Naaman washes in The River – part two

The story so far (from 2 Kings 5) is that Naaman, the commander of the King of Aram’s army, has leprosy, and his slave girl sends word that he should go and see the prophet in Israel to be healed. Following protocol, Naaman gets a letter from his king to Israel’s king, and makes his way there to request the healing. On receiving Naaman and the letter of commendation and request, Israel’s king is horrified. He – rightly – knows he can’t provide such a thing but – wrongly – doesn’t refer Naaman on to the prophet, but sees the whole thing as a way of picking a fight. The prophet steps in and invites Naaman to come to him.

But this is where the story now gets particularly interesting to me. Instead of doing something spooky, which Elisha is certainly not opposed to doing in other circumstances, he doesn’t even come out to meet Naaman, but just tells him that if he wants to healed, he ought to go and wash in the river…

Ah, the river for healing… so many dots to connect, so many bows to draw for a church gathering called The River…. Well, not quite as we might expect. You see, one of the most extraordinary things about the river in the story of Naaman’s healing is that it is so ordinary. It is singularly unimpressive – at least compared to the rivers of Damascus according to Naaman – (2 Kings 5:12) – and so “unmagical” or “unsupernatural” (errm, that would be “natural” I guess) that Naaman feels humiliated by the command and refuses to do it – even though he is guaranteed healing through it.

The thing is, as the “too ordinary” and “too easy” avenue of healing, the river required Naaman to completely humble himself under the command of God as part of the healing process. You can tell his pride is coming under God’s gracious attack, because he is angry and rages at what is required (I can often see that in my own angry times) – not because it is too hard, but because it doesn’t recognise Naaman’s importance, it doesn’t prove that he is worthy of God and God’s prophet doing something “miraculous” on his behalf, it doesn’t make a show out of grace.

The river in 2 Kings 5 shows us that, beyond his leprosy, the greater healing Naaman needs is the healing of his self-importance, self-sufficiency and self-worship. He needs to know himself as he truly is in relation to the God of the universe – the God who, as the entirety of this passage teaches us, is not simply the national God of Israel, but the One True God who is in control of the victory of all armies, including Aram’s (5:1 – ponder the middle sentence for a while, it’s kinda mind blowing), of physical health, of life and death (5:7), and of the whole world (5:15).

So, only in coming to the point of accepting the humbling, even humiliating, command of God, Naaman receives physical and spiritual healing…

2 Kings 5:14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

The gracious promise of God and the great power of God was proven in Naaman’s complete physical restoration, and having received the grace of both healing and humility, he responds with an amazing statement of faith and worship.

15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.”

I imagine Naaman singing now at the top of his voice:

“I believe that You’re my healer,
I believe, You are all I need.

I believe that You’re my portion,
I believe…

Wait, do you recognise the song?

A young Australian pastor called Mike Guglielmucci wrote it some years back and not only did his church Planet Shakers love it, Mike came and did a performance of it for the annual Hillsong Live album in 2008. That particular performance was the talk of the Christian town, because Mike sang those words with an oxygen tank in place. Each sentiment meant so much – as Mike was battling life-threatening cancer.

Except he wasn’t. Not long after the CD was released, it came out that he was not sick with cancer, he was sick with an addiction to pornography and, clearly, an addiction to untruth about himself and his relationship to God. This scandal was the culmination of significant psychological, relational and spiritual brokenness that had consumed his life and made him lie to his family, his church and the nation.

Well, the Hillsong CD was quickly withdrawn from sale and another printed. And yet, I have two more recent CDs from separate artists in the US that contain covers of Guglielmucci’s song Healer, released after the scandal was well known. Every time I hear them, I wonder – should we be singing this song? How can such hypocrisy behind the lyrics make them useful for worship?

And yet I think that the song and its situation does indeed speak to us of God the Healer – and maybe Naaman would have understood it better than most. From what I observed through the media, Mike Guglielmucci was completely humiliated, and the consequences of his sin brought terrible shame on himself and the church in Australian society. That is not good. That is not healing. But the fact that his brokenness finally became known, that Mike was laid bare, that he had to strip off and wade into the humiliating waters of the truth, have probably meant that true healing could actually begin to take place in his life and the life of those around him. Painful healing, but healing nonetheless. God did that. We know, because God brings what is in the dark into the light. Through that scandal, he brought Mike – and perhaps others facing similar issues – to the banks of the river where the truth could set them free, if they accepted His word.

Now I don’t know whether Guglielmucci has done all that the word of God has asked of him and whether he is still in the process of working with God for healing – has he washed seven times for completeness, will that take the rest of his life, and should I really be making such an allegory out of this text? Should I even be talking about the humiliation of someone else when there are so many areas of my own life that require me to humble myself before God and forsake my terrible hidden pride?

Probably not. But I want my own soul to know that to be humbled under God’s mighty hand is the beginning of Him lifting me up. I want to be healed of my self-sufficiency, my self-importance, my self-worship. And I pray that God would give us all – and especially whatever new community and gathering God creates at St Stephen’s The River – the grace and strength to live in the light and to be less concerned about our image as individuals and as a congregation than we are concerned to be known and to know ourselves as we truly are in relation to the God of the universe – in His might, His grace, His goodness and His power.

And I pray that our times together at The River – be it ever so ordinary – will see us experience both physical and spiritual healing as we humble ourselves under the word of God.

Naaman washes in The River – part one

The story of Naaman from 2 Kings 5 has been cropping up in my life surprisingly often this year, so it gets a two part treatment.

It’s one of the vignettes in Phoebe’s children’s Bible, the wonderful Jesus Storybook Bible, of which we’re in our third read through. The title given to the story by Sally Lloyd-Jones there is “A little servant girl and the proud general” and the focus, which had never really struck me before, is the incredible grace shown by the slave girl…

“Now there was a little slave girl who worked for Namaan and she knew someone who could help him. But there was a problem; Namaan was her enemy. Not long before, Namaan had led an army raid on her home in Israel. He had killed her whole family, carried her off to Syria, and made her into his slave. Every night she cried herself to sleep – she had lost everything. Why would she, of all people, want to help Namaan? Didn’t she hate him and want to hurt him back? Didn’t she want to make him pay for the wrong he’d done?” That’s what you would expect, but instead of hating him, she loved him. Instead of hurting him back, she forgave him. “I want Naaman to get well,” she said to her mistress. “There’s a man in Israel called Elisha who can heal him.”

So, before we even get to the healing in The River, we see a most powerful example of truly gracious living – a “type” [teaching picture] of God in Christ, yes, but also a picture of humble, winsome, generous, self-sacrificing followers of Jesus, turning the other cheek and giving their last penny without resentment or developing a moral superiority complex (can you imagine!? i’m pretty sure I can misapply Paul’s words from Phil. 3:12 to myself here 🙂 )

Contrast this with Elisha’s servant Gehazi at the end of the story, who seeks to get something out of the healing encounter. He was the one constantly living in the presence of “the man of God”, and yet he, not the slave girl who was living in an hostile and ungodly culture (see 2 Kings 5:18), was the one to live for himself – and reap the consequences (I “google image” searched leprosy 😦 – not something to do at dinner time).

I just find that graciousness so attractive, and possibly because it’s not just niceness or, what’s the word, philanthropic? – it’s full of confidence and deeply rooted in God’s saving action.

Think what a risk she took to tell Naaman that he could, indeed, would be helped and healed by the prophet of her God (2 Kings 5:3). What would have happened to her had not God given such grace to Naaman? What would have happened if Elisha had decided it was his day off from serving God’s purposes? And yet she knew the God of Israel, the God of the whole world, and she had confidence in His ability and His goodness.

Furthermore, this sort of graciousness firmly believes that pointing people toward the living God is the best gift we can give. It longs to do good to our fellow human being, yes, and it knows that true God has God in the middle of the it.

So, my prayers for myself, and all of us, let alone those whom God calls to be part of The River gathering and community – is for gracious living that comes not from the pages of a magazine or BHG on a Friday night (not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Jerry and George would say – or not always, anyway ;)) – but living that can enrich the lives of others with the healing and wholeness of the living God, even when those others are in complete disjunction with us, not of our beliefs, or who have even harmed us.

Yikes. I’ve certainly not attained all this – but may I press on…

P.S. I’m aware that there are some prior rivers to cross in the Book of Joshua (hilarious) which technically comes before this if one is doing a chronological look at The River in Scripture. We’ll get there friends – it’s just that Naaman just wouldn’t stop knocking at the door…

The River flowing from Eden

Genesis 2:10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.

The first river we see in Scripture flows out of Eden. It’s a beautiful symbol of God nourishing His creation and of life and vitality finding its foundation in God’s good garden, a space where He walked with His children day by day, and where His image was gloriously presented to all the cosmos through His image bearers, the man and the woman, as they lived in right relationship with Him.

(This image is from georgesjournal.net – I don’t know where he got it from, and being the scifi fan I am it looks to me like it should have two red moons in the sky or something, but it’s still a lush and evocative picture of the play of water in the first garden… and I choose to believe that it’s not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil she’s eating from here – but just something right and delicious… mmm, food… anyway, back to the Bible ;))

But more than a symbol, it seems that the river is described in Genesis to give the reader a sense of the location of this first garden.

11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin[d] and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.[e] 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

The presence of the river defines the place of the Eden garden, this beautiful place of new life. Even today we know the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and it’s likely that the other two rivers were somewhere further east of these two.

For me, although we can’t see “the garden” or its one river today, there is a lesson for us in how we see the word of God in Genesis 2:10-14 and in The [first] River – that, in the midst of all the rich symbolism of the creation account in Genesis, there was a sense of historical, geographical “groundedness” – metaphor and theology and places and things and pictures and teaching all sit together with ease and intelligence. It is not only rich and beautiful, explaining so much of our human experience and our relationship with God through narrative and symbol, but also shows that God’s truth in His word is not abstracted from what Eugene Peterson calls our “sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life” – the garden had a place and it was marked by a river.

I pray that The River gathering and community might be marked by a willingness to dig deep into the rich symbolism of Scripture and be excited and changed by it, all the while having our anchors sunk into its “realness” – historically and geographically and more – so that we might have a deep confidence to walk again with the God who walked in that garden, out of which that river flowed.

Would you join me?

Why “The River”?

We start today a series of posts about the name “The River” – why we felt that it would be a great way of describing what this new gathering is all about.

Firstly, Warrandyte the place is all about The River – the Yarra River, that is. It’s an amazing spot for people and pets to walk, swim (we and our beagles enjoyed it on a super hot day a few years ago), picnic and kayak (dogs don’t usually join in that activity, but I wouldn’t say it’s never happened) and it marks the area with a distinctive Australian beauty. People come to visit and come to live – because of the river. It attracts and refreshes. It changes throughout the year but it’s always there – and people come to receive different things at different times. It cools the air when it’s too hot and it makes the coldest day crisply beautiful.

Recently, with the significant rain we’ve had this year, the Yarra has been looking amazingly full up this way. This photo by Louis Milkovits gives you some idea! As I drive over the bridge from Research into Warrandyte each Sunday morning to lead the traditional service at St Stephen’s church, I look over and see the river flowing fast and almost bursting its banks – and I pray that for St Stephen’s. I pray that God’s grace, love and truth would flow fast and full in our lives, and would burst the banks of the gathered community into the wider communities of our lives…

So, The River – it’s Warrandyte and it’s a place of natural, attractive, refreshing beauty. Let’s be that in this new gathering by God’s abundant flowing power…

The River Gathering at St Stephen’s Warrandyte

It begins…

Well, it has actually been “beginning” in our minds and, I think, in the plans of God for some time! As soon as Phil and I arrived at St Stephen’s Warrandyte for me to be locum priest, we felt it would be a wonderful spot for a refreshing afternoon service to gather those who know they want to worship the living God but maybe haven’t always known how to get started or how to get motivated or how to get regular at it or how to let it make a difference in their life… or many other “how to”s!

There are stacks of opportunities in our great city to gather to worship God but that doesn’t mean we’re energised to get there and get involved, nor do we always come away refreshed with the truth of God from His word. We are praying that The River will be a place of refreshing our souls with grace and truth, renewing our faith in God who lives and reigns, repenting of our apathy in a life of love and worship, and restoring hope to our friends, family, community and world.

These are the things I know I need – maybe you need them too.

We’re starting this thing off on Sunday 13th November 2011 at 3pm at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, 5 Stiggant St, Warrandyte. It’ll be kid friendly, youth friendly, adult friendly… just friendly really. It’s going to be once a month to begin with. There’ll be food afterwards. Good music, beautiful setting, realistic chats, wriggly kids, meaningful communion, teaching that dives deeper into the Word of God, and prayer that will be honest and effective in God’s good grace. If God brings people gifted in ministering healing and one to one prayer and prophecy, we’ll do that too. If He brings people full of hospitality and service, we’ll eat at each others’ homes during the month and make meals for each other when we need it. And if He brings people who love to get out there and make a difference – you know we’re all going to get swept into that flood! 😉

Next post tomorrow – “Why The River?” See you then!