Category Archives: Life of Elijah

Passing the Mantle

The following message is based on 2 Kings 2:1-14 and covers Elijah’s departure from Elisha, and the passing of leadership. It was delivered on November 3, 2013.

Change is never easy. But oftentimes, it is good. Transition is a challenge, but it can be an occasion of growth. We are reluctant to experience change. Sometimes it is downright painful, whether it is the change of a career, the change of a marital status, the experience of loss, or the redirection of life.

Sometimes transition can be seen as a changing of the guard. Speaking of which, it is something special to observe the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Rain or shine, this is done. It is a duty of honor. Because the person laid to rest there is representative of all who gave their lives and went unrecognized.

A lot goes into the changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknowns. Their website states: “An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.

The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb. All three salute the Unknowns who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor. Then the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, ‘Pass on your orders.’ The current sentinel commands, ‘Post and orders, remain as directed.’ The newly posted sentinel replies, ‘Orders acknowledged,’ and steps into position on the black mat. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.

The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp “shoulder-arms” movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed — the 21-gun salute.”

Maybe you have experienced a changing of a guard. Have you gone through some sort of transition lately? A new job, a death, or a graduation? A new phase beginning? Where is God in those situations? Today’s story is about the changing of a guard. For the last several years, Israel’s chief prophet has been the man known as Elijah the Tishbite. He has done his work. He has defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. He has seen the death of Ahab and Jezebel. It is now time for him to go to God. Incidentally, only two people have been taken from the earth in this way: Enoch and Elijah. Everyone else died. We have that mysterious verse in Genesis 5:24: “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”

Elijah was a special servant of the Lord with unique talents and abilities. But who would replace him? God told Elijah back in 1 Kings 19:16: “Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.” This rite of succession would be formalized by the passing of a mantle or cloak. What was a mantle? It was a Piece of clothing that held significance. It meant leadership or a place of importance. In this instance, God was with both of His prophets and now was the time for the guard to be changed. Back in 1 Kings 19, Elijah had placed the same cloak around Elisha for the first time, as a symbol of anointing this man to take his place and be God’s spokesperson to the nation. The cloak was important.

And now, a few years later, it was time for the ceremony to become reality. As Elijah and Elisha journeyed from Gilgal to Bethel and ultimately to Jericho, two companies of prophets informed Elisha that his master, his mentor was about to depart. These communities were schools of prophets. Elijah was the pinnacle prophet of the nation and now Elisha was assuming his position. Elisha knew that it was time for Elijah to go to the Lord and it was not a happy time for him. He did not want Elijah to go. Verses 1-10 function as a long goodbye. He may have felt something similar to the disciples when Jesus told them that it was good that He would depart, so that the Holy Spirit would come. Jesus said in John 16:7: “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

In verse eight, Elijah and Elisha come to the edge of the River Jordan. The act of parting the waters and crossing to the other side was significant. It is a reminder of God’s presence. No one can part water except God. The definition of a miracle is the suspension of the natural elements for the purposes and testimony of God’s greatness. On another occasion, God parted the waters of the Red Sea for His children. At a strategic time, when Israel was most vulnerable, we read of the angel of the Lord hemming the Israelites in and Exodus 14:21 tells us: “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. 22 And the sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.” God would do the same thing at the River Jordan as Joshua and the people of Israel went into the Promised Land.

When Elijah is about to be taken up in the air by the whirlwind, Elisha asks for something special: a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, in order to do the work of the Lord. This brings up the importance of Christian leadership. Not everyone is meant to be a leader. Each person has his own set of spiritual gifts. Not everyone could be an Elijah or an Elisha. But if you are a Christian, He has called you to be equipped so that you can minister to others. What role does God want you to play in His kingdom? Are you living up to the calling that He has placed on your life? Paul wrote in Romans 12: 4: “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”

In addition, interesting are the parallels between John the Baptist and Jesus; Elijah and Elisha. Elijah paved the way for Elisha. John the Baptist did the same for Jesus, being that “…voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘make ready the way of the Lord.’” God allowed Elisha to have a double portion of Elijah’s spirit upon request. John recognized that this would be given to the Anointed One coming after him when he said in Matthew 3:11: “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” When he saw Jesus, he would say: “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.” Then, when Jesus came to be baptized, John was hesitant, saying in Matthew 3:14: “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”

God is often depicted as a warrior, fighting for His people. Unlike Baal who was matched by the seat and river, God has complete power over His creation. When Jesus returns, it will be to do battle with the evil forces of the earth. What side will we be on? Revelation 1:7: “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.”

Then it came time for the goodbye. 2 Kings 2:11: “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. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. He called out to Elijah as he was taken up into the clouds. It was not to get Elijah’s attention to the events happening around him, but to draw attention to the ministry of Elijah himself. To have the prophet’s presence is to have the chariots and horsemen of Israel. That is why two companies of fifty men were torched when King Ahaziah’s men were on their way to consult Baal-Zebub about the king’s health in 2 Kings 1.

At Elijah’s departure, Elisha tore his clothing and asked a powerful question in verse 14: “Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it.”Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. 15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. The mantle had been passed. This was a new day and the changing of the guard/prophet for God’s people.

The challenge is to adapt to the change that comes to all of us. After a time of mourning or readjustment, it is time to serve the Lord with new vigor and determination. Change is inevitable. And change is good. And it is coming, regardless if we are ready or not.

While visiting the U.S. after World War II, Winston Churchill was aboard a train bound for Missouri with President Harry Truman. They were in a special car which had the presidential seal hung up on a wall. Truman noticed Churchill studying the seal and he pointed out that he had changed it so that the eagle on the seal was turned toward the olive branch instead of the arrows. “Why not put the eagle’s head on a swivel,” suggested Churchill. “That way you could turn it to the right or the left, depending on what the occasion warranted.”

On this All Saints’ Sunday, we have acknowledged these loved ones and fellow Christians. We’ve remembered them with a short tribute. We wish they were still here. If they were able, what would they say to us? How would they advise us for years of fruitful ministry? “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” we might ask? He right here with us, as long as we follow Him.

What Comes Around…

The following message is based on 1 Kings 21:1-25, and was given on Reformation Sunday, October 27, 2013.

Have you ever felt that justice needed to be served? There’s something in us that desires fairness. And our thirst for the right comes to the forefront when we read of stories like Colleen Ritzer, the 24 year old high school math teacher in Danvers, MA who was recently tragically killed by one of her students. The news reports stated that she was “beautiful inside and out,” a ray of light, someone who always wanted to be a teacher and took great pride in her craft. On August 11, almost as an eerie forecast of her life, Ritzer posted on Twitter: “No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.” Now, a family is mourning, a community is mourning, and a school has been robbed of one of their best educators. We read such things and wonder where the justice is.

“What comes around…goes around” is a phrase that we’ve used for a long time. According to the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms, the proverb essentially teaches that “The results of things that one has done will someday have an effect on the person who started the events.” A person’s actions, whether good or bad, will often have consequences for that person. When those consequences occur, we say: “He got what’s coming to him!”
Maybe you have been the victim of injustice. Have you had your home broken into? Something stolen that was precious to you? Maybe someone has hurt you and you’d love to see them repaid. Or for the right to be settled. For many of us we mutter beneath our breath: “What comes around, goes around.”

In our story, King Ahab, one of, if not the worst king in Israel’s history wants Naboth’s vineyard. We don’t know much about Naboth. We don’t know about his socio-economic status, whether he is a slave, or a business owner. But he is a Hebrew. It’s safe to say that he’s a regular guy. And he has a vineyard that King Ahab desperately wants. So the king offers compensation. But Naboth denies him. Why did he deny him? He could have been given a nicer and larger vineyard? After the Exodus, when Joshua led the people of God in the conquest of the land of Canaan. That land was a permanent gift from God to the children of Israel. And it stayed in certain families of the different tribes forever. Vineyards were sign of permanence. They did not grow over night, but after a long time. A well established vineyard is one that spoke of stability. Levitical law stated that although the land could be leased, it was not to be sold outright. As Ray Dillard points out: “The land had been provided by God as part of His grace toward Israel; therefore, no one was to take the land of another away from him.” Even if there was a sale, the land returned to the owner in the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:13-17, 25-28). So Ahab was out of line with his request. This is why Naboth responds in verse three: “The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.”

EVIL ABOUNDS.

This passage reveals a lot of flaws in the characters. And if we’re honest, we might see a little of ourselves in them. One is that Ahab was incredibly selfish. So what happens next? Ahab then comes home only to sulk and mope around the palace. He lusted after this plot of land that belonged to Naboth and it showed in his countenance. His wife, Jezebel notices. She inquires as to his sullen appearance: “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

The solution is simple to the manipulator Jezebel: kill Naboth. But there would need to be a scheme. In order to cover their tracks, they will plot a way to frame Naboth and have him stoned. What she proceeds to do is call for a fast, a time when people would come together for a solemn observance. During that time, two trouble-makers would be placed near Naboth and raise a ruckus, accusing him of things he did not do. Verse 13 tells us: “Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death.” Do you see where selfishness and manipulation led Ahab and Jezebel? Murder. If we were honest, such things as covetousness and the manufacturing of circumstances for our benefit have gotten us into trouble too.

Where’s the justice? How unfair! Someone has to pay! Yes. Maybe you’ve been the victim of similar circumstances. Maybe not so extreme, but you’ve been wronged, accused, treated unfairly. Mistreatment has been around for a long time. It is a characteristic to this sinful world. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” The sooner we come to the realization that not everything in this life is based on fairness, the better off we’ll be.

But our mistreatments ought to drive us to a deeper trust in the Lord Jesus. Every injustice is an opportunity to trust God. Christ spoke of the possibility of personal peace, even when your life is falling down around you. He said in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” In this world, where evil abounds, we must remember that…

GOD IS THE AVENGER OF EVIL.

What happens to Ahab? His sin is found out and God speaks
through the prophet Elijah concerning it. Verse 17: “Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: 18 “Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it. 19 Say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood– yes, yours!'” Up to this point, the real situation is unknown to everyone except Ahab, Jezebel and God. But the Lord informs His spokesperson that judgment was about to come to the king and his household. The prophet would also pronounce judgment on Jezebel in verse 23: “Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’ “Dogs will eat those belonging to Ahab who die in the city, and the birds of the air will feed on those who die in the country.”

What can we learn from this incident? God is the avenger of evil. He will not let injustice take place without returning it on the heads of those who perpetrate it. Incidentally, 2 Kings 9:30-37 tells us of Jezebel’s fate. She was thrown out a palace window and trampled on by horses, then eaten by dogs. When they buried her, the only thing remaining was her skull, her feet and parts of her hands. Ouch!

God’s justice also comes by way of what people sow and reap. Take for instance, Proverbs 22:8: “He who sows wickedness reaps trouble, and the rod of his fury will be destroyed.” Notice what Paul says in Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” In other words, there are consequences to one’s actions, and God is the determiner of the consequences.

There might be times that we wonder if God is paying attention to the world around us. But He is! He is the avenger of every wrong committed. The Apostle Paul writes to those being persecuted and facing various trials because of their faith in Christ in Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. And God knows our days. There is a day of reckoning and we must be prepared for it. Jesus will one day return to judge the earth. We believe that He now resides: “…at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” And we must trust Him, no matter what.

But God is also patient and willing to forgive the person who repents. Notice an ironic twist occurs. Ahab repents. Verse 27 states: “When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 28 Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite: 29 “Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.”

Lastly, God is merciful. He does not delight in the death of the wicked, but desires repentance. Ezekiel 33:11 states: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” What’s more is that this should remind us that we must be walking with the Lord. We cannot take matters into our own hands, and live like we want, without it coming to haunt us. I was recently watching the drama miniseries the Hatfield and McCoys. Kevin Costner plays Hatfield, who is responsible for the loss of many lives during and after the Civil War in Kentucky and West Virginia. He eventually died of pneumonia at age 81, not before he repented and turned to the Lord. They were two men that took matters into their own hands. Jesus said in Luke 15:7: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Until Jesus returns, you will always live in a world of injustice. At the root of what we label unjust, is the sense that our will has been violated. Pastor Mark Driscoll recently stated: “Don’t ask “What’s best for me?” Ask “What will honor God?” That’s what’s best for you. God’s will is holistic. Ours is pretty self-centered.” You will also be a participant in various degrees of injustice. But we must see ourselves in Ahab and repent before it is too late. When we do, God is able to restore us and make us into what He wants us to be. So there’s more at stake than just the injustice that you and I live in!

In the laboratory of the great chemist Faraday a workman accidentally dropped a very valuable silver cup into a tank of strong acid. He and the other workmen stood over the tank mournfully watching the quick disintegration of the cup. But Faraday, seeing what had happened, poured a chemical into the tank. The silver was precipitated to the bottom and recovered, and the shapeless mass was sent off again to the silversmith to be refashioned into its former likeness. So the grace of repentance and of faith can recover what has been lost and restore it to its former usefulness and beauty. That’s what happens when a sinner repents. God is able once again to mold us into who He wants us to be.

Where Does Milk Come From?

The following message is taken from 1 Kings 17 and tells how wonderful of a provider the God of the Bible is. It was given on September 15, 2013

Where do our blessings come from? Do we stop and think of God’s activity in our lives? Can we attribute all that we have as coming from His gracious hand? A young boy went to the local store with his mother.
The shop owner, a kindly man, passed him a large jar of suckers and invited him to help himself to a handful. Uncharacteristically, the boy held back. So the shop owner pulled out a handful for him. When outside, the boy’s mother asked why he had suddenly been so shy and wouldn’t take a handful of suckers when offered. The boy replied, “Because his hand is much bigger than mine!”

Do we see how big His hand is? the blessings in our lives, whether they be people, places or things, as coming from God’s hand, or just the product of coincidence or from our own doing? It is like the old saying, ask a city kid where milk comes from, he may say: “The store.” Do we understand that these things are in our life as gracious acts of God? And then, what are your needs? What has He already given you? What is the purpose of prayer? Recognizing both!

As we continue our study in the life of Elijah, our passage this morning teaches us of one of the qualities of God. Among the many names of God, one is Jehova-Jireh, which means: “The God who provides.” Examples of this are in Genesis 22, when God provided the ram in the thicket, to take the place of Isaac, as Abraham’s sacrifice. Or when Joseph was in Egypt, how God put him in Pharaoh’s cabinet of leadership, so that many lives could be spared. Or when David said in Psalm 37:25: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”

Not only do we rely on the Lord for our physical needs, but He has abundantly provided for our spiritual needs. This made Paul say from a cold prison cell in Philippians 4:19: “And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 1 tells us that we have been lavished with grace. Ephesians 1:3: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. … 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. Jesus talked of receiving blessing that is “…pressed down, shaken together and running over….” How is your cup running over? In our story today, God provided on several fronts. First of all, let us consider God’s hand in Elijah’s life.

GOD’S HAND GAVE ELIJAH THE THINGS NECESSARY FOR HIS MINISTRY.
In 1 Kings 17:1-7, Elijah speaks a word of judgment to Ahab, and then is drawn into the wilderness to spend some time alone with God. During that time, we are told that the ravens fed Elijah. Miracle #1: God using His creation to perform His purposes! He provided Elijah food and water, and peace after He withdrew him to the wilderness alone for a time of prayer and preparation for what lay ahead. He had a tough task- to speak to wayward Israel and especially their wicked king and queen: Ahab and Jezebel! Elijah needed to be alone. In a similar way, Jesus often withdrew to pray.

Elijah was known for his prayer life. Look in James 5 and see how Elijah’s life is a testament to prayer. James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain. God is concerned for us. He uses us. Psalm 121:1: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!” The Psalmist wrote, the nearness of God is my good (Psalm 73:28).

Not much is known about Elijah. He kind of just shows up in the setting of sin and pain. But God called Him to do great things. We can learn a lot about the impartiality of God. Hear the words of Ray Dillard: “God looks not for fame but for faith, not wealth but willingness, not renown but reliance.” (REPEAT!).
But God was preparing Him for the future. This would not be an easy career for Elijah. His life would be in jeopardy. He was on the run for a time. Next, we see…

GOD’S HAND GAVE THE WIDOW WHAT SHE NEEDED FOR FAITH AND LIFE.
After this time in the wilderness, God sent Elijah to the town of Zarephath, about 60 miles from the Gilead region. Notice verse 8: “Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” Secondly, God provided the widow Elijah. 1 Kings 17:8-16 tells us that Elijah would be the instrument used as a catalyst for food, when the widow and her son were about to die. None of us have experienced a famine. People sometimes have to go days without eating. The widow is from a town called Zarephath, which is located on the Mediterranean coast, between Sidon and Tyre. Interestingly enough, where Jezebel is from and where Canaanite worship is its strongest. Jezebel is the daughter of the king of Sidon. So what Elijah is about to do, will eventually get back to the queen.

Elijah goes to this Gentile woman. When encountering ridicule from His own countrymen, Jesus mentions her in Luke 4:25 as a special recipient of God particular grace: “I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.” God picked her and was about to change her life.

But she had to trust God and trust Elijah. As a result, a family was made whole again. She essentially had to tithe to Elijah. Notice verse 12: “As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “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.” 13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’” God honors those who place Him first. Through Elijah, the Lord is invoking this woman to place Him first. It is a test of faith. This reminds me of the accounts of Jesus feeding the four thousand and the five thousand. From something so little, came something so much! He can do the same thing with our lives! God not only provided them with food, but in just a while, something greater would take place.

God also provided life for the widow’s son. Elijah would be the vessel employed to bring her dead child back to life. What Elijah is about to do will completely change this woman’s theology. In Elijah’s day, Baal was the god of the storm, and also the God of life. Only God can raise the dead. He did it on many occasions: Jesus raised the centurion’s servant, the girl who had died, his dear friend Lazarus, and Jesus Himself was raised from the dead. We sing songs about the resurrection and we celebrate Easter, but do we stop and think about the power of God to raise the dead!?

If the son dies, the widow was about to loses everything. If you do a study of widows in the Bible, you discover that they are particularly needy, dependent upon others. To be a widow was synonymous with being poor. Widows lost all hope when their spouse and children were gone. No welfare system; no government programs to help them. That is one of the things that makes the story of Ruth and Naomi so endearing. Naomi had no one, except Ruth.
In 1 Kings 17, God was putting this widow’s faith to the test. It hadn’t been too long before that Elijah supplied her with food. Now her son had stopped breathing. Elijah stretched himself out on the boy three times and prayed. Three is a significant number in the Bible. Jesus was in the tomb a portion of three days. But in this story, God, through Elijah, gave the widow her son back. Miracles are meant to do two things: to manifest the glory of God and to invoke belief. This is what occurred after Jesus turned the water into wine in John 2:11: “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” Notice how the widow responded: “Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”

WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM ELIJAH AND THE WIDOW?
What can we learn from the life of Elijah in this text? One, we must be willing to obey; willing to be used of Him. When there is an opportunity, we need to see how we can provide for it because, after all, we’ve been given MUCH!!!! God is sovereign. He rules. He is in control, regardless of the circumstances.
This passage teaches us that we need God. More than we need things or people, or prosperity, we need God! Jesus said “what good is it if a man gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul.” He also said: “Your Heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

We cannot approach God as if we are entitled, or that He owes us something. We are to submit to Him in all things! A man writing at the post office desk was approached by an older fellow who had a post card in his hand. The old man said, “Sir, could you please address this post card for me?” The man gladly did so, and he agreed to write a short message on the post card, and he even signed it for the man, too. Finally the man doing the writing said to the older man, “Now, is there anything else I can do for you?” The old fellow thought about it for a minute, and he said, “Yes, at the end could you just put, ‘P.S. Please excuse the sloppy handwriting.'” We must be thankful! Enjoy the blessings of God because you never know when they will be taken. That’s not to invoke fear, but gratitude!

And, we need each other. God provides people in our lives to minister to us. The Lord knows it all!! God used Elijah in this widow’s life. After God gave the widow food and her son back, I want to draw your attention to her response in verse 24: “Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”

Have you ever prayed for something, only to be given it, then to move on to the next thing you need without recognizing God for His goodness and grace? Have you ever prayed for something and it not work out quite the way you wanted? Sometimes we need to redefine what blessings are? Are blessings just good health? Enough money in the bank? Circumstances just right? What if you don’t have good health? What if money is tight? What if life has been a train wreck lately?

Maybe there are other ways that God is blessing you. Maybe you have overlooked some right in front of you. Have you read the story about the teacher who asked her pupils what they thought the Seven Wonders of the World were for today? The highest vote count was for the great pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, the Panama Canal, the Empire State Building, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Great Wall of China. As the teacher gathered the votes, she noticed one girl had not finished. The teacher asked if she was having trouble making up a list. She said, “Yes, a little. I couldn’t quite make up my mind because there were so many.” The teacher said, “Tell us what you have and maybe we can help.” The little girl said, “I think the seven wonders of the world are to see, to hear, to touch, to taste, to feel, to laugh and to love.” Whatever the situation, we must trust in the sovereign love of God.

Ministry that is Messy

The following message is taken from 1 Kings 16:25-33 and introduces the life and ministry setting of one of the greatest Old Testament prophets, Elijah. It was given on September 8, 2013.

I trust that you have had a good summer. I certainly did. Many of you knew that I was on sabbatical, a wonderful opportunity afforded to me by the Board of Ministries. While away, I worked on my D.Min. dissertation, which pertains to Christian Education. I also took the opportunity to visit some of our neighboring churches in the area, particularly those that are contemporary in their worship style. I discovered some new things. Some things I liked; other things I did not. It was a great learning experience.

I also spent significant time with my immediate family. I am pleased to report, we all still love each other. No other living arrangements at the time. Today, I want to touch on the aspect of family and the role of its leadership. I’m a firm believer that men are called to be the pastor of their homes, caring for the spiritual needs of their wives and children. I recently read of an incident reputed to have taken place in the late 19th Century that underscores the vital importance of both honesty and consistency in the home.

It seems that a father had two sons who had become attached to a stray dog that wandered onto their farm. They saw an advertisement in the local paper about a lost dog that fit the description to a tee. The dog was coal black except for a few white hairs at the end of his tail. Not wishing to disappoint his sons, the father carefully separated the white hairs on its tail and pulled them out. When the rightful owner heard about the dog, he went to the farm to take him home. It was quickly obvious that the dog recognized the man as its master. But when the man wanted to leave with the dog, the father said, “Didn’t your ad say that your dog had white hairs on his tail?” Finding none, the man was forced to leave without his dog. Some years later, the father wrote of the event saying, “I kept the dog, but lost my boys.” Those boys became notorious outlaws – Frank and Jesse James. Never underestimate the power of influence, especially in the home. We can learn the same lesson in the last few verses of 1 Kings 16, as we consider the line of Israel’s kings. From this we learn that…

OUR WORLD HAS ALWAYS BEEN SPIRITUALLY MESSY.

Jeroboam ruled Israel from 931-910 B.C. and was Israel’s first king after the split. He did evil by setting up high places, alternative sites for worship instead of urging the people to go to the temple in Jerusalem. M.S. Seale tells us that Jeroboam: “…also set up two golden calves, as symbols of fertility, which were part and parcel of Canaanite Baal worship.” He was the first among a long line of evil kings.

About 25 years later followed Omri, who was worse. We do not know much about Omri, except that he had a poor reputation. He was a man lacking integrity. 1 Kings 16:25 tells us: “And Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, and acted more wickedly than all who were before him. 26 For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and in his sins which he made Israel sin, provoking the LORD God of Israel with their idols.” If this was not enough, he did not know how to be a good father. We are not told how many children he had, but one stands out from the rest. You have heard of him- his name was Ahab.

As bad of a leader that Omri was, Ahab was even worse. That is something noteworthy of sin, is that it is very difficult, even impossible for it to remain stagnate. Sin, if left unrepentant, will grow more extensive and worse as time goes on. Verse 30 says: “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. 31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. 33 Ahab also made an Asherah pole and did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.” The word for provoke is the Hebrew s[;K’ (kaas) which means to be vexed or angry. Something of special notice is that Ahab made the Asherah pole, a wooden symbol of a female deity, a sign of further entrenchment of the religion of the Canaanites.

Ahab’s reign lasted for 22 years, from 874 to 853 B.C. 1Kings 16:31 tells us that the marriage of Omri’s son to Ethbaal’s daughter may have been arranged by Omri for diplomatic reasons. Jezebel’s presence gave official support in Israel to the worship of Baal. This moral and spiritual decline eventually led to their captivities. The northern kingdom was taken into captivity by Assyria in 722 B.C.; the southern was taken into slavery by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. We are told that the acts of Omri and Ahab provoked God. Notice that the Scripture does not read that God looked the other way; that God understood; that Omri and Ahab were just dysfunctional. No, their actions provoked God. Why so? Because that is what the sin of idolatry does- it provokes God. It has been said that idolatry is the displacing of God; we are guilty of idolatry any time we take something and put it in the place of God. If God be the greatest good, if He holds the place of our Creator and Father, then it is only appropriate that He occupy the place of preeminence in our lives. He is greater than all and we are to love Him with our whole heart, mind and strength.

Today, there are many examples of idols, depending on the person. For some, it is money. For others it could be their career. And then there are activities or a hobby. It could be things that we think we could not live without, like the Internet, or a relationship. For others, it may be a substance, like alcohol. For the Old Testament Jew, as well as the Christian, nothing was to take the place of God. Our lives respond to God’s grace in worship. Anything short of that worship is idolatry.

Why does idolatry provoke God to anger? Because it is taking the glory that is due Him and giving it to another, to a material thing or a foreign god. Notice what God said after He had delivered them from slavery and the rule of the most powerful nation in the world. Exodus 20:2: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

This time of year, many spend hours watching football. You should know that I love football. I played and both of my boys are playing this fall. I like to watch a good football game just as much as the next guy. Nevertheless, I realize that football cannot occupy the place in my life that is reserved for God alone. I ran across an interesting quote from Chris Norman, the former standout Linebacker for Michigan State, who recently gave up a career in the NFL to pursue God’s true calling in his life. He told John Piper: “Football is a game that is filled with passion, intensity, and effort. Football is a safe haven that can propel character development in the lives of young men. And football is a gift from God that has been graciously given for millions upon millions of people to enjoy. But while football is very good, it can never become a god.” God will never occupy second place.

What are the idols in your life? Is there anything that you could be paying too much attention to? Is there something more important than your relationship with God? Do not run the course of Jeroboam, Omri and Ahab. Rather, be the exception, rather than the rule.

DESPITE THE MESSINESS, GOD CALLS US TO GLORIFY HIM.

It is in this environment of waywardness and idolatry that God called a man by the name of Elijah. Elijah was an interesting figure of the Old Testament. He was from the town of Thishbe, in the area of Gilead. (Show map) Significance is that Israel was divided into two kingdoms: The north (which kept the name Israel) and the south, commonly known as Judah.

Elijah ministered in a time when the people of God were moving away from their Creator King. It is sometime after David and Solomon, who ministered around the time of 1,000 years before Christ. The life of Elijah spans from 1 Kings chapter 17 to 2 Kings 2, a span of four chapters. Elijah was a prophet, a spokesperson of God during the time of Ahab’s reign in Israel. He spoke the word of the Lord to a godless culture.
Elijah’s name means: “Yahweh is God.” Yahweh is God’s covenant making name, taken from the burning bush incident with Moses in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” And so we are reminded that Elijah’s name means: Yahweh is God and there is no other. This name was particularly unique given the idolatry present in Israel at the time and the worship of Baal by its leadership. The moral and spiritual state of Israel during the 8th century B.C. is not altogether different than our country today.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke of His own exclusivity in telling the disciples of His departure. Philip asked: “How do we know the way?” Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” After the resurrection, in the early days of the church, the apostles became convinced that Jesus was the unique Messiah, come from God, who is our Savior. Acts 4:12 states: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Yet, we live in this pluralistic world and America becomes more and more the merging of different cultures. While living in Lansdale, we had Muslim neighbors from Bangladesh, with whom I was on friendly terms. My nephew recently decided to pursue Buddhism. You and I live in a land where you are free to worship anything in any way you want, as long as you do not hurt another in the process. Nevertheless, that does not make these religious systems synonymous with truth. All roads do not lead to the same place. The cross was God’s way of reaching out to us. Whereas Abraham’s son Isaac was spared, Paul tells us of a great contrast in Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” What do you say of Jesus’ sacrifice? Is He optional? How can we respond to Christ’s love with indifference? All of the Old Testament points to Jesus and His great sacrifice for us. This is why He said in Luke 24, as He appeared to His followers on the road to Emmaus: “’How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

How do we react to other religions? Well, we love our neighbor as ourselves. We understand that one’s religion is a sacred aspect of their lives. We don’t demean it, yet we do not affirm it either. We love the Hindu, the Buddhist and the Muslim, but we do not agree with their theology. Rather, the most loving thing to do is to point them to the One who has died so that forgiveness could be a reality.

Stuart Murray notes that we are approaching, if not already arrived in a culture that is post-Christendom, where the Christian faith and those who adhere to it go from the center to the margins, from the majority to the minority, from settlers to sojourners. In this scenario, Christians are aliens, exiles and pilgrims in a culture where we no longer feel at home (Murray, Post Christendom, 20).

God is looking for more Elijah’s today. By that I mean that He is on the lookout for those who are loyal; those who are willing to go against the grain of our culture, and be sold out to Him. Are you that person? Will you be willing to destroy the idols in your life to follow Christ? Until we realize that we are helpless without Him, only then can He do a work in us and use us. We are a lot like the foolish sheep. In the Highlands of Scotland, a sheep would often wander off into the rocks and get into places that they couldn’t get out of. The grass on these mountains was sweet, and the sheep would jump down ten or twelve feet to nibble on it — and then they couldn’t jump back up again. They might be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. Then the shepherd would hear them bleating in distress.

The shepherd waited until each animal was so faint it couldn’t not stand. Then he would rope it up and pull it out of the jaws of death. Why didn’t the shepherd rescue the sheep when it first was trapped? Because they are so very foolish they would dash right over the precipice and be killed! Such is the way of humanity too! We often don’t go to God till we have no friends and have lost everything. Jesus said: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”