Every fifth Sunday I volunteer in my church’s kid program. I carry the lofty title of “small group leader” and my small group is compromised of seven 8 and 9 year old kiddos. We usually do a craft (which I stink at- I may look a lot like my sister Becky, but you’d not mistake me for her in the craftiness category!). And we have a snack (when I don’t spill their drinks, that part is okay). And we do a lesson from the Bible (I am learning to teach using smaller words and more tangible concepts). And we talk about life (my favorite part). When the small group part is over, we head to the big group for worship and the skit and lesson. This is, for me, the time I spend reminding the boys in my group to keep their hands to themselves and the girls to quit chatting.
This week one of our associate pastors, Will, was leading the large group part of the morning. He called me out (with a smile) for not doing the motions during worship (also a regular ‘fail’ for me), but I forgave him when it got to the lesson part of the morning *grin* Teaching even a short lesson to a group of 5 to 9 year olds is no small task and he nailed it.
Talking about Nicodemus and what is means to be saved, he called up a volunteer and told him to pretend he was drowning. Will had a kids’ blow up inner tube. He set up the whole story… he was a boat on the shore and saw the volunteer waving and gurgling (this was all acted out and he picked the right volunteer… very animated). He threw the life saving inner tube… the question was, would he grab it? They demonstrated it both ways and the discussed why the volunteer would or would not take the inner tube…. you following adults? It was a good demonstration. The kids were incredulous that anyone would rather drown than get help, even the help wasn’t just what they wanted.
Yesterday was my day to be childless, which usually means I cram in as many meetings with people as possible (and a few errands too, if I have time left). The basic reason for this is that in most cases I am woefully upstaged by my toddler, and any meeting and discussion turns into “The Cohen Show” as I affectionately call it.
I was sitting at the local coffee shop- despite my earlier complaints about the service, it is growing on me- and I had some time to read. For several months I was reading through the OT chronologically and got stopped in the beginning of 2 Kings when the Lord brought some other passages to my attention. I felt the pull to pick it back up, so I sipped on my Zimbabwean brew (delightful!) and began to read.
I have heard the story of Naaman the leper many times in my life, but with the memory of Will, the volunteer, and the inner tube fresh in my mind, I saw it all in new light.
Naaman was a commander in the Syrian army; an important man, but a man with a problem. The Bible says it this way,
“He was also a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.”
So here we’ve got this courageous, mighty leader to whom God has given great victories. But he has a flesh eating disease. And this is no mere flesh wound, if you no what I mean. Leprosy was cause to be isolated, shunned, separated from the group.
Naaman’s wife had a little servant girl who waited on her and that little servant girl was an Israelite. She observed the difficult and heart breaking position her master was in and told his wife that it was too bad they weren’t in the presence of Elisha. For surely the proven prophet of the Lord could heal the commander’s infirmity.
His wife repeated these words to Naaman who repeated them to the Syrian king, who promptly sent his valuable commander with a letter and a gift to get whatever help was possible. The letter was addressed to the King of Israel, who threw up his hands and had no idea what to do. Elisha caught wind of the situation and comforted to the king by saying essentially (kate’s version here) “don’t freak out. Naaman’s come to the right one. Let me show him who is really God”.
Naaman is sent to Elisha in his chariot and with all of his gifts. I imagine he looked as royal and important as he was, rolling up to the humble abode of the prophet in style.
This is the part where we’d assume Elisha would come out with his sleeves rolled up, ready to put on really good and powerful show, right? But no… he doesn’t even come to the door…he just sends out one of his messenger boys to tell Naaman to wash himself seven times in the Jordan river.
He throws him the inner tube. The question is, does Naaman take this simple, straight forward easy answer?
Check out his response,
“…Naaman was angry and went away and said , Behold, I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call o the name of the Lord his God and wave his hand the plcae and heal the leper…”
… just for the record: me too, Naaman, me too…
“Are not the Abana and Pharper, the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage”
Notice that Naaman doesn’t dispute that obedience will get him clean. Nope. He’s just offended at the way things have transpired. First of all, he’s offended that though he is man of stature and standing, this prophet of Israel did not come out to meet him. I mean, did he not see the great entourage? the chariots? the gifts? Who was he that Elisha should send out a messenger boy instead of coming out himself. Secondly he was offended at what it would require of him. Couldn’t he just wash in his own rivers, if that’s all it took? If he was going to travel all of the way from Syria, the least Elisha could do was put on a good religious ceremony and let him have the full experience! Thirdly, if washing was all he needed, the whole trip was a waste of time…
So he leaves. The inner tube that could save his life and standing, his job and his value is rejected. The simplest task- wash and be clean- is beneath his high minded principles and ideas. He’d rather just walk away with his flesh decaying than to just hop in the Jordan River and give it a shot.
Luckily one of his servants had a good head on his shoulders and spoke the right word at the right time,
“If the prophet had bid you do some great thing would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, wash and be clean?”
Naaman immediately recognized the folly of his words, humbled himself, and did as the prophet commanded. He went to the Jordan, a river less desirable than the ones in his own country, and he dipped himself seven times. And guess what? He was clean.
He wanted Elisha to come out, make a speech, call down tangible, visible power from heaven, and put on a good show.
But it just didn’t take all that.
He wanted it to be complicated and great and involved. But it was simple and straightforward and common.
I have spent some time over the past few months counseling a girl that I like a lot. She’s got a great personality and she’s a deep soul; she’s a thinker. We started meeting because Pastor gave me her number and said she was dealing with depression, something I know a little bit about.
We met for coffee in town for the first time. She reminded me of one of my dearest friends from college within the first few minutes of talking. The Lord opened my eyes to see through the situation to the end of the matter. I choked back the tears, trying to listen well to her current battle with concern, knowing all too well that the Lord intended for her to be free… like FREE. She shared some poetry and I asked for copies of a few of them. I saw her heart. I saw what God planned to do.
We’ve met a lot since that day… in spurts. Sometimes we’d get together a few times a week and then a month or so would pass with a text here and there. I’d know she wasn’t doing well. She didn’t try too hard to hide it. Sometimes she was grateful for some passages to reflect on and prayer, at other times she was mad at me and made no bones about letting me know.
At one point, her family started to come to church. One Wednesday night I embraced her mom and the Spirit connected something in me to her. It was two moms hugging, knowing the beauty and the ache of being a parent. Two moms connected in the understanding that there are limitations to how we can protect the babes we give birth to. She was feeling fear; I was speaking hope. I told her the end of the matter and prayed she would have ears to hear it.
For a few weeks I saw deeper into what the Lord intended…not just for my friend but for her whole family. If the Lord saves one person in a family, you can bet your bottom dollar He has the whole clan on his mind.
I still know the end of the matter. I still no freedom is on the horizon for them all but in the here and now, things can get pretty muddled and messy.
I thought of her yesterday, sitting in the coffee shop… if she lets me, I am going to tell her about Naaman; about his quick offense and the humility that came behind it and how God, in the most simple of ways, obliterated his issue.
I thought of the time I was driving in Springfield and called Pastor. I was angry and bitter, ready to spit nails I was so mad. I had been like that for months and finally -FINALLY- I was tired of my sin; tired of snapping at the people I love; tired of being in disobedience. I wanted Pastor to help me. His answer? When you feeling anger creeping on, rebuke it out loud. Ask God to help. Pray. Speak the Word out loud. Meditate on it. Fast.
That was it? Really? I have to admit I wanted him to pray for me. I was hoping he’d call me in for a counseling session, lay hands on me, cast something out…. But I was ready for freedom. So I did it. And you know what? It worked.
I hope the kids got it Sunday… I hope that in their childlike minds they grabbed onto what it means to really be drowning and desperate to be saved. I hope that a seed of thankfulness was planted in their little heart and that it will grow into a complete understanding of what it means to accept Jesus as The Way. I pray that they learn to obey whatever He asks of them- small or big, easy or hard, complicated or simple- so that they can see that obedience alone is enough to get the job done.
And I pray for my friend and for my own self… that I won’t seek a more complicated, showy way to freedom.. that I won’t have offense in me when the Spirit of the Lord speaks to my heart and says something as common as “go and wash, my daughter”.