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The Lepers and the Famine

This morning I want to continue on in our story of Elisha. We’ve been going through some of the incredible stories of the Bible and last week we looked at how God, through Elisha, caused an iron axehead to float in the Jordan River. The ax had been borrowed to cut down trees for a new building where Elisha could meet with some of his students – a group known as the ‘sons of the prophets’. Their existing building had grown too small and so they set out to build another. But as they were chopping down trees by the Jordan River, the axehead flew off the handle and landed in the water. Of course, iron tools back then would have been terribly expensive to replace – putting the young man who had borrowed the ax in quite a predicament with whoever loaned him the ax!

But mercifully, God bent the laws of nature so that the iron axehead floated to the surface where if could be retrieved! And we were reminded once again that our God is the God of compassion and mercy. As we read in Matthew 10:29, if God cares about even the little insignificant sparrow, we can know that he certainly cares for us.

So that was last week’s incredible story – not overly dramatic, but certainly a great illustration of God’s mercy and kindness.

Now today, our story is on the opposite end of the dramatic spectrum. While last week’s story was primarily about the mundane activities of life – this week’s story includes the siege of a city, assassins, deadly stampedes, human cannibalism, and lepers. It’s pretty much the opposite of mundane! And like last week’s story, today’s story is again, perhaps not the most well-known story in the Bible – in fact, when I was talking to Brian and described to him the story I had in mind, even he wasn’t overly familiar with it – so you know it must be obscure!

But this story is found in 2 Kings chapter 6 – it begins right in the same chapter as the story of the floating axehead. It’s a significantly longer story than last week, so I won’t read through the whole thing at once, I’ll just read a few verses at at time and point out a few things as we go along.

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Elisha and the Floating Axehead

This morning I want to continue on our theme of incredible stories! One of my favourite characters from the Old Testament is Elisha – and He certainly has his fair share of incredible stories! God did more miracles through Elisha than any other character in the Bible other than Jesus himself – so there are a lot of fantastic stories to choose from.

Over the years I’ve preached on several of Elisha’s miracles – in fact, I did a series back in 2016 called “The Exploits of Elisha” – some of you might remember. But there are still a few unique stories from Elisha’s life that I’ve never preached on and I’d like to share two of those with you over the next couple weeks.

Now before we get into the story itself, we should probably take some time to figure out where exactly we are in the larger story of the Bible and see how this particular story fits in everything else.

So first of all, who exactly is Elisha? Well, Elisha was a farmer turned prophet…. Not a farmer who turned a profit (there’s not many of those) – but a farmer who became a prophet.

Now for those who might not be familiar with the term ‘prophet’ – a prophet by most simple definitions is someone who proclaims the Word of the Lord.

In the Old Testament times, most of the Bible had not yet be written, and so when God wanted to communicate with people, He would use prophets. These prophets would receive a revelation  of some sort from the Lord through the Holy Spirit – and then they would proclaim these things to their intended audience. 1 Peter 1:20 tells us…

20 Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, 21 or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.

2 Peter 1:20-21

So Elisha was a farmer that God choose to be his prophet to speak for him to the kings and the people of Israel.

When we first read about Elisha, he is out in his field, plowing with a team of oxen. He’s apparently getting his fields ready for seeding when Elijah (not to be confused with Elisha) meets Elisha out in his field. Now Elijah was the current prophet of God at that time – he had just finished his big confrontation with King Ahab on Mount Carmel – if you remember that story. 

You see, King Ahab had led the Israelites to worship the false god, Baal, and so on Mount Carmel, they had contest to see which God was the true God. The prophets of Baal would pray to Baal and Elijah would pray to God – and they would see which god answered. And of course, Baal did nothing and God answered by sending fire from heaven! It wasn’t much of a contest! You can read about that in 1 Kings chapter 18.

So Elijah had been a very significant and influential prophet during his lifetime as He proclaimed the Word of the Lord to the kings and the people of Israel.

But now, God had just informed him that Elisha was to become his replacement. And so Elijah goes to meet Elisha as he’s out working on his farm. And to make a long story short, Elisha slaughters his oxen, sacrifices them on a fire build with the wood from his plow, leaves his family, and goes to become Elijah’s apprentice.

After some time of working with and learning from Elijah, there came a day when Elisha watched as God took Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind – leaving Elisha to take on the role of God’s prophet to Israel. This happens in 2 Kings chapter 2.

Over the next several chapters, we read several stories from the life of Elisha that clearly illustrate that God had truly chosen him as Elijah’s replacement. Just how God answered with fire when Elijah prayed, we see God answering the prayers of Elisha in some equally dramatic ways! We even see one story where Elisha prays and God raises a young boy who had died back to life!

And so the story that we are going to look at today is in this collection of stories – intended to illustrate how the Spirit of God that once worked through Elijah is now working through Elisha.

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The Curious Case of Balaam – Part 2

Two weeks ago we began the story of Balaam but we didn’t get a chance to finish it because we ran out of time. Then last week I had every intention of finishing the story, but God had some other plans in mind and our Sunday service went in a good, but different direction.  So now today my plan is to finally wrap up our story of Balaam.

Now since it’s been a couple of weeks, I should probably give you a brief recap of the story so far. The story of Balaam is found in Numbers chapter 22. At this point in the over-all story of the Bible, the children of Israel are just about ready to enter the Promised Land, conquer Jericho and drive out the Canaanites. But before they do, on their way to the Jordan River, they park just outside the land of Moab for a while.

Now the King of Moab – Balak is his name –  is very concerned about this massive group of Israelites parked outside his territory. He’s afraid they might just attack him, and if they did, he’s pretty sure he would be in big trouble. After all, the Israelites did just completely annihilate King Og of Bashan and King Shihon of the Amorites. King Og and King Shihon had attacked the Israelites, but of course, God was with them, and the Israelites defeated King Og and King Shihon, took over their land, and left no survivors.

So King Balak of Moab is understandably concerned. In fact, terrified might be a better word. He’s convinced that this massive hoard of Israelites is coming to wipe him out too, so he does the only thing that he believes might just give him a fighting change. He decides to hire this fellow Balaam to curse the Israelites.

Now that might not seem like a very sound military strategy – I don’t think many generals today would put much faith in the power of a curse – but Balak certainly did. So much so that he was willing to pay a handsome sum to Balaam if he would come and curse the Israelites for him.

Now as we saw last week, this Balaam character is a peculiar fellow. One one hand, he seems to be nothing more than a professional witchdoctor – calling down curses or blessings for the highest bidder. But on the other hand, he appears to know and follow the instructions of the God of Israel! So we’re not entirely sure where he stands with God – but we do know that other parts of the Bible view him as being ‘eager to earn money by doing wrong’. In the New Testament, Peter describes some false teachers by saying….

They have wandered off the right road and followed the footsteps of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong. 2 Peter 2:15

So maybe Balaam started off as a true prophet of God, but then got greedy? Or maybe He never really knew the God of Israel in a personal way…Maybe it was just business to him!… We’re not sure… But either way, whether Balaam truly knew God or not, he certainly wasn’t acting in obedience to Him in this case. 

Because when we left off last week, Balak had offered to pay Balaam pretty much whatever price he named – if he would just go and curse the Israelites. So despite God’s clear command not to curse the Israelites, Balaam loaded up his donkey and headed out with the Moabite delegates. It says in Numbers 22:21….

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The Curious Case of Balaam – Part 1

I don’t know about you, but I love a good story. When we were pastoring in Mirror, we had a group of old retired rail roaders in our church who were all in their 80s by this time.  And they were the masters of telling a good story. 

During our time at Mirror, the church began constructing a new church building – and for about a year, every day these guys would come to the work site and bring us coffee and snacks – and as we took our coffee breaks, they would regale us all kinds of captivating railroad stories. They’d tell us of train wrecks or unimaginable snow storms or being part of some old western movies. It was always fascinating to hear bits and pieces of their life stories.

Unfortunately, I’m not quite a master story teller like they were, but I’d sure like to give it a try. Today, and probably for the next several weeks, I want to tell you some stories.

You see, the Bible is an amazing storybook. It has got some of the most fascinating and unbelievable tales imaginable. And what makes it all the more fascinating, is that it’s all true! Although some of the stories are certainly hard to believe – the Bible is not a fantastic work of fiction. It is the true story of the Almighty, everlasting God interacting with the people that He created. It’s quite an incredible book!

And in the Bible we find a huge variety of different kinds of stories. There is a genre for everyone. 

  • If you like adventure, read the story of Joseph or King David or Esther – I always thought the book of Esther would make a fantastic movie!
  • If you’re into history – read through the books of Kings and Chronicles.
  • You want war – read through Joshua & the Judges – there’s some crazy stuff in there!
  • If you like romance – read through the Song of Solomon (that’s got all kinds of that mushy stuff)
  • If you like Poetry? Read the Psalms or even Job!

There is so much variety in the Bible. It’s like that opening scene from the Princess Bride where the Grandfather is about to read a book to his sick grandson. The Grandson, not convinced that books are very exciting, asks his grandfather, “Has it got any sports in it?”

And the Grandfather says, “Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!”

And actually, that’s a pretty accurate description of the Bible! You can find all of those things in the stories of the Bible too! And of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg! But the big difference between the Princess Bride and the Bible, as I’ve mentioned, is that the Bible is all true.

So I want to spend some time just reading through some of the amazing, true stories of the Bible – not just because they are great stories, but because there’s much that we can learn from them.

Remember, the Bible is really the story of God. It’s almost like his autobiography – it tells us how God has interacted with individuals and mankind as a whole throughout history. It shows us what God is like and how we are to interact with Him.

And so hopefully as we go through a few of these stories, we’ll get to know God in some new ways – we’ll have a better understand of who He is and how He works in the world – and perhaps most importantly, we’ll see how God still wants to have an personal relationship with each one of us even today.

The story that I want to share with you today is recorded in the book of Numbers – chapter 22 to be specific. And before we get started, let me give you a little bit of the background so you know what’s going on.

At this point in history, the nation of Israel has been wandering around in the wilderness for nearly 40 years. You’ll recall that shortly after the exodus from Egypt, after crossing the Red Sea and receiving the ten commandments, the Israelites were supposed to go in and conquer the Promised Land. However, because they refused to trust in God, God told them that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years – until every adult male had died. Because of their disbelief, they would never enter God’s promised land, but it would be their children who would go in and conquer & settle in the Promised Land!

So at this point, those 40 years of wandering were almost over! But it hadn’t been easy! They had face a lot of opposition along the way. In fact, they had just been attacked by King Shihon of the Amorites and King Og of Bashan. They were just trying to pass through the territories of these kings – in fact, they had even sent messages asking for permission to pass through peacefully, but these kings decided to attack them instead! However, God was with them and the Israelites completely wipe out the armies of King Shihon and King Og. In fact, Numbers chapter 21 concludes with these verses:

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Mat-Man and His Friends

This week I had a zoom meeting with about a dozen other pastors. I think I’ve mentioned to you before that every few months I get together the other AGC pastors in central Alberta and we share a little bit about what’s going on in our churches, we pray for each other, and we discuss a whole variety of different issues that come up.

And at our meeting this week, the question was asked: What do you think God is saying to the churches through this COVID-19 pandemic? Is God using this time to reshape how we think about church? Is He using this time to re-adjust our priorities and our focus? God doesn’t waste opportunities, so what do you think God wants us to learn through this challenging time?

There were several thoughts that came up, but the one that stuck out to me was this: Could it be that God is reminding us of the value of relationships?

In this time where everyone is separated and isolated from one another – could God be using this time to show us just how critical it is be be connected with one another? 

The fact is, we are built for relationships! And I know I say that often – but it’s true! We are created and designed to live in healthy relationships with each other and with God.

Without those relationships – we wither and die inside. And perhaps some of us are feeling a little bit of that now. Being apart from our families, not having that personal interaction with our friends – being absent from our church family – it’s hard. It doesn’t feel right! There’s almost an emptiness we feel when we go so long being apart from one another.

And that’s because we were created for community – community with each other and community together with God. Separation and isolation were never part of God’s perfect plan for mankind.

I was reminded this week that Hell is defined by separation and isolation from God. It’s the worst possible scenario! 

But in contrast to that, Heaven is being together with God. It’s being in his presence – seeing him face-to-face. That’s what we long for and hope for more than anything else in this world!

And I think that just speaks to this truth that we are created for community – we are created for relationships with each other and with God!

And perhaps God is using this pandemic to remind us of that and to give us a fresh, new understanding of that reality!

So with that in mind this morning, I want to look at the story of “Matman” and his friends! Not “Batman and his friends” but Matman and his friends.

And if you’re not familiar with that story, you can find it in Luke chapter 5 or it’s also recorded in Mark chapter 2. I’m going to read from Mark chapter 2 this morning. It goes like this:

 1 When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. 2 Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. Mark 2:1-2a

And I’ll pause her for a minute just to give you a little bit of the background here. This is fairly early on in Jesus earthly ministry. He’s been going around to different towns throughout the region of Galilee preaching and teaching, doing miracles, healing people, and over-all, just attracting a lot of attention. Everyone’s hearing about this amazing Jesus fellow. And that’s why, when he comes back to his hometown of Capernaum, everybody wants to come see Jesus. He’s kinda like a celebrity at this point. They want to hear what he has to say and perhaps see him to a miracle or two! 

And because of that, the house where he was staying was packed with visitors – so full in fact, that people were backed up – right out the door! On sermon I read described the house as being “packed tighter than a hippo in skinny jeans!” (Try to visualize that, if you can.) But you can just imagine everyone being squished together – shoulder to shoulder – all trying to get inside the house to get a glimpse of Jesus!

And that’s what’s going on when Matman and his friends arrive. It says in verse 2…

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The Source of Our Joy

It has now been over a month since we last met together in person as a church family. I don’t know about you, but I’m really beginning to miss those times together. Its one thing to miss church for a Sunday or two – but it’s another to away from your church family for weeks on end. 

God designed us for relationships. In fact, he describes the church as being a body and we are all parts of it. A hand was never designed to function apart from the arm. A foot cannot fulfil it’s purpose without being connected to the leg.

It’s the same in the body of Christ. God has designed us for relationships with each other! The Christian life was never intended to be lived out in isolation!

In light of this pandemic, it’s certainly been good to gather virtually like what we’ve been doing, but it’s sure no replacement for meeting face-to-face. 

There is something about seeing people’s faces when we communicate. I think it was Shakespeare who said “the eyes are the window to the soul.”

Well, I miss seeing into your souls! I miss seeing whether you’re joyful or whether you’re discouraged. I miss that personal connection with you and I’m certainly looking forward to when we can again meet face-to-face.

However, until then, we’ll just have to keep doing the best we can with the technology we have!

So this morning, I’d like to ask you a question. You can think about this and email me your answer sometime later this week if you like. I can’t see the answer in your eyes, but here’s my question: How much joy do you have these days?

If joy was like a gas tank – how full would your tank be? Is your joy-tank full and overflowing – or when it comes to joy, are you running on empty these days?

And I suppose this question might be best answered by the others in your household. Your joy (or lack thereof) is not something you can hide very well when you’re stuck at home with the same people for weeks on end! The people you live with can easily see just how joyful you are.

So maybe here’s what we’ll do. Let’s pause here for a minute and I want you to ask the others in your household that are watching this along with you – maybe your wife or husband, maybe your kids, or your roommate or whoever’s there with you right now. Ask them this question: “On a scale of 1-10, how joyful have I been in the last week?” – with 1 being about as joyful as a wet blanket and 10 being an absolute delight to be around. 

So how joyful were you? Were you an absolute delight to be around this week – or were you more in the wet blanket category?

Well, if you find yourself in the ‘wet blanket category’, don’t be too hard on yourself. In fact, I would guess that most of us have probably had quite a few highs and lows when it comes to joy in the past few weeks.

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