Faith and Elijah

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Faith is a tricky thing sometimes.  We can go from what seems to be an abundance of faith to a complete lack of it in mere moments. There is no better example of this in scripture than the prophet Elijah.

Elijah goes to King Ahab and tells him to gather all the prophets of Baal (turns out there are 450 of them) and have them meet him at Mount Carmel.  There both Baal's prophets and Elijah will have the opportunity to prove that their god is the real god.

The contest is simple.  Each group will have the opportunity to ask their god to send fire to consume an offering prepared for him.  Those who serve the god who consumes the offering win the contest and their god will be know as the true god.

The prophets of Baal begin first.  They dance and pray and cut themselves all morning to no avail.  Their god does not answer.  Elijah knows that Baal is a false god and cannot possibly answer the prayers of his prophets.  He begins to show his confidence by mocking the prophets of Baal.  In 1 Kings 18:27, Elijah asks his counterparts if their god is asleep, travelling, or maybe using the bathroom since he won't answer them.

When Elijah's turn comes he has the altar and the offering soaked with water and then prays to God.  God sends fire down and consumes the offering, the altar itself, and the water surrounding the altar.  All the people know that God is truly God and Elijah puts to death all 450 prophets of Baal.

It would seem that Elijah is riding high at this point.  His obvious confidence in God has been vindicated.  His faith has proven true and his God is the undisputed true God after the confrontation at Mount Carmel.  So you would think that when Ahab's queen, Jezebel, sends Elijah a message promising to kill him just as he killed the prophets of Baal, that Elijah would shrug the threat off being confident in the power of his God.  Instead, we read this in 1 Kings 19:3:

Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
He then travels another day's journey and then in verse 4 asks God to kill him.

What in the world is going on with Elijah?  Has he completely forgotten the display of God's power at Mount Carmel?  How can he be so terrified of Jezebel that he asks God to kill him?  Why has he lost his faith?

Because he is human, just like us.

If we are honest with ourselves, we can all remember a time when God came through for us in a way that left no doubt that He is in control and is taking care of us.  We can probably all also remember a time not long after God's provision facing a situation that caused us to react with fear and uncertainty.  We all tend to forget God's past provision when faced with present difficulties.

I find great encouragement in looking at Elijah's struggles.  If so great a man of God can struggle with faith at times, then I don't need to condemn myself for similar struggles.  It is also encouraging to realize that God did not abandon Elijah because of his struggles.  He continued to speak to him and use him.  If you are struggling with your faith, you are not beyond the scope of God.  He can still use you for His glory.

What do we do when we struggle like Elijah did?  The same thing we should always do:  take it to God.  Remember the father in Mark 9:24 who confessed his unbelief to Jesus? We to should confess our lack of faith and ask God to grant us more faith that we might walk with Him through our difficult times.

So if find yourself in a place where faith seems scarce, don't condemn yourself and don't give up.  Remember that God's love for you as His child is unfailing and that you remain holy and blameless before Him.  Run to Him and ask Him to remind you of His faithfulness, His provision, and the sin covering blood of Jesus.

Faith is a gift from God so if we lack it the answer is not to try to "muster up" some more.  The answer is to ask God to grant us faith that we might glorify His name.  Every good and perfect gift comes down from above (James 1:17), including the faith we need.

Why, God?

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Why, God?

That is a question we often find ourselves asking.  God does and allows things we do not understand sometimes.  We hope that He will answer us and tell us why He has chosen to act as He has.  But God keeps His own counsel. He has made plans for His creation and He is under no obligation to reveal the how's or why's of His plans to us.  We love to to try and figure out what God is up to, sometimes to our detriment.

There is an interesting story in 1 Kings 17 about the prophet Elijah and a widow who God uses as His instrument of provision for the prophet.  You probably know the story.  Elijah has prophesied a drought on the land.  After the brook that God had told Elijah to live by dries up from the lack of rain, God tells Elijah to travel to Zarephath because He has commanded a widow there to care for Elijah.

What is interesting is what happens next.

After Elijah travels to Zarephath and asks the widow for bread and water, she responds to him in verse 12 by telling him she is preparing what she fully expects to be the last meal for herself and her son before they die.  Apparently she is completely unaware that God intends to use her to provide for His prophet.  Elijah tells her that God will keep her flour and oil from running out and she is able to eat and provide for Elijah for what scripture calls "many days".

At this point, things are going about how we would envision.  God's prophet is being cared for miraculously by God and in the process the widow and her son are being blessed by God with provision as well.  This is pretty close to how we think things should go.  God is working and blessing those He is using to do His work.

Then we get to verse 17.

After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.
I'm sorry...what?

After being the instrument of God and agreeing to care for this man when she is struggling to support herself and her son......God lets her son die?  This does not fit into our idea of how things should go.  This widow has sacrificed for God and this happens?  How is this right?

Not surprisingly, the widow does not understand why this happened.  She asks Elijah what he has against her that he would come and cause the death of her son.  She has opened up her home to Elijah on his promise that God would provide and in the process has lost her son.  We know that God will raise her son back to life, but she doesn't.  All she sees is the death of her son.

Surely the prophet of God, Elijah can shed some light onto what God is thinking here.  Elijah takes the boy upstairs and lays him on his own bed and then speaks to God in verse 20.

 And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?”
This turn of events has taken Elijah by surprise as well.  God obviously hasn't told Elijah the plan at this point either. Neither God's prophet nor the woman God has chosen to provide for His prophet has any idea what God is up to at this point.

We like to think that if we pursue intimacy with God or if we sacrifice our own needs to be used by Him that we will somehow find ourselves privy to information about God's plans that He saves for those who are closest to Him.

The truth is that God keeps His own counsel.  Proverbs 25:2 tells us that "it is the glory of God to conceal things and the glory of kings to search things out."  Of course to search doesn't always mean to find.  The reality is that no amount of sacrifice or service can put God in our debt that He would be somehow obligated to reveal His plans to us.  He reveals what He chooses to and conceals what He chooses to.

Many things happen in this life that don't make sense to us.  We must trust Him even when our circumstances seem unfair or are just incomprehensible to us.What we rest in in those times is the knowledge that when He reveals and when He conceals, He does so for our good and His glory.

Living In A "New And Improved" World

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It is the nightmare of the justice system and the source of countless movie plots: innocent man wrongly imprisoned for crime he did not commit.  For one man, the nightmare came true and he found himself playing the part of the wrongly condemned man.  His name is William Dillon and he was wrongly convicted of murder and spent 27 years in jail. (You can read his story here.)  He was found innocent and released from jail in 2008 because of DNA testing that wasn't available at the time of the original trial.  It wasn't that the police chose not to use DNA testing when Dillon was arrested, it wasn't available.  The testing techniques that made DNA testing viable in the courtroom setting weren't invented 1984 and Dillon was convicted in 1981.

The story got me to thinking how much our world has changed in the past 30 years or so.  In almost every are of life, what was cutting edge and top of the line in 1981 is ancient and nearly forgotten now.

In music the eight track was followed by the cassette player, the CD player, and now the mp3 player.

The VHS became (very briefly) the laser disc which became the DVD which became the Blu-Ray.

In medicine, what once were major life threatening operations are now done as routine outpatient procedures.

Computers that once filled multiple rooms had less computing power than notebook sized tablets.

Even our beverages changed as New Coke replaced........wait......scratch that one.

In almost every area of our life in the last 30 years, the motto has been "Out with the old and in with the new" because new has not just been new, but new and improved.

There is one thing that hasn't been changed, hasn't been improved upon in the last 30 or even 2000 years.

The Gospel.

It is still as powerful, as relevant, and as effective as it ever has been.  And as much as we like to talk about how our methods in the church change with the times, the truth is that once you peel away the fluff of music style, fashion, and jargon, the gospel is still proclaimed the same way it always has been.

One follower of Christ proclaiming the glory of God in the life, death, and resurrection of His Son Jesus to all who will listen.

Thirty years from now the things that are new and cutting edge will become ancient and mostly forgotten.  New and improved will continue to reign in most areas of life.

But not in the church.

The gospel is the unchanging bedrock we rest our life upon.  This is how we overcome an ever changing, "New and Improved!" world, by resting in the one thing that never changes: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. -- Hebrews 13:8

The Purpose of Community

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I have spent a good bit of time recently thinking about the concept of community within the church.  A little over 6 months ago I was let go from my position as Adult Ministries Pastor (due to the church's declining finances) at the church my wife and I had been members at for 12 years.  Since that time, we have struggled with the loss of the community we had built there and with how to find that community elsewhere.  We know God desires for us to live in community from His commands to us in scripture.

Wash one another’s feet—John 13:14. 
Love one another—John 13:3; 15:12, 17; Romans 13:8; I Peter 1:22; I John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11. 
In honor preferring one another—Romans 12:10. 
Don’t judge one another—Romans 14:13. 
Receive one another—Romans 15:7. 
Salute one another—Romans 16:16. 
Greet one another—I Cor. 16:20, II Cor. 13:12, I Peter 5:14. 
Serve one another—Gal. 5:13. 
Don’t provoke one another or envy one another—Gal. 5:26. 
Bear one another’s burdens—Gal. 6:2. 
Forbear one another in love—Eph. 4:2, Col. 3:13. 
Forgive one another—Eph. 4:32, Col. 3:13. 
Teach and admonish one another with song—Col. 3:16. 
Comfort one another—I Thess. 4:18. 
Edify one another—I Thess. 5:11. 
Exhort one another— Heb. 3:13; 10:25. 
Consider one another to provoke unto love and good works—Heb. 10:24.

God's Word is clear: we are not to live as solitary Christians but in a community of believers.  One of the things I have learned, however, is that not all communities are created equal.  I have found that communities fit into three primary categories.

Community of Convenience
A lot of what we call community is built primarily on convenience.  It exists because we all are at church on Sundays and Wednesdays but it doesn't really exist outside of that venue much.  Take away the convenience of meeting at church, and much of that community will fall away.  I think this is true of many church staffs as well.  What we call community is really just a few guys who get along reasonably well and work together.  The problem with this type of community is that it ultimately is superficial and can't stand up to much, if any, threat to its existence.

Community of Community
Community is the end goal of this community.  It often forms around small groups.  These people will make time for one another, love one another, serve one another, and pray for one another.  Where this community breaks down is that it ultimately terminates on itself.  There is no real desire to engage others or invite them into community because an influx of new people would break the bubble of safety and comfort that has been created.  This community is very popular in churches today because it offers many of the characteristics of true biblical community without any of the major drawbacks.  Its primary problem is its inward focus.  We are called to be disciple makers and that calls for an outward focus on bringing the gospel to those who need it.  Sometimes that means leaving the comfort of our community which many in these type of communities are unable or unwilling to do.

Biblical Community
As you may have guessed by the clever name, I believe this is what the bible teaches when it speaks to fellowship and community.  The major difference between biblical community and the others is that believers in biblical community realize that being connected to other believers is a means to an end and not the end in and of itself.  Biblical community is a means of helping produce healthy followers of Christ who will fulfill God's call on the church of making His glory known in all the world.  Because this community is bonded together by the purpose of God for their lives, it is able to withstand anything the world may throw at it. It enjoys the friendships formed, the care given, the service offered to others, the teaching received within its walls but knows that it is not more important than the furthering of the gospel to all nations.

The "one another" commands of scripture were never meant solely to make us as individuals or as communities better or happier.  They are meant to help form us into vessels in which the gospel can be taken to the ends of the earth.

Walking Worthily

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Ephesians 4:1 tells us to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called".  I have been thinking about that lately.  What exactly is the calling to which we have been called?  I mean, don't we have to know that before we can try to walk in a manner worthy of it?

At it's most basic, our call is a call to come and follow Jesus Christ as His disciple.  Paul, the writer of Epesians, knew about being a disciple.  He was a follower of the Jewish rabbi Gamaliel, who we are told in Acts 5:34, was honored by all the people.  Paul knew that the honor given to the disciple was dependent on the honor given to his rabbi.  For a young Jewish man, to be called as the disciple of a prestigious rabbi was a great honor and privilege and the last thing he would want to do was to dishonor his teacher.

We have been called to be disciples of God Himself.  There is no higher or more worthy calling.  One of the reasons we pursue the knowledge of God is because the better we know Him, the more we understand the nature of our calling.  As God reveals Himself to us through His word and through His church, we are able to better realize the worthiness and honor of His call upon us to follow Him.

Paul's exhortation is simple.

Live our lives in such a way that it honors our master, Jesus Christ.  We are His ambassadors to this fallen world.  Every word we speak, every choice we make either exalts the name of Jesus or dishonors Him.

May we walk, as Paul implores us in Ephesians 4:2, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love, being eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

May our lives bring glory and honor to the one who called us to Himself.

What Are We Worshiping?

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I saw the video below on Tim Challies blog yesterday.  I think it speaks very aptly to our nature as worshipers and how, in our fallen-ness,  we tend to worship created things over the creator.



I think this guy is pretty funny in his take on this.  I also think he, probably unintentionally, speaks to what happens when we turn from worshiping God to worshiping other things.  We inevitable wind up giving our praise to silly, unimportant things.

Not that this is new to our generation.  This misplaced worship is as old as mankind is.  The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1:20 that mankind worshiped created things instead of the creator of all things.  But sports certainly fits into that category for many people today.  I am a fan of Alabama football.  Always have been.  But I am well aware that 100,000 plus fans sitting in a stadium, dressing up in houndstooth and elephant hats to watch 18 year old kids play a game is undoubtedly a form of worship.  Marriages have been broken up over the Alabama/Auburn football rivalry.  Just recently Alabama fan poisoned and tried to kill the 130 year old trees at Toomer's Corner, which is a landmark and place of celebration for Auburn fans.

What leads to this kind of fanaticism?

We were made to worship. All things were made for Him (Col. 1:16).  As His people, we exist for His praise (Isaiah 43:21, 1 Peter 2:9).  Our fallen nature causes us to worship the creation of God instead of God Himself (Romans 1:20) but we were created to be people who worship.  In our society, many people have taken the God given desire to worship and lavished praise upon men and women who play games.

Of course not everyone is a sports fan.  And not every sports fan falls into the trap of allowing their allegiances to turn into idolatry.  The problem is that it isn't just sports or other "unimportant" things that we find ourselves worshiping.

We can allow anything, even good things to become idols.  We can worship our jobs, our marriages, our kids, or even our ministries.  Any of these God given things can become an idol if we are not diligent.

Only God is worthy of our worship.  Only He is deserving of our praise.  Every good thing He has given us is meant to lead us to worship of the One who gave it.

For me sports was definitely an idol at one point in my life and recently God has pointed out a tendency in me to elevate my ministry higher than the One I minister for.

What created thing do you find you tend to worship instead of God?

Worse Than A Fool

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The bible has a lot to say about the fool (and none of it good).  The fool says there is no God (Psalm 14:1), he hates knowledge (Proverbs 1:22), his inheritance is disgrace (Proverbs 3:35), he is careless and reckless (Proverbs 14:16), he is like a dog returning to its vomit (Proverbs 26:11), and he flaunts his folly for all to see (Proverbs 13:16).

Yet, for all that scripture has to say about the fool, there is one who is worse off.

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him. -- Proverbs 26:12
For all that the fool has stacked against him, he has more hope than this man. What is it about this self proclaimed wise man that makes him so hopeless?

Pride.

This man has looked at himself and declared that he has attained wisdom.  He has surveyed his own knowledge and life experiences and has declared that he is wise.  He has elevated himself to the status of sage.

He has succumbed to the sin of pride.

What makes this man so hopeless that even the fool is better off is that God sets Himself against the proud (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).  To the humble He gives grace, which is our only hope of redemption.  The truth is that the man spoken of in Proverbs 26:12 is actually a fool.  He is just a fool who thinks himself wise. Until he comes to recognize the truth of who he is, he is without hope.

This is true of all of us.  Until the grace of God through the gospel opens our eyes to the fact that we are all fools before God, we are without hope.  Only when, through God's grace, we realize our own foolishness and sinfulness can there be redemption.

The good news is that when we realize just how foolish we really are, then there is a chance that we will attain true wisdom, for true wisdom, the wisdom of God, only comes through the gospel. The wisdom of God is Christ Himself (1 Corinthians 1:24).

Are you one who thinks himself wise?  If so, then you are worse off than the fool who says there is no God.

Are have you been humbled by the cross of Christ and received His grace?  If so, you have received the the very wisdom of God Himself, Christ Jesus.

What Have We Done To Grace?

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The grace of God is one of the most preached on, talked about, and studied topics in the evangelical church today.  And despite the amount of time spent talking about it, I believe we have diminished God's grace almost to the point of it's being unrecognizable from the grace spoken of in scripture.  I believe the main culprit behind this is a growing tendency in the church to de-emphasize and downplay the importance of doctrine.  


Our reluctance to teach doctrine has led to a gross misunderstanding of the grace of God because what we believe about the nature of man directly impacts our view of God's grace. So many people have a faulty understanding of their own fallen nature that they cannot hope to correctly understand grace.


The bible teaches very clearly what the nature of fallen man is like.  This doctrine is known as total depravity.
Here are a few of the many passages where we see total depravity spoken of:


Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? -- Galatians 4:8-9 
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey...? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed... For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. -- Romans 6:6,16,17,19,20 
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.-- John 8:34
we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. --  Ephesians 2:3      
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. -- Romans 8:7-8 
None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks God. -- Romans 3:10-11

What these passages teach us about our fallen natures is that we are totally incapable of pleasing God in any way on our own.  We don't seek after God, we cannot please Him or obey His law, and we are slaves to our sin.  What happens all too often is that our fallen-ness is downgraded (or upgraded depending on your point of view) from "hopeless" to "pretty bad".  Sure, we say, we have original sin inherited from Adam, but we aren't totally without the ability to choose Christ.

There are two problems with this downgrade of total depravity.  First, it isn't true.  The bible clearly teaches that we cannot choose God without His choosing us first.

The second problem is that it diminishes God's grace.  God's grace is what saves us.  It resurrects us from the dead spiritual state we were born into and breathes life into our souls.  It turns our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.  God's grace chooses, redeems, and sustains us in Christ.

When we deny total depravity, we reduce grace to a mere shadow of itself.  It becomes God's mechanism for providing a way if we will only accept it. We try to make grace understandable by giving it easy to remember definitions like "God's unmerited favor".  We try to make it catchy by using acronyms like "Grace is God's Riches At Christ's Expense".  These may be true as far as they go, but they don't go nearly far enough. What ends up happening is that grace becomes commonplace and normal.  In our effort to mass market grace, we have made it cheap.

When we are not faithful to teach doctrines like total depravity, we rob people of their ability to appreciate the glory of God as He has revealed it to us.  In our effort to make grace more accessible, we have given access to a cheap grace, a grace that is a pale, weak version of the glorious grace God reveals to us in the scriptures.