Archive | July 2014

Ahab’s Anger

IMG_1560Water makes a lot of people tense. In a region of the country that ebbs and flows with cattle and corn prices, water makes people nervous. In the paper today, an article caught my eye about the state of the Ogallala Aquifer, an underground reservoir that lays under 8 states including the western part of Kansas. To summarize: It’s drying up and it has been for years.

Early Explorers called western Kansas the Great American Desert. Now that desert is covered in corn, beans, milo, and other crops. These crops needed water that the desert couldn’t provide. Wells were sunk into the largest reservoir in the nation and the crops thrived. Now it’s depleting, which is making farmers and ranchers in western Kansas nervous.

A long time has passed, three years without rain or dew in the land of Israel. The word of the Lord says to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain.” (1 Kings 18.1)

The lack of rain was taking its toll on the land and its King. The King is not happy that a severe famine gripped Samaria (another name for the Northern Kingdom). Crops were a total loss. Animals were dying. Grass was scare. The King, inorder to preserve his herds, had to find some forage. He took his second in command, Obadiah, out to search for pasture. They came to a crossroads and went opposite directions through Israel looking for feed in every field, spring, and valley.

As Obadiah is searching, he runs into Elijah. Obadiah recognizes Elijah from years back and asks if it’s really him. Three years is a long time to be gone. Ahab has been searching high and low for the one guy who can end this drought. Now he shows up in front of Obadiah and he doesn’t really know how to respond.

Obadiah thinks Elijah’s trying to get him killed.

 “What have I done wrong, that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death?” (18.9)

Ahab has been desperately searching for Elijah like that dude in Moby Dick was searching for his whale. If Obadiah shows up and claims he found him, Ahab will not be happy. Then if Ahab goes to get him and he isn’t there (Elijah is prone to being swept up and away), he will be killed for that too (18.11-12). The outlook doesn’t look good for Obadiah.

The faithfulness of Obadiah is on display throughout this story. Twice it mentions him saving God’s prophets from the destructive hand of Jezebel. The story depicts him as a devout believer, a trusted servant to Ahab, and faithful servant of God. His life is now on the line because of one of the Lord’s prophets.

Elijah’s answer changes his mind.

“As the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I will surely present myself to Ahab today.” (18.15)

Elijah isn’t off the hook. Ahab is a little bit upset with him as well. But Elijah and Obadiah understood one thing very well: The word of the Lord is to be followed and obeyed. Despite the danger involved, the people against it, or the counter-cultural bent of it, the word of the Lord is meant to be followed. This whole interaction, and its subsequent life threatening outcome for both, started with the command in 1 Kings 18.1: “Present yourself to Ahab…” Ahab’s frustration at the drought and by proxy Elijah, darkens this command from the Lord. If I’m in Elijah’s shoes, I wouldn’t be real happy to see Ahab’s face.

When it comes to the difficult commands of the Word of God, I strive to be more like Elijah. Following despite the repercussions. Bill Hybles once said, “Faith is not belief in spite of evidence, but obedience in spite of consequence.” Elijah and Obadiah’s faith in this interaction is what is put on display. Where my faith fails is where theirs shines brightest.

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It don’t take a genius…

to spot a goat in a flock of sheep and its just as easy to tell a real cowboy from an imposter? (or so the kids at Rodeo Bible Camp tell me)

I was walking by the horsemanship group at a camp this summer when a kid yelled at me to come over and see him. Upon my arrival at his side, he informed me that I was not a real cowboy. It was kind of abrupt really. I was walking along this whole time thinking I was a cowboy, and some 12-year-old kid opened my eyes. It was kind of like The Emperors New Clothes where the kid points out to everyone that the Emperor is buck-naked. He had seen through my façade and I stood there feeling exposed. On these three counts was I laking:

  1. I did not have a horse.
  2. I was not wearing boots.
  3. I did not carry a knife.

I usually wear boots, but the other two were spot on. I don’t carry a knife because: a. I don’t posses a good one; b. the school where I work frowns on knife wielding. He saw through my ruse and pointed out that like the proverbial cheese, I stood alone as the only non-cowboy at camp. After a few hours of crying, I pieced my fragile ego and my fake cowboy costume back together and rejoined camp.

Are you like the kid in the story? Can you spot and imposter? What would it take for you to spot the real deal?

Elijah was hidden by God in a ravine that had a brook running through it. After some time the brook dried up. This makes complete sense because Elijah told Ahab that there wouldn’t be any rain unless he said so. Elijah hadn’t said so…so the brook dried up. Then God told him:

“Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” (1 Kings 17.9)

God had commanded [tsawah] the ravens to feed Elijah in the ravine (17.4) and now He commanded [tsawah] the widow to feed him there. Its funny that part of Ahab’s downfall was a Sidonian (16.31) and part of Elijah’s ministry is a Sidonian family. Elijah takes off to the North and East to Zarephath, where he runs into the woman at the gate of the city. When he asks her for food and water she gives him a pretty depressing answer:

“As surely as the Lord your God lives, I don’t have any bread-only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die!” (1 Kings 17.12)

What a glass-half-empty answer, but Elijah, quoting God, convinces her that the flour and oil will not run out until rain comes. (14)

So “She went away and did…” (15) with nothing more than Elijah’s word from God, she acted.

“So there was…” (15b) The word of the Lord was shown to be true. With God a promise made is the same as promise kept. It was proven true day-by-day.

Later, another crisis arose. This time, instead of starvation, death comes to the widows house. Her son becomes sick and dies. The NIV translates it stopped breathing but there is so much more to it. The situation is so much bleaker. The hebrew says that life didn’t remain in him. The word for life, nesama, is the same word used in Genesis 2.7, when God breaths life into man. It is mostly used of God’s life giving capability. The nesama did not stay with him [lo-notrah]. It is the idea of not having anything left, no surviving, no escaping. The sustenance of God has left the boy.

In that moment of crisis, Elijah prays and acts. The Lord hears Elijah’s cry and the boy’s life [nephesh], his spirit, returned to him. Mom, went from hacked off at Elijah (18) to ecstatic with him and she makes this confession:

“Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is truth.” (17.24)

In the Old Testament the term ‘man of God’ was often used of prophets. There were prophets in many religions, but this woman saw the truth in Elijah’s words from God and the power that came with them.  This woman saw the real deal before her…God’s word taking over Elijah’s life.

She saw first hand the truth of God’s word before her. How are we at seeing and spotting God’s truth in his word. I am ashamed to admit it, sometimes my fortune cookie at Panda Express has more weight in my life than does the Word of God. There are times when words from Don’t Squat with You’re Spurs on holds more sway than Proverbs. I sometimes get taken surprise by how unable I am to see and act on the truth and power that is located in the word of God. Maybe you’re like me and forget the power located in the word of God. Or maybe it’s been awhile since you put the word into practice or experienced the truth of it. I read the Word of God and don’t believe it can change me if I put it into practice.  I pay lip service to it.  I forget it sometimes.  I want to be the real deal but like I said, sometimes walk around like a cowboy, but the truth is I’m not.

Heroism defined

Tombstone (1993)

Tombstone (1993)

I once heard it said: “a hero is anybody who runs toward what everyone else runs away from.” My favorite movie scene of all time is the scene from Tombstone where Wyatt, Doc, Virgil, and Morgan are walking down the street to meet the Clanton brother led group of cowboys at the OK corral. They saunter down the street, bearing their badges, to disarm the outlaws and keep the peace. There is no question at that point of the movie who the hero is: Wyatt Earp. No matter the situation or the person facing him, Wyatt always had an answer and a plan. When the situation called, Earp always ran towards what others ran from.

Modern day hero’s are hard to find sometimes. There are bullfighters who run into the middle of danger, as others are running away. There are the Police, Firemen, and EMTs who ran into the Twin Towers on 9/11 and every situation since. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines station around the world who run into the fray. The men who, swallowing their pride, run towards their families and their marriages, when its much easier to run away.

These are some heros. 

If a hero is defined in that way, Elijah easily fits the definition.

At the end of 1 Kings 16, the Northern Kingdom of Israel has crowned a new King and he would be like no other. The ones before him were bad, but this new King was worse. The first king of Israel, Jeroboam got rid of the Priests of Yahweh, made idols, and set up cultic worship centers. But Ahab considered these sins trivial [hb.- qalal]. The same word is used in Jonah 1, when the sailors threw cargo off the ship to make it lighter [qalal]. It’s used in 1 Kings 12 when the people wanted the king to lighten their burden. Ahab considered the sins of Jeroboam to be small potatoes so he one-up-ed him by marrying a foreign woman. Jezebel was the daughter of the King of Sidon, one of the cities of Phoenicia. She made the worship of Ba’al (a Canaanite God) the state religion of the Northern Kingdom. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord than any before him (1 Kings 16.33) and he took the nation with him.

At the beginning of chapter 17, we are introduced to a man who runs toward the evil happening in his country. Elijah the prophet takes on the role of hero. At a time when truth and devotion are at an all time low in the nation of Israel, Elijah runs to intervene. At a time when God’s people had wandered the farthest away from his direction, Elijah sprints into the fight. He goes to Ahab and says: “There won’t be any rain or dew in this nation until I say so.” (17.2) Because of the God he serves, because of his faith in Him, the acts of heroism is in Elijah’s build. God sends him to a ravine, most likely on the east side of the Jordan, across from Jericho, where God keeps him alive with raven waiters and the water form a brook. This wont be the last time that Elijah is called upon. It wouldn’t be the last stand for Elijah. A hero has arrived on the scene.

Heroism in this country is at a all time low. We need hero’s today more than ever. We need Fathers, who rush toward their kids and wives to heal relationships. We need husbands who are willing to humble themselves and reconnect with their spouses. We need men who hurry to stand for truth.   The church needs men more than ever to stand for God and his plans. The work place needs hero’s. Men who do their job with excellence, work as though working for the Lord, and letting their ethics win the respect of those around them. We need men like Elijah, who despite the presence of danger, abuse, and confrontation, take God’s messages to the opposition. Let Elijah be our example as a hero, and let us be bold in standing for Truth in the face of those opposed.

In a day when evil runs rampant through this world, when the cowboy gang is running the town, where will a hero come from? The answer is Elijah…or Wyatt Earp.

Church: The Difference between Gettin’ and Goin’

How can something be both exhilarating and saddening at the same time?

Watching a herd of horses run free over the range raises this paradox with me.  Let me explain.  The horse was created to run.  When it runs, unencumbered and free, it is clear that God intended that animal to run.  While its wild, it eats, sleeps, and poops…is that all it was created to do?  God created that animal to be able to do so much more.  A mustang has never backed from a cue, slid to a stop spraying dirt everywhere, turned a steer, or worked a cow.  Only in its partnership, in its community, can a wild horse ever understand the fullness of what it was created to be.  Running free is part of its nature, but only alongside humans, can the horse ever understand fully what is was created to do.

I struggle with writing about this stuff because my wound is still so fresh.  In short, I am still struggling with some things that the Church has done to me.  Im really no different from you…the Church is made up of hurting people who ultimately hurt people.  Your wounds are just like mine (and if you haven’t been hurt, you will someday be).  I was lied about, hurt, and taken advantage of by people who claimed to be serving as well.  I was betrayed in many meetings by people who were supposed to be leading the Church.  I watch as the Church does all the things that I asked them to consider over the last years accomplish all of these things in a matter of months after letting me go.  I say all this (trying to be as vague as possible) to let you know that the Church has hurt me.

I also want you to know that as a member of the Church, I hurt people.  I wasn’t as compassionate and caring as I needed to be.  I wasn’t as clear a picture of Jesus as I need to be for my students.  I wasn’t as willing a servant as Jesus called me to be and I liked more about working at a Church than being the Church.  I hurt people, with words and actions, by the dozens and hundreds.  Their wounds at my hands (and vicariously the Church’s hands) are no less excusable than my wounds.  The Church is a screwed up entity sometimes.

No wonder many people say they are too busy, full of hypocrites, and tired to go to Church.  No wonder they say the Church is too money hungry, irrelevant, or trying to guilt trip them.  We are not a great looking Bride for Jesus sometimes.

But the Church needs you.  It needs me.  It needs us.

A few years back a pretty successful book was released with the title, They Like Jesus but Not the Church.  The premise of the book is pretty simple:  everyone wants more Jesus and less Church.  I wonder how their Church experience is…

I believe our love/hate relationship with the Church has more to do with our expectations of the Church and less to do with the Activity of the Church.  Too often we come to Church expecting to be feed, be entertained, be whatever.  A consumer mentality…what can I get from the church?  I understand the Church is not a building, but the people.  But on Sunday morning when you show up to worship, what are you expecting?  Lights, action, candy?  When we walk into Church with the consumer mentality…WE WILL ALWAYS BE DISAPPOINTED!  The Church will ultimately disappoint if we walk into every week with expectations of this or that.  So we need a different attitude to enter with.

What if instead our Spirit was filled with expectation, training, and passion for the week ahead.  Too many times I showed up to Church wanting it to do something for me, but what if my purpose of going to church was to pour into, serve, and challenge everyone else in the pews with the love of God?

Remember those old hotwheel sets?  The ones that had the two spinning wheels that shot the hotwheels cars through the track.  Just as it would loose steam and return to its starting position, the wheels would shoot it back through the track.  Remember how you used to get your cousins to lay in front of it and shoot them in the forehead…yeah me neither.  What if church was like that?  A place where, just as you are loosing steam from the week, you show up, ready to pour into someone, give them some teaching or encouragement, only to send them out again with more fire, passion, drive, and excitement.   What if every church member showed up to give to others on Sunday morning?   As a sunday school teacher, offering passer, doughnut guard…how would your church look different if the consumer mentality ceased and an attitude of depositor reavealed itself?

As Andy Stanley points out in his book Deep and Wide, the Church has become less a movement and more of a stagnant.  Jesus, post resurrection, in his final words in the book of Matthew, tells his disciples to:

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” (Matthew 28.19-20)

The first group of people were movers…goers…sentees.  Jesus makes it pretty clear that his followers were to be on the move.  They were to go out and teach, preach, do and be.  The church is a community of believers sent out to love people, teach people, serve people.  It will only become a community like this when we decide that we are going to invest in it, not take from it.

When we aren’t connected to a church we lose steam and we don’t get to be all that God created us to be.  God created us to live in community.  Just as the horse can’t be all that he can be to accomplish a task that he didn’t even know he had…we cant be all that we were created to be to be sent out to a lost and dying world if we aren’t part of the community!  We were made to live out our faith before the world, and the only way to successfully and continually do that is to be sent out repeatedly from a community of believers…the Church!

The Defining Moment of the Cross

ty murray“Most people aren’t fortunate (or some would say cursed) enough to have their life’s work come down to a single, defining moment…to have your defining moment in front of you for all the world to see, and to know the importance of that moment ahead of time, is something few people experience.” (King of the Cowboys,  viii)  These were Ty Murray’s words about his ride on Hard Copy, the bull that he needed to ride to win his seventh All-Around World Title.  It had been on his mind since he was a kid.  It was his dream.  He had pursued it with all his might for many years,

We left off with God in pursuit of us.  We were running the opposite direction (for about 1000 pages in my Bible), towards what we thought was freedom.  Through bondage and liberation, through slavery and independence, dark times and times of strength, the nation of Israel, God’s people, ran from Him.  He just kept trying to win their hearts, to top their idols on the list of importance.  The law was given, to point them forward to something even greater…and he arrives finally on the scene and with him a defining moment for the people of God.

Jesus was sent into this world to give himself up as a sacrifice, as a ransom.  He was sent into this world for the cross.  It was on the cross that his love, God’s love, was on display for all eternity to look at.

In the cross we see a horizontal bar, the romans called it the patibulum.  It points to the left as a reminder that Jesus death on the cross takes care of our past failures, hurts, and sins.  It also points to the right, as a testament to God’s promise to take care of our future.  Three days later, Jesus would rise from the dead, leaving his tomb empty, proclaiming once and for all that death holds no power over him.  The power that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power that works in us.  Our future is not bound by our past!  He can change us…

The cross also has a vertical beam called the stipes.  It points down, showing us that Jesus is in the here and now.  While on that cross, the defining moment of the entire world was present.  The defining moment of our lives became a reality, even years before we came about!

In John 1, Jesus meets a Nathaneal, who has been awaitng the Messiah.  As he apporaches, Jesus says “I saw you sitting under the fig tree.”  At this Nathanael confessed him as “the Son of God, the true King of Israel.”  Then Jesus says something profound.  “You shall see even greater things than that!”  In the book of John, we are just getting started.  Jesus says, “You stick around and your future will never be the same!”  In the moment, can you trust Jesus with the future?

In John 5, Jesus meets a man laying paralyzed by a pool.  He has been there for 38 years.  Jesus walks up to him and asks him one question: “Do you want to get well?”  In other words…are you ready to leave your past and move forward?  In the moment, can you trust Jesus with your past?

In John 11, Mary and Martha have just lost their brother Lazarus.  He died two days prior to Jesus arriving.  When Jesus shows up they have some words with him about his tardiness.  “If you had been here, Lazarus wouldn’t have died!”  Jesus answers them, but that answer doesn’t quite satisfy.  They respond with another statement: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day!”  They know that Jesus could work in the past and he can work in the future…but can he take care of today?  In the moment, can you trust Jesus today?

When we approach the cross we are witness to the past, present, and future all coming under the power and love of Jesus Christ.  We hang onto our sin and refuse to forgive our past failures.   The cross of Christ takes care of our past.  We worry about the money, bills, jobs, and health,  Jesus work on the cross shows that he takes care of our present.  Everyone has questions about what happens when we die…Jesus death on the cross provides us a future in the presence of God.

Having your past, present, and future provided for, taken care of, and secured, is the type of defining moment that Jesus had on the cross.  The type of defining moment that Ty was describing.

 

A Great Chase

DSCN3181“If you ain’t been bucked off, then you ain’t been on many” so the old cowboy proverb goes. Everybody at some point in time hits the dirt early, gets bucked off, or fails. When the collision, that we talked about last post, takes place, how do you respond? Do you assume the fetal position and prepare for another impact? Do you get up and go back for some more?

When the collision of Genesis 3 happened, between a good and holy God and His independent and rebellious creation, God refused to give up on His people. Hear me know, its not that God didn’t know that we would become rebellious and sin, nor was He caught off guard by our decisions and actions, but simply that our rebellion gave God the opportunity solve the problem we created. It was at this time that God went into pursuit mode!

One of the coolest (and most dangerous) places to be in the arena is in the roping box. Here is where some of the most powerful athletes in the world come hurtling out of a steel box at speeds of 30 mph chasing a calf or steer. All of their energy and power directed to the chase.

I am amazed at God’s pursuit of humanity.  Nine verses after the sin in Genesis 3.8, God proclaims that the offspring of the woman “will crush the head of Satan.” (Genesis 3.15)  Years later when Israel has been in bondage for 400 years in the land of Egypt, the Hebrews were certain that God had forgotten them and cut them loose.  But God is shown in the book of Exodus ruthlessly pursuing his people.  He is kind to the midwives (Exodus 1.20); He heard their groaning and remembered their covenant (2.24); He differentiates the plagues from the land of Egypt and Goshen where the Hebrews stayed; He opens the Red Sea (13); and many more…

For what purpose…because he promised Abraham long ago that he would be blessed and the whole earth would be blessed through him (Gen. 12.1-4)  God is one a quest to capture the hearts of His people.  All of the things He does are for the purpose of his people falling in love with HIm.  He got up from the collision in Genesis 3, and shot out in pursuit of His people…of which you are one.

A Bad Collision

A Collision in Process

A Collision in Process

“No one ever bought a ticket to see a bullfighter get away from a bull.”  This was my consolation, without thinking mind you, to a bullfighting student that had just got freight-trained by a large and angry bovine.  The sad part is its true.   No one goes to a rodeo wanting to see someone get run over, but they certainly don’t want to miss it if it happens.  The collision, the tension is what keeps people coming back.  If everyone who tied their hand in and nodded their head stepped off after 8 seconds, then it would become boring.  With each and every ride, every bullfight, there is a certain amount of unpredictablity and danger.  WIth each story the same rings true.  Every story has conflict in it and just like the collision you see above, the fault can be placed squarely on me.

In Genesis 1 and 2, everything God had created was good.  In the case of Adam and Eve, it was very good.  God had created man and woman with some specific purposes that were good for them.  He created Adam to work in the garden, to rule and care for the earth, to lead the relationship with Eve.  With Eve, she was created to bring children into this world and to help and support Adam.  Together they were created to comfort and support one another, to become one flesh, a to walk and talk with God.  All these things were very good when God created man and woman.

Enter the snake.

Adam and Eve were in paradise, living with God, when the snake showed up.

His first words to Adam and Eve reveal his mission of distortion: “Did God really say…”  Satan’s mission is to distort, warp, and alter the things of God.  Satan questions the words of God (Gen 3.1) and then he questions the goodness of God (Gen 3.4-5).  Satan’s charge, that God is keeping the good stuff from Adam and Eve, pushes the right buttons and they succumb to the temptation.  This story is a little too familiar.  How often do we feel like God is hoarding the good stuff?  How many times have you felt like God was killing your fun with His rules?  Sex in the confines of marriage…huh?  Serving the Lord with your finances?  Laying your life down for others?  Focusing on others needs instead of our own?

Often the thought in the back of my mind is similar to the thought Satan gave to the first couple…”You better take care of yourself because God won’t!”  So we choose to go it alone.  Follow our own desires.  Make our own rules.  Choose our own path.

This path runs the opposite direction of God.  And I, like Adam and Eve, take the fruit, take care of ourselves, and disobey God.  The collision happens and the tension arrives in the story.  A bad collision between a holy God and His very good, yet independent creation.

This collision turned everything upside down: work (2.15) became toil (3.17); ‘be fruitful’ (1.28) became ‘increased pains’ (3.16); ‘naked and no shame’ (2.25) became ‘covered and hidden’ (3.7); and ‘walking with God in the Garden’ (3.8) became ‘banishment’ (3.23).  Man (and Woman’s) purpose had become tainted with their disobedience.  The tension has arrived in the story.

The collision happens in Genesis 3 for the same reason it happens today, we don’t trust that God knows what He is doing.  I caused the collision in Genesis 3.  I was there with Adam and Eve…I ate the fruit…and take it from a guy who has been in a few collisions, there are always consequences.

For the wages of sin is death…(Romans 6.23)