Drying Brooks and the Ways of God (Part Two)

1 Kings 17:2-7

“You are to drink from the wadi. I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there” (17:4 CSB).

Our text (17:2-7) is easily studied by a four part outline, which also shows us a valuable sequence in the life of faith. Here we find God’s command, God’s promise, our response, and a test. In the previous article, we looked at God’s command. Now, let’s examine the other three.

God gave Elijah a promise (17:4). What can we learn about our God who makes such promises? First, let’s focus on his sovereignty. The living God has power and authority to command the birds, and other creatures. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps (Ps 135:6 ESV; cf. Jonah 2:10). He also directed Elijah to the place he was to hide. Elijah was to go to the wadi (or brook) Kerith, and there he would be fed. Then, consider the manner in which Elijah was fed. The Lord used “The Raven Catering Company.” He fed Elijah by ravens, not by people or angels, although God used both means to feed Elijah later. All creatures, high and low, are at God’s command. In using ravens, God restrained their natural tendency to seek food for themselves and instead to feed a prophet. He put Elijah’s location into their “GPS”.

Wonder at the Lord’s wisdom. If people or dogs had brought the food to Elijah, perhaps his hiding place would have been discovered. But who cares where birds are flying? God taught Elijah humble dependence. Ravens, unclean birds under the law covenant, brought him his food little by little.

Second is our response. So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook (17:5-6 NIV). Elijah acted according to God’s word. He found God’s will for his life in God’s word of promise. And he did it. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22 NIV). God is not impressed by how much we know; he is concerned with how well we obey. If Elijah believed that God will provide for him at Kerith, then he would quickly go to Kerith. The same is true today for you and me. True faith produces obedience to God’s commands.

God was true to his word. He provided his prophet’s daily necessities: bread and meat. I agree that it’s nice to have filet mignon, but it’s not necessary. The Lord did not give it all at once, but little by little as Elijah needed it. Twice daily he was taught God’s faithfulness.

Third, the test came. But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land (17:7 NLT).      The brook dried up. Why? This was the answer to Elijah’s prayer! Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land (James 5:17 CSB). Be careful what you pray for; God might give it to you! If you pray, make me like Christ, consider what that means (cf. Hebrews 5:8). Or we might pray, give me patience! Then we could find ourselves in the hope sequence (Romans 5:3-5). Are we ready for the changes that God’s answers to our prayers might make in our lives? All this tested Elijah’s trust. Was his trust in God or in God’s gifts? Had the Lord suddenly lost control of the situation?

Do you have a drying brook today? Perhaps it is the drying brook of fading popularity, of failing health, of diminishing business, of decreasing friendships, or of a feuding family. Has your hope been in such a brook that is now drying up, or is it in the living God? Let each one of us exercise a vigorous faith in the living God! And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

Drying Brooks and the Ways of God (Part One)

1 Kings 17:2-7

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Leave here, turn eastward, and hide at the Wadi Cherith where it enters the Jordan” (17:2-3 CSB).

God had set the stage for a dramatic encounter. Elijah the prophet had announced a terrible judgment. There would be no rain or dew on the land until he said so. What great works would God have him do next to testify to the reality of the living God? You and I would probably have had Elijah do a number of awesome miracles, or at least set out upon a preaching tour in order to warn Israel to turn back to the Lord. But that was not the Lord’s method. He wanted his prophet in another place, a place that shows that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8). But in the strange place to which God sent him, Elijah was able to learn to depend upon the Lord . May we learn that same lesson in the places we are.

The text (17:2-7) is easily studied by a four part outline, which also shows us a valuable sequence in the life of faith. Here we find God’s command, God’s promise, our response, and a test. We will think about the first of these in this article.

God gave Elijah a command (17:2-3). The timing of this command was unusual. We can think that we ought to be busy for the Lord when he wants us to rest, think, and pray. And the reverse can be true also! Remember that the Lord took Philip from a great revival in Samaria to find one man from Africa.

The command came when he was active for God. We usually discover God’s will when we are busy doing his will. Abraham’s servant discovered that God was leading him when he was already doing what he was told (Genesis 24:27). If you are young, as you think about what you should do with your life, begin by obeying what the Lord has already told you to do. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 2 Timothy 2:19-22.

Service for God involves consistent obedience to God. He did the first step properly; would he do the second? Saul was inconsistent in obedience. He attacked the Amalekites as ordered, but did not destroy them (1 Samuel 15:22-23).

God included two purposes in this command.

The Lord taught his prophet. This would try Elijah’s humility and submission to God’s will. Many men are tempted to pride and self-will when they are filled with success. Elijah had to remember that God was the “boss” and that he was the servant. It would also perfect his reliance upon God. How does God teach his people to live by faith? He does not teach it as much in the lecture hall as in the laboratory of life. Elijah was put in a lonely place where he could learn:

  • That God was able to supply his needs. Elijah was not commanded to plant a garden but to wait for ravens beside a brook. The Lord was teaching him total dependence on God alone.
  • That God was able to be his friendly companion. Elijah was probably alone with God for at least one year. Elijah had much time to meditate and pray. Think of John Bunyan in prison. He was there for twelve years, while his family suffered terribly! Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. But God did great things through Bunyan because of those years in prison.

As we meditate on this text, we ought to be disturbed. (It’s good when God’s word disturbs you.) The Spirit of the Lord can speak through this text like this, “My child, what if that was you by the brook Kerith? Are you so living for me that you could live by faith beside that brook alone with me? Am I enough for you?” Are you willing to ask yourself those questions?

Learning humility and reliance were important lessons for Elijah to learn. Together they helped prepare him for the contest on the mountain. God usually uses the events of life to teach us to live by faith.

At the same time as the Lord taught Elijah, he judged the people of Israel. The judgment of drought was temporal, but the absence of the prophet was spiritual: It was a loss of spiritual rain (cf. Isaiah 55:10-11). The greatest famine that can come on a nation is a famine for the word of God. Look, the days are coming—this is the declaration of the Lord God—when I will send a famine through the land: not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and roam from north to east seeking the word of the Lord, but they will not find it (Amos 8:11-12 CSB; cf. Psalm 74:1-9; 2 Corinthians 4:1).

Grace and peace, David

God, Jonah, and the City (Part Four)

Jonah 1:5-10

And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 ESV).

Our Sovereign Lord wants his people to reach out to the lost with the good news of salvation in Jesus the Messiah. He wants us to do this in love, compassion, and kindness. It is his way of bringing glory to his name and sharing his overflowing glory with his creatures. It is his mission, and it is the mission of us his people, regardless of our being engaged in it or not. The Lord Jesus tells us to make learners of him, to baptize (immerse) learners of him, and to teach learners of him to obey everything that he has commanded. He will always be with us in this mission (Matthew 28:19-20).

The difficult problem is that most professed learners of Jesus are not involved in the mission. Though we sincerely appreciate everything that people do in local gatherings of learners (a.k.a. local “churches”), doing tasks during a morning gathering is not making disciples and it is not a substitute for that. Certainly, in small groups we can work together in the mission, but too many substitute physical chores for involvement with people that need to know the Lord. As we read this section of Jonah, there is a miserable contrast between Jonah and his shipmates.

Jonah fell asleep during the storm; the others were filled with fear (1:5). I can understand their fear out on the sea, though I haven’t experienced it. I’m the first to put on a life vest, whether it’s a ride in a motorboat on a lake or a paddle boat on a shallow pond! I can’t relate to how Jonah could stay asleep in a violent storm. (Please don’t tell me he wanted to die. Chapter four disproves that thesis, even if he used the words.) Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh. Got it. But where was his love for his shipmates? He was unconcerned about them.

Jonah’s shipmates prayed, and he did not (1:5-6). Most people pray and/or seek someone to pray for them when they or their loved ones are in danger. During years as a pastor, people constantly asked me to pray for them. (I think some thought that I had a special line open to heaven that they lacked.) They cried out to false gods; Jonah failed to pray to the true and living God. The prayerlessness of professing learners of Jesus Christ is appalling. It out to make us sick and angry. Plan a church dinner and you will probably fill the room; plan a church prayer meeting, and you can probably count those who show up on your fingers. Lack of interest in prayer and praying together is a sign of spiritual coldness.

Jonah knew who he was, and they searched for answers (1:7-10). His shipmates felt the utter terror of a great storm at sea, but they didn’t know why it had come. People like to know reasons for their problems, for we suppose that knowledge will give us the key to fix them. People also like to blame someone for the problem they are in. That usually doesn’t fix anything, but it lets us vent our anger at someone. Those men chose to cast lots to discover the culprit. God’s hand controlled the outcome of the lots. So then, there was nothing Jonah could do but own up to his blameworthiness. But how he did that leaves you shaking your head. He answered them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship the Lord, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land” (Jonah 1:9 CSB). How could he say this with a straight face? He had told them that he was running away from the Lord, and then he claimed to worship the Lord. This was a strange worshiper! He dared to take to the sea, which was always a risky endeavor in ancient times, when he was running away from the Maker of the sea? His shipmates would have thought this incredible, if they had not been in mortal danger. Jonah knew who he was and the power of the Lord, but it didn’t do him enough good to lead him to obey the Lord of all.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord has commanded us to make learners of Christ. Yet are we trying to run away from our responsibility? Let’s lose all the supposed reasons and outright excuses for failing to fish for people (Mark 1:17). Let’s humble ourselves before the Lord, ask for forgiveness, and then head in the direction of fulfilling the commission that Jesus has given us.

Grace and peace, David

The Promise of God’s Presence

img_08952 Chronicles 20:15b-17

In a fast-paced society with ever-broadening technological advances, it is easy to be overcome by the flux. We can crave to hear about something that is “new”. This desire is not a byproduct of the information age, but comes from the human heart in our insatiable desire to know. Luke commented in Acts that this was the condition of the Athenians. Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new (17:21 HCSB). And so, we desire new phrases and ideas, and so disclose our pitiful condition.

However, the Spirit of God repeats redemption themes to build God’s kind of world and life view into us.  In our text from 2 Chronicles, notice how the Spirit repeats words that he had previously used to form God’s story into his people in the past. God’s people need to be renewed and reformed by basic ideas that speak about our relationship with God. Ponder the ideas that the Holy Spirit used.

  • Do not be afraid or discouraged: This idea points them back to when the Lord was about to lead them into the Promised Land. The task ahead was huge and daunting. How could it be done? For this reason, the Spirit imbedded this idea into their outlook (Deuteronomy 1:21; 3:2, 22; 31:6; Joshua 1:6-9). We need this very much to overcome our paralyzing fears. We need to look at our resources (God and the gospel) more than the obstacles in our way (hatred, idolatry, greed, violence, arrogance and prejudice). If you suppose that your problems are unsolvable, you need to listen to what God says. Don’t be afraid or discouraged! In the darkest situations, God can work for your eternal joy. He can bring sweet out of what is bitter. Remember the story of the waters of Marah (Exodus 15:22-25).
  • The battle is the Lord’s: This idea points them back to David’s great victory over Goliath, when defeat seemed certain (1 Samuel 17:47). Everyone was afraid to act, yet the Lord brought about a great victory through unlikely means. In Bunyan’s masterpiece, The Pilgrim’s Progress, consider Christian’s stay in the church, where they showed him many unusual ways that the Lord had given victory to his people.
  • The Lord will be with you: This idea comes from God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15:1). The Lord repeated this concept many times: Isaac (Genesis 26:3), Jacob (Genesis 28:15), Joseph (Genesis 39:2, 21, 23), and to the people about to enter the land (Deuteronomy 2:7; Joshua 1:5). It is repeated to us by the Lord Jesus, in order to encourage us on our mission (Matthew 28:20). The Lord uses it during reassure his servants during the most discouraging times (Acts 18:9-10). Always remember that the Lord is on mission with us. If you’re not certain that God is with you, then listen to the good news. In Jesus Christ, God offers to enter an agreement with you that will change your life. If you will turn from your empty way of life and trust in Christ who died and rose to life, he will change your heart, be your God, give you knowledge of him, which involves eternal life, and forgive your sins (Hebrews 8:10-12). Now is an excellent time to believe in the Lord Jesus and receive these gifts.

Through the prophet, the Spirit of God announced the battle plan (20:16-17a). They needed to believe and obey in order to see God at work. God expects the same from us today. God sent them out. This is a picture of where we need to be to see God at work in the world. Here’s a hint: you usually won’t see him at work in the safety of your home. Jesus has sent you out into the world.

  • March – God had full intelligence of the location of the enemy army. “Here is where to find them; just punch this address in your GPS.” Shortly after this, God would do the same for Elisha (2 Kings 6:8ff).
  • Take positions – Get to the places where they would want to fight; find the best locations that offer a tactical advantage over their army. If you have visited Gettysburg, you have seen the high ground the Union army occupied on Little Round Top.
  • Stand firm and see – Surprise! They would not need to fight. The Lord was going to handle this by himself in some unspecified way. Too often we depend on our own insights, plans, gimmicks, strategies, and abilities. The Lord wants us to trust and obey. Do we know the missional “battle plan” (Matthew 28:18-20)? Then go and make disciples with the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).
  • Do not be afraid or discouraged – Go out to face them tomorrow. Yes, the Lord repeats the core of his message to them! “But that vast army is out there!” Yes, it is, and the way they would see it overcome was to do what the Lord told them. This is also true for us.

What are your deepest fears right now? Take a moment and write them down on paper. Next, look at what you’ve written. Now ask yourself, “Am I ready to trust God with my fears? Will I trust him, even if things do not work out as I’d like? Will I believe that nothing is too hard for the Lord (Genesis 18:14)?” In the presence of God, face your fears and trust in the Lord with all your heart.

Grace and peace, David

A Picture of What Might Have Been

DSCN2766Judges 1:1-7

I think in every human heart there is a desire to know what might have been. Everyone makes countless choices daily. Most are seemingly minor and we give no thought to them. Others are more major, and they can trouble us, especially if the decision produces consequences we do not like. Then we ponder, “Did I make the right one? What if I had done such and such instead?” Yes, it’s that “what if” that troubles us.

Judges is not the book in the Bible that you read if you are looking for peace and encouragement. The book disturbs people greatly, because of its record of the sins of people and God’s judgments on those sins. Yet it is part of the story of God’s glory that leads us to realize why people need God’s king. The old covenant people of God (Israel) had been given many opportunities and advantages to live with God in peace and joy. But the first section of Judges (1:1-3:6), reveals their failures and judgment that fell upon them, because they did not in faith obey the Lord. In other words, we see the cause of Israel’s spiritual decline after the time of Joshua. As a contrast to the rest of the section, in the opening verses the Holy Spirit records how Israel should have acted after the death of Joshua.

Before we come to the text, we must remember a crucial difference between Israel and the church. The church is God’s spiritual nation, which is not of this world, and since it is not of this world, it does not fight with the weapons of this world (Jn 18:36; 2 Cor 10:3-6). However, Israel was a nation like the other nations of the world, except that they were to live for God’s glory and had God’s word and promises and the way to live with God (Romans 3:1-2; 9:4-5). Since they were a physical nation, they had to use worldly weapons to maintain their existence. Their enemies, the Canaanite people groups, were to be removed from the Promised Land, because of their total wickedness. During the time before Christ’s death and resurrection, God let the nations walk their own way, and this they did, turning their backs on God, and in the process committing great acts of wickedness (Acts 17:26-30; Romans 1:18-32). The Canaanites were notoriously wicked in their rebellion against God, and God decreed that their civilization was to end (Deuteronomy 7:1-5). Again, this is uncomfortable, since people do not like to hear about judgment, until they have a deep and bitter experience of the ruin that sin causes.

The Lord caused Israel to prosper when they submitted themselves to him (1:1-2). The people started the post-Joshua period with a wise request. They did not allow the passing of their leader to deflect them from their duty. There was still much land to be conquered and effectively occupied (cf. Joshua 13:1-7; 23:1-13). As you can read in Judges 2:10ff, this did not last long, but at least they started out in the right way. Some don’t even make it this far! Godly leadership is a good gift from God. We ought to be concerned about the next generation.

They recognized God’s rule over their nation. This is the important point. Here is the theme: The Lord’s kingship over his people. In this event, they wanted to do as he pleased, instead of pursuing their own pleasure. When God’s people have this desire, they are showing the character of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:5-7). The sons and daughters of God are to act like the Son of God.

The Lord graciously responded to their request. The Lord provided them with an answer. He specifically directed that Judah was to act first. The Lord used means in this answer, for Judah was the most powerful tribe, and the one God had already chosen to lead (Numbers 2:9; cf. Genesis 49:8-12). The Lord promised them the victory: “I have given the land….” As ruler over all things (Ephesians 1:11), God assured them of triumph consistent with his purpose and promise.

We should lay hold of this truth in our own lives (Romans 8:37). The truth of who and what we are in Jesus Christ frees us to trust in our sovereign Lord, even when life seems to be against us. The promise of victory is just as sure to us as we walk by faith (1 Jn 5:4).

Grace and peace, David

Counter Strategy in Spiritual Warfare (Part One)

DSCN0511Ephesians 6:13

Every follower of Jesus Christ is involved in a spiritual war. Satan and his evil allies have an implacable hatred for God and his people. The spiritual forces of evil endlessly seek to oppose God’s plan to display his glory, and they strive to ruin God’s chosen people. It matters not to the enemy how he strikes us; any harm he causes is a reason for perverse delight. However, Satan and his army are doomed to defeat, because God has already won the war through the saving work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Lord has spiritually outfitted us with spiritual protection and has made available to us the greatest resource, his almighty power to face the enemy and his malicious schemes. Although the war is won, there are still many battles to fight until the Lord returns and finally ends all evil works. We face a desperate, fatally wounded dragon, which still lashes out at us before he meets his eternal doom. God has willed that we must confront the enemy to make known God’s triumph in his Son. How do we do this? What is the Lord’s counter strategy for us?

We must be actively engaged in spiritual warfare. The true Christian life is not a way of passivity or of inactivity. At various times in church history, there have been those who have taught a passive view of the Christian life. Their teaching has been presented something like this: “Don’t struggle; that is the way of the flesh; just let go and let God.” I think that they wanted to protect the importance of faith against works, but they went wrong in the process.

One thing that people want to avoid is a struggle. We want life to be easy; Christians want the Christian life to be easy. In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many taught the error of sinless perfection—that a Christian could achieve, in various ways, freedom from sin. It is still taught and followed today. Many teachers of perfectionism taught that it could be attained by effort of will. The tragic error is that human effort can never perfect a person. Although others saw that perfection could not be achieved by human effort, they could not let go of the concept of the possibility of perfection. So for effort they substituted a redefined idea of faith that taught, “You can’t become perfect by struggling. Instead, you must not struggle; let God make you perfect. ‘Let go and let God.’”

But faith is not passivity. It is an active reliance or dependence upon God that produces action, as the letter to the Hebrews makes very clear. Think about the following verses from that letter’s chapter about faith (11:3-4, 7-8,17, 20-23, 24-28, 29, 33-36). Faith reasons that God is able to do what we cannot, and then moves forward in obedience, actively relying on God to supply our need.

In this entire text (6:10-18), the Lord calls us to action. In this passage the Holy Spirit gives us five clear commands: “be strong… put on… put on… stand firm… take….” The Lord through the apostle demands that we carry out these orders! Everyday we have these orders; to disobey them is to sin. How many Christians are nowhere near as holy and godly as they suppose themselves to be, because they assume that doing nothing is the way to please God? Why is it that a professing Christian can have great troubles of conscience about shop lifting or telling lies, and not feel the least anxiety about direct disobedience of to the Commander of the Lord’s armies? I suggest there are many poorly taught consciences.

The Spirit teaches us that we are in a struggle or more literally, a “wrestling match”. We come into close combat with the powers of darkness, and in their view, there are no “illegal holds”. Addiction, abandonment, betrayal, sexual immorality, domestic violence, robbery, and verbal abuse scar the human heart and provide pain-filled targets for the enemy to strike with self-pity, jealousy, anger, an unforgiving attitude, despair, discontent and plain old unbelief.

Have you been scarred in the ways that I mentioned? Do the evil spirits wrestling with you seem to have you in an unbreakable hold? For example, when something causes you to remember how you were robbed or cheated, you are tempted to become angry or perhaps are filled with a near paralyzing fear that it might happen again. Is there a way out? Yes, if you want to follow the Lord, you will find his way. He promises the way out (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Grace and peace, David

The Christian’s Greatest Resource (Part One)

SAMSUNG
SAMSUNG

Ephesians 6:10

The Bible was not written for the Christian to sit and read in an armchair and then do nothing. Instead, God gave it to us to help us in our lives. He speaks in the word to us, because we are his dearly loved people. Both the doctrinal and the practical sections were written to help us live. In a general sense the doctrinal sections help us understand God and ourselves, and how to relate to God; the practical sections help us please God in our relationships with other people and with the world. To look at this from another angle, the Bible in a way is the Christian’s “battle plan”, because we, whether we like it or not, are part of a war. We are in a tough fight, a terrible conflict. All followers of Jesus Christ must confront enemies that totally hate us, and we are called to engage the enemy. For this reason, I thought it would be wise for us to consider this spiritual warfare and how we ought to conduct ourselves in the war.

Let’s start with the form of this verse. The Holy Spirit presents a way of life that will please the Lord. God’s commands describe how his obedient children are to act. Military commands are not options; neither is God’s word! “Be strong” is in the imperative mood. You must be strong. This command flows from the teaching of Ephesians 4:1,17, which flows from the prayer of 3:14-21, which flows from the reality of relationship with the living God presented in 1:3-2:22. (In other words, remember the context of the whole letter. Think of how you are richly blessed in Christ. Our way of life develops from who we are in Christ.)

The Holy Spirit directs us to precise activity: “be strong in the Lord”. However, we can too easily be diverted from the Spirit’s guidance. One diversion is to seek strength in our natural abilities and achievements. We wrongly suppose we can figure out “how to live a successful Christian life” and once we know that, we assume we have the capability to do it. Neither should we be diverted to seek strength in our spiritual growth, nor to seek strength in our spiritual gifts. Both are traps to those who rightly sense that they are growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior (2 Peter 3:18). You must not depend on your progress or gifts. You need what is much more powerful.

We must only seek strength from the Lord. Compare John 15:5. (Yes, Mission FifteenFive.) How do we receive strength? Since we are united to Christ through faith, we also receive strength from the Lord Jesus through faith—not through works, rituals, or “spiritual disciplines”. Rely on his more than sufficient resources; commit yourself to him (2 Corinthians 12:9). You might be in a very hot part of the battle at this moment. Evil desires might be alluring you, while you’re trying to focus on Christ. You might feel that you can’t cope, that it’s easier to yield to them. I understand, and so does our Lord. Yet the Spirit appeals to you through his word to “be strong in the Lord”. Go to the Ascended Jesus and draw from him by faith the strength you need.

Grace and peace, David