Called From The People To The People

For many years, we have been attending church without realizing that our calling goes beyond just attending church, but instead, to be the church. Being the church requires us to recognize who we are, recognize our sin, and recognize that our humanity is an asset as we approach our community with the Gospel.

As we look through the first five chapters of Isaiah, we see that God admonishes Israel for not being any different than the world around them, and, unfortunately, this will lead to consequences. Judah will fall into the hands of its oppressors, and invaders will cast the people into exile. When we speak with people, we mustn’t do so thinking we’re better than the world. We are equals with the world, we are sinful, we are guilty, and it is Jesus Christ that came and took away our guilt; therefore, our salvation does not come from self-righteousness but the righteousness of Christ.

Isaiah, like us, was among the people he sought to reach with God’s message. He brought the message of hope in the face of the disruption, and a promise that God’s message will withstand any challenge in the presence of exile and an earthly conquering force. Turning to Isaiah, chapter six, the prophet describes the experience of God calling him to his prophetic ministry and how God uses this fallible human to share an infallible truth to the world. In this chapter, God calls us to focus our eyes upon whom the King of Kings calls and how that calling establishes us as the perfect instrument to play the message of God’s grace for the world.

Isaiah 6:1-13

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: 

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; 

the whole earth is full of his glory.” 

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 

5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” 

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” 

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 

9 He said, “Go and tell this people: 

“ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; 

be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 

10 Make the heart of this people calloused; 

make their ears dull 

and close their eyes.  

Otherwise they might see with their eyes, 

hear with their ears, 

understand with their hearts, 

and turn and be healed.” 

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?” 

And he answered: 

“Until the cities lie ruined 

and without inhabitant, 

until the houses are left deserted 

and the fields ruined and ravaged, 

12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away 

and the land is utterly forsaken. 

13 And though a tenth remains in the land, 

it will again be laid waste. 

But as the terebinth and oak 

leave stumps when they are cut down, 

so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

While it may seem odd that Isaiah puts this personal narrative in the sixth chapter, Isaiah is ensuring that the emphasis is on the prophecy, or message from God, not on the prophet or messenger. The passage opens up by describing when Isaiah received the call from God, at King Uzziah’s death, the earthly King of Judah. Isaiah has to deal with an image of the King of Kings filling the temple. In this place, the heavenly beings are praising the triune God, and their praises shook and filled the temple. When in the presence of the Almighty God, Isaiah recognizes his wanting. Every sin, every slight, every way he is not worthy in God’s presence, becomes abundantly clear. With clarity, Isaiah confesses not only his sin, but the sin of the people, and they all are desperately in need of God’s cleansing. The cleansing begins with Isaiah’s mouth, to prepare him to deliver and speak God’s Word to the people. 

After making Isaiah clean, the Triune God gives the call to speak God’s message to the people, which Isaiah answers in the affirmative. However, this chapter doesn’t end here; instead, it goes on to speak judgment against a people that have heard about what God wanted from them, but instead, they ignored God’s message, and because of this, Judah will be ravaged and left in ruins. However, this is not the final judgment, and Judah can find solace in the fact that after this judgment, God will have a portion that will stand up and be a Holy seed for the Lord. The remnant exemplifies God’s promise that they are not forsaken and left to remain in ruins, but rather He will restore His Kingdom, even out of the stumps.

There is no King except for God!

The death of a king, time for a transition of power, is the perfect setting for this encounter with the Holy Triune God. Isaiah enters the temple and sees God sitting on the throne. This vision immediately points to the King of Kings and a reminder that the Hebrew people rejected God as their King and asked God to give them an earthly king. There is an opportunity for Israel to repent from the rejection of God, because this image of God is unmistakably much greater than any human King, and the heavenly beings recognize that the triune God is Holy Holy Holy, unlike any other being.

The temptation to become a king is dangerous. Satan knew this and offered Jesus kingdoms in exchange for worship. However, Jesus called his followers to submit their worship only to God; by doing this, we do not put anything in front of God, and instead, we allow God alone on the throne.

The danger to us is worshipping our creation, but this worship is incongruent with worshipping God. The power the world offers is intriguing; it provides us comfort, importance, and glory. Nothing we worship could compare to the Almighty God, as they could not cause the heavenly beings to hide their face and feet and bow down, proclaiming the Holiness of God. Therefore, we must actively set everything aside to give our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength to the Almighty, and crown Him the KING over us.

God chooses us because God is Holy, not because we are perfect.

The holiness of God guided Isaiah toward understanding and confessing his sin and confessing that he is a product of Judah’s iniquity. Nothing Isaiah could have done would make him worthy of God’s call, and his recognition of his corruption allowed God to provide holiness and purity to Isaiah. Cleansing of Isaiah’s mouth prepares his mouth for sharing God’s message with the people.

Similarly, when calling his disciples, he recognized that they were not perfect, made abundantly clear as we hear their stories throughout the New Testament. Thus when Christ calls to His disciples, He acknowledges and knows that there is nothing they can do to make themselves holy, but they needed God to intervene, and Christ makes the disciples holy through His death and resurrection. Even at Pentecost, Jesus fulfills His promise through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As Christ’s followers, God calls us to serve, while flawed, broken, and full of sin. God demonstrates His holiness by using imperfect vessels and making them perfect for His mission in the world. However, the first things we need to do are confess that alone we are not worthy and that we need Christ’s salvation to save us. Once we submit to the cleansing of God, then we are ready to echo Isaiah and respond to God with our preparation to serve the Kingdom of God. 

We share the Gospel, but the Gospel is not always easy to share.

The message Isaiah brought to Judah was not going just to be a blessing, but instead, it tells the people that even when they were looking right at God, they were not going to recognize him. It didn’t matter how clear the message was going to be; sin hardened the people’s hearts against the mission of God. The people needed cleansing, and God would clean them up, but the cleansing required the destruction of their norms. Isaiah found this a difficult message to deliver and asked God to clarify. However, the grace is found through God’s remnant, as the ultimate salvation will come from the surviving stumps.

Jesus comes from the remnant and springs forth to guide the church toward a ministry. However, the disciples did not understand that ultimately God’s Gospel required the death of Christ. Christ spoke this Gospel message through parables, and the message had to be broken down into stories to connect to the lives of the people so that they may see the Gospel more clearly. 

It is hard to share the Gospel because the Gospel’s values are often contrary to the values we find around us. The quest for power, self-preservation, and self-aggrandizement is contrary to the message of the Gospel. Therefore, asking our neighbors to change is not easy; asking the world to submit to a power outside the world is challenging; however, Christ calls the world to become obedient and worship the Almighty God. Many will object to this call, but God still calls us to deliver His message.

When we acknowledge that God is greater than all the things we have given a voice in our lives, then we are called to respond with confession and submission to God’s mission in the world. We cannot make ourselves good enough, but God makes us clean, so He can use us to carry out His call in our lives. However, that will is not easy, but we must share even when the world rejects the message.

Through Christ’s death, we are made Holy, but we must frequently submit to the call. We must understand that we come from the world, and there are many things we do that reflect that we are a product of our worlds. We are human; therefore, we are not immune to the problems that the world has to deal with, which makes us the perfect witness to God’s saving grace.

The church must make ourselves aware that we have made idols out of our traditions. It is hard to give up old traditions because these are the things we have done and seen God move through these traditions; therefore, we cling to that experience. However, when the tradition gets worshipped above the Almighty, we shut down the outward ministry and turn the church inward, contrary to God’s mission for the world.

As people from the world, God wants to use us to bring His Word into the world. We must remember that God’s ministry is not ours and that we must humble ourselves to what God desires of us. Ministry begins with worship and giving entirely of ourselves to whatever God desires, because often God’s desires may not always align with what we want. Therefore, when our actions align with Christ, we humbly share the Gospel with the world.

God Doesn’t Give Up On Us

A question we may ask when looking at our nation; Is this even worth redeeming? How should the church look at our surrounding world? We see hatred and violence; we see a world with rampant problems with justice, corruption, greed, and violence. As we look at the world, we wonder, is it worth saving? As Isaiah looked at Israel, he was dismayed at the injustice, the lack of desire to serve God, the casting aside the orphans and widows, and selfishness that Israel had been practicing. He urgently wanted to get their attention that they needed to REPENT and turn back to the way God had established for them.

One word defines our time, DIVISION. People are at odds with one another because they worship, dress, cook, or work differently. If there is more than one way of doing something, there will be an argument over it; as a people, we fight with one another over everything, even what ride is the best at Disney will cause people to argue in earnest. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that our politics are as contentious as they are. The power of the world thrives on division, but God calls us to unity, so we may be dismayed that we are far from where God wants us to be. Still, God reminds us that He loved the world enough to send Jesus to die for our sins and that we can be a part of God bringing peace and unity back to the world. 

Isaiah had this hope and reminded Israel that God would bring hope, peace, and His pure love to the world. God will clean up the filth and make it beautiful again. Let us turn to Isaiah, chapter four, to look at Isaiah proclaiming this over Israel.

Isaiah 4:2-6

2 In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. 3 Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. 4 The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire. 5 Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything, the glory will be a canopy. 6 It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain. 

The previous chapter in Isaiah details the sin of Judah and the results of that sin, as it will lead to the destruction of the nation. The nation that God set apart, or made HOLY, had become full of corruption and injustice. The country had turned away from God. In this passage, Isaiah echoes Isaiah 2:2-5, where he tells those that remain faithful to God will serve as a sign to the world that sin cannot thwart God’s mission, but rather God will redeem the world through His people, through His Holy Nation, through His Church. God cleans the nation of its iniquity and protects from the storms that come.

God is faithful to fulfill His promises.

God has not changed His redemptive purpose for Israel’s children, and Isaiah has not lost this hope for his people. So, as he began this series of prophecies with God’s original vision for the house of the Lord (2:2–5), he ends the series with God’s vision for Judah and Jerusalem after their suffering in conquest, and their exile has passed. While our current circumstances may lead us to doubt God, God will remain by our side, God is going to guide us through the darkest night, and His ultimate message to us is to have HOPE. The effects of sin cloud our vision of God’s providence, however through God’s grace, the power of love and peace break through the darkness and show us that God desires us to place our faith and trust in Him.

Although God protects us, we are not immune to the painful results of sin.

The cost of sin, which is rebellion against God, is exile and facing conquering at their neighbors’ hands. Judah could not escape the fact that the nation was facing expulsion because of their fighting with God and would not eat the land’s good. While they remained God’s People, they still had to face the results of their sin. The wages of sin is death; Paul reminds us. Jesus Christ gave His life on our behalf that we may not suffer the ultimate consequences of our sin, but we are not immune to the results of our faithlessness or turning our backs on God’s calling in our lives. Sin is a deadly disease, far more lethal than CoViD-19. Even though God rescued us from the fatal consequences, our bodies, minds, and actions are still affected and show symptoms of our infection. So too, many in our world are showing signs of infection and are desperately in need of the cure, the healing that can only exist in Christ Jesus. What are we prepared to do to bring those around us into the shelter provided by God?

As the church, we aren’t just survivors but are glorified by God to be His light amid the world’s darkness.

The survivors or remnant of Israel and Jerusalem demonstrate to the world that they were not just survivors, but that God could pull them through their circumstance. They were thriving in a post-exile life, not to become what they were before, but instead, they would grow into a nation that establishes justice and embraces God’s holy mission for them in the future. The world is full of danger, and the storms will surround us. Some want to prevent the mission of the church from moving forward. We cannot be afraid of confronting the dangers because we remember our hurt, but instead, we must be willing to put our mission out into the world, with complete knowledge of God’s protection. The early church grew unafraid of the circumstances of the first century, facing persecution from Rome. They went out into the world, knowing that God’s grace was upon them. GOD’S grace didn’t make them immune from deadly circumstances, like Stephen, but they knew God had made them secure eternally. Horizon will emerge from our current circumstance, which can feel like an exile at times. We will once again have in-person services. However, we do not know when we know that the God we serve is preparing us for something that will be life-giving in the midst of death. Right now, as a church, we need to prepare our hearts and souls for walking in God’s glorious light and going out into the world to bring God’s grace to our community.

God did not prevent Judah’s exile, for the results of their sin led to tragedy and being driven from their land. However, God used exile to prepare the nation to fulfill a greater calling to bring light to the world. God is also calling His Church to share the Gospel message with the world, to share the light given to us through the saving power of Christ Jesus, with the world. It may seem dark and that we live in a merely irredeemable world, but God, who is infinitely just, wants his Church to bring light into the darkness. For into the darkness, God sent His Son to redeem us, while we were worthy of death, saved us from death, and brought us new life. Therefore, since God sought to redeem us from our sins, we must be willing to go out into the world and be His light in the darkness.

Jesus Didn’t Leave Us Alone

A Reflection on John 14:15-21

One of the scary parts of more than a month of staying at home is the feeling of isolation we often feel. There is a disconnect from our loved ones, our friends, our family, our co-workers, and our churches. This disconnect is dangerous as it leads us away from the connection that we have with one another, and leads to situations where many of us feel as if we are going to crack, and break apart. We become weary of not being able to have the social connection and are more prone to think less about others, and rely more on fulfilling our selfish desires.

The lack of physical connection opens up the door for the opportunity to only think about how this affects us personally, and we begin to feel alone. Even for the person that doesn’t enjoy much interpersonal interaction, still is feeling the loneliness that this brings upon us. As a world we have a mental health crisis on our hands as depression, anxiety, and other issues are on the rise. For a long time this has led us to further isolate ourselves, which amplifies and perpetuates the problem. As a church, we must be part of the solution, and not further exacerbate the problem, in a world that is isolating for the purpose of health, we must be aware and respond to the “side effects” of self-isolating, by ensuring that those isolated physically, are not isolated socially or spiritually.

The disciples had the same issue as they approached ministry after Christ had ascended to heaven. We saw how they responded after Jesus died, they went and “self-isolated”, as an act of fear of what comes next. Then Jesus came back to them, gave them assurance that what He had said before was true, and yet, they still needed further assurance. Jesus, during His time with the disciples taught them that they would not be alone, but rather Christ would ask the Father to provide the Spirit, the Spirit is a gift, a gift that we are never truly alone, and by the power of the Spirit we are the blessing to the world, and an embodiment of God’s promise that no one needs to be alone, even in quarantine.

Jesus instructs His disciples in John 14 about the promise that they need not be alone because the Holy Spirit is coming.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” 

John 14:15-21 (NIV)

If you love me…

Jesus opens with these four words, not because they didn’t love Him, but rather He is appealing to them on the basis of love. Out of their love for Christ, they would listen to Him, and follow Him, and fulfill the command that He has over their lives. To help with fulfilling the charge to go out into the world Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of truth is present to ensure we are not alone.

Following God begins with love, first, God’s love for His people, and then our responding with love for God. From this love we act according to our faith, we follow God’s precepts, we act as God’s children, living upright lives, feeding the hungry, comforting the hurting, and living out God’s message for the world. Living in this manner may put us in situations where we feel powerless and alone, but God reminds us that we are not alone, we have the Spirit, and the closer our walk is to the Spirit, the closer we are to fulfilling God’s commands.

The world will not accept us, selfish thinking is contrary to the way of the Spirit. This is the ultimate irony, selfishness leads to isolation, but yet the world clamours to selfish thinking because they feel isolated. The Holy Spirit offers us all a different perspective, one that leads us to think of others, one that listens first and acts out of an understanding gained through the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This ultimately leads us away from isolation, into a deeper understanding that God is always with us, and will always work on us, in us, and for us.

While this does not make us immune from negative results, because there is evil in the world that is resistant to God’s purpose. There is evil that presents us from acting out of our own reading of the Bible, there exists a selfishness deep inside that allows us to act out of our impulses rather than what God desires of us. There are lies that we end up believing that ultimately we see humanity as our enemy and fight our neighbors driving us into isolated thinking, instead of having compassion and earnestly caring for one another, we look at each other with animosity. This type of thinking breeds, and infects society, this is the type of thinking that leads to people hoarding supplies, the type of thinking that leadings to people arguing and belittling one another on the street corners and social media, the type of thinking that leads to isolation, depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. 

Selfishness and isolation have a chemical and biological effect on us, and we must work hard to prevent this type of thinking. Jesus promises His disciples that they will never be alone, that He will come back to them, but even those that were closest to Him did not understand that, because when things did not happen the way they anticipated, they scattered and isolated themselves. We must do better than that, because our health is at risk. We threaten the very bodies, in which the Holy Spirit inhabits, and leads us toward the Father, and toward the Son. We cannot rebel against God, but rather we must rebel against the forces of selfishness, greed, and isolation that lead us inward instead of outward.

Outward thinking leads us away from protecting our idols, our institutions, our sense of what is mine, and prompts us to follow God wherever God may lead us. We find it difficult that we cannot go and celebrate a birthday, or come to a building and worship together, or even get our hair done, but God prompts us to think more about what we can do, and more about what we should do. Our needs are going to be met, we do not need to worry about that, we need to listen to where God is leading us right now.

We have an opportunity and an advantage to think about church outside the building, which is what a living church is, a living church is a prayer chain, a living church is giving to people in need, a living church is showing it’s love and appreciation for God by going out from the comfort of our church building and giving to our world. When we do this we listen to the message that God has given to us and we go out and break the chains of isolation, and bring God’s grace to a world plagued by selfish thinking. 

When we switch our thinking, we begin to realize that God is our Father, a good Father that seeks to show us His love through the teaching of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit breaks the chains of suffering, breaks the chains of isolation, and breaks the chains that we are alone in trying to carry out God’s mission in the world. The Holy Spirit breaks down the idea that we are in this world as orphans, but rather guides us into the understanding that we are members of the family of God. As brothers and sisters, and children, we must listen to how God wants us to act, and the Bible reminds us that these actions must be out of love and compassion, and away from self-centered action that does not think of others.

Overcoming While Facing Death

A Reflection on Acts 7:55-60

Death has become something that many people have had to face during this time of pandemic. While it has always been real, and something that we ultimately must contend with, we often choose to look at other things, think of other things, not allowing this to be our reality. However, we now all get the opportunity to understand this is a reality many of us have had to deal with, either our own mortality, or the suffering and death of a loved one or someone close to us. Another reality that the pandemic has brought to the forefront is that we are a part of a dying world that is crying out for an answer to suffering and pain.

God reached out to a world that was dying, and gave His Only Son sacrificially to save the world, to save you and me. This Mother’s Day, I am reminded of many mothers that have given sacrificially to give their children, either biologically or not, love, joy, peace, and hope. Many have come beside us and loved us unconditionally, so that we have had opportunities far beyond our own abilities to succeed, and thrive, in spite of our own selfish actions. We have fallen and hurt ourselves, and the mothering love has picked us up and cleaned out our wounds, and allowed us to get up again. We also see the example in our world of so many mothers stepping up and providing the compassion and caring for a world that is suffering.

God is the author of this type of love, and God offers it to us in the darkness of the world. Stephen, in the Book of Acts, experienced this love, and when he faced his own death, he looked to the heavens and saw Jesus Christ, the embodiment of that love, and was as peace, and realized that even though his life on Earth was over, he had a reason for hope, and he could share that hope and peace right to his last breath.

55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:55-60 (NIV)

Those that attacked Stephen were not open to hearing the message of hope that he was offering that they covered their ears and yelled trying to drown out this hope. Hope in the form of a conquering Savior, and a compassionate God, stand in stark contrast to the message of a dark and dying world, and that contrast creates friction that leads to an angry response. Stephen, however, through the power of the Holy Spirit, responds to this with a peaceful acceptance, and yielding to God. He didn’t raise his voice louder to try and speak over the screaming, but rather he allowed his actions to embody the peace that God offers.

This same peaceful response is the type of response that we as the Church must offer to the world. Right now, there is so much noise in the world, many have even resorted to screaming and yelling and covering their ears, just to drown out any message other than the one they believe. Unfortunately, many Christians have also been those trying to scream over the top of all this noise. When the church does this, it contributes to the chaos, which contradicts the peace God offers to us. Stephen understood this, and sought to allow his action to speak peace into the anger and rage of the crowd.

In the midst of getting stoned, the crowd’s attempt at squelching his voice, Stephen responds with a prayer to God to accept him and his sacrifice, and a prayer for his persecutors. Stephen’s last words were a prayer for the forgiveness of the sins of his murderers. It was this type of peace that spoke the truth of God’s salvific grace. In a world that has been plagued with protests, and counter-protests, and counter-counter-protests, the attempt to speak over one another does not lead to any dialogue. However, if the church looks at the world, the way that Stephen looked at his killers, with compassion, and offers up a prayer for the world, we can contribute to the solution, and embody God’s peace, compassion, and hope to a dying world facing an uncertain future. God has given us a reason to have hope, and a purpose to bring peace to our world.

Don’t Underestimate God

A Reflection on 1 Kings 18:19-39

As we move into a new month, a quick look through the news and social media, most everything still revolves around the fallout from a pandemic that has had the country and much of the world in some state of lockdown for 6 weeks, or 6 months, or 6 years; I have lost count. Many parts of the state are beginning to discuss what re-emerging from our isolation is going to look like. This seemed to reignite the what is essential debate, and I perused just a few random comments about the Phase 1 reopening program ideas, and in them I found outrage that the churches are not included. I heard words like persecution being thrown around at will, and that we need to be able to meet together, so that we can pray together, because when God’s people get together to pray, then God acts, and miracles happen. 

I absolutely agree with the sentiment that when the Church gathers to pray, mighty acts are possible, but what we need to be careful of is thinking that God won’t act while we are physically distant. We cannot allow ourselves to place “what we want” ahead of “what we are called to do”. We must be able to listen carefully to God’s call on our lives, while being careful to not to allow our thoughts to conflate our selfish desires with what God desires. There are too many stories of churches meeting against the orders of the state, and then members becoming infected with CoViD19. We want to meet, we want to be with one another again, and there will be a time when we can be with one another again, but for this time, God wants to show us just how great He is, and if we are willing to watch and listen, then we will see God work miracles now.

During a similar time, Elijah was a prophet of the Almighty God. During the reign of King Ahab, the people of Israel began to lose focus on what God’s call was on their life, and they began questioning whether Baal or Yahweh were God, or were they the same, or were they both God. The two began to bleed into each other, and the Israelites began worshipping both just to cover all their bases. This led to syncretism merging the new religion of the country, Baal worship with the faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Elijah refused to participate in this new faith, and focused his worship on God. This made him unpopular with the king and queen. Ahab thought he was being stubborn and that Elijah was the reason the country was suffering through a drought. The king appealed to the prophet to relent and to bow to and serve Baal along with the rest of the prophets that had turned to Baal worship in addition to their worship of Yahweh. As an attempt to quell these urgent pleadings from the King, Elijah responds to those that think they can serve both Baal and the true God of Israel, by proposing a contest to determine the one true God. We find the telling of this contest in the eighteenth chapter of 1 Kings. 

1 Kings 18:19-39

19 Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.

20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” 

But the people said nothing. 

22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.” 

Then all the people said, “What you say is good.” 

25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given to them and prepared it. 

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made. 

27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. 

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.” 

34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again. 

“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench. 

36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” 

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 

39 When all the people saw this, they prostrated and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

The people of Israel had become a people that looked for a sign, they looked for something upon which to put their faith. Comfort and safety was what Israel had focused their faith in. When Jezebel brought Baal worship into the royal worship of Israel, many of the people followed the new state religion. More specifically, the worship of their desired results replaced the worship of God, and this was something that Elijah was warning them against. 

This worship sits on the fence, and tries to blend the worship of the one true God, with the worship of self. Baal represented luxury, materialism, and social power, while worshipping God requires letting go of self-centered thinking, letting go of what I want, and embracing a mission that belongs to God, something that seeks to help the helpless, bring joy to the sorrowful, and peace to the chaos. Elijah seeks to remind the people that the way they live represents the God that they serve.

We should remember this same thing about the way we represent God, especially during this time. We have heard a repeated desire to re-open, and that is a perfectly understandable position. The calls come from protesters on the beach, marching into statehouses, and civil disobedience, and when done well and for the right reasons, it can be respected, but when it flaunts and makes a spectacle of self it is less like the austere position of Elijah, and more like the loud and showy prophets of Baal.

The stark contrast was on display in this showdown on Mount Carmel. So confident in God, Elijah allowed the Baal prophets to set the terms of the showdown, he let them go first, and then “encouraged” them to change their tactic when they weren’t successful. The prophets of Baal, chanted loudly, took a majority of the day, and yet it did not result in fire. One could imagine this as a large group of prophets over 400, praying together, loudly, and because the god they were worshipping was not the One True God, their prayers were ineffective and fell on deaf ears, no matter how many of them there were, no matter how loudly they prayed.

It is this type of praying we need to guard ourselves against, loud ineffective prayers to ourselves. When we don’t get our way, when we don’t trust God, when we don’t stop to listen to what God is telling us, we make our gods look more like Baal, and less like Yahweh. We really want to see things like Disneyland, shopping malls, and even our churches reopen, but we must be mindful to do it in a safe way, with the well-being of everyone in mind. There will be a time when this will happen, and it will be relatively soon, but we must listen to what God wants us to do, and not just simply act out of what we personally want to do. Elijah teaches us how we pray for these items to happen with a focus on God and away from self.

With very little time left in the day, because the Baal worshippers had taken so much time, Elijah prayed a simple, direct, effective prayer, that was sourced from the deep sincere faith in God, and God responded. Even with the handicap of having doused the sacrifice in water, still God heard the prayer and acted upon that prayer. God hears our prayers, because He cares about His people, and acts upon those prayers. It does not matter if there is one of us praying, or a thousand, as long as we are praying out of a recognition that God is true, then He hears us. 

God made us into people that were made for fellowship, and during this shutdown we have been reeling from those losses. However, when we start saying that it is essential to meet together physically to pray so that God will act, then we are not praying with the same faith that Elijah had. God answered Elijah’s prayers, not because Elijah had some secret canticle, but because Elijah was praying to the One True God, and God will answer our prayers, when we direct our prayers to Him.

Our worship, our order of prayers, they are not needed by God to answer the problems of the world. God didn’t need us to create the world, and He doesn’t need us to change it, but because God is all loving AND all powerful we are invited to worship, we are invited to pray, we are invited to be people that are willing to speak out against injustice, we are invited to be God’s messengers, God’s peacemakers, and God’s kingdom builders.

God will defeat COVID19, have no doubt. Just as Elijah had no doubt that God would act on that day, and may we offer up our prayers to God, that His answer to that prayer may be seen by the entire world, and that the world will respond to that answered prayer, by saying that God is true, God is powerful, God is loving, and that God’s servants are the servants of the One True God.

Simplify: Time

There is never enough time to do everything, or is there?

Looking through our days we have time when at work, time at play, time spent with others, time alone, time eating, and time sleeping. However, every day has the same number of hours included. Well, almost every day in the places that still observe the practice of “Daylight Savings Time”, because they get one 23 hour day and one 25 hour day a year. Many of us got to experience our 23 hour day this past weekend. However, no matter how we try and manipulate it, there are simply only a set number of hours to do the things we want to accomplish.

Time always seems to slip away like the sun at sunset

This fact requires us to assess what items for which we have time. If we try and do everything, ultimately we will only be able to set aside a small amount of time for each, and as such they may not bring as much joy, or not worth the sacrifice needed to make room for it. For instance, if you want to start taking an art class, it meets at a certain time, and you need to make the time necessary to take the class and do the work required. If art is something you are only marginally interested in, then you have to decide whether taking that class is worth the time.

Sometimes there are things that you know you need to add into your life such as: prayer and devotional time, exercise, church, Bible Study, work, sleep, etc. Adding this requires us to trim something or eliminate something to allow the space in our life. It is never as easy as we might think, because to start a new pattern requires us to break old patterns. It is the pattern of life that often leads to complexity, and the inability to make the necessary adaptations in our lives.

In the book, Love Wins by Bob Goff, he details how every Thursday he quits something. This practice always allows him the space to add something that may be life giving and fulfilling. Understandably, most of us are not as eccentric as Bob Goff, but the simplicity of the task of quitting something to make space is something we may all learn from. Most people have devotional time and exercise time in the morning. To put this practice into place, the space needs to be made in the morning, which means wake up earlier. This doesn’t just mean set the alarm to go off earlier, because that would be sacrificing sleep, which is essential to our health and wellness, but rather we need to go to sleep earlier. That undoubtedly requires quitting something in order to get to bed at the required hour to get a full night’s sleep.

Ultimately, if you are like me, and many people I know, I like to do everything. I run all the races, I work multiple jobs, I volunteer to help, I love spending time with friends, I love going on every vacation, I am go go go, never saying no, no, or no. When I do this I fill up the calendar, and I make my life very complex. Fortunately, I married someone that keeps me in check, and before I say yes, I need to check with her. This is the governor that God placed in my life in order to control me overly complicating my life.

To follow this path to simplify my life, I will take on the task to quit things and say no. Nothing but making space in my life for the things that matter most. I admit I have not been successful at this to this point in Lent, but I seek out the simple life, and offering to God, my time is my fortune, and in this offering I seek to glorify my Creator.

Simplify Social Media

Living a certain way for a great amount of time, develops habits that become innocuous. Social media thrives upon us keeping these habits up and encourages us to get “engagement”, and even as I write this, I realize I look at my page views too frequently, and I want you all to like me. While our purpose for doing a task may not be to get the maximal views or likes or comments, we easily fall into the trap of looking at them for approval, for increasing our social score, and when we reach a certain level our task, our accomplishment, our writing is then validated.

The problem with this type of living, especially as a Christian, is that we seek the approval of others first. Most of us are not attention hounds such going after social media approval, but if we don’t get that validation, we wonder why someone didn’t comment, or like my post. In turn, we reciprocate by liking everything, because our thinking become if I like their stuff, they are going to like mine. This pattern can easily become a time consuming, and add to the complexity of our lives.

For Lent, in a quest for simplicity, let us walk away from the little numbers in the corners that grade our social media validation. Some will choose to fast completely from social media, and that is great, but most of us just need to let that engagement go a little, and simplify our interaction with it. By simplifying these interactions, we make more room to seek our validation from the Almighty God, rather than each other.

Ultimately, that is the ultimate goal in this quest for simplicity. Where do I find my affirmation? If it is in anything other than God, then I have to really question whether it is edifying or not. This does not equate to living as a hermit in solitude, because God does want us to have joy, and we were given bodies to enjoy life, and people are brought into our life to enhance that joy, but God is the source of that joy. Since God gives joy, it is God’s approval we are called to seek.

Welcome to Lent (Ash Wednesday)

The party is over, and today we begin the journey to the cross. This is the beginning of Lent, a period of 40 days (not including Sundays), before we get to the celebration of the resurrection. This is a time of deeper reflection and a season to put aside those items that interfere with our relationship with our Creator, our Savior, and the Holy Spirit. As we reflect upon Christ’s sacrifice, we understand our mortality, and offer ourselves to God as an act of repentance from the sinful lifestyle we live.

Although there are no poppies… yet, God’s promise is evident, even on the bleakest days.

Why Ashes?

The practice of the imposition of ashes can be found to date to the 10th or 11th century. When the church leaders stated, “We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth.  Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.”

The use of ashes in a Christian sense is found throughout scripture during times of
mourning, mortality, and penance. The during Job’s suffering he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, as an act of repentance the people of Nineveh put on sackcloth and ashes, and Daniel in his earnest prayers put on sackcloth and ashes when prophesying. These are only a few places where this practice is found in the Bible, but it should not be construed as an extra biblical idea that ashes are a part of our devotion to God.


Remember, man you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Giving Up

Often during Lent, people turn to giving something up, or fasting from a joyful experience or thing. This is a Christians way to mimic the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert prior to the beginning of His ministry on Earth. It is well known that many Catholics practice giving up eating meat, and even McDonald’s, among other fast food chains, capitalize on this practice by advertising their Filet-o-Fish heavily during Lent. If you have practiced “giving something up” for Lent, that is a great practice, but it must also be something that you don’t do for public consumption, but rather as a practice of private devotion, because we must hear Jesus warnings not to be like the hypocrites.

Many years I too practiced giving things up. Among the fasted items were: soda, sweets, Starbucks, social media, fast food, among many other items that do not immediately come to mind. These were just things that I gave up temporarily, and “celebrated” the Resurrection by engorging myself with them. At times, I joked with the idea of giving up sin for Lent. In this attempt at humor, I might have been closer to the true intention of the fast. Giving things up is a great introduction to the practice, but if we just wait for Easter to dive back into our old ways we miss the point.

This act of giving something up is better expressed in the practice of burying our Hallelujah during Lent. This means that during our times of worship and praise we put away the songs that are upbeat and filled with Hallelujah language. We do this for a time, so that when we bring them back on Easter it is a jubilant and joyful reintroduction celebrating Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We don’t pretend that Christ is not risen, but rather we put these types of praise away for a time, so that we appreciate them even more when they are out. The UMC site compares this to having our Christmas lights out, and that we don’t appreciate that neighbor that has them out all year, but when they come out in December we get a special sense of joy.

A Simplified Season

At the beginning of this season, the Holy Spirit draws us deeper in, and asks us to put aside those things that get in the way of our relationship. Let go of the other voices pulling us in different directions, and fully embrace our calling to Jesus, and to follow Him. This may mean giving things up, but it may not just be for 40 days, it may actually mean give things up. Use this season as a season of simplicity. Give up what you need to, and don’t give into the temptation to give up. Simplifying, like Sanctifying, are processes and may not be mastered overnight.

This is my drive this season to simplify, not just as an act of penance, but as an act to bring me closer to the man God wants me to be. Also, I have already messed up, but I don’t stop working on it. May God be your spark of joy this season, and may we use this season to draw closer and closer, getting rid of everything pulling us in every and any direction.

May you find blessing today and this season.

Stress and Embarrassment

My life has many stresses on it right now, as most of us live with some sort of stress at one time or another. However, my constant focus has always been to allow the stress of the situation make you stronger, but don’t let it break you. Unfortunately, it almost broke me last night, as I drove home in tears, sad, disappointed, and grasping for control. The signs were there that I was allowing the stress to pile on without a valve to release. My blood pressure was high, my emotional control was waning, and I was feeling isolated in a room full of friends.

The thing about stress is that it can either break you, or make you stronger, but if you just allow it to pile on without a release valve, then it will break you. I was beginning to crack, and even though I always tried to put up the facade that I was alright, my body was physically rejecting that, and was telling me I needed a relief valve pulled. I have always had running and exercise as a valve to give me relief, but with a leg injury that has finally sidelined me, I needed something else as a relief valve.

Sorrow and embarrassment clouded my mind last night, and I was not my usual jovial self. I was not a person that anyone would want to be around. I was lost in my own mind while my body was paying the price; my relationships were paying the price; my sanity was paying the price. I felt out of control, I felt for the first time since I had lost my weight as if I was the unhealthy person, which was too much for me to handle. My pride broke. The stresses were mounting, and my blood pressure was spiking.

I ultimately did something I had to do, and I sought solitude. Ironically, I had just preached on how Jesus needed solitude after feeding the 5000, but I literally had a hard time practicing what I preach. The mounting stress had caused me to isolate myself even among a group of people I call friends, and the only way to break from this isolation was to find solitude. To find a place where my mind was free, and I could commune with a loving God that wants me to simply raise my arms and cry out, “Save me!”

Stress can only make me stronger if I manage it, and admit that I need help dealing with it, dispersing and relieving it when necessary, for that I need to acknowledge I am mortal and I need saving. When I need solitude, I need to go and seek solitude. When I need relief, I need to seek relief. Life is a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, but I don’t ride this ride alone, God is with me. When I forget; I embarrass myself, I lose control, and I begin to break.

Driving Out Fear

When I was younger, I was a timid person, and had many things that I feared. I didn’t want to go on roller-coasters, I avoided anything that had to do with heights, which often puzzled those around me since I have been more than six feet tall since I was twelve years old. “Are you afraid of standing up?” was a question I would often receive from my peers. However, as I grew older, I began pushing myself a little more, and even though I feared them, I pushed myself to go onto them, or maybe it was the peer pressure, either way I went on them. At first I would close my eyes tight, and not allow my eyes to increase or validate that which my mind feared.

However, simply closing our eyes, locking our doors, putting barriers between us and that which we fear, don’t keep us “safe”, but rather they give us a sense of security within which we are willing to live. The idea that there is always someone bigger, someone faster, someone smarter, someone stronger, is true, and if that person means to do me harm, them no amount of fortification I attempt, there is always a vulnerability.

Even the Empire, in Star Wars, thought they had built a SUPER weapon, THE DEATH STAR, a weapon intended to bring mass destruction, and with this weapon they would bring the universe to bow down before the power of the Dark Side. However, in two different episodes of the story, the Rebels were able to destroy this because of its vulnerabilities. While this vulnerability was exploited for the Light Side and Rebellion against the Empire, we too have darkness that seemingly overwhelms us at times.

Jesus disciples were not immune to fear, and they thought they could keep the Roman Empire out by simply locking a door behind them. Fear gripped them, fear kept them from doing what they were called to do, and fear made them act and think small and timid. That is how fear wins, by making us think and act timid.

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 20:19–23). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

The disciples feared the Romans, their eyes had seen what the Romans and enemies of Christ could do, they feared that they would meet the same fate, they feared the Jewish leaders would push the Romans to root out all of the followers and kill them. However, Jesus had plans for his disciples, and first gave them PEACE, or Shalom, to rest their minds and allow them to set aside fear. This PEACE was power to set aside fear, and become their true and complete selves, no longer slaves to the fear that had once gripped them.

While fear should not take hold of us and be the cause for our inaction, the circumstances leading us to fear are real. The Romans crucified Christ, Jesus shows the disciples the results, his hands and side were pierced and broken. The things we fear are often real. We can fall from great heights and hurt ourselves. We can get bitten by a spider and get sick. We can get cancer, and that cancer can break us down, and make us weak. These things cannot be taken lightly, or treated recklessly, but they are opportunities where we can make a stand and say “NO” to fear. Much like Jesus showed the disciples that crucifixion was real and not a joking matter, in showing up before them he also stood up showing that even death was conquered with perfect love. So too, the things we fear, while real, can and will be conquered by love.

This indicates that the things that potentially cause us to fear, more than just being scared about going on a frightening roller-coaster, something that really invokes petrifying fear, such as a loved one facing cancer, or needing to speak up in the face of injustice when there will be almost certain consequences of doing so. We are called to answer that fear with LOVE. Love of God and love of neighbor must be that which we answer these real fears. We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect systems, and often time there is the temptation to just take a step back and wish for somebody else to step up.

I admit this is often my default response. Somebody else can step up and take this head on, I will give support, but not really stick my neck out and take it on. A few times I have stepped up and said something, but it doesn’t really go that far. I have even seen a couple friends really make some bold steps as to take on injustice in our country, and have risked future employment to speak out against injustice in our country. Other friends and families have done the unpopular task of going and standing with and/or fighting for those that are powerless in our society. I dearly admire these leaders and fighters.

Some, like my dear friend and sister, Jackie, have, in the face of a cancer diagnosis, bravely looked in the face of cancer and proclaimed, that it cannot win, it cannot break her spirit, it messed with the wrong woman! Her bravery, her boldness, her fight reminds me, and instructs me that I cannot be silent, I cannot be someone that sits on the sidelines and allows someone else to take this, I will respond to cancer, with LOVE. I will stand for, I will fight for, I will show cancer that LOVE will win the day. I may not be medicine, I may not be a surgeon, but I can pray, I can love, I can help in any number of ways. AND I WILL.

It is this Spirit, the HOLY SPIRIT, that Christ blows onto his disciples. No longer a spirit of fear, but THE HOLY SPIRIT, a SPIRIT of POWER, a SPIRIT of MOVEMENT, a SPIRIT of STRENGTH, and most importantly a SPIRIT of LOVE! With this SPIRIT we drive out fear, we are more than conquerors, and we allow God to utilize us to our full potential. This SPIRIT brings with it power and strength, and with this SPIRIT injustice is rooted out, cancer is defeated, and GRACE wins!