Friday, July 14, 2017

2 Kings 5:1-19 - Uncomfortable Truth

2 Kings 5:1-19 - Uncomfortable Truth

There were two brothers, well known in the community for their sinful ways.  They were mean.  They were trouble-makers.  They were the scourge of their small town.
One day, one of the brothers died.
The surviving brother wanted to give him a really nice Christian funeral.  So he called the funeral home and bought the very best.  THEN he called the preacher in town and made him an offer he could not refuse.  He said, “I will give you $10,000 to put that new roof on the church IF, you will give the eulogy for my brother and call him ‘a saint.’”
To everyone’s surprise - the normally principled-preacher agreed?!?
The whole town turned out for the funeral… not out of grief, but out of curiousity – “What would the preacher possibly say?”  

He began… “The man you see in the casket today was a vile and wicked sinner.  He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, and a reprobate.  He destroyed the lives and fortunes of countless people in this town… many of whom are here today.  He was, by all accounts, a dirty rotten scoundrel…
BUT - compared to his brother - he was a saint!”

There is a Russian proverb that goes like this:  

“It’s better to be slapped by the truth, than KISSED by a lie.”
We LOVE the truth – in fact, civilized society depends on it.  We want truth in advertising, truth in our legal system, truth in our government officials.  We ARE all about ‘the truth’

as long as it doesn’t get too personal.  As long as WE are the ones doing the interrogating.  But when the spotlight is put on US, the truth has a way of becoming ⇒ UNCOMFORTABLE.
We see it in our text.  Naaman knew he had a problem, but he really didn’t know the EXTENT of it.  Though a mighty man – though unusually brave and honest - a man held in honor…  he had an incurable problem.
Leprosy is a terrible disease that causes nerve damage in the skin …and eventually causes the flesh to rot away from the bone.  So fearful was this disease that those who had it were often quarantined OUTSIDE the city and if anyone accidentally came near them - the diseased person was to shout, “UNCLEAN!”  Those afflicted with this gruesome disease were forced into loneliness with the prospects of a painful death.  

Yep… Naaman knew he had a problem.  
In many ways, Naaman is a picture of US… and if you will allow me to share the TRUTH this morning - I want to show you three things we have in common with Naaman.

1.  First, just like Naaman, we are Cursed.  Naaman had a disease that had separated him from others and would end in a horrible death.  He was unclean.  He was doomed.  

And so are you.  

So am I.  

His was leprosy of the skin - ours is of the heart.  Sin has infected each one of us.  We were born with it.  No matter how moral we want others to believe us to be - at our very core - we are unclean sinners separated from a holy God.
Though Naaman was held in high esteem – though people thought he was a hero and a statesman, he had a disease he could not hide or ignore.  Should he compare his positive qualities with those of OTHERS, he likely would have stood head and shoulders above the rest of his peers.  
  • Character? <check>  
  • Trustworthy? <check>  
  • Courage? <check>
STILL, he had a problem that would eventually destroy him.
That’s you.  That’s me.  

The Bible is clear about it too.  In Romans 3, God says, “ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  And because of my sin, I am unclean and unworthy of the love, mercy, and grace of God.  By all accounts, we are alienated from Him and will one day, barring some miracle, experience His judgment and wrath.
Naaman knew he had a problem.  He might wear gloves in an attempt to hide it… he might wear perfume to mask the odor of his rotting flesh, he might do many great and heroic deeds to earn the respect of others… but no matter WHAT he did, at the end of the day he was a leper - and there was nothing he could do to change it.
Have you come to terms with YOUR problem?  In the quiet moments no one has to convince us of our guilt.  As we go through life we do everything we can possibly do to assuage our conscience.  We volunteer in the community, we give to the local charity, we compare ourselves with others thinking that being “good” is good enough.  But at the end of the day, we are just splashing cologne on a dead man.
In his book, Heart to Heart, R. G. Lee once said, “Sin has ruined men, women, and angels.  Sin has occasioned every tear of sorrow, every sigh of grief, every pang of agony.  Sin has withered everything that is fair, blasted everything that is good, made bitter everything that is sweet, dried up springs of comfort, rolled far and wide tides of sorrow.  Sin has dug every grave, built every coffin, and enlarged every cemetery that the world has ever seen.”
We - are - cursed.
2.  But not only do we see how Naaman was cursed, we also see how he was cleansed.  One day, according to our text, the armies of Syria had taken captive a little Jewish girl who would serve as Naaman’s household maid.  In the course of her daily work, the young lady told Naaman’s wife that there was a prophet in Israel who could heal Naaman of his leprosy.  With the encouragement of his king, Naaman sought the help of the man of God.
But for Naaman to be cleansed of his leprosy, he had to come to terms with a couple of facts:

First, he learned that cleansing cannot be bought or earned.  He put together a LARGE offering of money, several articles of rich clothing, and animals to give in exchange for his cleansing. He didn’t want charity or for people to feel sorry for him, he would make his OWN way.  He didn’t know that the cleansing offered by God is free.
A LOT of people struggle with the concept of grace.  They believe they can earn the favor of God if they give enough, do enough, join the right organization.  The sinful nature of man looks for ways to make his OWN way … not knowing that cleansing cannot be bought.

Second he learned that God requires faith and obedience for cleansing.  You’ve go to drop your pride and do things GOD’S way.  Naaman thought that the man of God would come out of his house and do some spectacular thing –
  • maybe wave his hands in the air –
  • utter some magic spell
  • or throw PIXIE dust on him – to cure him of his leprosy.  
But no, Elisha didn’t even go to the door to look at him - he sent his servant with word for him to go down to the Jordan river and dip himself seven times and he would be healed.
This made Naaman angry.  “Who does this guy think he IS???  Does he not know WHO I AM???”

I want you to understand something - Pride bars the gates of heaven.  James said, “let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.”
Kinda reminds me of so many people today who would rather give some amount of money, or DO some sacrificial act to secure their own salvation.  But that sacrificial act has already been done - Leading many to be disappointed at the simplicity of the gospel.  God demands repentance and faith.   
Naaman’s pride would have gotten the best of him too, were it not for one of his servants who convinced him to give the prophet’s prescription a try.  “What you’ve tried till now hasn’t worked.  Why NOT give this a chance???” his servant advised.
When he went down to the river and followed God’s directions, he was immediately cleansed and his skin became like that of a newborn baby.
Interesting how God works, isn’t it?  Naaman would never have been cleansed were it not for:

  • The witness of a slave girl who set the mighty man on the road to his healing.
  • The urging of a soldier to at least give God a try.
  • And the miracle never would have happened if he hadn’t dropped his pride and let go of all his own attempts of self-salvation.
Interesting how the Lord does miracles through something as simple as faith and obedience.

A lot of people want to go to heaven.  In fact, I don’t know anybody who DOESN’T want heaven and all the blessings that go along WITH it!  But they want it own their OWN terms.  BUT just as Naaman learned ⇒  it is GOD Who sets the terms.
3.  But there is one more way we are like him.  Not only are we cursed like him, and cleansed like him, we also face a Conundrum like him.  Notice halfway down in verse 17 and then all of verse 18, “from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord.  
In THIS matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.”
Conundrum – now THERE’s a word we don’t use every day.  A conundrum is a difficult, a perplexing situation.  

And that is exactly what Naaman would face when he went back home.
He was absolutely convinced that God had cleansed him and that there was no other God but Elisha’s God.  He is committed to live for, worship, and SERVE the Lord.
BUT – he knew that waiting for him back in Syria was a job where he would face many challenges to his new life.  

He knew that as soon as he returned to Syria, he would face all the idolatry and sinfulness of a people who didn’t know the Lord.  And he needed the assurance that God wouldn’t disown him if he continued to serve as the King’s bodyguard.  He didn’t want God or even Elisha to think that he endorsed that idolatry.  A conundrum.
Going back to the old life, poses a conundrum for you too.  

It’s easy to serve the Lord and do all the right things when you are surrounded by godly people.  It’s easy to do right when you are at camp or at a Christian concert… surrounded by people who are on fire for God.  But you can’t live here.  You have to find the strength to do right when you are away from this place.  You have to get to a place in your walk with the Lord where you resist the pull of your lost friends and family.  

Your faith must hold up under everyday challenges.
The old life will wear you down.  The devil will tempt  you with compromise – he will convince you that “part-way is good enough.”  Every day, you will face this conundrum.  

What should you do??  Three things:

First, Christians MUST BE COMMITTED to living differently.  This can’t be a ‘Sunday-only’ thing.  This NEW life will not be easy for you.  Your faith will be challenged and even ridiculed.  There will be times when you will be forced to draw the line and take your stand – even with people you love.  Your commitment will not make you popular.  The kind of stand I’m talking about might cost you some relationships or even a job.  But you MUST RESOLVE in your heart that you are going to do the right thing - REGARDLESS.
All of us struggle when we go back to our daily lives.  But if you are particularly weak in some area – stop putting yourself in a position to compromise.  
  • If I know that I struggle with alcohol, then why would I put myself in a position where it is served or hang out with people who consume it?  
  • If I struggle with lust, then I need to do whatever it takes to keep myself OUT of those compromising situations.
Second, though Christians have been forgiven of their sins, they are still human – and sometimes fail.  During those times you need to remember that cleansing is still available for you.  God doesn’t just provide for yesterday’s failures… but for ALL of them.  John said, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.”  

No matter how committed you think you ARE today – there will still be times when you fail.  Don’t allow that stumble to prove fatal.  God has not given up on you.  His grace will be with you till the end of your life if you will trust Him.

And third, this conundrum requires us to look for ways to introduce people to Jesus.  Make up your mind before you go back out into the world that you are going to share the Lord.  The Bible even tells us to let our conversations be ‘seasoned with salt…’ that is, we are to look for ways to bring the Lord into our conversations.  

  • Whether we talk about the new things we’ve learned in Bible study,
  • OR we offer to pray for those who are going through a difficult situation.  
  • Whether sharing our testimony of the things God has done for us
  • or lending our help to someone in need -
We need to express, publicly, our commitment to Jesus!
So YEAH, In many ways, we ARE just like Naaman:
  • We are cursed with a disease that separates us from God…
  • we are cleansed of our disease when we exercise faith and obedience in God’s cure.
  • And we face a conundrum every time we go back to everyday life.  We cannot go back to life as it was before Jesus.  We - MUST - be - different.
Maybe you are here today and YOU realize that you have a disease that only GOD can cure.  Inside your heart, you know things aren’t right between you and God.  And today you want cleansing.  Why not come to this place of prayer and in faith and obedience trust God to save you??
Or maybe you are here today and you HAVE been saved.  You believe in the Lord and want to please Him.  But the conundrum of living in a world of temptation and sin often gets the better of you.  And today, you want to ask God to give you the strength to stand firm in your commitment.
If God is speaking to your heart, why not pray about it right now??

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Acts 1:8 – That the World may know

Acts 1:8 – That the World may know

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
Believe it or not – you are being watched…

A preacher was building a storage shed behind the parsonage when he noticed a little boy watching him. The boy didn’t say a word – so the preacher kept on working, thinking that he would eventually leave. But he didn’t. He stayed there all morning – just watching.

Pleased at the thought that his work was being admired, the preacher asked, “Well son, trying to learn some pointers??”

“No,” answered the boy. “I’m just waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer.”

I’m not trying to make you paranoid, just stating the facts: you are being watched. People in your life have HEARD you talk about the Lord… they know you go to church… they have watched you as you go through life –wanting to see HOW you react to painful problems and difficult people.

They want to see if your profession of faith is REAL or if it is like they’ve seen so many OTHER times – just words.

Because you are human and are prone to fail, IF you are going to be the witness for the gospel this world needs, you are going to need the help of the Lord! And there's plenty of that HELP offered in our text this morning.

With the Cross behind Him and the Crown before Him, Jesus tells His disciples WHAT they should DO with the time they have left and what they would NEED in order to DO it.

Knowing that the World would not only be listening to our words but also watching our lives, Jesus offers here ONE succinct and powerful statement that would forever stand as the Universal call of God on His Church. He said:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

That one statement contains 4 things His disciples – both then and now - need:

1. First, we need Enlistment. We need to take ownership of God's plan. These men were Jews. They had been raised with Jewish traditions and prejudices. Many of these men had never been outside the borders of their homeland. The center of their world was the Temple, and up until this time, if anyone wanted to know God, they had to come to Israel.

But this text marks a significant change in God’s method of reaching the lost. WE are to carry the Good News to people, wherever they may be. The disciples needed enlistment in God’s new program of global outreach.

God wanted THE WORLD to know the good news… and he wanted His disciples to tell them.

  • They would face prejudices within and problems without
  • there would be language barriers, 
  • money issues, 
  • cultural complications, 
  • and an overall disdain for foreigners. 

So they needed enlistment. They needed to own God’s vision themselves.

We need enlistment too. We are called to reach our world for Christ. We might think, “The world is a HUGE place… what possible difference could I make in the world???”

The Lord called each of us to impact THE world by sharing the gospel with OUR world.

Your “world,” is much smaller than THE world. The places you go… the people you know… your family, friends, work associates – God has a plan to reach those people - just as much as He does the people of Brazil or Panama – and a key part of that “plan” is YOU. He is ENLISTING you to impact your world for Jesus.

We have prejudices that WE need to overcome.

Take for instance our thoughts on the illegal Hispanic population in this country – people breaking the law crossing our borders.

I’ll admit - have a problem with that. In SOME cases, they are threatening our safety as a nation, bringing their diseases, their poverty, their language and culture and expecting US to adapt to THEM. We look at the burden these people have brought to our educational system and welfare programs and our prejudice kicks in and we want them to LEAVE.

What we need – however - is ENLISTMENT.

Since WE weren’t going to THEM, the Lord is bringing THEM to US. The church needs to be doing SOMETHING to reach those people with the Gospel. God isn’t simply concerned with middle-class white America, He is concerned for the whole world. We keep passing the buck thinking ‘someone else needs to do it,’ but God wants all Christians to do their part.

  • If the barrier is language, He wants us to learn it. 
  • If it is money, He wants us to GIVE it. 
  • If it is prejudice, He wants us to overcome it with the love of Christ. 
  • If it is fear of rejection – lack of knowledge – or WHATEVER – He wants us to get over it. 
We have to overcome these things for God’s glory and man’s need. Enlistment.

2. But not only did those disciples need enlistment, they also needed Encouragement. They would never be able to Evangelize their World without Him. That’s why Jesus closed the book of Matthew with THIS statement: “go make disciples… And behold I am with you always, even to the end of the World…”

That word of encouragement became the life verse of missionary David Livingstone. In every crisis of life, he fell back on it. When surrounded by hostile savages, he encouraged himself with the knowledge that Christ was WITH him. When at the deathbed of his wife and missions partner, he cleaved to it. “I am with you always.”

The disciples needed Encouragement too. They needed to know that the Lord had not abandoned them. Even though they watched Him die and be buried, He hadn’t left them. Though they saw Him ascend into heaven, He had NOT left them. And here… commanding them to go out and witness in the face of rejection and hostility, He wants them to know He hasn’t left them.

They needed encouragement.

You need encouragement too. He knows your struggles. He knows your fears. As you go about sharing His Gospel, He knows the rejection you will face and the excuses people will make. The ONLY thing that will help you is the Presence of the Lord. He is with you always, even to the end of the World.

3. But not only did they need Enlistment and Encouragement, they also needed Enlightenment. What were they supposed to do?? He said, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

THAT’S His program. REACH THE WORLD one soul at a time – beginning with your friends and family, then extending to your community, and your country.

But it doesn’t stop there, He wants some of us to go to foreign soil. And He wants the rest of us to send them and support them with our prayers and our finances. This is His program.

When faced with such a daunting task as reaching the world, we are overwhelmed. We lose heart. We talk about the challenge to reach the world until we are blue in the face but don’t know how to actually accomplish it.

But think of it THIS way - How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

The Lord was perfectly clear… He wanted them to begin with their Community… reaching their friends and neighbors with the Gospel of Christ.

He THEN wanted them to reach their Country, witnessing all over Judea.

Then He wanted that growing group of disciples to reach their continent for Christ... and on and on they would go until the gospel had permeated the whole world. THAT is His program.

They were successful too. Within 15 short years, Paul, had almost single-handedly successfully evangelized the 1,500 mile stretch from Jerusalem to Illyricum. 15 years, 1,500 miles - spanning seas and crossing borders.

You know what that tells me?? Something is wrong with our methods.

Imagine not having a car or any mode of transportation faster than walking, and the Lord telling you to start in Troy, and preach the Gospel from here all the way to Washington DC, and NOT just preach, but establish churches, ordain leaders, and indoctrinate members in the teachings of Christ – in 15 years, reckon how far we would get??

Our church has already been here for what, 10 years? And we haven’t even scratched the surface of our own community. We have members of our own families and neighbors we haven't witnessed to.

Something is wrong with our methods. We’re not doing it right. I believe if Paul were with us today, he would shake things up or throw us OUT.

God’s plan has not changed. His desire is for every member of the church to take personal responsibility for fulfilling the great commission. We need Enlightenment.

4. But not only did they need Enlistment, Encouragement, and Enlightenment, they also needed Enablement … “you will receive power … and you will be my witnesses.”

THAT is what made the disciples so successful. It wasn't that they were so much smarter or more talented. Motivated by God’s love and filled with His power, in one decade they had “turned their world upside down for Christ.”

Consider what they were BEFORE this power came upon them. They loved the Lord and were doing what He had told them.

He had told them to ‘Tarry in Jerusalem,’ so they were tarrying in Jerusalem. All one hundred-twenty of them.

  • They were in happy fellowship with each other.
  • They were making decisions related to the affairs of the church. 
  • They were giving themselves to prayer. 
  • They were searching the Scriptures and exhorting one another daily. 
  • They were rejoicing in a risen and returning Lord. 

BUT … they were powerless.

Most churches would LOVE to be where they were. Sincere. Friendly. Never mind the lack of power, 120 gathering faithfully for prayer and Bible study fills us with envy!

And just like those early disciples huddled in the upper room, we are powerless and visionless. And the reason their focus hadn't shifted from the four walls of their building is very simple… they didn’t yet have the Holy Spirit.

What's our excuse???

Only the Holy Spirit can make Christ real to someone else. Only the Holy Spirit can convict hearts and convince minds. Without the Spirit, we have to settle for what man can do. And look at what that has produced - a small group struggling to stay together while the community burns.

It was not until AFTER the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that early church became powerful witnesses for Christ. That is why they had to “wait for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4). They would not be effective no matter how well they preached or lived … without the Holy Spirit. But when the Spirit came – The time for huddling was OVER. They were to do what God had commanded and GO!

The good news? We already have the Holy Spirit. You received Him the moment you placed your faith in Christ to save you.

We don’t need to sit here week after week in our holy huddle. We need to GO. We must follow the leadership of the Spirit, and take the gospel into our world! That is all we need to carry out His will.

Some of us have friends who are lost and we’ve been waiting on some extraordinary event to wake them up to their need… we’ve been praying that God would send SOMEbody, ANYbody, to tell them. But God wants to send YOU. So you see… all you need to be the witness God wants is right here in Acts 1:8:

Enlistment - He has called YOU to be a part of His plan to reach the world.

Encouragement - He promises to be with you

Enlightenment - He has told you where to go

And Enablement – He will fill you with His power and use you to reach your world.

It’s time you stepped to the plate. Will you? No more excuses. No more passing the buck to someone else. Will you, like Isaiah, say “Lord, here am I, send me?”