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Following God out of the Box
July 10, 2011
SCRIPTURE: 2 Kings 5:1-14 & John 9:1-6
There is a children's song I learned a number of years ago when I took a youth group on a mission trip to a camp for disabled kids in Ohio. The song begins, "My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there's nothing my God cannot do." That's a good thing to teach children - that our God is big - strong, mighty - and there is nothing he can't do - and even we as adults need to believe that if we take our faith in the God of Scripture seriously. But in real life, when "the rubber meets the road," so to speak, do we really believe that?
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Or do we put God in a box and limit what we really believe he can do - to what our particular theological understanding is comfortable with?? Have you ever heard of a miracle that happened somewhere - but you doubt the truth or reality of it - because you personally have never seen a miracle like that?
Or do you ever want to pray for God to do something really amazing - beyond your or someone else’s expectations - but you find yourself afraid to actually utter the request to God - because you think he won't or can't do it? Just stop for a minute and ask yourself this question . . . are my prayers shaped or limited by what I think God can and/or is able to do?
But - doesn't Jesus say, (Matt 7:7-8) "Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” NRSV
OK - Jesus said that . . . but . . . and then you rationalize that he meant it "spiritually" or something. People have often put limits on God in so many ways.
Our 1st Scripture passage today - in I Kings, is an example. This is kind of an out-of-the-way passage, maybe not one you've studied extensively - or even read before - but I love the story - because it so illustrates the very attitude that we often take regarding what we believe God can or will do - and the limits we put on God by our preconceived ideas.
Naaman was a Gentile army commander in the service of the king of Aram - a country that had an ambivalent relationship w/ Israel - sometimes at war - other times peaceful. At this particular time, there was some tension between the countries and raids by the Arameans resulted in an Israelite servant girl being captured and now serving the powerful military leader, Naaman's, family. Now, despite Naaman's important position, and valiant soldiering, he had some medical problems.
He suffered from a nasty skin disease of some kind - many translations say leprosy - but the word used here is used for many skin conditions - and leprosy as we think of it would have necessitated Naaman being separated from society in a leper colony.
The young Hebrew servant girl is concerned for Naaman - and suggests he go to see the prophet Elisha in Israel - that Elisha could cure him of his disease. Naaman goes to his king, asks permission, gets a letter of reference to the king of Israel - and a large gift of gold & silver & sets out - not the prophet's house - but the king of Israel's palace. The king has no idea what this is all about, thinks its some ploy to stir up trouble between the countries - has a hissy-fit (tears his robes) and Elisha hears about it.
Elisha sends for Naaman and his entourage - and it sounds like it really was an entourage - horses - chariots - probably servants to drive them . . . . and they pull up at Elisha's place. Try to get a picture in your mind of this - Here is an army commander of a foreign land - and his ‘posse’ - outside Elisha's and . . . pay attention to what Elisha does. He doesn't come out and greet the man - he sends his servant - with instructions for this foreign dignitary - of how he can be healed of his disease. Not too difficult . . . (vs 10) "Go wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed."
If this were your doctor's prescription for relief from a skin ailment - would you do it?
Naaman didn't go for it. He got really ticked off for several reasons. As we look at them - notice - he had HIS expectations of how the man of God - and consequently God himself - should do this.
First Naaman was angry Elisha didn't even show him proper respect by coming out and greeting him in person. He sent his servant. Naaman thought Elisha should come out - raise his hand and say some magic incantation - after all "That's the way it was done in those days in that civilization" - understand as “that’s the way we’ve ALWAYS done it!” and then he'd be healed.
Then he was angry because he was told to wash in the Jordan river. Naaman didn't think the Jordan was too great - he thought the other 2 rivers he mentioned in Damascus were probably cleaner - and may have even been known to have curative properties.
SO - having not been received and treated as HE thought proper - he was ready to leave in anger - when his servant stopped him. The servant, who respects his master - and wants to see him healed - suggests - that if Elisha had prescribed some "great thing" Naaman would have done it - so why not give this a try? What does he have to lose?? SO he went - and he dipped himself in the humble dirty little Jordan - 7 times - as God instructed through Elisha - and "behold" as KJV would say - his flesh was restored even better than new - like the skin of a young boy - not bad, hmmm?
And so, Naaman believed in the God of Israel - who had the power to restore his health - even though it was not how HE - Naaman - would have thought it should be done.
Another healing story in John 9. Jesus was known to use some unorthodox healing methods, too. He once put his fingers in a man's ears and restored his hearing. He spoke to a crippled man, told him to pick up his bed & go home & he did - and here - he & the disciples encounter a man blind since birth. Jesus spits on the ground - makes some mud with the spit - puts it on the man's eyes & tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. So what if your doctor tried that? I’m pretty sure that unless you have intentionally chosen some “alternative” or “natural” health practitioner – if YOUR doctor spit on some dirt & put the mud on your or your loved one’s eyes - - - you would be high-tailing it out of there - looking for a new Dr. and suing this one for malpractice - spit - mud - and a cure - hmmm!
This man does as Jesus instructs - he sees - and as usual for Jesus - trouble ensues. The Pharisees don't like his methods - he's healing without their consent or approval. He's breaking the sabbath to do it. "This isn't the way it should be done!" Sound familiar??? Limiting God - putting restrictions on how God "should" work - according to THEIR preconceived ideas.
Two stories here - both about God doing a miracle - healing someone - in unexpected, unorthodox ways - and in neither of them was God's instruction initially received well by those with power and authority. We can find so many other instances where God worked in unusual and unexpected ways - not just related to physical healing.
Remember the story of feeding 5000+ people who had come out to hear Jesus’ preaching. This story is told in all 4 gospels – obviously a lesson God wants to get thru to us! The disciples were concerned about the large crowd getting hungry - it was near dinner time – and when they suggested to Jesus he send them out for supper – Jesus told THEM to feed the people. The disciples were incredulous – Mark 6:37, “ They said to him, "Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread [8 months’ wages], and give it to them to eat?" They know THEY don’t have enough money to ‘call out for pizza’ for this crowd!
And he said to them, "How many loaves have you? Go and see." When they had found out, they said, "Five, and two fish." Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. No doubt the disciples were wondering what Jesus was going to do . . .
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men. [likely their families with them] (Mar 6:37-44 NRS)
Again – Jesus did something TOTALLY unexpected – we could go on listing other events – other miracles Jesus did – how about raising Lazarus – Mary & Martha had NO idea what Jesus could do – when Jesus told them to roll away the stone from Lazarus tomb – remember what Martha said to Jesus? KJV = Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. (John 11:39) We know the result – Lazarus came walking out of the tomb – ALIVE – and he stinketh NOT!
But take the most obvious example of Jesus Christ himself. The whole idea of God becoming a human being - squeezing all the fullness of the omnipotent deity of heaven into the form of a human baby in some little burg called Bethlehem in Judea 2000 years ago - and that being God's plan to save humanity and restore us to fellowship as his children by the sacrificial death and resurrection of this God-Man - Jesus - so that, if we trust in him - and what he's done - believe in him by faith - and offer ourselves to him - we are, as Paul said, by grace, through faith, "rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." [Col 1:13 NIV]
Certainly, God's plan of salvation through Jesus is "out of the box" - grace, faith, confession, forgiveness, cleansing, a brand new life - being literally indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God himself - to lead us, guide our lives, be our comforter, counselor - the one who walks with us through this life - the promise of eternal life - not by working, laboring, trying to be "good enough" that God MAY, at our death - say we can come to heaven. Following Jesus Christ through faith - is "out of the box" and that's only the beginning.
Our God, whom I'm fond of quoting Paul's words - is "able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine" [Eph 3:20] can keep on surprising us as we follow him out of the box of our preconceived ideas of "how he should work."
I have seen this truth at work countless times in my own life and in many others around me. Last week I told you my story.
• If I had not turned TO God when I was laid up - recovering from a broken back –
• If I hadn’t recognized God’s leading in the words of Scripture
• in the confirmation of those who encouraged me –
• in the urging of my pastor who gave me opportunity to speak in my home church
and gave the word to other pastors to invite me when they needed a speaker -
• If I hadn't followed God out of my box
- - - - I'd still be a computer operator in an office - instead of being in my 18th year of a more fulfilling calling in ministry than I could ever have imagined.
If my husband Barry hadn't similarly followed God out of his box - he'd still be literally making cardboard boxes in a factory – instead of counseling addicts, alcoholics and others – helping them find recovery from their addictions and THE higher power who provides the resources for a different way of living!
Today God has brought you all - and Barry & I - together in ministry in this local expression of the body of Christ! And I am confident of this - that he is still leading in "out of the box" - sometimes unorthodox ways - in ways that, like the examples we’ve just heard - may challenge our preconceived ideas. Let's be like Naaman's servant - "hey, give it a try" or like the blind man who listened and obeyed - and went, washed and went away seeing!!! Let's commit ourselves to listen and pray - then to trust and obey - knowing the results of obedience are nothing less than miraculous!!
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