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John the Baptist and Elijah
  • We’ve Reached The End

    James 5:13-18

    We've been together for 38 weeks now, studying the lives of John the Baptist and Elijah. Thanks so much for reading along in studying their dramatic lives. Hopefully their courage and faith has been as encouraging to you as it has been to me. 

    This is our last experience with Elijah. He’s lived a life that left a legacy of faithfulness for us to follow. His intimate walk with God has become a guide for us of what to do when God asks the nearly impossible of us. We are to turn to God and let His strength accomplish the work through us.

    James found encouragement in Elijah’s story as well. James is calling his readers to be prayer warriors. He himself has seen his prayers answered and wants to encourage his followers to also live lives of prayer and intimacy with God.

    It’s the answer to all that ails you…

    You’re suffering? Pray.

    You’re happy? Praise.

    You’re sick? Call others to prayer over you.

    You’re sinful? Pray for forgiveness.

    God’s promise through James is that the effective prayer of the righteous can accomplish more than we can imagine.

    And here is where James recalls Elijah’s prayer life. Remember a while back when we studied Elijah on the mountain begging God for rain? He has just finished with the Baal worshippers begging their god to answer them. Elijah prays and God answers immediately. He knows His God is listening. He is begging God to break the drought that has come. Deep in prayer, he sent his servant to look to the sky and after several attempts, he finally sees a cloud the size of a man’s hand. Not much to go on, yet Elijah believed God was answering his prayer. He had seen God do it before, he was confident God would show Himself now.

    And He did. The rain came. Elijah’s prayer was answered.  When I was reading James, I thought sure he would have some nice wrap up about prayer in his passage, but I found no such thing.  He did not need to. His point to make was that prayer is worth it because God is listening. What great point did he need to make outside of a story where a man of great faith prayed and God was listening?!

    God is listening to you. He is hearing your prayers. He is delighted in every step you take in the direction towards Him. We have covered a lot of ground in our study of John the Baptist and Elijah.  We looked at their history and their legacy. We have talked about how their faithfulness becomes an example for our own faithfulness. We have seen God answer prayers, love them well, give them courage, and perform miracles.

    The question now becomes, how are you going to let the stories of God through these two men transform your life?

    Take some time to look back through our notes together and recall the stories that inspired, challenged, and touched you. Now ask the Spirit to transform your heart through His power. Not your power, the Spirit’s.

    Thanks for joining me on this journey. I’ve enjoyed every second.

  • God’s Preservation

    Romans 11:1-11

    We’re going to dive in a little more deeply and theologically into the story of Elijah. Just when we think we’ve seen the last of Elijah, we find his story immersed in other’s theology. So is the case with Paul. Here Paul uses Elijah’s story as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to His people.

    Throughout Romans and specifically this passage, Paul shares the Gospel over and over again. If we meander up to the end of Romans 10, Paul has been explaining that belief in Jesus is what brings us Salvation. He talks about Israel’s obstinacy against God, and their lack of understanding of God. Paul is working hard to show that there’s nothing new. The same disbelief in Elijah’s time still existed in Paul’s, and it exists in ours too. We also struggle to believe.

    But the same God who was in the time of Elijah, is the God of Paul and God of you and I. He remembers His promises and will make good on them. Paul reminds his readers of Elijah’s discouragement over Baal worshipping. He was fed up. He wanted God to give up on them too. Perhaps you can relate. You’re frustrated with a situation, your community, maybe even your church and you beg for God’s justice. All the while forgetting that if God is unwilling to show them mercy, He just might also be unwilling to show my filthy heart mercy too.

    Paul shows his readers the words of God back to Elijah. Elijah begs God to discipline the Baal worshiping idolaters and God assures Elijah that he’s not alone. He’s NOT the only one who hasn’t bowed down. There are others who too have remained faithful to God. 7000 of them, in fact.  Paul assures the people of his time, that if God kept and protected those 7000 that He would certainly do so again. God would preserve His people. And he would choose to do so by grafting in other nations and tribes. The message is not only for Jews, it’s for Gentiles as well. Do you remember Andrew’s experience with being an advocate for Gentiles to come to Jesus? He and Paul believed the same message. It’s for you and me too. We are the remnant God promised. We are the people of God who will carry out His work and in our obedience, be used by God to do great things for His glory.

    None of this is about us. God’s preservation and work has not ONE thing to do with our goodness. It had nothing to do with Paul’s or Elijah’s either. God did all He needed to do through His son, and once we genuinely believe in Him, God forever sees us through the perfection of Jesus. There’s nothing the devil can do, or that we can do to change that fact.

    God is outside of time. He doesn’t see time in a line as we do. He sees lives covered by the blood of Jesus. Once we genuinely believe, forever and always after, God sees us covered by the blood of Jesus. There’s nothing we can say or do to remove that fact. Once God’s, we’re protected. And once God’s, He’s given us a purpose. Our purpose is to reflect the gift of Jesus in every way we can. It is not about earning God’s favor, it’s about reflecting God’s nature so the remnant can grow.

    We could go a lot of directions with this, but I want us to sit with and think through one thing.  What is the good work God has for you to do?

    Will you do it knowing 100% it’s not about you and your good work, but about God and His gift to you?

     

  • Deep Heartache and Hope

    Matthew 27:33-56

    Last week we looked at how Jesus was transfigured and Elijah and Moses joined him. Just a short while later, He has taken our sin on Himself and is hanging on the cross. It’s another time that those around Him would rather look for Elijah than believe Jesus could be who He says He is.

    It’s a gruesome scene. Jesus has been tortured and hung on a cross. He’s been struggling to breathe for 9 hours.  Even as He’s dying, He is not spared. The majority of his disciples have ran in fear, afraid that they too might find themselves hanging next to Jesus.  Jesus has been withstanding abuse from those who refuse to believe. They’re so hoping what He promised would come true, but they fall into the same trap as we do. We want what we want RIGHT NOW and exactly how we expect it. Jesus gives them something better. They were merely waiting for the removal of their present suffering but instead Jesus gives eternal life AND an abundant earthly life to ANYONE who will believe, not just the two jokers hanging beside Him. He has bigger eyes than we do. A greater plan.

    In Matthew 27:46 Jesus calls out. Scripture says He cries out in a loud voice, which is hard for me to wrap my mind around.  Where does He find the energy, except only in His deep heartache and hope? He cries, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” 

    But these were words the Jews were not familiar with. They believed Jesus was calling for Elijah. Jesus, the Son of God, Messiah of the Universe, and our Savior, calling to be saved by Elijah? Did they know nothing? Had they been listening at all?

    As Jesus hang dying, His father turned his back to His Son. God wasn’t turning His back on Jesus’ suffering; He was turning away from our filth. Jesus took upon Himself all our ugliness, shame, wrongdoings, the murder in our hearts and on our hands, unkind words, lustful eyes, ungrateful hearts, greedy attitudes, every sin you’ve worked so hard to purge from yourself, Jesus magnificently conquered.  

    What his words meant were no cry to Elijah, it was a cry to His Father. My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” There Jesus hung, carrying all our sin, and even in death He was abandoned, yet He turned to His Father.

    Elijah didn’t come rescue Jesus. Neither did His Father. Jesus was left to die.

    His disciples carried his body to a tomb to get it prepared for burial, and the unthinkable happened 3 days later. Jesus rose from the dead. He conquered death, defeated the ultimate enemy, and gave us a way for salvation through His act.

    Just like the criminals hanging beside Jesus, I want to look to other saviors also. I look for my own Elijah’s in a hundred ways every single day. But there is one who answers. There is one who holds the truth about my future and is willing to do something about. My Savior is the Jesus who suffered for me, stole my shame; He wrapped my broken flesh around Himself so I could be whole.

    This was the message of John the Baptist. This was the hope of Elijah as he endured suffering. This was the Good News worth suffering over, so you and I, our friends, our family, strangers around the world, could know the deep love of Jesus.

    Will you trust in Him? Maybe you have already. But maybe today you need to receive Him again, not for your eternal salvation, you’re assured of that already, but maybe you need to receive salvation today for the grace to make it through another day.

    Ask Him to save you today from the shame of your sin, from the darkness of your doubt, and the self-sufficiency you claim. Ask Him to intervene. Ask Him to save.

  • The Transfiguration

    Matthew 17:1-13

    Elijah shows up throughout the New Testament in interesting and compelling ways.  

    1. Elijah attests to Jesus’ divinity at the Transfiguration in Matthew 17.

    2. His absence at Jesus death attests to Jesus being the one true way for eternal salvation in Matthew 27.

    3. Remembering God’s answer to his prayer shows us that God will be faithful to protect a remnant of His people, The Church, until the return of Jesus in Romans 11.

    4. And his example gives us strength for our journey, knowing God hears our prayers, forgives our sins, and hears our prayers in James 5.

    Elijah lived a life faithful to our Savior, and in so doing, he became an example of salvation and a way to live faithfully before our God. Let’s take a look.

    The first of these stories is told in 3 of the Gospels. Just saying “transfiguration” conjures in my mind this fantastical image of Jesus and his disciples on a side of a mountain having their minds blown.

    You probably remember the story well, but I want to take a closer look.

    Jesus went on a walk with Peter, James, and John. They went high on a mountain to be alone and as soon as they reach their spot, before their very eyes, Jesus is transfigured. I believe Peter, James and John were being given a picture of our resurrected Lord on the top of that mountain. They were seeing God in all His glory, in the form of His son, Jesus.

    Moses and Elijah join him there. They are talking with Jesus. Can you imagine with me for a moment, the excitement Moses and Elijah must have experienced, getting to commune with Jesus in this way? They have to have some inkling of what Jesus is about to do in just a short time. He is about to become the fulfillment of all they dreamed of decades before. They walked by faith and the men on the ground below them get to walk by sight.

    Moses, Elijah and Jesus are talking together, and the disciples are blown away with what they are experiencing. They didn’t want to leave. Peter wants to do something to honor them and to keep them from leaving. He’s caught up in this glorious moment, and asks if Jesus wants him to build 3 tabernacles, one for each of them.  He’s interrupted mid-sentence by God Himself. God tells him that Jesus is His beloved son. That they should listen to Him. The point of the story is JESUS. The point of the story is ALWAYS Jesus.

    God the Father is addressing Peter’s instinct to place Jesus at the same level of Moses and Elijah by building tabernacles for the 3 of them. God differentiates Jesus from the prophets. It’s yet another opportunity for God to speak of the deity of His Son. Moses and Elijah are below Jesus. They were preparing the way for the Messiah to come. They are not deserving of a tabernacle, they were always a part of building one to point to and worship Jesus. Jesus is the only one deserving of the worship of the disciples. Yet God, in His great kindness, does not point to Peter’s sin in the moment, He points to His Son. He shows in this moment what Jesus’ death will forever do for all mankind after: when we believe, God no longer sees our sin, He sees His Son’s blood covering us, making us perfect.

    When God spoke, the disciples fell to their faces. They immediately recognized whose presence they were in. They were hearing from God, and they were afraid and humbled. Jesus touched them and told them to not be afraid. When they looked up again, Elijah and Moses had disappeared.

    The disciples ask Jesus why the scribes promise the coming of Elijah and Jesus takes a second to explain.  Jesus explains that Elijah came and no one acknowledged him. He suffered at the hands of the people.  And now on this mountain, here he has just returned but to only a few. Three disciples just saw the fulfillment of the prophecy and no one else. They want to scream from the mountaintops about what has just happened, and Jesus asks them to tell no one. The people did not acknowledge Elijah then, they will not acknowledge their Messiah now.

    What Jesus more deeply wants them to understand, is that when the prophets spoke of Elijah returning, they were emphasizing the return of “A” prophet. John the Baptist became the “Elijah” everyone was expecting. They are no better at understanding metaphors than I am. The people kept expecting Elijah himself, and God sent John the Baptist. After 400 years of silence, a prophet returns, and the Messiah comes. And on this mountain Elijah stands with God, for just a moment.

    What does the Transfiguration cause you to think of?

    What strikes you most about the story of the Messiah, the prophets, and the disciples?

    Do you believe God quit pointing at your sin when you trusted in Jesus to cover your sin?

  • A Dramatic Departing

    2 Kings 2:8-15

    Imagine Elijah bending down, and removing his head or shoulder covering. Imagine him trembling for a moment as he knows as soon as he’s on the other side, he will see God. And then imagine all the floods of memories of when God used the miracle of river crossings to deliver His people.

    Exodus 14: Moses’ job is to the lead the people out of Egypt. They start walking with the millions of slaves who are tasting freedom for the first time, and they arrive at the Red Sea. God tells Moses to reach out his staff and Moses obeys. The Israelites all pass through on dry ground. And then Pharaoh’s army is swallowed by the sea. God delivered His people. He made good on His promise, and started them on a journey of promise that continues even thousands of years later.

    Joshua 3: Joshua leads God’s people to the Jordan. They are tasked with securing the Ark of the Covenant, where God dwelt, in the land on the other side of the Jordan. They stood at the edge of the water and with great faith the priests dipped their feet in the water like they were just going to walk right across. In another massive miracle, the waters parted and they crossed over on dry land with the Ark of the Covenant and the people of God.

    2 Kings 2:8: And now we get to our prophet. Elijah is about to meet God. He’s standing where Joshua stood with the priests while they held in their hands the place where God dwelt. And Elijah knows he too is about to stand before God. He bows down before the Jordan, drops his mantle and folds it, and the waters part for he and Elisha. They cross over alone to the other side.

    When Elijah and Elisha cross over the Jordan, Elijah turns to Elisha to ask what Elisha might need that Elijah would have to offer. Elisha wants Elijah’s spirit. He asks for a double portion of it, in fact. Elisha knew this work was not for the faint of heart, there would be opposition at every turn. He had been watching Elijah’s life, and wanted the same spirit within him that Elijah had in order to bear the load. Elisha wasn’t asking for the big “S” Spirit [That is only God’s to give.] Instead he was asking for the wherewithal to stand under the pressures and struggles that he would be enduring.

    He [like Solomon] avoids the wealth, health, long life, and prosperity requests that are more associated with a genie in a bottle than with the God of the universe. Instead, both of these men, when offered the world, asked for an increase in character.

    Elisha has fought Elijah to remain with him through the day. Elijah tried to get Elisha to turn from him all day long, but Elisha stuck with him at every stop. At this point, Elijah tells Elisha that if he remains a little longer, if he watches Elijah’s entrance into heaven, he would be granted a double portion of his spirit.

    These two men have had an eventful day. Three cities, 25 miles of walking, a parting of the Jordan, and now they’re having a serious discussion of character, when horses and a chariot on fire appear before them.

    Imagine this with me. It’s almost more than my brain can wrap itself around. The burning bush that Moses fell before is one thing, a flaming chariot and horses on fire is another.

    Scripture says Elijah is taken in a whirlwind into heaven and Elisha watches every second of it, then calls out, My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” Would there be other words than this? All Elisha could speak was the exact truth of what he was seeing.

    Elisha does not waste a single second. He takes action immediately. He tore his clothes in 2 pieces. He’s just lost his friend, confidant, and counselor. Elijah is now gone, and he carries the weight of prophecy on his own shoulders. He takes this moment to grieve. And then he gets busy.

    And now another parting of the waters. When Elijah went to God, he folded his mantle on the ground. Elisha gathers up the mantle and goes straight to the edge of the water of the Jordan. He’s “testing the waters” so to speak. He asks, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah,” and strikes the waters. And the waters part. He’s seen a lot in a short amount of time. He’s seen the waters part for Elijah, he’s seen a chariot and horses on fire take Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind, he’s lost his best friend, he’s gained his spirit, and now he himself, has struck the waters of the Jordan and God has caused them to part. This is Elisha’s first recorded miracle. What an inauguration!

    When Elisha goes back through Jericho, the people of God can immediately tell that Elijah’s spirit rests on Elisha, just as Elijah had promised. And Elisha begins a life of miracles, prophecy, and sharing the words of God.

    When faced with the challenge of the next chapter of life, what is it that you want to be written?

    Elijah’s story is not finished. We have a few more appearances from him. His legacy is legendary. He’s respected and feared. He’s the prophet who did not see death. Elijah never wavered in his devotion, fearful or courageous, he is known as a man and prophet who walked with God.

    What characteristics define your life?

    What characteristics do you WANT to define your life?

  • Preparing to Go

    2 Kings 2:1-6

    Elisha and Elijah have been spending a bunch of time with each other. They’ve been walking with God together and God is answering another of Elijah’s prayers. Except, He is about to answer it in the most unexpected way possible. Just like that, we’ve come to the end of Elijah’s time on earth. Not the end of his impact, however as we’ll continue to see.

    Elijah knows that today is the day. He’s ready to be taken up with God. He is ready to be finished with the work God has for him.  He wants to spare Elisha the heartache of leaving. I think he also wanted to go alone to be with God. The way Scripture writes it, it sounds a though Elijah knows he’s going to be taken to God.

    Elijah asks Elisha to stay put. He knows God is sending him to Bethel from where they are at Gilgal, and is wondering if that is where God will take him. Elisha insists on coming with Elijah. He’s not going to miss this for anything!

    It seems that news is getting around. There are other prophets in Bethel, and they came to Elisha and asked if he knew that God was going to take Elijah that day. Elisha asks them to pipe down. YES, he knows. It’s as though he doesn’t want to spoil it with a lot of idle talk. He wants to experience it with Elijah.

    I appreciate about Elijah’s story that God has a few things to finish with him even the very day He brings him home. We’re not finished with God’s work until God is finished with us.

    From Bethel God sends Elijah to Jericho. The story plays out the same for Elisha. He has yet another reminder from the sons of the prophets there that Elijah will be taken to God. He lets them know that he’s aware. And he asks them to be still. He doesn’t need gossip as a distraction. He’s focused on the work God is doing through Elijah in all these travels. We don’t know exactly why God is taking Elijah all these places. Scripture doesn’t say what he’s doing, who he’s meeting with, what the purpose is. But it’s another beautiful picture of the obedience of this prophet of God. God is taking him on a journey and he is following where God is leading.

    God speaks to Elijah again. This time He asks him to go to the Jordan. Elijah once more tells Elisha to stay put. And once more Elisha refuses. The Jordan has been a symbol of promise and redemption since Genesis. This would not have been lost on the prophets. They know God is about to do something miraculous in this place. Here are a few other Biblical characters God met at the Jordan. Lot and Abram scoping out Canaan, Jacob and Esau, Moses, Saul and David, and later, John the Baptist.

    Elijah is about to meet God in a place where Fathers of the faith before and after him also met with God.

    To get to this point, Elijah and Elisha have journeyed about 25 miles to finally arrive at the Jordan. And they’ve assembled quite the crowd of 50 prophets. They know God is going to show up and they want to see their Savior.

    Next week we'll look at Elijah's miraculous meeting with God. But I'm wondering, do you feel like God’s taking you a wandering meandering journey to get you where He wants you?

    How are you about following?

    Do you sense anticipation for what God is going to do next through you?

    How can you deepen your resolve to follow God’s leading with great anticipation?

  • A Terrible Way To Die

    2 Chronicles 21

    We last looked at Ahaziah's terrible death and the death he brought onto his men because of his own sin. At about this time, when Jehoram is just made king, he is walking a path other than with God. Jehoram is taking over for Jehoshaphat, who had a relatively good relationship with God. But Jehoram married Ahab’s daughter. His life looked a lot more like Ahab than Jehoshaphat. Jehoram chose the legacy of Ahab’s evil over the legacy of Jehoshaphat’s love of God. Elijah must be sick of all these kings doing their own thing. Elijah finishes delivering a message to one, and he’s right on to the next guy who is breaking God’s rules and leading His people from God.

    Jehoram had killed everyone in his way to be made king. He would stop at nothing, and did whatever it would take to get there. Also, Jehoram wasn’t an ally to his neighbors. He provoked them, causing generations of enemies, and built “high places” of worship in the mountains of Judah.  Essentially, every command God gave as protection to His people, Jehoram discarded.

    Enter Elijah.

    My dad is known for his letter writing. He’s not a confronter, but if he’s unhappy with his government, a company he’s dealt with, or a vender for his business, he will write them a letter. We’ve teased him about his letter writing for years. It’s one way of getting his point across, and a few select times, he’s even gotten favorable responses.

    Well, Elijah decides to take the letter writing approach this time. This is his short, sweet, and to the point letter to Jehoram:

    “Thus says the Lord God of your father David, ‘Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father and the ways of Asa king of Judah, 13 but have walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and have caused Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to play the harlot as the house of Ahab played the harlot, and you have also killed your brothers, your own family, who were better than you, 14 behold, the Lord is going to strike your people, your sons, your wives and all your possessions with a great calamity; 15 and you will suffer severe sickness, a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out because of the sickness, day by day.’”

    Well, that sounds unpleasant. I’m sure it’s not exactly what Jehoram was expecting to hear that day when he opened his mail. You have to wonder if he even paid Elijah’s letter any attention. But just as God had promised through Elijah, so it happened. The Philistines next door invaded. They carried off Jehoram’s possessions and even his family. All that was left was one son with him.

    God  then struck Jehoram with some sort of bowel disease. He was a disgrace. After two years of sheer agony, he finally died. [It’s very descriptive at the end of 2 Chronicles 21, if you want to read exactly how his death takes place.] His people were so disgusted by his life and rule that they didn’t give him a king’s burial ceremony. More disgraceful than that, they didn’t even bury him with the kings. He died at age 40, after only being a king for 8 years. He died without family, followers, or possessions. It says when he died his people did not regret it. They were glad he was gone.

    Now, there are a lot of descriptions of people’s lives in Scripture, many of them I hope to exemplify. But I read Jehoram’s story with a pit in my stomach. It’s not fear exactly; it’s caution.  

    Have I received words of counsel that I have discarded because they were not what I wanted to hear? The consequences of my actions may not have the far reaching effects of Jehoram’s but if I’m completely honest, it does cause me to examine my life for an extra second. I’m sure Elijah’s letter was followed with eye rolls from Jehoram and then a prompt crumbling and dumping into the trash can next to his desk.

    I often don’t want to hear that my leadership is not worth following, or that I am not headed where I ought to be. I want to trust my wisdom alone. But I need to hear words of wisdom from others.

    Who are you listening to?

    Whose advice are you taking?

    Where is it leading you?

  • The Next Generation

    2 Kings 1:1-18

    Switching books of the Bible seems like there should be something more significant than the turn of a page. But the stories of our prophet and of the sin of Israel continue right in line with 1 Kings. We dive into the book with the story of why Ahab’s son, Ahaziah only lived as king for 2 years. His kingdom was in Samaria. If you remember from New Testament stories, Samaria is often shunned by the people of God. The people living there are considered half Jews because of how the people there mixed with other nations. Most likely it all started around this time, with the false Gods of Ahab and Jezebel and the rebellion of their descendants.

    Moab has decided to come against King Ahaziah and in Ahaziah’s surprise and fear, he fell through the ceiling, in his own home. You might imagine it like a balcony with a screened in porch of sorts.  It was devastating to his body to sustain a fall like that, and was ill in bed. Keeping in line with his father’s idolatry, he asks to consult a Baal to see if he’ll live or die.

    Enter Elijah, our beloved and courageous prophet of God. Elijah worked a ton with Jezebel and Ahab and now here he is working with their son as he's been made king. God tells Elijah to intercept the king’s messengers on the way to consult with Baal. This is what Elijah asks them, per God’s command: “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?” Elijah and God are calling out the precise place of Ahaziah’s distrust.  He does not believe God. Meanwhile God has been pursuing Ahaziah’s family for years. If he will only look for it, he would see evidence of God’s hand all throughout his parents’ story.

    The messengers return to Ahaziah without consulting the Baal, and Ahaziah wonders why they’re back so soon. As the messenger relays Elijah’s words Ahaziah is building in his mind exactly who it was, who delivered these words. He guessed that it was Elijah, especially after the messengers described Elijah as being hairy and wearing a girdle. It sounds like the weird descriptions they used for John the Baptist, and it also sounds isolating for Elijah.

    The king decided to send a captain and 50 of his men to apprehend Elijah.  “If you are a man of God, come down,” they command Elijah. Elijah has little patience for their shenanigans. He tells them that if he is a man of God, his God would send fire to consume them. Sure enough, fire comes down from heaven and consumes the captain and his 50 men. Just like that, over Ahaziah’s own death sentence, he’s sentenced 50 for men to death, along with a powerful captain.

    Ahaziah does not understand what has just happened, so he sends another captain and 50 more men. Again, they ask that if Elijah is a man of God, to “come down quickly.” Elijah responds the exact same way he did the first time, and fire from heaven comes down exactly like it did the first time, and another captain and 50 more men are killed.

    We have to go through this a 3rd time. King Ahaziah sends another captain and another 50 men. This captain probably had some anger towards his king for putting him in such a position, but he was wise and humble in approaching Elijah. He fell before Elijah in humility and begged him for his life, and the life of his 50 men. He begged Elijah that his life and the lives of his 50 men would be PRECIOUS in his sight. And God takes pity on these 51 men and commands Elijah to not be afraid and to go with them.

    Those men had a tough job. It was a death wish either way. Either they do not complete the mission and their king kills them, or they are killed by God. Their king had no regard for the lives of his men. All he was concerned with was finding out if he would live or die.

    Guess what the outcome is? It’s exactly the same as it was before. Elijah tells the king to his face that he will die. And then the king died shortly after.

    Yet another miracle for Elijah, and yet another opportunity for a king to turn to God, but again, he rejected the word of God and suffered the consequences. There is no telling if he would have been healed had he been walking with God, but I do know at least the 102 men he sacrificed would have been saved. As my dad often reminds me, our sin never affects just ourselves. It always also affects those around us. In this king’s case, 102 of his well trained men.

    Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat became king because Ahaziah didn’t have any sons.

    Have you been the witness of any miracles?

    In your opinion, why do you think we don’t see miracles like Elijah did?

    What big prayers are you praying right now where you would love to see God intervene? Talk to Him about it! 

  • The End Of Ahab

    1 Kings 22:29-40

    I know we've been studying Elijah, but his story is so linked to Ahab's, I didn't want to skip over this passage.

    Say what you will about Ahab, but he is not cowardly. He might be sulky, idolatrous, indulgent, selfish, disobedient, not to mention evil, but this passage shows he is at least willing to fight his own battles. He, king of Israel, and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, decide against all good advice, that they are going to go take Ramoth-Gilead. God has just told them through a prophet, that it is not going to go well for them if they try; yet they want to try.

    To tell you the truth, I do this. Any child of any parent has done this. Mom or Dad says no, but we need to exercise our own power of choice, and sometimes it doesn’t turn out so well.  

    In Ahab’s case, the stakes were higher, and he was guaranteed failure from the very beginning. He and Jehoshaphat make a plan. Ahab wants to be IN the battle. Jehoshaphat puts on his kingly robes, but Ahab enters the battle as a soldier. He thinks his chances for survival are better if they don't know he's king. Ramoth-Gilead had their own plan in the works. Kill Ahab. That’s it. They had one goal in mind, and that was it. When they saw Jehoshaphat dressed in his robes they thought they had found their guy. Jehoshaphat yelled, and told them otherwise, and shockingly, they let him be.

    Some Aramaen soldier was out doing his job, fighting the Israeli soldiers and he “happened” to pull back on his bow and let an arrow fly. It “happened” to go through a joint in an Israeli soldier’s armor, and that Israeli soldier “happened” to be King Ahab. As soon as it happened, Ahab knew he was in trouble. Ahab was in a chariot and called to the driver that he needed to be taken out of the fight.

    Scripture says Ahab was propped in the chariot, watching the long day’s battle rage on. He had an entire day to recall his life’s story, all the evil he had done, how he wouldn’t be saying goodbye to his wife, how he had fought for everything he wanted, and yet now found himself bleeding to death in front of the Aramaens. It says his blood ran into the bottom of the chariot.

    And just like that, the battle was over. Everyone retreated and headed home, except for Ahab and the others in his army he had murdered through his disobedience. They took the chariot that held Ahab down to the pool by Samaria and washed it out. As they were cleaning it, dogs came and licked up his blood, just as had been prophesied would happen by Elijah after Ahab and Jezebel had Naboth stoned to death wrongfully, just a few stories earlier.  God kept his promise of justice to Naboth.

    Another prophecy was also completed at Ahab’s death. Remember how Ahab was supposed to completely destroy Ben-hadad and the Aramaens in chapter 20? When he showed mercy to Ben-hadad, it was prophesied that he would incur the death that he passed over Ben-hadad. It would be Ahab’s life for Ben-hadad’s, and here Ahab is killed by the Aramaen army. God kept his promises.

    What does seeing prophecies fulfilled through Ahab’s story do for your faith?

    Seeing how God acted toward Ahab and His people, what picture does it give you of God?

    Ask God to give you a right picture of Himself. Ask Him to give you eyes to see Him for all His mercy, compassion, second-chances and justice.

  • Killing the Innocent and Receiving Mercy.

    1 Kings 21

    Last week we looked at a series of Ahab's bad decisions and then the pronouncement of judgement on him for them. This week we find King Ahab going home to Samaria to sulk. While he’s there, he notices a man’s vineyard next to his palace. He’s probably seen it 100 times, but today, he decides he wants it. Talk about retail therapy. He’s just been chided for not following through what God asked of him of the Aramaen king, so he wants to comfort himself with the taking over of more property for himself. He goes to have a chat with the land owner. He claims he’d like a nice vegetable garden in the place where the vineyard is. He even promises to give the landowner another plot of land for his vineyard.

    The landowner does the unthinkable. He tells the king no. Naboth said to Ahab, “The Lord forbid me that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.”  Do you see what is happening here? A couple things, really.

    1. This is land that has been in Naboth’s family for generations. It’s land God promised the people of Israel back in the days of Moses during the Exodus. The sense we get here, is that Naboth’s family has been cultivating this specific patch of land for generations. He sees God’s blessing and provision to his family through the everyday cultivation and care of this land.

    2. Naboth acknowledges the Lord. He is one of the few who has not been turned away to the Baal’s by the king’s wife. He knows that the blessings he’s been given have been given to him by the Lord. Not a neighbor, not a king, and certainly not an ungodly man could finagle this property and promise from God from his hand. There’s too much tied up in it. It is the fulfillment of God’s promises seen everyday in this little patch of land.

    This is where King Ahab becomes “sullen and vexed” again. He’s been told no, when he NEEDED the affirmation to make him feel better. Worse yet, in the “no” Naboth reminded him of his previous sin of disobeying God. One man's obedience called out another man's disobedience.

    This is what happens when we walk faithfully with the Lord. We don’t always have to call out the sin of others by actually naming it. Our walk with the Lord shows others what a life committed to Him looks like, and either guilt or repentance happens. Have you heard people accuse others of being judgmental? Boy, I have. Sometimes it’s 100% justified. Christians [including myself] can be self-righteous, hypocritical, and unkind in calling out the sins of others. So while sometimes it’s justified, sometimes just living a life contrary to how others live, the Spirit convicts their hearts. If they are not in a place to respond positively to the conviction, they might call out judgment in others to avoid their own repentance.

    That is what I see happening here. Naboth stood by his convictions, and gave God the credit for it. Ahab didn’t get his way and saw again how the man respected God more than Ahab and he couldn’t handle it.

    Ahab complains to his wife. Scripture says he crawled in bed, turned his face to the wall, and wouldn’t eat. I’ve seen children behave in much the same way. Jezebel doesn’t like seeing her husband like this, so she “takes care of it.” She frames Naboth. She plans a dinner and seats Naboth at the head, as the guest of honor. Then she plants 2 scheming nobodies and has them testify that Naboth has cursed God and the King. Which is precisely the OPPOSITE of what he actually did.

    It works. The men accuse Naboth, and the people stone him to death.

    Jezebel tells her husband that Naboth’s dead, and the land is all his for the taking. Ahab gets his sulky self out of bed and takes possession of this man’s land.

    Enter Elijah. Elijah tells Ahab what his punishment will be.

    God is finished with Ahab and Jezebel’s rebellion. When Naboth was stoned, he was left in the streets for stray dogs to feed on. God promises Ahab the exact same end: disgraced, without any heirs take over the throne, and alone.  Here are some interesting facts. 

    Scripture says that NO ONE did evil like King Ahab and Jezebel did. Yet God shows mercy to Ahab. Again. When Ahab heard from Elijah his punishment, he humbled himself, fasted, and prayed. God relents. He promises that Ahab’s sons will see this punishment, but Ahab will not.

    God is much more merciful than I, and I am so thankful.

    How have you seen merciful acts from God in your life?

    How have you seen them in the lives of others?

    Take a few moments to rejoice over the mercy of God. We sin and deserve consequences for our sin, but God does not always give us the consequences we deserve. This ought to propel us into worship.

  • Defensiveness or Repentance

    1 Kings 20:35-43

    The story I want to look into today involves a strange request, an unnamed prophet, and extreme consequences. As I dig a little more deeply, I see a prophet of God desperately trying to get a message across to his king.

    An unnamed prophet asks a man near him to strike him. The man refuses, which seems like a polite gesture. I’m not one to go about striking people just because they asked me to. The prophet curses the man by telling him a lion is going to kill him. This poor guy! I don’t know about you, but if a leader in my church asked me to hit him, I’d probably say no too.

    The man is a little dumbfounded by the message, he takes a few steps away AND A LION KILLS HIM. Exactly what the prophet predicts takes place moments later. 

    Try try again. The unnamed prophet finds another man, and makes the same request. This time, the man didn’t ask questions. He winds up, whacks the prophet, and wounds him. The prophet bandages himself up, covers half his face, and waits alongside the road like a beggar, for his king to pass by. The prophet yells out for the king. And the king listens. He paints a picture, much like Samuel did for King David after his sin with Bathsheba. He recounts this interesting story:

    “A soldier in the battle on the opposing side is captured. The soldier who captured him brings him to me and asked me to guard him with his life. I got busy doing this and that, and the man escaped. So the soldier told me I could either be killed or pay him what would take me 9 years of skilled labor to earn. What will happen to me?”

    The king is ruthless in his response to the prophet. He tells him that he will get precisely what he’s earned. His life for the soldier’s.

    At this, the prophet rips off the bandage over his eyes. The king gasps. This prophet is not unnamed to the king. Ahab knew him to be a prophet of God and then the prophet delivers a message from God. “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have let go out of your hand the man whom I had devoted to destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people.’”

    Ahab gets a little sulky. Scripture says he’s “sullen and vexed.” If I had my disobedience called out and my destruction predicted, I think I might have a reason to repent. Not Ahab. His heart is so hard, all he can muster is sulkiness about his bad decisions. There is no repentance in his heart. When given the choice between repentance and guilt, he willfully chooses the guilt. And even his guilt is more wrapped up in the consequences than it is in how he’s turned against God’s heart.

    He starts out for Samaria. Where we’ll find him being more “sullen and vexed” next week.

    We know the proper response is repentance and receiving God’s grace, but we often choose the same path as Ahab, and sulk over our sin in self-deprecation. Why do we do this? Maybe instead of defensiveness, we ought to choose repentance. It seems an appropriate discussion this week after recent events in the U.S. 

    How do you respond when your wrongdoings are mentioned?

    How can you receive God’s grace today?

  • Battle #2.

    1 Kings 20:26-34

    Last week we looked at a battle between Ahab and Ben-hadad. God gives Ahab victory over Ben-hadad. But in this passage in 1 Kings 20, Ben-hadad is rallying. They believe the God behind Ahab is Baal. Baal is the god of Mt. Carmel, and because of Israel’s turn to Baals, Ben-hadad has assumed that Israel’s god is only the god of the mountain. They plot to have their next battle in a valley. They’re banking on Baal being as absent during their battle as he was when Elijah was facing him with his prophets and altar on Mt. Carmel.

    But this time the Aramaens are mistaken. They don’t know that Baal is not behind this battle, God is. And we learned that He, unlike Baal, is not preoccupied, He’s not too busy, He’s capable of being all places at one time, and He’s orchestrated these battles for His glory.

    The Aramaens have brought 100,000 foot soldiers to this battle. They mean business. They were humiliated before, and are prepared to not have it happen again. They know they can take Israel’s puny army, but have brought a few extra men to ensure it.

    There are not gory details of the battle save these 2 verses:

     “29 So they camped one over against the other seven days. And on the seventh day the battle was joined, and the sons of Israel killed of the Arameans 100,000 foot soldiers in one day. 30 But the rest fled to Aphek into the city, and the wall fell on 27,000 men who were left. And Ben-hadad fled and came into the city into an inner chamber.”

    Pretty much, Ben-hadad is the only one left. All of his men have been killed, and when his city walls came down the rest of his city was defeated. He and a few servants started surmising about how they could raise their white flag. They decided to take the form of total surrender. They’d put on sackcloth and came to King Ahab. They begged for mercy. They had heard that Israel was merciful to others, and they were hopeful that Ahab would also be merciful to them.

    They were right. Israel has a long history of disobedient kings defying God by not completely destroying the kingdoms God had promised them. Ben-hadad knew he was dealing with a king who in the long line of disobedient kings, might show him mercy as well.

    Ahab not only fulfilled Ben-hadad’s hopes, he also made a covenant with him. Can you imagine? This king who brought 100,000 men against him, begs for mercy and Ahab grants it. AND not only does he allow Ben-hadad to live, Ahab attaches promises to it.

    Have you done this before? You are disobedient and then you make promises to protect your disobedience? Maybe it’s an unsafe relationship. Or a work mistake you’re trying to cover instead of just admitting your failure.

    “I won’t tell if you don’t.”

    It’s common to try to cover for our bad decisions. It’s a bad option. EVERY TIME. It doesn’t turn out how we’d hoped, and many times we find our disobedience leading us down paths of further disobedience.

    Are you stuck in any of these situations now? If so, turn from them. Don’t let further disobedience hinder the presence of God.

    Do you KNOW anyone in this scenario right now? Graciously offer them your forgiveness and remind them of the forgiveness of God. It’s not too late for them to experience grace either.

  • For God’s Sake

    1 Kings 20:1-25

    This chapter almost feels out of place in our study. There is story after story of Elijah’s involvement in the politics of Israel and then all the sudden there is a story of a battle between nations. And regardless of the evil of Ahab, God promises him a victory. Not for Ahab’s benefit, not for Elijah’s benefit even, but for God’s sake alone. He has made promises down through the ages, and this is yet, another fulfillment of the promises of God. He has not changed. He is still who He is.

    Remember, God has just promised Elijah in chapter 19 that He’s going to replace Aram’s king [Ben-hadad] with Hazael, and Israel’s king [Ahab] with Jehu. Chapter 20 is the beginning of God making good on His promise.

    Ahab and Ben-hadad have a little power struggle. Ben-hadad surrounds Ahab and tells him he is wants all his best stuff. And he’s going to come in and get it. Ahab agrees at first and then comes to his senses. He doesn’t WANT to give the Ben-hadad all his best stuff, his prettiest wives, his children, and his finest silver and gold. Ahab consults with his elders and decides that the next day when Ben-hadad sends his servants to collect Ahab’s best things, he would refuse.

    The messengers returned to Ben-hadad with the news. Ahab’s exact words are, “Let not him who girds on his armor boast like him who takes it off.” [v. 11] He’s trash talking. He’s basically saying, don’t have the confidence of winning a battle, before you have shown up for it. Don’t rejoice before the battle has been fought. Ahab’s not going to make this easy on Ben-hadad.

    As you can imagine, Ben-hadad is angry. He was already drinking with his buddies after Ahab’s positive response the day before, and now he’s going to actually have to DO something. So he stations his army around Ahab.

    It’s getting a little tense and heated. Ahab’s sweating bullets. Maybe he SHOULD have just turned over all his best stuff to this Aramaen king and been done with it?! But a prophet comes to him and promises God’s blessing. I don’t know about you, but this astounds me.

    The all time most evil king in Israel’s history, who is more evil than each king before him, who has repeatedly tried to kill God prophet, who has allowed his wife to turn the hearts of the country to false gods, who taunts God, THIS KING is promised victory.

    And what piques my interest even more is the why. God, through a prophet tells Ahab, “Behold, I will deliver them into your hand today, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” [v. 13] God has shown Himself to Ahab repeatedly. Through the drought, and the relief from the drought, through the face off at Mt. Carmel, through Elijah’s words and proclamation, and yet here God is giving Ahab another chance to repent. This battle is going to require some courage. Ahab is told he has to strike first. Ben-hadad’s army is encamped around Ahab and the prophet tells him to begin the battle.

    Ben-hadad is having a grand time. He thinks there is no way he can lose. He’s already drunk in his tent with 32 other kings who have joined him against Ahab. Ben-hadad tells his soldiers that if they come in peace to bring them to him alive, and if they’ve come for war, to also bring them to him alive. But they don’t get a chance. Ahab’s men kill the soldiers as soon as they’re in range.

    It catches Ben-hadad and his men so off guard that Israel completely slaughters the Aramaen army.

    The prophet again warns Ahab. The Aramaens will be back at the new year. Be prepared.

    I have a few ideas about God’s work here with Israel and Ahab. If I were God, I’d want to fulfill every stereotype created about me, throwing lightning bolts on Ahab’s arrogant house. But God doesn’t. He has promises to fulfill for Israel. He also has judgment to follow through with for Aram.

    He gives Ahab another opportunity to turn to Him, to give Him the glory for the work in his life, and to repent. In a way Ahab IS acknowledging the power of God. He actually obeyed the prophet’s orders. But what is the state of his heart? Is it merely for his victory or is there a genuine willingness to see God for who He is?

    It causes me to question my own motives as I pursue my relationship with God.

    Why am I obeying God?

    How can I bring God greater pleasure and glory, by obeying Him for His sake alone?

  • God Answers in 5 Ways

    1 Kings 19:15-21

    After God visits Elijah in a gentle whisper, He repeats His question. “What are you doing here?” And Elijah word for word, repeats his answer. They’re both standing down. My brother insists that God’s gentle whisper is like an angry parent in church. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” in an all-caps angry kind of whisper. I’ve always read it with compassion. We might both be right.

    Regardless, Elijah stands firm in his response and God begins the answer to his prayer and complaint in 5 unique ways.

    1. God answers with His presence. He gently whispers to Elijah, affirming that He is still present, He is still listening, He is contrary to the Baals in every possible way. He is not preoccupied, too busy, too involved with others. No, He’s present and available.

    1. God enacts a change of political power. God tells Elijah to anoint two new kings, one over Aram and one over Israel. This is an interesting twist. King Hazael later in his history fought ruthlessly with the King of Israel. Through this act, God is putting in place the punishment of Israel. [Story in 2 Kings] Hazael is promised the throne but it’s not enough for him, he suffocates his master to ensure a speedy takeover. And It’s downhill from there. This period in Israel’s history is sordid and unsavory. 

    1. God promises a successor for Elijah, which means, as Elijah is begging God to let him be done with his work, God is laying the groundwork to relieve him of his duties. He recognizes Elijah’s limits and offers him promise of relief. He tells Elijah to appoint Elisha as the prophet who will take his place.

    1. God promises other faithful followers.

    1 Kings 19:17-18:  ”It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

    God IS going to put things to rights. But it’s not going to be pretty. Yet the passage ends with some hopefulness. There ARE those who have like Elijah, remained faithful to the Lord. They have not turned their hearts to another. They have walked with God, and God vows to protect them.

    Elijah does as God asks. He finds Elisha and appoints him as his successor. And Elisha follows the call of God on his life. He has one request. He wants to kiss his parents. Elisha has probably heard about Elijah’s life. In the midst of a whole country turned to false gods it’s bound to get out when someone defies the king and chooses to walk with God. Elisha very well may have been aware of the epic showdown on Mount Carmel with the Baals and the altar God burned up along with the slaying of the prophets of Baal. He most likely knows that in the following of Elijah he will face the very same tumult as Elijah has undergone. He wants to break bread with his family one more time.

    Elijah graciously agrees. And Elisha makes good on his promise. He worships with his people by offering a sacrifice of an oxen, he cooks for them, and feeds them. And this is where God answers Elijah’s prayer in the final way.

    1. Elisha ministers to Elijah. God gives Elijah a friend. Not just a successor, not merely the just punishment of his tormentors, but a friend. Someone to minister to Elijah’s soul, as he has worn himself out ministering to others. We cannot underestimate the power of friendship.

    Who has God brought into your life as a trusted confidant and friend in your spiritual journey?

    In what other ways are you seeing God interceding in your life to answer prayers for God’s presence?

    Take a few minutes to thank God for the friend you mentioned above. Now take a second to reach out to them: A letter, email, phone call, text. Let them know how they are an asset to your life, and proof of God’s presence.

  • What Are You Doing Here?

    So many of my favorite Biblical stories are wrapped up with Elijah. The life he lived was truly extraordinary, like nothing I can comprehend. We just finished studying Elijah running, broken, exhausted, lonely, and begging God to let him die. He’s wandering in the wilderness for 40 days and God visits him once again.

    1 Kings 19:9-14

    9 Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

    11 So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.12 After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”

    God shows such compassion to His servant. He asked Elijah to tell him how he’s gotten where he is. Elijah responds with a very human answer. He’s tired. He’s lonely. He’s discouraged. And he’s scared. Yet he’s been faithful. At every turn, even amidst adversity, Elijah has chosen to walk with the Lord. It’s been thorny and hard, but he has not wavered.

    God listens. And God answers with an incredible gift to Elijah; His presence.

    The LORD was passing by!

    Great winds tore the mountain away from itself, as rocks flew around Elijah and fell to the ground far below. The gusts around Elijah threatened to dismantle the very rock that seemed so stable. But God was not in the wind.

    An earthquake shook the ground beneath him, his strong foothold of the rock soon was wavering and faltering. The solid ground beneath him threatened to give way. Yet God was not in the earthquake.

    Fire washed over the mountain where Elijah stood waiting for God to pass by him. But there too, God was not to be found.

    Finally and definitively, a gentle blowing washes over Elijah. And it was that gentle blowing that brought Elijah face to face with the presence of God.

    Elijah wrapped a cloth around his face, and ventured out of the cave he’d hidden in to protect himself from the elements in which God was not found. Now he knew, in this gentle quiet, this was where God would visit him. I find it remarkable that God comes gently to Elijah, rather than through the elements that show an eccentric amount of power. They were all acts of God, but God was not IN any of the elements until He breathed on Elijah. Elijah experienced the power of God all throughout his story. But what he needed right then, in those moments of fear, was not to see God’s power but to experience His gentle kindness. And that is precisely what God brought to him. Romans 2:4 says, “…the kindness of God leads to repentance.” This was what God was doing here. He was exercising great kindness to bring His servant back to Him. 

    And God asks Elijah the same question as He did, before the wind, the earthquake and the fire. “What are you doing here?” It’s Elijah’s story and he’s sticking to it. His response is WORD FOR WORD the same as when he answered God initially. He has been faithful. Discouraged yes, but faithful.

    In what ways has God shown Himself to you?

    What stories of the miraculous work of God do you have in your arsenal to remember when things get really tough?

    How has God gently served you in places of discouragement?




  • Food, Prayer, Rest

    1 Kings 19:5-8

    This study has helped me see a theme in Elijah’s story that I’d never picked up on before.

    Read 1 Kings 17:6
    Then 1 Kings 17:15-16
    And now read 1 Kings 19:5-8.

    Elijah and God have this provision/trust thing that keeps cropping up. It seems that for Elijah God wants to continue to provide for him the assurance of His provision. He keeps feeding him. And all three of these times, in intensely meaningful ways. Through ravens, through empty flour and oil jars, through his most desperate discouragement, God brings Elijah sustainment of the most basic of needs…his appetite.

    Elijah runs into the wilderness. He throws himself under a juniper tree. And he sleeps. Next thing he knows, an angel is gently waking him. He speaks two words to Elijah. “Arise, eat.” Elijah eats the meal the angel prepared for him and falls to sleep again. He’s exhausted from life’s hard work.

    Again, the angel comes to him and shows compassion. This time he says, “Arise, eat, for the journey is too great for you.” He doesn’t scold Elijah for his discouragement. He doesn’t tell Elijah to pull himself up by his sandal straps and get going. Instead the angel of God shows Elijah kindness and compassion by meeting his basic needs. 

    When we are in our places of deepest discouragement often what we most need is for someone to come along our side and say, “man, that’s hard.” We don’t need advice or tips, we need empathy. That is what the angel provided for Elijah.

    And that food that Elijah was fed? It sustained him for 40 days. He went to Mount Horeb for 40 days. It doesn’t say what he did for all that time but from his first feeding at the Brook by Cherith to this one at Mt. Horeb, it’s roughly 200 miles. I find these facts fascinating. It was a lot of hard work for Elijah just getting where he was going when the Spirit wasn’t just moving him from one place to the next. He walked all that way.

    Finally, I want us to consider the importance of these 40 days for Elijah. I know it’s not possible for me in my present situation, and you might feel the same as I do, but maybe God is calling you to a time of rest. You may not be able to swing 40 days wandering the wilderness. And maybe Elijah felt like that time was ANYTHING but rest. But I think we can be assured with the history of Elijah up until now that it was 40 days spent seeking the Lord.

    With big changes on the horizon for the Lempola family, maybe it’s time I do the same.

    It’s not lost on me that God first comforts Elijah with food to eat and sleep. How are you malnourished in your basic needs of diet and rest? 

    Even amidst the craziness your life holds right now, how can you take time to rest?

    How’s your prayer life? Is there a way to build in time to meet with God in prayer?

  • I’ve Had Enough

    1 Kings 19:4

     But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” 

    I want to slow down a little in the beginning of 1 Kings 19. As I’ve spent time in God’s Word reading this story, I’ve spent a lot of time weeping.

    Reread verse 4. Take a second and sit in Elijah’s shoes. Or maybe this is a place you frequently sit already. You work hard to do the right thing. You work hard to further God’s kingdom through your faithfulness to your family, your job, your relationships. And after all your striving, you’re feeling dumped on with raging lunatics at your heels. Like Elijah, you have had enough.

    All Elijah knew to do sitting in his exhaustion and discouragement was to beg God to let him die. He didn’t have anyone patting him on the back for his good work. No one was giving an annual review telling him where he was improving. He was receiving death threats and discouragement at every turn. In fact, he’s doubting his own faithfulness to God. Look at the end of the verse: “for I am not better than my fathers.” He sees himself not only worth death, but unworthy of God’s affection.

    Up to now, we see Elijah as a lone ranger. He acts alone with the help of his Savior. He has no counterpart helping him manage life or his work. His servant left him in Beersheba and he’s all alone. This is a fabulous reminder to me of 2 things.

    1. We cannot live our lives in isolation. We NEED others to speak into our lives, offer perspective, and to love us well. If we are going to have the greatest amount of impact, we need help accomplishing God’s work.

    2. We need to depend on God more deeply than we depend on the people God puts in our lives. As badly as we need to realize we can’t live life alone, we also need to realize that God is ultimately where we find our hope and fulfillment.  

    As we continue to slowly make our way through chapter 19, we are going to see some miraculous responses to Elijah’s prayer. God listens, He visits Elijah, and makes promises to him. Elijah allows God to nurture his desperate and broken heart.

    I’m often awfully quick to try to find a silver lining when I’m relating to others in their pain. But the last thing I want from others when I’m hurting is for them to diminish my pain by finding the light in it. No, I have to discover the light for myself for it to hold meaning and significance.

    In Elijah’s discouragement, he took his broken heart to God. It may seem like an overreaction on Elijah’s part at first glance, but what I see, is someone a lot like me. I face discouragement and I can either wallow in self-pity, or I can fall honestly and vulnerably before my Savior and admit my brokenness and need. Take a look with me at Psalm 51:17.

    “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

    God desires exactly Elijah’s kind of heart, to use and bring glory to Himself. Elijah’s broken and contrite heart is what God wishes to point others to Himself.

    Where do you have the tendency to most often fall into discouragement?

    Where do you find encouragement when you’re in the darkest places?

    What do you ask of God when you’re there?



  • Running, Rain and Fear

    1 Kings 18:41-19:3

    There has just been a massive miracle. God has just burned up the entire alter Elijah prepared for Him. Elijah has also just had to do the hard task of ending many men’s lives. That is no small thing. We see it take a toll on him and his heart in this passage. We see him overtaken with fear. He has courage until he doesn’t. In Elijah’s heart and mind when he allows his cowardice to win, there’s a torrential downpour of disillusionment, discouragement and fear.

    First after the death of all the prophets, Elijah becomes concerned with Ahab’s physical needs. He tells him to have a meal. It was a sort of celebration, because here Elijah is announcing the end of the drought that he called over 3 years ago. He says, “Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower.” While Ahab is eating and drinking, watching the sky for a storm, Elijah and his servant high tail it to the top of Mount Carmel to also watch the sky and to beg God to end the drought.

    Elijah plants himself at the top of the mountain, puts his head between his knees and seven times asks his servant to check the sky. He can’t bring himself to do it.

    Are there any clouds?
    Nope.

    Are there any clouds now?
    Nope. Still nothin’

    Now?
    Uhuh.

    Look at the sea. Do you see any there?
    Nope. Nothing. Bluest skies I’ve ever seen.

    Can you check again for me?
    Sure. Nope, no clouds.

    Hey man, will you look again?
    Yeah, well, no. Still no clouds.

    I need you to look again.
    Ok. There’s a tiny little cloud this time. About the size of a man’s hand.

    YES? Elijah stands to give his servant a new job. No more looking at the sky, this time, run to Ahab and tell him to get moving with his chariot so he doesn’t get stuck in the rain. Once again, he’s inexplicably tending to Ahab’s physical needs.

    The sky got black. It filled with clouds. The wind came up. And it rained. Hard. For the first time in YEARS.

    Ahab jumps on his chariot and starts riding. Elijah RUNS. All inhibitions aside, he pulls up his robe and gets going. And with the help of the Spirit, Elijah beats Ahab back to Jezreel. I’m not sure what difference this makes in the story. It’s still Ahab that tells Jezebel the story of what God did on the mountain with the sacrifice, but I think it’s a beautiful detail to not lose sight of. God is with His servant. Once again, for the millionth time over, He’s showing Himself faithful to Elijah. Maybe God knew Elijah needed a few minutes to catch his breath before Jezebel hears about the death of her servants and sends Elijah this message.

    “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” Love, Jezebel

    And once again Elijah starts running. This time the Spirit isn’t making his steps faster. This time it’s sheer fear moving Elijah. His faithful servant gets dumped in Beersheba, but Elijah keeps running. He’s literally running for his life. He has become completely overcome with fear. He runs into the wilderness all alone.

    We'll dig deeper into Elijah's response as we go, but can you relate to Elijah's fear?

    Has there ever been a time you have lost sight of the hand of God and ran in fear?

    How did God call you back to Himself?

    What keeps you trusting now, when fear starts to get the better of you?

    If you’ve never had the experience of running in fear, what is about the love of God that keeps you close to Him and trusting? 

    How can you use that deep trust in God to draw others to also trust Him?

  • Answer Me

    1 Kings 18:37-40

    Elijah has prepared himself and the alter for a great act of God. 

    Elijah prays a simple prayer: “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You have turned their heart back again.”

    After all his merciless mockery, his prayer takes on a tone of compassion. He wants the people of Israel to know God. He wants them to have the opportunity to turn their faces to God once again. He knows if God chooses to show His power in this moment, that His people just might turn their faces from Baal to the True God.

    No sooner does he finish his prayer, does God hear and answer Elijah. The Baals kept silent all day long. “They didn’t pay attention.” But the moment Elijah utters his prayer his God pays attention.

    The fire fell. Not only did it burn up the ox, it burned the wood, the Twelve Stones, the dust, and even the water in the trench. And all the people who had been begging their gods to hear them all day long fell flat on their faces. Not because they’d been burned by the physical fire, but because the fire also licked up the last of their doubt. They said, “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”

    It wasn’t enough to say it once. They had to say it again. They now knew God. Elijah was hoping they would acknowledge God, and they did.

    And then they ran.

    This part of the story is hard to comprehend fully. In their turning to God, they also became consumed with fear of judgment. God is not tolerant of hearts wandering to other gods. He is patient through a lot of things with us. But this issue has been a big deal since the fall. God commanded His people that they have no other gods before Him [Exodus 20:3]. Just 3 chapters before [1 Kings 15] King Asa goes to great lengths to rid his heart, home and country of idols because his heart was “wholly devoted to God.” And then Ahab and Jezebel bring back the gods he destroyed. He is not very tolerant of you and I dividing our worship. And He wasn’t very tolerant of the prophets of Baal and Asherah either. Elijah seized the prophets and killed them beside the brook Kishon.

    It’s hard to read. It’s difficult to think of my own divided heart lined up next to theirs and to think of the consequences. These prophets had been leading the whole country down a dangerous road. These 850 prophets as we looked at earlier, were swerving in their faith, they were leading others from God, and they ultimately disregarded God to gain acceptance of the king and queen.

    These prophets were leading the people of God to other gods, and God couldn’t stand to lose more of His people to gods who weren’t even paying attention.

    My heart breaks with the hopelessness of the prophets of Baal and Asherah. They KNEW they had to answer for their actions. They knew they had turned their country away from God to nothing. They might as well have been atheists for the silence of their gods. God completely destroyed them all.

    My heart turns from God easily. And in its turning I want to throw my fists up at God and ask Him why He seems so compassionless for these prophets. Did they HAVE to die? Could there have been another way for them?

    Truly, I don’t think so. This is how I know to make sense of it. I’m certain God’s ways are still far above my ability to comprehend, but as I read the passage and my heart is convicted, I’ve come to believe that idol worship had become so pervasive in their culture that even one of the prophets spreading the message could canvas the hearts of thousands. The people of God have been fickle in their worship. God could not allow people to continue recklessly turning hearts from Him. He needed to show them that HE IS PAYING ATTENTION. He is not silent. He is not otherwise occupied. His primary concern is turning hearts to acknowledge His glory. He punished the prophets with the expectation that through the death of some, many might be saved.

    And God is not otherwise occupied now either. He is concerned with the state of my heart. He is paying attention, and desires that I would come face to face with HIM, not others who in their silence rob me of a full life in Christ. He’s hoping to capture my attention as he purges my life of idols that I willfully choose to take the place of Him.

    He won’t stand for it. He might not slay me by a brook, but I do believe that the moment I asked the Spirit to make a home in me, He began working to purge me of the things that could draw my attention elsewhere. And as long as my sincere prayer is one of being made holy before God, He won’t stop working in me. He will slay the parts of me that draw my heart and the hearts of others from Him. He’s too engaged to allow me to go my own way apart from Him. He’s too gracious to be silent.

    God, soften my heart to Your Spirit. Never let my heart wander so far from you, that it silences Your voice. I’m listening. Please root out the idols in me, so I pursue you singlemindedly. Please show me where I am trusting others where I ought only be trusting in you. And keep my heart and mind singly focused on you.



  • Preparing to Meet with God

    1 Kings 18:30-36

    Now it’s Elijah’s turn. The servants of Baal and Asherah have had all day to see if their god might respond to their desperate worship. They’ve been left with nothing but a fly covered stinking, rotting ox still lying on the altar. And Elijah feels he’s been patient enough. It’s his turn to ask his God to answer.

    Elijah gathers everyone around him. They watch as he rebuilds the altar with 12 stones, one to represent each of the 12 Tribes of Israel. I wish we had time to recount what a symbolic act this is. Throughout the Old Testament God would remind His people of His covenant through Twelve Stones. He would keep a promise, and He would call the people to pick up Twelve Stones. He was faithful when He made His promise to Moses all those years ago and now, here is another opportunity for God to show Himself faithful to His people even when they’ve ran sofar from Him.

    The prophets of Baal and Asherah took next to no time to prepare for their sacrifice. You get the idea they threw up the oxen on a recklessly made altar, and got to praying. Their time before the altar was spent in desperation on the back end, begging their gods to hear them. Elijah was the exact opposite. He spent a great amount of time in preparation.

    Elijah stacks the Twelve Stones with the people watching him. He started digging around the altar. He dug a trench big enough to hold “2 measures of seed.” It’s sort of an informal way of measuring area. This is describing how much land could be sown with a 2 measures of seed. This trench was no joke. Elijah had to be exhausted by the time he finished. Who builds a trench around an altar? He must have looked like a crazy man as the prophets watched him working so hard at something that seemingly had no meaning at all.

    After the trench is built Elijah asks for help hauling water. There are 4 pitchers at hand, and three times he has those 4 pitchers filled and water poured over the ox, the wood, and filling the trench around the Twelve Stone altar. In the Jewish custom every evening a lamb was sacrificed to God. Elijah carefully arranged the wood, the sacrifice and the stones. [Exodus 29:38-42]. It actually was kind of perfect that Elijah waited until now to ask God to intervene. The purpose of the “Twilight Sacrifice” was instituted at Mount Sinai with the receiving of the 10 Commandments. They’ve been remembering the presence of God, His righteousness, and their need of Him for years. And they’re about to remember

    again.

    Elijah looks at this altar and sacrifice from all angles. He’s looking at it from the long told story of the Covenant God gave at Mt. Sinai. He is looking at it from the sacrifice made at the temple every single night to cleanse the hearts of the people, and the dwelling place of God. He is looking at it from his own heart, and how God might choose to use HIM in the telling of this story. He does not neglect one piece of the story in his preparation. He has acknowledged the Covenant, God’s people, himself, and foremost, God Himself.

    All this preparation gives me pause. I run into church, and up to the table to receive the symbol of His body and blood; This symbol of Christ Himself being offered up so that practices such as this ox on the altar could be eradicated forever. No longer is it an object lessen representing the Sacrifice of God, as I stand at the communion table, it’s the real body and blood of Christ that I’m remembering as I bite down on the bread and let the wine wash over my tongue. It’s a grace to remember. It’s a promise that is FOR ME. And it requires some preparation.

    But I rush. I often don’t take a second to think about the sacrifice of God. I hurry through the act of it all. I forget to stop and consider the blood spilt, The Gospel promises, the faithfulness of God. I fail to dig trenches believing that God could even burn up the water around my anxious heart if He so desired. It’s powerful to remember. Preparation deepens the experience. The Spirit honors the time we take to prepare for Him. He also is faithful to meet us where we are, when in a flurry we rush to the table in our need of Him. But I think sometimes when we’ve delighted to do some work to meet with Him beforehand, when we have dug trenches around our hearts and asked God to meet us in mysterious ways; when we ask God to answer us, and to burn up the water in the trenches, He delights to meet our prepared hearts.

    How are you at preparing your heart to meet with God?

    What does the preparation communicate to your own heart?

  • No One Paid Attention

    Beginning with Baal

    1 Kings 18:20-35

    Last week we looked at Ahab and Elijah challenging one another to see who was the great "troubler of Israel." Ahab, Jezebel and Elijah agree on the terms of their deal, to see whose God is real. They chose an ox, cut it up into pieces, and laid it on an alter. They didn’t bring a means to burn the sacrifice. They agreed to let the true God burn it up. The prophets of Baal and Asherah were to go first. They had from morning until noon to make Baal respond.

    The prophets of Baal started by calling out to Baal asking him to respond. It says at noon, he hadn’t responded so they started to leap about.

    Elijah is merciless. You can feel his anticipation mounting. Their god has been silent for hours. I’m sure all morning, as he’s been waiting to see what might happen he has wondered what exactly God might do. He’s been standing by watching them beg their god to do something. At noon, he gets snarky. He tells them they might need to yell louder because obviously, their god is “occupied.” [Read, using the restroom.]

    So, they yell louder, they pull out blades and start cutting themselves. It says, “their blood gushed out on them.” They dance, and scream, and cut themselves until it is way past noon. Scripture says, [1 Kings 18:29] “When midday was past, they raved until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice; but there was no voice, no one answered, no one paid attention.”

    I waffle as I read this between seeing a near cartoonish type tactics, with Elijah as the heckler on the sidelines while the prophets dance before Baal, begging him to listen. I have heard this passage preached on so many times, and have imagined Rocky and Bullwinkle looking characters making fools of themselves, and Elijah nearly doing the same as he mocks them from the sidelines.

    But I think in all reality, this scene is more heartbreaking than laughable. These prophets have forsaken God in order to gain prestige and honor from Ahab and Jezebel. They were unwavering in a faulty belief system. They really believed Baal was who Ahab and Jezebel promised he was. They truly expected him to show up and burn up the sacrifice. As their god remains silent, they slowly realize they have nothing. Their god is ruthless, unrelenting, unreliable, worthless. They mutilate their own bodies, praying he’ll hear them when in reality he’s as stony and silent as the alter in front of them. They’ve lost everything. “No one paid attention.”

    How many times in my life have I trusted something/one who wouldn’t listen to me? I put faith in the likes of career, circumstances, a silent god, and other well meaning but worthless silver hands. These idols are unrelenting in their cruel silence. It’s not their fault I put too much stock in what they have to offer me. It is my own lack of trust that God is not only capable, but longing to be sufficient, to listen, to pay attention. But God continues to pursue our wandering hearts. He doesn’t leave us dancing before a silent god, He goes to great lengths to be faithful to us. But as we’ll see, He also won’t be patient with our shenanigans forever.

    What silent gods are you pursuing?

    What ridiculous shenanigans do you go through to force your false god to answer?

    When is it time to release our hold on our false gods and take the hands of a God who hears?

  • 3 Ways We Lack Intentionality

    Elijah Meets Ahab Again

    1 Kings 18:17-19

    17 When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?”18 He said, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and you have followed the Baals. 19 Now then send and gather to me all Israel at Mount Carmel,together with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

    Last week we looked at a chance encounter of Elijah and Obadiah. This week Ahab comes to Elijah. They have a very dramatic standoff, of who is the greatest troubler of Israel. Elijah challenges Ahab to a duel. Really, it’s God who is in the cross hairs in this scenario. Elijah has asked Ahab to show whose God is stronger: Baal, whom Jezebel re-introduced to Israel, or Elijah’s God who has shown up in Israel’s history before Israel existed.

    Elijah does not hold back what angers him about their idol worship. “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and you have followed the Baals.” He is FEARLESS speaking to the king. He does not shrink down from the harsh things that need to be spoken.

    I believe at times kindness is the first best first word. I also believe when leaders are leading groups en masse astray from what is right sometimes there is no longer time for gentle words. Elijah has no patience for kind words. Ahab and Jezebel have led the people of God down a path leading to destruction and punishment, and he can’t stand by doing nothing. But greater than Elijah’s personal passion, is what God has required of him.

    Elijah has chosen to live an unpredictable and committed life to God. God has been faithful, and Elijah believes in this scenario He will be again. Elijah believes that God deserves the best from His people, meanwhile His people have turned from Him. Scripture describes 3 ways God’s people have lacked intentionality in their pursuit of Him. And before we start judging Israel for how they’ve turned from God, realize with me just how guilty we ourselves are.

    1. Easily swayed and distracted from what is right. In verse 19 it says that there are 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah. This is no small group of people. This is a massive amount of people who have been distracted from what is right, and now are distracting the rest of the country from following God. This troubles my heart for all the times I’m distracted from God, and distract others with matters that have little significance.

    2. Uncommitted and swerving in their faith. After all God has done for His people, they easily walk away to join another. They have no wherewithal. This shouldn’t be surprising given what Israel has previously been known for in their history, but it’s no less disheartening because I know how easily I can swerve in my own faith to pleasures that God has nothing to do with.

    3. Taken in by the “important” people. It says that all 850 of the prophets take meals at Jezebel’s table. They eat delicious food. They rendezvous with the queen. They have influence. Instead of thinking for themselves, learning some courage, and trusting God’s hand, they are wooed by the "important" people and go their own way. I sometimes also trust big name people in my life more than I trust the God who created me. I want the respect of others and neglect God’s work in search of it.

    In these 3 verses I find tremendous conviction. My heart aches as I try to justify the ways in my own life I become like the prophets of Baal and Asherah. And it only gets worse. Their deep faith in a faulty system leads to crazy shenanigans that are so ridiculous they’re almost cartoonish. But these were real people and I am sobered as their story forces me to sit with their sin and mine.

    Which of the 3 ways that Israel lacked intentionality in their relationship to God can you most relate to?

    Take a second to turn your heart toward God in that area. Confess to Him your rebellion. Ask Him to stir true repentance in your heart and turn fully back to Him. His grace is consuming. He'll mercifully draw us back to Himself.

  • A Chance Encounter

    Elijah Meets Obadiah

    1 Kings 18:1-16

    I started our Elijah study by sharing a little of Israel’s history. We learned that Obadiah was a prophet at the same time as Elijah but he was a prophet to the Southern Kingdom, during Jehoshaphat’s reign. Well, in this story it’s POSSIBLE that the minor profit Obadiah is colliding with Elijah. It’s argued that it MIGHT be a different Obadiah, but it also might be the exact same as in the book of Obadiah. They’re alive and prophesying at the same time, so it definitely seems feasible that it’s the same guy.

    At the beginning of this story, God is telling Elijah that it’s time for him to show himself to the king again. It’s been 3 years since Elijah found himself in front of Ahab declaring the famine and drought, and now the kingdom is in the thick of the consequences.

    This time, Elijah is to go to the Ahab and declare the end of the famine. Obadiah also has a message for Ahab. He is working with Ahab to keep the cattle alive during the drought, looking for bits of water where he can. Obadiah goes one way, Ahab goes another to see what they can come up with.

    In Obadiah’s direction he meets up with Elijah. Obadiah recognizes Elijah and immediately falls on his face in front of him. It’s a combination of relief and fear. Obadiah is terrified of Ahab. Elijah’s prophecy means Obadiah is looking for water in a deserted land and he’s afraid if he doesn’t find it, Ahab will kill him.

    Meanwhile, Obadiah is drawing on faith that he’s found before. In this passage it says that "Obadiah is a man who hid prophets in caves when Jezebel set out to kill them." He’s already on thin ice for that act of faith before. It seems maybe this little exercise of finding some water might just be exactly the excuse Ahab needs to put an end to the prophet.  There’s a lot at stake here.

    Elijah’s been in high demand, he finds out from Obadiah. While Obadiah was hiding the other prophets, Jezebel and Ahab have been searching high and low for Elijah so they can end his shenanigans before he does any more damage. Elijah tells Obadiah to tell Ahab where he is. He’s ready to be out with it, and face Ahab. This has Obadiah on edge, because he’s afraid that now that he’s found Elijah, Elijah is going to up and disappear.

    It seems to be a thing with Elijah. He’s one place one moment, and gone the next. Obadiah says, “the Spirit of the Lord will carry you where I do not know.” Obadiah has faith enough to believe that the Spirit can move Elijah where He will, but not faith enough to believe that the very same God will take care of him in the face of Ahab and Jezebel.

    I’m no different than Obadiah. Some portions of my faith are easier to hold onto than others. Sometimes I have an easier time trusting God’s presence for someone else, than I do believing He’s going to show up for me too. It seems Obadiah and I are in the same boat.

    Obadiah is obedient to Elijah’s command. He goes to Ahab and Jezebel and tells them he’s found Elijah. He finds courage and belief even amidst great fear and then he exits the scene. He has his own gigantic story all tied up in this. He did not find water, but he found Elijah, and for Ahab and Jezebel, that’s the next best thing.

    Who have you had a “chance” meeting with that later you saw was orchestrated by God?

    Why do you think God included this encounter with Obadiah and Elijah in the Scriptures?

    How can you related to Obadiah’s great relief and great fear in meeting Elijah?

  • Losing a Son

    1 Kings 17:17-24

    In Elijah's story last week, God miraculously provides for the widow, her son, and for Elijah through flour and oil that mysteriously never run out. God’s provision in the story of Elijah is hopeful and faith building. God has provided him courage, food through ravens, and now a meal through a widow.

    And if the bread and oil weren’t enough to make the widow believe, now she has her next opportunity. 

    After they’re all fed, the widow’s son starts to not feel so well. It escalates to him no longer breathing. The widow comes to Elijah, seemingly furious.

    1 Kings 17:18: “What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance and to put my son to death!”

    If she thought the situation was dire before when facing starvation, now it’s even worse. At least she and her son could die together, now she loses the only person who matters to her and she thinks it’s all God and Elijah’s fault. She knows the power of God. Her words actually show she understands the depth of her sinfulness. She tells Elijah he’s forcing her to remember it. She makes it sound as though his very presence is forcing her to face her sin.

    Elijah takes her son’s body to her rooftop and prays.  Her son is already dead. It sounds like the widow’s frustration has worn off on Elijah, and likewise, he has his own questioning of God in this. This wasn’t how the story was supposed to go. This was supposed to be a simple provision story, where this nice widow gives Elijah what he needs to sustain him for his work. Meanwhile, she’s penniless, riddled with unbelief, and now her kid is dead.

    Elijah lays himself on the body of the child 3 times. [Elisha, Elijah’s successor does this later to raise another child.] It seems to be a symbol of imparting life. There’s desperation in working to bring a person back to life, you’ll lay your WHOLE life down to see another breathe another breath of life. As Elijah does so, he continues to pray for God’s healing on the child. And Scripture says, “The LORD heard the voice of Elijah.”

    God listened. And He healed the child. Elijah brought the boy down and told the widow, “See, your son is alive.” And she responds in faith at the tail end of the story. “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

    She’s just confessed and acknowledged the depth of her sin, but she doesn’t stay stuck in self-pity. When her son is raised, her faith is strengthened and she believes not only in the man at her doorstep asking for bread, but more importantly in the God who sent him and raised her son back to life.

    Sometimes it takes drastic circumstances for me to believe as well. No child of mine has been raised from the dead, but I have countless stories of the Lord’s provision, my family’s health made well, and the day in and day out of having Jesus walk beside me in everyday decision-making. Sometimes, even in all my stories where I have seen God at work, I need to borrow the faith of those walking beside me to see the work of God in my circumstances.

    What about you? Who has proverbially stretched their body across your faith to make you believe?

    How have you seen the Lord work miraculously in your life or in the lives of those around you?

    What area of your life is requiring a little extra faith right now?

  • A Widow, Some Flour and Oil

    1 Kings 17:8-16

    The passage we looked at last week ended abruptly, with Elijah’s restful stream drying up because of the prophecy [discipline] he spoke to Ahab. My dad always has told me that our sin never just affects us. The same is true in this story. Ahab’s sin and Elijah’s prophecy actually comes back to bite Elijah [and the whole country.]

    God miraculously provided for Elijah and then God speaks a command. The time for resting is complete. The brook is dry, it’s time to get moving. God directs Elijah to Zarephath and tells him now a widow would provide for him. We’re moving from birds to women. It’s about 85 miles which would be a pretty healthy walk for anybody, let alone a man who has no water.

    God’s given him a destination, but little direction for the journey. It’s time for Elijah to prepare for what God is giving him to do. It’s time for him to start walking and store up trust of Him, while the hardest thing he has to do is put one foot in front of the other. Things are going to get harder, for now he just has to walk.

    As soon as Elijah comes to the gate of the city, there she is; the widow woman gathering sticks. Her work is never done; she’s exhausted from the day, and is getting ready to prepare a meal. Elijah commands her to get him something to drink and she leaves to do so without asking questions. Elijah then commands her to bring him some bread. This is where the provision starts to break down.

    She doesn’t even HAVE any. She’s not only a widow, she’s a terribly POOR widow woman. She responds, “As the Lord your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.”

    She has so few resources at her disposal that she’s giving up on life. She has nothing left, and she’s certain death is the next step for her. As for Elijah, this is how God told him He was going to provide! Through THIS woman who now it turns out doesn’t even have any BREAD.

    Elijah asks something audacious of her. She has no trust, and this is evidenced by her giving up, giving over life to death. He asks her to trust him by feeding him first. He asks her to use the flour and oil on him and then to make something for her and her son. And he promises her that her flour and oil will not run out.

    She believed him and made up the bread. And sure enough, there was enough to go around. In fact, there's more than enough. Her oil and water do not run out.

    We’ll be learning more about the woman and her trust, but this story is so often how God works in our hearts to draw us to Himself. He doesn’t begin by asking us to jump off a ledge, He begins by asking us to take a first step. He may or may not reveal how He’s going to provide, but He gives us an opportunity to trust Him. And then He moves us forward in our faith and trust of Him.

    The widow woman is starting off in her faith journey [at least a sincere one] and God goes easy on her as He begins to test the limits of her belief. Just as God began with bread for Elijah at the brook, He begins with bread for the widow woman as well. For both Elijah and the Widow, God is showing them that He will remain faithful. He provides. 

    So for you today, how is God testing your limits?

    What is He asking of you that just doesn’t seem possible for today?

    How can we together today trust God to fill our flour and oil as we empty ours at His asking?

    Will we allow Him to show us that for the 1st or maybe the 100th  time He will provide for us again?

     

  • An Unexplained Entrance

    1 Kings 17:1-7

    This is Elijah’s first entrance into the written Word. He just appears out of nowhere. Somehow he finds himself in the company of the king and announces that there will be a massive drought. The story begins that abruptly. We don’t know what the relationship is between Elijah and Ahab to know how he finds himself in front of the king, announcing impending doom. God WAS in the middle of it, but God doesn’t enter the written story until right AFTER Elijah announces the drought. It makes me look at the passage again. Obviously God’s hand is on Elijah, but the story begins with a bold move. Elijah’s courage is highlighted at the opening. And nearly every entrance after is courageous move after courageous move.

    Immediately next, after Elijah delivers this dramatic message to Ahab, God tells him to hide out by a brook in the region, and that he’s going to feed him through ravens. It’s also clean water, so he can drink from the brook. God knows Ahab’s tendency toward anger [which we’ll see a lot of a little later on] and Elijah’s tendency for questioning. God protects Elijah and answers questions about provision before Elijah asks them.

    God could have strengthened Elijah as He strengthened Jesus when he was in the wilderness fasting for 40 days. But that’s not what he asks of Elijah right now [that comes later.] For now God wants to restore him and quench his thirst.

    So Elijah goes to the brook. And God tells him to drink of the brook and “commands the ravens to provide for him there.” It sounds so Disney-esque, with birds bringing dinner.

    I like to read a lot of fantasy/science fiction. I think part of it is because I like thinking about the possibilities of living life out of the ordinary. In reading Elijah, I enjoy the stories so much because EVERY single one is Elijah living life out of the ordinary. There’s an element to each story that feels otherworldly.

    As we examine Elijah’s life, let your imagination run a little bit. Visualize the scenes Scripture paints for us. Take your time reading through the Scripture passages.

    There’s not a lot of description of what Elijah’s time by the brook was spent doing, but it seems it might be preparation, rest, drinking, eating and nurturing. And it may have been for an extended amount of time. It says he “lived” by the brook. It was long enough at least, for the brook to dry up as Elijah’s prophecy to Ahab about the drought, is fulfilled.

    We’ll keep reading soon but I have a couple questions:

    When is the last time you allowed God restore your tired soul? In the midst of the craze of life, when have you slowed down enough to let the Restorer of Elijah’s soul also restore yours?

    Psalm 23

    The Lord is my shepherd,
    I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
    He leads me beside quiet waters.
    He restores my soul;
    He guides me in the paths of righteousness
    For His name’s sake.

    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I fear no evil, for You are with me;
    Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
    You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
    You have anointed my head with oil;
    My cup overflows.
    Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
    And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

    Read this Psalm slowly. Take time to visualize the scene created through Scripture. How is God shepherding your weary heart today?

  • From John the Baptist to Elijah

    Historical Background of Elijah

    Through the study of John the Baptist I realized what an important figure Elijah continued to be long after God took him up to heaven in a fiery chariot. I know the stories of Elijah, but it was impossible to read about John the Baptist and not get roped into the stories of Elijah.

    Elijah shows up on the scene roughly at the same time as Elisha, Obadiah and Joel. The Kingdom of Israel was divided between the North and South because of a whole mishap earlier in Israel’s history. They had separate kings and consequentially, separate prophets as well. Elijah and Elisha were prophets to the Northern Kingdom and Obadiah and Joel were prophets to the Southern Kingdom. We don’t know where Elijah came from, exactly. All the sudden in 1 Kings 17, there he is. He leaves the scene in much the same way.

    Ahab was king [and was king for 22 years], and came by his issues honestly. His dad Omri, “did evil in the sight of the Lord” and Scripture says Omri did MORE evil than any king before him. Ahab followed in his old man’s footsteps. Actually, he outdid his dad. It says in 1 Kings 16:33 that Ahab “did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him.” David had his own troubles. He walked with God, but not as much can be said for his sons. Solomon rebuilt the temple, but from there it seems his heart was divided. The kings after him brought more division, idol worship, murder, lying prophets, dishonest kings, war, and the unsavory list goes on, down the line to Ahab. Ahab was married to a Phoenician princess named Jezebel. She also wasn’t a fan of Elijah, or of making very humanitarian life choices. She pushed forward Baal worship in the Northern Kingdom. Really, in many ways, Ahab and Jezebel’s story might sound a little like Herod and Herodias from John the Baptist’s story.

    It says in 1 Kings 16 that Ahab also made the Asherah. Asherah was a Phoenician goddess. Obviously Jezebel was having quite an effect on Ahab’s spiritual life. A couple other times in the Old Testament the Asherah shows up in Israel’s history, always closely linked with Baal worship. [Judges 6 and 1 Kings 15]. Kings or Judges who walked with God would “Cut them down” as a sign of ridding Israel of their idols. Ahab and Jezebel are dead set on re-introducing them into Israel’s story. Addressing the Baal worship becomes a key part of Elijah’s work in the Northern Kingdom.

    If you read the history straight through you actually feel a sense of relief when Elijah finally enters the scene. After this genealogy of kings, who are always described as the next being worse than the one before, there’s the feeling that MAYBE now finally, something might change.

    Elijah comes in out of nowhere. Contrary to what’s typical, he has no genealogical background given about him, just that he’s from Gilead, which given the history means he’s rough, rugged, sort of a mountain man. [Sounds again like John the Baptist.] He’s fed by birds, dresses in camel skins, and close to the heart and voice of God.

    Phew. This is a lot. Thanks for sticking with me through the history lesson. I'm hoping as we search the stories of Elijah, that our view of God would increase and our hearts would be sensitive to be used by God for His glory.

    What so far in Elijah’s history is intriguing to you?

    What generational legacies is your family leaving? Ones of doing right in the eyes of God?

    Are there any generational sins you are hoping to break through the way you live?

     

  • Conviction Leading to Death

    Matthew 14:1-12

    Herod divorced his wife to marry his brother Philip’s, wife. We don’t know if Philip was dead yet or not. There’s some speculation both ways. We just know John wasn’t happy about it, and he was willing to TALK about how unhappy he was about it. Meanwhile, Herod and Herodias were wildly happy about their arrangement and not thrilled that John was speaking against them. Particularly Herodias was unhappy about it. I think Herod probably encountered a lot of people unhappy with his choices in leadership. But for Herodias, it seems she didn’t quite know how to handle the conviction John was bringing on her.

    Additionally, Herod feared John’s followers. He put John in prison for his words against he and Herodias’ relationship, but it seems that was as far as he was going to take it. He wanted John dead, but didn’t want to incite an uprising.

    Then his wife stepped in.

    She had a beautiful daughter and now was her chance to use her to accomplish what she needed to have done. Herod threw a party. It was a throw down. Somewhere in the course of the night, after they’d all had too much to drink, Herodias’ daughter danced and pleased the crowd and more importantly, her step-dad. He promised her anything she wanted. Scripture says, “having been prompted by her mother…” as though her mama knew she would be winning over the crowd. Conviction is a powerful thing. It either drives us to repentance or it drives us further into our sin. In the case of Herod and Herodias in order to quiet the conviction, instead of dealing with their sin, they silenced the voice of conviction.

    Herodias’ daughter could choose anything she wanted to as a reward for her crowd pleasing. It’s doubtful if left up to her that she would have chosen what she did. Afterall, the marriage John the Baptist was protecting, was likely her mother and father’s. If she was honest, she probably felt as sick about Herod usurping Philip as John the Baptist did. Herodias told her daughter to ask for John the Baptists’ head. On a platter. Gruesome.

    It says Herod was grieved. This could be for a lot of reasons, but I think the course the rest of his life took tells us a little about it. This whole passage begins with Herod being afraid John was raised from the dead, back to make his life miserable. He recognized the power in John, and with a mixture of belief and fear, he knew his error.

    He moved forward anyway. The crowd and his wife were too much for him to handle. He couldn’t put his foot down against their request. He gave them what they asked for in the middle of the banquet in front of everyone. What a horrible scene to watch happen. Right before you is the head of a man you’ve just murdered. As soon as it happened, John’s followers took his body to prepare and bury it. And someone had the job of telling Jesus, John’s cousin.

    Amidst the grief, there is something so beautiful about the progression of events. I get confused with the chronology in the Gospels, but I love this. John’s disciples tell Jesus, and he is so grieved, he goes to a secluded place. He wants to be alone. He probably wants to remember, to be thankful for John’s work, and to be comforted with God. He left in a boat and the crowds followed Him. They probably didn’t have context for His grief, and all they could recognize, was their own need of healing. They NEEDED Him. And Jesus was present with them in their need. This leads to the 5 loaves and 2 fishes feeding of 5000 story. This leads to Andrew, John’s disciple, advocating for the little boy in the crowd, but first, Jesus takes a few minutes on a boat to grieve. Then immediately He began again, addressing the needs of those around Him.  How comforting to Andrew, to watch his master grieve the loss of his friend.

    I’ve spent the majority of the study of John looking at the people around him. The best pictures of him are from him interactions with others. Just a few stories, a couple snapshots into the kind of life he lived, and the rest is question marks. We don’t know what his disciples did without him, if they carried on in their own way, or if they began following Jesus. So much surrounding John is a mystery. He rarely spoke for himself in the Gospels. It’s like the Gospel writers knew of his importance too late to get to know him. In our study I’ve become more curious about the man, John the Baptist. And as my curiosity grew, I realized how impossible it is to know his mind. We just have what we know of those around him, and their character reflects well on him.

    For me, Elijah made the greatest impression throughout John the Baptist’s story. We’re going to dig into his life and story next because I believe God has more to show us through his life. But first:

    Who in John the Baptist’s story has influence you? Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary, Andrew, Herod, Elijah, Jesus?

    Why do you think there are so many inferences drawn between John the Baptist and Elijah?

    What is ONE thing you want to take with you from John the Baptist’s story? How can you apply it today?

     

  • An Advocate For Everyone Else

    John 1:29-42

    Take a second to read the text for this week. Last week we looked at John's statement of truth, Lamb of God! John has this beautiful moment of exclamation and wonder, and two of his disciples leave him to follow Jesus. His belief was such that right then and there, two of his disciples believed in Jesus and followed him. Do you know who one of those disciples was? Andrew, Peter’s brother.

    Can you take this in with me for a second? Andrew believed a long time ago. John’s preparing the way for Jesus, telling all the prophecies the prophet’s screamed about for years. All the while Andrew is right there ready to welcome the Messiah. He is prepared and waiting. Andrew is among the first to believe.

    John whispers “Behold, the Lamb of God” in Andrew’s ear shot and Andrew becomes one of Jesus’ first dedicated Twelve. He runs to his brother Peter, and says, “We have found the Messiah.” John’s proclamation of the Messiah results nearly instantaneously in two disciples of Jesus. Peter becomes one of the most loved and scrutinized disciples of Jesus and it’s his brother Andrew, who we know next to nothing about, who tells him in the first place.

    Andrew seems barely an afterthought when the 12 are mentioned. He’s never the one right next to Jesus. I’m shocked by the progression of Andrew’s story.  He’s the quiet back-seat kind of guy to his loud-mouth brother, Peter. Peter gets all the attention while Andrew was the first to believe. Andrew’s only quoted a couple times in Scripture, and it’s about seemingly logistical stuff, both times. He’s telling Jesus at the feeding of the 5000 that there’s a kid with bread and fish [John 6] and then he’s given a message that Philip wants to see him [John 12].

    On closer look though, both times he’s an advocate, a voice for someone who is seemingly insignificant. Then, at Andrews notice, they break into the story of Jesus in beautiful ways. This happens 3 times.

    1. Andrew tells Peter about Jesus.

    2. Andrew makes this kid with bread and fish the beginning of a massive miracle [RIGHT after John the Baptist, his first leader is beheaded] and then…

    3. Philip comes to Andrew and says that Greeks want to follow Jesus. Do you understand? GREEKS. Jesus has yet to open the gate for anyone but Jews [at least in the Jews’ mind] and Andrew becomes the first advocate for them.

    He knows what it is like to NOT be the guy in the limelight and understands that Jesus is FOR those people.

    John saw Jesus as the Lamb of God! And Andrew saw Jesus as Advocate and reflected this characteristic of God is a beautifully humble way.

    I promise we’re going to get back to John [his death, actually]. I just got a little sidetracked on this Andrew nugget.

    Have you had anyone advocate for you?

    Have you had the opportunity to advocate for anyone else?

    How have these experiences influenced you?

    How does Andrew’s story inspire you?

     

  • The Lamb of God

    We refer to Jesus as the Lamb of God. I’ve sang songs about it and heard sermons preached about Jesus being the Lamb of God.

    What I had failed to realize before is that John the Baptist is the ONLY guy who ever called Jesus the Lamb of God. I did a little research to see if maybe in ancient texts this was some kind of pet term for the Messiah, but no. It doesn’t show up. I thought for sure Isaiah would have something to say about the Lamb of God! Nope. It is a subtle [or not so subtle] return to Abraham and Isaac and their ram, and then to the Passover; this ancient practice of sacrifice, to remember and to hope for God’s deliverance.

    It seems to have escaped everyone but John. He picks up on the significance and beauty of the name. It only shows up twice in Scripture, and the Apostle John is the only one who says anything about the intimate term that John the Baptist uses. He’s the only one who recorded it at all. Both times John [apostle] quotes John [Baptist] as having said it, it is spoken in such awe, reverence and wonder. Listen to this:

    John 1:29 // “The next day he [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

    And then:

    John 1:35-36 // “Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked upon Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

    There are exclamation points at the end of both. He’s completely overcome. He’s known Jesus since before their births, and still as he watches the work of God among men, he’s in awe of the divinity of Jesus.

    His ENTIRE life has been about proclaiming the Messiah. Prophets have written about him and his role for ages, and he’s read their words. It’s so true, that it maybe has become mundane. It enwraps every cell so much that he forgets at moments, maybe just how true it is. And then there is a little snippet of time where it’s never been as true as it is right then. He eats weird stuff, and dresses in clothes that make him and his message stand out. He has a whole bunch of disciples around him who are helping him tell the story that God put it in him to tell before he was a speck in Elizabeth’s belly. But when he sees Jesus this time, when he dunks him under the water and then the next day he looks at Jesus while He’s walking he’s so overcome all he can say is,

    “The Lamb of God!”

    His breath has been taken away with Jesus, the Lamb of God!

    When’s the last time I’ve taken in the reality of Jesus in this way. Not as my friend, not as my favorite confidante, not as my personal Savior meant to answer every beckon call of mine. But as the Lamb of God!

    When have I been so taken in with Jesus that all I can possibly do in that moment is whisper under my breath, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

     

  • Power and Vulnerability

    Today we're looking at John and Jesus meeting so John can baptize Jesus Himself.

    Matthew 3:11-17

    11 “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire12 His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” [Read on through vs. 17. The bold is my embellishment.]

    John goes straight for the punch. He’s not worried about being politically correct or painting the Messiah in any light other than what sounds like a lost fight waiting to happen.

    John’s preaching with conviction, confidently preparing the way for Jesus. And then Jesus arrives, walks right up next to him. Imagine that moment with me. Have you ever been describing a person to other people only to have THAT person walk into the room? It’s an odd moment of hoping you’re describing them as accurately as possible so they won’t be offended by anything that just came out of your mouth.

    Here John is explaining Jesus and then Jesus walks in on him and immediately places Himself before John to be served. He shows an incredible amount of humility and vulnerability. John wants to say no. He does say no in fact, to Jesus’ request to baptize him, and Jesus assures him it is what needs to be done.

    In this one act of humility, He blows every perception that John has just described. John’s description isn’t WRONG, it’s just not yet, and certainly not in the way he’s imagining. In this account, Jesus doesn’t say a THING about John’s description of Him, He just allows the moment of vulnerability to speak for itself.

    John’s just said he’s unworthy to remove Jesus’ sandals and then Jesus shows up right next to him and asks him to remove his sandals. John tries to get out of it. He tries to get Jesus to baptize HIM instead, and Jesus responds, “permit it this time.” He knows Johns heart and the inadequacy he feels in that moment. Jesus knows John’s sin and unrighteousness and meets his lack of confidence with calling on the righteousness of the Spirit. In essence He’s assuring John that his adequacy has NOTHING to do with him in the first place. It has EVERYTHING to do with the righteousness of God. Jesus says, “it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” John knows right then in his act of baptizing Jesus, he is also righteous. For all the sins he has committed, he is in that moment committing a righteous act before God. He IS adequate and it has nothing to do with his own righteousness, and everything to do with the righteousness of God.

    And God reassures John and everyone standing there watching by sending His Spirit in a tangible way, through the flight of a dove. After all John’s strong language about winnowing forks and fire, the Spirit lands on Jesus as a dove. It’s the first of many juxtapositions showing Jesus as a Roaring Lamb.  

    God speaks. He opens the clouds and calls Jesus His. He’s pleased with Jesus’ humility and all the work He is about to do. It’s not going to look anything like anyone expects. They’ve conspired to redeem creation through death and resurrection instead of through a kingdom. The Kingdom comes later. For now it’s a lot of struggle, humiliation, fighting, and persecution.

    What perceptions of Jesus do you hold?

    Do you believe they are accurate perceptions?

    Take a moment to ask God to shift any wrong perceptions you may have of Him, and ask the Spirit to give you eyes to see God accurately.

     

  • The Work of Baptism

    We've looked at where John came from, what his role is, and now I'd like to look at his work. 

    If you’re like me, in Scripture it seems like baptism comes out of NO WHERE.

    Never is baptism mentioned and then all of the sudden, John prophesied and people were baptized.

    I did some digging, and the closest I could come, is the ancient washing practices for cleansing. Leviticus goes into great detail about the cleansing practices, particularly chapters 13-15. Throughout these chapters, it addresses all kinds of conditions that require cleansing.

    Leviticus tells all the rules about what makes a man clean or unclean. It’s pretty hefty. There’s another story of cleansing I love in Ezekiel 16.  

    Ezekiel 16:4-14  4 As for your birth, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water for cleansing; you were not rubbed with salt or even wrapped in cloths. 5 No eye looked with pity on you to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you. Rather you were thrown out into the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born.

    6 “When I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you while you were in your blood, ‘Live!’ 7 I made you numerous like plants of the field. Then you grew up, became tall and reached the age for fine ornaments; your breasts were formed and your hair had grown. Yet you were naked and bare.

    8 “Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord God. 9 “Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. 10 I also clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. 12 I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. 14 Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you,” declares the Lord God.

    The cleansing language is what John was also highlighting when he began to baptize. This story in Ezekiel continues tragically, with Israel rejecting the one who has made her clean. I can’t read this passage with a dry eye. When I think of the care God takes to clean the one wallowing in her filth I lose my rational sensibilities, because there’s nothing rational about love like this. He cleanses her though He KNOWS she will reject Him.

    Baptism represents cleansing. It’s an outward expression of the work God has done [will do] to cleanse us. It doesn’t save us, rather, baptism is a beautiful reminder of the gift of grace God bestows on us. When we trust Him, He cleanses us from our filth. He washes off our blood from us. He clothes us. He makes us righteous.

    No wonder John felt such inadequacy when Jesus asked him to baptize Him. Jesus, in all His righteousness had no need of cleansing. Remember as Jesus is hanging on the cross, and He says, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” All of our hearts break because Jesus was forsaken because God could not look on the sin that Jesus had taken on Himself. MY sin. Sin that requires the cleansing of God. MY sin that would it not be for Jesus, would mean that God could not look on me.

    Jesus’ baptism is a foreshadowing for John. He knows he is inadequate to baptize Jesus, because there is NO earthly way for him to make Jesus clean, first because Jesus is already clean, and second because all the sin Jesus will take on in order for us to come to salvation can only be cleansed miraculously by God’s great grace. And God graciously forgives the guilt of my sin as it was laid on Jesus.

    So when John began this expression of belief, it was a sign of what Jesus’ death would ultimately do. His water and blood wash our unrighteousness from us. He cleanses our filth and from our point of trust forward, God sees us through the lens of CHRIST’S blood instead. No longer does He have to turn His face from our unrighteousness because He sees us cleansed and holy. Hallelujah, what a Savior.

    Have you been baptized? What did it mean to you?

    When you read the Ezekiel passage, does it give a new picture of your baptism? How does it cultivate gratitude in you?

    Take some time to tell God about your thankfulness for His gift of life given to you.

  • Mistaken Identities

    In John’s account of John the Baptist being the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that we started looking at last week, I was struck with the set up. John is preaching about the Messiah being on His way, and the Jews get real hung up on it. Their doubt is such that it’s almost as if they don’t WANT to meet the Messiah. There have been a ton of false teachers claiming to be Him and they’ve grown so combative in their attempts to point people to the straight and narrow that they create their own broad road leading to destruction without even knowing it. They’re ushering people down their life of legalism and religiosity instead of seeing Jesus for who He really is. They don’t have eyes to see the Christ when he is standing before them.

    John is foretelling that Jesus is coming, merely 4 months behind him, actually. Jesus is right on his heals. The book of John says it all so poetically, and I love this passage.

    John 1:14-18
    14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” 16 For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. 17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

    Isn’t that so beautiful? He dwelt among us. Right after the Apostle John sets up the prophet John the Baptist, he gives room in his Gospel for John to share his story. [John 1:19-28]

    If you take the time to read the passage you’ll see a few things.

    John firsts says who he is NOT. He wants to be clear that he is not the Christ. He makes the Jews ask him again. If not the Christ, then who ARE you? They wonder if he’s Elijah. Elijah just keeps cropping up. Elijah was taken up to heaven in the chariot of fire, and it’s like the Jews find it MORE likely that Elijah will come back than that the Messiah will break into history. They’re looking for Elijah everywhere they go.

    Remember how Gabriel pointed to Elijah when promising John to Zacharias? I think this might be another reason for it. It’s easy for people to mistake identities. We mistake our own, we mistake the identity of others by making them something they are not, and Gabriel was making it clear to Zacharias who John the Baptist is. And here, John is making it clear to the Jews who he is NOT.

    John is NOT the Christ. He is NOT Elijah. He is NOT “the Prophet” or just ANY old run-of-the-mill prophet.

    So who is he then?

    John is the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah. He is THAT prophet, preparing the way for The Word to be made flesh. Yet, in his understanding of who he is, he also grasps that the Christ is God. He [John] is not even worthy to wash the Messiah’s filthy feet. And the Messiah asks John to do the great honor of BAPTIZING Him. Jesus asks John to do more than wash the dirt off, He asks John to have the courage to continue proclaiming the truth, to walk down a road that will inevitability lead to the death of them both.

    Do you know what is even crazier than Jesus asking? John accepts. He’s all in. He knows the road will not be an easy one, but one glimpse of Jesus, face to face and he accepts the road before him.

    Do you have a story of mistaken identity? Who does God say that YOU are?

    Knowing this truth, how can you live today to reflect the identity that God gives you?

    What might God be asking of you that you have been putting off? How can you take a step today in the direction of accepting what God is asking of you?

  • Rolling out the red carpet

    This is exciting stuff right here. John is born, his parents understand the weight with which he will live, and I want to look at what Isaiah said would be true of John the Baptist and then what each of the Gospel writers saw in Isaiah’s prophecy. He is an important figure early on in the Gospels. Let's look at what they had to say...

    Isaiah 40:3-8
    A voice is calling,
    “Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness;
    Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
    4 “Let every valley be lifted up,
    And every mountain and hill be made low;
    And let the rough ground become a plain,
    And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
    5 Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    And all flesh will see it together;
    For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
    6 A voice says, “Call out.”
    Then he answered, “What shall I call out?”
    All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
    7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
    When the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    Surely the people are grass.
    8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
    But the word of our God stands forever.

    Matthew 3:3
    3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,
    “The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
    ‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
    Make His paths straight!’”

    Matthew 11:10-11
    10 This is the one about whom it is written,
    ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You,
    Who will prepare Your way before You.’

    Mark 1:2-4
    2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
    “Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You,
    Who will prepare Your way;
    3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
    ‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
    Make His paths straight.’”

    Luke 3:3-6
    And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
    “The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
    ‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
    Make His paths straight.
    5 ‘Every ravine will be filled,
    And every mountain and hill will be brought low;
    The crooked will become straight,
    And the rough roads smooth;
    6 And all flesh will see the salvation of God.’”

    Luke 7:27-28
     This is the one about whom it is written,
    ‘Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You,
    Who will prepare Your way before You.’

    John 1:21-23
    They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he *said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”

    So, not only does every single Gospel writer find this fulfilled prophecy significant enough to quote it, but Matthew and Luke take the time to twice, show that in John, Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled. In many of the Bibles we have now days there are helps in the margins that refer to the Scriptures fulfilled. It’s easy for us to refer back to see Old Testament Scriptures, and where they were fulfilled in the New Testament.

    What the Gospel writers had instead, were years of stories told to them spoken aloud and maybe if they were lucky, they’d gotten their eyes on the manuscripts themselves.

    Can you imagine if you had heard Scriptures read to you your whole life, and then one of them came true right before your eyes? It would make an impact. It would cause you to rethink every doubt you ever had. You would hear the words of Scripture in a completely new light, because if they were true before, they are significantly truer in your ears now, than they ever have been before.

    More than this, I think what the Gospel writers want us to understand is that THE MESSIAH IS ON HIS WAY, has already come, and is changing the course of history. Isaiah’s prophecy is an arrow pointing straight to the Messiah. The Apostles saw John the Baptist as a real live, in your face, sit down next to you guy who could LITERALLY point straight to Jesus as the Messiah. This got their attention.  He’s the messenger. His belief becomes theirs and instead of just a screaming prophet begging the people to believe, John the Baptist is rolling out the red, tattered, bloody, and redemptive carpet on which Jesus would walk.

    What other stories can you find in all of the Gospels?

    Why do you think God thought it necessary to affirm Isaiah’s prophecy 6 times?

    How does this affect your belief in the Messiah?

  • Prophecies and Prophets.

    Luke 1:68-79

    I’m going to back up a little now. When Gabriel visits Zacharias to tell him about his son’s birth, Gabriel quotes Malachi. We’re pretty used to people quoting Isaiah when they’re talking about John [and we’ll get there too], but Gabriel breaks outside the mold of the ordinary. He’s reminding Zacharias of Elijah’s story and the life of the prophets. It’s not an easy life; it can be tumultuous. Prophets are rejected and cast off. They’re ridiculed and unpopular. But they tell the truths of God. This would be the life of John.

    Malachi 4:5-6.
    “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.  He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

    Gabriel quoting Malachi…

    Luke 1:17
    It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

    What do you recall about the life of Elijah? I’ll just give you a few of the highlights.

    Elijah was the arch nemesis of Ahab and Jezebel. He predicted a drought, warning Ahab to beware of his evil ways. He made a widow’s oil and flour not run out. Then he raised that widow’s son back to life after he died. Elijah challenges the followers of Bail to see who could cause fire to burn up their sacrifice. God and Elijah win even after dousing their sacrifice with buckets of water. This also signals the end of the drought. Elijah gets scared of Jezebel right after God burns up the sacrifice in front of Bail’s followers, and ends the drought. In his fear, Elijah goes running into a cave to hide out. It’s there that God passes by him. Not in the wind, or earthquake, or fire. But in the sound of a gentle blowing.  A lot more happens, and then… Elijah doesn’t die. God took him to heaven in a whirlwind [2 Kings 2]. Elijah’s life is an incredible story of friendship, glory, and miracles. We'll dig into him a little later on.

    In one quote of Scripture from Gabriel, he is bringing to mind this ancient story that Zacharias would have known by heart. Zacharias would understand the weight with which his son would live.

    We can forget what an important figure in the stories of God this prophet played, but I don’t think Zacharias ever forgot again.

    This example from Gabriel makes sense to Zacharias. Or at least in his 9 months of silence, he had plenty of time to come to understand. Also, in the telling of Elijah’s story, Zacharias might have been convicted about his lack of faith as he was reminded of Elijah running from Jezebel.

    We know Zacharias gets it because after Mary’s Magnificat, when John is born, Zacharias also becomes a prophet. [Luke 1:68-79] No one can understand why he wants to call his son John. So Zacharias’ first words of faith are an incredible retelling of God’s faithfulness through the ages. He recalls to his own mind and for the people listening the stories of the Old Testament. Luke 1:68-79 is jam-packed with reference after reference to God’s faithfulness to His people. David, the other holy prophets, and God’s holy covenant to His people. In these 11 verses Zacharias references passages from 1 Kings, Psalms, 1 Samuel, Ezekiel, Micah, Genesis, Malachi, Jeremiah and finally Isaiah.

    Gabriel’s mention from Malachi wasn’t a flimsy object lesson to Zacharias. It was a strategic reminder of the life and responsibility his son would bear as a prophet of God. Gabriel knew Zacharias would be retelling himself the stories of prophets gone before, and the message they proclaimed of redemption.

    Gabriel was giving Zacharias a way to process the life of his son before John ever drew his first breath on the planet. He was giving him a way to find his way back to doubt to faith.

    Zacharias’ doubt is replayed often in my life, and I’m guessing in yours also. What scenarios most often cause you to question God’s work in your life?

    What can you use as a reminder that God is still present, at work, and involved in your story?

  • John's First Foretelling

    John’s first foretelling of the Messiah

    Luke 1:39-56

    After Gabriel visits Mary, Mary rushes to her cousin. If Gabriel and God were doling out unexpected pregnancies, she was going to talk to the anchor that they provided her amidst her journey.

    Mary sees Elizabeth and she breaks into her famous song, The Magnificat. We remember Mary for “treasuring these things in her heart,” scolding 12 year old Jesus for staying at the temple, and her appearance at the cross at Christ’s crucifixion, but this is her most glorious and memorable entrance in Scripture. She cannot contain the wonder that her body is to be the vessel that ushers God to earth.

    She has just questioned how God can do what He has committed to doing, and the very next thing she does is remember God’s faithfulness to His people through generations. Mary instantly believes, and not only that she’s carrying the Son of God, but also that everything that could ever have been true about God before her time, is certainly true now.

    Mary's visit and song are an incredible example to Zacharias. When he cannot seem to recall the faithfulness of God, his wife’s young cousin comes to help remind him.

    It’s a confirmation for Elizabeth! When Elizabeth sees this child carrying the Son of God, John leaps within her womb. It says she is in that moment filled with the Holy Spirit. 

    Even before his birth, John is foretelling the story of God. This time it’s to his mother and aunt. I love this part of the story. It’s just a little sentence. Luke 1:44 “For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.” This is John’s first act of preparing the way of the Lord.

    God gave Elizabeth affirmation and confidence in the work of God in this moment. He didn’t have to, but he was preparing all of them, encouraging each one with the solidness of the work of God. And Elizabeth fulfilled her all-important job of acknowledging and speaking that affirmation from God. She spoke out loud the gift of affirmation that the Spirit gave to her.

    I think what strikes me is that we have little opportunities like Elizabeth’s. We get to see in little acts like her son kicking her belly, how God is at work and moving. We have opportunities every single day to speak of the significance of God moving among us. We can take the opportunity to share those moments where God breathes into us or we can breeze by them, not acknowledging the movement of God.

    Mary stayed 3 more months with Elizabeth. My guess is that she wanted to see John’s birth. She wanted to meet the baby who would prepare the way for her son, the Son of God. God used their stories to facilitate belief, glory, and courage in one another.

    What stories from Scripture do you recall and hold onto in hard times?

    Who is an example of someone who has walked with God faithfully that you can turn to in moments of doubt or fear?

  • Mary and Jesus

    Mary and Jesus:

    Luke 1:26-38

    For the next 5 months following the news from Zacharias, Elizabeth hunkered down in seclusion. I can’t imagine it being the easiest 1st trimester for an elderly lady. She probably didn’t have many people to ask advice of either. Her friends had all been through this when they were young. They were caring for grandchildren, and here she was pregnant. This is the definition right here of a geriatric pregnancy.

    In Elizabeth’s 6th month of pregnancy, Gabriel pays her cousin Mary, a visit. In contrast to Elizabeth, this time he visits a very young woman. Mary’s problems are pretty much the exact opposite of Elizabeth’s in every way.

    Elizabeth: Old                  Mary: Young.
    Elizabeth: Married.          Mary: Single.
    Elizabeth: Barren.            Mary: Virgin.
    Their one similarity is precisely where it gets complicated.
    Elizabeth: Pregnant         Mary: Pregnant

    When Gabriel is explaining to Mary what’s going on, and Mary is struggling to wrap her hands around the fact that she, a virgin, is pregnant, Gabriel references Elizabeth. He gives Mary an anchor. [Luke 1:26-38]

    In essence, Gabriel is telling Mary, “That elderly cousin of yours, who has been barren all these years, she’s pregnant too. If you can’t believe that I am at work in you, look at how I am at work in your cousin. God’s capable of doing anything He wants to do.”

    Mary responds really similarly to Zacharias, actually. She asks how it’s POSSIBLE to be pregnant when she’s a virgin. Gabriel and God respond much more gently to Mary. I’ve wondered about this. Why WAS God so much more gracious to Mary in her unbelief than He was to Zacharias? I believe there might be 2 reasons for it:

    1.  It’s possible that Mary’s questions are rooted in sincere wondering, rather than a lack of faith. Maybe Mary’s questions aren’t disbelief but purely wondering how she’ll have the seed of life planted in her without the act that causes pregnancy.

    Or maybe it was this:

    2.  Zacharias was old, and had walked with God his entire life. God had proven his faithfulness and the fulfillment of promises to his family for generations. Mary was probably 13-15 years old. She didn’t have the benefit of having seen God’s hand at work decade after decade. She’d just passed the 1-decade mark of her life. This was her very first story of God’s revelation and fulfillment of His promises, while this was maybe among the last for Zacharias and Elizabeth.

    Stop with me now and recount the years of your life to remember the stories of God stepping onto the scene of your life. Where has God moved into the circumstances of your life to orchestrate His greatest good?

    Where have you seen God moving and breathing in the stories that make up your life?

    What gives you confidence that He is and will be faithful to you?

  • Zacharias, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist.

    A year or so ago, I decided to do a survey of the New Testament. I was hungry to dive into a study. Throughout my survey, I became enamored with the life of John the Baptist. As I studied his life, and the lives of those around him, it led me straight to Elijah.  I thought you might also be interested in what I found out about their lives and the lives of those they interacted with. I’ve created a study to talk through the goings-on of these prophets. I would recommend that you read the passage of Scripture listed with each meditation. What we look at will come straight from what we find in Scripture. I’ll post one meditation a week throughout this year. 

     

    Zacharias, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist.

    Luke 1:5-25

    John’s story begins far before we find him baptizing Jesus. John and Jesus were cousins. We don’t know if they grew up together or not, but we do know when their mama’s were pregnant they both understood CLEARLY the roles their sons would play in each other’s lives.

    Zacharias and Elizabeth had a quite a time of it. They were old and without children. Zacharias was a priest, so he was in the temple performing his priestly duties when Gabriel, the angel, came for a visit. Zacharias was terrified out of his mind. Gabriel told him his wife would conceive and Zacharias didn’t believe.

    It is all a little unbelievable. Who would blame his doubt when the likelihood of his old lady wife conceiving was scientifically impossible? Think of your Grandmother, and then imagine her pregnant. Not. Possible.

    But take a step back with me for a second. Zacharias was of the division of Abijah. The Levites were divided by family, and this “Division of Abijah” is what gave him his priestly duties. Zacharias’ family legacy and responsibility to God and the temple was incredible. Can you wrap your mind around generation upon generation of men fulfilling this same duty to God dating all the way back to the reigns of Moses and Aaron, David and Solomon? This family is one of incredible faith. They’ve experienced a lot through the generations, and have seen God’s faithfulness to his promises for hundreds of years. The stories of God represented through this line of people committed to God would be too numerous to name.

    So now that we know where Zacharias has come from, let’s rethink his unbelief. Imagine being a priest in the temple, where your duty is to lead the people of God in worship and faith, having story after story of God’s faithfulness literally coursing through your blood. And then imagine standing there, in God’s presence, with a message straight from God, disbelieving the power of God. Not a high point in Zacharias’ spiritual life. God has inserted Himself in the family of Zacharias hundreds of times before, yet when the time came for God to break in on Zacharias’ own story, he did not have eyes to see the work God was continuing in his family.

    Before we get too down on Zacharias’ unbelief though, let’s look at the story of our lives. How have we seen God’s faithfulness and still remained unbelieving?

    God isn’t satisfied with Zacharias’ unbelief. If Zacharias couldn’t find it in himself to speak words of faith, God would orchestrate the next 9 months of his life so that the very next words he would speak would be words of belief rather than doubt. God strikes Zacharias mute for the entire pregnancy.

    Zacharias goes home a few days later after his service at the temple is complete, and his wife conceives. Just like that. After years of barrenness, she now is carrying a son. As far as we know, Elizabeth never faltered in her faith. From the relaying of the story, all she felt was a deep gratitude. After she conceives she takes a moment to say,  “This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.” -Luke 1:25

    She recognizes the great gift God has entrusted her with. She’s been disgraced in her barrenness, probably shamed for her lack of children, and possibly even judged by others asking what sin might have made her unworthy of children. But her faith doesn’t falter. Even in the crazy unlikely event that she could conceive at her age, she maintains her faith and shows deep gratitude.

    And where Zacharias and Elizabeth believed there would be no generation to follow them, their son becomes the fulfillment of prophesies and promises God had been making for hundreds of years. They get to see a generation after them walk with God, and prepare the way for God Himself to be made manifest among them.

    What is your story of faith? How did you come to believe in God? Do you represent a family who has walked with God for generations, or are you beginning a new legacy?

    What do you hope your faith will look like when you are Zacharias and Elizabeth’s age?