The widow of one of Elisha’s followers comes to him for help. Her husband left her with an outstanding debt, Since she has no means to pay off the debt, the creditor demands her two sons become his slaves.
Elisha asks what resources she has. “Nothing,” she replies, “except for a small jar of olive oil.”
Elisha has a plan. He tells her to borrow empty jars from her neighbors, lots of them. Then she is to go home, close the doors, and begin pouring olive oil from her small jar into all the other jars. She does and the oil continues flowing until every jar is full. Then it is gone.
She sells the oil. With the proceeds, she pays off her debt and has extra to live on.
What if she had borrowed more jars? What if she only borrowed a few? When God tells us to do something, do we do it half way (and possibly miss his bounty) or go all out?
With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #27.
I thoroughly enjoyed the worship time at this church; the worship of the song leaders was pure and ushered me into the presence of God. With arms raised I connected with the Almighty through song. For me, this was the highlight of the service though I also appreciated the genuine community these folks had with one another and how they shared with and prayed for each other.
I also had some concerns: them not being friendly, the message and attitude of the pastor (in his defense he was functioning on little sleep), and an unpleasant odor that stayed with me the entire service (my wife says she didn’t smell anything). Granted, I arrived knowing some of this church’s background, and my wife says I had a bad attitude.
Despite my concerns, I yearn to make a return trip or perhaps attend one of their Thursday night worship times. Of all the churches we visited, they are perhaps the freest in their worship and the most authentic. I think God is pleased.
I read a lot of magazines. For some I pay a subscription, others are free, and a few just show up. It used to be most magazines came out every month, but with increased costs, decreased advertising, and other publishing pressures, many magazines have wandered from a once-a-month schedule: they may skip some months, combine issues, or revert to bimonthly or quarterly distribution.
They strategically plan their schedule to when readers read and advertisers advertise.
As a result, it seems I receive fewer magazines over the summer months and during the winter holidays – when publishers are apt to skip or combine issues – and more magazines in the fall and spring – when the traditional schedules are likely to hold.
This means I sometimes have a pile of magazines awaiting my attention and other times, very few. The number of magazines in my reading queue affects how I read them. When there are many magazines vying for my time, I’m more likely to skip articles, skim sections, or even toss entire issues. When I have fewer magazines to consider, I slow my pace and read extra articles, enjoy the content, and learn better.
Less is more.
The same applies when I read the Bible.
When I’m on a read-the-Bible-in-a-year quest, I read faster and may even skim some sections (the genealogies and Mosaic Law come to mind). I must read three to four chapters a day, every day, if I am to conclude with the book of Revelation by December 31. In making my mad dash for the yearend finish line, there is no time to tarry. Slowing down or rereading a section is a luxury that time prohibits.
Most years, however, my daily Bible reading has a much less ambitious goal. Quantity is not important, quality is. I read shorter sections so I have time to savor the words, contemplate deeper meaning, and internalize its truth. I cherish those times for the relaxed attitude it provides and the more enjoyable journey that unfolds.
This year, I’m reading about women in the Bible and relish what I’m discovering.
Reading less, means learning more.
During a long drought and famine, God sends Elijah away from Israel to the city of Zarephath in Sidon where God directs a widow, a foreigner, to give Elijah food. When Elijah reaches the town gates, he see a widow and asks her for water and bread. Though she is willing to fetch him water, she has no bread to share. In fact, she plans to use her last remaining provisions to make a final meal for her and her son, before they die of starvation.
Elijah tells her not to worry, to go home and prepare this meal for her and her son – but to first make a small loaf of bread for him. Through God, Elijah promises that her flour and oil will last until it rains again.
She does as Elijah instructs. As pledged, her supplies last, providing food for the three of them every day.
After a while, her son dies. The woman blames Elijah. He takes the dead boy to his room, imploring God to restore life to the lad. God does as Elijah asks.
When Elijah presents the boy to the widow, she finally acknowledges Elijah as a man of God.
Centuries later Jesus recounts this story, reminding the people that God didn’t send Elijah to any of the needy widows in Israel but to a foreigner. This infuriates them, and they try to kill him, but Jesus walks through the mob and leaves.
Sometimes God asks us to do things that don’t make sense. The Widow of Zarephath did what was illogical and lived.
With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #26.
Beyond their worship of God and approach to him, two other things stood out about this minority congregation. First, the kids were an active presence during the service, both in their participation and in their can’t-sit-still bouncing from seat to seat. Although at times distracting, I’m glad for their involvement in the service.
The other item is their view of time is different from mine. Though the service started when specified, the crowd was sparse. For the next fifteen minutes, people wandered in, eventually doubling our numbers. The last family showed up thirty-five minutes after the service started. I know this is a factor of culture, but it’s hard for me to understand.
Likewise, their service lasted longer than most, scheduled for two and a half hours, and extending beyond that with an after-service meal to celebrate the baby dedication. Though we stayed to eat and talk, we were still the first to leave; everyone else seemed content to stay even longer.
This was one of the two non-white churches we visited. (The other was church #20.) At both, I felt, for a brief time, a hint of what it’s like to be a minority. Yes, these experiences were shallow in that respect, but it’s all I have to go on. More important, however, is that their worship of God was fresh to me, invigorating my soul. I desire to return and spend more time with them.
Do you want more from life?
- I’m not talking about more money, power, or prestige.
- I’m not even talking about more love or respect.
- I’m certainly not talking about the latest gadgets, a new car, a nicer home, tastier food, or better sex.
I’m talking about more from a spiritual standpoint. I yearn for a spiritual “more.” I suspect – deep down – you do, too. Everything else is a hollow substitute for what God has to offer, not just any god but the God revealed in the Bible: biblical God.
But we don’t often find this spiritual “more” at church – at least not how today’s society practices church. We may not even find biblical God there. Most churches fall far short of what God intends for us to experience. We’re drinking Kool-Aid, and he’s offering us wine.
Though I do go to church, I often wonder why. The purpose of church isn’t the music or the message; it’s about community. True church is connecting with God and connecting with others. It’s an intimate spiritual community with true friends who matter, mean something, and stick around. This is where we find a spiritual “more,” as part of a community of like-minded Jesus followers who diligently pursue the God revealed in the Bible. I call this biblical spirituality. This is why I write and blog.
I’m not a guru and may not even be a worthy guide; I am a fellow pilgrim. Let’s journey together as we pursue biblical God and seek to grasp this spiritual more. It starts when we follow Jesus – and if you’re not ready for that, come along anyway; it will be a great trip.
I updated the home page with this message. What do you think?
With the Pharaoh out to get him, Moses flees for his life. He marries the shepherdess Zipporah, daughter of the priest of Midian. They have two sons: Gershom and Eliezer.
Years later when Moses and his family travel to Egypt, God afflicts Moses. This is apparently because Moses had not circumcised his son Gershom, as God commanded the Israelites to do through Abraham.
Just as God is about to kill Moses, Zipporah takes decisive action, circumcises Gershom, and touches Moses with the removed skin. This appeases God and Moses is spared.
Zipporah does what her husband did not do, she obeys God’s command, and saves her husband’s life.
With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #25.
I praised this church for not having a building; instead they rented space on Sunday for their services. That meant the money they’d normally spend on a mortgage and building maintenance could instead be used for community outreach and service.
Shortly after our visit, this church announced a merger of sorts with another nearby congregation from the same denomination. The other church, small and struggling, did have a building, but their dwindling membership made it impossible for them to continue. However, as the melding of their two congregations progressed, both churches shut down for several months, before re-emerging as a new entity in the second church’s building.
During this in between time, some members grew weary of the delay and scattered to find other churches, while others gave up and stopped going to church altogether.
I lament the loss of people, and I lament they now have a large building to maintain. I wonder if their focus on the surrounding community will suffer as a result.
Have you ever heard someone grumble about church by saying, “I’m just not being fed”? Perhaps you’ve even said it; I have. However, we’re not talking about physical food, but spiritual sustenance. When we say this, we sound so righteous, but what we’re really doing is complaining that church doesn’t give us what we want.
We too often look at church through the eyes of the modern consumer, demanding church will meet our needs, to give us something in return for our investment of time and money. But when church fails to meet our expectations, our first impulse is to act like a shopper and take our business elsewhere.
However, the main purpose of church isn’t for us to receive what we want; it’s for us to give. We give God what he desires, and we give people what they need. Our goal at church should be to worship God and to serve others. It’s countercultural today, but it’s what Jesus modeled for us two thousand years ago.
Yes, sometimes we are hurting, and sometimes we are in need. Then we should go to church to rest and to receive. But our normal, prevailing attitude at church – and everywhere else, for that matter – should be one of giving.
After all, it is better to give than receive. So don’t go to church to get something out of it but with the intent to give something to it: worship God and serve others.
The Egyptians fear the mushrooming population of the enslaved Israelites and command all the Israelite baby boys be thrown into the Nile River. However, one mother sees something special in her baby and hides him for several months. When she can conceal him no longer, she does indeed put him in the Nile River, but not before protecting him in a watertight basket. Then she strategically places the basket where he might be found by a compassionate person. Her daughter hides nearby to see what happens.
When Pharaoh’s daughter comes to the river to bathe, she discovers the baby and wants to keep him. The girl offers to find a woman to nurse the baby; she then goes and gets her mom. Although the boy should have been killed, the Pharaoh’s daughter saves him and even pays his biological mother to care for him.
When the baby is weaned, his mother gives him back to Pharaoh’s daughter – who names him Moses.
This mother’s name is Jochebed and she has two other children, Aaron and Miriam.
Jochebed, like many moms, sees promise in her child and takes extraordinary measures to make sure he can reach his potential.