(I was asked to give an inspirational message in our local church. Here’s what I shared)
Let me greet every one of you a Happy and Prosperous New Year.
There are many different traditions around the world that they think you need to do for good luck to welcome the New Year.
In the Philippines, we have round fruits in our dinner table when we celebrate New Year, and many would wear polka dots.
In Japan, people will eat soba noodles, called “Toshikoshi Soba” on New Year for good fortune.
In Greece they would hang onions in their door for good luck.
In Turkey, they consider pomegranates as a sign of prosperity, so they will smash pomegranates in the front of their homes.
In Denmark, they would throw and break plates in the door steps of their friends and family to wish them good luck for the New Year.
In some Asian countries though, breaking things, like plates, cups or bowls are considered bad luck. In China, the character “Sui” means year, which is pronounced the same as the word “break.” That’s why, when Chinese people accidentally break things during Lunar New Year celebrations, they’ll say “Sui Sui Ping An,” which means “Safe and sound every year.”
One other thing the Chinese would do for good fortune is to not borrow money during their Lunar New Year celebration. It also important for the Chinese to pay all their debt before the Lunar New Year. In case you don’t know, the Chinese New Year is February 1 for this year, so you still have time to pay all your debt.
Our story today though is not about having a good fortune, but more of having a crisis. It is about unpaid debt.
Our Bible story is found in 2 Kings 4:1-7
The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”
2 Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”
“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”
3 Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. 4 Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”
5 She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. 6 When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”
But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.
7 She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”
Where’s My Help
The company or the school for the prophets was first established by Samuel, with the purpose of training young men for God’s service. I don’t know what subjects they have in that school, but perhaps it is something like “Prophecy 101,” or maybe “Introduction to Miracles.”
The man who died was from this company of prophets. He was a student of Elisha. An understudy or an assistant of Elisha. God’s worker. It was said that he revered God. He was a good man. But something bad happened to him, and he died.
Why does bad thing happen to good people? We’re not answering that question today. But I believe we can learn something from this story.
If I may speculate, this man was probably still young for he has 2 young boys and a young wife that he left behind. His death was most likely unexpected and sudden. When he died he not only left his wife and his sons, but he also left them with a big debt. And now the creditor came knocking at their door, and they cannot pay. His sons not only lost their father, but they could become slaves too. What a crisis!
During the Bible times, it was an acceptable practice for the poor people to pay their debt by selling themselves or their children as slaves. But God ordered the rich people and creditors not to take advantage of the poor people during their time of extreme needs. Deuteronomy 15:1-8 recorded provisions and laws for the debtors.
One such law in Deuteronomy stated that at the end of every seventh year debts must be cancelled. It must be nice if we can apply this law to our society today. Every 7th year your credit card debt is cancelled. In 7 years your house mortgage is wiped out, and your house is yours. That would be nice.
In Bible times, Jews only do business with fellow Jews. So it is likely that the creditor in our story is a fellow Jew. A brother. A fellow believer. But not acting in the spirit of God’s law.
Some of you here may be creditors. Are we showing compassion to our debtors? Or are we squeezing every drop of their blood?
The widow really has a big problem. But she knows where to ask for help. She went to Elisha. She went to the man of God. Elisha may not be able to give her money to pay her debt, but she knows this prophet of God will do something about her problem.
Many times the first step in solving our problems is accepting that we cannot solve them by ourselves but knowing who we can we ask for help.
Where do we go for help? Your friends? Your bank? Your lawyer? Your psychiatrist? Your pastor? Your church?
Psalms 121:1-2 says “If I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.”
What’s In Your House
After telling Elisha her problem, Elisha asked the widow, “what do you have in your house?” She said, “I have nothing except a little oil.”
Olive oil is a basic commodity in those days. It is used in ceremonies and religious rites, like in burning or anointing. At home it has several uses too, like in food preparation and cooking, fuel for lamps, and has medicinal uses as well.
If you noticed when Elisha asked the widow, he did not ask her of what she does not have. He asked her of what she have. Same thing with our God. He does not ask us of what we don’t have. He is asking us to use what we have, even how little or humble they may be.
When God called Moses, not as a prince but as a shepherd, he asked him “What is in your hand?” Moses replied, “A rod.” And with that rod he appeared before Pharaoh and turned it into a snake, with that rod he raised it over the Red Sea and it parted, with that rod, he struck a stone and water came out of it.
When Jesus fed a multitude of people, He did not call a food merchant, he called a little boy who was willing to share his lunch of 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes. And with that little food thousands of people were fed, and even had a lot of leftovers.
What is in your house? What is in your hand? A hammer? A vacuum cleaner? A sewing machine? A tractor?A computer? Those can be mighty instruments if you let God use them through you.
The Oil Kept on Flowing
Elisha instructed the widow to borrow as many as jars or vessels that she can. Not just a few, but as much as she can. I can just imagine the woman with her 2 boys going house to house in their neighborhood borrowing vessels. They borrowed everything – jars, pots, pans, vases, big containers, small containers, any shape or form, it does not matter.
There was only one requirement of what kind of vessel Elisha asked her to get. It must be empty. Not half empty, not almost empty, but empty. Why? In order for it to be filled with oil, it must be empty. In order for us to be filled by God, we must be empty. Not half empty, not almost empty, but empty.
Perhaps the youngest son was getting tired and was telling her mother they had enough jars, but the mother would not stop until they can get all the empty vessels they could find. In my mind I can picture in their home, all these containers on top of one another, that they have no more room to walk in that house.
Then they close the door of their house, and the woman started pouring oil from her little flask. I would like to see the awe and amazement in those two boys’ eyes as they witness the small flask of oil filled the very first large jar. Then it filled the next jar, and the next, and the next – the oil kept on flowing.
When the very last jar was filled to the brim, then and only then did the oil stopped flowing.
What if the widow only borrowed 1 or 2 large jars? It would be filled to the brim, then the oil would stop flowing. The widow was blessed according to the size of her faith. I believe that if she could borrow a container as big as the water tower that can hold 1 million gallons, God could have filled it to the brim too, for that’s how powerful our God is!
The question is not how powerful our God is. The question is how far will your faith take you. The power of God to work in us is only limited by the boundaries of our faith.
After the jars were filled with oil, the widow went back to Elisha. He told her to sell the oil. When all the oil was sold they had enough money not just to pay their debt but money they need to live for the rest of their lives. When God fills, He fills to overflowing.
There may be someone here who is experiencing a crisis. Maybe you are laid off from work. Maybe you cannot find a job. Perhaps you just cannot make both ends meet and drowning in debt. Or maybe your crisis is not financial. Maybe your health is failing and you’re in a disability. Perhaps the doctors told you there’s nothing more they can do for you. Or maybe it is your family relationship that is in crisis. Or perhaps it is your spiritual life that is ailing.
My friends, God can fill all your needs. He can fill you up to overflowing.
My Cup Runneth Over
I would like to end with a personal testimony. Perhaps you would tell me, it is easy for me to say this for I am living a comfortable life. We have a comfortable home. I have a stable job. But it was not always that way.
When I was finishing my training in New York City, we had a sudden change of plans. I came to the US with a visa strictly for education and training. After my training, I have to go back to the Philippines. And that was my plan all along. However during the last few months of my training after doing my post-doctoral training for 6 years, when I was already putting plans of returning home, something changed. My own mother discouraged me to come back and told me how difficult life has become in the Philippines and how hard it would be for me and my young family. Since I was already given the opportunity to come to the US, why not stay here if I can.
So I scrambled to have my visa transitioned so I can stay. What the immigration lawyer told me that would take only a few weeks or at a maximum a couple of months, turned into a much longer period of time. When my medical specialty training was done, my visa to stay here in the US was done too. My application for a new visa which was filed months ago was still pending. But since my application for change of status was in process I was advised to stay if I could. The problem is no visa, no work. No work, no money.
I had no money to pay an apartment in New York. You know how expensive a NYC apartment is. I had no money to feed my wife and my daughter. (My son was not born yet at that time). I cannot even buy diapers for my daughter. Besides I had to pay the lawyers and for visa processing. I used credit cards. Over the course of time I incurred more than $20,000 in credit card debts, but have no job to earn money to pay them.
We became homeless in New York. The only difference between us and the homeless people in the streets was that there was someone, a church friend, who allowed us to stay in their home. We got our things, even though how few they were, and stored them in their garage. We slept in their house for free, and we ate with them for free. Talk about freeloaders. That’s what we became.
After a month, I still had no visa and no work, another church friend struck a deal with us. They said that we can move in their apartment for free and we can baby sit their 2 children, instead of them placing their children in daycare. They were both nurses and were very busy. So we babysat their kids when they work. I bring their eldest kid to school and brought her back home from school. I did not receive any pay, but we have room to live and we eat for free. That’s more than we can ask for. The oil kept on flowing.
I felt like Moses when he became a shepherd for 40 long years after being the prince of Egypt and studied at Egypt’s finest school. Here I was, fully equipped in my medical specialty training from the best institutions in the world, like Columbia University and Cornell University in New York, and yet I was babysitting. Of course there’s nothing wrong in being a babysitter. But like Moses, God wants me to learn not to trust on my own skills and education, but rather depend on Him fully everyday.
Every week when we go to church, many brethren knew our situation, and they would approach me quietly and would hand me $10, $20, or $50 and would say to me that it was for my daughter’s needs. I know these brothers and sisters were not rich and they have their own struggles, and yet they share to us what they have. The oil kept on flowing. It may be in trickles but it was still flowing.
It was a humbling experience and yet it was an honor to be treated so kindly by my brothers and sisters. I experienced love and care in the church. My friends I challenge everybody here, including myself, that if anybody is not feeling that kind of love and care in this church, then what kind of church do we belong to?
After almost 4 months, I still had no visa and no work, that was the time my wife’s sister in California offered us to come to California and live there with them. She said that if we would be freeloaders for a still longer period of time, at least we would be with blood-related family. So we moved to California to escape a brutal winter of our lives.
After more than half a year of no work, we finally received the news that my change of visa was approved. I wasted no time to get to work. I got in touch with a friend of mine who I got to know when I was still in training, and joined their medical practice in Florida. I finally was able to work. The oil never stop flowing.
After working for a month in my new job in Florida, I received my very first paycheck, not as a doctor-in-training, but as a real specialist doctor. It was a handsome amount of 1-month salary. I thought to myself, now I can pay my own apartment. I can now buy and eat the food that I want. I can buy clothes for my baby. I can even start paying my credit card debt.
But God impressed in me that I should give my money to the church. I am not just talking about returning tithe. I am talking about the whole month’s paycheck. And you know what? When I felt that it was what God wanted me to do, I never hesitated. I had no possessions except for that first month paycheck. I had nothing. I was like the widow who gave her two mites. It is true that when you have nothing at all, it is much easier to give, than when you have many things. I trusted God that the oil will not stop flowing.
I pray that God will keep in me the same kind of spirit of giving even up to this day. For in reality, I still have nothing. For everything I have is His.
How we end up in Iowa is another story. But let’s just say that it was because the oil kept on flowing.
God filled me to overflowing. My cup runneth over.