Sunday, January 15, 2012

"Death in the Pot"

The church we've been attending has been going through the Bible together, book by book, verse by verse.  A few months ago we read a story from 2 Kings 4:38-41 that I wasn't familiar with, and it was mentioned today again as an example in a discussion of Nehemiah 8:1-12.

The 2 Kings story involves Elisha and a group of prophets making dinner during a time of famine.  One of the prophets accidentally puts a poisonous vegetable into the stew.  One taste and the prophets know they can't safely eat it, they may even already be fatally poisoned?  Elisha adds flour to the stew and it is miraculously not only safe to eat but curative of the poison already ingested.

The pastor explained how the story could be seen as an analogy for the human condition.  Although we may not live in a land of literal famine, there is a famine in our souls.  We are starving for meaning, significance, love, healing.

So we make ourselves a metaphorical stew in an attempt to solve our problems.  Some people's ingredients may be drugs, alcohol, or sex.  Others choose people-pleasing, working too much or zoning out with the TV or internet.

Some of these solutions are obviously toxic, and others look a little more socially acceptable or have wholesome aspects to them.   But without God, all of attempts to fill in the empty spaces are like putting poison in the pot.

This poison stew may seem to satisfy or numb us for a short time, but that effect never lasts long.  In fact, this type of stew increases our appetite, constantly demanding more and more of our chosen ingredients to keep us feeling numb.  Instead of solving our problems and easing our pain, the stew we make leads to death.  Our lives become unmanageable.

We are still starving, and we've poisoned ourselves.  Death is in us.  How will we get new life and the nourishment we need?  

Just as the poisoned prophets did, we must cry out to God for help and admit that our efforts are not working.  It will take a miracle to fix the situation we are in.

In the 2 Kings story, the miracle comes when Elisha responds to the prophets plea not by removing the poison vegetables, but by putting flour in the pot.  Flour, ground grain, commonly used to make bread.  This paints a picture that points to the solution for our human condition.

First, it is not enough to abstain from our addictions.  Something that is represented in this story by flour must be added to our lives to effect a true and lasting healing.

What is it?  Jesus said in Matthew 4:4 that man does not live by bread alone but instead is fed by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  So in one sense, the flour that Elisha adds can be seen as the spiritual nourishment that comes from hearing or reading God's Word.

But we can take it further than that.  In John 6:35, Christ calls Himself the Bread of Life. Christ is also known as the Living Word.  Christ is the missing ingredient, the One that when added to our lives, changes everything.

By giving us His Son and a way to salvation, God doesn't just give us different food to eat, but by His presence in our lives also redeems the poisonous stew we made for ourselves and transforms it into something wholesome and good.

Addictions are broken.  Passions and obsessions are channeled to serve others.  Relationships are restored, reconciled, strengthened.  God's grace and Spirit permeate and improve every aspect of life.

The story in Nehemiah 8 parallels the 2 Kings story as a literal example of the impact of God's Word in a community of believers.  They listen to the Word of God being read verse by verse, and have it explained to them so they understand it's meaning.  At first this causes weeping when they see how they have fallen short of God's plan, but they are quickly urged to stop weeping and instead rejoice at the opportunity to repent and return to relationship with God.

The Nehemiah account provides us with an example of how to rightly receive God's word and the Bread of Life, Christ, as THE ingredient in our stew.  Like they did, we must hear God's Word in community, learn to understand what it means, and encourage each other to repent and rejoice as we apply what we've heard.

I have found attending Celebrate Recovery to be one way to consistently put myself in a position to do this.

The 8 Principles of Celebrate Recovery are based on the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5, part of Jesus' famous Sermon on the Mount.  I'm currently in a Bible study that is delving into the Sermon on the Mount.  It seems fitting at this time to do a blog series that ties together what I learn there with what I've learned through Celebrate Recovery.  Stay tuned...

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