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Hills + Valleys | The Whisperer | 1 Kings 19:9-18 | Week 5

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JONAH: Life on the Run    Jonah 1:1-3

Over the next six weeks, we’re going to have the chance to journey with Jonah, to allow Jonah to be our guide through the Lenten season.   Our guide to the cross.  Our guide to the resurrection.  Metaphorically speaking, we’re going to take Jonah’s hand and we’re going to go for a little bit of a walk.  My guess is, even if you’re not a follower of Jesus and you’re here today, even if you don’t know much about the Bible, you’ve heard about Jonah.  Turns out the story about a person getting eaten by a fish and living for three days in its belly is ubiquitous.  News about that travels.  My guess is you have an opinion about the book of Jonah.

I can remember being a college pastor and walking onto a college campus in southern California, and having someone come up to me.  We started a conversation about life, and faith, and Jesus, and it was almost like they hit pause and said, “You don’t really believe in the whole Jonah story, do you?”  How do you answer somebody who has no interest in faith, has no background in faith or maybe stepped away from faith?  What do you say?  Here’s what I said, “Well, I believe that Jesus of Nazareth died, and was buried in the earth for three days, and walked out of the grave, so I guess believing that somebody survived in the belly of a fish isn’t any harder than that.”   My goal was let me get to Jesus as quick as I can.

Over the last few months, I’ve been studying this book of Jonah trying to prepare for this series we’re doing.  My guess is you might have a few questions, like, Ryan, how should we read this book?  What should we do with this ancient text?  That’s a great question.  There’s really three things people have done with Jonah over the years.  The first is that people have read Jonah as history.  That’s actually the most common way to read Jonah throughout the history of the church.  People will argue that in Matthew 12, Jesus seemed to view Jonah as history.  To that I say I think you can read the text that way, although I don’t think you need to.  I don’t think it’s the fail-safe, although if Jesus believed that Jonah was a historical event, that what we read about is history, I’m with Jesus!  It’s what the early church fathers thought.  Almost every single one of them would have affirmed that Jonah should be read as history, as narrative—St. Jerome, St. Cyril, Theophilus.

There’s another way to read the book of Jonah also.  It’s to read it as parable.  Underneath that big banner of reading it as parable, there’s really two streams.  One that I think is good and you can read it that way if you want to, and the other, I would say, I don’t think you should read it that way.  Let me start with the ‘I don’t think you should read it that way.’  Under parable, some people read Jonah as parable because they go I just can’t believe that somebody would get swallowed by a fish, live for three days, get spit onto dry land and be okay.  That’s what most people think, right?  Here’s what happens, if we go I can’t believe that happened, therefore I have to read it a different way, what else do we have to do that with in the Scriptures?  Do we do that with the Red Sea?  It couldn’t have split.  Do we do that with Jesus walking out of the grave?  Just metaphor, couldn’t happen.  Here’s the truth of the matter, there’s a number of things that have happened that are hard for you to believe have happened.  I think that’s a pretty weak lens for you to live your life through—if I didn’t see it then I don’t believe it could happen.  Let me give you an example.  My wife and I watched a movie called “Free Solo” this weekend.  It’s about this young man who free-climbs the face of El Capitan.  Three thousand vertical feet of glass-like granite that this man climbs up……without a rope!  If you were to stand in Yosemite Valley and look at El Capitan and I were to tell you, “Hey, somebody climbed that without any ropes,” my guess is, if you didn’t know the story, you’d go, impossible!  Couldn’t have happened.  Until you found out it happened!  There’s a documentary and I’d encourage you to watch it, it’s fascinating!  I don’t think it’s any way to live and I don’t think it’s any way to view Jonah—if I can’t imagine it happening, I can’t believe it, therefore, it didn’t happen.

There’s another stream, there are some people who read Jonah as parable, not because they don’t think it could happen, but because that’s what they think the literature of Jonah actually suggests, as far as the way you should read it.  You read it and it’s not just that a man gets eaten by a fish, it’s that cows repent in sackcloth and ashes.  And there’s all sorts of hyperbole all over the book, which there is.  Whether you like it or not, there’s a lot of hyperbole.  A tree sprouts up and grows overnight and then dies.  Some people read it and go, I’m not sure if it’s suppose to be taken literally.  I think it’s more of a parable.  I think it’s more of a story.  Before you go well, if it’s a story than it doesn’t have anything to say to us really.  If it didn’t really happen…..if really happening is the thing that makes it important, to that I just say to you, did we say that at all when we talked about the parable of the Prodigal Son?  No, the important part of the prodigal isn’t that it happened, it’s that it happens.  People who read Jonah that way, that’s what they would say about the book of Jonah.  I think you could read it either way, to be quite honest with you.

Here’s what I think is true about Jonah—I think you can MISS the point of Jonah, reading it as parable or history.  I think you can GET the point of Jonah by reading it as parable or history.  Because it’s not primarily parable OR history.  What section of books is Jonah in?  The minor prophets.  Before we read Jonah as history and before we read Jonah as parable, we need to read Jonah as prophetic.  We need to read Jonah asking the question, God, our lives are open to you, what do you want to say to us, through your prophet Jonah, through his story, through his actions?  God, what do you want to say to us?  Before we talk about if it’s history, if it’s parable…..God, it’s prophetic.  We believe that.  What do you want to say to us through your prophet Jonah? Yeah, it’s important because it happens.  Before we try to dissect Jonah and pin it down, maybe we should just pause for a moment, and posture our hearts to be prepared to be pinned down by it.

It’s less about what genre it falls in.  It’s prophetic.  There’s a message to the book of Jonah, and if I could summarize the message in one line, it would be this: A resentful prophet encounters a relentless God.  That’s what Jonah is all about.  A resentful prophet who encounters a relentless God.  It’s about a prophet who says “no,” and a God who says I won’t let go.  How many of you are grateful that this book is in the Scriptures, if this is what it’s about?  I am!  Because my heart is prone to wander, prone to leave the God I love.  So, Jesus, today, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.  That’s in me!  My guess is that that’s in you, to some degree, as well.  This is great news!  Jonah is great news for people that often tell God “no.”

At the onset of this series, let me give you a few themes from this book, as far as the way we should read it.  I don’t want you to miss, as we read through this book over the next few weeks, that it is absolutely beautiful, genius, Hebrew literature.  It’s genius.  The way that the book is mapped out.  The way that the first half mirrors the second half.  The way that the narrator withholds this punch line; you have no idea why Jonah is running from God until chapter 4.  The narrator is inviting you in deeper, deeper, deeper….until BOOM! he sucker punches you in chapter 4 and you find out why.  It’s brilliant!

But it’s also funny.  There are portions of Jonah that the original audience would have chuckled at.  Now, a language later, a few thousand years, a different culture, some of it’s lost on us, and I’m going to do my best over the next few weeks to just tell you where you should laugh.  Some would say Jonah is funny, but it’s also this “compassionate irony,” as one author calls it.  Another suggests that it’s sort of satire.  We’re suppose to chuckle a little bit.

Maybe more than any of those, Jonah shows us something about what it means to be human.  That we are sometimes frail and often fickle.  That we are often wrong when it feels like we’re 100% right.  That we often hear God right, but think of God wrong.  That we want mercy and grace for ourselves, but judgment and wrath for others.  We are Jonah.  So, before we throw stones at Jonah for being one of the worst prophets ever, which he might have been, we’re going to try to see Jonah in the mirror, and ask Jesus what can we learn from this ancient prophet, from this ancient book, that feels so weighty and so modern?

Will you turn to Jonah 1:1-3?  Jonah is in the minor prophets that are not minor because they’re less important, they’re minor because they’re shorter.  Let me give you a little bit of background.  Jonah is different than the other minor prophetic books.  It suggests maybe we should read it a little bit differently.  Jonah has no reference to a king.  So no reference to “this is the time that I’m writing” and you can place me in a timeline and here’s when I wrote.  No reference to a king.  And no reference to an oracle that comes from God.  Certainly there’s a word from God, but there’s no oracle from God.  It’s very different from the other prophetic books that are in our Scriptures.

Starting in verse 1 of chapter 1, let’s dive into Jonah, we’re going to have a whale of a time!  Don’t encourage me!  The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: {Which, by the way, means truth.}  “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”  But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.  He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.  After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.  Three short verses, but they frame the entire book for us.  Let me tell you about the plan, the people, and the prophet.

Here’s the plan:  Jonah, I want you to go and I want you to preach against Nineveh.  I want you to go and deliver a message.  It’s wickedness has come up before me.  If you’re a student of the Scriptures, that’s sort of an echo from a passage we’ve read before — It’s wickedness has come up before me.  Do you remember where?  Genesis 6:5.  It’s Noah.  The wickedness of the people has risen up to me, therefore I’m going to destroy, I’m going to wipe them out.  I’m bad at keeping a secret, so I’m going to tell you why Jonah’s running from God. You’re not going to find out until chapter 4, but we need to talk about it now because it’s important.  Jonah doesn’t actually think God’s going to do that .  He has this sneaking suspicion, Jonah does, that God is slow to anger, that he’s compassionate, that he’s abounding in love, and that he’s forgiving.  Here’s what Jonah’s worried about.  Jonah is worried that God is like Jesus.  Jonah is right!  So we see this “its wickedness has come up before me.”  In Genesis, it’s destroy them.  In Jonah, it’s preach against them.  In Jesus, it’s forgive them.  Jonah is not sure he likes the plan.

The people he’s going to—these Ninevites.  Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, at the time.  Ninevites were known for being a brutal people.  They did things to the people they captured.  They tortured them.  They decapitated them.  They dismembered people.  And they were proud of it all.  They flaunted it all.  In fact, if you were defeated by the Ninevites, they would put it in your face by….if you were a man and you were at war, they would cut off your head, put it on a pole, give it to your kids and have them parade your head through their victory parade.  They would lop off peoples legs, both of them, and their left arm; they would leave the right arm and right hand in tack so when the victory parade happened, you could shake the hand of the victors before you bled out and died.  I can see where Jonah’s coming from.  Nineveh would have been called a “Terrorist State.”

Is Jonah racist?  He might be.  But maybe he just thinks he knows right and wrong, and he certainly would have identified the Ninevites as wrong.  As evil.  Maybe he just thinks, “God, you know what’s wrong and that’s wrong, and you fall on the side of right, therefore, God, you are against the Ninevites.”  He probably assumes that his hatred for the Ninevites is not only justified by God, but shared by God.  When he finds out he’s wrong, his house of cards starts to crumble rapidly.  Jonah may not be a racist, but he certainly is nationalistic.  Which means he might be a lot easier for us to relate to than some dude who got swallowed by a fish.  He loves him some Israel, and he believes God is for Israel.  Is God for Israel?  Yes.  Is God for Nineveh?  Yes.  God’s for humanity.  He so desperately wants to see Israel flourish that he has this line of thinking—God, I don’t like those people.  They’re not part of our tribe, therefore, I’m pretty sure you don’t like those people either!  Which is a dangerous line of thinking, because whoever we fill in the blank with—I don’t like that group and God, I’m pretty sure you don’t like them either—you do realize you are somebody’s fill-in-the-blank.  God, I’m sure you don’t like them because of whatever.  Your name, our name, a follower of Jesus…..that goes in that fill-in-the-blank.  Man, it’s so easy to feel justified in hatred because somebody’s not part of our group.  And to think, God, you’re only for this one little sliver.  That’s how cycle of violence and retributive justice continue over and over and over again, and maybe the prophetic word of Jonah is that’s tired.  There’s a better way, as we lead to the cross.  There’s a better way!  This prophet Jonah shows us that way.

If you think Jonah was just parable, I’d encourage you to wrestle a little bit with the reality that Jonah was a prophet.  He served in Israel.  Let me show you the other passage that references this same Jonah we’re talking about.  Speaking of Jeroboam. (2 Kings 14:25)   He was the one who restored the boundaries of Israel  {Jeroboam II was the king of Israel under Jonah’s prophetic reign.}  from Lebo Hamath to the Dead Sea, in accordance with the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, spoken through his servant Jonah son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath Hepher.  Here’s the thing—There were other prophets who were prophesying during Jonah’s time and during the reign of Jeroboam II.  Amos.  Hosea.  Amos and Hosea were looking at the way that Jeroboam operated.  The way that he used militaristic power to expand the borders of their empire.  The way that he destroyed people in their wake.  The way that he would go to any extent to make Israel great.  Jonah was the lone voice that said, “I support him.”  Hosea and Amos were going, “Jeroboam, you’re off. God is not for this.”  You read through their books, they are very, very critical of Jeroboam’s reign.  Jonah, not so much.  Jonah wanted to see Israel flourish….at any cost!

So it starts to make sense, doesn’t it?  The word of the Lord comes to Jonah son of Amittai, go preach against Nineveh, and he has a sneaking suspicion in the back of his head, like, God, you might just forgive them, and that can’t happen.  So what does he do?  He runs.  He finds himself in Joppa.  Instead of going to Nineveh, which is almost directly east, he goes to Tarshish, which is almost directly west.  And we’re supposed to go hahaha.  But more than that, we’re suppose to think about the reality that runningfrom God is often easier than trustingGod.

Even as followers of the way of Jesus, friends, let’s come to terms this morning, let’s loosen the halo just a little bit, to say that there’s a runner inside of each one of us.  There are ways that when we hear the way of Jesus, we’d rather run the other way.  We’d rather run the other way than forgive our enemies and pray for those that persecute us, and let go of our anger and our lust and our hatred.  Some days we would just rather run the other way, wouldn’t we?  I would say that there’s a little bit of Forrest Gump inside each one of us.  Three years, two months, fourteen days, sixteen hours, Forrest Gump spent running across America back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  I went back and watched this scene (research!).  It starts out by him saying, “I don’t know exactly why I was running, I just started running. I felt like running.”  At the end of his run, he said this, “I was running because sometimes you have to put the past behind you before you can move into the future.”  I thought, oh, I know some runners like that.  The American cartoonist, James Thurber, said it like this: “All human beings should try to learn, before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.”

Here’s part of what’s in our souls, friends, is that when we run, we get to live under the perception of control.  And it’s just that, it’s a perception.  But we get to hold onto this sort of fantasy that I’m actually in control of the way everything goes, so I’m going to run the other way.  But when I step into the way of Jesus, and I listen to him, I have to trust and I have to surrender, and there are moments when that grates against everything in me.  Yes?  It grated against Jonah.

Maybe our running looks a little bit like this:  Instead of failing, we won’t even try.  That’s a form of running.  Instead of facing our hurt, maybe we just shut our heart down.  That’s a form of running.  Instead of getting wounded, I’ll get offended, because that’s an easier emotion to deal with.  Or maybe I’ll get angry.  Instead of embracing calling, maybe I’ll just settle for comfort.  Instead of taking risks, I’ll just embrace routine.  Instead of engaging with the people around me with a sort of relational depth where we actually share life, I’m just going to entertain myself.  And amuse myself to death, as Neil Postman writes.  We. Are. Runners.  We’re Jonah.

It’s interesting, if you were to read through the book of Jonah—and I’d encourage you to do that at some point—here’s what you’ll find.  Jonah runs in two different and distinct ways.  The first two chapters, Jonah is running in outright disobedience.  He’s like God, the heck with you, Tarshish is calling my name.  But in chapters 3 and 4, Jonah is also on the run.  Don’t mistake his going to Nineveh to say he’s not running from God anymore.  Jonah is on the run in the second half of the book through religion.  That’s how he’s running then.  The first half of the book is rebellion.  The second half of the book, he runs through religion.  God, I’m going to go through the motions.  God, I’m going to do it because you told me to do it, but my heart’s not in it at all.  For us as followers of Jesus, we come to church—maybe you come every single week—it might be one of the ways you run from God.  To just feel a little bit better.  To go, yeah, that’s in me, but never do anything about it.  We can run through rebellion or we can run through religion, but either way, we’re trying to avoid the One who is chasing us down.  Eugene Peterson says—and I think he’s right—that Jonah is far more attractive in his outright disobedience than he is in his begrudging obedience to God.  He’s way more attractive in chapters one and two than he is in three and four.

Here’s the truth of the matter, friends,—and lean in for a moment—running from God and running from pain is ALWAYS running from reality.  I don’t know if you ever realized how unsuccessful you are in trying to avoid reality.  But it just finds us at every turn, doesn’t it?  You sneak around a corner and you’re like, “Aahhh! Reality! You’re there!”  So Jonah’s this invitation to recognize the way that God works and the way that the human soul often works.  Let me point out a few things, this morning, out of Jonah 1:3, that we find out from Jonah’s life.  But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish.  He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.

I spent some time imagining that scene this week.  Jonah’s heading from his home and going “down.”  You’re going to find out that that theme “down” is going to continue all throughout the first chapter of this book.  Jonah goes down to Joppa.  Jonah is going to go down into the ship.  He’s going to go down into the base of the ship.  He’s going to go down into the ocean.  It’s like the narrator wants you to know ‘it’s about to go DOWN!’

Jonah walks down and gets to Joppa and the picture is like that there’s just a ship ready to roll.  He doesn’t have to wait, he makes a decision, and it’s there.  It’s like it was waiting for him.  It’s like Genesis 4:7 says:  …sin is crouching at your door….  It’s right there.  It desires to have you, but you must rule over it.  Here’s what Jonah teaches us — There’s always a ship headed for Tarshish.  Disobedience will always be an option, therefore, obedience must be a conscience choice.  Amen.

It’s interesting because Tarshish and Nineveh are opposites in every way.  We’ve already established that geographically they’re opposites, but Nineveh is this terrorist state that is filled with blood that is absolutely brutal, and dominated by people who use their creativity to figure out ways to kill people in more painful ways.  Tarshish, however, is Hawaii.  Tarshish is a paradise.  Tarshish is where the rich people went to get away from it all, to have a luau and sip on a mai tai.  That’s Tarshish.  Jonah, as much as he maybe gets wrong, he gets this right.  Where does Jonah try to flee TO in order to get away from the presence of God?  If you were to lay it out and you were to say, “Hey, where is God more present?”  In a tropical paradise where you can put your beach towel out and soak up the sun?  82 degrees every day.  Crashing surf.  Great service.  OR….in a terrorist state where people are losing their lives and people are coming up with creative ways to kill people?  Where’s God more present?  Jonah says I’m running away from the presence of God….He’s in Nineveh, I’m going to Tarshish.  Jonah knows what we often forget.  We often forget that we meet God in the pain.  We often forget that we meet God in the struggle, in those dark corners.  In those things that we’d rather ignore, and the places that we’d more like to forget.  Those are often the places we meet God.  Yet we use pleasure, we use Tarshish—we have a number of Tarshii in our life—in order to escape Nineveh.  But Nineveh’s often the very place where we meet God.

Two times, in this very first section, Jonah says I am going to get away from the Lord, I’m fleeing from the  presence of the Lord.  Question: Is that actually possible?  No!  What he’s finding out is what the psalmist wrote: Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)   Jonah’s version of this is, “I can’t get away from you! Selah!”  The truth of the matter is, friends, is that temptation, and sin, and running don’t actually distance us from God, they simply prevent us from being able to enjoy his presence.  So Jonah shows us what human freedom looks like at work.  You do know that God will never force you to make a decision you don’t want to make, right?    As C.S. Lewis says:  “God created things which have free will.  That means creatures which can go either wrong or right.  Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot.  If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad.  And free will is what has made evil possible.  Why, then, did God give them free will?  Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.”  There’s always a ship headed to Tarshish, and you can choose it.  I hope you don’t, but God won’t prevent you from doing so.

Second—But Jonah ran away from the Lord….  I’m guessing Jonah has a decent home.  He supported the king, that’s how to get rich.  I’m guessing Jonah had some good friends.  So, why not just say no?  Go to Nineveh! No!  I’m staying here.  But that’s not what Jonah does.  Jonah says no, I won’t go to Nineveh, I’m going to Tarshish.  Jonah is pointing out a truth to you and I that we would do well to allow to sink into our souls this morning.  He’s showing us that there’s no such thing as neutrality.  When you hear the call of God, you can’t just stay where you’re are.  It’s either a yes or a no.  It’s either a Nineveh or a Tarshish.  But there is no in between.  There’s no such thing as neutrality when it comes to God’s call.  We often live under the guise of neutrality.  Even in a marriage—well, it’s just cold, it’s not getting any worse or any better.  It’s changing.  It’s going one direction in a dead-end job…..well, I’m just putting in my time.  You’re life is moving.  It’s always moving.  There’s no such thing as neutrality.  Maybe today you just pause and ask Jesus, “What’s one thing I’m under the false assumption that is in neutral in my life?”

Finally it says: After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.  There’s this nuance in the Hebrew that almost every scholar points out.  What could be being said is that Jonah paid the fare for the entire ship.  As if to say, what’s it going to take?  Get me there as quick as we can.  I don’t know if that’s right; there’s a number of other sailors, as we’ll see, that are on the ship.  There’s some cargo that they’re taking, so we know that somebody else has a vested interested in this ship making it to Tarshish.  We’re not exactly sure, but here’s what we do know:  There is always a cost to running.

One of the costs is it’s exhausting.  If we’re on the run, either from God or from pain or from our history, you name it, it is exhausting.  You just watch the movie The Fugitiveand by the end of it you feel like you’ve had an entire workout, don’t you?  Harrison Ford, just turn yourself in because I don’t think I can handle this.  That’s the same thing that happens to the human soul while we’re on the run and we refuse to acknowledge reality in our life.  It is exhausting!  We’re running against the wind, as the old song says.

But it’s also unproductive.  Jonah pays all this money.  He spends all this time.  He goes through all these efforts, and where does he end up?  Right where he left.  It’s treadmill living.  We’ve got to put in three miles today.  Eight-and-a-half minute miles.  And when I got off that treadmill I was exactly where I was standing beforehand.  That’s what addiction does, it’s running.  Eventually you end up right where you left.  It’s what happens when we pacify our pain, instead of actually confronting it.  Will you look up at me for just a moment? You need to know that your running has cost you something.  It always does.  It might have cost you a level of intimacy in a marriage or in a friendship.  It might have cost you time or energy or resources.  But please hear me, whatever you are running from today, you will eventually have to deal with.  So maybe we let Jonah read us.  If I’m going to have to deal with it someday, God, then maybe today’s the day.  Because the truth is running is a great way to escape, but it’s no way to live!

What if today, instead of running from God, instead of running FROM reality, we just started to run towards Him instead of away from Him.  What might that look like?  What might that journey, that downward journey this Lenten season, as we walk towards the cross and the resurrection, what might that journey look like this year?  Here’s what it might look like as we use Jonah’s life to read ours.  What if we started to pursue awareness?  What if we started to take that question seriously?  All human beings should try to learn, before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.  What if we started to say…..what if we said this week….you just write it in a journal somewhere and you take and picture of it and you process it with some time with God…..I run from _________, to ____________, because ____________.  Maybe we use adventure to run or addiction to run.  Maybe we use religiosity to run or we use rebellion to run.  Maybe we choose pleasure to run, or we choose pain to run.  Maybe we choose pride.  Maybe we choose pornography.  There’s a lot of different ways that we run.  So it may sound something like this:  I run from pain, to drugs or alcohol, because I don’t want to deal with reality.  I run from intimacy, to entertainment, because I fear being known.  I run from my calling, to security, because I’m afraid of failing.  Hypothetically, something like that.

I printed out a handout for you, it’s the Prayer of Examen.  It’s an ancient prayer guiding us to this place where we let God read us a little bit.  I’ve had this realization, maybe a year ago, that as evangelicals we’re typically really good at teaching people how to read the Bible and not as good at teaching people how to let the Bible read them.  We’re good at learning about God, but we’re not the best at learning from God, just sort of opening our hands to say God, what do you want to say?  This is an ancient prayer practice that helps you position yourself to hear from God.  Maybe this Lenten season you say each night before I go to bed, I’m going to embrace this prayer practice.  If it’s helpful, use it, if not, use it as a coaster, I don’t care.

Second, choose repentance.  Once God brings up some things we’re running from, sometimes our natural tendency is to say I couldn’t let that go, it’s such a part of me.  Would you allow your imagine to run a little bit more free and say God, give me a vision for what this looks like, to live in a different way, and then God, I’m going to choose that way.  I’m going to choose You!  I’m going to choose your way, your heart, your path, the path of life.  Repentance, it’s a beautiful word.  It means there’s a platform to be honest and there’s a pathway home.  Choose repentance.

Seek healing.  This is why we have Celebrate Recovery that meets here Tuesday nights at 6:30.  It’s why we have the support groups we have—-Grief Share, Divorce Care, a pornography group that meets.  It’s why we do those things, you guys, because when we come to Jesus, we are made new, but we move a lot of old furniture into a new house.  As a church, we are passionate about helping you walk in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus, and oftentimes that means healing.  Did you know everywhere you read, in the New Testament, the word ‘salvation,’ you could translate the word ‘healing?’  Jesus is for your healing.

Awareness.  Repentance. Healing. Finally, we say back to Jesus, “Where you are calling I will follow.”  Don’t miss that Jonah’s running from God’s call on his life.  We might be running from God’s call on ours, to live in his way with his heart.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to journey with Jonah.  But remember, as you start to see just how bad of a prophet he is, let’s not throw stones at him.  I think he has something to teach us.  To teach us about ourselves, to teach us about God.  Things to teach us about what it means to be human.  Let’s not throw stones at Jonah.  Let’s try to see him in the mirror.  Friends, may we become the kinds of people who, instead of running away from God, we run to him.  Let’s pray.

Before you go running out of here, maybe ask the Spirit, “What’s one thing, Spirit, that you want to drive home? One thing you want me to walk away with?”  Have I been choosing Tarshish?  Have I been running from my pain?  Have I been going to pleasure instead of just trying to sit in reality, as painful as it is?  Jesus, are there ways that we’ve lied to ourselves into thinking that we’re in neutral?  God, show us afresh what our running, what our sin, what our disobedience has cost us.  As scary as that is to pray, Jesus, and as scary as it may be to see, Lord, we want to be found in this discontent in anything less than you have for us.  I think the way forward is actually seeing some of the ways that we’ve said no so that we can choose yes.  Jesus, today, thank you for not saying no to us.  Jesus, thank you for not writing us off when we run.  Jesus, thank you for being faster than us and for chasing us down.  Would you remind us of that throughout this whole series, we pray.  In Jesus’s name.  And all God’s people said…..Amen.

Hills + Valleys | The Whisperer | 1 Kings 19:9-18 | Week 52020-08-20T16:09:30-06:00

Hills + Valleys | Going Home | 2 Kings 2:1-17 | Week 7

HILLS & VALLEYS: Going Home    2 Kings 2:1-18

Next week, we will be done with this series on Elijah; we’ve given seven messages in all.  This brings us to the conclusion of this life of the ancient prophet of Israel, Elijah.  We saw Elijah burst onto the scene, sort of came out of nowhere.  He stepped into the king’s palace and made a declaration about drought and a confident call that Yahweh was the King above all kings, the Lord above all lords, the God above all gods.  We’ve traced Elijah’s journey over the last few weeks and now we’re coming to the end of his journey.  The end of his journey is unique.  It’s not intended to be looked at as normative.  Elijah is one of only two people we have recorded in Scripture who didn’t die.  Enoch is his counterpart in Genesis 5, but Elijah’s ending is as strange as his life, in many ways.  It comes to an abrupt end where he’s taken—spoiler alert!—in a chariot of fire up to heaven.  As we read his story, his story conjures up all sorts of questions in our life, at least in my life….questions about what heaven is going to be like.

I think there’s this sort of transcendent human longing to figure out what’s next.  We have people who have these, supposed, experiences of heaven and they write books.  A guy named Don Piper wrote a book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, in which he was supposedly in a car accident and died and for ninety minutes spent some time in heaven, came back and made millions of dollars and wrote a book about it.  I’m not saying it didn’t happen.  He very well may have had that experience.  In Heaven is for Real, you have this four-year-old boy who dies and goes to heaven and experiences things and learns things he really shouldn’t have been able to learn in any other way.  His dad wrote a book.  90 Minutes in Heaven has sold over six million copies, Heaven is for Real has sold over twelve million copies since it came out in 2010.  I tell you this, not to say you should go buy one of these books to figure out what heaven’s like.  I’m not saying they’re wrong, but I’m just saying somebody’s experience is never a great foundation to build your theology off of.  I think, we should go to the Scriptures and see what the Scriptures have to say about heaven.  If you want to read an interesting book, pick up one of those, but then really hold it up to see what the Scriptures say.

We have questions about heaven, don’t we?  Which is why you can write a book about going there and sell millions and millions of copies of it.  We have this keen sense, don’t we, anytime a life ends, even if someone’s really old and they’ve lived decades and they’ve lived a full, good, beautiful life.  We go to their memorial….there’s this sort of transcendent feeling, isn’t there, that this was never suppose to happen.  Like it was never suppose to end; it was too sacred, too beautiful, too good to have an end.  There’s something inside every single one of us, even if we don’t believe in an afterlife, we hope that there is one.  There’s something about that that just calls to the human soul.  We were created….you were created to live forever.

I can remember being sitting in youth group, when I was a young student, and hearing our youth pastor describe heaven.  I don’t know if you’ve had a similar experience, but I was sitting there going, I’m not sure I want to go there.  He described heaven and it seemed way more boring than earth.  It was like….we’ll be sort of these angelic figures and we’ll be sitting on a cloud and playing the harp…   At that point in time, I was like, I really like Dave Matthews!  I’m not really a harp guy!  I still like Dave Matthews way more than I like the harp.

We have these questions, don’t we, what happens after we die?  Where do we go?  Do we turn into some sort of angelic being?  What are we going to do in heaven?  Are we just going to sing 24/7?  I like singing as much as the next guy, but I just don’t know if I want to do it 24/7 for all of eternity.  I’d like to mix it up a little bit.  Who’s with me?  Here’s another question people often have—Will I remember things or people in heaven?  Or will going to heaven just be like the great mind eraser, where I get there and it’s like starting over?  Have you ever wondered some of these questions?  When we’re in heaven, will we be able to see what’s going on on earth?  Then you have some well-intentioned people who pat you on the back and go, heaven’s going to be so great that you’re not going to care what’s going on on earth.  The only problem with that is the Bible.  Some of these questions we have the Bible actually speaks to, but—will you lean in for a moment—I sense, on a deep pastoral level, that this message today is far more than just a cognitive ascent to try to figure out what heaven’s going to be like.  So we can turn some cosmic-like key in and get it all figured out.  My guess is that you’ve said good-bye to somebody you love, or maybe you’ve gotten a diagnosis from a doctor that says it’s not looking good.  Or maybe you’re like the person who came up to me after last week’s service and gave me a hug and said, “I’m so glad you’re talking about heaven, because I’m getting older.”  I thought to myself, “I’d like to meet the Benjamin Button that’s getting younger!”  We’re all getting older; it’s all getting closer, for every single one of us.

So we have these questions.  These questions that, ever since the dawn of creation, people have been asking.  What’s it like?  What’s it like on the other side?  What’s it like in the afterlife?  Every culture, every religion, every civilization has in some way tried to answer that question.   We’re going to do our best to answer it today.  I want you to hear me, I’m standing up here today, I’m preaching, my goal is to open the Scriptures to say, to the best of my ability, here’s what the Scriptures seem to say.  But if anybody tells you they have this subject nailed, run the other way! I’m doing my best.  If you think this is a terrible message, fine.  I’m doing my best.  And Elijah’s going to be our guide along the way.

If you have your Bible, turn to 2 Kings 2, and you’ll need it this morning, because we’re looking at two chunks of text and neither are going to be on the screen, they’re too long.  Elijah’s coming to the end of his life.  Like I said, the end of his life is sort of as strange as the rest of his life.  He’s going to be our guide to show us a little of what heaven is like.  2 Kings 2:1-8 — When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.  Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”  But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.”  So they went down to Bethel.  The company of prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”  “Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”  {Quick timeout. I’m not sure why he says “Be quiet.”  I’m not exactly sure what’s going on.  It may be he wants Elijah to keep teaching and keep talking, so he’s like, you guys need to shut your mouth.  We want to hear from him, not you.  It might also be that he’s gotten so close to Elijah that, for them, this is just something that’s going to happen, but for him, it’s pain.  We don’t know.  But either way, he says, “Shhhh!  In the name of God, shut your mouth!”}  Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”  And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.”  So they went to Jericho.  The company of prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”  “Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”  Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”  And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.”  So the two of them walked on.  Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan.  Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it.  The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.  

The passage goes on to say that these schools of prophets, these prophets who were there, the same prophets who said, “Hey Elisha, do you know Elijah’s getting taken to heaven today?” and he said, “Yes,” they beg Elisha, after Elijah is taken to heaven, let’s go look for him.  He’s gotta be around somewhere.  Isn’t it interesting that it was shocking to them that God actually did what He said He was going to do.  They were just dumbfounded by it—-Let’s go look for him—-and Elisha finally says, “Fine, go look for him.  You’re not going to find him, but if it’ll make you feel better, go for it!”  And they do.  They come back and say they couldn’t find him.  And Elisha is like, really? I’m shocked!   I think that’s how we feel about heaven sometimes is it’s just so good we go, there’s no way!  We sort of believe it, but in the back of our mind we go, it’s not going to be that good.  We can’t hope that much in it.  It’s going to be illusive.

This passage is fascinating to me because we could do a message about Elijah passing on the faith and about how important it is to train up the people in your life, whether it’s in a ministry that you’re involved in or a business that you’re involved in or in a family, to train up somebody to hand the torch to, to carry it when you’re no longer here.  We could do a message on that, but I think there’s something else going on.  I think there’s another reason that Elijah travels to these specific places.  If you were to draw a map, here’s the way it would look.  He begins in Gilgal, then he heads west, away from where he’s actually going to end up, in order to go to Bethel.  Then he comes back—just a short distance, 15 miles or so—where he came from in Jericho.  Then he finally crosses the Jordan, which was pretty close to where he started.

Why in the world is Elijah taking this little walking tour before he leaves this earth?  As you might have guessed, each one of these places is of massive importance in the history of Israel.  Gilgal was the place, after wandering in the desert for forty years, that the nation of Israel comes to.  They first come to the brink of the Jordan River, it’s parted miraculously, they cross over the Jordan and they stop in Gilgal.  Gilgal is the place where they reinstate circumcision and where they re-say to God, God, we want to be your people and we’re entering back into covenant relationship with you, and God welcomes them back.   Gilgal is a place of new beginnings, Gilgal is a place of grace.  Gilgal’s a place of God’s mercy.

He goes on from there and travels to Bethel (house of God).  It’s the place where Jacob, one of the great patriarchs of the faith, who later becomes known as Israel, encounters God.  Angels ascending and descending on a ladder.  Where he realizes this whole world is bathed in God’s presence.  Bethel is a place of prayer, it’s a place of God’s presence with his people.

He goes back to Jericho.  Jericho, you may know, is the place of the first battle that Israel fights in the Promised Land.  It’s the place where they go straight at the enemy.  It’s the place where they look evil in the face.  It’s also the place where they see that God is giving them victory.  They finally have to put their faith to the test after forty years of wandering, to see, God, are you going to be faithful and are you going to be good to us, even in this place?

Finally, he gets to the Jordan River.  The Jordan is this place of promise.  Think of the nation of Israel, millions of them, looking west to the other side as they look to the land that God had promised to give to them.  But as you look in the way that Elijah’s looking, it’s the place of destiny.  It’s the place where God promised He would take him, and eventually take him home.

Before he gets taken to heaven—it’s fascinating—Elijah gets this tour of God’s faithfulness on earth.  God’s grace—new beginnings.  God’s presence—this whole world bathed in His glory.  The battle we often face in life—the victory that God will be good on His word.  The promise that you and I hold onto.  Elijah is physically recounting the faithfulness of Yahweh throughout the history of His people.  Before God takes Elijah into his destiny, he wants to recount history.  He’s saying to Elijah, you’ve seen glimpses, you’ve seen shadows, you’ve seen winks and hints and nods of what you’re stepping into.  My faithfulness, Elijah, is laying a foundation that you’re going to experience face-to-face in just a few moments, but, Elijah, before you part the stream, I want you to step back into the story.  I want you to remember where you’re heading.  I’ve been gracious.  I’ve been present.  I’ve been good.  I’ve given victory.  I’ve been with you the whole way.

The reality is, friends, that for Elijah, and for you and I, confidence in our destiny is grounded in God’s faithfulness throughout history.  The God that Elijah is getting prepared to meet face to face is no different than the God that’s carried this nation throughout the generations.  It’s the same God.  There’s continuity—catch this—there’s continuity between heaven and earth.  We often get the story wrong.  If you hear somebody talk about what it means to follow Jesus, or maybe you hear people give a gospel presentation….here’s the way they tell the story we’re in.  They tell story we’re in like…..we’re sinful.  God’s holy.  You want to go to heaven.  You don’t want to go to hell.  Oftentimes, the juxtaposition between is hell; the counterpart of heaven is hell in a lot of people’s stories.  Do you know where the counterpart to heaven being hell isn’t found?  In the Bible.  Start on page one…..In the beginning God created heaven and hell.  That’s not what he says.  That’s not what the story’s about.  In the beginning God created heaven and earth.  Juxtaposed all throughout the Scriptures is heaven and earth.  Originally, in Genesis 1 and 2, God creates heaven and earth to be overlapping, interlocking places where God walks with Adam and Eve and His presence is with them in the garden.  Sin fractures that, where God’s presence is now here but we have a hard time encountering Him, yes?

The narrative of Scripture is not about whether or not you go to heaven or whether or not you go to hell, the narrative of Scripture is ultimately about God reuniting heaven and earth and to do so He needs to get the hell out of it!  The mission of God is to reconcile heaven and earth from the destructive power of hell that’s tearing it apart.  People only end up in hell if they’re unwilling to let go of their evil, of their pride, of their violence.  You need to let go of that in order to enter God’s kingdom.

So before Elijah goes to heaven—to God’s space—God reminds him of the way He’s been at work all throughout history.  Here’s the image that came to mind:  It’s sort of like playing the band’s album as you’re on the way to see them in concert.  You’re going, we’re about to step into it—grace, presence, battle, victory, promise, and destiny.  It’s exactly where God leads Elijah to.

2 Kings 2:9-18 — When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”  “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.  “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.” {How’s that for an answer?  He’s basically saying, I don’t get to decide that, but here’s how you can know if God’s going to give it to you—if you see me taken away, He said yes. Verse 11.}  As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.  Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”  And Elisha saw him no more.  Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.  Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.  He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it.  “Where now is the Lord, the God Elijah?” he asked.  When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, {My insertion — He went “Yes! Yes!”} and he crossed over.

Anybody else wish there was a few more details?  Yeah.  The people there were just as confused.  The prophets go and they run after Elijah to try to find them.  We don’t get a lot of information, here’s a few things you can take away from it.  There’s the word ‘suddenly’ that’s in there.  Like it happens really quickly, right before their eyes.  Suddenly he’s gone in an instant.  Second, there was this separation between Elijah and Elisha, as if to say they were both on their own journeys and God had the timing that was right for both of them.  They weren’t going at this together, nobody does.  Finally, you see that Elijah is escorted there.  His journey to heaven isn’t a journey he makes on his own.  None of our journeys to heaven will be a journey that we make on our own.  We will ALL get an escort there.  Our escort’s name is Jesus.  He’s also our advocate.  He’ll say, “He’s with Me” or “She’s with Me.”  He’s escorted there, he doesn’t go there alone.

Some might think we don’t get a lot of information about heaven, and certainly there’s no one passage we can go to and say, “Now, THIS, this really explains it!”  But there are things that pop up, all throughout the Scriptures, that help us understand a little bit better what this place that we call heaven is going to be like.  Before we go there, I need to dispel one myth that I think haunts us a little bit and actually clouds our ability to see what heaven is actually going to be like.  Most of us think of heaven as just sort of one phase or one place that we go.  It’s actually TWO.  The first phase is what we would call Heaven.  The place where people who’ve died in the Lord are RIGHT NOW.  The place Elijah is RIGHT NOW.  It’s a very real place that exists in a spiritual realm.  The people there have spiritual bodies.  But not physical bodies, not like the ones you and I have.  That’s phase one.

But there will be a day, friends, when Jesus comes back to judge and resurrect all people.  You and I will live for all of eternity, not in heaven.  As N.T. Wright, a famous New Testament theologian, quipped one time:  “Heaven is great, but it’s not the end of the world.”  Your destiny is not heaven.  Your destiny is resurrection!  That’s your destiny.  You go and you read through the ancient creeds…none of them talk about heaven.  They all talk about resurrection.  Let me be as clear as I can, resurrection was THE HOPE of the early church.  When they’re giving evangelistic sermons in the book of Acts, do you know how many times Heaven is brought up?  It’s not!  Every single sermon, though, they talk about resurrection.  Resurrection is when you and I will one day hear our name, and Jesus will raise us from the grave on this renewed earth, in a physical body, like the body He had when He was resurrected.  He’s simply the “first fruits” of what you and I will eventually step into.  You will get a physical body.  You will be YOU.  There will be things about YOU that are recognizable.  {Maybe the things you don’t like will be negotiable.  I’m not sure!} But you’ll have a very real, resurrected body.  Jesus eats.  Jesus high fives his disciples.  Jesus walks through walls.  You figure it out, I don’t know.  But it’s a physical body.  That is the hope of followers of Jesus.  It’s why Jesus’s followers have been accused of being materialistic—we believe that ‘matter’ lasts forever.  That God looks on his creation and goes, “It’s so good, I refuse to let it go.”

So…what happens after we die?  I’m going to focus mostly on Phase 1, but if you want to read about Phase 2, you can read Revelation 21 and 22.  You can read the last portion of the book of Isaiah (60-66).  These are “new heaven/new earth” passages.  For those of us who have lost loved ones recently….what are they doing?  Where are they?  The Apostle Paul gives us this hint in 2 Corinthians 5:8 — We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  He says this again, in writing to the church at Philippi (1:23) — I am torn between the two: {Between living and ministering to you and this church and dying and going home to be with Jesus.} I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. 

Here’s the truth, friends, we don’t know a lot, but we do know this: Heaven will be defined by God’s presence.  And in His presence will be joy unspeakable.  God is THE most joyful being ever, in all of creation!  We will be in His presence.  Heaven will not be boring.  Heaven will not be depressing.  Heaven’s the absence of everything bad, everything painful, everything evil.  It’s the presence of everything good, and of everything holy, and everything glorious.  {Look up at me for a second.}  That is wonderful news…..IF…..and only if, we want what’s beautiful, what’s holy, what’s glorious, what’s pure, what’s true, what’s righteous.  Here’s the way Gary Moon says it.  It’s a really fascinating idea:  “Not only will death not separate us from God, it will usher us into his presence.  Some have suggested that the fires of heaven are twice as hot as the fires of hell — because we will be in the inescapable presence of God and the immanence of truth as an all-permeating, falsehood undermining, fear-eradicating and evil obliterating actuality.”  OH! Come on, Gary!  Here’s what he’s saying:  If we want to hold onto our evil, if we want to hold onto our violence, if we want to hold onto our unjustness, then heaven might feel a little bit like hell…because the glory and beauty and perfection of God will shine on us in heaven.

The Prophet Isaiah gets this.  You just have to read through Isaiah 6:3-7 and he has this vision into the heavenly realm.  The angels are singing holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, the whole earth (everything) is bathed in your glory.  Then he goes, “Oh crud! What am I doing here?!”  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.  Catch this:  An angel comes and takes this coal, flies over and sears his lips.  Heaven is a place where evil is exposed and eradicated, in the presence of God.

Heaven is a place where, if we haven’t grown to love Jesus’s way and cherish his love, life in his presence might feel a little bit like hell.  Dallas Willard used to say, “I’m quite sure that God will allow everyone into heaven who can possibly stand it.”  Because it’s about being with God—holy, pure.  It’s the surrender that allows us to enter into His presence.   You want to prepare for heaven?  You should want to, if you plan on being there FOREVER.  The main way you prepare for heaven is by beginning to live in his kingdom now.  Learning to cultivate life with Jesus.  Prepare for heaven by saying, “God, I don’t like that I’m an angry person.”  Prepare for heaven by saying:  This lust needs to get out of my life.  Prepare for heaven by praying for those who persecute you, and loving even your enemies.  Prepare for heaven by seeking the heart and way of Jesus.  Because as Jesus says:  Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3)   That’s eternal life!  GOD.

So what will we do in heaven? We get a number of pictures in Revelation 4 and 5.  This isn’t resurrection yet — current heaven, “temporary heaven,” heaven right now.   Revelation 5:13 says — Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”   We have some scenes where it says that people sing in heaven, and others, if you don’t like singing, this should give you a little bit of solace, a little bit of encouragement, some people just “say” it.  They’re declaring praise.  We have other passages that say….on repeat is this anthem:  Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. (Rev. 4:8)   Timeout!  Let’s just break out of sermon-mode for a second and let your imagination just go there.  That scene is happening RIGHT. THIS. MOMENT.  They’re gathered!  They’re worshiping!

I don’t think it’s going to be like some cosmic, divine, unending church service.  Some of you might be going, “Praise God!”  Ryan, your sermons are long, but an eternal sermon?  Dear Lord!  We need to break worship out of what just happens here, if we’re going to have a view of heaven.  Have you ever climbed a 14-er for sunrise?  As the sun crept over the horizon, you just got chills that just went down over your whole body.  You had this realization like God, we were created for beauty and for moments like this.  Or maybe you dug your toes into the sand, looking over at the Pacific Ocean, as the sun took a dive down over the horizon and was an explosion of color, and you went, oh God, thank you!  Maybe you gathered around a long table with really good food and really good drinks and you had a conversation with people….and there wasn’t any bickering or arguing—I know it sounds weird and impossible.  You got done with dinner and said, “God, it’s moments like that that we were created for.”  You know what we call that when we respond by saying God, thank you?  That’s called worship.

Heaven is a place of worship. It’s a place where we get to experience things like sunrises on mountains, and things like beaches, and things like great meals with good friends and good conversation.  It places where we get to experience the things in this earth where we go, man, that’s beautiful and that’s amazing.  God says that’s just a shadow of what’s to come.  Heaven’s not less real than earth, heaven is MORE real.  We’ll just have the awareness that God is the giver of it all.  Everything we do and everything we enjoy will be worship.  It’s not one cosmic, unending worship service, it’s LIFE, with the Giver of it at the center and our hearts recognizing this is GIFT.  Heaven will be a place that is filled with worship.

So here’s a question many people ask:  Will we do anything other than sing?  {Sorry, Aaron.}  Yes! We will.  Worship is always more than singing, it’s rarely less, but it’s always more.  What will we do in addition to sing?  Revelation 6:9-11 has this short stanza that gives us this picture of what’s happening in the heavenly realm.  Have you wondered what’s going on up there, other than worship?  Here’s a little bit of a hint:  When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God {Just a quick timeout.  So these people carry the identity that they had on earth into heaven.  They are who they were.  You are who you will be.  The only thing you take into heaven is the person that you’re becoming.  Which should make our formation all the more important, should it not?  The only thing we take into heaven is who we are becoming.} and the testimony they had maintained. {So people are looking at them in heaven and going their faith is unbelievable, unreal!}  They called out in a loud voice, {So, they gave their life for the gospel and now they’ve been healed.  So there’s healing in heaven.  They’re raising their voice again in heaven.  But then they’re doing this…}  “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 

Some people picture heaven like, you die and God sort of wipes out your brain, puts some sort of heaven-chip in you and you’re like, I get it all now.  Wonderful!  Great!  I understand everything!  For those of us who are learners, for those of us who love books and love growing, I’m going, that doesn’t sound like heaven to me.  I want to explore.  I want to learn.  I want to grow!  Good news!  You will!  These folks, these martyrs, are looking on at God and they’re saying, God, I don’t get it.  I don’t understand.  Why aren’t you avenging the evil that’s being done?  Which is also an interesting statement because one of the main questions we have for God now is why do you allow evil to continue to exist?  You know what one of the main questions for God in heaven is?  Why do you allow evil to continue to exist?  We don’t get it.  So when you get to heaven—catch this—you will be sinless, covered by the blood of Jesus, redeemed to step into his presence, BUT you WILL be incomplete.  Jesus was sinless, yes?  The Scriptures say really clearly in Hebrews 5:8 — …he learned obedience from what he suffered….   He’s perfect and sinless, yet he’s learning.  He’s learning his entire life.  In heaven, you’ll be learning, you’ll be exploring, you will be growing, you will be changing, you’ll be developing more and more into the image of God.

{Revelation 6:11}  These people have desires —  Then each of them was given a white robe, {So they have some sort of physicality, or this is just a picture, a metaphor, that’s being painted.} and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.  How many of you have been told heaven is outside the realm of time?  I was told that.  Turns out, not the case.  They are told to wait in heaven.  If there’s no time, what are they waiting for?  Not only that—but catch this—but these martyrs, these people that have lost their lives, are in heaven and they’re able to look down on what’s going on on earth. They’re able to see it and go, God, we don’t get it!  And he tells them to trust him and wait.  That’s his answer.  But they can see what’s going on.  They’re healed.  They have desire and longing.

Eventually, one day, in the new heaven and new earth, in the resurrected bodies, we will get to participate with God in the ruling and sort of caring of his creation in the way that Adam and Eve and you and I were always designed to do.  We’ll be caretakers that move forward the glory and name and beauty of God for all of eternity.  We will WORK, one day, in new heaven and new earth. We will take the gifts that God’s planted inside of us and surrender them to his glory and his name and he will use those to beautify and accentuate his creation.  YES!  I don’t know if that happens in temporary heaven……I sort of picture my mom, who was this crafter and she just loved making stuff.  I just wonder….December 1, she will have been in heaven for five years….I wonder if she’s been working on quilts or blankets to give to her family when they get there.  She collected junk and made beautiful things out of it down here.  I’m not sure if she can find junk in heaven, but I’m pretty sure she’s creating, because that’s who she was.  And who she was is who she IS.  If I could summarize what heaven would be like in one word, it’ll be…..we will LIVE.  Heaven will be enriched through our participation.  Dallas Willard said, “When we each enter eternity, we will only take one thing with us, and it’s the most valuable asset we ever possess: the sum of our life.”  Who we are becoming.

{I’m running out of time.}  One of the questions I get often is will we remember things in heaven?  Here’s the deal:  You and I—2 Corinthians 5:10—will stand before the judgment seat of God to give an account of our life, to give an account with what we did with the gift that we call life. You will have to remember things at that point.  I will submit to you, our memory in heaven is way better than our memory is now.  It will not be worse, it will actually be better.  But the other question we often wrestle with is will we remember people in heaven?  Will there be reunions?  Just read 1 Thessalonians 4.  It says that together we will be called up to meet with God, where we will together worship him.  Heaven is the place of togetherness.  It’s enriched through participation and it’s deepened through relationships.

It was an astounding discovery to me, in reading through Genesis 1 and 2……you have this rhythm in Genesis 1.  God creates and it’s good, God creates and it’s good, and at the end of his creation, he creates and it’s very good.  Then we read in Genesis 2, whoa, whoa, whoa…..it’s not good.  Before sin enters the world, He goes, it’s not good.  What’s not good?  That Adam (or human) would be alone.  Now, if it’s not good for human beings to be alone on earth, is it good for them to be alone in heaven?  No!  You are who you are and you will be who you will be.  It’s not good here and it’s not good there.  Heaven will not be solitary confinement.  Heaven will be relationship, restored and whole and beautiful and new.  For some of us, we might get there and we might see people we thought, “I didn’t think you were going to be here…and I owe you an apology.”  I’m serious.  It’s not that there won’t be baggage that we carry in, it’s just that we will see God in a way that will allow us to receive His forgiveness and also extend it to others.  There will be reconciliation because there will be justice.

Finally, what will heaven feel like?  I don’t know exactly, but Jesus says this:  Do not let your hearts be troubled.  {Jesus, that’s easy for you to say.  He says back to you, “Actually, I’m walking to the cross.  It’s not as easy as you think.”}  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:1-3)  Heaven will feel like that pair of jeans that you put on and go, that fits just right!  {Pre-Thanksgiving jeans!}  Heaven will feel like finally coming home. That’s what it will feel like.  The comfort, the welcome, the place that you can be yourself.  Ideally, home is the place where you come just as you are, and you are loved extravagantly, and beautifully.  That’s what heaven will be.  It’ll be the place that shines on all of our imperfections and refines them and reshapes them.  Where we let go of all the things that prevented us from walking with God.  Heaven will be great meals, good friends, amazing conversations, all based around God’s presence with us.  I love the way that Donald Bloesch put it:  “Our greatest affliction is not anxiety, or even guilt, but rather homesickness—a nostalgia or ineradicable yearning to be at home with God.”  If you’ve ever desire…..like after a long trip or vacation, I just can’t wait to be home.  To sleep in my own bed.  To eat my own food.  To just have our own place.  That’s what heaven will be like.  We’ve tasted shadows here, but there we will experience it fully.  The world says you can never go home again.  God says you never have to leave home!

I read this quote this week that grabbed my heart:  I’ve never been to Heaven, but I miss it.  Eden is in our bones.  Heaven is in our bones.  I believe that every person in this room—lean in with me for just one more moment—was created for this.  That as we talk about heaven, even if you don’t believe it, you want to.  There’s something transcendent about being human that recognizes that we were never meant to die; we were meant for life eternal and life with God.  But just like in the Garden, God gives Adam and Eve the choice:  Are you going to choose to live in relationship with me, or are you going to choose to reject me and go your own way and do your own thing?  God has not changed; He still gives you and I the choice.  The choice now is based on Jesus’s life, death, burial and resurrection, where He, through His own body and blood, is reuniting heaven and earth, bringing the two back together.  I think if He were here today and He was giving a message on heaven, here’s what He’d say — Repent.  Turn.  You don’t have to live with your hell, now or in eternity.  Repent.  The kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven, is at hand.  I’ve done everything you need to usher you into my presence.  Will you let go of your hells and enter into my kingdom?

I love the way C.S. Lewis said it:  “I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”  My prayer is you’ve been encouraged to press on and that you’d encourage others to do the same.  Home, friends, is waiting, and his name is Jesus.  Let’s pray.

So Jesus, we can’t wrap our minds around what that experience and life will be like.  We only know that it will be life more abundant, more full, and more real than anything we’ve ever dreamed of tasting here and now.  We just want to say thank you for creating us for that glory and for redeeming us and for making it possible through your life, death, burial, resurrection, that this new world is now crashing into existence and we want to let go of everything that will hinder us from walking into your kingdom, both now and forever.  We want you, Jesus.  We want life.  We want love.  We want peace.  We want goodness.  We want wholeness.  We want joy unending, unspeakable in your presence.  We want it!  Stir our hearts to want it more.  In Jesus’s name, we pray.  Amen.

Hills + Valleys | Going Home | 2 Kings 2:1-17 | Week 72020-08-20T16:10:39-06:00

Hills & Valleys | Go Back | 1 Kings 19:19-21 | Week 6

Hills & Valleys | Go Back | 1 Kings 19:19-21 | Week 62019-02-18T00:40:05-07:00

Hills + Valleys | The Whisperer | 1 Kings 19:9-18 | Week 5

HILLS & VALLEYS: God’s Many Voices  1 Kings 19:1-18   Author Liz Ditty

If you could have the 100% complete and honest answer to any question this morning, what would you ask?  When I was twelve, I only had one burning question, and that was…..Does Jonathan Green have a crush on me?  Fortunately, I was a child of the 80’s, so my cousin had the foolproof thing that could give me my answer.   The magic 8 ball.  I must have shaken this thing thirteen times, and it always came up doubtful.  The truth is Jonathan Green never had a crush on me.  I’d like to think that’s because early on God knew that He had Mike Ditty, who was going to be the perfect man to walk with me through all the ups and downs of life.  That Mike’s best friend, Rob Colwill, would be the best man in our wedding.  That he and his wife, Kristine, would speak wisdom and life into our marriage years before he became an elder here at South.  That if Jonathan Green had gotten in the way, we might not be here this morning.  I’d like to think that it’s that well thought out, but the truth is I was a quirky kid and I cut my own bangs and I’m pretty sure that had a lot to do with it.

As that little girl grew up, my questions grew up with me.  I wanted to know why it was so hard to make friends and why I was so lonely all the time.  I wanted to know why, when I finally got my dream job, I didn’t actually like it.  I wanted to know why I couldn’t make my family look like I wanted it to look like.  I wanted to know what success actually looked like in my life and how I would know I had it.  None of those questions could be answered by two words on a 20-sided dice.  Today, we’re going to rediscover the most important questions that we have and the best place that we can take them.  I think Elijah can help us.

Elijah is one of the most beloved, well-known prophets of Israel’s history.  If you’ve been following along the series here at South, you know that Elijah has prophesied a drought that he controlled with his own prayers. He has been miraculously fed by ravens in the wilderness.  God provided for him again with an unending food supply at the house of a widow.  Elijah was the first man recorded in the Bible to see someone be raised from the dead and that person was raised when he prayed for them.  He called down fire from heaven.  If there’s anyone who has experienced miraculous provision and incredible answers to prayer, it’s Elijah.  But that’s not good enough for him now.

We shouldn’t judge, because isn’t it true for us too?  No matter how many times God has provided  for us, no matter how many prayers He’s answered, when Jezebel says she’s gonna kill you, you get scared!  But here’s the thing, we are ALL going to come face-to-face with threats in our life—big or small.  The threat of failure.  The threat of rejection.  The threat of intimacy.  The threat of shame.  The threat of obscurity.  The threat of irrelevance.  There’s going to be a voice in our head, just like in Elijah’s, and it’s going to tell us…RUN!  And where we run matters.  If it’s to our nearest screen. If it’s to the nearest bottle. If we put something in our cart.  Where we run matters.  We shouldn’t judge Elijah for being afraid, because what we see is that Elijah runs straight towards God with his fear in hand.

All of us, since we were kids, have been testing out our world to find safe places and safe people.  Many of us grew up in churches where it wasn’t a safe place to bring anger, when we were angry at God.  It wasn’t a safe place to bring fear.  It wasn’t a safe place to bring doubt.  We’re going to find that God is a lot more comfortable with those emotions than we are.  If Elijah’s like our big brother, he’s about to have a really hard conversation in the office with Dad.  If we’re super quiet out here in the hallway, we can listen in and they might not know we’re watching.  That’s where we pick up in 1 Kings 19.

Elijah runs straight to Mount Horeb.  Which might not sound familiar, but it’s also known as Mount Sinai, the Mountain of God, the Mountain of Yahweh.  Any early reader of this text, any Israelite, would know that this is the mountain where Moses first encountered the burning bush and was told it was holy ground.  This is the mountain where Moses met with God, face-to-face, and received the covenant commandments.  This is the mountain where Moses met with God, face-to-face, and watched His presence pass by.  If we haven’t caught on to the fact that this is not just God’s mountain, it’s Moses’ mountain, the writer of this text wants to clue us in.  Elijah has been thinking about his ancestors and then on his way to this mountain, he wanders in the surrounding desert for forty days, just like Moses wandered in that same desert for forty years.  We’re going to find this incredible echo, that catches up in these rocks, between Elijah and Moses.

That echo is going to answer a question.  But before Elijah asks his question, God has a question for him.  What are you doing here, Elijah?  {I want you to turn to your neighbor and ask, “What are you doing here?”}  I don’t know why, when I first read this verse in the Bible, I imagine God’s voice sort of sounding like a troll guarding his own mountain.  I can’t quite figure out why I think that I am more polite than God.  None of us would talk to each other like that .  Elijah answers Him in verse 10:  I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty.  The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword.  I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.

Elijah knows he is standing on Moses’ mountain.  When Moses’ stood on that mountain to receive the covenant commandments, the Israelites were at the base of the mountain breaking the covenant before the ink was dry….building a golden calf and turning to idolatry, before Moses even came back.  So, Elijah comes and stand on the same rock and says, “Isn’t it crazy, just like Moses, I’m the only one left.  The only righteous one while Israel turns to idolatry.”  Elijah would like to use this mountain to remind God of past failure.

If you catch the subtlety, it’s not just Israel’s failure that Elijah is pointing to.  When my husband comes home from work and I tell him, “YOUR son figured out today exactly how much toilet paper fits in our toilet,” it is really clear whose responsibility I think that problem is, whether or not it’s true.  And I want you to hear Elijah’s words again. Israel has not only fallen into idolatry, but they have put YOUR prophets to death, who You did not protect.  If they put them to death and now they’re trying to kill me too, what can I expect from You? 

Maybe Elijah didn’t mean it exactly that way, but I can hear the echo in my own prayers.  When I was in the hospital and I was waiting for the diagnosis from the CT scan to determine if I had the same brain cancer that my dad died of, and my two-year-old is tugging at the hospital blank at my feet.  And I have seen so many good people die from cancer.  So what about me?  What can I expect?  And I’ve prayed this prayer with friends who have been so faithful to God and have waited so well, but there’s still no one to date, there’s still no partner in sight.  They’ve seen other people be single for what seems like forever.  So if God didn’t help them, what can they expect?  And I’ve prayed with my friend, who knew full well that God took the baby that He was growing inside of her…..how was she suppose to trust Him with the baby that was in her now?  What this polite prayer is covering up is Elijah’s true prayer…..God, You have failed me and I have watched you fail others, so what can I expect from you now?

God understands the significance of this space and God remembers when Moses stood there with Him.  So God reminds Elijah of the second time that Moses came up to His mountain.  When God invited Moses to stand in His presence and now God invites Elijah to stand in His presence as well.  You see, Moses, after he had come back from realizing that the Israelites had already broken their covenant, comes back to God again and says, “Lord, how is this going to work?  It’s not!  Listen, if you are going to leave us, leave us now, because we clearly cannot keep up our end of the deal.”  Moses has this deep question, God, are You ACTUALLY going to be faithful to your people, no matter what?  God invites Moses to stand in his presence.  Moses says, Lord, just show me your glory.  Show me a sign.  Show me a miracle. (Exodus 33:19)  Isn’t that what we think we need?  God says I’m going to make my goodness pass by you.  We think we need to see God’s glory.  When He invites us into His presence, He invites us into His goodness.

Elijah wants to use this mountain to remind God of past failure, but God is going to use this mountain to remind Elijah of His forever faithfulness.  Because He told Moses the same thing He’s telling Elijah now…..Your failure, and the failure that you’re surrounded by, does not determine My faithfulness.  You think you need answers, but you need to understand who I am.  Come into my presence and realize that I am faithful and that I am good….no matter what.

Whose failure are you fixated on right now?  My husband will never be the spiritual leader of our family.  My kids were not raised to make the choices that they’re making now.  I can never overcome my addiction to pornography…my addiction to food.  I’ve tried it before and I’ve failed.    All of us have enough failure around us and in us to build an airtight case for hopelessness.  But God invites us to hold all of that in His presence.  And to remember that there is no failure that can determine who He is.  He is the Lord….full of compassion and mercy and grace and He is faithful.

So when God invites Elijah to stand in His presence, in an echo of this good presence that Moses stood in, we shouldn’t be surprised that it looks a lot like the presence that Moses experienced. Except, interestingly enough, it doesn’t look as much like the presence Moses experienced on his SECOND time on the mountain, it looks a LOT like what Moses experienced on the first.  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19-11-12) 

That is a whole lot of the Lord not being there.  We see that this is what the presence of God looks like for Elijah.  There’s wind, there’s earthquake, there’s fire….but God’s not in any of those.  He comes in a whisper.  Remember, we’re echoing back to Moses, so the surprising thing about this is when Moses went on the mountain the first time to receive the covenant commandments, God was in all of those things.  He came in fire.  He came in earthquake.  He came in billowing smoke and wind.  Throughout Scripture, we see God in fire, wind, and earthquake.  Those things are sort of trademark God’s presence.  God appears in all of those things to Moses on this same mountain.  He ends with a trumpet blast to declare who He is.

How do we make sense of that?  I think it’s actually really hopeful, for me.  Because there are these trademark places that we know, through Scripture, through Christian tradition, that God’s presence is known to be.  We know that the Scripture is God’s words.  We know that when we pray, the Spirit intercedes on our behalf and we can meet with God.  We know that through spiritual disciplines we can become more aware of who God is and what He’s doing in our life.  But there are times when I am angry and afraid and I try so hard to read my Bible, because God is suppose to be there….but He’s not.  And I try so hard to pray, because God is suppose to be there….but He’s not.  Does is mean that God has abandoned me completely?

Look at this invitation.  Elijah, you think that you’re Moses.  You think I’m gong to come to you with wind, and earthquake, and fire.  But you just hang out here.  Because I know what you need and you don’t need a trumpet right now.  When we are in some of our most broken spaces, and we are in a spiritual wilderness and we feel so dry, THIS gives me courage to stay there.  That just because I’m not experiencing God the same way that other people have experienced God, does not mean that His faithfulness cannot find me….in a whisper….exactly where I am with what I need.  His intimacy.

We see this echo chamber that we’re standing in with Moses and Elijah, and the writer of this passage actually emphasizes this again, by showing us a bounce back in the actual text.  1 King 19:13, right after God whispers and Elijah experiences His presence.  Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”   The same way He asked Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”  The same way Jesus asked, “What do you want?”  A simple question.  And Elijah answers, verbatim, the exact same way.  Now I’d like to think that with as much that has changed in the emotional tone of the passage, that Elijah’s tone has changed here as well.  Maybe it reads a little less like leveling an accusation against God and a little more like Elijah bringing his problem to God.  Because God’s faithfulness through the ages is great, but down at the bottom of this mountain, Jezebel is still there and his circumstances haven’t changed at all.

So Elijah reminds God that he is alone.  God responds to him and this is where we would love to hear God say, “You are going to be okay!”  You don’t need to worry.  I’m going to keep you safe.  But that’s not how God responds.  He tells Elijah, “Elijah, you feel like you’re the only one left.  Don’t you realize I’m with you and I’m for you?”  There are seven thousand people who are still faithfully following Me and worshipping Me in Israel.  If the mass and the crowd isn’t enough for you, I’ve already identified Elisha, who’s going to be your spiritual companion, who’s going to walk with you through the rest of your ministry and carry your legacy on.  God wants to remind Elijah that he is not alone.  There are people and there is support and there are friendships and there are systems and there are communities that Elijah has no idea that God has prepared for him.  But good things are waiting for him at the bottom of the mountain.

God wants to remind us that we aren’t as alone in our hard questions.  We aren’t as abandoned as we feel.  God has been raising up people, prayers.  He has been raising up systems and support that you may not have even seen yet, that you may not know are there.

But let’s not forget that whisper, the most famous part of 1 Kings 19.  God’s intimate whisper to Elijah.  We don’t actually know what God said or if the whisper had any words in it at all.  But I wonder.  I wonder if there was a little hint, a little hint to Elijah that these echoes are bouncing back and forth in this mountain range, but this is not an endless loop.  The next time we see Elijah on the mountaintop, he is standing right next to Moses….standing right next to Jesus Christ, at the transfiguration.  The next time Elijah meets God on the mountain, he is with Moses and he is with Jesus and they discussing Jesus’s upcoming departure—the cross that nobody saw coming, not even Moses, not even Elijah.  As Moses holds this question of “God, are you ACTUALLY going to be faithful to your people?” on the mountaintop, and as Elijah holds his question of “God, are you ACTUALLY going to be faithful to me?” this time they are standing next to Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s faithfulness, the embodiment of God’s relentless goodness that will stop at nothing to heal us and be with us forever.  And the cross is coming!  The cross is coming when once and for all God’s faithfulness to His people and His faithfulness to us will become unquestionable to the point of death.

You would think that the cross would settle it all.  I believe that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s faithfulness and I believe that that cross mattered.  I believe that that cross was meant to pay for my sin, not to clean up my mess, but to make it possible for me to be with God and enjoy Him forever.  I believe, but God, help my unbelief…..because I still feel alone.  Sometimes that cross feels like it was a long time ago.  It feels kind of metaphorical and kind of like a theology textbook and it just doesn’t feel like it can touch the pain that I’m in right now.

Jesus will come off the mountain and he’s going to talk to his disciples about his upcoming departure, too.  Here’s his promise — I’m going to leave you, but I am going to leave you with the Holy Spirit.  This cross isn’t just a symbol, this cross isn’t just a one-time event, this cross is the beginning of a new chapter in human history.  We want to tell God that we are alone, and Christ wants to remind us that He is with us.  He is with us through the Holy Spirit.  We don’t have to go onto a mountaintop to meet Him, like Moses or Elijah.  He told the Samaritan woman in John 4, there’s going to be a day where you don’t have to pick which mountain you’re going to go on to meet God.  You’re going to worship Him in spirit and in truth.  We as believers carry His Spirit with us, which means the ground underneath the soles of our feet is holy ground.  There is no longer a temple, because we are the temple.  Our very bodies are the meeting place between God and man.  God is with us.  This is what He tells us the Holy Spirit is like—-it’s everything that we want God to be.  He gives us comfort (John 14:18).  He give us peace (John 14:27).  He gives us direction; He helps us pray when we just don’t know how (Romans 8:26).  We have the Holy Spirit, if we are believers in Christ.  If we can only pay attention to those whispers of goodness He longs to speak to us.

There’s this long thread of God’s faithfulness and His goodness that Moses gets ahold of on Mount Sinai and Elijah pulls forward, and Christ pulls forward from him.  The Apostle Paul pulls it into the early church.  It is the rope that we are holding onto desperately now, and sometimes we have no choice but to just not let go.  To realize that if it doesn’t even feel like God is with us, to realize that if it doesn’t even feel like God is good, to realize that even if the failure that is around us and the brokenness that is around us and the failure that is in us and feels like it is eating us from the inside out, that none of that…..none of that failure can define the faithfulness of our God.  He will be faithful to us no matter what.

I talked about safe places and I talked about hard questions.  I hope that we see from Elijah, I hope that we see from Christ, that God is more comfortable with our pain than we are.  We can bring it all—our pain, our doubt, our fear, our anger, our suspicion that God has failed us and that He is not actually good.  We can bring it all into the presence of God.  Because it is the presence of God, we will be met there by His faithfulness.  If we stay there, we will hear the whispers of His goodness, no matter what we are holding.  Maybe He’ll give us a whisper that is just a little hint of exactly how good He is and exactly the beautiful plans He has for our future, that none of us would dare imagine now.

As you go from this place, may you go no less afraid, no less suspicious, no less hurt, but may you go from this place with all of the courage that it takes to take all of you into the presence of God, and when you stand there, may you be met by His faithfulness and His goodness.  Amen.

Hills + Valleys | The Whisperer | 1 Kings 19:9-18 | Week 52019-02-18T00:40:06-07:00

Hills + Valleys | Depressed, Alone and Running | 1 Kings 19:9-18 | Week 4

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HILLS & VALLEYS: The Depressed Prophet  1 Kings 19:1-9    (2nd Service)

What do you do after you’ve been miraculously fed by ravens; they’ve brought you little cakes in the desert?  In a middle of a drought, you had a brook that gave you enough to drink.  You saw oil and flour not run out; miraculously multiplied over and over and over again; God’s provision that’s unmistakable.  You saw somebody raised from the dead, because you prayed and laid down on this young boy and he came back to life.  Then you stand on Mount Carmel and you call down fire from heaven and it comes down.  {Quick survey—How many of you have down ANY of those things?}  What do you do after that?  After that scorched earth is still breathing up the remnant of that fire, where you see these prophets that are slaughtered in this valley.  I mean, this is when, if you’re Elijah, you have people hoist you up on their shoulders and carry you down the mountain, right?  This is where you cue the confetti for the Super Bowl parade.  This is where there’s high fives and there’s no going back.  This is where you beat your chest and go, “That’s my God!”  Only that’s not what happened!  As high as Elijah was on that hill, he drops almost immediately to the valley.

1 Kings 19.  We’re going to see more of the human, frail side of Elijah this morning.  I think maybe we can relate to that side of him a little bit better than we can relate to the side that calls fire from heaven and sees it happen.  I don’t know.  Just me.  Verse 1 —  Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. {You’ll remember, if you’ve been here over the last few weeks, Jezebel is Ahab’s wicked wife.  She’s a worshipper of Baal.  She’s brought that worship to Israel, the Northern Kingdom.  She’s killed many of the prophets of Yahweh.  She’s a blood-thirsty, vindictive, violent woman.} So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods {Those gods that were silent, those gods that weren’t able to produce fire, those gods that Yahweh was more powerful than….those gods.} deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”  Then Elijah said, “Well, MY God raised the dead!  And MY God called down fire from heaven.  And MY God is with me.  And MY God is for me and you’re not going to tell me what to do because…. my God is greater//My God is stronger//My God is higher than any other…   Right?  That’s what I expect and that’s what I hope for from one of the ancient prophets of Israel, one of these guys we still name kids after.  That’s what I expect.

Verse 3 — Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.  {Wait! What??! You just saw God call down fire from heaven, dude.}  When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness.  He came to a broom brush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.  “I have had enough, Lord,” he said.  “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”    I’ve had enough!  Have you ever been in that place?  I’ve just had enough.  I’ve had enough of the pain.  I’ve had enough of the doubt.  I’ve had enough of the questions.  I’ve had enough of the cloud that just seems to sit there.   God, I’ve had enough.  And yet, this is one of the prophets of Israel, this is one of the heroes of the faith.  One of the people we look to and go, “We should be more like Elijah.”  And what he says in this text is I’d rather die.  God, just come kill me now.  As much as he’s been on the mountain and he’s seen God work, now he’s in the valley of the shadow of death.

For some of us, there may be some cognitive dissonance there, because maybe we grew up in a church culture that said, “Well, faith is like the magic blue pill and when you take it, every one of your troubles goes away.”  If you’re depressed, if you’re upset, well all that means is you’re just not trusting Jesus enough.  Here’s what happens then—We start to play this game with ourselves where we believe the people in the Bible were sort of different than us.   If we do struggle with things like depression; if we struggle with things like suicidal ideation; if we’ve walked through, or are walking through, the valley of the shadow of death, this becomes an unsafe place to talk about it.  The place where we should find hope, we can’t because we’re unwilling to share the deepest parts of our pain and the deepest parts of ourselves.  I want you to hear as clearly as I can say it this morning, all throughout the Scriptures, we see people who are faithful followers of God struggling with mental health issues.  We see people all throughout the Scriptures who see God move mightily, and then go, God, I don’t even want to live anymore.  See Jonah (4:3) for example.  See David (2 Samuel 12:15-23) for example.  See the Apostle Paul (2 Cor. 1:8) for example.  After his ministry in Asia, he says:  We were under great pressure, {life was so hard there} far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. 

It breaks my heart that some how, some way, over the course of time, the church has become an unsafe to say, “I’m not okay.”  I read a blog, this week, entitled “Proverbs and Prozac.”  This woman writes about her journey and says: “I joined a Bible study group at church.  The leader was an older, well-respected long time member of the church.  When the topic of depression came up, her response was, ‘If you are truly a Christian, you should never be depressed.  You have no need for anti-depressants, you have Jesus.’  With comments and attitudes like that, is it any wonder we put on our church masks on Sunday mornings?  We end up keeping secrets; fearing we will be judged ‘not good enough’ or even ‘not a real Christian.'”

My son has this unique ability to the get words of songs wrong in the most beautiful ways.  We were riding in the car the other day, and I don’t know where he heard Spice Girls.  I can only assume it’s from his mom!  He’s singing in the car, “If you want to be my lover, you’ve got to get rid of my friends…”  Maybe my favorite of all time is that song “Story of My Life.”  He sings, “Story of my life, a cucumber…”  Cucumber??  The song’s not about vegetables!!  What??

Lean in for a moment.  I think we’ve gotten the words to this song wrong!  That we’ve said that in order to be a follower of Jesus, you’ve got to have it all together.  The only problem with that is the people that told us about Jesus didn’t have it all together.  So I just want you to know, if you’re here today and you struggle with mental illness, if you’ve wrestled through depression, if you’ve even had thoughts of taking your own life, one, I want you to know, we see you.  This is a safe place.  We’re for you.  We love you.  You do not have to have it all together to be welcomed here.  It’s okay to not be okay.  I know for some of you it was a struggle just to get out of bed this morning.  To get your clothes on.  To put one foot in front of the other.  To decide I’m going to go after it again.  I know for some of you, walking in the doors of a place like this just raises your fear, raises your anxiety, your heart beats fast the entire time you’re in here.  I just want you to know, I’m proud of you.  Good job!  We see you.  We love you.  We care about you.  It’s a safe place to not be okay.

One of the greatest preachers the church has ever known, Charles Spurgeon, very publicly wrestled with depression.  Here’s what he wrote:  “Fits of depression come over the most of us.  Usually cheerful as we may be, we are at intervals cast down.  The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.”   It happens to a lot of us.  The latest statistics would suggest that somewhere between 15-20% of adults in America struggle with, or will struggle with, depression of some sort.  There’s a number of different reasons for that, but if you hear nothing else from me today, please hear me say that there’s no simple answer for depression.  There’s no simple ‘this is why’ and there’s just one thing.  It’s way more complicated than that.

Oftentimes, depression leads to this gloom, this sadness, this type of feeling of doom, where we don’t see any way out.  Just like Elijah, there’s people who’ve said, “I’ve had enough.”  Instead of saying to God, “Take my life,” they’ve taken their own.  Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America today.  But listen to this, it’s the LEADING cause for death of people ages 10-24.  Let that sit on us for a second, you guys.  For our middle schoolers and our high schoolers and our college students, the leading cause for death amongst ages 10-24 is suicide.  I mentioned that I was going to be talking on this subject and I had a friend text me and say, “My brother took his life August 20th of this year.”  I had somebody after first service come up and say, “My son took his own life a few years ago.”  If you live in this community, you know that Arapahoe High School has been hit especially hard.  They’ve had two students take their own lives in the first few months of school.  You guys, this is an epidemic!  If it doesn’t break our hearts as the church, then we’re not adequately valuing the image of God that he’s placed in every single human being that walks the face of this earth.

We’ve got to enter into that pain a little bit this morning.  I feel that God has sent me on a mission.  One is to break the silence.  To say that as a church, these are things we’re going to talk about, we need to talk about.  We cannot be silent on one of the most important issues of our day, and our time, and we will not be.  The first is to break the silence.  The second is to bring hope.  I am convinced that God has designed us for life and life abundant.  That’s not easy, but it’s possible.  If you feel like you’re at the end of your rope today, I can’t say how glad I am that you’re here.  I know my words can’t change anybody, but I believe that the Spirit of God is living and active and at work in this place today, and I’m praying that you get a word of hope today.  What the Scriptures are going to show us through Elijah’s life and struggle with depression and suicidal ideation is this:  We are holistic beings.  We’re physical, spiritual, emotional, cognitive beings.  And it all matters!  We’ve got to learn how to fight for our wholeness.  I’m so glad we’re a church that hosts things like overcome groups and “My Quiet Cave” that wrestle through mental health/illness issues.  I’m so glad that we have Celebrate Recovery.  We’ve said this is so important to us.  And it is as a church.  That we have counseling available for people.  That we have mentoring.  I’m so glad that we’ve said we want to be a church that teaches people how to fight for their wholeness, for their life, for their vitality.

In this text, we’re going to see a few things Elijah runs up against, that we can see in our lives too.  They are either threats to our wholeness OR they are pathways to flourishing.  It’s the same thing, but it just depends on what we do with it.  Look with me at Elijah’s life and story in 1 Kings 19:3-4.  Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.  When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness.  He came to a broom brush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die.  “I have had enough, Lord,” he said.  “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 

There’s two things that start to stand out to me.  One, Elijah was afraid.  Two, Elijah looks at his life in comparison to other people.  Elijah’s starting to tell himself a story.  God, you came through once, but I’m not sure you’ll come through again.  God, I’m high upon this mountain and I’m not sure I can stay there.  God, you’ve done miracles and I’ve seen you work mightily, but, God, what’s going to happen tomorrow?  Sure, I’ve seen you defeat Baal, but have you seen Jezebel?!  For Elijah, his greatest success—catch this—leads almost immediately to this feeling of desperation.  As much as he’s on the mountain, he’s almost immediately in the valley.  Baal couldn’t take Elijah out, but Elijah could sure take himself out.  He started to do so with the stories he told himself.  What he was thinking in his mind.  The most powerful enemy you may face probably won’t come from the outside….it will come from the inside. It will be the story that you start to tell yourself. {Slide reads:  The stories we tell —> MIND}

Elijah’s story was two-fold.  Elijah was afraid.  Yeah, he’s afraid of Jezebel.  He’s afraid she’s going to take him down.  Notice how fear leads him to anxiety.  He starts to just react.  He starts to get a little bit, what we might call, manic.  Notice how illogical his line of thinking is. God, I’m so afraid I’m going to die that I want you to kill me.  That’s what he says and that’s the effect of fear, that leads to anxiety.  It’s the story that we’re telling ourselves.  God, there’s no way you can move in this.  God, there’s no way you’re going to come through.  God, you must not love me enough to defeat Jezebel; I thought that was the game plan we had, but we’re not moving forward from there.  God, I don’t see you.  God, I don’t feel you.  God, I don’t hear you.  God, I don’t matter to you.  God, you’ve abandoned me.  This is the story we often start to tell ourselves.

Here’s the second thing he says:  Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.  What’s he doing?  He’s comparing himself to others.  Where did Elijah get the idea that he had to be better?  Very few of them saw fire rain down from heaven, but, nonetheless, where did Elijah get the idea that in order to be used by God he had to be the best, the brightest, one without failure, one without flaws…..  Where did Elijah get this idea?  He does what so many of us do.  He starts to go down this downward spiral, because he’s looking at everybody else, comparing himself to them, and going God, WHY?  God, where are you?  God, I’m not as pretty as her.  God, I’m not as successful as him.  I’m not where I should be at my age.  I’m not as good as a mom, or as good as a dad, as that person.  I don’t have good relationships with my kids and I’m at a distance from them and look at everybody else.  I’m not as happy…not as wealthy…not as successful as I think I should be.  It’s the story we tell.  Will you just receive this for one moment?  You. Are. Telling. Yourself. A Story.  All of us are!  The question is….is it a TRUE story?  Is it true?  If comparison was hard back in the ancient world, how difficult is it in a selfie generation or in a day and age where, on social media, we broadcast all of our successes and conceal all of our failures?  It’s so easy to be going down that rabbit hole of comparison, isn’t it?

My friend, Eddie, who was here first service, has a saying he’ll repeat often.  “Normal is just a setting on the dryer.”  That’s all it is…..a setting on the dryer.  There’s no such thing as a “normal” person.  Turn to the person next to you and say, “You’re not normal!”  None of us are!  Here’s the way the Scriptures give the impartation (Hebrews 12:1) — Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for   That’s the way we feel sometimes, isn’t it?  The race that’s marked out for YOU.  Your situation.  Your wiring.  Your capabilities.  Your gifting.  Your history.  Your you-fill-in-the-blank.  RUN. YOUR. RACE.  You’re not running anybody else’s race.

We all have stories we tell ourselves that can be toxic, that can be destructive.  I’m not good enough.  I’ll never add up.  We tell ourselves these stories all the time.  The question becomes what do we do about that?  Two things.   Martyn Lloyd Jones, in his sermons on spiritual depression, talks about this.  It’s phenomenal!  I’d never seen it this way before, but here’s how he phrases it.  We’ve got to start talking to ourselves instead of listening to ourselves.  That voice goes on in your head—you’re a failure, you’re never going to add up, everybody’s always going to hate you, you’re always going to be lonely, always…never….always….never..blah..blah..blah—we’ve got to learn to talk to ourselves instead of listening to ourselves.  He points to Psalm 42 —  Why are you downcast, oh my soul?   What’s the psalmist doing?  He’s preaching to himself!  I hope that this is not the only preaching you hear all week.  I hope you learn how to preach to yourself!  You’re loved by God.  You are called by Him.  You’re made holy. You are set apart in the heavenlies, blessed with every spiritual blessing….   You need to learn how to preach to yourself a little bit.

Here’s the other thing.  We’ve got to learn how to start thinking about what we’re thinking about.  That may seem twisted, but I’d say to you that it’s biblical!  Romans 8:5-6.  This is all over the Scriptures, but I’m going to choose just a few verses to point this out.  Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.  The mind governed by the flesh is death, {There’s the toxic narrative.  Where does it lead? Death.}  but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.    That’s why the Apostle Paul will say in Romans 12:2 — ….but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.   So let’s not be so encapsulated in cliché-driven Christianity that we affirm these verses or maybe even memorize these verses but don’t PRACTICE these verses.

There’s a huge trend towards mindfulness, in our culture, in our day and time today.  To that I say Amen.  It’s biblical.  They’re just picking up on what the Scriptures have always been telling us, but we’ve just been really terrible at actually practicing.  Think about what you’re thinking about.  Maybe you go, well, Paulson, how do I do that?  Let me give you four things you can do.  These are an adaptation from Dr. Caroline Leaf, who’s a cognitive neuroscientist.  Through research, she found that it is possible to retrain your brain. Brain health іѕ today’s hottest health topic. Whіlе research gives uѕ mоrе аnd mоrе answers аbоut whаt wе саn dо tо safeguard оur brain health аnd significantly lower оur risk fоr diseases ѕuсh аѕ Alzheimer’s, thе average person hаѕ little idea whаt exactly thеу саn dо. Oftеn I аm asked whаt wе саn dо tо boost everyday memory аnd protect оur long-term brain health. You can look here for more about the brain health. It’s possible.  It’s not easy!  It’s possible.  So here’s what you might start to do.  You might start, for just a few minutes every day, thinking about what you’re thinking about.  Then write it down.  Assume no one is going to find this journal, though.  Maybe hide it.  You should be honest enough that it would be embarrassing if anybody did find it.  Don’t filter.  Don’t think, oh, I shouldn’t think that, so you don’t write it down.  If you’re thinking it, write it down.  Write down the toxic narrative.  Get it out in the open, because when it starts to get into the light, it begins to lose its power.  Then, read what you wrote.  You may go, “Well, I’m a little bit of a mess,” and I should find a counselor.  Or, I’m in big trouble.  That’s what you might find out.  Then Dr. Caroline Leaf says to choose one small step….towards health, towards healing.  On your way in, you were handed a bookmark.  This was intended to be a tool for you to use to remind you of who you are in Christ.  I’m accepted.  I’m secure.  I’m significant.   You may go, Ryan, this is positive thinking.  What I want to tell you is this is biblical thinking.  If biblical thinking happens to be positive, count me in!  Right? Why would we think we should be delivered a toxic narrative by a God who loves us and has put his image inside each one of us?  THAT’S twisted!  Part of untangling our insides and de-circuiting that narrative that plays is replacing it with truth.  Lean in for a second or write this down —- If the Enemy’s greatest weapon is LIES, your greatest defense is TRUTH!  When you start to believe those toxic narratives, you’ve got to go no, no, no, the God of the universe who created me; who wove me together in my mother’s womb; who loves me, who rejoices over me with singing; my name is engraved on the palm of his hands; has come to my rescue in the person and work of Jesus; has given himself on the cross; buried my sin, walked out with new life, given it to me; and I am holy, precious and loved in his sight!  Preach to yourself!!

That’s not all, because we’re holistic beings, remember?  It’s not just the thoughts that we think and the stories that we tell.  Verse 5.  Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

So there’s the stories we tell in our mind.  There’s our physical bodies and then look at what happens here.  Verse 3 — Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.  When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there….  Why would you leave a guy….you’re in the depths and this person has been by your side.  He’s been there.  He’s seen God move.  He’s seen God work.  He’s lifted your arms up.  Elijah leaves his servant there.  See what’s going on?  Not only is he telling himself a story, not only is he physically depleted, but relationally he’s starting to say, “I’m not letting anybody close to me.”  When we start to get into these toxic thought patterns, one of the first things we do is we believe the lie we can’t tell anybody how dark it is and how difficult it is and how painful it is.  If people really knew they wouldn’t want to be around me anyway, so it’s safer to just send them away, even if they care about us and even if they love us.

Elijah gets to this point and he says to God, “I’m the only one left.”  Which isn’t true, but he feels like it’s true.  I’m the only one left.  We’re wired for love, but what we often learn is fear and we start to create distance where God designed us to walk in intimacy.  {Slide reads:  The distance we create —> (Relationally)}  There’s this interesting juxtaposition — At the beginning of Elijah’s life, he’s led by God into the wilderness for solitude and strengthening.  When Elijah’s operating in fear and on the run and telling himself stories, he runs into the wilderness to get isolation.  Solitude and isolation are two very different things.  Solitude’s actually designed for intimacy with God where we can be led back into relationship with others.  Isolation is running in fear, because we believe that we’ll actually be known.  Please notice, when the enemy comes to attack Eve, the very first think he does is makes sure that she is alone.  Coincidence?  No.

All of this contributes to our mental health — the stories we tell, the bodies we live in, and the distance that we often create.  {Look up at me for a second.}  If you’re here today and you’re lonely, I want to tell you you’re not alone.  You are deeply and dearly loved here.  If this is your first time at South…..way to pick a great Sunday to come.  I just want you to know, we have big arms here we would love to wrap around you.  We have small groups, we’d love to help you get plugged in.  Mentors we’d love to connect you with.  Friends we’d love to help you find.  You may feel lonely, but you are dearly loved…..by us and by the God of the universe.  Please, do not believe the enemy’s lie that isolation is the way to get what you want, it’s actually the exact opposite.

I love the fact that I get the chance to be in community with a church that’s full of people who are really brave.  This is a difficult subject—depression, suicidal ideation.  Ellen Rosenberger, who’s one of our Daily writers, has written two books and is Luke Rosenberger’s wife—he helps run our Young Adult ministry.  She was vulnerable enough to share her story and her battle with depression.  I think her story will be an encouragement to you.

{Video plays.}  I struggled with depression.  Here I am at a Christian school, overseas, teaching, so how can a Christian teacher be depressed and be pouring into students everyday when she’s really struggling internally?  My name is Ellen Rosenberger and I’ve been at South for a little over two years now.  I’ve grown up in the church.  My parents were missionaries; I grew up as a missionary kid in Bolivia.  Good Christian.  Went to a Christian university.  I really had this concept, well, I really just need to pray more.  I need to read my Bible more.  I need to figure this out.  I tried those things and it almost backfired, because it caused more anxiety and more depression and more guilt, that I wasn’t doing well and I was stuck in depression and I didn’t want anyone to know about it.  All of those internal dialogues of….you have to be a certain way, you have to live up to a standard in this Christian community, this Christian world, to measure up and to be accepted by others.  And actually, more importantly, accepted by God and loved by God and seen by Him.  I think all of those compounded my depression and made it almost impossible.  It felt, at the time, impossible to get out of.  I never, ever thought of suicide before that moment, and when I did, it scared me.  So many different components helped me through it.  Through people showing me that God saw every tiny, tiny detail of my life, down to the moment where I had to call a friend and say, “I just need you to tell me right now that God loves me and He sees me.”  They were the ones to take me and have me meet with a doctor.  I had never, growing up in the mission field, heard of anyone taking medication.  My friends kind of coached me through that and said, “Hey, it’s okay.  We’ve done all these other measures.”  That was what my body needed at the time.  It wasn’t just through praying harder or studying the Bible harder, it was through physical things—sleep, exercise, feeding my body.  I learned that there’s nowhere, no place, no place too dark that I could go that God’s Spirit, His presence would not be.  He met me in my depression and He gave me resources and tools to get out of it.  It was….now I see you in your darkest moment and I still want to be with you.  Those friends modeled that to me, that that was what they were able to do, because that’s what Jesus does for us.  Once I got through that first depressive episode, I was so grateful, overjoyed, praising God for the victory He’d given me and all the many lessons I learned.  I was depression-free for four years.  We’re pregnant with our first child; I heard about ‘baby blues,’ but I didn’t think about it until I had it.  I experienced depression in a whole new way.  Got post-partum depression two more times.  My husband would tirelessly tell me truth, pray truth over me, but not leave it there.  He would also go on runs with me.  He would make sure we were eating right and getting enough sleep.  I’m very thankful; not everyone has that opportunity and support system to help them through a depressive episode.  It reminded me we can’t just sit and bank on previous victories to get us through life.  I see Christians as real people, not how I grew up thinking we have to be a certain standard.  The physical body does matter.  Our spiritual lives, our physical lives and it’s not just get better at our spiritual walk and we’ll get out of this depression.  A lot of it is physical. {Aaron: How would you advise someone who is in that season right now?}  It does not have to end in pain or in the end of your life.  There is hope.  There is light.  There is joy.  There’s freedom.  There’s life and there’s life abundant, because Jesus is the giver of life and He wants so much for us….for our minds, for our bodies.  There’s so many lies that I have been trapped in before and have been liberated of.  It takes hard work.  It takes community.  It takes some basic steps, but it’s possible.  That’s what I think.  Someone needs to hear in that moment, “God, sees you. Other people see you.”  There’s life to be had.  It doesn’t have to end in tragedy or pain.  I’ve been there.  I’ve felt like this is never, ever going to get better, but it’s not true.  It does.  And it can.  {End of video}

Change is possible, but it’s not easy.  I love the way that Ellen put that.  It may not be fast, but it’s possible.  In closing, if you’re wondering, “What do I do with this?” I want to encourage you to pursue awareness…what’s going on in your head.  Use that easy four-step process.  What’s going on?  Get it out.  Ask Jesus to speak into it….He will.  If you’re not okay today, I want to encourage you….maybe this is the day, maybe this is the hundredth day, but tell somebody.  This is a safe place to not be okay.  I want to encourage you, when we get stuff out into the light, it starts to get malleable, it starts to get weaker.  Even the thoughts and the lies we believe start to get pliable as they get into the light.  Tell somebody.  Our prayer team’s going to be up here after the service.  Our elders.  We would love to pray over you, because we believe that Jesus wants to speak into this area of our lives too.  Speaking up might be reaching out this week to say, “I need to get into counseling” or “I might need to start going to Celebrate Recovery.”  Speak upMake a plan. It may be imperfect; it WILL be imperfect.  That’s okay.  You can change it.  But make one.  Maybe it’s you start exercising.  You reach out for counseling.  We’ve some resources in the back.  You just reach out to a friend.  Maybe it’s one step to not being isolated anymore.  You aren’t ready for full-on community, but maybe you’re ready for coffee or texting somebody you care about and love.  Finally, I just want to encourage you, as your pastor, to believe what the Scriptures say about you.  {Believe God}  God sees you.  His eye is on the sparrow.  Certainly it’s on you, single mom, who’s beating yourself up because you feel like you’re not good enough.  That person where you walked through abuse and you walked through hell at an early age and that keeps coming up.  I just want you to know that God sees you, that He loves you, that He cares for you, that He’s for you.  For the person that feels like that cloud just never seems to get any lighter or it’s just so dark and all-encompassing, I just want you to know He cares for you.  He says to Elijah, listen, the journey’s too much for you (1 Kings 19:7), we got more in front than what lies behind, so, Elijah, I’m going to fill into you because I’ve got a future for you.  He does for you too.  I’d encourage you, if you’re anything like me, maybe you just stick this little bookmark in your Bible to remember all the stuff God says about you.  It’s true and it’s your greatest defense against the lie of the enemy that would love to destroy your soul.

I don’t know where all this hits you.  We live in a community that’s been hit by this subject.  Or maybe it’s something you wrestle with personally.  Jesus wants to speak into it.  Lord, we ask that you would.  That you’d speak to us, even as we sing this song, is there one line, one phrase that you just want to drive home for us to hear this morning?  Speak, we pray.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Hills + Valleys | Depressed, Alone and Running | 1 Kings 19:9-18 | Week 42021-01-14T12:13:47-07:00

Hills + Valleys | Main Card Yahweh vs Baal | 1 Kings 18 | Week 3

HILLS & VALLEYS: Main Event-Yahweh vs. Baal  1 Kings 18:20-40

I can remember this day because there was a lot of buildup.  The day was January 28, 1997.  It was the summer before my senior year of high school.  A bunch of my friends and I had gone in together to buy a Pay-per-view boxing match.  It was Evander Holyfield vs. ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson.  Most boxing matches you don’t remember; my guess is, you at least have a recollection of this one.  In the third round, Mike Tyson came out of the gate, tried to spit out his mouth guard, and promptly bit off a portion of Evander Holyfield’s ear!  I had just dipped my first chip in the queso and I’m putting it up to my mouth and it’s over….because a portion of Holyfield’s ear is on the floor.  I decided that day that I’m not a huge fan of boxing.  What I recognize is that there is this draw to see a fight.  Whenever there’s a fight, there’s a crowd that forms, right?  There’s something in us where we go……I at least want to look on and check it out.  I have a friend that invited me to go see Conor McGregor vs. .  It was billed as the best UFC fight in the history of UFC.  I said no because I had been watching the Kavanaugh hearings that week and I’d seen enough fighting.

Have you noticed that all around us there is fighting?  There’s a survey that’s done by the Institute for Economics and Peace.  They give the world a peace rating every single year.  Peace is steadily on the decline, but what they found out in their most recent survey of the 162 countries around the globe that they surveyed, only ELEVEN of them are without  military conflict of some sort.  162 countries surveyed and only 11 can say we’re not involved in some sort of war or some sort of conflict with our military.  That’s been the case for a long time.  It is the case now.  Here’s my question:  Are we just not listening to John Lennon; have we just not given peace a chance?  Is that what’s going on here?  Or is there more going on in the world than we can see with just our natural eyes?

Is there more going on than what we’ve probably been taught, if you, like me, grew up in sort of a Western, post-enlightenment education that was based on the scientific model—what you can see is what’s true; what’s observable, what’s measurable, what’s repeatable—that’s what’s really ultimately true.  There’s no such thing as what we would call the spiritual realm, because we can’t observe it, measure it, or repeat it, therefore, it doesn’t exist.  How many of you grew up with some sort of educational trajectory that felt a little bit like that?  I did!  I think it’s maybe said best by the great Keyser Soze (played by Kevin Spacey) at the end of The Usual Suspects: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.”

You may have noticed the Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time philosophizing about the problem of evil.  It simply assumes that it is.  It assumes that it’s a reality; that evil is a thing and it is an issue.  From a pastoral point of view, if we don’t have a good grasp of the problem of evil—that evil is a real thing and that people do have a free will and they can go against the will of God—we end up blaming everything on God.  Everything’s God’s fault then.  If you read through the Scriptures, that simply isn’t true.  There are two sides.  There is something such as good AND there is evil.  Evil is a reality.  We’re going to see it come to the forefront in 1 Kings 18 today.

Keep your finger in 1 Kings 18 and I want you to flip over to Exodus 20:3-4.  This might seem a little strange to you, but I’m going to invite you to go along with me and then come and ask me questions afterwards.  According to the Bible, there is God, a Supreme God who rules and reigns above it all.  He’s the creator, he’s the maker and he is the sustainer.  And there are ‘lower case g’ gods.  Also very real.  Also very powerful, and typically, not always, evil.  Look at the way it’s said in the Ten Commandments.  As followers of Jesus and people of the Scriptures, we love the Ten Commandments.  You shall have no other gods before me.  {In Hebrew, it’s the word elohim.  He doesn’t say, “There are no other gods.”  Have you ever thought about that?  He goes no, no, there are, but don’t worship any of them above me.  If you’re going well, Paulson, it’s really talking about idolatry, I say timeout, hold on, because they’re going to address idolatry and it’s in a different category.}  You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.    Don’t make an image.  Don’t carve an idol.  So elohim is a category and idols is a different category.  Really interesting.  There’s a distinction that’s made.  In the Hebrew, this word Elohim certainly is translated God; it’s also translated as four other words.  {If you want to find out what those are, come to the seminar Tuesday night.}  It’s translated as God, certainly, but think of it more as a category…a powerful, spiritual being.  An elohim is an invisible, but very real, spiritual creature.

So we have the God of the Bible, or Yahweh, as he’s named.  Isn’t it interesting that He has a name?  He can’t just be God.  He’s like I’ve got a name and it’s Yahweh.  He’s hostile, or against, these other elohim, these rebellious gods.  Flip back a few chapters to Exodus 12:12.  Listen to what they say as the Israelites are leaving Egypt and the power that they’ve been under there.  On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods (elohim) of Egypt.  I am the Lord (Yahweh). So this whole Exodus narrative is ultimately about God judging the other gods.  In fact, all of the ten plagues that were given to Egypt were depictions of Egyptian gods.  The sun god, for example, was seen as the god that’s high and above all the other gods on the Egyptian pantheon, his name is Amun-Ra.  So, is it any coincidence that Yahweh blots out the sun for three days?  What’s He saying?  He’s saying, “I’m the Elohim that’s above all the other elohim.  They all bow down to me and you should too.”  But what He’s not saying is that those other elohim don’t have power.  Have you ever read through the Exodus narrative and when Moses throws staff down and it becomes a snake, and he puts his hand inside his jacket and pulls it out and it’s leprous, and you go what in the world is going on here?  Then he starts doing miracles and what do Pharaoh’s magicians do?  They do miracles also!  It’s categorically shifting and messing with me as I read through this again.

When the Israelites get out from under the thumb of the Egyptians, they cross through the Red Sea, they sing a song.  Here’s what they say:  Who among the gods (or el—a derivative of elohim) is like you, Yahweh?  Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? (Ex. 15:11)   What he doesn’t say is you’re the only elohim, what he says is there’s no one like you.  In the Old Testament, other “elohim” were ‘lower case g’ gods (spiritual beings) with real authority and real power.  In the New Testament, we see them sort of named as the devil, as Satan, or…..Colossians 2:15 — And having disarmed the powers and authorities, {These are the elohim of the Old Testament repackaged—powers, authorities, principalities.}  he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

So there’s a spiritual battle going on that has a physical manifestation.  The same is true today, but we’re going to see it come on in the front scenes of Scripture in 1 Kings 18.  Let me catch you up, if you’re new to us and you’re going that was all intro?  Yep, that was all intro to the intro.  That was cosmology.  This is the world we live in, and if we don’t grasp that, we’ll never understand what’s going on in this text. Remember, Elijah the prophet burst onto the scenes of the Scripture when he marched into Ahab’s palace and said, “It’s not going to rain for three years.”  God said, “That’s a bold thing to say.  You should probably go to the wilderness and hide.”  He did, fed by ravens.  Evidently, he’s not in the wilderness that whole time, but it extends for a while.  He leaves there and goes to Zarephath, where Elijah’s faith is growing.  He sees God do miraculous things and he’s becoming this prophet of God that God intends for him to be.  We turn to 1 Kings 18:1 and pick up the story there —  After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.”  So Elijah went to present himself to Ahab.

On the way, he encounters Obadiah.  Obadiah is this faithful follower of Yahweh.  He’s been hiding prophets of Yahweh in caves, trying to save their lives, because Ahab’s crazy wife, Jezebel, is murdering the prophets of Yahweh.  Elijah sees him along the way and says, “Hey, Obadiah, will you deliver a message for me?  Will you go tell Ahab, it’s about to go down! Meet me at Mount Carmel.  We’re going to decide who the chief elohim really is.”  Verse 16 — So Obadiah went to meet Ahab and told him, and Ahab went to meet Elijah.  When he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”  “I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied.  “But you and your father’s family have.  You have abandoned Yahweh’s commands and have followed the Baals.  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.”  So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel.

You’ll remember when Elijah marched into Ahab’s chambers, he said, “It’s not going to rain until I say so.”  For these people who were in the Northern Kingdom, they had stopped worshipping Yahweh and they started worshipping Baal.  Baal happened to be the god of rain.  So, from the get-go, this is a spiritual battle that Elijah is engaging in for the health and prosperity and goodness of his nation.

A little history on Baal:  In Semitic languages, the name Baal means “lord.”  In 1928, they made this fascinating archeological discovery in a region just north of Israel, called Ugarit.  They discovered 1400 scrolls in this ancient library.  They started to learn all of these things about the god Baal.  One of these ‘lower case g’ elohims.  They learned that this god Baal was the god that was worshipped in this region and held up as the chief deity in this region.  In fact, he was called the “prince, or the lord, of the underworld.”  The title that he went by most often was “the rider on the clouds.”  File that away, it’ll be important in a few minutes.  Just so you know, the Scriptures weren’t written in a vacuum.  The authors of the Hebrew Scriptures start using this term also—the rider on the clouds.  There’s no one like the God of Jeshurun (Israel), who rides across the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. (Deuteronomy 33:26)   So the authors of Scriptures are going, you want to talk about the rider on the clouds….let’s talk about the rider on the clouds.  It’s not Baal, it’s Yahweh.

Interestingly enough, Baal (lord) has added to his name (in the New Testament) zebul, which means ‘exalted’ or ‘lifted high.’  You put them together and you have this prince, or lord, of the underworld exalted and lifted high under the name of Beelzebul.  You’ve read about this, right?  It’s Jesus casting out demons and people accuse him of doing it under the power of Beelzebul, the prince, or ruler, of demons. 

Yahweh and Elijah’s encounter with Baal is not insignificant.  There’s something going on here.  In the ancient world, Baal was often depicted with a helmet shown with horns of a bull as a symbol of strength and fertility.  In one hand he typically had a mallet or a club depicting thunder, in the other he had a spear with something growing out of the top of it, depicting he was the god over all vegetation.

So, if you’re sitting here thinking, Ryan, are you telling me you think Baal is a legitimate spiritual being with legitimate spiritual power?  That’s what I’m telling you.  He’s not a figment of imagination.  He’s a demonic, real spiritual being and Israel’s apostasy was bowing the knee to this ‘lower case g’ god.

Here’s what Elijah says (1 Kings 18:21):  Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions?  If the Lord is God (Yahweh is Elohim), follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”  But the people said nothing.   They’re going, “We don’t know!”  You’re right, Elijah, we’ve been going back and forth.  Elijah just throws the gauntlet and here’s what he says:  The spiritual battle is a reality and there is no such thing as neutrality.  There’s no Switzerland in the spiritual battle.  We live in a world where we go well, worship is something we do at church or worship is something we do because we’re religious, and I just want to speak into that lie.  Worship is something we do because we’re human.  It’s wired into us.  You’ve never met somebody who is not a worshipper, of some thing or of some one.  What Elijah says is there’s no middle ground in the spiritual life.  Joshua will say the same thing as they’re conquesting and taking down the Promised Land.  Here’s what he says at the very end of Joshua (24:15) — But if serving Yahweh seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in who land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.  This is a huge issue for us today, friends, because reading a verse like Joshua, we’re going, oh man, Joshua, does that mean we can’t sort of have a little bit of this, a little bit of that?  We live in a day and time where we love to keep our options open.  What God/Yahweh would say is there is no middle ground.  You’re either with me or you’re against me, but there’s no in between.  Would you lean in for a moment?  There’s so much on the line here, you guys.  Our life.  Our vitality.  All the good gifts that the Creator God, Yahweh, would long for us to step into are on the line with our worship.  Who and what we worship determines the trajectory of our life and every one of us is worshipping some thing or some one.

Let me show you how this plays out at the battle of Mount Carmel.  Just know that this is the way it manifests there, but these same things play out all around us every single day.  Maybe without the literal fire, but you’ll see what I mean in just a second.  Verse 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.  Get two bulls for us.  Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it o 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.  Then you call on the name of your elohim, and I will call on the name of Yahweh.  The elohim who answers by fire—he is Elohim.”   Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”  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.”  So they took the bull given them and prepared it.  {This is sort of like if you win the coin toss in overtime, you get to have the ball the first and if you score it’s over.  So Elijah’s saying, go for it!  If fire comes down, it’s over!}  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.  

Some versions say they limped around.   But you get the picture.  They’re doing a  little jig.  They’re hoping what god sees is what god likes and if god likes what he sees then god will send the fire down that they’re all hoping for, that they’re all expecting.  If you PERFORM for god then he’ll come through for you.  How many of us had interacted with God and thought similar things?  God, if I perform for you is this the dance you like?  No, not that one?  This one?  God, if we perform for you, God, if we dance for you, if we do the things you like, God, then do you show up?  Is that how we do this?  The ‘lower case g’ gods demand performance.  Do your dance.  Perform.  But Yahweh God longs for our affection. {Slide reads: Performance vs. Affection} If you look to the very end of this interaction, you have a summary of why Yahweh has called all the people of Israel to this mountain, for this moment, for this time.  Why did he call them there?  …You, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again. (v37)   He’s going I want your heart.  I want your affection.  I want your devotion.  I don’t want your jig, I don’t want your dance, I want your heart.

You know what’s interesting?  I had a chance this week to read a book called The Destroyer of the Gods.  It went through the history of early Christianity.  There is no other religion on the face of the earth—until Judaism’s born, until Christianity’s born—that would have seen affection for God as something that was desirable.  The idea of ‘delight yourself in the Lord’ was a uniquely Judaistic thing.  No other religions were saying that.  The goal of religion in the ancient world, in Elijah’s world, was ‘keep the gods at bay.’  Placate them.  Keep them happy so that they don’t torment you and mess with you.  But there’s no such thing as affection for God.

Try this on for size in the way you interact with God:  If we start thinking sin is ultimately about lack of performance rather than an affection that’s broken, we actually fall into worship of these ‘lower case g’ gods.  That’s not Yahweh, that’s a different god altogether.  It’s not performance that He’s after, it’s devotion.  It’s affection.  As followers of Yahweh, as followers of Jesus, we work FROM acceptance not FOR acceptance.  Those are two very different things.  We all know the parent who says, “Perform and then you’ll be loved” is what we call a terrible parent.  They should put as much money in a counseling fund as they do in a college fund, because they’re going to need to work it through.  Do we think then, because we know it’s bad parenting, that God does the same thing with us?  Perform, then I’ll love you.

My wife and I were watching one of our favorite shows this week, This is Us.  One of the young men was going off to war.  His dad stood on the porch as his son was going off to fight in Vietnam.  He said, “Make me proud.”  I thought, “What a weight to put on the shoulders of a young kid.”  But a lot of us think God looks down on us and goes, “Make me proud.”  Or else!  As C.S. Lewis said, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

This text continues (verse 27) — At noon Elijah began to taunt them.  {I don’t know why I love this passage so much, but I do.  It warms my heart!}  “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god/elohim!  Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling.  Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”   {Other translations say, “Maybe he is relieving himself!”  Who knows?  As they discovered those 1400 Ugarit texts that talked about Baal, these were all things Baal was depicted as doing in those texts. Just an interesting side note.}  So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed.   Why was it their custom?  They had this conviction that what the gods really wanted was your blood.  They had this conviction that what the lesser elohim desired was the destruction of humanity. One of the things that weaves its way through most cultic practices is that the ‘lower case g’ gods longed for blood.  {Look up me, this is really important.}  One of the major distinctions between Yahweh and every other ‘lower case g’ god is that He does not long for your blood, but He sheds His own blood.  He’s not a God who wants your destruction, He actually wants your abundance and your life and your flourishing and your good.  He doesn’t want to take you down, He longs to build you up. {Slide reads: Destruction vs. Abundance}  That’s a distinctive of Yahweh.  ‘Lower case g’ gods long for destruction.  But Yahweh wants your abundance. Here’s the way Jesus said it.  He couldn’t be any more clear.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)   Maybe this week you memorize that verse.  Tuck it into your heart so when your mind starts to wonder, “God, is this what you want for me?” he wants your good.  That’s what he wants.

It’s really interesting, if you start looking at the trends in current mental health—which we’re going to talk about next week, because Elijah goes from the mountaintop to the valley real quick and starts struggling with suicidal ideation and depression—you’ll see somewhere between 13-24% of people struggle with some sort of self-destructive tendencies, self-harm.  The most common form of that is cutting and burning one’s self.  One, if that’s you in the room today, don’t miss next week, but also, there’s help available.  Reach out.  I would also say that given the fact that this is a spiritual battle, there’s no such thing as neutrality, I would say that there’s more going on there than just what meets the eye.  There’s also a spiritual issue that’s going on there.  This is not a coincidence.

So the gods of Baal say slash yourself.  It didn’t just stop there.  When the Israelites started to worship them, you start to see what the worship of Baal does.  They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind. (Jeremiah 19:5)  He’s thinking, this is why I longed for you to be worshippers of me, the One True Yahweh.  Because the other gods demand your sacrifice, they demand your blood, they demand your children.  But He goes I’m fighting for your life.

Try this on for size.  There’s a number of different ways this plays out in our day, in our culture, in society.  Not a lot of people worshipping Baal, at least explicitly, but there are a number of people that bow down to other gods.  Every time we bow down to other gods, these other gods demand our destruction.  Think about this.  I was a huge baseball fan in the late ’90s/early 2000s.  There was a number of baseball players bowing down to the gods of success.  To the gods of fame, notoriety, and records.  So what did they do?  They pumped their veins full of steroids.  Every single one of them knew it would eventually kill them, that it was terrible for them, but they went, “Well, it’s what you’ve got to do to be competitive.”  It’s what you’ve got to do to make it.  We see the same thing with addiction.  We see the same thing with people that can’t stop working, because the gods of success and money demand destruction.  But Jesus is saying no, no, no, no, I’ve created you for abundance, not for your destruction.  Our most complete picture of God is as one who dies for his enemies, rather than kills them; who sheds his own blood rather than demanding ours.

I just want to press on you this week.  Would you do some work here?  Would you think about what you’re thinking about this week?  Wrestle through, what’s my perspective of God?  Does He want my abundance, like Jesus says, or does He want my destruction?  Maybe your practice this week is that you just play that song, “Who You Say I Am”…..who the Son sets free is free indeed….that I’m chosen, I’m redeemed, that I’m called by Your name, that I’m Yours.  The thoughts you think matter.  They matter.  Part of spiritual warfare is thinking truth.  In fact, the biggest part of spiritual warfare is thinking truth.  Maybe you put that on however you listen to music and just get it in your heart and your soul this week.

Here’s the way the section ends (verse 29) — Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice.  {Do you get the picture?  The clock’s running down, the time’s running out.  Their elohim is silent and they’re starting to freak out a little bit.  Some translations say, “They raved…”  Yeah, they did!  They were cutting themselves, they were slashing themselves.  Their blood is flowing.  They’re yelling at god.}  But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

In the next few passages, Elijah does an interesting thing.  He’s like, are you guys done?  Wonderful, I’ll take it from here.  He rebuilds an altar that Jezebel had torn down; rebuilds the altar of Yahweh.  He starts to douse it in water.  Most people go it’s a drought, how did he get water?  Well, the Mediterranean Sea is right there.  That’s how he got water, probably.  But he’s dousing it with water.  He’s going, how’s this look?  It’s going to be really hard for God, right?  So they’re slashing themselves, they’re yelling, they’re shouting, they’re trying to wake god up.  And then you have Elijah.  Verse 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 (Elohim) in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.  Answer me, Lord (Yahweh), answer me, so these people will know that you, Yahweh, are Elohim, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”  No shouting.  No begging.  No beckoning.  A simple prayer of faith in the midst of the chaos of blood flowing and shouts to Baal.  See, the ‘lower case g’ gods love the frantic, crazy, inhumane pace.  They love that ‘time’s running out, you’ve got to get yours’ type of mentality.  I think the other elohim love it when people on Black Friday get trampled at Wal-Mart.  They’re like we love that, that’s our thing.  They do!  They love it when the blood pressure starts to rise because Christmas is coming and there’s so many things going on.  The ‘lower case g,’ other things that we bow down to and worship always cause a frantic pace.  Which is why it’s so important that in Philippians 4:6-7, Paul will write to the church at Philippi:  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your request to God..  You just have to bring it before Him.  You don’t even need to use a lot of words, Jesus says in the book of Matthew (11:28-30).  You don’t need to wake Him up, He hears you.  You don’t need to dance for Him, He’s for you.  You don’t need to cut yourself, because He bled on your behalf.  You just come before Him, present your request to God, and the peace that transcends all understanding, will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.

So what are you frantic about right now?   What are you feeling like the dial is getting turned up?  It’s probably something very real that’s going on in your life, but can I invite you to come back to the God who says come to me and receive my peace….rather than dance…or cut yourself…or try your hardest and work yourself to the bone and then maybe…maybe…maybe, I’ll show up?  That’s NOT your God.

Verse 38 — Then the fire of Yahweh fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.  {Can you imagine that?  We read over it and go, meh, that happened.  NO!  THAT. HAPPENED!  The prophets of Baal are cutting themselves and yelling, because they expect that Baal will do the same thing.  THIS. HAPPENS.}  When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “Yahweh is Elohim!  Yahweh is Elohim!”   {Yeah! Yeah, they did!  That makes sense.}  Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal.  Don’t let anyone get away!”  They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.  And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.”  So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.   {Do you love the picture?  It’s about to rain, go get some food.  It seems random, but you’re going to see that there’s a journey ahead that he needs to get ready for.  God’s preparing him.}  “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant.  And he went up and looked.  “There is nothing there,” he said.  Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”   The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising fro the sea.”  {Just a quick timeout.  Baal was ‘the rider on the clouds.’  The Hebrew prophets were writing about Yahweh as ‘the rider on the clouds.’  I guess we’re going to find out who the true ‘rider on the clouds’ is.}  So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'”  Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.  The power of the Lord came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

This account is all about who really rules and who really reigns and who has ultimate authority and who is worthy of all glory and all honor and all praise.  Not only is Yahweh worthy of all glory and honor and praise, when we bow down to that God, we receive His affection that He’s pouring out to us—but our hands are finally open to see it, we receive His abundance and we receive His peace because it was what we were originally designed and created for.  Yahweh is the true rider on the clouds and life is found in worship of Him.

As our band comes back up, we’re going to sing a few songs about our God beating up other gods.  I’m only sort of kidding.  These songs take on a new meaning now, don’t they?  Here’s what I want to say to you:  This is not the last time that Yahweh battles Baal on a mountain.  Jesus, the Messiah, is going to be marched up to a mountain just outside of Jerusalem, called Calvary.  He’s going to spread his arms out wide.  The fires of hell are on that mountain also, but the flames of Divine Love are also there.  The moment when Beelzebul, or Satan, or the devil, or the powers of darkness, or the lesser elohim, think that they have won, it’s at that moment that Yahweh, Jesus, the Messiah and Savior of the world, with his outstretched arms, declares his love, declares his goodness, showers down his grace, showers down his mercy, forgives us, brings us back into right relationship with Him, so that we receive his affection, so that we can accept his abundance, and so that we can live in his peace.  So, friends, here’s the thing:  If you’re here today and you’re sort of walking the fence, can I just tell you that’s a non-option—you’re on one side or the other.  I want to plead with you, as someone who wants your good, just like God does, I want to plead with you that the direction of your life will be determined by the posture of your worship.  The gods you bow down to will determine the kind of life you live.  Is it going to be a life of self-destruction?  Is it going to be a life of frantic pace?  Is it going to be a life of trying to please God?  You’ll never feel like you do, if that’s your posture.  Or, is it going to be a life where you receive His love and affection, where you walk in His abundance, and where you taste His peace?

Would you close your eyes for just a moment?  For some of you, maybe you’re here and you’re going, yeah, I associate more with those prophets of Baal…they describe my posture to God.  For you, maybe this morning is the thousandth time you’ve repented and turned back….great, wonderful!  Turn back to Yahweh, Jesus the One True God.  For some of you, maybe it’s the very first time.  I’ve never bowed the knee to Him.  Today’s your day.  Bow the knee.  Life abundant, life full is what He’s inviting you to.  It’s a turning from self, it’s a turning from other ‘lower case g’ gods and it’s a running to a God who says, “The flames of my love will never be put out.”  So Jesus, Yahweh, we bow in worship, we bow in adoration.  We give you our affection, our lives.  Lord, we live as people who long to taste your abundance, to live in your peace.  We pour out our affection to you, knowing that you’re pouring out yours to us.  Thank you.  Thank you. We bow at your throne and yours alone.  Amen.

Hills + Valleys | Main Card Yahweh vs Baal | 1 Kings 18 | Week 32020-08-20T16:15:19-06:00

Hills + Valleys | The Widow at Zarepath | 1 Kings 17:7-24 | Week 2

Hills + Valleys | The Widow at Zarepath | 1 Kings 17:7-24 | Week 22020-08-20T16:16:27-06:00

Hills + Valleys | Water in the Wilderness | 1 Kings 17:1-7 | Week 1

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HILLS & VALLEYS: Wild Growth    1 Kings 17:1-7      

If you have a picture in your mind about what a prophet is like, might I suggest to you that the biblical image might ruin your idyllic view.  Prophets, in the Scriptures, weren’t people who had their own TV show, weren’t people who made a lot of money, they weren’t people who flew around and had large followings.  They were sort of fringe folks.  They were the people that were on the outside of the norm, as far as faith went.  They were people that took off their clothes and preached naked. They were people who cooked their food over a flaming pile of dung.  They were people who married a prostitute to make a point.  The prophets were on the fringes of faith.  They were sojourners.  They were wrestlers.  They were people who had to fight for their faith.  Far from being stable, they were people who doubted God.  If you read through the prophet Isaiah, if you read through Jeremiah, oftentimes you’ll get this lament, “God, where in the world are you?”  Sojourners—physically and spiritually.

Elijah, who we’re starting our series on today, was no different than those other ancient prophets of Yahweh.  His life is full of ups and downs, of hills and valleys.  We’ll see next week that Elijah sees the dead raised.  He sees fire called down from heaven to wipe out the prophets of Baal.  Then after that, he runs for his life for fear of Jezebel, this wicked queen.  He hides in the desert.  He laments that he was ever born.  He contemplates taking his own life.  He’s a prophet who tastes joy and sorrow.  Immense success and incredible defeat.  He is a prophet who has great faith in God and doubts God.  He’s a prophet of both the hills and the valleys.

One of the things I love about Elijah is that he was a lot like us.  I can remember the day my youngest son Reid was born.  We were sitting in the hospital.  Had this beautiful, healthy baby boy.  In the door walked my mom and dad.  My mom had an undiagnosed brain condition and was about halfway through a rapid decline, an illness that would eventually take her life.  She was holding my dad’s arm as they walked in because she was too weak to stand up.  She sat down on the couch and we handed her Reid.  We propped her up a little and positioned her to hold Reid.  I can remember sitting on that hospital bed, with Kelly, thinking to myself, “Am I suppose to be happy or sad right now?”  Am I suppose to be ecstatic that we have a healthy baby boy, who’s crying, who’s screaming, who’s pooping?  Or am I suppose to be grieving because I’m not sure how long this moment with my mom is going to last?  Have you ever been there?  Where you just looked at life and it wasn’t clear cut?  It wasn’t life was good or life was bad.  Oftentimes life is a mixture of both, isn’t it?  Can we be just a little bit excited this morning that God doesn’t intend to lead us on a journey that isn’t human?  Part of the human journey is to wrestle with….God, some things in life are really good and some things in life are really bad and You’re in the midst of it all!  I don’t know how to tease it all out and I don’t know how to make sense of it, but, God, I just know that You’re on both the mountaintop and the valley low.  I know that you’re in the joy and the lament.  I know that you’re in the faith and in the doubt.  God, I know that you’re in it ALL some how.  I love that we, as followers of Jesus, get to gather around our heroes of the faith who were not men and women who had it all together.  They are men and women who sometimes step out boldly and act boldly, and other times, run for their lives because they’re scared to death!  They’re people who celebrate on the mountaintop, and they’re people who grieve in the valley low.  {Lean in for a moment.}  The story of the Scriptures is not that much different than your life, because we experience both of those, don’t we?

If you have your Bible, I invite you to open to 1 Kings 17.  It’s where we get introduced to the prophet Elijah.  His life is a rollercoaster.  Hills and valleys.  Success and defeat.  Joy and lament.  Faith and doubt.  Listen to the way his journey begins.  It’s just like he sneaks out of nowhere for this sneak attack into the Scriptures that will be carried on, even into the book of Revelation as we’ll see.  Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe {All you need to know is that Tishbe is nowhere!  It’s been wiped out.  People don’t even know where it was really located.  Elijah comes from a nowhere town.  Some people would argue it’s not really a town; it just means ‘sojourner.’  It means ‘wanderer.’  Either way, what the Scriptures want you to know is that Elijah is a nobody.  He bursts on the scene to talk to somebody.} in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, {Some translations say ‘whom I stand before.’} there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” 

A little bit of background is necessary. David was one of the great kings, arguably THE greatest king, Israel ever had.  After him we had King Solomon.  After Solomon, there was a split between the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom.  The Northern Kingdom had a line of notoriously, really, really terrible kings.  They were evil.  Ahab, who Elijah bursts onto the scene in the Scriptures and stands before, is the most evil up into this point.  Look at 1 Kings 16:30 — Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.  Not exactly something you want on your resumé.  But Elijah bursts into his chamber, bursts into his palace and he has an announcement.  I’m not sure if he rehearsed it and thought through it.  There will be…..he’s like what do I emphasize?  There will be NO rain.  Or there will be no RAIN.  Or there will be no rain for THREE YEARS.  I don’t know, but, somehow, with his knees shaking, stands before one of the most powerful men in the world at that time and says, “The rain?  It’s done until I say it rains.”  One of the things you need to know about Ahab is he started to worship the god Baal.  Baal was the god of the rain.  Elijah steps into the chamber of the king and not only declares there’s going to be a drought, you’re in pretty big trouble until I say you’re not in trouble, BUT this is a war of the gods.  Yahweh versus Baal.  Who’s going to win out?  Who’s the most powerful deity in the world?  Is it Elijah’s God, Yahweh or is it the god Baal?  We’ll see how that story plays out in a few weeks.  He stands there and tells the most powerful man in the world it’s not going to rain.  It would be like you going to stand in front of John Elway and telling him, “The Broncos aren’t going to win a game for the next three years! They might not.”  Or….it would be like standing in front of Donald Trump and saying, “No Republican is going to get elected for the next three years!”  {I’m not making a political comment….just get that picture in mind.}  Standing before the most powerful person and saying something that there’s no way they want to hear.

The next verses start to make sense when we catch that.  Verse 2 — Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah:  “Leave here, turn eastward and hide {I love this! Such practical, spiritual advice.  You’re going to want to get out of here; you’re in big trouble!  I don’t know if God said like, man, what were you thinking?  You should not have done that.  We’re not quite sure if Elijah is reporting what God has said, or, if you go and read James 5 where it talks about Elijah, it seems like this is sort of Elijah’s idea and God’s like, dude, RUN!  I’ve got plans for you and you’re about to be extinguished!} ….in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.  

If you know anything about biblical narrative and types and archetypes and imagery, you know that east is east of Eden. It’s east of God’s perfection.  It’s east of God’s design.  It’s the wild.  Elijah emerges from obscurity to stand before the king and make a bold announcement and then immediately, he’s put back into obscurity.  If I’m Elijah, I’m going, hey, God, I had a plan.  It was to stand before the king and make this announcement, and then you were going to prop me up, and then I was going to speak on your behalf, and I was going to call the Northern Kingdom of Israel back to you.  I think maybe God says yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s a great plan….Run!  Hide!  Get into the desert, eastward!  Go back, Elijah, to the middle of nowhere.  If I’m Elijah, I’m thinking to myself, “God, we’ve got business to take care of.  Why are we wasting time at the Kerith Ravine?”  The truth of the matter is, friends, the wilderness often feels like wasted time, but it’s really training ground. For us it feels like ‘God, where are you and what are you doing?’ but for God, it’s times where he shapes us and molds us and makes us into the kind of people that can walk with him and taste the joy that he has for us.

The wilderness—we often think of it as wasted time—is where we come face to face….our will and God’s will.  It’s where God’s will wins out, because our resources are so depleted.  Our willpower, our gifting, our ingenuity….there’s no way those things get us through the wilderness.  In the wilderness, we MUST face our weaknesses and surrender our illusions and our pretenses.  We surrender our way through the wilderness; we don’t beat our chest through it.  If you’ve ever walked through the wilderness, if you’ve walked through those dry seasons, those dry times, you know that that’s true.  Fundamentally, this wilderness has to do with breaking through the barriers that we have built—sometimes through our own successes, sometimes through the lies we believe, sometimes through our failures.  It’s breaking through the barriers we’ve built and rediscovering life and rediscovering God, and oftentimes rediscovering faith.

What Elijah might view as wasting time, God views as training ground.  He always has.  Think about it, if you read through the Scriptures, wilderness is going to be a theme all throughout. Abraham/Abram — Called to walk with God.  Called out of Ur and into the wilderness, the desert.  He’s a wandering man.  It’s where he learns to actually listen to God.  Coming out of a culture of idolatry, he’s shaped in the wilderness.  The Israelite people — They come out of slavery in Egypt, go through the Red Sea, and spend forty years wandering around in the desert.  But that wandering is not wasted time.  You go read Deuteronomy 6-8 and what you’ll see is it’s training ground.  They are becoming the people of God.  Later on in their story, you see Israel led into exile.  It’s where they learn to hear God’s loving voice again and respond to the overtures of divine love that are being showered down on them.  Jesus — Born.  Lives thirty years.  Is baptized in the Jordan River, this sort of archetype of Israel’s journey, comes out of the water, comes through the water and is led into the wilderness.  He’s led into the wilderness by the Spirit of God, being prepared for ministry.  The Apostle Paul — Comes to faith in this ecstatic, spiritual experience on the road to Damascus.  Sees a blinding light and suddenly all the coins sort of drop in his spiritual self, he comes to know Jesus and then spends three years in Arabia trying to unpack everything he knows about the Old Testament Scriptures and combines it to see Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of it all.  Three years.

What I often call lack of progress, God calls preparation.  I love….I love…I’m borderline addicted to “up and to the right.”  I love progress.  I love seeing progress in our church.  I love seeing progress in the businesses that we run.  I love seeing progress in my own spirituality, but {will you lean in a second and even look up at me?} for God, oftentimes, preparation is more important than progress.  There’s times where he will say, hey, it’s not wasted time, it’s training ground, because you’re not ready yet.  You’re not who you need to be in order to step into what I’m inviting you to do.  I love the way this French guy says it: “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.  We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.  Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”  Oh!  That is a word for a chaotic, frazzled, disconnected generation, is it not?  Trust in the slow work of God.  In a day and time where you can get a Master’s Degree in three months, trust the slow, intentional work of God.  His work is, in one word, your formation.  It’s who you’re becoming.

Listen to the way Paul says it in the book of Romans 8:28-29 — And we know that in all thing God works for the good of those who love him,   {He doesn’t say that everything that comes into your life is good.  He says God works good out of everything that comes into your life.} …who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,  {What is God working all things towards?  Conforming you into the image of Jesus.} that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.  I don’t have any time to tackle even a portion of that last verse; we could do a whole series on that.  God’s goal in everything is who you are becoming.  The wilderness refuses—will not let—to let you continue with business as usual.  The wilderness is disruptive, it’s disorienting, and that’s it’s power.  It’s disruptive, it’s disorienting, and it will not let you just continue as is.

I was reading through some of our prayer requests. {Our elders and staff pray through those and we count it a joy to journey with you in that.}  I was praying through those this week and I thought, “Man, there’s a lot of people in this space that are walking through the wilderness.”  Sometimes it looks like a health concern you don’t have answers to, or a diagnosis that you’re praying against.  For some of you, it looks like relational strife….there’s things that you just can’t quite work out.  Others of you, it’s working through abuse, some things that happened to you in the past and some pain that you’re carrying and you’re going God, I don’t know what to do with this.  There’s people in this room that have businesses that are on the fritz and jobs that are inconsistent and you’re wondering where that next paycheck’s coming from.  Those are the wildernesses of life.  These are the places where we go hey, God, what are you doing here?  I thought we were on a road.  I thought we were on a trajectory.

Then there’s some of you that are more like a spiritual valley, where you’re going God, I’m not even sure that you’re real and that you’re there.  God, I don’t doubt that you’re there, but I have major questions about why you didn’t show up the way I hoped you’d show up.  You’re just asking these questions that are part of being human and part of walking with God.  St. John of the Cross would call it the Dark Night of the Soul.  And it’s these wildernesses that operate as training ground for us.  We may not like them and they may be really painful, but God is up to something in the midst.  He’s so creative….As Amy Carmichael said, “He refuses to waste his kids’ pain.”  So he weaves, he works it for our formation and, ultimately, our good.

Let me show you how this happens in the life of Elijah.  1 Kings 17:2-3 — Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.  So go hide in the Kerith Ravine.  It’s a little dot on the map and we have no clue where it is today, but the word ‘Kerith’ literally means ‘to cut down.’  It’s not so much about where Elijah is going, it IS about that, but it’s about the journey that Elijah is on.  In order to be built up, he must first be cut down.  In order to be great, he must first be humble.  In order to carry the message of God, he must become a man of God.  I love the way that A.W. Tozer said it:  “It’s doubtful that God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.”  Or until He’s allowed him to be hurt deeply.

The truth of the matter is that if dependence is our objective, weakness is an advantage.  If dependence is the objective, weakness is actually an advantage.  Our greatest benefit, the greatest thing we might bring to the people around us and to the Kingdom of God, might be found in our deepest pain.  The things people need from you most may not be your strengths and everything that you have all together and the things on your resumé you’d love to bring to the table.  God may look at you and go that’s all great, that’s all wonderful, but what I want to use is the darkness and the hurt and the pain.  You can say that the flip side of that is beware of your strengths, because those are places you most likely will overlook God.

He’s going to the Kerith Ravine.  Things are getting cut down in the wilderness in the life of this prophet, Elijah.  We’re going to see two things in his life, two things that shape our life and walk with God as well, but two things God uniquely does in the wilderness.  One is He brings us to this place where our hands are finally open and we go, “Alright, God, Have. Your. Way.”  When I was a backpack guide, for four years in college, I spent a lot of time in the wilderness in Colorado so I have a great affinity for the outdoors.  I’ve seen God move and work in the lives of people in ways that I never imagined, through the wilderness, through silence and just listening. During guide training we had tricks we’d play on each other.  One of those was any time we’d come to a stopping point, we’d sneak and hide rocks in each other’s packs.  Before you left, you’d search your pack to be sure that there weren’t any rocks in it.  I remember that once in a while you’d see somebody who was sort of limping along and you’d know that there were a few rocks in the bottom of their pack that were packaged there so they couldn’t see them.  We’d sit back and absolutely love it.  We’d love getting to the end of the trail or the end of the week and watching people unpack their packs and being like, “What are these rocks in our pack?!”  I think a lot of us have some things that we carry that weigh us down.  Maybe this morning God says, “Man, I’d love to cut some things down in your life.”  I’d love to invite you to release some things that you’re carrying that aren’t for your good and aren’t my design for you.

The main thing that’s cut down in the life of Elijah?  Control.  He’s told by God, “You go here and you do these things,” and in order to follow God, he’s got to relinquish his control.  We LOVE control, don’t we?  I saw it Friday night at dinner with my family.  We have three kids so there’s always a tie-breaker with where we go to dinner.  My youngest son Reid had voted for Qdoba. My daughter Avery voted for Smashburger.  My oldest son Ethan was the tie-breaker and he voted for Qdoba. The boys banded together and did it for me.  My daughter was devastated.  She’s probably the sweetest person that ever walked the face of the earth and she was not having it.  We went through the line in Qdoba and asked her what she wanted for dinner.  “I don’t want anything!”   “You’re not going to eat anything?”  “Nuh-uh! I’m not hungry anymore.”   She sat with us and ate a few chips off of Kelly’s plate, but she ate next to nothing.  I’ve got to be honest, there was something inside of me that was going, “YES! A strong-willed girl! I love it!”  Remind me of this when she’s a teenager!  But she wanted to hold on to control; she wanted to decide where we went.

We don’t get to choose the wilderness.  We can’t analyze or rationalize the wilderness away.  We can’t outwit it.  We can’t outlast it.  We can’t out play it.  Going through the wilderness requires a major softening inside of us.  It requires our surrendering our intellectual arrogance and accepting the ambiguity with humility.  We don’t get to control it.  We don’t get to control how it comes; we don’t get to control how it goes; we don’t get to control what we produce when we’re in it.  We don’t get to force our way through it.  It breaks down every semblance of control we long to have, and are often under the illusion we do.  The wilderness doesn’t make us small, it reminds us that we are.

What does Elijah do?  Look at verses 4 and 5.  You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.  So he did what the Lord had told him.   {How do we release control in the wilderness?  We follow that voice of God.  We’re obedient in the wilderness.  The wilderness is not a time we get to check out and say, “God, you didn’t come through for me the way I wanted you to, so I’m out too.”  It’s our time to say, “God, what you ask of me, I will do.”  It goes on.}  He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, {That’s the third time he said ‘east.’  The narrator might want us to know where it is, right? It’s east of the Jordan, east of Eden, it’s in the wilderness, it’s in the wild.} and stayed there.

How do we release control in the wilderness?  Well, we’re obedient, one.  But we also embrace this space of silence….solitude.  What happens in the wilderness?  Nothing!  That’s the point and that’s the power.  In a world where our noise level is consistently elevating, how do we reclaim pieces of our soul that get rotten?  It’s so easy to continue to respond the way that we always did with the old patterns that are sunk into our bodies.  When somebody wrongs me, this is what I do.  When my kids tick me off, I respond in anger.  When I don’t get my way, I become bitter.  We can go on and on and on like that for years.  But silence and solitude is the great teacher that gets beneath just our biological responses to our soul where God can do some work in us and heal what’s broken.  I love the way that AJ Sherrill, who was with us a few months ago, said it: “Stillness is the forgotten teacher within a society of perpetual movement.”  Creating space to hear God is one of the most powerful things we can do and one of the things we do least.  If you’ve ever tried to be quiet and just listen to God, you know how difficult that is.  You start to realize real quickly how tied up your insides are.  If you just try to be quiet for a few minutes every morning, what you’ll start to realize is the narrative that goes on in the back of your head is running all the time.  Anybody with it?  Have you seen it?  This is just a side note: When you want to be silent and still before God for a while, what you should probably do is just have a notepad there so that when thoughts come to your mind you can write them down and get them out of your mind and on the paper and get back to being with God.

Silence and solitude bring a freedom because we start to be able to actually identify those faulty narratives that are running constantly in the back of our mind and controlling us even though we don’t know it.  So when we’re silent, we can say, “God, listen, I’ve got this thought in my head that I’m just not good enough.”  God, I’m starting to identify that what goes on in the back of my mind when I’m still and silent, the thought that spins up is guilt and shame.  Silence is powerful because we get to identify what’s always there but we rarely notice.  It allows us to see the fact that if you try to be quiet and try to be silent what you’ll start to realize, if you’re anything like me, is that you’re pretty hurried and pretty worried.  It’s God saying, “Will you let that go?  I can handle that.”  It’s the power of the wilderness.  One of my questions for you today is what is Jesus inviting you to release, to relinquish?  Worry?  Expectation?  Shame?  Bitterness?  Anger?  What are those rocks in your backpack that are weighing you down and not doing you any good? The wilderness is not wasted time, it’s training ground.  Elijah, being silent and being obedient, starts to be cut down in the most beautiful of ways.

Here’s how the story continues in verse 6.  The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.  How many of you would have like to have seen footage of this?  You wonder if Elijah’s putting in orders.  Ummm, could we do carne asada for dinner?  For bread, could we do a tortilla?    I don’t know how it played out, I just know that once Elijah is cut down and in the wilderness and his hands are open to relinquish things that he’s been carrying, they’re also, ironically, open to receive what God is delivering.  These go hand-in-hand.  God’s training ground in the wilderness of our life is both the things we give up and it’s the things we receive.

I’m reminded, in reading through the gospels, that one of the strangest passages for me is Jesus isn’t welcomed in his own hometown of Nazareth.  Have you read that passage?  Where his own people don’t want anything to do with him because they knew about his life, they knew about his upbringing.  Oh, this is Mary and Joseph’s son and he’s got all these brothers….  He’s not welcomed in his own town and here’s what it says about his ministry in his own town of Nazareth:  And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. (Matt. 13:58)  They just weren’t open.  It wasn’t that God didn’t want to deliver and it wasn’t that God wasn’t delivering, they just weren’t able to receive.

I thought about that as I was watching the Broncos play last Monday night.  And I saw Case Keenum drop back in the pocket.  Twenty-three seconds left in the game.  Broncos down by four, needing a touchdown in order to win.  He had a receiver open right along the sidelines to win the game.  And $18 million bought us a little bit of a too-high pass that lost the game.  I know one play doesn’t lose the game, but this one did! {Ryan shows video clip.}

Look up at me for just a moment.  God never misses.  God never misses. But we often have our hands way too full to receive what He wants to bring.  What the wilderness does is it sometimes pries our fingers off of things, that we love and hold dear, so that it can deliver something better. It’s the same reason that Jesus asks this paralytic man sitting (John 5:6).  He asks him this weird question:  Do you want to get well?  Because He knows that whether or not he receives……not that God isn’t delivering, but whether or not this man wants what Jesus is pouring out.

I love it….these ravens come and deliver bread and meat, a well-balanced diet, out of absolutely nowhere.  If you’re anything like me, I often measure God’s provision based on my circumstances.  Hey, God, here’s what you might bring because here’s what I have available to me.  What God says is that’s cute, that’s funny, but I own the cattle on a thousand hills and I can bring something out of nothing.  Your circumstances are not a measure of my provision.  I can do whatever I want.  It often feels a little bit mysterious, but aren’t the things our soul longs for mysterious anyway?  The things that actually feed our soul are things we can’t see, can’t touch, can’t….  They’re only things we know intuitively.  Sometimes the bread and meat delivered by the raven is somebody who puts their arm around you and says, “I’m here for you.”  Sometimes it’s a note you get in the mail.  Sometimes it’s food that’s delivered at your door.  Sometimes it’s a song that we sing during worship where we remember the truth about who God is and it’s like ravens bringing meat.  Is this just me or does this……yeah.  That God’s provision is often mysterious that I’m so full that I can’t receive it sometimes.

Elijah learns that the life of faith and the life of trust is something that’s built in the crock-pot, not in the microwave.  So he goes and it says he lives in the wilderness.  He doesn’t just go for a brief time.  He sees God’s provision day after day after day after day after day after day and eventually goes, “Huh! There’s a theme here.  God, you can be trusted.”  He receives provision in the wilderness.  He develops trust in the wilderness.  He’s able, I think….it doesn’t say this in here, but as you see God’s hand day after day after day after day, at some point you must go, “This God’s for me.  I think He’s for me.”

So he receives provision, he develops trust, and he embraces love.  I love the way the great author, Henri Nouwen, put it:  “The challenge is to let go of fear and claim the deeper truth of who I am.  When you forget your true identity as a beloved child of God, you lose your way in life.  You become scared and start doing things not freely, but because of fear.  But when you make space for God in in your life and begin to listen to God’s loving voice, you suddenly start to realize perfect love.”  Here’s the thing, friends, Elijah comes to the place where he’s still unsure of all that God’s doing.  He’s unsure of why he’s in the wilderness and why he’s being cut down.  He doesn’t have answers to everything, he just knows two things:  1) God loves me and 2) God’s trustworthy.  And that’s it!  In a time when we want to, like Job’s friends, explain away everything that happens in life.  You’ll have people that say, I call it, spiritual garbage….things that aren’t true but sound good.  Everything happens for a reason.  Here’s exactly what God’s doing.  All these things.  I think there are two things we can be sure of in the wilderness:  1)  God loves me.  2) God’s trustworthy.  I don’t know about anything else sometimes, but those are enough.  Those two things are enough.

I love the way Paul puts it in the book of Romans (5:3-5) — Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, {Or read it ‘wildernesses.’} because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  For some of you, that’s why you’re here today.  I’m convinced of it.  That’s why you’re here today.  You’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death and your question is Why? and God’s answer is Who is with you?  Will you receive it?

This section ends at verse 7 {and we’ll land the plane here} — Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. {If I were Elijah, I’d be shaking my fist at God.  “You brought me out here!  You provided and now the brook is dried. You answered my prayer for a drought!”}  Then the word of the Lord came to him:  “Go….”   The dried brook is not a lack of God’s provision, it’s an insertion of God’s direction.  The brook’s dry.  The season is over.  Dried brooks don’t nullify God’s provision, they providentially move us to the next season.  Elijah could get frustrated that he can’t recognize what God’s doing, but instead he just listens to God’s voice and he decides to go.  Sometimes season of pain and season of lament start to get comfortable.  Even though we hate them, we know them.  Oftentimes that brook dries up and it’s not because God’s bad and it’s not because God’s evil, it’s because He’s moving you to that next season.  Same thing he did with Elijah.

Friends, the wilderness is not about wasted time, it’s training ground where we learn how to relinquish some things, release them to God, and we learn how to receive.  Maybe there’s one thing that you need to receive from God today.  Is it his love?  Is it his goodness?  Is it content?  Is it hope?  Is it a dream that seems to have died?  I’m convinced that we become a sum total of what we both relinquish and receive.  It’s God formation of us.

Yesterday, I saw in my news feed this story that caught my eye.  It was a story about an artist, his name is Bansky.  He’s a graffiti artist and he had a piece of art that was on sale in a gallery.  It sold for 1.4 million pounds, which I believe is roughly $2 million, give or take.  As people were there and the auction just finished, Bansky, I believe, was also there or had somebody there and pushed a button and the piece that had just been bid on went through a shredder.  If you know anything about Bansky, he’s a little bit eccentric, to say the least.  Everybody there is going, “Oh my goodness! This piece of art, not priceless, but worth 1.4 million pounds is absolutely destroyed now!  What are we going to do?”  Here’s the ironic part…..I don’t know this for sure but I would bet my life on it, that Bansky piece is worth more today than it was yesterday!  Because there’s a story.

We often want to keep things perfect, but that’s not what makes for a good story.  There’s a little bit of pain, there’s a little bit of shredding, there’s a little bit of uncertainty, there’s a little bit of regret, and THAT’S what makes it better!  And it’s exactly what the wilderness does to us.  It strips us down, opens us up, and then rebuilds us.  Elijah starts out as a Tishbite from Tishbe.  After his time in the wilderness, he ends—verse 24—a man of God.  God did something in his heart and life as he entered into the barren wilderness.  He does something in your life too when you go there as well.

I wanted to end by giving you some sort of tool, because I know that there’s a number of you that are in the wilderness.  There’s an ancient prayer practice .  It’s called the Prayer of Examen.  It was developed by St. Ignatius Loyola.  It’s basically a way to sort of prayerfully walk through your day and ask God to speak to you.  This prayer often creates a surrogate wilderness, where we walk through life thinking everything’s great and everything’s fine until we pause and then all these things inside of us rise up.  This prayer is a way to cause those things to rise up a little bit so we can deal with them and grow.  I want to spend the next five minutes praying this prayer together.  There’s four phases and I’ll lead you through it, but you can close your eyes.  If you want, you can open your hands, or you can have them down to say, “God, I’m releasing this to you.”  Whatever feels natural to you.  {Ryan walks congregation through the four phases:  1. Awareness   2. Gratitude   3. Review  4. Response}

The Prayer of Examen just starts with an awareness that God is present.  We don’t go to find God, God is here.  If you’re a follower of Jesus, the Spirit of God lives in you.  That’s what the Scriptures say.  Our expectation of God lives in us is that He might have something He wants to say.  Take a moment and recognize God is here.  Bring to mind one thing, just one, that you’re grateful for.  What’s one way God’s been really good to you? Even if you’re in the valley, my guess is there’s one.  I want you to think back over your last few days and maybe this last week.  What are two or three things that sort of immediately come to mind?  Two or three events.  Maybe conversations.  Things you got to experience.  What are a few things that come to mind?  Maybe ask Jesus why those things popped up.  What is it about those things? Within those things, is there an invitation maybe to release some anger, some confusion, some disappointment, some bitterness, some cynicism?  Is there a chance to relinquish or maybe is there a chance to receive?  Is God at work in some way that maybe you missed first time around, but He brought it back this time to say don’t miss it? Then would you ask Jesus what he might be inviting you to do with that?  With that receiving, with that relinquishing.  What’s His invitation to you?

Lord, we know that some people walk through the desert, they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the wilderness and they come out the other side bitter, and then other people come out the other side better.  Lord, we want to both relinquish and receive whatever it is that you want to put into our hands or take out.  We just want to say to you, today, God, we want to be with you.  We want to hear your voice.  We want to live in your way.  We want to live with your heart, and we know that nothing in our life is wasted.  So for my friends in that valley today, I just pray over them….Jesus, would you meet them in that space?  Would they hear your voice afresh and your invitation over them.  God, for all of us, would you invite us to deeper places, where we really deal with the things going on deeply in our soul, both the things we celebrate and the things we lament.  May we bring them all before you, knowing that you see it all anyway.  In the time we think’s wasted, God, would you build something beautiful, we pray.  In Jesus’s name.  Amen.

Hills + Valleys | Water in the Wilderness | 1 Kings 17:1-7 | Week 12021-01-11T12:22:18-07:00
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