Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Return of the Rain (or King Ahab's Long Ride Home)


Sunday, July 20th, was the 45th anniversary to the day (July 20th, 1969) of man’s first big footprint on the moon.  If simple men are able to reach the moon, you and I can reach the stars with God's help! The Apollo missions faced some monumental challenges. Giving up would have been easy for NASA, but the organization persevered…and so can we when we face difficulties along the way in our walk with the Lord. As long as we are lined up with God's will, we can accomplish many things…including some things that others say that we could not possibly do.

That is pretty much Elijah's life story. This is the latest installment concerning some important lessons in perseverance that we can learn from the prophet Elijah.  The prophet announced three years before that it was going to be his word, as facilitated by the Lord, that was going to stop the rains from coming upon the land. It would only be his word that would start them again (1 Kings 17:1). Now, It has been a long and disappointing day for King Ahab, the King of Israel, to this point (1 Kings 18:41-46). A monumental event has just taken place, as God has defeated Ahab and his prophets, debunking their idol, Baal...proving to the people of Israel that He is the One True God!  As the result, all of the prophets of Baal are rounded up and eliminated. What is fascinating is that Elijah and the king are standing face to face, as if nothing has happened. I just have to wonder if Elijah wasn’t tempted to taunt, as he had done earlier in the clash with the prophets of Baal, and say – “How do you like them apples!” (Or something to that effect). Nevertheless, Elijah sends the king to one of the servants to get something to eat, while he himself goes to the top of Mt. Carmel to pray and ask the Lord to send the much needed rains.

Elijah adopts an unusual posture…nearly a fetal position…which indicates his great humility and concern for the people. This is another indication that Elijah’s deepest desire is to live to please the Lord. Unlike when he prays for the Lord’s intervention at the altar (when the Lord consumes the altar, water and sacrifices), the answer to this prayer does not take place immediately.  Seven times Elijah sends the servant to look toward the Mediterranean Sea and to report concerning any storms that might be gathering. Six of those times, the servant reports nothing.  But, as with the story of Naaman (upcoming in the Kings correspondence in 2 Kings 5), perseverant faith is fulfilled in the seventh trip to the water. The prophet does not give up, but he does pray the seventh time (a number that indicates perfection, completeness)…and the servant sees a tiny cloud coming up from the sea. This is certainly a good example for us to follow as we continue to appeal to the Lord in prayer. The little cloud that arises is not the storm, but is the forerunner of what is to come.

Meanwhile, Elijah tells King Ahab to mount his steed and chariot and return to his palace in Jezreel as soon as possible. We are not told how he breaks the news to Queen Jezebel that Baal has been publicly humiliated and declared to be a false god, and that Baal’s prophets have been slain.  And this is all probably just as well, as this message is rated G. :-) Neither the drought nor the famine has brought the evil king and queen to repentance, and it isn’t likely that fire or rain from heaven is going to change anything.  (In fact, as we will see later, Jezebel is still determined to kill Elijah). Soon, the heavens turn black with clouds and great torrents of rain begin to fall on the land.  The Lord not only proves that He is the true and living God, but also that He approves of the ministry of his servant Elijah. Elijah does not have chariots or servants, but he does have the power of the Lord. Elijah runs on ahead of the king…with his horses and chariots…to reach Jezreel, which is about seventeen miles from where they were located. Now, this is rather remarkable. I would want this guy on my Olympic Marathon team! We have to wonder how this actually takes place.  Well, considering Ahab is going to have to share his terrible news with his beloved queen, I am certain that he is no hurry whatsoever to get back and reveal what has taken place.

John Killinger retells this story from Atlantic Monthly about a matter of perseverance – “In the days of the great western cattle rancher, a little burro sometimes would be harnessed to a wild steed. Bucking and raging, convulsing like drunken sailors, the two would be turned loose like Laurel and Hardy to proceed out onto the desert range. They could be seen disappearing over the horizon, the great steed dragging that little burro along and throwing him about like a bag of cream puffs. They might be gone for days, but eventually they would come back. The little burro would be seen first, trotting back across the horizon, leading the submissive steed in tow. Somewhere out there on the rim of the world that steed would become exhausted from trying to get rid of the burro, and in that moment, the burro would take mastery and become the leader. And that is the way it is with the kingdom and its heroes, isn't it? The battle is to the determined, not to the outraged; to the committed, not to those who are merely dramatic.” (From Leadership, Summer, 1989.)

Ahab was defeated because of his idolatry and lack of faith in the Lord…he trusted in himself (or rather, his wife), rather than God. This is contrasted with Elijah. Although he was a human who experienced some significant struggles (as did many other of God’s leading people in the Bible), he trusted in the Lord and persevered through the trials that came his way. And as we see often times, the battle doesn’t go to the strongest, but to the most enduring -- you know this…you have seen the Rocky movies. There are times in our lives when we have to wait…perhaps we are waiting for the rain, or maybe we are waiting for the sun.  Or, we are waiting on the Lord to make His move with us. Sometimes answers come quickly, other times they do not come easily, if at all. Most of the time when people fail, though, it is because they did not stick-to-it or hang in there quite long enough, as it relates to some project or difficulty. When we are able to persevere and endure, we can more readily see the full fruit of what the Lord is doing in and through us. 

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Come to the Table


Well, I have not spent a whole lot of time blogging or reading blogs this summer, as I have allowed myself to be distracted with too many other things -- for shame, I know. This is not necessarily a new subject, but it is an important subject.  Hopefully, there will be some ideas here to stir your thinking. For my friends who will be reading this, I hope that this message will be a blessing!

One of the things that I love about John's gospel is that it is not so much a chronology of many of the events in Jesus life, as related in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels. Rather, it is more like picture frames of Jesus’ life…critical events that take place…some of them corresponding with the other gospels, while others that do not. For example, John gives us the wedding at Cana in Galilee (2:1-11), where Jesus changes the water into wine. He did this, ultimately, in order to reveal that He would shed the wine of His most precious blood on the cross. Also, Jesus took some time to feed 5000 men and likely women and children, as well (John 6:1-14)…a story found in all four gospels. However, only John expands upon Jesus message concerning the fact that He is the Bread of Life (6:26-40). What we come to understand when we consider what John is trying tell us is in relationship to fruit of the vine and bread…it is the foundation for what Jesus shares with His disciples on the night before His crucifixion – the Last Supper, which is seen in some form in all four gospels. It is also is the background for what Paul teaches the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 11:23-34) concerning the Lord’s Supper which we partake of every Lord’s Day.

When we come to the table, it is an important time. Often, in our churches, it seems that the Lord’s Supper is something that we do as a part of our worship, but which has no more significance than anything else that we do…perhaps, even less. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul seeks to teach concerning this very misconception that affects even them. He wants them, and us, to understand the importance of the Lord’s Supper…and that it is not something that we should treat passively or frivolously in any way. For the Corinthians, the Supper was a source of disunity, rather than unity, as some were coming in and taking it early and not waiting for their brethren, while others were coming to the table having had too much to drink, and yet others were dressing in a way that was causing others to stumble…wrong, wrong, wrong. They were treating the Lord’s Supper with a lack of intent and seriousness…some of them simply were not taking it in a worthy manner. They may have had a certain commitment, but it was not sincere and secure in any respect, as their lack of focus revealed.

The Lord’s Supper is not a casual commitment, but is a participation in what Jesus has done in having His body broken and His blood shed on the cross. When Jesus, Himself, takes bread and the fruit of the vine, a common meal, He presents them in a way that is a meaningful spiritual experience for believers. As we often speak about it, the broken bread symbolizes and reminds us of the body of Jesus Christ broken for us; the cup of juice symbolizes and reminds us of His blood shed for us. This is a commitment of our hearts, souls and minds. We choose to do this as often as we come together, following the example of the early Christians (Acts 2:42, 20:7). The Lord’s Supper allows us an opportunity for spiritual growth and blessing...if we approach it with the correct mindset.

No worship assembly should be a time where we take a few minutes out of our service in order to fulfill our obligation to partake of the Supper. It should be the focal point and climax of our time together…whether we are partaking of it at the beginning, middle or end of our time together…although the end would seem to be most appropriate. The Supper should be what we are continually focusing upon as we worship in our praying, singing, hearing the message, contributing…and whatever else we choose to do in our worship time. I thank the Lord that He gives us the opportunity to come together on a weekly basis and “look around,” not to judge what others are doing, but in order to participate with the church family in our Lord’s Supper, building up the unity of the body. And not only this, but to look back…“to remember Jesus’ death burial and resurrection”, to look ahead…“to anticipate our Lord’s coming again”, and to look inside…“to consider your own situation as to whether or not you are in a right relationship with the Lord.” It is my hope that we will consider all of these things as we come to the Table. Blessings friends!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Day for Grace


Tony Colson shares this story about his own life…perhaps you can relate – “God has begun to teach me new things about grace…its power and its purpose. To be honest, grace had primarily existed in my mind as a basic abstract Christian theology. I was trained in my early Christian walk to be disciplined, to work hard, and to maintain obedience to standard Christian duties. I developed a lifestyle that increasingly became more rigid. My prayer time had become longer.  Witnessing had to be done more often – any place I went I ‘must not’ miss an opportunity for God. As time passed this disciplined life transitioned into a Christian experience that was no longer joyful or fulfilling. The standards that I had set for myself were no longer obtainable. The Tony Colson who once believed he could conquer the world now walked around conquered by the world. I was miserable.  Where had “life and life to the full” escaped to? As I continued on this course of fear and temptation I found myself falling into sin more often and ever-more grave. This confident, zealous Christian was quickly becoming overwhelmed with defeat. Nonetheless, at the moment when I had nowhere to look but upward, the grace that had visited me on January 20th, 1988, came shining through the clouds of darkness that held me in such bondage. Presently, grace is becoming much more than an abstract theology or a past experience with God. Therefore, my intention…is to share with you this revelation that is changing my personal relationship with Christ. This message is especially for those of you who have already encountered Christ and yet now your relationship…for whatever reason…seems strained, dull, or out of place. Some of you have been sidetracked in your pursuit after God – you have adopted some wrong theologies and a wrong understanding of proper Biblical standards. I believe that God is present to introduce a fresh, new relationship with Him that will be “life and life to the full”.

An important point of context concerning 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 needs to be addressed. On several occasions throughout this work the Apostle Paul addresses his readers (from the Corinthian church) as Christian believers. In 2 Corinthians 1:8 he calls them “brethren” and later acknowledges that “it is by faith that they stand.” Then, in chapter three he states that clearly they are ‘an epistle of Christ’. The question, though, is this -- “To whom is verses 1 and 2 in chapter 6 written?” Was it to believers in the church of Corinth? Or was it to sinners in the city of Corinth? I say that this is written to believers. Both before and after this text, Paul addresses readers as his beloved. If this text is not written to believers what does Paul mean when he says, “do not receive the grace of God in vain”?

Here is a good, working definition -- “Grace is much more than merely an event that takes place when an individual is ‘born again’ into the Kingdom of God. Grace is much more than an abstract idea that must be understood. Grace is more than a spiritual principle that can be learned and unlearned. Grace, as facilitated by the Spirit of God, is a dynamic intervening work of God that is real and graspable. It is a true encounter between a supernatural God and frail humanity…humanity in the presence of divinity. Grace is power from above dispersed to meet the needs of our lives.” (Tony Colson) Is it possible that Paul is dealing with his readers who find themselves no longer fulfilling the purpose of their calling? I believe so. Paul desires for his ‘children’ to walk worthy of the calling of God. (Ephesians 4:1) Paul wants his ‘children’ to be complete in the One who had created them. Paul wants much more than simply making a convert. He wants his hearers to ‘become the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ.” Therefore, he appeals to his readers in chapter five saying, “Be reconciled to God!” You who are not in a good or right relationship with Christ. You who have experienced salvation and the grace of God in the past, “Come back into right relationship with your Lord”. And so, he calls out again in chapter 6, “Don’t receive the grace of God in vain.” Paul admonished those in the church of Galatia to wake up because they had ‘fallen from grace’. He warns those who have returned to a legalistic lifestyle and those attempting to achieve righteousness by their ability to fulfill the law. Paul adamantly declares that this type of lifestyle is vain and that Christ will profit those individuals nothing. The work of grace in our lives seeks to do much more than simply grant us access into heaven. God pours out His grace that we might become healthy and complete. This is what living a Spirit-filled life is all about. 

Max Lucado shares this story -- Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother's heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janiero. Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her picture--taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note. It wasn't too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village.  It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina's eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. "Whatever you have done, whatever you have become…it doesn't matter. Please come home." She did. (Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, Multnomah Press, 1986, pp. 158-9.)

The philosophies and empty deceits of men take many people captive.  The basic principles of this world are deadly, and we do not have to look very far to see how they work…we know. The reason why one of the most purchased pharmaceutical drugs in our society is anti-depressants is because some have been cheated by philosophies and empty deceit. The reason why individuals live their lives in fear and rage is because they have been cheated by traditions and basic principles of this world. The reason why there are so many dysfunctional homes and broken lives is because people are not living lives according to the fullness they have received in Christ. There is a grace that is sufficient for all your needs and it is present now…now is the acceptable time for you to begin fulfilling your potential in Christ.

Blessings, Don