Tag Archives: Faith

“Right”

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord.
2 Kings 19:14 (NIV)

The author(s) of Kings and Chronicles record the reigns of the 39 monarchs of the divided kingdom. There were 19 kings of Israel and they are all listed as having been evil in the sight of the Lord because of their idolatry and accompanying practices such as sacrificing their own children. Of the 20 kings of Judah, only eight were recorded to have done right in the eyes of the Lord. That leaves the tally of those who did evil at 31, and those who did right at 8. I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words describing the path to life being a narrow road and few following it, while the highway to destruction is pretty much a busy interstate.

The story of Judah’s King Hezekiah is one of the most intriguing and inspiring of all the kings of Israel and Judah. In fact, the author of Kings calls him the undisputed leader of the “Right Eight.” His story is made all the more intriguing due to the fact that the miraculous fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy and the decimation of Assyria’s besieging army in today’s chapter are historical facts, as is Isaiah’s prophetic description of the King of Assyria’s patricidal assassination and the ascension of his younger son to the throne.

So what was it that made Hezekiah a leader of the “Right Eight?”

The first clue I have is from the previous chapter. While some of the other members of the “Right Eight” had rather lenient policies regarding those in Judah who wanted to follow the evil practices of the regional pagan deities and cults, Hezekiah refused to allow the evil practices to officially continue in the nation under this leadership.

The second clue is also from yesterday’s chapter in which it states that Hezekiah “held fast” to his faith and trust in God. There was whole-hearted loyalty that never waned during his nearly 30-year reign.

In today’s chapter, I noticed my third clue in two separate very scary moments. I think about the scary moments of my life like losing a job, having my hotel room burgled, finding out a loved one has cancer or getting the call that our company was losing our biggest client. These things can’t compare to the terror Hezekiah is experiencing in today’s chapter.

The Assyrian Empire was incredibly successful at destroying other kingdoms, incredibly nasty at what they did to their victims, and was on a very long undefeated streak. The fact that they had surrounded Jerusalem was not good news. Hezekiah had every reason to be terrified. He and his people were facing the prospect of being starved to the point of cannibalizing their dead friends and relatives, the city eventually being burned, slavery, exile, rape, cruel and unusual forms of murder, and citizens dismembered and their body parts piled up outside the city gates to let everyone know the Assyrians had been there.

After the first smack-talking parley from the Assyrian commanders, Hezekiah immediately goes to the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was God’s mouthpiece and Hezekiah desperately wanted to hear from God.

After receiving a subsequent threatening letter from the Assyrians, Hezekiah “went up to the temple and spread it out before the Lord.”

In both of these instances, Hezekiah’s first reaction to a crisis was to go right to God. It reminded me so much of “The Chain Reaction of Praise” that I’ve written about on multiple occasions. One of the first things the author of Kings says about Hezekiah in yesterday’s chapter is that he “trusted” the Lord God of Israel. His actions in today’s chapter are evidence of this fact.

My “one word” for 2023 is “trust,” and in the quiet this morning I can’t help but feel as though Hezekiah is a prescribed example for me to contemplate and emulate. When I consider the circumstances terrifying me and compare them to those from which God delivered Hezekiah, I can’t help but realize that God’s provision for my needs is an easy thing.

NOTE: Wendy and I are going somewhere warm for a week. I’ll be back to finish up the chapter-a-day journey through 2 Kings on Feb 12. In the meantime, if you’d like a fix for the next six weekdays just choose one of these links: Galatians, Ephesians, or 1 Timothy. Each has six chapters and the linked index page will then link you to each chapter’s post in one convenient place.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Destructive Deference

Destructive Deference (CaD 2 Ki 16) Wayfarer

[King Ahaz of Judah] took away the Sabbath canopy that had been built at the temple and removed the royal entryway outside the temple of the Lord, in deference to the king of Assyria.
2 Kings 16:18 (NIV)

I hate conflict. I don’t like difficult situations. I’m sure I’m not alone.

One of the realities of this life journey in this imperfect world is that conflict is unavoidable (not that I haven’t tried to avoid it) as are difficult situations and crucial conversations.

This morning as I sat in the quiet and wrote my Morning Pages, what poured out of me was a string of events, situations, and relationships over many, many. years in which I chose passivity rather than purposed initiative, silence rather than strife, and escape rather than engagement. As the confession rolled off my ballpoint onto the pages I had to acknowledge the collateral damage I caused because of my unwillingness to simply step up to the plate and into the box.

Then, I opened the Great Story and it was as if God had synchronized my confession and the content of today’s chapter.

Ahaz takes the throne of Judah. The political situation in Judah is tenuous. Judah has been squeezed and diminished by enemies on all sides who have whittled away at their territory. Ahaz appears to be the quintessential “pleaser” who caters to everyone. There’s not a god he won’t worship, not a sacrifice he won’t make (even his own child), nor an offering he won’t give to ensure his power and security.

The Arameans and the Northern Kingdom of Israel come to lay siege to Jerusalem, and Ahaz appeals to the ascendant Assyrian Empire for help. Ahaz steals gold and silver from God’s Temple and sends it to the king of Assyria as a gift. When Assyria comes to the rescue, Ahaz visits the Assyrian king. He then sends word to the high priest Uriah back in Jerusalem to build an altar like the Emporer uses for worship and to put it in God’s temple. He orders that God’s temple be altered to be like the one where the Emporer worships. He orders that the worship of God be changed to be like what the King of Assyria does. He does all of this “in deference” to the king of Assyria. Ahaz’s faith was in appeasement. His trust was in the most powerful human protector he could afford.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that deference can be a noble quality in the right context. However, the twenty-twenty hindsight in my Morning Pages this morning also reveals that I have often used “deference” as a cover and an excuse for my fear. I used it as an excuse for not appropriately confronting people and circumstances when I should have. I leveraged it to rationalize my passive avoidance of crucial conversations. Like Ahaz, my deference has been ultimately destructive.

Mea Culpa.

In the quiet this morning, I am grateful for God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. No matter how far I get in my spiritual journey, I still have more to learn, more to confess, and more to grow. I can’t do anything to change the mistakes of my past, but I can make different choices and decisions today than those I made before.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

How the World Works

Then Pul king of Assyria invaded the land, and Menahem gave him a thousand talents of silver to gain his support and strengthen his own hold on the kingdom. Menahem exacted this money from Israel. Every wealthy person had to contribute fifty shekels of silver to be given to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria withdrew and stayed in the land no longer.
2 Kings 15:19-20 (NIV)

When I was just out of high school, I took a manual labor job that I knew would only last four months until I went to college. I chose not to join the union, as was my right because I knew it was just four months. I was bullied, coerced, and threatened until I quit. When I complained I received a shrug of the shoulders. “This is how the world works.”

Another job I had as a young man was for a private company working in a government building. By federal law, there was no smoking anywhere in the building, yet two ladies sat at their desks every day smoking like chimneys as I passed by. When I asked about it, my boss told me that they were legacy employees protected by the local political machine that had been in power for decades. They could do whatever they wanted. They were untouchable. “This is how the world works.”

In another department within that same building was another legacy employee who refused to help me when I came in with a records request. I was a bit confused when she told me, “I’m not working today. Go to another window.” When I told my boss and co-workers what had happened I got the same familiar shrug. “This is how the world works.”

I worked for several different churches in different denominations when I was a young man. I learned very quickly that there were the official boards and consistories that were set up to govern the church, and then there were individuals (typically wealthy, prominent, legacy, and generational members) who really called the shots. By this time, I should have learned: “This is how the world works.”

Today’s chapter contains an overview of five successive kings of the northern Kingdom of Israel. Four of them were assassinated by the person who then claimed the throne. One of them, Shallum, assassinated his predecessor and sat on the throne for one month before he, himself, was assassinated in the same manner by a man named Menahem. Whoever has the guts to assassinate the king gets the throne. “This is how the world works.”

Menahem happened to be on the throne when the army of Assyria came raiding. Menahem was a big fish in a small pond compared to the ascendant Assyrian Empire. Menahem didn’t have the army to withstand a takeover, so he had one choice. He extracted money from his wealthy citizens and paid the King of Assyria. It was really no different than the mafia or a local gang extracting money from neighborhood businesses for “protection.” It was just done on a larger scale. “This is how the world works.”

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same. With the dawn of the technological age, my generation has arguably experienced greater change than any other generation in history. And yet, what has not changed is the human condition. The culture wars being waged online are simply a reboot of tribal warfare. Throughout COVID lockdowns there were endless examples of those in power (on both sides of the political aisle) who made rules for constituents, then flagrantly violated those same rules.

“This is how the world works.”

Into this world, Jesus came to exemplify and prescribe an alternative. Before beginning His ministry Jesus was approached by the Evil One whom Jesus referred to as “The Prince of this World.” The Prince of this World offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” if only Jesus would bow to him. It was quite an offer. Jesus could then change the world as He wished in a top-down power grab. It would surprise no one. That’s how the world works.

Jesus declined the offer.

Instead, Jesus asked me and all of His other followers to live, think, act, speak, and relate to others “not as the world works” but as the Kingdom of God works. It’s one of the things that drew me to Jesus and continues to draw me in.

I learned how the world works.

I don’t want to live that way.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Humiliating Defeat

Humiliating Defeat (CaD 2 Ki 14) Wayfarer

Jehoash king of Israel replied to Amaziah king of Judah: “You have indeed defeated Edom and now you are arrogant. Glory in your victory, but stay at home! Why ask for trouble and cause your own downfall and that of Judah also?”
2 Kings 14:9-10 (NIV)

There are certain things that one simply experiences and knows from growing up and living in Iowa. For example, there’s the sport of wrestling. For whatever reason, the sport of wrestling is a thing in our state. Our major universities have long histories of success in the sport, and they’ve produced some of the most dominant wrestlers in history.

When I was growing up, wrestling was part of the required P.E. curriculum in the Middle School years. When you’re the youngest of four children, that means that older siblings came home and taught what they’d learned. I had never really wrestled in any official capacity, but I knew a few things from what my siblings taught me. I remember being paired up with partners in P.E. class and whoever my partner was, I had a pretty easy time of it.

Then we were allowed to challenge others in the class while the entire class looked on. I chose to challenge one of my classmates who was about my size. I figured I would at least be able to hold my own. What I didn’t know is that the guy I chose was already an accomplished wrestler and would go on to be a formidable wrestler in high school. It took less than five seconds for him to pin me. It was total humiliation.

It’s funny the things that I remember, and that still come to mind, over forty years later. There have been moments along my life journey when I experienced humiliating defeats and crashes of different kinds. Moments of shame are hard for me to forget. They have definitely served a purpose, however.

In today’s chapter, King Amaziah of Judah finds himself flying high after defeating the army of Edom. Feeling good about his victory, he challenges the Kingdom of Israel to a battle. Jehoash, King of Israel, tells Amaziah to reconsider and gives him the opportunity to withdraw the challenge, but Amaziah will have none of it. It does not go well for him. It ended up a humiliating defeat and Amaziah’s own people eventually turned on him and killed him.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the seasons of life. In the ebb-and-flow of the journey, I have experienced seasons of victory in which I felt on top of the world. It’s easy for me to think I’m going to stay there or fly even higher. Eventually, life always hands me a loss.

I also wrote yesterday that I’ve learned to embrace every season for what it is. Seasons of loss, defeat, shame, or humiliation are good soil for growing faith, humility, perseverance, and proven character. The “mountain-top” soil isn’t suited to grow those things.

In the quiet this morning, I’m praying a word of gratitude for the defeats, losses, and humiliating moments along my life journey. They’ve taught me a lot, including when to be content with life’s victories and appreciate how transient they can be. I’m also saying a prayer for my classmate who humiliated me on the wrestling mat (Yes, Wendy, I still remember his name!). I hope he’s in a good place on his own life journey.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“Consider” This

"Consider" This (CaD 2 Ki 5) Wayfarer

Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.”
2 Kings 5:20 (NIV)

I’ve been working on a message I’m scheduled to give this Sunday morning among my local gathering of Jesus followers. One of the concepts on which I’ve been meditating is the idea of “consideration.” There is a subtle theme in the Jesus story and the Great Story’s teaching regarding what disciples of Jesus are to “consider” and what we are not to “consider.”

Today’s chapter is a fantastic example.

An Aramean military officer had some kind of incurable skin disease (FYI: The Hebrew word that gets translated into English as “leprosy” has a much broader meaning and could mean any number of skin issues or diseases). He comes bearing an extraordinary amount of money and gifts and visits Elisha, asking to be healed. Through intermediaries, Elisha instructs him to dip himself in the Jordan River seven times, which he eventually does, and he is healed. Elisha sends word to the man to keep his gifts and go home.

As I meditated on the story, I thought about what Elisha was considering that motivated his words and actions. Elisha, considering the big picture of what God is trying to do at that moment, wants this Aramean (a foreigner dedicated to Aramean pagan gods) to know that the God of Abraham, Moses, David, and Israel is the one true God. He chooses not to even meet the man in person because he wants no credit for the miracle, and he doesn’t want the man to focus on Elisha, but on the God of Elisha. Finally, Elisha refuses any gifts or payment because he considers that he has done nothing to earn these things, and he’s not in the business of miracles-r-us. He was just doing what the Lord instructed. He considers God his master. He is just a servant doing what he’s been told.

The officer leaves, and the scene switches to focus on Elisha’s servant Gehazi.

First, Gehazi considers to himself all of the silver and fine clothes that the Aramean had brought. He then considers that this Aramean is a foreigner and an enemy. He considers why this pagan Aramean should have such wealth and fine things instead one of God’s chosen people. In his considerations, Gehazi comes to the conclusion that he deserves a little bit of the spoils for himself.

Gehazi then runs after the Aramean. He lies to the Aramean about prophets arriving from a distance and his master Elisha commanding him to ask for silver and clothes for the two prophets.

Gehazi then takes the ill-gotten plunder and hides it.

Finally, when asked where he’s been, Gehazi lies to his master and claims not to have gone anywhere.

What a contrast. Elisha’s words and actions were in consideration of what God, his Lord, is doing and desiring in the larger context of the political and spiritual landscape of the people of Israel and their rulers. Elisha acts as a humble servant who sees everything through consideration of his master and what his master desires.

Gehazi, on the other hand, reflects the original sin:

When the Woman [Eve] saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate.
Genesis 3:6 (MSG)

He sees the silver and fine things that the Aramean brought with him. He considers how awesome it would be to have some for himself. In doing so he does not consider his master’s intentions, his master’s wishes, or what his master will do if he finds out what he has done. Gehazi considers his own selfish desires as everything while considering his master Elisha’s desires nothing.

Welcome to the human condition.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself convicted. How often are my daily, moment-by-moment considerations about myself, from my lizard brain survival instincts to my envy of others, my desire to have what others have, and my lust after the things of this world? How different was Jesus’ example:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV)

And so, I find myself sitting in the quiet considering the day ahead. Will I consider this day about me and my personal needs, wants, and desires? Or will I consider Jesus’ example, humble myself, act as a servant, and consider others’ needs ahead of my own?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

An Easy Thing

An Easy Thing (CaD 2 Ki 3) Wayfarer

This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord…
2 Kings 3:18a (NIV)

I woke up this morning in a fog. I was having really strange dreams and my brain didn’t want to wake up. I really just wanted to go back to bed. Nevertheless, I got to my office and pulled out my journal to write my morning pages. I scribble out 2-3 pages, stream-of-consciousness style. Whatever is on my heart and mind I pour it onto the page. I try to keep the pen moving and not let my brain wander down rabbit trails which then causes my hand to stop writing. That’s hard for me. I have a very active inner world.

Out of the brain fog, my hand began scribbling out some of my fears about what God is doing, or not doing, and my doubts about what He is doing and will do. These are the fears and doubts that my conscious brain stuffs deep down most of the time. Then they ooze out the side in strange places and ways. I began to counter these doubts and fears by scribbling out words of affirmation and declarations of faith.

“Open the doors. You can open the floodgates,” I wrote in my scribbled prayer.

Having finished my morning pages, I read today’s chapter. The Kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom go on a campaign against the Kingdom of Moab, marching their army through the desert of Edom. It is hot and they run out of water for themselves and their animals. The campaign is doomed. But the King of Judah asks if there’s a prophet of the Lord nearby, and an officer says that Elisha is. Elisha is called and prophesies that even though the armies will not experience rain or a storm, yet the valley will fill with water.

“This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord,” Elijah states.

Sure enough, God opened the floodgates and the next morning the river beds were full of water.

Oh, me of little faith. Some mornings I find the synchronicity between my heart and the Great Story amazing in humbling ways.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself simply embracing the reality that what I need and desire is “an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Life’s Slideshow

Life's Slideshow (CaD 1 Ki 21) Wayfarer

There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife.
1 Kings 21:25 (NIV)

Wendy and I purchased a digital photo frame for my mother as a Christmas gift. It allows my dad, my siblings, and our children the ability to upload photos right to the frame from anywhere. My mother, who is now entering the more advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, moved into Memory Care just before Thanksgiving.

So, I and my loved ones have been sending photos to mom’s frame. When my folks moved into a retirement community several years ago, I ended up with the giant tub of old family photos which I’ve been slowly scanning and archiving. I’ve been going through old photos of mom and loading those into her frame hoping they might spark her waning synapses of memory and give her even a fleeting moment of joy.

The other day I visited mom in her room. She was sitting on her sofa, the room was dark with the lights out and the shades drawn. I sat down next to her and together we watched the photos in the frame. There were photos of her childhood, her years as a mother, family vacations and gatherings, and photos of her great-grandchildren. She said very little. We just sat silently holding hands. She began stroking my hand softly as we watched her life scroll by.

Many people who have had near-death experiences (NDEs) speak of being taken through a review of their life on earth like a slideshow. The specific details vary, but the “life review” is a common element of most NDEs. I thought about that, and about my mother’s life, as we watched it pass before our eyes there on the digital frame.

In today’s chapter, King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, conspire to steal a vineyard of a man named Naboth. Ahab simply wanted it because it was conveniently located near his palace. Naboth explained that it was his family’s land, allotted to them since the division of the land under Joshua, and they would never sell it. Jezebel uses her worldly power as Queen to create a scheme to have Naboth brought up on trumped-up charges and stoned to death along with his male heirs by her political cronies. I couldn’t help but think that Jezebel and Ahab’s actions are not unlike King David using his power to have Uriah the Hittite killed in order to marry Bathsheba.

Not unlike God sending the prophet Nathan to confront David about his sin, God sends Elijah to confront Ahab about his sin. Elijah states, and the author of Kings repeats that Ahab had “sold himself” to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. That was the summary statement of Ahab’s earthly life. The slideshow of Ahab’s life would show over and over again that he surrendered himself to whatever would make him rich and powerful, even if that meant surrendering himself to pagan gods and practices. The framing and killing of Naboth and his sons merely because Ahab coveted his garden perfectly encapsulated Ahab’s life.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself thinking about my mother’s digital life review that we watched the other day. The photographic evidence revealed a woman is loved and beloved by her husband, her children, and her family. It revealed a woman who worked hard, along with her husband, to create a life that was lovingly centered around faith and family, joy and laughter.

What a contrast to what the slideshow of Ahab’s life review must have looked like according to Elijah’s description.

And, that begs the question. What about the slideshow of my life review? What will it reveal? To what have I “sold myself” and surrendered on my life journey?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Blessed in the Running

Blessed in the Running (CaD 1 Ki 19) Wayfarer

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.
1 Kings 19:3a (NIV)

2022 has not been a banner year, to be perfectly honest. My one word for this year has been blessed.

“How’s that working out for you?” Wendy asked me a few weeks ago as we were discussing life.

I couldn’t help but imagine God impersonating Inigo Montoya saying to me: “‘Blessed.’ You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Indeed, it’s been a year of hard lessons.

Today’s chapter has always intrigued me, and in it, I have often found solace. The great prophet Elijah has just witnessed one of the most miraculous events recorded in the entire Great Story. He has watched God break through and win a great victory over his enemies against all odds. He should be feeling cocky and courageous despite the fact that he has stirred up his enemies’ vengeance.

But Elijah is afraid. Elijah wants to run, and run he does. Into the wilderness, he runs. Forty days and forty nights he runs.

A few months ago, I was having a cut-and-run moment amidst some stressful days . It happened to be on a Sunday morning and we were worshipping among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. I asked for prayer and I literally told the sisters praying for me that I wanted to run from the circumstances stressing me. I’ll never forget what was said to me that morning.

“God gives us the desires of our hearts. So, go ahead and run. Just make sure you’re running into God’s arms.”

That’s exactly what Elijah did in today’s chapter. Afraid, worn out, and running on empty, he runs to the mountain of God and hides in a cave. God tells Elijah to go outside the cave and prepare himself for He is about to pass by.

Then, there was a violent wind, but God wasn’t in the wind.

Next came a powerful earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake.

After that, there was a raging fire, but God wasn’t in the fire.

God finally spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice – a gentle whisper.

And, you know what? That’s why I begin my days in the quiet. I love a dramatic eucatastrophe as much as anyone. God’s flashy victory on Mount Carmel was spectacular. I often want and expect God to bless me in a mighty wind, a rumbling mountain-moving quake, or with flashy and fiery pyrotechnics. Along my spiritual journey, I’ve come to understand that God typically blesses me as I sit alone in the quiet, even on stressful days in which I am afraid and feel like running for my life. It’s in my morning pages and my contemplation that I hear His gentle whisper.

What does He say? Basically, the same thing He told Elijah.

“Keep going. Press on. Do what I’ve given you to do.”

“I have blessed you in ways you don’t comprehend.”

I am blessing you now, even if you don’t see it or perceive it.”

You will be blessed beyond your wildest dreams at the journey’s end.

And so, I leave the quiet and press forward with my day, each day, one day at a time.

Taking next week off to spend time with family. See ya next year!

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“The People Said Nothing”

"The People Said Nothing" (CaD 1 Ki 18) Wayfarer

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.
1 Kings 18:21 (NIV)

Wendy and I had dinner with friends last night. Our friends’ children are in their college and young adult years, and we had a fascinating conversation about children and their spiritual journeys. It is quite common for the college and young adult years to be a time when one contemplates the belief system with which they’ve been raised, and begins to make their own determinations regarding matters of faith and spirit. For me, it was the emotional angst of adolescence that led me to search for what I really believed. I was a little ahead of the game compared to a lot of people’s experiences.

Today’s chapter contains one of the most fascinating and exciting episodes in the Great Story. Elijah urges the people of Israel to stop their duplicitous worship of Baal and Asherah and to commit themselves wholeheartedly to the worship of the God of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David. Interestingly, Elijah’s appeal receives no response.

The prophet then challenges 450 prophets of Baal to a competition. Sacrifices are prepared and prayers raised for fire to descend from heaven to burn the sacrifices. The God who answers with fire is the true God. Let the spiritual smackdown begin.

The prophets of Baal rave all day long. They dance, scream, cut themselves, and whip themselves into a religious frenzy, while Elijah talks trash from the sidelines. There isn’t so much as a spark. Elijah then repairs the altar of the Lord and prepares the sacrifice. He then soaks the sacrifice and the altar with water. After uttering a simple prayer, fire falls from heaven and consumes the altar and the sacrifice.

The people fall on their faces in awestruck fear and humility.

Along my life journey, I have observed many, many individuals whose faith appears to be like the people of Israel when Elijah made his appeal: non-commital and silently unresponsive. I observe many who go through the religious motions of maintaining membership, giving a little money, and regularly making an appearance for an hour or two. The other 165 hours of the week, however, are void of any tangible signs of faith.

God’s fiery demonstration on Mount Carmel, however, shook people to their core and motivated both change and commitment. I have often observed similar reactions in people when a life event or tragedy shakes them to the core, like that of being in college or on your own in the world without parental supervision. In the routine and complacency of everyday life, it’s easy to fall into spiritual atrophy. No matter what anyone says about my spiritual need, I just go about my life and don’t respond. It’s only when circumstances shake me to the core that I fall to my knees.

I’m reminded this morning that what God desires is not a complacent, silent, religious routine that has little impact on my daily life. What God desires is an ongoing relationship of spirit and conversation with me that informs and motivates my thoughts, words, and actions each and every day.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The featured image on today’s post was created with Wonder A.I.

God and Tragedy

God and Tragedy (CaD 1 Ki 14) Wayfarer

In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt attacked Jerusalem.
1 Kings 14:25 (NIV)

I have observed that every life journey is marked by a certain amount of both difficulty and tragedy. The amount is relative. The difficulties and tragedies can be the consequences of foolish choices and behaviors. In some cases, they may be directly related to system patterns inherited from previous generations. In other cases, a difficulty or tragedy simply originates in what insurance companies still call the random “act of God.”

Another observation I’ve made along my life journey is the way in which people respond to difficulties and tragedies in life. It is not uncommon for people to get mad at God, blame God, conclude that God does not exist, or conclude that if God does exist they want nothing to do with a God who would allow such things to happen. Yet others find that the difficulties and tragedies lead to greater faith and dependence on God in whom they find comfort, peace, and presence as they work through the natural stages of grief that accompany hard times.

In today’s chapter, the author of Kings gives a brief summation of King Rehoboam’s reign. He first states the Rehoboam led the Kingdom of Judah astray in the pagan worship of local deities and the detestable things they practiced in their religions. He then notes the most important event of Rehoboam’s reign after the division of Israel into two Kingdoms. The Egyptian King Shishak laid siege to Jerusalem and plundered the vast wealth of Solomon’s treasury in both the palace and the Temple. The event is corroborated in an inscription listing the successful campaigns of Shishak in a temple in Thebes. The plundering of Jerusalem was a terrible and tragic blow to the nation of Judah which was already struggling from the split with the northern tribes and the loss of lucrative trade routes. Politically, it was a terrible blow to Rehoboam’s power, wealth, and approval ratings.

What the author of Kings does not mention, is an important tidbit that the author of Chronicles made sure to mention. For the first three years of his reign, Rehoboam followed the ways of the God of Israel and was faithful to the ways of his grandfather David. It was during and after the political and military difficulties with Egypt and the plundering of Jerusalem that Rehoboam abandons his faith in God and leads his people in embracing pagan deities.

In the quiet this morning, I have to wonder whether Rehoboam was angry with God for allowing such a blow to his kingdom and his reign. When tragedy struck, did he simply choose to walk away from God because he blamed God for the tragedy? If so, he was certainly ignoring the rather major role he played in putting himself and his tribe in a weakened position that led to easy defeat. Having lived his entire life in luxury, privilege, and power, it would not surprise me that Rehoboam would have difficulty in humbly accepting his own part in the difficulties he experienced.

And of course, that leads me to consider my own reactions and responses to life’s difficulties and tragedies. My spiritual journey has taught me what I mentioned earlier, that every person will experience difficulties and tragedies in life. Nowhere in the Great Story does God promise a person a life free of it. In fact, God promises I’ll have difficulties and tragedies in this fallen world, and it is through them I develop the character qualities He desires and I progress toward spiritual maturity.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.