Hung Up Over Hair, That’s Weird 4

On Tuesday mornings there is a group of a dozen or so men who have been getting together to study the book of Romans.  And early in our study we discovered a weird little part of the letter.  Paul is listing the behaviour of people who are in his words sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”

Hopefully nobody here is saying, “Hey that’s me.”

And then later in the passage he lists some of their behaviour, Romans 1:29-30 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.  They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and . . . they disobey their parents.

They disobey their parents?

The story that was read earlier is about a man who disobeyed his parents, in a big way.

His name was Absalom and while the scripture that was read doesn’t state it, he was the son of King David.  And he decided that he would be a better king than his father and so he led an unsuccessful coup against his Dad.  Just as an aside we are told in 2 Samuel 14:25-26  Now Absalom was praised as the most handsome man in all Israel. He was flawless from head to foot.  He cut his hair only once a year, and then only because it was so heavy. When he weighed it out, it came to five pounds!

The scripture that was read earlier chronicles the end of Absalom’s story.

But let’s set the story up.  Absalom was David’s third son.  And there is all kinds of history here.  David’s life reads like a series from Netflix at times.    He had multiple wives and so his children, in a lot of cases, were half siblings, same father different mother.

And that is really where the problems began.  Absalom had a sister by the name of Tamar who was raped by their half-brother, Amnon, David’s oldest son.

When the King wouldn’t do anything about the rape Absalom took matters into his own hands and had his brother murdered.   And you thought you had problems with your kids.

Because of that, David and Absalom became estranged and Absalom went to live with his maternal grandfather.  Apparently killing your brother to avenge your sister’s rape wasn’t the done thing.

It was during that time of exile that Absalom decided that he should be king.

After three years of exile, David allowed Absalom to return to Jerusalem and that’s when he put his nefarious scheme to work.  Let’s pick up the story in 2 Samuel 15:1-6  After this, Absalom bought a chariot and horses, and he hired fifty bodyguards to run ahead of him.  He got up early every morning and went out to the gate of the city. When people brought a case to the king for judgment, Absalom would ask where in Israel they were from, and they would tell him their tribe.  Then Absalom would say, “You’ve really got a strong case here!

It’s too bad the king doesn’t have anyone to hear it.  I wish I were the judge. Then everyone could bring their cases to me for judgment, and I would give them justice!”  When people tried to bow before him, Absalom wouldn’t let them. Instead, he took them by the hand and embraced them.  Absalom did this with everyone who came to the king for judgment, and so he stole the hearts of all the people of Israel.

So, Absalom become populist, loved by everyone who meets him as he builds his base of support.

Eventually Absalom gets tired of playing a slow game and made his move and the political coup become an attempted military overthrow.  And while David was willing to put up a defence he told his commanders in 2 Samuel 18:5  And the king gave this command to Joab, Abishai, and Ittai: “For my sake, deal gently with young Absalom.” And all the troops heard the king give this order to his commanders.

Which bring us to the story that was read earlier.

This is the fourth week in our “That’s Weird” series.  So far we’ve looked at an Axe Head that floated, a donkey who spoke and last week at a fig tree that was cursed because it had no figs.  If you missed any of those, the manuscripts and videos are available on our website and Facebook page.
If you are honest there are stories in the bible that make you scratch your head and go huh?  And so, we thought we’d jump in and see what we can learn from those stories.  Because remember what we are told in 2 Timothy 3:16  All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.

All scripture is inspired and useful, even the scriptures that seem a little strange.

So back to the story that was read for us earlier.

David’s troops seem to get the upper hand and the rebels are on the run.  As Absalom attempts to flee, his mount goes under a tree and Absalom gets caught up in the fork of a large branch.

Some translations say he was hung by his hair, which goes back to the comment of his awesome hair, while other simply say he was hung by his head, either way not a great situation to be in.

In the original language it says he was hung between heaven and earth, which is why Matthew Henry would wax poetically, “He hung between heaven and earth, as unworthy of either, as abandoned of both; earth would not keep him, heaven would not take him, hell therefore opens her mouth to receive him.”

And that’s where David’s men found him.  And what I find weird is that the first guy who finds him just left him there. He goes back to Joab, his commander and says “Hey, you’ll never guess who I just saw hanging from a tree?”

And Joab was like, “You found Absalom in a tree and you didn’t kill him?”

David saw his son as going through a phase but Joab figure that Absalom wouldn’t rest until he had overthrown his father, so he killed him, in direct disobedience to the King.

And maybe you are thinking, “Wow, getting hung by your hair is weird, but so what?”    Remember, all scripture is useful, and there are a couple of lessons here.

A Lesson for Parents We don’t really hear a lot about Absalom and his siblings before 2 Samuel chapter 13.  As a matter of fact, the only time they are mentioned is when their birth order is given in 2 Samuel 3.

We don’t hear anything about their childhood or their teen years, nothing, zip, nada.

Now personally I am of the philosophy of “that no news is good news”.  Which supposedly dates back to the 1600’s when King James said, “No news is better than evil news.”

I have discovered that people very seldom call me to tell me that they are enjoying good health the kids are doing well and they got a raise.  Not even my family.

It would appear that everything was going well for the royal family, in that they weren’t making the news.  I’m sure that there are times that Queen Elizabeth wished her family wasn’t making the news.

But everything changes in 2 Samuel 13, It seems like all of a sudden, the wheels come off the wagon.

That’s where we see the story of Tamar being raped by her half-brother who is then killed by Absalom.

What happens that suddenly cause things to change? That the family that nobody hears about suddenly looks like they should have their own reality show.

I would suspect that many of you didn’t really know much about what was happening with the royal kids, but you are probably familiar with a story that happened just before the wheels came off the proverbial wagon.

It is the story of David and Bathsheba.  Maybe you remember it, here’s the highlights.

The story begins with these words in 2 Samuel 11:1-2  In the spring of the year, when kings normally go out to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to fight the Ammonites. They destroyed the Ammonite army and laid siege to the city of Rabbah. However, David stayed behind in Jerusalem.  Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace.

As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath.

If you don’t know the story here it is in a nutshell, David discovers that the woman, whose name was Bathsheba was the wife of one of his soldiers.  He has her summoned to the palace where we are told that he slept with her.  Well, they must have been doing more than sleeping because the next time he hears from her is when she lets him know that she is pregnant.  Oops.

In an effort to fix the problem David eventually has her husband killed and marries Bathsheba, not exactly the honourable thing to do.

And it was only when David was confronted by the prophet Nathan that he confesses and repents of his sin.

If you read the book of 2 Samuel you discover that it covers 33 years of David’s life.  The First half is a story of multiple triumphs.  Chapters 1 to 5 deal with David’s Political triumphs, 6-7 his spiritual Triumphs and 8 – 10 his Military triumphs.  His life comes to this high point in chapter 11 where he is literally on top of the world and it’s here that he has the affair with Bathsheba.

And then everything flies to pieces.

The lesson is that there are consequences to our actions.

In David’s case, his children’s moral compass had been shattered.  David who had been described as a man after God’s own heart is revealed to be at the best an adulterer and a murderer.

Probably considering that he was king what happened in his bedroom was probably more like one of the Harvey Weinstein encounters.

I knew a family once where the husband, a pastor, had an affair and left his wife.  Before the year was out his youngest unmarried daughter was pregnant, his older married daughter had an affair and left her husband and his son rebelled against his father and the church.

Their moral compass had been shattered.  Their father who helped defined their morality had basically, through his actions, told them it didn’t matter what they did.

Those things are called generational Consequences.  When God was giving his people the Ten Commandments, he warns that the sins of the parents are laid upon their children, the entire family is affected even the children in the third and fourth generation.

 

That doesn’t mean God punishes children for their parent’s sins, but it means that they will suffer the consequences.

We know about the dangers of women drinking while they are pregnant. And we know about the dangers of second-hand smoke.  If you see someone smoking with a kid in a car with the windows rolled up you’d probably call the authorities, when I was a kid and you saw someone smoking in a car with kids with the windows rolled up you’d probably say “I didn’t know the Smith’s had air conditioning in their car.

When you see people put kids in dangerous situations you are probably outraged.  Because you know those kids will suffer because of their parent’s actions.

But God warns about the spiritual consequences to our kids as well.

I told you a little bit about what happened in David’s family after his affair.  Do you think you will fare better?  Do you think that children will trust someone who cheated on their mother or father?  Someone who had no qualms about lying to their spouse?  About betraying their marriage vows?

And not only that, understand that children learn from what they see. Remember more is caught then taught.  If they see a normal marriage is one where adultery is the norm then they will perpetuate that model.  That’s a no-brainer.

Bottom line is summed up in Proverbs 6:27-29, which by the way was written by David and Bathsheba’s second son, Solomon, Can a man scoop fire into his lap and not be burned? Can he walk on hot coals and not blister his feet? Those are rhetorical questions; no answers are expected. So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife. He who embraces her will not go unpunished.

So, don’t think you will.

I keep telling you: Sin will always take you further then you want to go, it will always cost you more then you want to pay, and it will always keep you longer then you want to stay.  You think you will be in control, but it will be sin that is in control.

Adultery is used as a simile throughout the Bible for disobedience to God’s will and God’s word.  You may not be cheating on your spouse, but you still might be cheating on your God.

Your relationship with God is setting an example that your kids are going to follow, for better or for worse.

And so while it’s easy to blame the rape of Tamar, the murder of Amnon and the rebellion and death of Absalom on their father’s actions there is also a A Lesson For Children

And not everybody here is somebody’s parent, but everybody here is somebody’s child.

As I begin this point, may I offer you a word of advice, “If you find yourself blaming your parents for who you are and what you do, stop it.”

Absalom may have been partly defined by his father’s choices, but in the end, he made his own choices.

Regardless of what his father may have done or not done the only person making choices in Absalom’s life was Absalom.

We can argue over nature vs nurture and genetics vs environment for hours.   My daddy used to say if you looked like your father that was genetics if you looked like your neighbour that was environment, but I digress.

Understand this, regardless of how we were raised, regardless of the decisions that our parents made, in the end, we all make our own decisions.

David acted horribly, that didn’t mean that Amnon had to rape his sister or Absalom had to kill his brother.  Absalom may have felt that his father’s behaviour justified his attempted coup, but that was a decision that Absalom made.  And in the end that resulted in his death.

Every person here can rise about their past and above their parent’s mistakes.

And that leads us to A Lesson for Christians

You’ve probably already figured out that the lesson that apply to parents and children applies equally to us as Christians.

The pastor who left his wife didn’t just impact his immediate family, the damage was felt in his church and his community.

And if you are thinking, “Glad I’m not a pastor” you are deluding yourself.

If you are a Christ follower and people know that, then they are watching you.  If you are a Christ follower and people don’t know it, that is a sermon for a different time.

Each one of us is responsible to make good choices.  And at the end of the day we can’t, in good faith, lay our bad behaviour at anyone else’s feet.

Our lives might be coloured and shaped by our past, our genetics or our circumstances but in the end each of us has what it takes to do what is right, if we want to.

God has promised us forgiveness from past sins and the ability to resist future temptations.  But the choice is still ours.

When we pray: “Lead me not into temptation” we need to be willing to do our part.  You ever take your dog for a walk and he wants to go in a direction different than where you want to take him.  You’re pulling and tugging and he’s pulling and tugging.

You ever feel that God is leading you in one direction, but you are tugging on the lead wanting to go where you want to go?   Eventually he will let you go, that’s the reality of the free will thing.

I don’t know when Absalom starting making bad choices, but he could have stopped at any time.

Today is the day for each of us to make good choices in our lives.

As long as we blame other we will not grow.  I beat this drum all the time, we are all the result of choices we made.

We chose if we would work hard in school or not.  We chose where we would go for our secondary education.  We chose who we would date and who we would marry, we chose where we’d work.

And if you are thinking, “Well I didn’t have much choice about any of those things.”  That may very well have been the result of choices that you had made earlier.

The decision to accept responsibility for our lives is just that, accepting responsibility, not blame.  It was also your choices that led you to the good things in life.

Because once we accept that we are where we are today because of choices that we made yesterday then we understand that we have the power to determine where we will be tomorrow by the choices that we make today.

And the great thing, is that as a Christian we don’t have to do it on our own.

When Jesus told the disciples that his time was drawing near he made them a promise that is the same promise that he makes to us.

John 14:15-17  Jesus said “If you love me, obey my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.  He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.”

And then Jesus goes on to flesh out what that means for us as Christians John 14:26-27  “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.  “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

Today as Christians we have the opportunity to choose to do what is right.  And when we make that choice then God will give us the power to fulfill it.

 

Do we ever learn?

I remember when gas first got to the dollar mark. There was speculation about how high the price could and would go.   The experts spoke about the impact rising fuel prices would have on the economy and anti-poverty groups warned of the consequences the increased heating oil costs would have on the poor.

There was a great deal of talk about ending our dependence on fossil fuels and conservation was the order of the day. When we bragged about our cars, mileage topped the list of bragging rights.
We had learned our lesson, or not. That was forty years ago, and people were outraged that the big oil companies were gouging us by charging a buck a gallon for gasoline.

Then we got used to the price and conservation was a hassle, SUVs were more fun than little cars and here we are today.   Gas is over five dollars a gallon and we are still dependent on fossil fuels and will be until it’s gone.

Sometimes we get a wake-up call to evaluate our relationship with God. Maybe a sickness, a death or a natural disaster and so we begin to pray, go back to church and start reading our bibles.

And that’s good, of course, it would be better if it lasted.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

 

A Cursed Fig Tree: That’s Weird

To be completely honest, if I was writing the New Testament this is one story I probably would have skipped.  And if you were completely honest you have probably been uncomfortable reading it.

It just doesn’t fit with our view of Jesus.  We can understand when he goes ballistic and clears the temple courts of the vendors and money changers.  That happened later in this chapter.  But those people were taking advantage of the crowds of people who had come to worship at the temple during the Passover celebrations and in Jesus words they had turned the temple into a “Den of thieves.”  That’s den with one “N”.

But this story seems so . . . so self-serving and out of sync with Jesus’ character.

This happens in the days leading up to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  It was on the Monday following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, on what we refer to as Palm Sunday.

Sunday evening, we are told that he had left Jerusalem and went back to the village of Bethany, where he spent the night, presumably with the Apostles.  We don’t know where they stayed but we do know that Jesus’ friend Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha lived in Bethany.

On Monday morning, Jesus and the apostles are making their way back to Jerusalem, which was just a couple of miles away.

As they are walking along we read that Jesus was hungry, which is a reminder of his humanity, and he notices a fig tree on the side of the road.   This was probably a wild tree and the figs would be available to anyone who wanted to pick them.    So Jesus saunters over to the tree, which is full of leaves and discovers that there are no figs on the tree.

And this is where it gets weird.   We pick up the story in Matthew 21:19  and he (Jesus) noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up.

Now I can be a little snarly in the morning before breakfast and my first coffee, so I can almost understand the sentiment here.  But Jesus is supposed to be above that.

To make this difficult story even more difficult Mark adds an additional twist in his account:

 Mark 11:13  He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit.

It wasn’t even fig season, it would be like expecting to pick apples in May in the valley.

I don’t know much about figs or fig trees but I do like fig newton cookies.

The weird things you remember when you are writing a sermon.

Does anyone here remember the TV show from the late 60’s called the Ghost and Mrs Muir?  It was only on for a couple of seasons.

The premise was that a young widow played by Hope Lang along with her two children, their housekeeper and their dog rent a home in Schooner Bay Maine.  They soon discover that the house is haunted by the ghost of 19th century Sea Captain Daniel Gregg.

A one point Mrs Muir tells her son, Jonathon, that the Captain isn’t real he’s just a figment of their imagination.  Well, the next time the Captain appears Jonathon puffs himself up and says, “You’re not real, you’re just a fig newton of my imagination.”  The technical term for that was a rabbit trail and it has nothing at all to do with the message.

Back to the story about Jesus and the fig tree.

This is week three of our “That’s Weird” series here at Cornerstone, and through January and February we are stopping at various point in the bible to take a look at stories that just seem a little. . . weird.  And maybe they don’t seem weird to you.  Maybe the floating axe head that we looked at in week one and the talking donkey from last week seem fairly normal to you.  If so, that’s weird.

But there are stories that appear in the Bible that just seem…odd.   But we have to assume that those stories are there for a reason.

Remember last week I mentioned Paul’s words to Timothy from 2 Timothy 3:16-17  All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

All scriptures, even the weird ones are inspired by God and are there for a reason.

But this story goes beyond weird, it makes us feel uncomfortable.  If we take it completely at face value it shows Jesus doing something that shocks us, it just seems so contrary to his nature and his character.

First, he seems to get angry with the fig tree for no good reason.  Sure, the fig tree didn’t have any figs but it wasn’t fig season it wasn’t supposed to have figs on it.  He cursed it for not doing what it wasn’t supposed to be doing.

And secondly, he seems to be using his miraculous power for completely selfish reasons, he doesn’t get his own way so he curses the tree.  Might expect that from Denn on a bad day, or a 4-year-old on any day, but seriously this is Jesus, the son of God.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus had always refused to use his powers for his own personal benefit.

He wouldn’t turn the stones into bread in the wilderness, even though he hadn’t eaten for forty days.   He said he could call on thousands of angels to rescue him in the garden when he was arrested, but he didn’t. He never used his power for his own selfish reasons.

And yet here he uses his power to zap a tree which had disappointed him when he was hungry.  That’s weird.

It is any wonder that William Barclay wrote in his Daily Study Bible,  “There can be no doubt that this, without exception, is the most difficult story in the gospel narrative.”

 

So, what do we do with it?  Well, we can simply ignore it and pretend it’s not there.  And some people do that.  That’s the easy way out, probably why I’ve never preached on this story.

Some commentators just flat out say it didn’t happen.  Their view is that the gospel writers were mixed up and that Jesus probably saw a dead fig tree on the side of the road, told the apostles a parable about it and somehow that’s how the story evolved.

The downside of that type of response is that becomes our “go-to” reaction with anything we can’t understand or don’t like in the bible.

We see the world, and scarier still we see Christians, do that type of scriptural surgery with all kinds of social issues and the Bible.

So, they begin to accept behaviour that the Bible condemns because they ignore what the bible says about those issues.  Or they’ll say, “That can’t really be what it means.”

It was Augustine who said, “If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”

And as I said, the commentators are all over the map on this story.   Researching it was kind of fun, but not real productive, much like playing golf, without the fun.

So let’s start with  What I Don’t Know  This will be a really short point.  Well, if it was everything I don’t know it would be a really long point, but it’s just what I don’t know about this story so it’s really short.

I don’t know why Jesus cursed the tree.  That’s it.

If we take the story at the literal level there is no good reason for what Jesus did.

And any preacher who says they have the answer is just bluffing.

Which lead us to What I Do Know 

 I do know that Jesus was without Sin

 This is critical if we are going to come to some understanding of the story.

Whatever happened that day, whatever Jesus’ motives were or whatever the outcome may have been it was not a result of sinfulness.  He didn’t do it in a fit of rage and he didn’t do it because he was selfish and self-serving.  Because those things are sinful, and the one thing we do know is that Jesus was sinless.

We might blow it, but Jesus didn’t blow it.

John tells us in his first letter,  1 John 3:4-5  Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God.  And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him.

And then we are told in Hebrews 4:14-15  So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe.  This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.

So, while Jesus faced situations like being hungry and experienced the disappointment of discovering there were no figs on the tree, he didn’t sin because he was hungry or disappointed.  Not even a little bit.

But the reality is that even after we confirm what we don’t know and discover what we do know the story is still weird.

 So, here’s What I think I Know

 Understand, that the theologians and Bible teachers are all over the map on this one, they all have an opinion.

 

And I’ve discovered that opinions are like noses, everybody has one and they all have a couple of holes in them.  So, I might as well have an opinion as well.

And as Taylor Swift wrote, “We don’t need to share the same opinions as others, but we need to be respectful.”

 But please understand, what I’m about to tell you is an opinion, it’s not the Gospel it’s not scripture.  I can tell you for sure that the Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-9  God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

That’s not my opinion, that’s scripture.  But this part of the message is just my opinion, and to quote  William Tecumseh Sherman “I make up my opinions from facts and reasoning, and not to suit anybody but myself. If people don’t like my opinions, it makes little difference as I don’t solicit their opinions or votes.”

So, with that said, here’s what I think.

I had mentioned earlier that I don’t know very much about fig trees, but others do.  And I discovered that even though there wouldn’t have been ripe figs on the tree in April that there should have been what was called paggims.  And these were the buds that would eventually become figs.

Now they weren’t really edible, they would have been green and hard, but they were the promise of what was to come like apple blossoms are a promise of apples.  Without these buds, there would be no figs.

Let’s go back to the story, Matthew 21:18-19  In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry,  and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. . . The scripture doesn’t say there were only immature buds, it says there were only leaves.  What was supposed to be there wasn’t there.  Not only were there no figs, there wasn’t even a promise of figs.

I think that Jesus saw the fig tree that was in full leaf, but it didn’t even have the promise of figs and as often happened he saw the opportunity to teach his apostles.

We don’t have a record of every word or even every conversation that happened between Jesus and the 12.

As John told us at the end of his Gospel, John 21:25  Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.

With that being said, I wonder if maybe at this point Jesus reminded the 12 of the parable that is recorded in Luke 13:6-9  He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.  Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’  But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.  And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ ”

We don’t know, we can only speculate.  But if that was the case there is a lesson to be learned from this weird little story.

The Leaves Don’t Count if There’s No Fruit

And that is spelled out for us in  Luke 6:43-44  “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.  A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs never grow on thornbushes, nor grapes on bramble bushes.

And Jesus wasn’t talking about trees, he was talking about those who would choose to follow him.

The writer Charles Lamb was describing a man who had been a friend of his since their school years, and he wrote “In his life there were three stages. When he was young, people said of him, “He will do something.” As he grew older and did nothing, they said of him, “He could do something if he tried.” Towards the end they said of him, “He might have done something if he had tried.”   Maybe you’ve met Lamb’s friend.  His was a life defined by leaves, not fruit. Could of, would of, should of.

Jesus’ brother James reminds us in   James 4:17  Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

Which is kind of scary and has all kinds of ramifications about not living up to our potential.  But it has to go further than that.

This is a spiritual statement, when we know what we ought to do as a follower of Jesus Christ and we don’t do it.  That is sin.

 

And conversely when we know what we ought not do as a follower of Jesus Christ and we do it, that is sin as well.  Both of those actions are both called disobedience.  And that means we disobey or we don’t obey.

 

And sometimes when you challenge people on their behaviour they will get all indignant and demand “Who are you to judge me?” or will say “the bible says ‘not to judge’”.

 

Actually Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 5:12  It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.

 

And when Jesus was talking about false teachers he told us in  Matthew 7:16-20  You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.  A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.  So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.  Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

 

And so Jesus’ reaction when he came to a fig tree that was full of leaves but didn’t even offer the promise of figs, remember there didn’t appear to be any buds, was to condemn it.  His words were “May you never bear fruit again!”  And we are told that the fig tree withered up.

 

As Christ followers, it’s not enough to just have pretty leaves.   To put on an external show of our righteousness.  Jesus talked about that when he spoke about people who were like bowls that were clean on the outside and dirty on the inside and caskets that were so neat and tidy on the outside but inside they were full of death and decay.

You know what he called people like that right?  Yeah, hypocrites.

 

So what fruit are we supposed to exhibit, what is the fruit in our lives that will truly identify us as Christians?

 

The fruit of love. John 13:35  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

 

That’s almost a no brainer.  It was obviously something that stuck with John because he would later write in 1 John 4:11-12  Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.  No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

 

What does it say to people when we claim to follow the God of love but exhibit very little love in our lives?  Kind of like a fig tree with nothing but leaves.

 

But it’s not just about love.  Jesus took this a step further and tied love to the fruit of obedience. John 14:15  “If you love me, obey my commandments.”  Where do you find his commandments?  In the Bible.  I Talked a bit about this last week, the only way you will know what’s in the bible is to read the bible.

 

But here is a condensed version of the type of behaviour that’s expected of us as followers of Jesus.  You can start here until you read the whole story Ephesians 4:21-32  Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him,  throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.  Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.  So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.  And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry,  for anger gives a foothold to the devil.  If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.  Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.  And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

 

And the fruit that you bear when you love and live like that will ultimately be other Christ followers.  So, here’s the question.  If someone was going to define you by your fruit, how would they define you?

 

Crying Wolf

Forty minutes of panic!  That was the situation last week after a warning was sent to cell phones across Hawaii telling people, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

And it wasn’t a drill, it was a mistake.  A mistake that took over a half hour to correct…. really?  A half an hour where people thought their world was coming to an end.

To be fair, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted there was no threat about ten minutes after the initial alert.

But that obviously only reached people who were checking their twitter feed.  A revised alert informing residents of the “false alarm” reached cellphones about 30 minutes later.  Oops.

Officials have apologized to residents stating the warning was sent when someone accidentally hit the wrong button.  The unnamed employee has since been reassigned.

And while officials have vowed this will never happen again, the damage has been done.

Residents of the state will never really trust the system again.

Through the years, well-intentioned people have mistakenly warned that the return of Jesus was imminent, and it wasn’t.  And so, people have stopped paying attention.

A missile may never be launched at Hawaii, but Jesus will return, whether we believe it or not.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

A Talking Donkey: That’s Weird!

A talking donkey, that’s weird.  Even Shrek thought it was a little weird and he is an Ogre.

And I know that maybe some of you are thinking “but my pet speaks to me.”   Sure they do.  They may communicate with you on some level, but they don’t speak to you. Sorry to burst your bubble.

This is week 2 of our “That’s Weird” series, and through January and February, we are going to take a look at some of the weird stories that you come across in the Bible.  And maybe you are thinking that it’s just wrong to say that some of the stories that we find in the bible are weird. Makes me think you haven’t read very much of the bible.

Last week we looked at a floating axe head, that was weird but we learned some lessons.  This week is a story about talking livestock and again there are lessons to be learned.

So let’s start with The Story:   A man named Balaam is making a journey with his donkey, who remains unnamed, much like the donkey in Shrek.

And as they rode along they came upon an angel of the Lord who is standing with a sword to prevent them from going any further.  The inference being that the angel will use violence to stop them from continuing on their journey.

For whatever reason Balaam doesn’t see the angel and the only thing that prevents things from turning nasty is the donkey refuses to carry on.

The first time the donkey rushes off the road to avoid the angel.  He is then forced back onto the road and at that point, he  tries evasive manoeuvres and ends up crushing his master’s foot against a rock wall.

Well,  Balaam flies into a rage and again tries to force the donkey on his way at that point the donkey just quits and lies down under Balaam.  And Balaam responds each time by beating the poor donkey.

Well, after the third time the Donkey turns around and says “Hey, stop it.”  Well actually we read in Numbers 22:28  Then the LORD gave the donkey the ability to speak. “What have I done to you that deserves your beating me three times?” it asked Balaam.

 I think the weird thing here is that Balaam doesn’t seem all that surprised that the donkey talked.  If we keep reading we discover Numbers 22:29-30  “You have made me look like a fool!” Balaam shouted. “If I had a sword with me, I would kill you!”  “But I am the same donkey you have ridden all your life,” the donkey answered. “Have I ever done anything like this before?” “No,” Balaam admitted.

At that point, God opens Balaam eyes and he sees the Angel with the Sword who’s standing in front of him and as far as we know the donkey never talks again.

But the story doesn’t really tell us a lot.  Sure, who doesn’t like stories with talking animals?  But what’s the lesson in the story?

 

So here’s the Back Story  The story is set in the period of time between when the Israelites had escaped from their slavery in Egypt and when they had entered into the promised land, the forty years they spent in the wilderness.

During the time they are wandering in the wilderness, the king of a small country called Moab hears about the Israelites and is afraid about what these undocumented aliens might do to his kingdom.

The King’s name is Balak, and he decides to be proactive and we pick up the story in Numbers 22:5-6  (Balak) sent messengers to call Balaam son of Beor, who was living in his native land of Pethor near the Euphrates River. His message said: “Look, a vast horde of people has arrived from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth and are threatening me.  Please come and curse these people for me because they are too powerful for me. Then perhaps I will be able to conquer them and drive them from the land. I know that blessings fall on any people you bless, and curses fall on people you curse.”

Now we don’t know what qualifications Balaam had for blessing and cursing people, but apparently, that was his reputation.  And while this is the first time he is mentioned in the bible his name comes up in four other Old Testament books as well as three times in the New Testament.    And he isn’t spoken highly of in any of them.

I know it was P.T. Barnum who said “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”  There are a lot of people who would disagree with that today.

And I’m kind of thinking that it would be better to not be mentioned at all rather than getting brought up in scriptures like 2 Peter 2:14-16  They commit adultery with their eyes, and their desire for sin is never satisfied. They lure unstable people into sin, and they are well trained in greed. They live under God’s curse.  They have wandered off the right road and followed the footsteps of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong.  But Balaam was stopped from his mad course when his donkey rebuked him with a human voice.

 And then when Jesus was addressing the church in Pergamum he says,   Revelation 2:14  “But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin.”  Ouch.

Just saying, not how I want to be remembered at my funeral.

That’s who Balaam was, so back to the story.  Well, Balak’s messengers come to Balaam offering him all kinds of money to put a curse on the Israelites and God basically tells Balaam, “Don’t you dare.”  Again that is a rough paraphrase, What God actually said was Numbers 22:12  But God told Balaam, “Do not go with them. You are not to curse these people, for they have been blessed!”

Well, the messengers return to Balak with Balaam’s refusal but the King sends them back with a better offer.  Balaam again refuses by saying, Numbers 22:18  But Balaam responded to Balak’s messengers, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the LORD my God.  Which was pretty impressive, until he adds Numbers 22:19  But stay here one more night, and I will see if the LORD has anything else to say to me.”

Basically, he was saying, “Wait here while I see if I can get God to change his mind.”

Now we don’t know what Balaam said in his conversation with God but eventually, God says, “Fine, go ahead but only do what I tell you to do.”

But the story still isn’t complete with just the story and the back story.  We really need to keep reading to find out what happens.

The After Story  After the donkey has his say the angel of God reiterates to Balaam that he may go to Moab, but that he is only to say what God tells him to say.  Presumably, that means no cursing Israel.

And if we follow the story we discover that when the King demands that Balaam curse Israel he doesn’t and instead he pronounces blessings on them, not once but four different times.

I’m assuming that he didn’t get paid.  And maybe you are thinking “So what’s the problem?  Balaam didn’t curse Israel all’s well that ends well.”

 

And this part of the story ends with Numbers 24:25  Then Balaam and Balak returned to their homes.

 

But that doesn’t really explain the bad press that Balaam gets later on in the bible, there appears to be The Untold Story

 

The next time we hear about Balaam we read in Numbers 31:8  All five of the Midianite kings—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba—died in the battle. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.  And then if we keep reading we come to this in Numbers 31:16  “These are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the LORD at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD’s people.”

Huh, seriously did not see that coming, but it does explain the 2 Peter and Revelation statements about Balaam.

At some point, between the time that Balaam blessed the people of Israel and his death he had an incredibly bad influence on the very people he had blessed.  How does that happen?  Good question, and that leads us to. . .   Lessons from the Story

 The first thing we discover is   God’s “No” means “No”

 You see what happens here, right? Balaam basically approaches God to ask if it’s alright for him to curse the Israelites, and he’s told: “no, in no uncertain terms are you to curse the Israelites.”  So, he does the right thing and sends Balak’s servants away telling them to let their boss know that he won’t take the gig.  Good for Balaam.

Then they come back with a better offer, and he says “nope, still not going to do it.”  He’s still doing good but then he adds “But let me check with God maybe he’s changed his mind.”

And again, we don’t know what that conversation was, maybe Balaam told God how much he would be able to offer up as a sacrifice if he could only curse the people of Israel and get paid for it.

Maybe he even suggested that he would only pretend to curse the Israelites so he could get paid, but God and him would know that he really didn’t mean it.

I don’t know how the conversation went, but in the end, God lets him go with the proviso that he only do what God tells him to do.   And we don’t know why God then seeks to stop him unless God knew that he was planning on cursing the people.  Maybe Balaam was thinking that it would be easier to get forgiveness than permission.

But he obviously didn’t understand what David understood when he wrote in Psalm 139:1-2  O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.  You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.

Have you ever started down a path that you knew was wrong, but you keep hoping that God’s view of what you are going to do will change, or that you’ll be able to convince him to let you go ahead with whatever it is you want to do?

And then we try to justify or rationalize our behaviour.  Or we figure, “sure it’s wrong, but in the end I’ll just play the grace card and ask for forgiveness.”

And in most of those situations, we know what God wants or doesn’t want us to do.   And if we aren’t sure, that’s why we have the bible.

Paul reminds us of that in 2 Timothy 3:16-17  All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.  God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.  Sounds pretty useful to me, but of course that assumes that we are reading our bibles.

And regardless of what society might be trying to tell us in 2018, the bible and it’s teaching are still relevant today.  And God put those guidelines and regulations in place for a reason.

It doesn’t matter if they are dealing with social mores like “Thou shalt not kill, or thou shalt not steal” or relational mores like “Thou shalt not commit adultery or Thou shalt not lie.”   Or things like “sex is reserved for marriage and forgive others”.  God put those regulations in place for our protection and to keep society preserved.

And just because the way society views those things changes, that doesn’t change how God views them, and what he expects out of us as believers.

Jesus’ brother James reminds us in  James 1:17  Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He (God) never changes or casts a shifting shadow.

 And do you really want to change God’s mind?  I mean, seriously, he is God.  The master of the universe, creator of all things.  When he says something is wrong and we have a different opinion, do we really think we are smarter than he is?  Obviously, but that doesn’t mean that we are smarter then God, it just shows how dumb we are.

The prophet Hosea made a great statement 2500 years ago that is still relevant today.  He was talking about the people rejecting God and his regulations and he says Hosea 8:7  They have planted the wind and will harvest the whirlwind. . .

When we ignore what God requires, we are planting the wind.  Society planted the wind with the so-called sexual revolution of the sixties, and today we are reaping the whirlwind.

 

But even in our disobedience, God doesn’t give up on us.  2 Peter 3:9  The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

 

God Goes Out of His Way to Save Us from Ourselves 

We know that God had permitted Balaam to make the trip, so why did he put the angel and talking donkey in his path?

Well, Balaam was allowed to go with the caveat that he only say what God told him to say and that he not curse the Israelites.  And that seems to have changed, or God would have let him go on his way.

And so, God puts an angel in Balaam’s way, and when Balaam couldn’t or wouldn’t see the barrier that God put in his path then God gives donkey a voice.  And that was kind of hard for Balaam to ignore.

The other option was that God could have allowed Balaam to do what he planned on doing and then punished him for it.

God wants us to do the right thing. He doesn’t want us to be disobedient.  A scripture that I keep coming back to over and over again is 1 Corinthians 10:13  The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

 Which brings us to, In the End It’s Up to Us

At some point, after Balaam had chosen to do what was right and obeying God.  He chose to do what was wrong and walked in a different direction.   He forgot about the angel with the sword and the talking donkey and somehow convinced himself that it would be all right to do wrong.

And God could have stopped him, just as God can stop anyone of us from doing wrong.   All God has to do to make sure we obey is to take away our free will, that’s it.

And that’s the one thing that he refuses to do.  That’s not why he created us, he created us so that we could choose to worship him not be forced to worship him.

G.K. Chesterton wrote in his book, Orthodoxy, “According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it.”

Kind of like the man who asked God, “How did you let the world get so messed up?” and God replies by saying, “Funny, I was going to ask you the same thing.”

In “The Great Divorce” C.S. Lewis writes “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.”

There is a scary verse in the book of Romans that tells us Romans 1:24-25  So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.  They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself . . .

How horrifying must it be to be abandoned by God.

It would seem that eventually either the donkey stopped talking or Balaam stopped listening to the donkey, because the path he chose led away from God.   Solomon reminds us in Proverbs 14:12  There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.

God wants the very best for you, he wants you to do what is right, he wants you to resist what is wrong.  But at the end of the day, it’s up to you.

Author Jim Butcher reminds us “God isn’t about making good things happen to you, or bad things happen to you. He’s all about you making choices–exercising the gift of free will. God wants you to have good things and a good life, but He won’t gift wrap them for you. You have to choose the actions that lead you to that life.”

So what actions will you choose today and tomorrow?  Because right or wrong you will be the one who decides.

And here is a final thought, If the Donkey had spoken without divine help that would have been impossible, the fact that God allowed the donkey to talk is just a miracle.  A weird miracle but a miracle never the less.

That’s Not a Miracle, It’s a Try

I watched a video the other day of one of my favourite sports moments, I actually only have two favourite sports moments and this one didn’t include Paul Henderson

The score was 12-10 for the other guys, there was one minute left to play in the first game of the series and people were already leaving the stadium.  For the vast majority of people, the game was over.

The year was 1994 and the game was the first of three in the annual “State of Origin” series between the New South Wales Blues and the Queensland Maroons, and our team, the Maroons, was losing.

And then Queensland got the ball in their own quarter.  As the clock ticked down, the ball was passed 9 times until finally, Mark Coyne put the ball over the line for the winning “try”.  (That’s a touchdown in rugby league.)

As half the crowd went wild and the other half sat in stunned silence, television commentator Ray Warren exclaimed, “That’s not a try—that’s a miracle!”

And while it was awesome, it was not a miracle.

The virgin birth and resurrection are miracles and that try was just really good football.

To call it a miracle diminishes God’s part in miracles and diminishes the Maroon’s part in really good football.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

 

 

 

A Floating Axe, That’s Weird

If you did the Sunday School thing, or have been attending church most of your life then you probably know who I mean when I reference Elijah.  If you didn’t do the Sunday School thing or you’re relatively new to the church thing then you might not know who Elijah was.

He was an Old Testament prophet who did some really cool things.  And I’ve preached on a few of them.  There was the time during a famine that he approached a widow looking for food and she responded that she only had enough to prepare one last meal for her and her son before they gave up and died.  The prophet told her that if she shared her meal with him that her food wouldn’t run out until the famine was over.  And she did and it didn’t.  That’s cool.

Later the widow’s son dies and Elijah raises him from the dead.  That’s cool.

One of my favourite stories was when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a showdown.  Maybe you remember that the challenge was that they would set up an altar with a sacrifice and then beseech their respective gods to send down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice.

Well, the prophets of Baal spent the day crying out to their god to send fire but to no avail.  When it was Elijah’s turn he has the sacrifice and the altar soaked with water and then prays and fire from heaven consumes the sacrifice, the altar and the all the water.  Go big or go home.  That’s cool.

And there is no record of Elijah’s death.  Have you ever heard the song “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”?  Probably, the first verse goes:

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home
Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see?
(Coming for to carry me home)
I saw a band of angels coming after me
(Coming for to carry me home)

That was inspired by this account of Elijah and his protégée Elisha, we read about it in,

2 Kings 2:9-11  When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.” And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”  “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”  As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven.

That’s cool.  But this morning I’m not going to be speaking about Elijah, instead, we are going to be looking at a story about Elisha.  You know, the other guy.

Have you ever been reading along in the bible and come to something and your first reaction is: That’s weird!?

Maybe you are more spiritual then I am, and that never happens to you, you don’t think anything in the bible is weird.  And that’s weird.  But if you were completely honest it probably has happened to you.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve mentioned to different people that I was thinking about preaching on this topic and often times they’d say “You mean stories like. . . ?”   And they tell me about a particular Bible story that struck them as odd.    And often time the story they mentioned was one of the stories that was already in the pipeline because it was weird.

I started this morning talking about Elijah but the story is actually about something that happened to Elisha who was Elijah’s student and successor.   But Elisha tends to get overshadowed by his mentor, so I was just trying to get Elijah out of the way.

And while Elijah gets most of the press, Elisha was no slouch either.

After Elijah was taken up in the chariot Elisha parts the Jordan river and walks across on dry land to return to Jericho.  That’s cool.

The leaders of the town of Jericho had heard that Elisha was a prophet and they came to him to tell him that the spring that the town used for its primary water supply was bad and unfit for drinking, Elisha went out to the spring and threw some salt in it invoked the power of God and the spring was made clean.  That’s cool.  The spring is still there and almost 3000 years later the water is still good.

And then we get one of those weird stories, although not the one I’m speaking about today.  At the end of 2 Kings chapter 2 it says that Elisha was returning to Bethel from Jericho and a large group of teen boys comes out and start mocking him, and shouting stuff like, “Hey baldy go home”.

Well, Eli must have been having a bad day because he curses the teens and two bears come out and maul them.  That seems weird and a little excessive, but hey I’m not bald, so who am I to judge?

It was Elisha who healed Naaman of leprosy.  And like his mentor, he provided miraculous oil to a widow and her two sons and raised a boy from the dead.  During a famine, we are told that Elisha once fed hundreds of people with just 20 loaves of bread.  And those are cool things.

But the story that was read to us earlier is where we are going to park for the rest of the morning.  And it’s a simple story, you probably picked up most of it when it was read.

Elisha has gathered a group of prophets in training around him and the number grew until they found themselves in need of a larger building.    And so, they embark upon a building campaign of sorts.  They go down to the edge of the Jordan River where the trees were plentiful and begin cutting the lumber they will need for the project.

In the process of chopping down the wood, the head flies off one of the axes and is lost in the river.  Opps.

A fairly simple story and not all that strange, we’ve all lost or broken things before.   But it’s after the axe head falls into the river that things start to get weird.

 2 Kings 6:5  But as one of them was cutting a tree, his ax head fell into the river. . .

 So let’s start with The Axe  My first thought when I was preparing this message was God cares even about the little things in our lives, like a lost axe.  If you lose an axe head you go to Canadian tire or Princess auto and replace it for 30 bucks.

But three thousand years ago, during the Iron Age, a metal tool was a thing of great value.  It would have been handcrafted from a valuable resource.  So this wasn’t just a nuisance, this was a disaster.  And it wasn’t a matter of carelessness, this was obviously something that was a semi-regular occurrence with these axes.   Must have been a design flaw.

There is actually a mention in the Jewish law that deals with this very thing.

In the book of Deuteronomy, there is a section that gives instructions about Cities of refuge and we read in Deuteronomy 19:4-5  “If someone kills another person unintentionally, without previous hostility, the slayer may flee to any of these cities to live in safety.  For example, suppose someone goes into the forest with a neighbour to cut wood. And suppose one of them swings an axe to chop down a tree, and the axe head flies off the handle, killing the other person. In such cases, the slayer may flee to one of the cities of refuge to live in safety.

So, I asked Mr Google to show me pictures of 3000-year-old axes, and while there wasn’t a lot of pictures, a lot of them had the axe head simply lashed to the handle, so you can probably understand how the lashing might come loose and allowed the axe head to be lost.

And maybe the axe head was lost not because the student was careless but because he was careful.  That he was standing and working in such a way that if the head came off his axe it would land in the river and wouldn’t hurt one of his friends.  Maybe he simply misjudged how far it would fly.

We all lose things, I’ve lost keys and money, I’ve lost my car in parking lots and once I lost a kid.

Most of us can identify with the bumper sticker that says “Out of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most.”  Ozzy Osbourne is often credited with first saying that, but I’ve also seen it attributed to Mark Twain.

And not everything we lose is tangible.  We lose years that we don’t spend well.   We lose relationships when we don’t take care of them, we lose peace when we don’t trust.  And it’s hard to put a price tag on those types of losses.

And we know that the axe didn’t belong to the person who lost it.  If we keep reading we discover in  2 Kings 6:5  But as one of them was cutting a tree, his axe head fell into the river. “Oh, sir!” he cried. “It was a borrowed axe!”  

Not only was there a sense of loss but the realization that he was extra responsible for the thing he lost.  Have you ever had that sinking feeling when you realize that you’ve lost or broken something that you’d borrowed?  Knowing that you will not only have to replace it, but that you are replacing it for someone else.

The reason that you borrowed it was because you didn’t have it and didn’t want to buy it.  And now you have to buy it and you still don’t have it.

Maybe if we realized that all we have comes from God and we are only borrowing it we would be more careful with our years, our relationships and our stuff.

Which brings us from the axe to The Ask It is interesting that the man who lost the axe head doesn’t actually ask the prophet to do anything, he simply tells him what had happened, and explains that the axe wasn’t his to lose.

Now, I don’t know if he was just expressing his frustration or if he knew Elisha well enough to know if there was something that could be done that Elisha would do it.

But he knew that there wasn’t anything he could do, or presumably he would have done it.

If the axe head was lying in clear shallow water and could be seen then I would assume that the guy would have waded in and gotten it.

And I don’t think he was just whining, he had a problem and in his mind, Elisha was a man of God and if anyone could fix the problem Elisha could.  So, he didn’t go begging Elisha to do something, he simply told Elisha what the problem was.  And he didn’t try to tell Elisha how to fix it or what to do, he simply trusted that Elisha would do what was best.  

 In his first letter to the early church, Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 5:7  Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.  If we believe that, if we believe that God cares about us then we need to believe that when we give him our worries and cares that he will take care of them in a way that is ultimately best for us.

And that’s tough, how often do we try to tell God how he should fix the problem? In particular how often do we tell him how to correct the problem that we created?

Maybe we need to trust that God can fix or find what we broke or lost.

So let’s go back to the story,  2 Kings 6:6  “Where did it fall?” the man of God asked. When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water at that spot. Then the axe head floated to the surface.  

The Answer This is the weird part.   The fact that Elisha had to ask where the axe had been lost was probably indicative of the visibility of the water.  But it was also asking the man who lost the axe to be a partner in the solution and to own the problem.

And then Elisha cuts a stick and throws in the water where the man indicated the axe was lost.  Huh?  One commentator suggested this was to transfer the ability of the wood to float into the axe head.  Seriously?

That seems a little bizarre.  You can almost imagine the conversation.  “What floats?”  “Wood”, what else?  “Bread, apples, good gravy, ducks”  “So if we could make the axe head weigh the same as a duck it would float”.   And then because they didn’t have a duck they threw in a piece of wood?

Sometimes it seems we overthink stuff.  I wonder if Elisha asked “Where did you lose the axe?”  And the student pointed and said “over there”.  And so Elisha threw the stick in and said “About there?”

And when he knew the where, then Elisha made the iron axe head float back to the surface.  That’s weird, I mean it’s not something that happens every day.

Although I Kind of prefer the King James version where we read;  2 Kings 6:6  And the man of God said, Where fell it? And he shewed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim.  As cool as a floating axe head is, a swimming axe head is even cooler.

But the prophet doesn’t do all the work.  Sometimes when we pray it seems like we want the miraculous from start to finish.

I would suspect that if you are praying for a job that God would expect that you’ll put forth your very best efforts in your resume and interview.  That if you have a toothache you might go to the dentist as well as praying.

I knew a lady once who stopped wearing her glasses because she was convinced that God would fix her vision, and I was kind of thinking that he already had with the glasses.  And then she had to pray about the headaches she got from not wearing her glasses.

I would also suspect that if Elisha had seen that the axe head was visible and in shallow water, he would have told the guy to wade in and get it.

God gave us a great deal of ability and common sense and he expects us to use those things in partnership with what he does.

Elisha made the axe head float, he could have made it levitate and land at the student’s feet.  Instead, we read in 2 Kings 6:7 “Grab it,” Elisha said. And the man reached out and grabbed it.

God, through Elisha, did what the student couldn’t do, he made the axe head float and brought it to the surface.  But he certainly expected the student to do what he could do, to reach out and grab it.

And that’s it.  We assume that he put the axe head back on the axe handle and went back to work, but that’s not the point of the story.

And maybe in your heart, you are thinking,  “So the axe head floated, so what?”  I could have called the last point “So what?”  but that would have ruined the alteration, so let’s go with.

The Application:  What do we learn from this strange little story?  Well, I think we all realize that there are things in our lives that have been lost.  Not just keys and change, but lost innocence and lost opportunities.  Things that we look back upon and wish we could do it over.  You know those words that too often get used: “If only”.  Or “I wish I had of” or maybe more disheartening “I wish I hadn’t”

Author Leslie Marmon Silko writes,   “What is it about us human beings that we can’t let go of lost things?”   The things we can’t let go of are the things we’ve lost that we consider important, whether they are important or not remains to be seen but we consider them important.

There are some things that we need to let go of.  Like our past sins.  If you are a Christian than your sins have been forgiven.  They are gone, you might even say they are lost.

The prophet Micah addressed these words to God in Micah 7:18-19  Where is another God like you, who pardons the guilt of the remnant, overlooking the sins of his special people? You will not stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing unfailing love.  Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!

If God has thrown your sins into the depths of the deepest ocean he doesn’t want you to go fishing for them.

But if you’ve lost your sense of Joy or your assurance of forgiveness.  If you have lost your passion for God or your love for others.  If you’ve lost you the trust in God, then he wants you to find those things.

And maybe He might have already made your axe head float and now he’s just waiting for you to reach out and pick it up.

Maybe today God is saying  “There is your peace, just grab it.”  There is your joy, just grab it, there is your forgiveness, just grab it.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”   He should have added, then trust God to do the rest.

Let me close with a promise, Paul wrote to the early church in  Philippians 4:6-7  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

And that same promise is for us today.  Let’s personalize it, claim it and read it together:  Philippians 4:6-7  I will be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, I will let my requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard my heart and mind through Christ Jesus.

Nope… Not doing it.

They say it’s fun, and I’ll have to take their word for it.

They say it’s not to be missed and once again, I’ll have to take their word for it.

It’s something that I’ve periodically thought about, but usually, the urge passes as quickly as it arrives.  And now… now I have an excuse for not doing it.

You see, I recently read that middle-aged, sedentary males shouldn’t take part in the annual polar bear dips.

After my initial disappointment faded I read the rest of the article and discovered that at least one cardiologist was warning of the possible dangers associated with plunging one’s body into sub-zero water on the first day of the year.  Like, that’s a no-brainer!

The interesting thing was the response from a number of the Polar Bear Clubs, who maintained that their members would continue to make the annual dip with or without the endorsements of the medical establishment.

And that’s just like life. When there’s something we want to do, we do it.  It doesn’t matter how many people warn us about the possible consequences.  The physical consequences can often be serious, but when we don’t heed spiritual warnings, the consequences can be eternal.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.