I Lift My Eyes Up by Brian Doekson

July 31, 2021

         This week we have looked at wisdom literature found in Psalms and Proverbs, written by King David and his son King Solomon.  It is not narrative but a form of poetry.  They give words to some of our deepest griefs, angers, and anguish as well as put words of praise to joy and worship and gratitude.  Solace, comfort and wisdom are found.  The history of Israel in the wilderness is summarized in verse.  A father reaches out to teach his son.  So very much is contained in these books.

         In eighth grade I could choose between memorizing Psalm 23 or Psalm 121 and reciting it before the class.  I chose Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time on and forevermore.

I love the image of God who never slumbers nor sleeps as he watches over us.  My husband to be considered it our dating psalm as it assured him that God was watching our “going out.”  This week I was delighted to find the psalm put to music with additional art scenes appearing in the background.  May it bless you.

Proverbs 16-18

July 30, 2021

Tafrohda was my Kenyan big sister.  On her birthday, we would gather and sing.  Then her husband would pick a psalm or proverb that corresponded to a significant number in her life and we would read it together.  She would then pick the verse within the reading that touched her and that she wanted prayed into her next year of life.  Each chapter of Proverbs has so many verses and wise sayings that reading three chapters like today is a bit overwhelming.

         My sophomore year of college I transferred to the University of CA, Santa Barbara.  On entering my dorm room, two things grabbed my attention.  Our window looked out onto the Pacific Ocean!!!  Secondly, my roommate had taped to her closet door Proverbs 16:1, “To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.”  With all the focus of a sophomore in college, I pondered that verse for a year and still reflect to grasp the meaning. 

         Proverbs challenges us to distinguish between wisdom and folly, between that which originates from God and that which comes from the imaginations of humans full of themselves.  The words of the soul are expressed through the mouth and can be instruments of healing or weapons of destruction.  We need God’s inspiration to direct us.  Proverbs also challenges us to distinguish between humility and sinful pride.  Our tongues will often reveal the thoughts of our hearts, if we are centered on God or self.  And thirdly Proverbs help us differentiate between God’s will and foolish action.

         As our mouth goes into gear, I pray for wisdom not folly, for humility and not pride, and for God’s will and not my fame. Our mothers taught us to say when taunted by others, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me,” but it is not true.  Words carry the power to cheer, heal and encourage but can equally reduce us to tears and linger in our souls for decades.  The proverb reminds us that our dreams comes from our hearts but we definitely need the Lord’s help to find the proper answer of the tongue when we speak.

         Is there someone in your life that needs an encouraging word today?  Perhaps there is that difficult friend you need to pray for “the gentle answer that turns away wrath.”  Proverbs 16 says much about words so perhaps reading just that chapter one more time and note how many times Solomon talks about our words.  Blessings as you engage other today.

Proverbs 1-4

July 29, 2021

King David teaches his son who became King Solomon who now writes down proverbs to teach his sons.  Wisdom does not develop in a void but in the relationships that challenge us in our lives and drive us to express dreams for future generations.  In chapters 1-4 of Proverbs we read the heart of a father reaching out to the future, sharing lessons he has learned.  Foremost we see his commitment that wisdom comes from his “fear of the Lord.”  I suspect this is not fear of the “big man in the sky with the big stick” but the deep awe and respect of lessons learned from “the master mentor.”  Reverence, obedience and trust have characterized his relationship with the Lord and resulted in the tremendous bounty of his life.

         Solomon opens in Proverbs 1 encouraging his sons to flee the intentions of evil friends that ultimately lead to death.  “My son (or daughter), if sinful men (or women) entice you, do not give in to them.”  We hear the words of Proverbs 2 echoed in the writings of Paul, Hebrews 12:7, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves.”  Our best lessons are learned in loving, trusting relationships.

         One of the proverbs we are encouraged to memorize is 3:5,6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your oaths straight.”  Wisdom leads to happiness and health – eventually.  That is different than prosperity and all the goodies of this life.  Wisdom is long vision thinking.

         “Above al else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (4:23)” A commitment to learn and follow God’s ways is not easy but it leads to a future Solomon desires for his children and grandchildren.

         So I suppose that begs the question of what is our long-range vision?  Are we so busy getting from day to day that whatever works for the moment is worth trying?  In my marriage counseling, the pastor advised setting 5 year, 10 year, and 20 year goals.  I had no idea how much life would change in those time periods.  My husband who just turned 75 and I sat and pondered the life transitions in each decade of his life.  Wow.  Wisdom doesn’t look for achievement goals but for character goals that we would like to characterize our lives.

Blessed are those who find wisdom,

Those who gain understanding,

For she is more profitable than silver

And yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies’

Nothing you desire can compare with her.

Long life is in her right hand;

in her left hand are riches and honor.

Her ways are pleasant ways,

And all her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;

Those who hold her fast will be blessed. (3:13-18)

Blessings as you journey to your goals.

Praise the Lord, my soul!

July 28, 2021

Psalm 103.  If we turn on the news today, it is possible to become very depressed.  Disagreement, disease, and divisions are reported and proven statistically.  David was no stranger to rough times.  He knew the jealous hatred of Saul, the divisions within his household between his sons who sought to undermine him, and the grief of the death of his children.  In the face of all this he writes Psalm 103 that is famous for its opener and closer: Praise the Lord, my soul.  Why?

  1. Forget not the benefits of knowing God:  forgiveness healing, redemption, love and compassion, and ultimately satisfaction.  David could look beyond the momentary traumas to the long-term benefits of knowing the God of the universe.
  2. He has learned something of the character of God:  compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, does not harbor anger,  “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.”
  3. He remember God’s response to us:  “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”  Wow!  He remembers that we are dust. We are like flowers, here today and gone tomorrow.

Take a few minutes to write a list, or a poem to describe the benefit to you of knowing God.  What have you learned about his character?  What do you hold precious about knowing God?  OR take each letter of the word p-r-a-i-s-e as an acronym to talk about God.

P: personal

R: rescues

A: almighty

I: intuitive

S: sincere

E: eternal

Blessings as you try your acronym.

Psalm 51

July 27, 2021

King David has two outstanding events in his life that most people know.  As a youth he fought the giant Goliath and saved the Israelites.  The second event was when he was an older man who chose not to go to war with his men, looked out his window and saw Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite.  He saw, he wanted, he took.  She conceived and one sin led to another.  He placed Uriah in the front line of battle so he would be killed.  How easy we forget that just because we cannot see God, does not mean he cannot see us – all the time!  God sent Nathan the prophet to confront David.

         That horrible moment when we realize we have failed ourselves, our beliefs, another, and ultimately our God marks us forever.  “Forgive and forget” doesn’t work for murder or lust out of control.  Psalm 51 is the psalm David wrote.  Sometimes our guilt is so deep we have no words for the self-hatred and shame we feel.  The words of this psalm have helped many to get themselves straightened out.  The path to forgiveness involves three stages: honest admission of the wrong and our part – no rationalization, an honest desire to be washed and changed, and a “make-over” from inside out – create in me a clean heart!

         David throws himself on God’s mercy, love and compassion confessing his realization that he has sinned against God by abusing his power as king, and against Bathsheba, Uriah and his people.  Sin separates us from God, others, and ourselves.

         David realizes he cannot wash himself and no cover-up is going to reverse what has happened.  Guilt destroys peace within and without and requires more than a change of mind, more than a kiss and make-up moment, and more than trying again without the “oops.”  David needs help!

         David begs for the reorganization of values and world view, a clean heart, so that betrayal does not happen again, so that he does not deceive himself again.  David was known as “a man after God’s own heart,” a clean heart.

         We all have skeletons in the closet and closing the door does not remove them from the house.  Perhaps there is an old sin that plagues or that you are afraid will come to light.  Perhaps the other person is no longer alive or geographically lost to you.  But talk with God, journaling, and confession need not be big public scenes but getting those sins dealt with and unloading the weight of sin is a burden worth dumping.  Don’t wait if you have something you need to deal with.  Forgiveness frees us to worship with joy and in peace.  Blessings.

Psalm 23

July 26, 2021

Psalm 23.  The next iteration in our epic story, the Bible, is a genre of writing by the kings of Israel, called the Wisdom literature.  David and Solomon were not only famous kings during Israel’s climb to fame but they were also prolific writers.  Psalms, a collection of poems, by David and Proverbs, a collection of wise sayings, by Solomon and others are some of the beloved literature that has been saved and have encouraged many through the centuries.  Poetry allowed David to express the heights of faith and the depths of despair during hard times. There are 31 chapters of Proverbs so many love to read one a day for devotions.  If combined with five psalms a day, the two books can be read through in a month.

         One of David’s most famous psalms is Psalm 23 that starts, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  A famous painting is of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, holding the lost sheep having been found and retrieved.  In Psalm 23, the Good Shepherd leads his sheep to good pastures, protects, heals, accompanies them through the valley of the shadow of death, and prepares a banquet for them.  He is always there in the background of our lives!

         The concept of the Good Shepherd has been contextualized by different cultures.  The author of The 100 Essential quoted a Latin American that shared, “The Lord is my friend; he helps me find work for the day.”  A person in Russia wrote, “The Lord is my taxi driver; he gets me safely through the streets of Moscow.”  An Australian wrote, “The Lord is my loving mother; she takes care of me all day long.”  And from India, “The Lord is my guru; he teaches me what I need to know.” (page 108).  How might you describe how God accompanies, protects and provides for you in your life?  Because of our relationship with God we need not fear the present or the future.  Wow, that is a relationship worth investing in!

9th Sunday after Pentecost: It is I, do not be afraid.

July 25, 2021

First Reading: 2 Kings 4:42-44

42A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to [Elisha,] the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” 43But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’ ” 44He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.

Psalm: Psalm 145:10-18

10All your works shall praise you, O Lord,
  and your faithful ones shall bless you.
11They shall tell of the glory of your kingdom
  and speak of your power,
12that all people may know of your power
  and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom; your dominion endures       throughout all ages.  You, Lord, are faithful in all your words,    and loving in all your works. 
14The Lord upholds all those who fall
  and lifts up those who are bowed down.
15The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord,
  and you give them their food in due season.
16You open wide your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17You are righteous in all your ways and loving in all your works.
18You are near to all who call upon you,
  to all who call upon you faithfully.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
  20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel: John 6:1-21

1Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
  15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
  16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.


“It is I; do not be afraid.”

Our lectionary takes us over to the Gospel of John for today’s text.  The stories feel familiar as we have looked at Jesus being followed by hungry crowds and we have seen Jesus in a storm on the Sea of Galilee.  This text appears to fill in the details on last Sunday’s text.  There must be “something more” for us today so let’s put on our glasses and take a second look.  I want to filter our thinking through Jesus’ greeting to the disciples when he approaches their boat walking on water.  “It is I; do not be afraid.”  Commentaries say that this is one of the times when Jesus used his godly name, “I AM”.  I AM is here, do not be afraid!

         I don’t know about you but fear is my middle name and my most common enemy.  That little voice that sits on my shoulder and whispers in both ears will most likely be whispering a message of fear.  If I don’t eat now, I’ll be hungry later.  If I don’t do whatever, I will not be liked or safe or financially secure or healthy or whatever.  So these passages that say “do not be afraid” always catch my attention. Let’s take a minute and turn to a neighbor and share something you are afraid of.  It might be something silly like “spiders.”

          What kind of fear is Jesus helping the disciples deal with today?  I want to propose that he is addressing the fear of hunger, the fears surrounding political leadership, and the fear of the unknown.

The Fear of Hunger

         John has set the scene for us readers.  The Passover is approaching, the holiday and annual ritual that recalls the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai by Moses.  Jesus, unlike Moses, has gone up on a mountain to teach.  He is not receiving the law but giving the law.  Jesus has been doing miracles like prophets of old and the crowds are following him.  Jesus raises the question of hunger to test disciple Phillip.  “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” I do not think Jesus was asking where the nearest Walmart might be found!

         Hunger takes many forms.  There is the starving of refugees, like the sheer physical need for food that plagued the Israelites in the wilderness.  We hear about it daily in the news.  We hear about the hungry who cannot feed their families during this pandemic due to loss of jobs.  This is probably not the hunger for most of us.  Bethany Gardens helps address physical hunger.  For most of us, our hunger is subtler.  We hunger for affection, for the touch of a loved one who has passed, for a hug from a child who has grown up, or just a friend to help us deal with old age.  We can hunger for money, for meaning, for beauty, for peace and so many other things.

         “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus asks Phillip and us.  It makes me think of Isaiah 55:1,2,

          “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no         money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money   and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is    not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen    carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in rich          food.  Incline your ear, and come to me; listen so that you may live.”

In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  The hungers of the earthly kingdom will not be resolved by money or more of anything that can be bought or earned.

         Hunger can only be dealt with spiritually.  Even if Phillip had six months salary in his pocket, the shops would not of had enough bread nor could Phillip carry it all.  The question is a direct confrontation to Phillip and us about where we look for satisfaction and contentment – for our own lives but I think also it is a question about how do we feed others that we know come to us hungry.  I have always loved the saying, “Give a fish and you eat for a day, teach to fish and you eat for a lifetime.”  We do reach out to each other with support, encouragement, and vegetables but ultimately that which satisfies comes from God. Hunger is resolved by God and not by bread. “it is I, do not be afraid.”  I AM is present always.

Fear of Political Leadership

         Jesus feeds the people.  Are they satisfied?  I should hear a resounding “NO” from you.  Are we happy with our government?  Be honest!  We all have our concerns today no matter who we voted for.  The people in Jesus’ crowd are fed physically and they realize a king that could feed them would be good.  “15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”  Wait, I thought Jesus was on the mountain feeding the people.  But Jesus “withdraws.”  Jesus can no longer be seen.

         We have an ongoing “discussion” in the United States right now about our “king,” ok, presidential and governmental leadership system.  If we can pass bills with huge amounts of money, perhaps, we could resolve the issues confronting our society.  If we could guarantee the system for electing our leaders and make sure more people can vote…  If our leaders could rectify the sins of our past against whatever subgroup is in focus, then we would not have social hunger and discontent.  The discussion is not spiritual but political and has shifted our discussions to our social  “hungers.”  We hunger for justice.  We hunger for equality.  We hunger for freedom.  We hunger for the good life.

         We are standing on the mountain with Jesus right.  When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, how many of the commandments dealt with economic security, financial security or freedoms to be “me.”  The commandments dealt with spiritual and social relationships that will characterize the kingdom of heaven, starting with spiritual reality.  We are to love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength.  Second, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Social and political leadership today is about creating a society that meets the needs of its citizens.  It is not about proper relationship to God.  The people have their priorities all wrong and Jesus “withdraws.”  When we have our priorities and wants wrong, Jesus “withdraws” and disappears because our focus is not on Jesus but on ourselves.  We can’t see him.

         “It is I, do not be afraid” are the words of Jesus speaking into our political and social polarization today. We do not need to fear who is king because Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world as he testifies to Pilot at his trial.  We do not need to be afraid because our names are written in the book of life, because Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He will walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death and someday Jesus will return as the eternal King.  Leadership is not political but spiritual.  As Christians, we look to the kingdom of God, not creating a kingdom on earth with Jesus as King.  “It is I, do not be afraid.”

Fear of the unknown, the future, of death

         The third scene in our text today is in the evening.  It is dark.  We know those “dark” times when Jesus has failed to appear.  Great writers call it “the Dark Night of the Soul.”  We might call it a pandemic and we have lost our job or our savings in a stock market crash.  We might call it cancer.  Often it comes with the death of a loved one.  We flat-line in life and God seems oh so distant.  Tears fill our pillow and smiles are so hard.  The disciples are trying to cross the Sea of Galilee in the dark and the waters are rough.  Strong winds are tossing their little boat in the chaos.  “They saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.”

         I would suspect they did not realize it was Jesus and in the presence of darkness and tumultuous waves they were terrified.  I only have to see the blinking red light in my rear view mirror and my heart starts pounding.  A letter from IRS would probably produce a similar reaction.  A policeman comes to our door with a chaplain or for parents of military people the entrance of a government car signals horrible news.  The disciples and we become terrified, or at least afraid, in the presence of that which we do not understand and cannot control.  It is then that Jesus speaks, “It is I, do not be afraid.”  The disciples take Jesus into their boat and immediately they are at their destination.”  We get where we want to go when Jesus is in the boat and we do not need to be afraid.

         Let me close with the children’s sermon:

Aesop’s Fable, “Belling the Cat.”

“The Mice once called a meeting to decide on a plan to free themselves of their enemy, the Cat. At least they wished to find some way of knowing when she was coming, so they might have time to run away. Indeed, something had to be done, for they lived in such constant fear of her claws that they hardly dared stir from their dens by night or day.        At last a very young Mouse got up and said:  “I have a plan that seems very simple, but I know it will be successful.

All we have to do is to hang a bell about the Cat’s neck. When we hear the bell ringing we will know immediately that our enemy is coming.”

All the Mice were much surprised that they had not thought of such a plan before. But in the midst of the rejoicing over their good fortune, an old Mouse arose and said: “I will say that the plan of the young Mouse is very good. But let me ask one question: Who will bell the Cat?”

We are those mice, afraid of the cats in our life: hunger, political and social dynamics plaguing our world, and afraid of the unknown future that may well mean death.  That cat is big and dark and we feel like grasshoppers in our own eyes.  Many mice, people, suggest government solutions but in-fact they cannot agree.  And ultimately the question comes down to “Who can bell the cat?”  We do not need to be warned that the cat is near, we need security as we live with the reality of the cat, the evil in our world.  It is only as Jesus comes to us in the midst of our fears and we hear him say, “It is I.”  I am here with you.  “Do not be afraid,” I will bell the cat in your life!  Then we can live through all situations. Thank you Lord!  Amen.

God Will Take Care of You

July 24, 2021

The iteration we followed this week in our epic story was the time from King David’s son, Solomon’s reign to the Babylonian Captivity.  What looked so promising with the gifting of Solomon ended in exile and servitude in a foreign country due to the idolatry encouraged by the kings and leaders.  It is a sad progression, slide from favor.  Not all people of Israel were idolaters but they were caught in the downslide of their country.  During times of darkness when we feel our political, social or even family leaders are making bad decisions, how do we encourage ourselves?

         Mrs. Civilla Martin, wife of Baptist evangelist Stillman Martin, was forced to stay home one Sunday in 1904.  She became sick and could not accompany her husband.  He debated staying with her but their son challenged his father, “Father, don’t you think that if God wants you to preach today, He will take care of Mother while you’re away?”  The husband left and later returned to find his wife greatly improved and writing this hymn.  That evening he wrote the music to go with the text.  Many find deep comfort from this tune during difficult times.

Be not dismayed whate’er betide
God will take care of you
Beneath His wings of love abide
God will take care of you.

God will take care of you
Through every day, o’er all the way
He will take care of you
God will take care of you.

No matter what may be the test
God will take care of you
Lean, weary one, upon His breast
God will take care of you.

God will take care of you
Through every day, o’er all the way
He will take care of you
God will take care of you

He will take care of you
God will take care of youhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4Ez8m2ozf4

The Babylonian Captivity

July 23, 2021

2 Kings 25.  Some of our favorite Old Testament children’s stories occur when the people of Judah, the southern kingdom, are taken into captivity to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are the three young men thrown into the fiery furnace for not bowing down to the statue of Nebuchadnezzar.  Daniel is thrown in the den of lions for not praying to Nebuchadnezzar.  Jehoiachin was the king of Judah and surrendered to Babylon and so began a period called the Babylon captivity.  It involved the destroying of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the carrying off of leaders, officials and artisans to serve in Babylon.  Only the poorest were left in the city.  Chapter 24 ends, “It was because of the Lord’s anger that all this happened in Jerusalem and Judah, and in the end he (God) thrust them from his presence.”  This was a horrible time indeed.  Chapter 25 describes what happened as idolatry and turning from God increased in Judah.  This was about 600 BCE.

         Many of us remember the shock of watching the Twin Towers tumble on 9-11 but the terrors of war, the humiliation of loosing and then being carried off to captivity have been spared for most of us.  Perhaps we know the disruption of the sudden death at an early age of a parent or even the pain of divorce.  Others experienced the reorganization of life after a major car accident.  Now we see the fires sweeping places in our country and know many are displaced.  These situations are not caused by idolatry and God’s wrath so our empathy is limited but they do involve much soul searching and reorganizing of life.

         Others of us might understand the problem of “captivity” as we struggle with addictions that undermine our lives and to which we are enslaved.  Dieters or Alcoholics Anonymous not to mention drug addiction all involve a kind of life lived in the shadows.

         I see two lessons for us in the Babylonian Captivity. The Lord was angry with the people of Israel and removed his presence, his protection and his blessing.  We like to think that God is love and surely will understand our situation.  God becomes a kind of Force for Good, loving us.  That is true but it is also true that God is a real being interacting with us and can withdraw.

         Even as I say that, we have stories of God’s unseen presence being with the faithful who are drawn into this captivity like Daniel and the three men in the fiery furnace.  God will become angry if we become involved in idolatry and allow us to go our stubborn ways as we are not robots and God is a real being.  But likewise, God is faithful to his covenants and ready to receive us when we return to him.  There is hope for those in “captivity” and those living in dire situations.  God sees and God cares about us.  Blessings in your struggles.

Elijah, “Shout louder”

July 22, 2021

1 Kings 16:29 – 19:18  Rehoboam succeeded his father Solomon to the throne but was not wise.  David’s kingdom split.  The ten tribes of the north followed Jeroboam and became known as Israel while the two southern tribes stayed loyal to Rehoboam, David’s grandson, and became known as Judah.  It would appear people of faith are split and other gods step into the crack introduc

         Ahab eventually became king of Israel in the north, married Jezebel, and openly practiced idolatry. “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.”  Elijah, one of the greatest prophets of Israel, enters our epic story to confront the evil Ahab and stop the idolatry Ahab and Jezebel were leading the people into.  For three years Elijah hid from Ahab in a cave, praying that there would be no rain.  Finally Elijah calls for a showdown with the priests of Baal.  The real god would burn up a sacrificed cow.  As the people watch, Elijah taunts the priests, “Shout louder!”  Perhaps the baals were sleeping, in the bathroom, or busy!  Elijah douses his bull with water and the fire of heaven consumes the sacrifice and altar!  Rain returns.

         Spiritual victories are often exhausting and Elijah, burnt out, flees to the mountain of God and hides in a cave.  There he meets with God who speaks in “a still small voice.”  In Elijah we see the highs and lows of faith, even the faith of great leaders.  At his lowest, God does not abandon Elijah but sends an angel to Elijah who bakes a cake and has him eat and drink some water “for the journey is too great for you.”  God does not condemn Elijah for being tired but corrects Elijah’s misconceptions.  Elijah is not alone.  Elisha will replace him and there are 7,000 faithful believers.

         As the kingdom of David splits our epic story becomes more complex as we read how God honors his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and David but also works with the northern kingdom with weak leaders like Ahab.  This story encourages me that not only is God able to deal with all kinds of kings and leaders but God is also able to work with me in my highs and lows.  God is able and is faithful.

         I do not know where you are on your faith journey today.  Perhaps you are despairing of the political polarization in our country and the humanness of our religious leaders.  Or perhaps you are pondering on a more personal level your faith journey.  It is always encouraging to look at those low times in our life and identify the people and resources that God used to help us make it through the desert time.  How might you encourage someone who is struggling in faith today?  How might you rejoice with someone in his or her spiritual victory today?  Both are part of our journey.  We do not need to shout louder.  Our God is not in the bathroom or distracted!