Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Man on the Run


James, the brother of Jesus, writes something about Elijah that encourages us and helps us to relate to him when he says, “Elijah was a human as we are.” Perhaps, this is one of the reasons that Elijah is such a beloved character to me, at least…this, and his sarcasm with the prophets of Baal. :-) We all have a tendency to want to idealize the great men and women of the Bible, but the Scriptures tell us the truth about them…the good, the bad and the ugly. The outstanding leaders of the Bible, with all of their “humanness” knew how to find their way out of the wilderness and get back on track with the Lord.  We can learn from their defeats as well as their successes.

Perhaps, this is one of the reasons that the death of a beloved public figure this past week has been so disturbing for many of us who “grew up with him.” Robin Williams was an immensely talented individual…funny, as well as gifted in more serious roles. As we know, he took his own life, as the result from being in despair and depression because of addiction, personal struggle. It is tragically sad that he could not find his way out of the darkness that had enveloped him. Despair and depression are very real difficulties that we humans face.  I have read that as many as 1 in 3 people deal with it in some form. I know that I have had moments of despair in my own life, and struggled through depression one time when I was 20. We have to know that there are some medical measures that can help to deal with some of these difficulties, because often times, there are chemical issues that need to be set in order in the human body. But, there are also times when despair and depression are the result of spiritual struggles…sin invades our lives and causes us to lose our way, and as with Elijah, we need to lean on the Lord in order to help us find victory over our struggle. And this brings me to the story today. We can better learn how to lean on the Lord when we are in a low place in our lives.

When the torrential rains begin to fall, Queen Jezebel is in Jezreel, and may have thought that Baal the storm god has triumphed (1 Kings 19:1-8).  However, when Ahab (pity the fool) arrives home, he has to tell a much different story. Ahab is a weak man, and he has to live with Jezebel…and without her support, he knows that he is nothing. If ever there was a strong-willed ruler with a penchant for evil, it is Jezebel. And neither she nor Ahab accept the clear evidence shown on Mt. Carmel that Yahweh is one true and living God. So, instead of calling the nation back to repentance to serve the Lord, she declares war on Yahweh and his faithful servant Elijah. (And…“no surprise here,” Ahab offer no resistance to her). She sends a hateful message to Elijah.  She could just has him killed, but at this point, he is a popular man.  If she does so, he becomes a martyr, and therefore might influence more people in his death than in his life.

The people are waiting for Elijah to tell them what to do…so let’s just do the (not so) sensible thing and remove ourselves from the scene of our victory, right? Does this make any sense? No. As the ancient church fathers would say – “Beware of human reactions after holy exertions”…so Elijah, experiencing the fear of man, flees from Jezreel. In a moment of fear, he forgets every providential thing the Lord has done for him for the past three years, and he becomes “a man on the run”…running on ahead of the Lord in order to save his own life. He takes his servant, leaves Israel, and heads for Beersheba, the southernmost city in Judah. Remember what happened when Abraham fled to Egypt, and when Jonah was fleeing away from Nineveh? It doesn’t ever work out well to run away from God’s will.

When Elijah arrives at his destination, he sits down under a juniper tree and does a wise thing – he prays.  But, he does not pray a wise prayer. “I’ve had enough,” he tells the Lord, “take my life. I am not any better than my fathers.” The irony is that God never asks him to better than anyone else…but, just to be obedient to His message. The combination of burnout, weariness, hunger, a deep sense of failure, and a lack of faith in the Lord bring Elijah into a depression. There is also an element of pride, not to mention self-pity, involved, because he was certain that his victory on Mount Carmel would bring the nation to its knees before the Lord. When the heart is heavy and we are weary, one of the best things we can do is get some rest. While Elijah is asleep, the Lord sends an angel to take care of his needs. God’s timing is impeccable, as usual. The angel prepares a simple, but adequate meal for Elijah, who wakes up, eats and then goes back to sleep. He sleeps for some undetermined amount of time again, and then awakes again to the angel encouraging him to eat, because he has a long journey ahead of him, to Mount Sinai (Horeb). No matter what the destination, the journey is never going to work out well if we do not have God’s help to strengthen us for that journey.  Words to remember.

Tim Smith shares concerning an important subject that James Bryan Smith covers in his writing, "The number one enemy of spiritual formation today is exhaustion. We are living beyond our means ... physically. And as a result, one of the primary activities of human life is being neglected: sleep." In the 1850's, the average American slept 9.5 hours. By 1950, that had dropped to 8 hours and today the average American gets only 7 hours of sleep a night. James Bryan Smith continues, "Neglecting our bodies ... impedes our spiritual growth ... If our bodies are not sufficiently rested, our energies will be diminished and our ability to pray, read the Bible, enter solitude or memorize Scripture will be diminished."

Elijah was physically exhausted and no longer had an appetite. He was depressed about himself and his work, and was being controlled more and more by self-pity…a dangerous place to be. Instead of turning to others for help, and more importantly, the Lord, he isolated himself, saying “I only am left,” and worst of all, he feels like he wants to die. (And this is something of an irony, as Elijah is one of only two people in the Word of God who did not die, but he…as well as Enoch…was taken up to be with the Lord). Nonetheless, the prophet felt like he had failed his mission, and decided that it is time to quit. The Lord did not see it that way.

We can find ourselves in this position rather easily as well…in our culture, we go and go and go some more, and then we wonder why we get to a point where we are not being very productive with anything. Too much work, stress and the like can lead to burnout and depression. One of the best things that we can do for ourselves…as Elijah did…is get some needed rest. We really need to humble ourselves before the Lord and get ready for the trials that can often follow the victories in our lives. It is awfully easy to move from the mountaintop of triumph to the valley of testing.  We certainly see this, even with Jesus, as He goes from His baptism into the wilderness of trial. (Matthew 3-4) The good news is that Lord can look beyond our changing moods and impetuous prayers, because He has sympathy and compassion for us. This chapter shows just how tenderly God deals with us, His people, when we are in the depths of despair and feel like giving up. And this is so important for us, as we are on our journey in this life, preparing ourselves (hopefully) for the next life.

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Strong in His Might


Ken Klaus offers this -- During World War II it must have been difficult to be an American citizen with the name William Patrick Hitler. It must have been doubly difficult if you were the only nephew of the chancellor of Nazi Germany. And, if you wished to enlist and fight against Germany, you first had to get the president's permission, and pass an investigation by the FBI. This is what happened to William Patrick Hitler. He had come to America in 1939 and in 1942 asked Franklin D. Roosevelt's permission to enlist. When the government's blessing was received, he joined the Navy in 1944 and served for years before he was injured. William Patrick Hitler took a stand for that in which he believed. He stood firm in his faith and did what he did out of love for his country and his friends. His is quite an example for Christians, isn't it? You know, once upon a time we were part of an evil empire that was dedicated to the enslavement of the entire world. But then something happened. By God's design we came into contact with the freedom that could be ours in God's Kingdom of grace. Through Word and obedience, we were made citizens of this Kingdom, which had been brought into being by God's promise and the Savior's sacrifice. As members in that Kingdom we rejoice that the final, ultimate victory has already been won by the risen Savior. Still, skirmishes and scuffles, conflicts and combat continue on. And we are given a choice. We can volunteer to fight with our comrades in Christ, or we can try to blend into the background as a noncombatant. I know what William Patrick Hitler did. I pray we might be as brave and committed to the cause of the Christ.

In short, this is what Paul is reminding the Ephesians in 6:10-20.  We are in a spiritual battle…and preparation is as important as the battle itself in any wartime situation. The soldiers of ancient times would be well-equipped with armor…you have seen enough movies to know this. Paul uses different sections of this type of armor to illustrate the kind of preparation that we must do spiritually.

An important part of preparation is to know the enemy. And the evil one (Satan – adversary, devil – accuser) is the leader. We have a significant amount of information about him In the Word of God…there is no reason to be ignorant in our understanding. Even though there are certainly mysteries as to his origin (Luke tells us that he was cast down from heaven to earth, 10:13), there is no mystery as to his activity. We do know that he limited…that he is working from a losing position…that he is not eternal…he is not all-knowing…and that he does indeed have to have helpers. These helpers are called principalities, powers, rulers, the spiritually wicked – a definite army of beings that assist him in his bidding. Paul indicates that this group is no joke…Satan and his minions are strong, and that we must have the power of God in order to stand up against him. And he doesn’t fight fair…he is subtle, intelligent, tricky. He seeks to blind the eyes of men and women to the truth of God’s Word. 

As believers in God’s plan and his will, Satan brings the battle to us.  He is a defeated enemy, and he doesn’t want to see anyone succeed in being faithful to God’s calling through His Son. A truly important thing to remember is, as John shares in his first letter – “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) This is a powerful encouragement! Paul tells his audience that an important part of preparation is to put on spiritual armor, and he explains what each piece is and how it works. The girdle (the underneath pants), holds the parts of the armor together -- (apparently this terminology wasn’t acceptable to some, because later translations changed the word to “belt.” And for good reason – what guy would want to be known to be wearing a girdle?) :-) Nonetheless, like the belt, truth is the integrating force in a Christian’s life – it is what holds everything else together. A man of lies comes apart, but a person of integrity can face the enemy without fear. The breastplate covers the upper body, and it symbolizes righteousness. The life we live either fortifies us against Satan’s attacks or it makes it easier for him to defeat us. The breastplate, being the largest piece, covers our hearts, as does the righteousness of the Lord. The shoes or boots help us to stand in battle.  We need to be prepared to take the gospel to a lost world…a world that needs to hear about “the peace that passes understanding.” The shield was a large piece of equipment, typically made of wood and leather, and it would protect the soldier from weapons. We hold up under our faith when Satan is firing flaming arrows at us…our faith offers us protection, and it needs to be steady, as we do not know when the enemy will mount an attack. The helmet protects the head. It symbolically protects the mind controlled by God; the person who studies the Word of God and truly discerns the message therein will not be led astray, assuring salvation. The sword is the Word of God. The message of God pierces the heart like a sword.  The Spirit of God wields the sword, uses the Word of God in the life of the believer to accomplish God’s purposes and to make us more like Jesus. The sword is an offensive weapon…it represents a message that is intended to be taken to other people.

But, all of this a moot point in we are not in communication with the Commander! We need to constantly have a mindset of prayer.  This doesn’t mean that we are always praying to the Lord out loud, but that we are prayerful in our Christian walk…our mindset is bent on asking the Lord’s opinion, asking for His help.  In all of this, the evil one can be defeated and we can experience victory, and help to facilitate victory in others’ lives.  Paul says, “Watch and pray.”  God expects for us to us our spiritual, discerning wisdom in order to overcome in the spiritual battles that come our way. Finally, we pray as a part of a great family of believers. Paul asks for the Ephesians’ help, support in prayers…can we be any different?

I mentioned the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis in a recent post. So, now I will share a Screwtape Letters type of fable.  It is told concerning a meeting that Satan had with his workers.  They were assembled to devise the means whereby they might be able to cause people on earth to stumble.  One rose up and said, “I will go to earth and tell men that the Bible is a fable, and that it is not divinely appointed by God.” “That is good, but not good enough,” said the leader.  Another said, “I will tell them that there is no God, no Savior, no heaven, and no hell.”  Satan said, “No that will not do, we cannot make them believe that.” Suddenly another arose and suggested – I will go and tell them that there is a God, a Savior, a heaven and a hell…but, I will also tell them that there is no hurry to believe, tomorrow will do.” So, they sent him.

Unfortunately, too many people…good people…raise the white flag, spiritually and say – “I give up.” And this is tragic.  Others by their inaction…being too busy with the world…have given the evil one the victory. In effect, they are the ones who say, “I will get serious about my faith tomorrow.”  We have to be active, purposeful if we are going to effectively win the spiritual battles that come our way.  There is no trial or temptation so great that you cannot overcome it by the help of the power of the Spirit of the Lord!  We cannot do this if we are not regularly in the mindset of prayer and studying the message of God in the Word of God.  We have to remember, the battle has already been won!  We simply need to rely on the strength of His might and the Lord will go to battle for us as He did with David against Goliath.  If in our own strength we confide, we will surely fail. But, if we trust in the Lord, and wage the war according to His plan and activity, we will overcome and succeed!

Blessings, Don