RandoMorn: Reaching out

I was thinking about last sunday’s sermon message about mission and purpose. It reminded me of how much of my day to day thoughts revolved solely around the here and now rather than the coming judgement and the eternal life to come.

The speaker, Dr Kyuboem Lee, spoke of incarnational ministry. He reminded us that God did not just write out a message on paper or a messenger in the form of a prophet. He sent a person, His son, Jesus. So our church too, is called to not just hand out pamphlets, but we all also called to be a light and presence in our neighborhoods and wherever God has placed us.

The call to spread the gospel is not just to missionaries and pastors. It is to every believer. So then, there are but two options who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior, obedience or disobedience. Choose this day which you shall serve.

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Compliment-ary

“That’s a nice dress!”
“All dressed up! Where’s the party?”

I don’t give many complements. But by far, they are about someone’s outfit. If not that, then some sort of technological gadget. If we only notice when someone is well dressed, has a nice shade of lipstick, or looks dressed for a night out on the town… What does that say about us?

“O woman, great is your faith!” – Jesus (Matt 15:28)

This is in contrast to what God’s concerned with. He looks upon the heart. Consider then what we share and focus upon. Because it speaks of what we deem important… and conversely, what is unworthy of note.

 

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The Shunammite: A personal miracle.

When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the LORD. Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out.

2 Kings 4:32-37 ESV

Elisha arrives to find the promised son lying dead in the place where he had rested and found refreshment. The husband and the rest of the household still don’t know what’s going on. She’s told no one… and the only witnesses to the current state of affairs are her and Gehazi. The household probably knew something serious was happening since Gehazi ran to the house and back to them without talking to anyone. Elisha walks into his room and shuts the door behind him. Whether the prophet explains himself is unknown.

Now, it is just Elisha, the corpse of the promised son, and the LORD. Elisha prays. The words of his prayer are left between these three. Elisha stretches himself out upon the little body. Very specifically matching the head and hands. And the corpse warms. The shunammite woman and Gehazi are waiting outside. In an awkward silence? Trying to keep the rest of the household away from the scene? Elisha gets up and walks around the house and stretches upon the body again. The child sneezes in succession and opens his eyes. Can you imagine the face of the mother who hears her dead son sneeze? Incredulous? Wonder? Relief? Hope? What does it look like when faith is answered?

Elisha calls for his servant, Gehazi. Gehazi comes in from his wait outside. Gehazi is instructed to summon the shunammite. So he goes out again to bring her in… into the room that she had set aside for the prophet. She walks in and finds her son restored to life. Elisha tells her to pick up her son. She falls at his feet again. Gratitude? Recognition of greater power? She picks up her son and leaves.

Part 1 Making room for the man of God
Part 2 A Promise to one who is content
Part 3 Recognizing the power of God and acting accordingly
part 4 Confusion & Drama for a prophet

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The Shunammite: Confusion & Drama for a prophet

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite. Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” And she answered, “All is well.” And when she came to the mountain to the man of God, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came to push her away. But the man of God said, “Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me.” Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’” He said to Gehazi, “Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” Then the mother of the child said, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her. Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”

2 Kings 4:25-31 (ESV)

Even the prophet of God is not immune to pathos. Elisha walked with God. And along comes this curveball out of nowhere. He sees a cloud of dust off in the distance. He squints and finally makes out his benefactor. The one who has lavished hospitality upon him. So he sends his servant to meet her and make sure everything is okay. Why in the world would she rush so quickly? It’s like a phone call out of the blue… “Is everything ok? Don’t do anything rash. I’m here.” She responds, everything is fine… it’s fine. And then proceeds to break down in front of him. Elisha says so himself: “she is in bitter distress, and the LORD has hidden it from me” She pours out her heart to him. She’s asking him why… why has God given and just as suddenly taken away. Elisha had promised her a son. Deep in her heart, she feels that the prophet has lied to her. We can mince Elisha’s words or hash through the technicalities of his exact wording, but still the promise rings empty. A son and all that it entailed… the removal of her shame, the promise of a future; all gone in the span of an afternoon. Hopes and dreams dashed to pieces.

Once again, Elisha sends his servant. He tells Gehazi to rush to the child’s side and to lay the staff on the child’s face. Old-style CPR? Who knows. But it doesn’t work. Gehazi probably meets Elisha and the woman as they are making their way back to the Shunammite’s house. More crushing news. The shunammite’s heart could only have gotten heavier. The dark night of the soul has come and settled.

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The Shunammite: Recognizing the power of God and acting accordingly

When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died. And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God and shut the door behind him and went out. Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.” Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.

2 Kings 4:18-24 (ESV)

This is part three of the series. For those who want to catch up, Part I & Part II.

Previously, the shunammite had borne a son as foretold by the word of Elisha, prophet of God.

Years have pasted since Elisha spoke those prophetic words. The baby, held so tenderly, has now grown into a child. Given that the child can now speak, we can safely assume it has been at least three years. What may have happened in that span of time is left unspoken. It is currently harvest time, since the reapers were out. Harvest is usually a time of joy, of celebration. But something else is in store. The child speaks, “… my head, my head!” The husband instructs one of the servants to carry him to his mother.

A servant carries your young son to you. Something is wrong. A tumor? an infection? What kind of turmoil lies in the mother’s heart? worry? panic? frantic thoughts? faith & peace? Only God knows. We only get a glimpse of external circumstances. The mother cradles the child in her lap. He’s in distress. She was wealthy, but all those riches cannot purchase a life or good health. There is no call for a physician. Perhaps she recognized he was beyond the hope of what medical care they had in those times. So she probably tried to ease his suffering. She watches the life drain from her son. He dies in her arms.

Her only son is dead. What now? Grief? Denial? What words can describe this place where she is now? Perhaps words ring hollow because they are insufficient. But if there were tears, they were not noted. If there was a cry despair or gnashing of teeth, it was not public. It is noon. She only knows one thing. The man of God promised her the son she should not or could not have. He was the one who spoke the prophetic words and rearranged her entire life with a phrase. She would take up her case with him. She takes her boy and lays him down on the bed of the man of God. She tells her husband, she’s going to see the man of God. Why he asks? She does not answer. Her reply is quick, “All is well.” Is it a lie? Is it faith? Is she holding it all in and the very act of talking might make her break down?

She takes off at full speed to the man of God. Don’t slow down, she tells her servant. She flies to the one who gave her what she thought improbable and impossible. Where do you run when times are crazy?

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The Shunammite: A Promise to one who is content…

“One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?'” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” He said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway. And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.” – 2 Kings 4:11-17 (ESV)

Back to Part I

This is the second in a six part series. Previously, Elisha had come through town and this woman had welcomed him and provided for his needs generously.

Now Elisha has been blessed by the generous hospitality of this shunammite woman. So one day while passing through and stopping at his room in her abode, he decides that he should repay her kindness in some way. So he calls for her and asks her what she wants. Her answer speaks volumes. “I dwell among my own people.” It tells of her contentment in her circumstances. She has all that she needs. And even more than that, I believe it speaks of her motives in serving Elisha. If she had done all these things for Elisha expecting repayment, this would have been the time. She had the opportunity to ask Elisha for anything, but instead declines to receive anything in return for her generosity. She knew that Elisha was a man of God. Elisha could request anything she wanted from God himself. But instead a reply of contentment.

So Elisha & Gehazi probably discuss privately what to do. Gehazi notes that the woman has no son and an old husband. This was problematic because society was largely patriarchal. If she was left with no husband or son, she would have a troubled future. (think: no pension or retirement savings) So Elisha calls her in again and speaks prophetic words: “… about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” Her reaction is puzzling: “… O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” Clearly, she is troubled by Elisha’s words. This is my interpretation, reading between the lines so to speak. I think that she had hoped and longed for a son. Who knows how many years, how many prayers. But she knew her husband was old. They had tried and nothing had worked. Maybe she was barren. So she told herself she was content with what God had given her. She repeated it to herself until she began to believe it herself. She stopped praying for a son. The intense longings flickered down in a mere candle flame. She buried her hope. But the prophet disturbed that hope from it’s resting place. He spoke of the hope that she had laid to rest a long time ago. And hope awakened again in her heart. Did she dare hope again? No, she dared not. “… do not lie to your servant.”

But even though she had stopped hoping, it happened. Exactly as the prophet said. A year to the season, she held her son.

 

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The Shunammite: Making room for the man of God…

   One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.” 2 Kings 4:8-10 (ESV)

God-willing, this will be a six part series. I’m hoping to dive into various aspects of the encounter between Elisha and the Shunammite woman. It’ll be a leisurely stroll through twenty-nine verses and hopefully, we’ll get a glimpse of what’s going on here and maybe more importantly, what God is telling us through it. Without further ado…

Elisha is a prophet of God. For one reason or another, he is traveling through Shunem. While he’s passing through, a wealthy woman offers him some food. This is standard hospitality towards travelers. In those times, it was common to take in travelers and provide food & lodging for them. So he accepts it. And evidently, it is pleasing. Whether it was the food, the company, or something else… Elisha came back repeatedly. So we can conclude that she has good hospitality and is generous.

After a couple of encounters, this woman recognizes Elisha is no simple traveler. “I know that this is a holy man of God…” She probably had enough spiritual wisdom to recognize a prophet. There were no flashy miracles, no commands from this man. Yet she still recognized Elisha as a man of God. Whether the husband had similar thoughts is not readily apparent, but her suggestion does come to pass.

She suggests building an addition to their house, exclusively for Elisha’s use. This addition would be fully furnished. This is above and beyond simple, standard hospitality. To illustrate, let’s try a modern take on the idea. A pastor passes through your town every couple of months. Since you know him, you decide to add a small apartment studio to your house so he’ll be comfortable when he passes through town. Ridiculous!

But really, what is going on here? The woman is showing her enormous respect for God by how she treats His prophet. She took great pains to account for the prophet’s every imaginable need. A lamp for light. A bed for rest. A table and chair for other tasks.

What is God trying to say?

For me, I think God is asking me whether I make room for the things of God. Do I take pains to make sure that my service to God is whole-hearted like this woman? She took hospitality above and beyond the common courtesy of the day. Do I have an enormous love and respect for those who serve God?

How about you? Have you made room for the man of God? (or did you give him a little food and send him on his way?)

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DB5

Dear Believer,

Who have you been gracious with lately?

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Unbearable…

Under three things the earth trembles,
   under four it cannot bear up:
a servant who becomes king,
   a fool who is full of food,
an unloved woman who is married,
   and a maidservant who displaces her mistress.

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Gentleness…

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
   my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
   or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
   and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
– Isaiah 42:1-3 (ESV)

I’ve had these words echoing in my head for about a week now. I guess I’ll have to mark that as God speaking to me. So the words that kept coming up was this: “a bruised reed he will not break” I think about how gracious Jesus is and how judgmental & condemning I am. So many occasions where I’ve jumped to conclusions, instead of earnestly hearing the other side first. I feel like “Please Jesus, protect me from your followers” is a valid response for Christians and non-Christians alike. I wonder if anyone has had to pray that after meeting me? So much of what I say is truthful but fairly harsh & inconsiderate. I say that friends are the ones who will tell you the truth, but that’s only part of the story. I think God’s people should be gentle. Yes, I count myself as one of God’s people. But gentle, I am not. When people hear me talking, they don’t think “speaking truth with love“. Rather, it probably more like “a clanging cymbal” :sigh: God save me from myself.

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