grace of God cannot sustain us.”
2 Kings 5:1, 9-18
1 Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper.
9 Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ 12 Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. 15 And he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant.” 16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 17 So Naaman said, “Then, if not, please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD. 18 Yet in this thing may the LORD pardon your servant: when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon-when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD please pardon your servant in this thing.” NKJV
Here is a mighty man who commanded the respect of all those around him, including his soldiers, the citizens of Syria, and even the king. But all the respect in the world could not save him from the unfortunate event of having contracted leprosy. This was a death sentence for him except for a miracle, and the Syrian gods weren’t providing any of those. But in this hopeless situation we discover a young, Israeli slave girl who has the courage to inform others that there is a prophet in Samaria who could heal him.
After a series of events, the King of Syria communicates with the King of Israel requesting that Naaman be given an audience with Elisha the Prophet. The request is granted and Naaman and his escorts travel to Samaria to Elisha’s home. But when Naaman arrives, Elisha will not even give this great general the time-of-day. Instead he sends his servant out to him. To a general and a nobleman, this was an insult and highly disrespectful. And then to add insult to injury, Naaman is told to go dip seven times in the dirty Jordan River. He refuses. He is not a happy camper. Rather than suffer any more indignities and blows to his pride, he decides to leave and go back to Syria as a leper still…until a very brave servant confronts him to his face and asks him a very simple question. “Why not?”
Naaman’s heart is pierced through that confrontation, and right there in front of his servants and soldiers, this great general humbles himself. He displaces his pride with humility, and chooses to obey the word of the Lord. He goes down to the dirty old Jordan and dips seven times. And when he does, God healed him.
But he did not just receive a physical healing; he also received a heart transformation. He had had an encounter with the Living God. And when Naaman returned to Syria, he was no longer the same man. He was a believer in the God of Israel. He brought soil back from Samaria so that when he was required to accompany the king of Syria into the temple to worship their false gods, when he bowed down, it was on the soil of Samaria. His body may have been in the Syrian temple of a false god, but his heart was set on the God of Israel. And all those around him understood what he was doing. Naaman was unafraid and unashamed to make known that his life had been changed. And he would not deny it. What a story and what inspiration.
Has Christ made an impact on our lives like that? Where our pride or fear of representing Christ may cost us, but we no longer care? Where our pride or fear is overcome by a heart of gratitude, overwhelmed by His kindness towards us. Where our pride or fear begins to take a back seat in our lives, regardless of from whom it may separate us? Men…may we have the heart of the psalmist who declares these words:
46 I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, NIV
“Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.”
25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. 30 I have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared for all people. 32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” NLT
There is not much known of the Simeon spoken of in Luke 2. There are no other historical records regarding Simeon that give us a glimpse into his life. What’s written here is all we get. But when you look at these verses you discover an incredible picture of an incredibly godly man; a powerful example of a man whose focus and attention is laser-pointed on God.
The text shows us that Simeon was very old and was probably very close to death. He was righteous and devout. That was not the norm for an Israelite. He lived in a very dark time for Israel. The nation had lost its independence and was occupied by Rome. Its religious leaders were self-righteous, hypocritical leaders full of arrogance, pride, with a “better-than-everyone-else” attitude. They were full of themselves and empty of God. Israel, God’s chosen, was a backslidden, apostate people. But God has always reserved a remnant to himself. And Simeon was one of those. Regardless of his dark surroundings, Simeon lived in the light.
Simeon loved God with a pure heart, and that same heart longed to see the coming of Israel’s Savior. Although the scriptures do not say when God revealed to Simeon that he would see “…the Lord’s Messiah,” it does seem as though it happened many years prior to this story. And it’s something that Simeon never lost sight of over the course of those many years.
Simeon’s hope, faith, and trust was not abandoned due to a prolonged waiting period. He was confident in God’s faithfulness to do what He said, even though it took a long time. And when God said, “Simeon, today’s the day. Get over to the temple,” his ears were still in tune with what God had told him many years before. He knew exactly what was happening. Simeon had never forgotten the promise God made.
More than thirty years later after this event, Jesus tells a parable in Luke 12. Simeon is a vivid example of what Jesus was speaking. Listen to these words.
35 “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning;
36 and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching.” NKJV
Has there ever been anything you believed God spoke to your heart, but still has not come to pass? Let me ask you a question. Is God’s faithfulness subject to our timeline, or is it subject to His infinite wisdom? The answer is obviously the latter. But how often do we lose sight of God’s promise because its manifestation didn’t happen when we wanted to see it happen?
May we be men who never let loose of our faith in God and His promises. May we have the heart and faithfulness of Simeon who, in spite of a long waiting period, still kept his ear peeled for the voice of God, and when he heard, obeyed.
Just think of what his faithfulness and obedience allowed him to witness. What might yours allow you to see?
“Faith is the ‘yes’ of the heart, a conviction on which one stakes one’s life.”
– Martin Luther
2 Samuel 23:20
20 There was also Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant warrior from Kabzeel. He did many heroic deeds, which included killing two champions of Moab. Another time, on a snowy day, he chased a lion down into a pit and killed it. NLT
Benaiah is probably not a Bible name lodged in the forefront of your memory banks, but he was actually well-known in Israel as one of David’s “Thirty Mighty Men,” so he actually has quite a bit of notoriety. But this one verse really stands out. “…on a snowy day, he chased a lion down into a pit and killed it.” Who does that? Who would even think of doing that? But in the midst of a crazy story, let’s look at an incredible lesson that can be found.
Think about this. Lions are not domesticated creatures. They are wild, massive, fierce, and dangerous. The Bible says that our enemy, the devil, goes around like one seeking to devour us. And this is what I think is crazy. Benaiah chases this lion into a pit (not the other way around). So now Benaiah is in this pit…surrounded…no way of escape, with a ferocious killer. And it’s a snowy day. He’s not wearing vibram-soled sandals that could give him better traction and footing in the snow. He’s wearing leather sandals that would make him unstable as he slips and slides around in that pit. This, my friend, would appear to be a disaster waiting to happen. An impossible situation. A situation where only one is coming out of that pit alive. And it most likely wouldn’t be human.
Lions are pictures of strength. It has the strength to strike down an ox and carry it off in its mouth. No wonder he’s called “king of the beasts”? Lions take down 600-pound plains zebras and 1000-pound cape buffalo on a regular basis. One swipe from a lion’s paw can crush a human skull, and its teeth can penetrate any human bone. Who wants to face off in close quarters with an adversary like that? Benaiah did. And here is what is so amazing…Benaiah came out the winner. You’re thinking, “That’s a miracle!” Well, you’re right.
Here’s what I see in this amazing story. Benaiah didn’t run from his problem. He brought the problem into the pit where there was nowhere he could go…there was nothing else he could do but face it. When he got a glimpse of that lion up close, I’m sure he was well aware of the fact that it was impossible for him to defeat it. But here’s the thing…all things are possible when you bring God into your impossibility. Benaiah didn’t have to go into that pit; he chose to. And consequently, he came out of the pit as conqueror and victor over quite a huge problem. What a beautiful illustration of implicit trust in the God of Power and Might.
Men, we all have “lions” in our lives that seek to devour us. That “lion” could be an addiction, a broken marriage, a life-threatening illness, a fear of the future…you “fill-in-the-blank.” Don’t ignore it or run from it; take it into the pit where you have to face it. But trust God that when you face that impossibility, you face it with the One for whom nothing is impossible. And regardless of how additional conditions can make a dangerous situation even more dangerous (like a pit…on a snowy day), with God there is no difficulty, no storm, no fire, no hurricane that can reinforce your defeat.
Friend, if you follow the “lion” into the pit with God, you are coming out the winner.
19 …When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him. NKJV
Here’s to devouring a few “lions” that have been looking to devour us. Let’s embrace the courage of Benaiah.
“God loves with a great love the man whose heart
is bursting with a passion for the impossible.”
– William Boothe
19 And they asked them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”
20 His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.”
25 He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.”
26 Then they said to him again, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?”
27 He answered them, “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?” NKJV
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house.
Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ. 6 Greet Mary, who labored much for us. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
8 Greet Amplias, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys, my beloved. 10 Greet Apelles, approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my countryman. Greet those who are of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, who have labored in the Lord. Greet the beloved Persis, who labored much in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.
The Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Romans during his third missionary trip while he was in Corinth. At this point, Paul had not yet been to Rome. Although Paul addresses several issues facing the church there, it is this letter that establishes the doctrine that salvation comes by faith in Christ alone (Sola fide).
In the first several verses of chapter 16, Paul sends his greetings and appreciation to those who were instrumental in establishing the Gospel and churches in Rome. Of all the names listed here in Romans 16, probably Priscilla and Aquila are the only really recognizable names. They were a married couple who pastored and are mentioned other places in scripture, but all those other names in the Romans 16 Crew are pretty unrecognizable. And although not known to us, they were all people who were very important to the Apostle Paul. These were co-laborers with him for the sake of the Gospel. These were people who had served, sacrificed, and suffered to bring the Good News to Rome. Paul wants them to know just how much he loves and appreciates them…so he calls them by name.
Can you imagine when this letter was read aloud in the church, just how excited each of these people must have been to hear their name mentioned? What an honor! There’s an old quote attributed to Dale Carnegie that says, “There is no sweeter sound to one’s ear than the sound of his name.” If there’s any truth to that, there’s a few people in that list that may have been disappointed. There are a few others that seem to be mentioned, but not by name. There is “the household of Aristobulus,” “the household of Narcissus,” “Nereus and his sister,” and “all the saints who are with them.” I wonder if any of these unnamed people were thinking as they heard the letter read, “Hey, Paul…you mentioned everyone else by name, but you forgot me! What’s up with that? I’ve been working hard for the Gospel, too!” What WAS up with that? Were there too many people to list? Had Paul forgotten their names? Couldn’t he at least give a shout-out to Nereus’ sister, instead of just calling her “Nereus’ sister”?
That may not be an accurate depiction of what those people were thinking, but I think that kind of mindset is more prevalent today than we might care to admit. There are men who want to be acknowledged for what they do. There are men who want to be patted on the back for their service. There are men who want to hear their name said out loud for everyone else to hear. And although we should give honor where it’s due, is that why we serve?
Some of the “unsung heroes” in our series have been mentioned by name, and others have not. But whether we know their names or not, God does. Listen to these words from the writer of Hebrews.
10 For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do. NLT
Maybe we get a badge that says “Best Volunteer Ever,” but maybe we don’t. Guys, God is the one who sees it all, knows it all (even Nereus’ sister’s name), and He is the One who will ultimately reward us. Always remember who and what our service is about. It’s about bringing glory to Him. Learning to live in that confidence is a big step of faith and a big step towards maturity for all of us.
So let’s step up!
1 Corinthians 10:31
31 So…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
“The stamp of the Saint is that he can waive his own rights and obey the Lord Jesus.”
― C.S. Lewis
25 Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; 26 since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. 29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; 30 because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me. NIV
Now this is not really an unknown guy since the Apostle Paul mentioned him twice in one letter, though Paul never wrote him his own letter like he did Timothy and Titus. Still you get the sense that Epaphroditus was quite a guy. Here is the backstory. Paul was imprisoned in Rome, and the church at Philippi wanted to send him a “care package.” Epaphroditus was the one who brought it to him. Instead of returning home, Epaphroditus stayed in Rome with Paul to help him in the work of the ministry while Paul was behind bars. Epaphroditus’ love for Christ and commitment to Paul caused him to go far above what he was initially asked to do. In fact in his labors he had become extremely sick; so sick it could have been fatal. But that did not deter him from his service to God. “Get through it and keep moving forward.” That was his mindset.
I don’t think they got “sick days” or “personal days” in the New Testament. Much different in our culture. It is pretty well known here in L.A. that “sick leave” usage spikes on the day of the Los Angeles Dodgers home opener of the baseball season. It’s called the “Dodger Blue Flu.” But here’s Epaphroditus who is so sick he could die, yet he’s not thinking, “I need some time off from ministry” – he’s still engaged. He’s not thinking about time off. He’s not thinking about himself. Even in his affliction he is thinking about serving the kingdom. In fact he is more concerned about the people who are worried about him than he is for himself. Pastor and author Warren Wiersbe writes, “Epaphroditus sacrificed himself with no thought of reward…”
Friend, that’s the heart of a truly selfless servant.
Is our faithfulness to serve God based on convenience, or whether there are more appealing options? Or is it simply based on the mindset that since Christ laid down his life for me, I lay down my life (which includes times of inconvenience or difficulty) for him and the sake of his kingdom? I certainly hope so. I believe we are all called to live lives much bigger than our own.
“How do we know if we have a servant’s heart?
By how we act when we are treated like one!”
27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. NIV
This is an amazing story of an unnamed man. He was, literally, a eunuch, a man castrated that he might serve in the royal court. Now that’s commitment. Castration was required to serve the royals for a number of reasons (of which I am not going to get into). Somewhere along the line he heard about the God of Israel, and it piqued his interest in this God. Consequently he began his spiritual pursuit, and began to explore the scriptures regarding the Israelite God. He found himself on a spiritual journey that would take him to Jerusalem…the center of Judaism. To go to Jerusalem from Ethiopia was no easy task; the journey by chariot was at least 1600 miles. The scriptures only tell us this eunuch was returning from Jerusalem; they do not tell us what happened while he was there. I do know this…as a eunuch wanting to worship God and to go to the temple, the deck was stacked against him. But he went anyway.
Undoubtedly he was aware of some of the Old Testament scriptures such as: Deuteronomy 23:1 which says, “He who is emasculated by crushing or mutilation shall not enter the assembly of the Lord.” Later, Isaiah prophesied that when the Messiah’s kingdom was established, things would change. He writes this in Isaiah 56:4-5. “For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.””
But the Pharisees did not believe Messiah had yet come. So that put this eunuch’s pursuit of God in a precarious place, especially in a place like Jerusalem. He would be unwelcomed and stonewalled at every synagogue. Still, he continued in his pursuit of the God of Israel, even though it would appear he was excluded.
On the return trip to Ethiopia, he was reading another part from the prophet Isaiah. Although he could not understand what he was reading, God in His providence and mercy brought Philip across his path to explain its meaning. In verse 47 we read those beautiful words, “Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” The eunuch was so effected by the words Philip spoke, he apparently received Christ as Lord and Savior. He was saved! We can discern that since the eunuch was determined to be baptized. Philip then had the honor of baptizing him. But the story doesn’t end there. Ethiopian tradition says that this converted eunuch was the country’s first evangelist.
Let me ask you a question. Have you ever faced a challenge that was so difficult, or a mountain that was so high that it seemed like you were destined to fail no matter what you do? Probably all of us can in one way or another. I know there have been times in my past where I’ve copped the attitude, “Who needs this? I give up. This is just a losing proposition.” Men, that’s the kind of situation the eunuch faced, and even after being told, “You lose,” he continued to pursue. But that’s when God met with him. He had a glimpse of something that was too valuable to let go. And because he wouldn’t, he finally met the Savior.
Proverbs 23:23 says, “Buy truth and do not sell it.” The truth of God’s Word is too precious to let anyone take it from you (try as they may). Do not allow persecution, or humiliation, or ridicule, or mistreatment, or suffering to derail you from your pursuit of Christ. None of those things can negate the truth of God which is founded in heaven.
May you, like the eunuch, continually pursue Christ regardless of the opposition you may face. Just remember, where the world may say NO, God has a YES stamped on you.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
– Desmond Tutu