Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Greater Than a Gulf Gusher

   A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves.”
  So Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil.”
  Then he said, “Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors—empty vessels; do not gather just a few.  And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones.”
  So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured it out.  Now it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.”
And he said to her, “There is not another vessel.” So the oil ceased.  Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest.

– II Kings 4:1-7 (NKJV)

Yep! Heard it before.  Nice Bible story about how God took care of a poor widow.

But, reading this passage again, something jumped out and sank its teeth into my soft parts astern.  You see, a dear missionary friend e-mailed me today from Central America in response to the question, "What is your A-Number-One most urgent prayer request?"  Here’s the reply (in paraphrased form)…

"My wife and I have developed serious health issues, but we lack the funds to get medical attention.  We’re inundated by ministry needs, but barely have enough resources to get by.  God recently provided a new Youth Center, but we lack the money to fix it up so it's serviceable.  Bottom line, the needs are plentiful and the dollars are few.  Please pray that God would provide 30% more per month than what we’re taking in now," he said.  "That ought to do it."

This got me thinking… Why does it feel, sometimes, like God's late cutting the paychecks, and when He does, the net take-home pay barely covers rent and a few groceries?

Come on. Don't say you haven't been there!

When I brought the matter to prayer that evening, I saw a picture of my own daughter all dressed in rags.  Rotten, smelly ones.  Her face was grimy and her hair matted and tangled because she had no access to fresh water.  She was sprawled outside my front gate on a tattered old mat.  As I approached, she asked if I could spare a crust to take the edge off her hunger.

"But, Sarah!" I said.  "My home is yours.  Come in and have a hot meal—all you can eat!"

"Oh no, sir.  A crust’ll get me by.  Maybe two, at the most.  That oughtta do it."

Absurd...preposterous!  This is my daughter we're talking about.  Why, she needn’t bother knocking.  Just march right in and sit a spell...wash up...take a nap...raid the fridge!  But, how do I make her understand?

You know, most traditional Jewish blessings start with the words, "Baruch Atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech Ha’olam…”  which means, "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe..."  Before we enumerate our needs, let's remind ourselves Who it is we're addressing.  Our loving Father happens to be King of the Universe.  He's King of the Universe!  And, if the thing we need is to be found anywhere in this universe, it's a good bet He can pull some strings and get it for us.

Trouble is, we're so used to reaching for the old adding machine.  "Let’s see.  A crust'll get me by for today, Lord.  I mean...well, two crusts would be awfully nice, but…only if You can manage it.  I hope I'm not asking too much…am I?" 

Surely we make God weep.  "Keep your numbers off Me!” He says.  “Yes, I'll toss you that crust today, if only to keep you from starving.  But, when will you understand that everything I have is yours? When will you stop limiting Me?"  In fact, there are times when even the ration of crusts dries up because He’s trying to get our attention.  Break our "Poor God" mentality. 

Is this all about "God wants you fat and happy?"  Not at all.  But, He absolutely does want His children fit and fully provisioned to fulfill their destiny. 

“And how much provision might that be?”

No!  Forget the "how much!"  We humans quantify everything in finite terms because we’re finite ourselves.  But, God thinks in terms of infinite provision because He's the infinite One.

On April 20, 2010, an explosion and fire on the BP-licensed Transocean drilling rig "Deepwater Horizon" in the Gulf of Mexico unleashed a horrific oil spill that lasted five months and cost billions of dollars for cleanup efforts alone, not to mention the havoc it wreaked with the regional economy and, of course, the environment.

About two months into the nightmare, a CBS News/New York Times poll was conducted to solicit Americans' opinions on how long it might be before this volcano of petroleum would be controlled at last.  Responses ranged from "a few weeks" to "a year or longer", while 7% of respondents said they believed the gusher would never be capped.  In other words, roughly 14 million Americans believed the oil might be flowing into the Gulf of Mexico forever!

Surely, it could not have gushed forever, since the reservoir of petroleum beneath the Gulf of Mexico is finite.  There is, however, a record in Scripture of an even greater flow of oil—an infinite one. And, it all came from one small jar.

In II Kings 4, we see how God plugged that little oil jar directly into His infinite supply pipeline.  But, no need for alarm!  He's never the Author of catastrophe because His system is based strictly on demand. 

Let's suppose the number of containers that poor widow had gathered was exactly fifty.  So then, fifty containers were neatly filled, and then the oil stopped flowing.  And, had there been five hundred containers?  Or five thousand?  Or five warehouses full of them?  No difference to God; they would all have been neatly filled, and then the oil would have stopped flowing.

Think of it this way.  The only limiting factors on God's provision are: (a) need and (b) demand.

"But wait!" you say.  "Isn't demand the same thing as need?"

Sadly, no.  Although, it ought to be!

You see, need is an objective measure.  If I were honest with myself, and assuming I had a clear idea of what God wanted me to accomplish in the next month, or year, of life... ("But, I have no clue!" you may say.  And that is the topic of a whole other discourse.)  Again, assuming I know what I must do, I should be able to work out a rough idea of the resources I'll require in order to get it done—i.e., need. 

But, demand—well now, that's a different concept.  Demand is a very subjective measurement.  It represents how much of my need I will try to secure resources for.  And alas, this is where things get dicey.

Logically, I should say, "Lord, I'm here to ask for Your divine resources to meet my calculated need. Here are the numbers, and I trust You to provide the full amount."  So, demand = need.

In real life?  It sounds more like, "Dear Heavenly Father, my flawed human calculations suggest this exceedingly great need.  May Your holy will be done.  Whatever Your gracious hand is willing to contribute...  I know You have ever so many other people to worry about.  Help me be duly appreciative no matter how little You can manage to scrape together for me."  So, demand = hmmm...nothing, really!

And, which of the two approaches is correct?  Which is truly pleasing to God?  Let me suggest—neither!  What does Scripture teach?

- Consider the Prodigal Son.  He came with numbers: "Hire me on and pay me an hourly wage like the rest of your employees."  The father answered with abundance: "Best robe, best ring, best party.  You're part of the household again, and everything is yours."

- And his brother, of course.  Numbers: "You never gave me one single goat so I could throw a party."  And Dad said: "You don't get it.  All I have is yours."

- How about Jesus feeding the multitudes?  The disciples worked out the numbers: "Two hundred denarii might buy 'em each a Ritz cracker and a sardine to top it with!"  Jesus responded with abundance: "Pass out the food.  And when they're all stuffed, collect the surplus in baskets.  It'll feed people you never planned for (but I did)."

- And the disciples' fishing expedition?  Numbers: "Worked all night.  Zero fish."  Jesus' abundance: "Haul the net in and fill the boat.  Supply your need in full.  Oh, and did you notice how the net broke?  That's because the lake's entire fish population was in your net.  Don't worry, though; they'll still be there whenever you need to dip that net again."

God doesn't think in finite numbers, but He understands that we do.

- "Whatever measure you decide to use, that's what I'll use to measure it back to you.  But, it'll be pressed down, shaken together, and running over!"

- In Exodus 16:17-18, the Israelites had a specific need for a specific amount of food each day.  They walked outside with a container just the right size.  But this manna was a divine provision, so it followed divine laws rather than physical laws.  The guy who didn't quite fill his container?  He walked into the house and...presto!  It was full.  How about the greedy one who heaped it high?  "Boy,” he thought, “this stuff sure does settle in transport."  So, the container was simply a reservoir to hold the full-and-abundant provision to meet that day's need.

- How about Malachi 3, where God demands His tithe?  Is it because He's having trouble making ends meet?  On the contrary, it's an exercise of the soul.  He says it sets the stage for Him to respond with an abundant blessing that we cannot contain!

- In Luke 18, Jesus had just concluded a conversation with the rich young ruler.  The one He admonished to "sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come follow me."  The disciples seemed to misunderstand; they asked Jesus, "You know, You’ve got us worried.  Because we left everything we had.  What now?"  But Jesus responded, "You will surely receive in this life more than what you sacrificed.  Not to mention what's waiting for you in the life to come!"  And so it was; the believers in the early Church didn't live a fat and happy life, but they always had what they needed, and enough to share with those less fortunate.

Back to the principle of need vs. demand.

God does not want us begging like the epileptic boy's father, "Oh, please, oh, please!  If there's anything You can do, won't you please try to help us with this need?  ...a crust or two, maybe?"

The straightforward approach is always a vast improvement: "Lord, we need a loaf of bread today.  Your bread is fresh every morning, and we trust You to provide the loaf."

But, though He's pleased to deliver the loaf, He sometimes keeps us waiting.  Until we get really hungry.  "Where are you, Lord??"  And make eye contact.  And he walks us over to the delivery van.

That's when God opens the doors and an abundance of bread drops into our lap.  "Wait, Lord, but I only demanded one loaf!  That's all I needed."

"Better start expecting more!  Look behind you."  And then we see the needy multitudes lined up.  We find that God delivers, not only enough to keep us fed, but enough to pass along to the whole world.  Wherever there’s demand, it will be filled.  And the delivery truck is larger on the inside than what we saw of the outside.  It's an infinite supply.  Because He's an infinite God.

So, in conclusion, what are we saying?  That God's perfect plan is: “Everything is yours!”  In other words, demand = supply!

Get your oil jar plugged into the heavenly supply line.  God wants to supply all your need according to His riches in glory.  But, it'll be more than what you calculated your need to be, since He expects you to be overflowing—filling the needs of others as well as your own.  

Truth is… As I write this message, God is addressing my own point of weakness.  All too often I find myself whipping out the old adding machine and telling God what I think I need.  For today.  For me.  And, sometimes I'm not so sure He's even willing or capable of filling the order. "...at least a crust, Father...if it be Your will…pretty please?"

Then I discover that the oil's stopped flowing altogether.  Until I get desperate and look in His eyes.  And He tenderly reminds me, "Your demand is too small.  Bring your empty vessels—not just a few!  Bring an abundance of vessels, and let's get filling, you and I, because the supply is infinite, and the world is waiting!"

Oh, and don't worry about an out-of-control gusher.  The infinite supply flows no further than the demand.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hope for America - Part II: Picking the Bones

History repeats itself, sure.  Man will create the same "pool of cess" again and again and again and again... 

Prophecy repeats itself too.  The God of boundless mercy will come through again and again and again and again...

Downstream from our 8/27 post---about hope for revival in our nation---we come to a valley full of bones.  Oh, we've visited this valley before.  It figures from time to time in trite little pep talks about recovering our spiritual "get up and go"---whatever that may be.  We hear the bones emit a feeble rattling that sounds something like "Rah! Rah!", only to clatter back to earth exhausted by the effort.

But, hey!  God really meant it.  He took a Major Prophet to visit the valley and deliver a personal prophecy.  One that echoes down the tunnels of time announcing hope beyond hope to the dismembered people of God in generations past, future, and present.

Why not revisit Ezekiel 37 and pick through these bones in their Scriptural order?  And as you do, may God put the puzzle together in your own spirit and add flesh to it.   

- In a Valley.  They had descended to their death.

- Very Many.  Untold potential had met untold defeat.

- Very Dry.  A long, slow process---losing every trace of the fluids of life.  Picked over by scavengers. For years.  For a lifetime.  Many, many lifetimes.

- Son of Man, Can These Bones Live?  God solicits a human evaluation.

- Lord, Thou Knowest.  The only source of hope would be a miracle.

- Prophesy!
   (a) God does nothing but He prefaces it with prophecy.
   (b) He speaks the impossible into being.
   (c) He awakens hope where there was none.
   (d) He challenges us to take notice of our hopeless state
        so His glory is evident when it changes.

- Noise and Rattling.  God begins to get our attention.

- Dismembered Skeletons Come Together.  Reconciliation among believers who had drifted apart.

- Sinews, Flesh.  Teams begin to form around goals and objectives that God is birthing in them.

- Skin.  Suddenly, the body has integrity.  A sense of identity.

- Prophesy That the Breath May Come.  The Spirit had departed and was at work elsewhere---the Four Winds.  At His people's call, He returns and brings Life.

- They Stood.  Up and ready to act.

- An Army.  The prophet recognized the multitude as an army.  He must have noticed their armor.  And their mighty weapons.

- Exceedingly Great.  This army exceeds expectations.  Exceeds man's hope and imagination.  What hath God wrought!

- My People Say, "Our Bones Are Dry, Our Hope Is Lost!"  Sounds like the church in America.  Anything God ever did is in the past, and there it'll stay.

- "And We Ourselves Are Cut Off."  It seems Humpty Dumpty has fallen, and not even God Himself can put us back together again.

- "I Will Open Your Graves and Cause You to Emerge."  Don't forget...bones...dead.  But, God is the God of resurrection.  Death doesn't bother Him.

- "And Bring You Back to Your Land."  What purposes and destinies does God still have for the Church in America?  Has His arm become short, that it cannot bring them to pass?

America is a graveyard of disconnected splinter denominations---relics of revivals long forgotten.  Even these groupings have fallen apart.  Even the churches within them are in disarray.  All very dead, very dry in God's perspective.  But when they come back by His sovereign move, it will be as a single army.  An Exceedingly Great Army!