Washed in the Waters

The other day, I had to tell the story of Naaman from memory. Why? Because it was depicted on a coloring sheet at the preschool where I work and I have a class of overly curious four year olds. So there I was, wishing that someone had been clever enough to include this particular passage of scripture in the story Bible we use in the classroom. Wishing the coloring picture had been of Jonah or Esther or one of those other classic stories that I can tell backwards and forwards and maybe even upside down. But no, it was Naaman. Why? Because God apparently had something to teach me.

I decided to tell my class that Naaman was sick and his servant girl (whose unwavering faith in God I praised) suggested that he go see the prophet Elisha who told him to wash himself in a pool of water seven times and he would be healed.

I thought of that story again today and looked it up to see how I had done in my spontaneous retelling. (Leprosy is a sickness, right?) The thing that jumped out at me was something I forgot… or maybe something that had simply never seemed vital until today.

Naaman’s reaction when Elisha told him to wash himself in the Jordan River (Yeah, it was a river, not a pool. I must have been thinking about that guy in the New Testament. Technicality. But I did get the number right. So do I pass the test?)… Well, it’s a pretty interesting reaction. Naaman actually gets mad.

“I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy,” he says in 2 Kings 5:11. The next verse explains that Naaman walked away in a rage. Imagine that. This guy actually gets ticked off because Elisha doesn’t come out looking like Obi-Wan in his over-sized robe while waving his hand in the air and saying, “You do not have leprosy.”

Naaman started walking away from his miracle because it didn’t come in the form he was expecting.
It was supposed to be over with a wave of Elisha’s hand. This whole swimming lesson was a bit ridiculous. Because it’s not like Naaman had never bathed before. Leprosy wasn’t something you could simply wash away.

He didn’t understand that all God really wanted from him was obedience.

Thankfully his servants pointed out that he was being ridiculous and convinced him that it was time for a bath.

In Naaman’s defense, I’m willing to bet that his doubts weren’t entirely misplaced. I imagine that he had tried many remedies. After all, he was a wealthy, highly respected man who probably had connections to some pretty successful doctors. But none of them had a cure for his leprosy. Nothing he had ever tried before actually helped.

Now here he was again—justifiably skeptical—standing at the edge of a river where the God who doesn’t play Jedi mind tricks asked him if he really had enough faith to be healed.

Naaman immersed himself in a promise.

Seven times.

And he was healed. Instantly.

And that’s when Naaman knew that there was no God in all the world except the God of Israel.

May we all have to faith to immerse ourselves in God’s promises and let the waves of His love and mercy wash all our impurities away.

Abraham, Isaac, and… Israel?

Do you remember that great passage in the Bible where God names Abraham? The name was given to him as a promise: “No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham for I have made you a father of many nations.” (Genesis 17:5) From that moment on, there is no mention of Abram and Sarai. They have been completely replaced by Abraham and Sarah.

Now skip forward several chapters to where Abraham’s grandson has a similar experience. “Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.'” (Genesis 32:28) Strangely enough, the first two words in the very next verse are, “Jacob said.” Twenty-five mentions of the name Jacob later, God appears to him once more and declares his name to be Israel. (Genesis 35:10) I don’t think Jacob ever fully claims that promise. Want to know why? I counted the number of times Jacob and Israel were mentioned throughout the remaining chapters of Genesis. Israel is named 30 times, but Jacob comes in first place with 46. That whisper of a promise was there the whole time, resurfacing every once in awhile, but in the end it seems that Jacob couldn’t rid himself of the title “Deceiver” and to this day, Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The promise was seemingly not claimed by Jacob, but it was handed down to his children nonetheless as they call themselves the nation of Israel.

My point is: God has promises for you if only you are willing to claim them. Are you willing, like Abraham, to step out into the unknown, trusting that God’s Mighty Hand will guide you? Or will you fluctuate tenaciously back and forth as did Jacob – er, Israel? I pray that you would find the courage to embrace the promises God has for you. May you step out and be willing to change so that you may accept the full extent of God’s blessing.

The Promise of His Presence

Today I have my head in the clouds. While reading through the Old Testament, I realized how often God appeared in the form of a cloud. In Exodus and Numbers alone, there are over forty references to the cloud of God’s Presence. I found that rather fascinating.

But of course, I’ve always been fascinated by puffy white clouds. I used to lay in my yard and watch them drift peaceably overhead. Perhaps the reason I find comfort in clouds is that God’s Presence still remains in them. Though the most mention you will find of clouds is in the earlier books of the Old Testament, there are still various references throughout the rest of the Bible. Psalm and Isaiah talk of how God rides on the clouds. In 2 Chronicles, the glory of the Lord once again filled the temple in the form of a cloud. A cloud contained the Voice that said, “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased,” at the moment of Jesus’ baptism. And we are told throughout the Gospels and in Revelation that Jesus will return on a cloud. Clouds are a daily reminder of His Presence in our world. Yet we so often fail to see God’s Presence in these familiar miracles.

In Genesis 9, God sends a rainbow as a promise to Noah that He will never again flood the whole earth. We remember the rainbow, but we miss three very important words quoted in that passage of scripture: “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

Perhaps in our fear of global floods, we missed the most important promise God provided on that day. Yes, He promised that He would never again flood the earth, but He also promised us His Presence. While the rainbow is an occasional reminder, the cloud is a constant reality. God’s Presence is right here in this moment.

When I look out the window, I can see Him hovering over the mountains, but more importantly, I’m reminded of the way He has enveloped my heart and promised His Presence to me.

An Undivided Heart

God created mankind to be with Him, but we turn away from Him time and time again. I think it’s about time our “60 seconds” come. I think it’s about time we wake up and realize how intricately our hearts are connected to His. And I think it’s way past time that we realize that all our wants can never fulfill the void that eats away at our soul. God’s love is the only thing we truly need. It’s time we come to understand that with our whole hearts.

Scripture is full of stories of people who have turned away from God much like I have. At one point in time, when the people of Israel were in exile, God sent the prophet Ezekiel to comfort them with this promise:

“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws. They will be My people, and I will be their God.” -Ezekeil 11:19-20

I believe that God is tryng to do the same thing for us today. Accept the undivided heart that He offers you. And while it is okay to have wants, you must first be content with the only thing you truly need. And that is an undivided heart that beats in perfect rhythm with His.

A God Who Loves

Christianity is the only religion that is centered around a God who loves. Maybe the thought that a God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in it is too much for people to handle. I’ll admit that it can be pretty mind-boggling at times, but I’ve learned to accept it. I figure that if God loves me as much as the Bible says He does,  He probably wants me to accept His love. How would you feel if someone never accepted the love you extended to them?

Before I ever learned to dance with Jesus, I witnessed another person’s dance with Him. Some friends of my family (a married couple portraying Jesus and His bride) were going to dance for their church, and I was able to watch them practice. I guess my heart has always secretly longed for this dancing relationship with God because I was enraptured by the beauty and romance of this dance. In the end, they were asked to re-choreograph their dance because it was “too intimate” to be performed in church. Too intimate? Jesus is very intimate. Ephesians 5 talks about how marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Could God explain Himself as being any more intimate? Traces of His romantic love are scattered throughout the Scripture. It could take me all day to pull out every reference regarding God’s immensely intimate love for us, but I’ll leave you with this one thought from Hosea 2:19-20:

I will betroth you to Me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.

Those are God’s words – His promise to us. Maybe that promise doesn’t capture your heart like it does mine.  Maybe you aren’t moved by verse 15 where God says we will call Him “my husband.” And maybe your heart won’t leap when you browse down to verse 23 where God says He will show love to the one He called “Not my loved one.” Maybe your heart isn’t stirred by the fact that God has called you “His people,” but I know that mine sure is. And sometimes it makes me feel like dancing.

I Will Be With You

When I think of the changes life brings and making Jesus home even in the midst of the turmoil, my thoughts immediately turn to Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3. It’s probably one of my favorite Bible stories. I love the way God just shows up and confronts Moses, and I love seeing this great saint struggle with his calling. It makes me realize that I am not the only one who sometimes doesn’t like where God is leading me. It makes me wonder if maybe there is hope for me and my stubbornness. After all, look at what God did with Moses.

Here’s Moses. He has fled the country of his birth and is living in the desert with a foreign people. Suddenly, God appears on the scene in the form of a burning bush. Moses is a little curious as to how the bush is on fire but not burning up, so he goes over to check it out. God calls his name, reveals his great plan for Moses’ life, and commands him to go where He has destined.

If I were Moses, I would be a little concerned too. He begins an argument with God that lasts over halfway through chapter four. Only after exhausting every excuse (which God is easily able to combat) does Moses venture back to Egypt to save his people. And while Moses argued long and hard, I gave in after God’s first answer. Moses said, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you.”

That promise has carried me through most of my life.

“God, who am I that You would ask me to organize a conference for the girls in my youth group?”

And God said, “I will be with you.”

“God, who am I that I can move 450 miles away from everything I’ve ever known to work with the missions organization I’ve supported since I was a child?”

And God said, “I will be with you.”

“Who am I that I can write a book, take it along to some writer’s conference, and present it to a publisher?”

And God said, “I will be with you.”

It’s the promise that keeps me alive. No matter how old I get, no matter how far I travel from the place I was born and raised, God will go with me. He will be the home that I had thought I left behind.

You may be asking God, “Who am I…?” Rest assured that God will always answer, “I will be with you.”