Stranger Things from the Bible

Stranger Things from the Bible: Elisha and the Bears

Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers
Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers

As I write this, we are just over a month away from the release of Tom Hanks’ new biopic, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The trailer has sparked nostalgia for Mr. Rogers; drawing people back to his model of kindness, especially to children.

As a child of the times, I can tell you that Fred Rogers showed me kindness through a black and white TV screen that few adults ever showed me in real life.

And I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have sicced bears on me.

Elisha was No Mr. Rogers

The second story in our journey through the Stranger Things from the Bible takes us to 2 Kings and the wicked city of Bethel. It’s here that newly appointed prophet, Elisha, is verbally assaulted by youths and responds with a curse. God hears his “prayer” and promptly responds by sending two bears out of the woods to maul them.

Disturbing story? You bet! Stranger thing from the Bible? Of course! But it’s a lot of fun to preach!

Elisha - 1453 French manuscript
The story of 2 Kings 2 from a 1453 French manuscript.

Timeless Lessons . . . and Bears

I had looked for an excuse to preach this story for years. At one time, I had considered preaching it with the title, “Bears Win by 42.” That’s perhaps a little insensitive to the heart of the story, though. Also, it would likely only appeal to Bears fans.

Still, it would be a lot of fun!

Part of the challenge of preaching it is the story is much broader than we first realize. This isn’t just about boys, bears, and a bald prophet. The story really begins at the start of the chapter, with Elijah’s assumption. It continues with a trip through Jericho and then finally the incident at Bethel. The bears are just the culmination of a really bad day and Israel’s rebellion into wickedness.

Elisha and the Bears by Panistheman
Elisha and the Bears by Panistheman (Deviantart)
Maybe not the best coloring page for your Sunday School class.

Check Your Presuppositions

There are a few issues that we need to check when reading the story. I cover them in the sermon as best I could at the time. The age of the “small boys” is one issue. The Hebrew would allow for them to be anywhere from 12-30 years old (and Elisha is likely only 25). This isn’t a matter of the man of God feeling threatened by the local elementary school thugs. And, of course, the text only tells us that 42 were mauled. It says nothing about how many were doing the actual jeering.

I wish I had read Derek Rishmawy’s excellent article on the passage before I wrote my sermon. He offers some intriguing takes on Elisha’s baldness and what it might mean. He’s researched the passage well and has much to offer.

Bald prophet, Bears, Bad Bethel Boys

Elisha and the Bears

This is, without a doubt, the most popular of the sermons from my Stranger Things from the Bible series. The audio file has been played three times as much as the other sermons. I’ve also found it’s a great sermon for when I’m a guest preacher. As I often say, “This one’s got legs.”

Stranger Things from the Bible

Stranger Things from the Bible: Saul and the Witch of En-Dor

Our Bibles are not the clean, happy books we think they are. They’re full of scary stuff. Yes, there’s faith, hope, and love in those pages; but look hard enough and you’ll find witches, ghosts, dragons and things that go bump in the night. The Bible is full of strange things . . . and even stranger things.

In 2016, I spent October, a month we normally look for ghosts and goblins, digging into some often ignored passages. I titled the series Stranger Things from the Bible after the Netflix series that drew us into the Upside Down. There’s much in the Bible that might also seem upside down.

The Stranger Things series, set in the fictional small-town of Hawkins, Indiana. Hawkins doesn’t feel all that far removed from our own small-town in Illinois. I felt the similarities and the callbacks to the heydays of the 1980s would go over well with our crowd. I also hoped that the strangeness of the stories would disarm my hearers and allow the punch of the message to surprise them.

And it helps that I love these weird Bible stories!

These stories might make us uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), right? The Bible’s stranger things deserve our attention. We can gain much from these stories.

Saul and the Witch

Saul and the Witch of Endor by William Sidney Mount
Saul and the Witch of Endor, by William Sidney Mount

I began the series with that bizarre story in 1 Samuel 28, when Saul consults a witch, asking her to bring up the ghost of his mentor, Samuel. The point of the story is not about being bewitched, bothered, or bewildered. Rather, the story calls us to consider just how far from God our disobedience can take us. 

Our obedience now provides confidence later.

Click to listen . . . if you dare!
Called Out

Colossians: A Little Letter to a Church Just Like Yours

I preach in a town of about 800 people. In fact, I’ve lived here my whole life.

It’s easy to feel like God misplaced you when you’re in a small town. Every conference I attend has speakers from big cities. Every preacher whose books I read is from a church that has more people attending than we do in our entire town. In the meantime, there are days when counting the dogs that randomly walk into the building would be tempting.

Who am I fooling? We’ve done that. Continue reading

Audio

Yep. I Preached a Sermon about Gossip

We giggle, we wink, we lower our voice and say, “I know I’m not supposed to say this . . . but . . . “ We fully acknowledge that gossip is wrong, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it. In that moment we feel rewarded for both telling and being told. We have revealed that we are part of an exclusive club that knows secret, hidden information and we have granted you access because you are willing to listen.

But how does God see gossip?

To say that this sermon struck a nerve would be an understatement. Within hours I was receiving text messages thanking me for the message. The next day there were visits to my office, phone calls, emails. People who weren’t at church had heard about it and were listening to the sermon online.

And we probably were still gossiping too.

As I mentioned in the message, I had started this sermon some years ago. I had little more than a rough outline–Three Reasons God Hates Gossip and You Should Too. Honestly, that was about it. To be completely honest with you . . . and I hate to admit this . . . I didn’t even have a text yet.

God help me . . . I prooftexted this sermon!

No, I don’t feel good about that. I don’t know whether to cling to the grace of God and say, “Isn’t it amazing that he worked this out?” or hang my head in shame and confess.

Maybe I should do a little bit of both . . . maybe I am.

Two things amazed me about this sermon. One, the outline came together with the Scripture in what seems like a very fortuitous way to me. I don’t feel like any of the points were a stretch. Even my wife commented about how strong the Scriptures were in this one. That’s high praise!

What amazed me even more after I had preached the sermon was the trinitarian elements I saw in both it and the text. Paul ends 2 Corinthians with a great trinitarian blessing in 13:14, The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.As I looked at my points I saw a definite focus on the work of the trinity:

  1. Gossip is doing the work of Satan as opposed to the work of God
  2. There is nothing redemptive about gossip – nothing that points to Christ’s work as redeemer of our lives.
  3. Gossip negates the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Again, I feel like I just stumbled into this and I promise I’ll never intentionally do it again, but I continue to be amazed at how it worked out.

Audio

Famous Last Words: It Is Finished

It Is Finished

There are times when I am very aware of what I lack in faith, faithfulness and devotion. There are times when I struggle to imagine that’s God’s grace is big enough to make up for all that I lack. In those times I find my peace in those three final words from the cross, “It is finished.”

There was a lot more I wanted to do with this sermon. I had some specific issues I wanted to address. In reality I  probably had a hobby horse or two I wanted to ride.

A few month ago I was listening to a radio program where a woman was explaining the doctrine of Purgatory. She explained that while Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin, sin had left something like a “ring around the collar” on our souls. Therefore, Purgatory is necessary to remove the final stain of sin.

I was angry. I really was.

I wanted to yell at the radio, “IT.IS.FINISHED!!!” Either Jesus died for all our sin or he died for NONE of it!

I tend to get a little excitable about this stuff.

In the end, though, I realized I wasn’t addressing a crowd of people who had concerns about Purgatory. Not many of them, at least.

I also realized I wasn’t addressing my usual crowd. Our attending was the typical Easter crowd; family, friends and a few extras who show up to do the Easter thing. I also realized many there weren’t accustomed to my usual delivery, so I changed things up a bit. The sermon was much more story driven than usual. In my average sermon I’m lucky if I have one illustration. This one built on two major stories, one personal and one from Jon Acuff.

All-in-all, we had a great Easter service and a very nice build up to Easter with this series. For me, though, the series (a retread of an earlier series) was supposed to provide me with some much-needed time to prepare for the next few months. Unfortunately that didn’t really happen. It’s been a busy and stressful season and there’s been no time for planning ahead.

Thankfully I am blessed with wonderful and caring leaders who insisted I take some time out of the pulpit after Easter. So, I’m spending two weeks plotting out the next six months. I’m really looking forward to where we’re going next!