“Supernatural”

To study the life of Elijah is to study prayer. When he prayed, crazy things happened. It stopped raining. A dead boy came back to life. Fire fell from heaven. It started raining again. Another word for crazy might be supernatural. When Elijah prayed, the supernatural resulted. But that is what prayer is. When we pray we ask God to do what only He can do. Prayer defies the laws of physics and common sense. We ask God to intervene in our world. That is supernatural. That is prayer.

The writer of James wants to make sure that we understand that all of us can pray like Elijah. We, too, can see supernatural consequences to our prayer. So we should take lessons from Elijah and learn to pray like him.

When God speaks, take a stand on what he says.  Elijah heard the sound of heavy rain. He knew that sound was God telling him to pray for rain. His faith demanded that he proclaim to the king that rain was on the way. No playing it safe. No keeping it to himself. He publicly and boldly stood on God’s word.

Invest yourself in prayer. Assume the posture. Spend the time. Humble yourself. Continue in prayer. Do the work. Though we can pray our way throughout ever day…as we live it, there are times prayer requires deep personal investment. Engagement. Not casual, drive-by prayer.

Pray for as long as it takes.  Who can predict how long it will be until the answer comes? But if God has promised, the answer will come. Six times, Elijah sent his servant to look for rain clouds. Six times the servant reported nothing. But Elijah did not quit praying.

Watch closely for God to move. The answer to prayer may come initially in the smallest of beginnings. For Elijah, it was a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising out of the sea. How many people even noticed? Only those paying attention…only those watching…will see the initial stirrings of God’s Spirit. But notice we must and act we must!

(These are the teaching notes from 8/19/12 based on 1 Kings 18:41-46.)

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“Singular Devotion”

Week Four of “Elijah” deals with 1 Kings 18:20-21. Elijah challenges the people with this statement:

If the Lord is God, follow him…”

Many people have made a rather casual “commitment” to follow God. This text challenges us to make a singular commitment — an overwhelming, passionate, life-altering, shocking devotion to Him.

  • God doesn’t want to be your first thing but your everything. Many claim to put God first. The problem is that we often have several “close seconds.” God want to be your first, second, third… He wants to be the center of your life from which all else flows.
  • Indecision is a costly thing. Don’t delay in making your life-choices.
  • God will not share your devotion. Understand: God brooks no rivals. None.
  • Following is more than mental assent but requires intensive action. It is behavior and not words. To be sure, words are important. But, as I grow older I learn that talk is cheap. Action costs. Action counts.

“RELIANCE”

Week two of “Elijah” looked at 1 Kings 17:7-16. There are some lessons we must learn in order to live Spirit-dominated lives:

  • Don’t interpret hard times as God’s unfaithfulness.
  • When one source of provision dries up, God always provides another.
  • God’s provision often violates the laws of common sense.
  • Beginning the faith adventure may be the hardest part of the journey.
  • In God’s economy, we have more than we realize.
  • Thank God for his capacity to make much out of little.

“THROWDOWN”

Our current teaching series at HBC is a study of Elijah. His life was so in tune with the Spirit of God, that his successor Elisha asked for a “double portion” of the Spirit just to carry on the work. Elijah’s story is amazing but we must remember that he was a “man just like us” (James 5:17). The reason that Elijah accomplished all that he did is that his life was surrendered to and dominated by the Holy Spirit of God.

The first week we studied Elijah’s arrival in the public life of Israel found in 1 Kings 17:1-6. He challenged the king of Israel…warning him of God’s coming judgment.

We see what a life dominated by the Holy Spirit looks like:

  • Adventurous Direction.
  • Risky Obedience.
  • Supernatural Provision.

“A Theology of Risk”

I love the parable Jesus told in Matthew 25:14-30. Many stereotype Christ-followers as weak, timid, or spineless.  This story paints a different picture. It teaches a theology of risk. Jesus pictures two extremes for his followers: risk or cowardice. He gives two judgments on his servants: faithful or worthless. The two faithful servants risked what the master gave them in order to gain success. They may have had setbacks…the story does not say. But in the end, the result was spectacular.

Jesus values risk-taking.

Helen Keller once said,

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

To qualify, Jesus empowers risk-taking but it is always done at his leading. If we will follow, he will lead us on an adventure of faith. Risk is born out of prayer…an intimate walk with the Savior. As we discover his heart, we will learn what risks he asks of us.  But risk is demanded of the servant of Christ.

Yet if we follow Christ’s leading, there is really little risk. Courage is needed because there may be setbacks along the way. Following Christ’s leading will invariably bring ultimate victory.

This story pictures two extremes: the successful risk-taker and the worthless risk-avoider.

A theology of risk:

  • Risk doing something over doing nothing. (Accountability demands action.)
  • Risk requires faith.
  • Risk requires sacrifice.
  • Risk requires prayer.
  • Risk requires walking in the Spirit.

I searched the internet for the title of this post and discovered a book on the subject: Faith of Leap, The: Embracing a Theology of Risk, Adventure & Courage (Shapevine) by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch.  They cite the above quote by Helen Keller.  Have you read it? What were your thoughts?

“Selfish Sorrow”

How do you respond when confronted with sin?  The answer to this question will determine how intimate you become with God.

Of course, we all sin.  And believe it or not… in the pages of scripture, it is not the original sin that is at issue… but the way we react when challenged about our sin.

One of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to confront us with our sin.  He may whisper to us while we sit in worship or read our Bible.  He may drop a sudden awareness on us in a startling moment of illumination.  Someone we love may speak the truth in love to us.  Or, we may get caught red-handed and the sudden exposure brings the act of wrongdoing into the spotlight. Whatever the means of conviction, we become aware of sin.

2 Corinthians 7:10 tells us that there are two ways people react:  Godly sorrow or worldly (selfish) sorrow.

Godly sorrow turns our attention to God.  We realize that our sin has offended him.  It is against him, above all, that we have sinned.  The end result leaves us free from regret and guilt with a clean heart and clear conscience.

Selfish sorrow turns inward.  Our only concern is for ourself and what the exposure will cost us. It drives us further from God and deeper into sin…with all its attendant baggage.

Genesis 4 delivers a startling picture of selfish sorrow.  God confronts Cain about his brother.  He evades God’s initial inquiry with a callous, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Then, later, when God pronounces judgment, he moans that it is too much for him to bear.

God never confronts or convicts of sin in order to hurt us. Rather, it is always an invitation to reconciliation.  But when we turn our eyes inward, we never recognize God’s invitation.

God’s first response to our sin is always loving.  The question is:  will our response back to God also be loving?

 

“Angry Church”

Only the second sin ever recorded in the Bible (Genesis 4) happened in the context of worship.  Common sense might dictate that worship would be the last place or time to birth sin.  Worship might seem a preventative.  But if you have spent much time in church or around church people, you know from experience that is not so.

Ever wonder why?

Genesis 4 records that Cain became violently angry when God rejected his offering.  Perhaps he was mad at himself but it seems that he was mad at God.  And anger with God caused him to lash out at another person.  A person has no way to attack (other than verbally) God.  So we turn on people when we are mad at God.  Our anger with God causes us to hurt other people.

That might explain why churches can be hurtful, angry places.  We want to blame God, or someone, when life does not unfold as we would like.  But innocent by-standers often become our targets.  And we unload with ferocity.

In twenty-five years of experience, I have seen the best and worst in church.  When it is good, it is very good.  When it is bad, it is devastating.

Our church recently had opportunity to serve passengers in a train vs. truck collision.  It happened right across from our church and the train passengers were brought to our facility.  People jumped at the chance to serve and they were champions that day.  One passenger, as he was leaving, said, “We saw Jesus here today.”  No sweeter words.

Yet often, conflict is just a decision away.  Try pleasing 400 different people (no, don’t try…that is an exercise in insanity).  Someone’s needs go unmet, someone disagrees with a decision… and the sweet people of God can follow the angry example of Cain.  Murder is not usually the result.  But mayhem can be.

When a person has unrealistic expectations of the church, these moments of mayhem devastate our faith.  “Church should not be a place of anger and vitriol.  Church people should be above all that.”  Alas, church people do not have life all figured out.  They are pilgrims–not disembarking passengers. Disappointment and anger may be worked out within the boundaries of church community.  Often, inappropriately.

Church shows us the best and worst in people.  I guess it has to be that way.  I think this is why so many people decide to give up on church — or give up on a specific church.  But the problem may not be with a particular church.  The grass may not be greener somewhere else.  This is something churches everywhere deal with.  So the next time mayhem rises and the drama gets thick…know that if you hang on, the best of times may be right around the corner.

Or, not.