Monday, July 18, 2011

Smashing Gourds

While reading in 2 Kings 4 the other day, I was reminded of something I did as a young girl, maybe around twelve years old.  My sister and I picked some gourds we found on our church building property and threw them, smashing them into pieces all over the parking lot.  I know you may be wondering why, but I honestly couldn’t tell you why at the time.  I just know it felt naughty and wrong, but I couldn’t help myself. 

The pastor of this church was very angry with us.  In fact, he was so angry that he took us into the office and paddled us.  It sounds ridiculous that a pastor would do that, but I assure you, it happened. He said those gourds were his "personal gourds" and he was growing them for a purpose. Granted, I believe we needed to be disciplined because what we did was absolutely wrong.  But there was so much more to this whole story than meets the eye. This was the church that also told us we couldn’t wear pants, we couldn’t listen to “devil” music (anything that was on the radio clearly qualified as such) and they were very controlling of our family’s personal life.  If I told you more details, you may not believe me.  Or maybe you would, if you came from the same kind of background.  As a matter of fact, when we finally wised up and left the church, we received anonymous hate mail from members for months.  It was horrible.

Down deep in my heart, I think I may have been as bitter as those gourds probably tasted because my dad allowed us to go to this controlling and legalistic church for so long.  It was just a terrible memory and honestly I’ve blocked a lot of it out of my mind because it was so traumatizing.  But after reading 2 Kings 4, I feel differently about the whole situation.

In 2 Kings 4, verses 38-41, I read this:

 38 Elisha now returned to Gilgal, and there was a famine in the land. One day as the group of prophets was seated before him, he said to his servant, “Put a large pot on the fire, and make some stew for the rest of the group.”
 39 One of the young men went out into the field to gather herbs and came back with a pocketful of wild gourds. He shredded them and put them into the pot without realizing they were poisonous. 40 Some of the stew was served to the men. But after they had eaten a bite or two they cried out, “Man of God, there’s poison in this stew!” So they would not eat it.
 41 Elisha said, “Bring me some flour.” Then he threw it into the pot and said, “Now it’s all right; go ahead and eat.” And then it did not harm them.

Immediately, my “smashing gourds” act came to mind and I began to wonder what God was going to teach me, so I prayed for His wisdom.  I realized quickly that the servant of Elisha was really trying to do a good thing – and so was my dad.  He didn’t realize the gourds were poisonous – he was just trying to feed the people.  My dad was doing the same – trying to feed his family, spiritually speaking.  I immediately released the resentment that I held onto for so long and my heart began to change.

But there is more….so much more to this important lesson.  The gourds, to me, represent the legalism and man-made religion that can seep in and poison the church.  What was Elisha’s solution?  He sprinkled flour into the pot of stew.  What on earth could that possibly mean?

In researching the original text of the scripture, it was actually the Hebrew word quemach, which is the word for “meal”.  It was the flour used to make bread.  Well, who is the Bread of Life, according to John 6:35?  Jesus, Himself.  So when Elisha sprinkled flour into the stew, God was showing us that when we sprinkle the Truth – Jesus – into our poisonous stew of legalism and man-made religion, He can make it healthy and nourishing.  What a miracle!

I have always been upset about how I was brought up in legalism, but now I have a completely different perspective.  Though I was raised for a few years in legalism, I can also say that I was raised in the Scriptures.  God’s Word does not return without accomplishing what it was sent out to do, according to Isaiah 55:11.   All of the scriptures that I memorized during those years at a legalistic church have come to life inside of my heart now that I have found a true relationship with Jesus!   What a blessing that is!  Though they were just words that were imposed on me then, they are words that are imbedded in my heart now and for that I am so thankful.

If you’ve been raised in the poisonous stew of bitter-gourd legalism, just sprinkle the Truth of Jesus into your stew and watch what He does.  He takes what the enemy meant for harm in your life and miraculously changes your poisonous stew into a nutritious and healthy meal if you will allow Him!

By the way, it is not lost on me that I was smashing those bitter-tasting gourds on the road as a young girl.  I feel it was a sneak peek into my future.  God was graciously showing me I would be smashing those poisonous things as part of my ministry for many years down the road.

Romans 8:28  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Judging By Appearances

What if there was a way to live your life so that those who are judgmental, imposing and cruel would be weeded out before you even had to meet them?  I think there is a way to do that, actually.  And a lot of teens have figured it out.

My family was in the mountains once and went to a downtown area where we found a culture that was steeped in new age philosophy with lots of astrological stuff, "emo" fashion, tons of drug references, upside down stars, coffee shops and other hang out places where they would all congregate.  A lot of the kids were wearing all black and had earrings, tattoos, purple and blue hair and body piercings.  I thought for a moment it would be a difficult place for me to walk through.  But something else happened that day.

I felt the judgmental attitude creeping up on me so I prayed immediately that God would show me these people the way He sees them.  He answered my prayer and instilled in my heart a deep love for these kids.  Instead of walking through there uncomfortable and offended, I felt compassion for them.  I realized that often, the reason so many kids define themselves in a culture like that is to weed out the people who are going to judge them right off the bat.  Those would be the people who don't take the time to get to know them as a person because of how they look.  I don't want to be one of those people.

But what if their appearance didn't freak us out?  Instead of rolling our eyes and labeling them, what would happen if we reached out to them, without batting an eye?  What if instead of looking at the outside, we began to ask God to show us the inside? 

What I saw was a culture of young people who are seeking Truth...but looking in the wrong places.  I saw kids just like mine, but with different clothes, opinions and ideas than mine.  I saw people who need to know Jesus and I realized that the chances of them finding Him in a culture like that are very slim if Christians don't give them the time of day based on their appearance. Instead of cringing and judging, I was praying for them and connecting with them.  They just want to be loved...just like everyone else.  It's our deepest human need.

The day after we returned home, I was reading a devotional and came across this poem...

I dreamed death came the other night;
And heaven's gates swung wide.
With kindly grace an angel
Ushered me inside.
And there, to my astonishment,
Stood folks I'd judged and labeled
Unfit or of little worth.
Indignant words rose to my lips,
But never were set free;
For every face showed stunned surprise...
No one expected me!  (author unknown)

How many young people seek Truth by going into a church only to be told they need to change their hair, clothes or jewelry in order to attend?  How many young people would never go near a church because that was the place they felt the most judged and condemned?  What about the young person who is in a deep struggle and the only one who is reaching out to them is the one who has a pipe in one hand and a new age philosophy in the other?  How many kids are just waiting for us to see past their facade and into their heart? How will we ever see it, though, if we are avoiding them and judging them?

Oh, I pray God will keep me focused on what matters in this life!  Appearances are not what God is interested in.  It's a heart thing.  If I'm so focused on what others look like on the outside and base my opinions of them on that, I could miss a heart that is yearning and seeking God and tragically, I could miss out on the blessing of helping them to find the Truth they are seeking so desperately - Jesus Christ. 

Oh, and one more thing that I must mention.  Some of the strongest, most on-fire Christians I know have tattoos, piercings and "colorful" hair.  God not only reaches out to those who look different, but He uses those who look different, too.  Never put Him in a box...God never fits in those boxes we try to squeeze Him into.

1 Samuel 16:7...the Lord doesn't see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

1 Corinthians 13:1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn't love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Got Questions?