Why did Elijah flee? It’s a question I’ve heard asked quite often in sermons, typically with some laughter. Elijah just faced down all the prophets of Baal, saw God work a mighty miracle, and finally got the people of Israel’s attention. Then he runs for the hills when a woman threatens him. Really? What an appalling lack of faith, right?
A few weeks ago, my sister asked, “Do you think people can have spiritual PTSD?” Post Traumatic Stress Disorder “is a serious potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed” a traumatic event such as “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violation.” That could very well be something Elijah was dealing with in this story.
Image credit: “Elijah In The Desert” (1818) by Washington Allston
Elijah’s Traumatic Day
The first time Elijah steps on the Biblical scene, he tells one of the scariest kings to ever rule Israel, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1, KJV). We know nothing of his background save that he was a Tishbite from Gilead. What we do know is that God promptly sent him into hiding first by himself and then with a widow’s family (1 Kings 17:2-24).
I don’t know why God hid Elijah. Perhaps God wanted him to learn patience and trust. Or maybe He wanted to keep Elijah safe. Whatever the reason, there’s no indication Elijah was hesitant to come out of hiding when the Lord said, “Go” several years later. First Elijah presents himself to King Ahab, then he calls the famous meeting at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:1-20).
We often read this story and focus on God’s awesome work in demonstrating that He alone is God. Today, let’s try to see it from Elijah’s perspective. Continue reading
I’ll bet none of us would just come out and say, “I know better than God” or “God’s wrong and I’m right.” We recognize that as arrogant, inaccurate, and fool-hardy. But far too often, we act like that’s what we think even if we’re not saying or even consciously thinking those words. We come up with reasons why we don’t have to keep His commands, or decide we have a better idea for how to obey than what’s instructed in scripture. We try to come figure out what being Christian means to us rather than seeking what it means to God.
The stories of Israel’s first two kings perfectly illustrate the different ways we humans can approach following God. Saul did what was right in his own eyes while pretending to follow God, and God wasn’t impressed. He took the kingdom away from Saul and his family to set up David, someone who would truly follow after God’s heart and listen to His commands.
Saul’s Prideful Disobedience
God chose Saul out of all the people, just as He later would David. It wasn’t His intention that Saul fail. But just two years into his reign, Saul found himself facing an army so terrifying his own troops ran and hid in caves. He waited seven days for Samuel the priest to come and offer sacrifice to God, but Samuel didn’t show.
That’s when Saul committed a sin that cost him the kingdom (1 Sam. 13). He made the decision to offer the sacrifice himself, showing a presumptuous disregard for God’s instructions. When Samuel showed up, Saul had all sorts of arguments to justify his actions but they didn’t change the fact that he’d ignored God’s will. Continue reading
Jesus told us “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment” (Mark. 12:29-30).
Even though this commandment forms the basis of all other commands and is most important for us to remember and obey, it can also be easy to overlook. It sounds so simple: “Love God, check. Yup. I’m good.” But Jesus went into more detail than just “love God.” He started out by reminding us Yahweh is echad. He is united, preeminent, and the only one worthy of the title Lord.
With that reminder in place, Jesus goes on to quote an Old Testament passage telling us how to love God. The way we should love our Lord isn’t left up to our imagination or emotions. We’re told what we’re supposed to do.
With All Your Heart
As today, most people in Jesus’s day didn’t just think of the heart as a muscle pumping blood. It was seen as the “seat of emotions” and the core of your “inner man” (labab, H3824). In Greek, kardia metaphorically referred to the “center of all physical and spiritual life” and the “fountain and seat of thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors (G2588, Thayer). That’s the first way we’re supposed to love God — with all our emotions, thoughts, and yearnings that come from the very core parts of who you are inside. Continue reading
“Do what feels right.” “Follow your heart.” That’s the sort of advice we’ve steeped in living in Western culture. Problem is, that’s not really good advice. Sometimes your heart is wrong. Sometimes what feels good isn’t right.
Speaking more specifically to Christians, one of the hard truths we need to learn is that something can feel okay to you yet still be a sin in God’s eyes. Just because you’re okay with something doesn’t mean God is. And, on the flip side, your dislike of something doesn’t make it a sin. In short, how we feel does not define God’s truth.
God defines truth. Those truths are contained in His word (John 17:17), His law (Ps. 119:142), and His commandments (Ps. 119:151). Either you accept His standards as the basis for truth, or you’re not a Christian. You might be a decent sort of person on the whole, but you’re certainly not a follower of Christ. The Bible is our main link with God. It’s how He has revealed Himself to us. Rejecting the standards outlined in God’s word means we reject His mind and block the Spirit’s work to enlighten and transform us.
A Simple Test
Accepting an outside source as our ultimate authority doesn’t sit well with modern society. We tend to focus on individual freedom and self expression to the exclusion of objective morality. But the Bible says “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord” (Jer. 17:5). A heart following its own desires is moving away from God.
If we say we’re followers of Jesus Christ, there are certain things we should, nay, we must do. As we talked about last week, there are observable markers of being someone who follows God — things we should be able to notice when we examine ourselves. Those things are inseparably connected with Christ’s presence in us.
There is plenty of freedom within the perfect law of liberty, but there are absolutes as well. God is highly personal and He’ll work with you on a personal level. That does not, however, mean He has different requirements for how different people follow and worship Him. He’s also a just God who is not inconsistent in His commandments, laws, and expectations. We might have different understandings of what God expects, but as we grow toward God we should also be growing in unity as we understand His mind more fully. There isn’t one law for you and one law for me. There’s just God telling us all to walk in His ways.
Love + Obedience + Indwelling
John begins both his gospel and his first epistle with a focus on Jesus Christ’s role as the Word of life. Then, in the epistle, he focuses on how we can have fellowship with this great Being and His Father. We must “walk in the light as He is in the light,” “confess our sins” so He’ll forgive us, and then keep His commandments (1 John 1:5-2:3). We cannot claim to know God unless we’ve keeping His word and walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:4-6). God wants us to be part of His family and that means becoming like Him (1 John 3:1-2). Continue reading
Have you ever felt like your relationship with God wasn’t what it should be? I think if we’re honest, we’ve all had seasons in our lives where we knew we weren’t quite right with God. Some of us are going through that right now. Sometimes we know what put that distance in our relationship with Him, sometimes we’re not quite sure how we drifted away. We just know we need to get back.
The Jews and Messianic believers say the month leading up to Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets) and the 10 Days of Awe between Trumpets and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are a season of teshuva. This word literally means “return.” It is derived from the word shub (H7725), which is the form used in scripture. When the Old Testament talks about people turning away from their sins, this is the word typically used (examples: 1 Kings 8:47; Eze. 14:6; 18:30). We also translate shub and teshuva as repentance.
- (Side Note: the English word “repent” in the KJV Old Testament is usually translated from nacham (H5162), to be sorry, and is most often used of God. However, our modern understanding of repentance is better expressed by shub or teshuva.)
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says that all the “idioms describing man’s responsibility in the process of repentance … are subsumed and summarized by this verb shub. For better than any other verb it combines in itself the two requisites of repentance: to turn from evil and to turn to the good” (entry 2340).
Today is the Sabbath between Trumpets and Atonement. It’s traditionally known as Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Return. While repentance is something we do year round, this is a fitting season to think more deeply about where we stand with God and in what ways we need to turn back to Him. Continue reading