Empty Vessels

A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, ‘Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves.’ So Elisha said to her, ‘What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?’ And she said, ‘Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil.’ Then he said, ‘Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors – empty vessels; do not gather just a few. And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones.’ So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured it out. Now it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, ‘Bring me another vessel.’ And he said to her, ‘There is not another vessel.’ So the oil ceased. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest.’” – 2 Kings 4:1-7

 

The Brink of Despair

One of my favorite movies growing up was The Princess Bride. It has everything: beautiful women, sword fights, giants, torture chambers, miraculous escapes, witty discourse, weird characters, true love… even a battle with a giant rat! At one point in the movie, Wesley is captured by Prince Humperdink and thrown into the pit of despair only to awaken to a white albino reminding him not to even think about trying to escape. “The chains are far too think. Have no hope of being rescued either. The only way in is secret. Only the prince, count and I know how to get in and out,” he smirks.

 

If you have ever felt like this, you are not alone. Whether your struggle is financial, emotional, relational, or physical, the story is not over yet.

 

In our text we see that this poor widow comes to the prophet in a desperate situation. Interestingly, her husband was also a prophet. We do not know exactly what happened to cause this debt. Perhaps there was some disaster like a fire that devoured their livelihood. Perhaps people were not giving into his ministry as they should. Or his sons could not find work. This is part of the story that we do not know. But what we do know is that this man feared the Lord. He was holy. He dedicated his life to the service of God, and yet at the end of his life, he died penniless and left behind a widow and two sons. Does this sound unjust to you?

 

This woman was on the brink of despair. Her two precious sons, the apple of her eye, were about to be sold into slavery. She was going to die bereaved of her husband and sons while slowly withering away from hunger like a severed branch.

 

Can you just hear the devil right now? “Is this what you get for serving God? He has failed you! Curse God and die!” Hmmm… reminds me of another story in Scripture.

 

How many people when they face these circumstances would respond like this? How many saints get offended at God when they go through trials!

 

There are always two responses to the trials: trust God or blame God.

 

Many people are at a critical crossroads. Faith is the ink that will pen the final chapter.

 

 

Bring Your Nothing

When you are invited to a wedding or a birthday party, it is customary to bring a gift. As a matter of fact, it is considered rude not to bring something. Even in the Old Testament, the Lord commands Israel not to come before him empty handed. David the king and prophet says, “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.”

 

And yet, what do you have that you could possibly give the King of the Universe? He is the one who spoke and the worlds were created. All that we are and have are from him and belong to him. In him we live and move and have our being.

 

This is well illustrated by the band Shane and Shane in their song, “Bring Your Nothing.”

 

Here is the widow. She has no hope but God and she comes to the prophet. If she had rich friends, don’t you think she would have called upon them? If she had a Plan B, don’t you think she would have executed it? Despair is the point when every natural resource and idea have been exhausted. This is where she was… at the mercy of either God or the creditors.

 

When Elisha asks her what she has, she says, “Your maidservant has nothing… but a jar of oil.”

 

She surrenders and brings her nothing to God. When we come humbly before the Lord and acknowledge that we really have nothing, he reminds us that there is some small thing that he has entrusted to us however insignificant it may seem. The world would not see it as much. Perhaps we feel it isn’t even worth mentioning.

 

God wants to take your nothing and make it something.

 

A story that comes to mind is the journey of CityImpact ministries in San Francisco. It began with a man seeing a need in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. This is one of the worst most drug infested and violent areas of the city. He had a heart to do something to bring the love of God. So he and his wife just started by making a few dozen lunch bags and then going around and handing them out to people. Then they prayed and talked with broken people as the Holy Spirit gave them audience. Fast forward over a decade later and they are now one of the most well known ministries in San Francisco with a huge staff, impacting not only the Tenderloin but churches around the world who send missions teams there to participate in what God is doing.

 

What is your jar of oil?

 

 

Empty Vessels

The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church to remind them that, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” – 2 Cor. 4:7

 

One of the biggest ingredients for God working a miracle is an empty vessel.

 

Jesus the Son of the living God came as an empty vessel to this world. In Philippians we learn that Christ “emptied himself” of all his divine privilege and nature in order to become a human and do the will of the Father. He became a servant.

 

The prophet says to the widow to go and gather empty vessels… from everywhere, from everyone, as many as you can find!

 

Isn’t it interesting that the sons who were supposed to be sold into slavery became gatherers of empty vessels? They got to participate in the miracle of God. The devil has a plan for your life. It is to sell you into slavery. It is to bring you into the house of bondage and despair. It is to rob you of your future. It is to keep you isolated, sick and fearful… to destroy your very soul.

 

But praise God saints… he has another plan!!

 

Imagine the scene. The sons frantically rushing to the neighbors, banging on doors, gathering and bringing them back to the house. Then going out again and gathering some more. Tall vessels, short vessels, red vessels, yellow vessels, vessels that used to hold sugar, flour, wine, parchments. Bring them all!!

 

Aren’t you glad that God is no respecter of persons? It doesn’t matter how beautiful, how big or small your vessel is. The only qualification is that it comes empty.

 

How many vessels got filled? Do you ever stop to think about this? Was it twenty? Fifty? A hundred? …

 

As many vessels as were brought were the ones that were filled! Question… are you skimping on the vessels? Could it be that God wants to do something far greater, far more marvelous in your family, church, city and life than you could have dreamed?!

 

The oil will stop as soon as there are no more empty vessels.

 

Saints, this story is one of the most profound pictures of the life of overflow for every believer. The devil wants you penniless, offended and fearful. Robbed of every good thing. God says, bring me your nothing. Come empty and watch me fill you to overflow.

 

The blessing not only paid off the debt but propelled this family into a life of abundance.

 

Are you in a place of despair? Do you feel like all you have is your nothing? Are you hungry to be filled with the fullness of God and see a movement in your church and city?

 

I have good news. God loves to take empty vessels and fill them up.

So bring them in… as many as you can find.

The Unity of the Spirit

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

~ Ephesians 4:3

That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” ~ John 17:23

Last May 3rd, the national Day of Prayer commenced. What was the theme? Unity. Shortly before this, I had been introduced to a group of house churches in the Bay Area. Their leader had spent some time writing a book called ONE. The Lord then gave me a prophetic download after the day of prayer. Let me first give some context. I have often wondered when we will truly see the unity of the church that we see in the book of Acts. Where I have spent many years ministering in Berkeley, there is such a thick atmosphere of offense over the city that it even permeates the church. Protest after protest happen on campus. Churches seem divided… or at minimum, wary of each other. Seeing genuine love and servant hood between ministries is rare as are united events for the proclamation of the gospel.

Here is what the Lord showed me. The Pharisees were rebuked by Jesus for “straining out a gnat” while “swallowing a camel.” This religious spirit is quick to fault find, be offended, look for minor doctrinal/cultural differences in order to criticize and divide… all the while “swallowing the camel” by missing the major things and leaving them undone. This is the work of the enemy and is one of the major reasons the church is so divided.

How about we begin with what we agree on? Can we agree that the Bible is God’s infallible Word? Can we agree that the world is going to Hell without Jesus? Can we agree that we were baptized into one faith with one Lord? Can we agree that Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again and is the only way of salvation for those who repent and believe in him? Can we agree that we all need the Holy Spirit to fill and empower us?

In my time at Berkeley, I have had to work with some difficult people. If I only loved or co-labored with people whom I agreed with on absolutely everything, then I’d be a solo minister. Sadly, how many ministries or groups operate with this toxic mentality? If we begin with the foundational truths of our faith and love one other, we can work through our differences as we seek to see Jesus lifted up and his gospel proclaimed. Where there are disagreements, let us speak the truth in love and try to understand one another while remaining submitted to the Holy Spirit. Perhaps one will see it your way… or you will see it theirs. But this cannot even begin to happen if everyone is in their separate corners. At the end of the day we are to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. A relevant question to ask yourself is: am I making every effort or no effort? Some may argue that in the last days there will be many false teachers and deception so we need to be careful. I agree. But ask yourself whether most of the division is over heresy or apostacy… or straining out gnats and an unwillingness to love and make the effort.

The goal of the church is to become the mature, holy and undivided bride of Christ who proclaims his gospel to the ends of the world so that the end may come. Therefore, let us give one another the benefit of the doubt, lose the critical spirit, not look at other ministries as enemies or inferior, ask how we can serve one another in humility and love, seek to understand where someone else is coming from before making quick judgments, and speak the truth in love.

Have coffee with a pastor from another church. Invite someone from another group to your house for a meal. Go serve on another church’s ministry team every so often. Let us stay focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ and proclaiming it to the world all the while making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. As I was reading John 17 recently, I was getting absolutely wrecked by how much Jesus prays for his people to be one… “that the world may believe that you sent me!”

The Power of Unity

In Genesis 11:1-9, we see that mankind had unified through a common language and purpose to the point that they decided to build a tower to heaven. God himself comes down to observe this and states:

And the LORD said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” ‘

~ Genesis 11:6

The Lord himself says that because the people has become one and has the same speech that nothing they propose will be withheld from them. Their purpose was self serving and still the Lord said this! Then God scattered these people through confusing their speech and thus the languages of the world were born. The unity was broken and everyone went their own way.

There is power in agreement and unity.

Solomon writes, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Eccl. 4:12

Jesus also teaches this in various places.

Again I say] to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” Matt. 18:19-20

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” Matt. 12:25

Consider the United Nations or any coalition. They seek to use unity to gain the upper hand in their cause. Remember that time you got into an argument with someone and because you wanted to win, you tried to get another person on your side? What were you instinctively doing?

 

The Person of Unity

Unity is not an event, a conference, a program, or a political system. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. Communism as a worldview thought that a governmental power could create a more equal, fair society for those “oppressed” by the upper class by forcibly taking away private property, inheritances and putting all of the power into the hands of the state. Somehow this will eliminate “class struggles.” Ironically, not only has that not worked throughout history, but it only creates another form of oppression where the communist party elites have all the power over the “working class” who are all equally broke. The reason I bring up this example is some have erroneously argued that the Bible teaches a Communist perspective. In the book of Acts we see that many sold their possessions and gave to those in need. These are beautiful acts of love and sacrifice, but this is not the same as Communism. Political systems seek to impose their laws from the outside in through the use of force and coercion. The problem? The selfishness of man contained in the sin nature cannot be dealt with through a political system. Also, if the government forcibly takes everyone’s possessions, then it is no longer in the power of the individual to give an offering freely. Thus their free will is eradicated. The extravagant generosity seen in the book of Acts is only possible because God’s kingdom transforms us from the inside out!

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” ~ Acts 2:44-5

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.” ~ Acts 4:32-3

Have you ever seen people doing this for strangers? Could you imagine selling your house that you have worked your whole life to buy and giving away the money so that those who were in need, would no longer lack? This is only possible when you begin to see those in the church as your brothers and sisters. That you are a part of a body.

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.” ~ 1 Cor. 12:13

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” ~ 1 Cor. 12:25-6

This unity came after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Unity is not the source; it is the by product of a life surrendered and filled with the Holy Spirit. You and I will never have true unity through human striving. Man in all his efforts over the millennia through governments, programs, and philosophies and has failed to produce more than a shadow of true unity. There is only one person with the mighty power to destroy our selfishness and pour love into our hearts like we see in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit.

The Price of Unity

The devil’s greatest fear is that the church will become united once again as in the book of Acts.

He has endeavored to do everything in his power to break down this unity, create contention, division, suspicions, and insert his lies into the minds of the saints. His mission is to steal, kill and destroy. If he can’t keep you from salvation entirely, he wants you defeated and disjointed.

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” ~ 2 Cor. 5:18

Unity is not without a high price. The cross was the price Jesus paid so that you and I might be reconciled to God… and to one another. We now have the responsibility to carry this out.

These are the three major barriers to unity: the spirit of offense, pride and the lies of the devil.

If we want true unity, we must pay the price by ridding ourselves of the following!

The spirit of offense – unforgiveness, holding on to the past, interpreting all information from a particular source in a negative way, avoiding people whom we have had disagreements or negative encounters with, demanding our rights, being quick to argue, unwillingness to apologize or be reconciled. One of the reigning principalities over Berkeley is the spirit of offense… why do you think there’s a protest every other week?!

Solution: refuse to come into agreement with the spirit of offense no matter what someone did to you. Do what you can to forgive, be reconciled and let it go. God is the righteous judge. He will repay.

Pride – that critical spirit that is more interested in fault finding than edifying, unwillingness to listen to or receive from other ministries, unteachable, being more concerned with ourselves than others… our way, our ministries, our status, our ideas, arguing over who is in charge, who gets the stage, who is in control of a meeting etc… this is all demonic, prideful and keeps the body divided. Being unable to rejoice at the successes of others, unholy competition between churches or ministries, or thinking that one is always right and others are wrong are all manifestations of pride.

Solution: Become nothing… just as Christ humbled himself and took the form of a bond servant. God will exalt you in due time. Try to see that God is also working through others and that our value is not determined by our titles, our control, or our ideas being used all the time. Seek to serve others.

Lies – the devil is the father of lies. He gains control in our lives when we believe his lies. He wants the church to believe his lies so that we are divided.

 

LIE #1 “It’s not that important for us to be united.”

Truth: John 17:21

LIE #2 “We can’t work with others whom we disagree with.”

Truth: 2 Cor. 5:18, Romans 12:2, Phil. 2:1-4

LIE #3 “As long as everyone is doing their own ministries separately and glorifying God, that is okay.”

Truth: John 17:21, 1 Cor. 1:10-13

LIE #4 “I only have responsibility for the people in my home church.”

Truth: Luke 10:20-37, Matt. 25:31-46

LIE #5 “I can say I love all the Christians in my city but do nothing to actually demonstrate that love.”

Truth: James 2:26, 1 John 3:16-18

LIE #6 “If we embrace other ministries and true unity, we might lose people to other churches.”

Truth: There is no other church!! There is only one true church and you are a steward of God’s people!!! Therefore, unless someone is being lost from the faith altogether, then you don’t have any justification for an “us versus them” mentality!

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Remember, true unity is a work of the Holy Spirit. Our focus should be on surrendering to him, ridding ourselves of sin, and walking according to the Word of the Lord.

that we may all be one… that the world may believe that God sent Jesus Christ!