
This is just one of many possible conversations that our two hypothetical twins can have. I hope to create a few more conversations in future blogs.
Proverbs is one of the Bible’s Wisdom books along with Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. One of its major themes is the consequences of actions and words. According to the bible, discipline in what we speak, how we manage what goes into our bodies and what we do with our time all matter if we want to lead a godly life. It is the root meaning of what it means to be a disciple.
One of the great disciplines of the Christian is stillness. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) is easier said than done for most of us. It is essential though if we are to hear God. If we don’t hear the Holy Spirit within us we cannot pray.
Inner stillness can be disturbed by many things. What we eat can disturb our bowels making us uncomfortable and unable to stay still. What we have said to someone can disturb us, we may be aware that we have hurt someone with our words. Proverbs is full of admonishments to restrain our lips (e.g. Prov. 21:23) so that our souls and lives can be preserved.
Inner turmoil is exposed as soon as we try to be still. For that reason many people avoid trying to be still as much as possible. Some will work all day (usually older people), others will play video games or continuously interact with their smartphones (usually younger people). Continuously blaring music of all sorts is a very common way of avoiding being still for many of us. Constantly having the TV on or the radio when travelling is another way of avoiding inner turmoil.
Inner turmoil can keep us awake at night. Our aching bellies, unfulfilled desires, our troubled conscience, worries and fears are unavoidable at night when everything is quiet and still.
God’s answer to inner turmoil is for us to bring this bag of wind and tossing to His word and to be still before it. That is why there is so much right emphasis in Christian circles on having a disciplined daily quiet time with God – usually before we do anything else in a day. The word of God is living and active, it will cast a light over all that is going on within you and separate out what is of God and what isn’t (Hebrews 4:12). As we are still we can pray and the Holy Spirit will teach you about how to live (John 14:26).
Be still. Jesus commanded the wind and waves. He can do that for you also.
It is absolutely crucial that we understand that our works arise from faith in the fact that we are justified by the blood of Jesus Christ and that alone. Our works have no merit at all in relation to our legal standing before God our Father and our ability to come to Him freely. We approach God our Father freely because of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.
That is basic theology. It needs to underpin everything we think about who we are and what we do.
So, with that understanding, we read the rest of the Scriptures in a different light. The Old Testament Law (the Torah, or first five books of the bible) are now expositions of what pleases God. They become a place to learn how to live in a way that blesses both God and us. The 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), for instance, describe the fundamental ways in which we can please God and be a blessing to others.
All of Scripture is God breathed and useful for instruction (2 Timothy 3:16). In Exodus 18 there is a lovely passage about Moses father-in-law Jethro. The respect that Moses shows Jethro is an example to us all of how we should treat our elderly relatives. Moses bowed low before Jethro and kissed him (Exodus 18:7), he showed respect and affection in equal measures. Moses then took on Jethro’s advice without quibbling with him. Considering that Moses was hearing directly from God and would go on to write the Torah, this was an impressive sign of his humility. But then he was the most humble person on the face of the earth at the time (Numbers 12:3).
One of the most fundamental ways we can read the Old Testament with New Testament eyes is to understand that the law is not given as a stick to beat us with but that that stick was already used on Jesus (Col. 2:14). The Law is now powerless in that regard. But as a way of knowing God and what He wants, the Law is crucial. If you love God because of what He has done for you, then you will also love His Law because it shows you His heart.
Sadly, there is nothing new under the sun. The same pretensions to power that Luther pointed out 500 years ago are still being adopted by the present Pope Francis as have been adopted by all his predecessors. The following is based on one of Luther’s most famous writings (‘Appeal to his Imperial Majesty, and the Christian Nobility of Germany, on the Reformation of Christianity.’)
Basically there are three walls that the Pope puts up as defences against being called to account for the actions of the Roman Catholic clergy which he is ultimately responsible for:
- When attacked by the temporal power, they denied its jurisdiction over them, and maintained the superiority of the spiritual power. The idea that Canon Law is superior to Civil Law has been used as recently as 2009 by Bishop Murphy of Cork to justify not handing over paedophile priests to the Gardai.
- When tested by Scripture, they replied, that none could interpret it but the pope. This hasn’t changed since the Reformation.
- When threatened with a council, they again replied, that none but the pope could convene it.
In the present day it is the first of these walls that causes the most obvious problems. Wherever there is the covering up of scandalous abuses, this idea that the RC church (canon) law is above the secular law is trotted out by its adherents. Every accused clergy man knows that the Pope and all the cardinals support this position and therefore they feel justified in adopting it.
However the Scripture says that everyone is subject to the secular powers including the pope:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
What is pertinent about the above passage is that when Paul wrote it perhaps one of the most pagan and oppressive empires that was ever on the earth was the one whose authority he was telling Christians to submit to! How much more then should evil doers be brought to account in the relatively easy governments of our day? It should go without saying that no title that you give yourself should excuse you from being accountable for doing the wrong thing. The fact that in practice that is often not the case doesn’t mean we should give up trying to ensure it is. The heart of Christian justice is that no one is above the law.
In the same epistle, Luther writes: “The pope should be ready to renounce the popedom, and all his wealth, and all his honours, if he could thereby save a single soul. But he would see the universe go to destruction sooner than yield a hair-breadth of his usurped power.”
You only have to visit the Vatican museum to see how true this statement still is.