What do we do with Naaman?

What happens when you are compelled by outside forces to act contrary to your faith? In every generation there have been laws passed, governments established, actions taken, and popular opinions formed that have flown in the face of the gospel of Jesus; some are subtle and some are blatant. I am grateful for Desiring God’s answer to this question. They helpfully show that while we need to seek the peace of the city in which we live, we are still called by God to resist laws that not only go against the peace of our community, but go against God’s will.

But there is one chapter in Scripture that has gotten me thinking a lot about how we may act in certain situations.

The Lord pardon your servant

In 2 Kings 5 we read about Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army. We are told that “by him the Lord (Yahweh) had given victory to Syria” (v. 1). God used this man to accomplish His purposes. But Naaman has leprosy; which brings him to the (enemy) nation of Israel for healing from Elisha the prophet. Naaman at first doesn’t like Elisha’s prescription for healing (dipping in the ugly Jordan River), but once he complies with it he is completely healed! And not merely physically, but he becomes a worshiper of the true God, saying, “I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel…” (v. 15). He backs this up with requesting two cart loads of Israel’s dirt. He wants to stand on Israel’s soil while worshiping Israel’s God. There is no doubt in my mind (or in Christ’s, see Luke 4.27) that this is a changed man in whom God is actively working!

With this in mind, consider this interesting request that Naaman makes of Elisha when he leaves:

“In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” 1 Kings 5.18

Apparently, part of being the commander of the army of Syria is accompanying the aging king into the house of his god and aiding him in his worship of this god. Naaman knows that worshiping this god would contradict his worship of Yahweh, but he also knows that, as the commander, he has a job to do. So Naaman asks Elisha for God’s forgiveness when his job requires this godless action.

And what is Elisha’s reply? “Go in peace.” He doesn’t say that God will condemn him nor does he call him a false worshiper and a hypocrite. Elisha and Naaman both acknowledge that the action required of Naaman is not reflective of his heart. He will be worshiping the true God on borrowed ground from Israel meanwhile carrying out his duty as the commander of the army. Naaman is prepared (and pardoned) to comply with the command because he knows that it is not he, but his position that is bowing at this altar. He is acting on behalf of the nation and he recognizes that the nation and its king will be judged for this action, but he himself will be forgiven for bowing at the altar.

The Naaman option

If Naaman, a converted pagan, can be told “go in peace” when he explains his situation, what does that mean for Christians today? Religious freedom aside, what does it mean for Kim Davis? (Aside: I agree that Mrs. Davis has the freedom to do what she did; it truly seems as though she is in the right. See here and here). Are there situations that appear to contradict our faith, but are actually pardonable by God because God is looking at our hearts? This is a delicate balance for three reasons:

  1. It’s Scripturally Rare. I cannot think of many places in Scripture where God’s people are in this situation. More often we are called to carry our cross and lay our lives down for Christ. If we are unwilling to acknowledge Christ before men, He will not acknowledge us before the Father (Matthew 10.32-33).
  2. It’s a question of representation. Who am I representing by civil obedience or disobedience? There are clear, definite situations where the believer must say, “my participation in that would signify my personal approval, and God is not pleased with that. Therefore, I will not…” But there are a few places where we might say, “although I and my God do not approve of the situation, I will fulfill this civil duty. I am not defying God, but the State is, and they will answer for the laws they have passed.
  3. It has limits. In the grand scheme of things, aiding your ailing king in the worship of his (false) god is a small matter. Elisha would not have said, “go in peace” if Naaman’s request was to be allowed to kill others without cause or destroy the temple of God. I am still working through this, but I think there are places where God’s people can “go in peace”. Perhaps this will remain a case by case discussion of Biblical ethics as time goes on.

Finally, consider this: most Conservative Evangelicals have held this belief without realizing it for years by supporting Just War. We claim that murder is against God’s Commands, but when Christian soldiers are called to kill for America, we call that justified. Why? Because those soldiers aren’t killing maliciously (we hope), but on behalf of their country. This passage would defend them. It also would defend someone who signs marriage licenses for divorcees and homosexuals at the town office. It is your country, not yourself, and not your God, that you are representing. And God knows who to judge when the time comes.

Choose whom you will serve

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
(Joshua 24.14-15)

If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.
(St. Augustine)

Believe it or not there is a correlation here. For Israel, it was easy and comfortable to revert to the gods of Egypt or Canaan. For us, it is easy and comfortable to simply reject difficult truths about God’s Word in favor of being liked by others– even others who claim to be in Christ. If I believe in the “happy things” about Christ and His Word and disbelieve the uncomfortable things, then I am the god that I worship.

Is it possible to serve two gods?

No. It isn’t. And Jesus agrees: “Either you will hate the one and love the other or serve the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6.24, speaking of money, but the principal remains).
Just as Israel, who had been brought out of slavery in Egypt needed to choose to serve the God who saved them, so now those who claim to have been brought out of slavery to sin have that daily decision to make.

Who is our God?

The God of the Bible is the one who knows what is right and wrong; He knows His own Word; He knows His own people; His knows the way to salvation. If we claim the God of the Bible as our God we have to listen to His truth, not our own.

It has become so simple to say, “I know God says, but…”, or, “What God actually means is…”, or, “Did God actually say…?” Search yourself. If those phrases escape your lips, why? What truth about God are you trying to avoid? Is this out of fear of being rejected by others? Are you unwilling to say and believe in the tough things that God calls us to say and believe about Him? Are you using carefully crafted arguments supposedly based in scripture to avoid the truth that Scripture puts forward?

Tomorrow, if you are part of a Church, you will no doubt hear the Bible taught. If you are part of a good Church, you will hear it preached with the authority of the Holy Spirit with the aim of worshipful repentance to God. Ask yourself as you sit listening to the sermon– do I accept this as God’s truth? Would I rather make God who I want Him to be? Is this uncomfortable for me to believe?

Tomorrow, don’t believe in yourself. Believe in God. His Word is truth. Choose whom you will serve and if you have chosen Yahweh, the God of the Bible, let His interpretation reign in you.

Our Great God

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness! Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. — Psalm 115.1-3

“Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without a witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” –Acts 14.15-17

Our God is in the heavens…

How great it is to know that our God is not like those things that man creates! God dwells in holiness apart from us and does that which seems right to him. He set things in motion and made them work the way they do. In reading the rest of the above Psalm, one sees the opposite of this God: those idols that man makes and worships. They see nothing, can do nothing, and are ultimately worthless. In the end and even now, although God’s people can see the “gods” that are created by man, we are the ones who will ultimately ask, “Where is your god?”

That’s right… your god is nothing.

And what proof does our God give us for the spreading of his fame? Does he rely solely on man to accomplish his work?

No.

He sends his people out to accomplish his will and spread his gospel. He became man himself, so that those who believe in him will not be forever separated from him, but see eternal life in his Kingdom. He gave us his Word, which, by the power of his Holy Spirit, moves in his Church and convicts us of sin, righteousness, and judgement.

But at the most basic level, God has used his created order to display his greatness. He waters trees, upholds and sustains life, perpetuates the cycle of the universe, and gives us the food and drink that we need. This, all for the sake of his name being glorified.

Come to Jesus– the one true God, the one who satisfies souls, the one who created all that we see. Your gods are nothing compared to the greatness of the one true King.

Where do you gather? (pt. 4)

This post is the most difficult of the four in this series thus far (see them here: #1, #2, #3) and is the reason I began writing on “where” we gather. A growing problem in the Western Church’s consumerism is the idea of commuting to one’s church (I know the church is more than just a building, but for the sake of this post I will use the term “church” to refer to that place where the family gathers–typically on Sunday mornings–and to the family that one wishes to be a part of).

What’s wrong with that church?

I haven’t forgotten that question asked by Rev. Blundell my Freshman year in college. We were sitting in Spiritual Life class discussing the idea of driving an hour or so to church on Sunday’s when he gave the following example:

Say you are in the process of leading a friend to Jesus (or he is a new believer and you are mentoring him). You have invited him to church and he agrees to come with you. You leave Sunday morning and as you make the hour long commute to your church, you begin to pass other churches preparing for their worship services. Your friend, becoming more confused as you keep driving, asks you, “What’s wrong with that church that we just passed? Why don’t you attend this church? Or that one? What about this one?”

What do you say to your friend who isn’t sure why you just drove an hour to Church, outside of the community in which you live, and passed by at least a couple dozen church buildings on the way? How do you answer his continual questions?

Yes, some churches have legitimate doctrinal errors that could potentially be dangerous to be a part of. Yes, other “church buildings” you may pass could actually be Unitarian Universalist or Kingdom Halls– neither of which being truly in the Church. But what about the other ones that you pass by?

I don’t like the [insert pet-peave here] at that church

Think back to the first post in this series. How did you answer the questions there? What is it about the church (family) that meets five, ten, or fifteen minutes down the road from you that disgusts you so much? Or have you even visited them? Is it their music? Do they only sing hymns? Have they completely switched to modern songs which are the bane of your existence? How about the sermon? What is it about the pastor’s message each week that drives you away? Or maybe think about the one you drive 45-60 minutes to get to. What’s so special about that community in that city? What is it that they are doing “right?”

One couple I knew got married and shortly after moving to another city, continued to commute an hour to their church each Sunday and throughout the week for any thing else they were involved in. They loved the people of that church (with good reason, as there is much to be loved there), but they lived an hour away and couldn’t  realistically build great community with people from so far away.

Begging the question

Here are the things that I tend to wonder about these situations:

  1. How big of a role did the church play in your decision to move to another city (or across town)?
  2. If the city you live in now (whether moved to, or lived in for a long time) is good enough to live, work, and rest in, then why is it not good enough to worship in?
  3. Are the differences and difficulties you face in your local church really big and important enough to make you want to drive longer to attend a different church?
I don’t intend these to be condemning, nor do I think there is a set distance which one is allowed to travel to church. But I do think we tend to offer very many excuses to “get out of a church” when we should be more focused on how to serve where we are. So instead of loving the community we live in, we flee to a farther community because they have the coolest toys.
To be concluded…

Christmas is of the Devil

…or some would say. I have read much recently regarding the idea that Christmas has many pagan roots and should not be observed by Christians. These arguments are as follows:

  • Many ancient mythologies held that their chief god was born on or around Christmas
  • Christmas day (December 25) was originally meant to celebrate those gods, as were the traditions that we observe (Christmas trees, Yule Logs, Red and Green Decorations, etc)
  • The Church tried to make conversion to Christianity as painless as possible so they just adopted as many religious celebrations as possible from surrounding religions and made them a part of the Christian calendar.

If you find this hard to believe, simply google search something like “Pagan ties to Christmas” and you’ll find links to plenty of information regarding this. And then this has circulated a bit:

Be that as it may

Christmas is one of those holidays that has been debated throughout the years. From those who want to “put Christ back into Christmas” (instead of the “X” that “replaces” His name and actually has more noble roots than many Christmas traditions, says also R.C. Sproul), including those who will refuse to shop places that don’t wish you a Merry Christmas (read Jared Willson on this one), to those who hold the view mentioned above, everyone seems to have an opinion on how to “celebrate right.”

But should we still celebrate Christmas? If it is associated with all of those pagan (and thus, false) deities, shouldn’t we just reject it as something from Satan? Let’s think about that.

  • Are we glad that Jesus came to earth? We had best better be! There is something to be said about that old hymn: Living he loved me, dying he saved me…” We are exceedingly overjoyed that Jesus came and died, so we should be exceedingly overjoyed that He came and died.
  • Are we commanded to celebrate His birth? We are never told by Paul, Peter, John, or even Jesus Himself to celebrate the day of His birth (otherwise we’d be more sure about His birth date- see below). But we are told to rejoice and celebrate His death until He comes (1 Cor. 11.26). So is it a sin to not celebrate the day of His birth? Nope! But don’t forget that He came, died and rose again!
  • Does our culture celebrate birthdays? Yes. If you would give a gift celebrating the birthday of your niece’s husband’s son but not celebrate the fact that your savior came for you, what does that say about your values? Does this mean a big Christmas party? Not necessarily- because nominal Christians are great at throwing those without living a holy life throughout the year. But we have to think about how Jesus looks in our life: isn’t He worth celebrating?
  • Do we know when Jesus was born? Contrary to the popular song, Jesus Christ was not born on Christmas day. Many scholars seem to point toward the Spring time as a more accurate time frame. But again, we have no idea.
  • Is it wrong to celebrate Jesus’ birth on a day that other pagan gods’ birthdays were celebrated on and in the same manner? This honestly needs to be left up to preference. If you and your family prefer to not celebrate His birth in conjunction with an array of pagan gods, then don’t! For you it is wrong; I see this primarily as a Romans 14 issue. Jesus, God the Son, desires and deserves every ounce of respect and honor from us that we can give. It is only right that we give it to Him in ways consistent with His nature and Word. The moment we demand celebration of Christmas or deny the right of others to do so, we are in sin. But maybe we can use the traditions handed down to us in a manner worthy of Christ and celebrate so much more and so much better than those without Christ because we have a great reason to celebrate: Jesus came to us and was made a mediator between God and man, suffering and dying in our place. Celebrate with joy- we have more of a reason to do so.

This is what it’s for

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

Josiah was a king. A good king, for that matter. In fact, he might be considered among the best of the kings of ancient Judah. 2 Kings 22.1-2 records this about him:

Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem… And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the way of David his father, and did not turn aside to the right or to the left.

This is a far cry from where his father, Amon, and grandfather, Manasseh, had been. These kings both had their thrones and their lives removed from them because of their wickedness. So what was different about Josiah? Why was he considered a good king?

Josiah’s reforms could be cited as the reason why he was considered a good king. Fair enough; chapters 23 goes into great detail on what Josiah had done for God and the kingdom of Judah. So what? Should we expect that if we have done much for God, like Josiah did, then God will reward us and call us good? Our answer must be no, because that’s not where Josiah’s story begins.

The Book of the Law had been forgotten by the nations of Israel and Judah for so long, that they had even forgotten where it was. For years, they were just following their own ways mixed with some teachings from God’s prophets. 2 Kings 22.8-13 continues:

…Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the book of the Law in the house of the Lord.”  And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it… Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded (them), saying, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”

The Bible is for…

We know what the Bible is ultimately about, but this is what it’s for. As the opening verse says God has given us His word not only to reveal Himself to us, but to give us the means by which we would learn about Him, be corrected, and ultimately become more like Jesus. For many of us, the Bible has become something that we just breeze through and say, “yeah, that makes a bit of sense”. But if we were using God’s word the way He made it to be used, there would be loads more repentance and correction in the Church.

How about you? Is the Bible just a book of nice stories to you? Or are you asking the Spirit to come and speak to your heart through God’s Word? Like Josiah, let’s repent for our often neglect of God’s Word in regards to our lives.

This is Worship

I have written much about the worship of the Church recently, which leads me to this final post on the matter (for now). But first, I’ll let Paul speak:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
(Romans 12:1-21)

That’s it! That is worship! Of course, we can worship through singing too, but in essence, this is the life of worship that each and every believer in Christ has been called to. If we refuse this life of worship, we are rejecting Christ’s will for us and our Sunday morning singing is worthless worship. If you don’t believe me, ask Isaiah (especially verse 13).