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When God Rains on Your Parade

“Elijah the Tishbite, from the inhabitants of Gilad, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word’” (1 Kings 17:1 NKJV).

Nobody likes a prophet. Biblical prophets always communicated inconvenient truths, especially to the political and religious leaders. They saw the world differently. They saw the world the way God did. And their vision often contrasted with that of those around them. They made life uncomfortable because they did not allow abuses of power and people to be ignored or whitewashed. They reminded Israel that obeying God’s commands extended beyond mere cultic religious ritual.

Israel disobeyed God during the reign of King Ahab. Rather than serving God, the Israelites followed after Ba’al, the Phoenician storm god.

The book of Deuteronomy instructed the Israelites, “If you carefully obey my commands I am giving you today, to love the LORD your God and worship Him with all your heart and all your soul, I will provide rain for your land in the proper time, the autumn and spring rains, and you will harvest your grain, wine, and oil” (verses 11:13-14 HCSB). If, however, Israel decided not to obey, then the opposite would happen; namely, the rains would not come and the crops would not be there.

Archaeology of the kingdom of Israel during the reign of Ahab and his father Omri suggests that Israel experienced a golden age of sorts during this period. Large building projects, growing wealth, Israel exploiting its strategic location within the region—life in Israel during Ahab’s reign was good. Prosperous. Things were going well.

Then Elijah showed up. He made Ahab’s life difficult. It wasn’t going to rain in Israel for several years except at Elijah’s word.

Kings within the ancient Near East provided a connection between the people and the gods, responsible for the people’s well-being. When Ahab’s wife Jezebel—a Phoenician princess—learned it wasn’t going to rain, she encouraged Israel to worship her god, the storm god Ba’al.

As modern readers of the Bible, we look at Elijah from the position of our comfort. He is God’s man. A hero of the faith. But to Ahab and Israel, he was a pain. His proclamation interrupted their prosperous comfort. No one living in the kingdom of Israel looking around at the prosperity of the kingdom would think anything was wrong. Life’s good. We’re prospering. Surely something is right. But not in the eyes of God, so He sent the prophet, the proclaimer of inconvenient truths.

Within the Bible, God’s pleasure is tied only to our obedience—not the prosperity we find ourselves in within the moment. In the same way, when we find ourselves in want, that is not the sign of His displeasure. God, however, will not tolerate our disobedience forever. He will rain on our parade. Or, in the case of Ahab’s Israel, not rain, which is actually worse.

Do we listen to those inconvenient voices in our lives that challenge us to see things from God’s viewpoint? Do we respond with repentance and obedience? That can make all the difference.

PRAYER

Father, thank You for sending inconvenient voices into our lives, voices that challenge us to see our actions the way You do. Lead us Lord to walk in Your ways, and in all things, to obey You. Amen.

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The God Who Makes the Axe Head Float

“They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. ‘Oh no, my lord!’ he cried out. ‘It was borrowed!’ The man of God asked, ‘Where did it fall?’ When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. ‘Lift it out,’ he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it” (2 Kings 6:4-7 NIV).

Do you ever imagine that God is too big and that His responsibilities are too vast to care about the daily details of our lives? After all, He has the universe to run, right?

The man lost a borrowed axe-head in the water. That was his problem, nothing that God should concern Himself with. Yet He did.

The Bible never presents God as so transcendent that the common, everyday details of our lives do not move Him. Jesus stated, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:29-30 NIV).

God is not distant from us even if it may seem like that at times. He cares deeply for us, and He is near to us. He cares enough to involve Himself in the issues of our daily lives.

The man in the Scripture did not own the iron axe-head. It was borrowed. Its loss troubled him, as anyone could imagine it would. God caused the axe-head to float, permitting easy retrieval.

Many of the stories about Elisha describe miracles he performed for the common, daily life of the people: multiplied oil in a jar (2 Kings 4:1-7); revived the Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4:18-37); purified a pot of stew (2 Kings 4:38-41); fed 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44). And he made an axe-head float. These stories demonstrate that the God of Israel was concerned about the daily needs and lives of the people. He is for us, too.

No issue is too small for His concern. He is a loving Father. Like any parent, He delights in taking care of His children.

He is the King of the universe, the all-powerful, the creator of everything. He is awesome and majestic. He is also the God who makes the axe-head float. Never forget that.

PRAYER

Father, show us today that even in the smallest details of our lives—those things that matter to us—You are near and they matter to You, too. Amen.

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Displeased with God

God’s mercy offends us. When God forgives our sins and we do not receive the reward of our disobedience, we revel in His mercy toward us, and we may even desire such for those like us. But what about those we don’t like, or even our enemies? That is more problematic.

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of the brutal kingdom of Assyria. Jonah went the opposite way. God tracked Jonah down. As a result, Jonah found himself inside a fish. Jonah then cried out to God for mercy, and God heard him and gave him a second chance.

Jonah went to Nineveh and preached its impending doom in forty days. At least, he’d now be able to see the destruction of this wicked city of the Assyrians. But the people believed in God, and they repented. And when they did, so did God. “Then God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 HCSB).

You would think Jonah would be elated. The people listened to his message, and the city was safe. Shouldn’t Jonah, who recently tasted God’s mercy in his life, welcome God’s mercy to others? He didn’t. God’s mercy displeased him greatly.

We want God to be “merciful and compassionate … slow to become angry, rich in faithful love” (4:2) to us. But we want to keep those blessings for ourselves and those we deem worthy of receiving it. You would imagine that by this point, God would have reached the end of His patience with Jonah, but He hadn’t.

He provided shade for Jonah in the form of a plant, as the prophet awaited the destruction of the city. God still wanted to teach Jonah a lesson. He also appointed a worm that caused the plant to die. Once again, Jonah complained to God, “I’d rather be dead than alive!” (4:3 NLT). God now had Jonah where He could teach him.

“You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?” (4:10-11 HCSB).

Too often we think of ourselves as special and as more deserving of God’s mercy than others. To Him, we are special, but so is everyone else, even those we don’t like or agree with—even our enemies. We find ourselves displeased and offended when God shows His mercy to those we deem unworthy of it.

We usually focus upon one aspect of Jonah’s story—him inside the fish. When we do, we miss the point of the book—God’s mercy comes in ways that may displease us, to those we do not like because God is gracious and merciful and cares for everyone.

PRAYER

Father, may we walk more like You showing mercy to those we may not like, those who have hurt us, but those You care about. May we be more like You in every way. Amen.

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The One Who Dwells with the Humble

“For the High and Exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy says this: ‘I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed.’” (Isaiah 57:15 HCSB).

We live in a culture that frequently gravitates toward the cult of personality. Most often, we get star struck, either with our star or someone else’s. This is true even in the church. How often are we more likely to position ourselves to be closer to the greatest among us rather than choosing to share life with the humble and lowly among us?   

The prophet described God, however, as “high and exalted,” inhabiting eternity. Yet He also dwells with the contrite and humble. God resides in both places—in the highest heaven and with the lowly and oppressed. If you’re looking for Him, that is where you’ll find Him.

The Bible describes God as the defender of the “fatherless and the widow” … and “the foreigner” (Deuteronomy 10:18). These were three classes of people that did not have an advocate within ancient Israelite society, yet God identified with them and continually came to their defense.

He dwells on high and with the contrite and humble. Amazing. He resides among the lowly and oppressed to revive them, to strengthen them, and to sustain them.

People in our world get caught up in their position, power, and press. But the God and Creator of the universe, who lives in a high and holy place, is never beyond the lowly, the humble, the widow, orphan, and foreigner.

Humility and contriteness are both characteristics that we can control. “He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed” (Proverbs 3:34 NIV). We choose how we posture ourselves. Do we humble ourselves and make ourselves contrite? Or do we do the opposite and become arrogant and proud?

If God, who resides in the high and holy place, can stoop to dwell with the humble and lowly, then none of us has anything to be proud and haughty about. God is our model. He not only commands us how to live; He behaves in that way, too.

We should resist the temptation of our cult-of-personality society and remember that the One who dwells in eternity resides with the lowly. And so must we.

PRAYER

Father, may we be where You are. May we always walk in humility and contriteness to experience Your presence. Amen.

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The Cares of Life

We refer to the parable that Jesus tells in Luke 8 as “The Parable of the Sower.” The problem, however, is that the sower is not the point of the parable, neither is the seed. The parable is about the soil and the question: What kind of soil are you?

The point of the parable is to be the good soil, to have a “good heart” (8:15), which means to be receptive to God and to live out His will. However, we need to pay attention to the third type of bad soil—the thorns. They choked the seed as it tried to grow.

Jesus likened the thorns choking the seed trying to grow to people who are choked by the worries, riches, and pleasures of life; therefore, they cannot bear fruit to maturity.

Our lives are often filled with stuff or the pursuit of stuff. Stuff isn’t necessarily bad. However, it has the possibility of taking our eyes and focus off the things that truly matter.

Jesus saw life as having the potential to create worry and anxiety in us. We find ourselves concerned about what we will eat, drink, and wear (Matthew 6:25-34). And those cares can choke us from producing fruit or bringing it to maturity.

Cares, riches, and pleasures. When you take them out of the critical context of Jesus’ words, they form the core of what many in our world pursue. They are the secret to a happy and fulfilled life. How many of us want to be carefree? How many of us want the “good life”?

Jesus noted a connection between these forces and anxiety, which He connected with paganism (Matthew 6:32). Even more, they have the power to severely hinder the growth and development of the fruit God wants to produce in our lives.

The foundation of Jesus’ instruction not to worry and not to allow the thorns to choke our growing seed, is based on the vital realization that God cares for us. He takes care of us and has a responsibility to us. For that reason, and that reason alone, we should not worry.

Thorns can take over a field very quickly if we are not careful. So, too, can the cares of life invade and affect the growth of the fruit God wants in our lives. The question, then, is what kind of soil are we going to be?

Will our hearts and lives be receptive to what God is wanting to accomplish in and through us?

PRAYER

Father, help us not to lose sight of You or bearing the fruit You desire. May we never cease to realize that You take care of us. Amen.

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The Patience to Wait

“Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest” (Psalm 126:5-6 NLT).

Farming in ancient Israel was tough. You cleared your field, then plowed it. You scattered your seed hoping that the rains would come soon. Ancient farmers in the land of Israel depended solely upon the rains from heaven to water their fields.

If the seed lay on the ground more than a week without rain, it would die, and you had to take from the seed you’d carefully set aside for the family’s food to sow it again. Once you sowed and the rains came, you waited. You waited for the harvest.

The life of the ancient Israelite farmer, living in a land on the edge of the Mediterranean and on the edge of the desert, meant rainfall could be problematic. Some years it came, and some years it didn’t. As the farmer wandered through the plowed land of his field, he hoped the rains would come. He prayed the rains would come.

Within the Bible, rain is always a sign of God’s blessing. He provides the rain in its season, particularly when the people obey. This rain allows for crops to grow and people and flocks to have what they need to survive another year.

You have to wonder if these ancient farmers, described by the psalmist as planting “in tears” and crying out to God for rain, prayed the weak prayers we often pray. Or did their recognition of their absolute dependence upon God lead them to cry out to Him in desperation?

Anyone who has been around farming will tell you that even when the seeds receive water to grow, growth is not immediate. It takes time. You have to wait—patiently.

Do we see our existence as dependent upon God the way the ancient farmers in Israel did? Do we cry out to Him for our daily needs in desperation? When He answers, do we have the patience to wait for the harvest? Do we allow ourselves to rejoice when we truly gather the harvest of our cries to God?

We live in a culture that values speed over patience. Everything depends on getting quick and immediate results. In such a fast-paced world, we often lose our ability to wait patiently for the harvest brought about by God.

Our modern advances in technology can often delude us into a sense of self-reliance. We do not see ourselves dependent upon God for our daily provision. But we are. The ancient Israelite farmers can teach us a lot about our faith—if we will pay attention.

PRAYER

Father, our lives are in Your hands. May we never lose sight of our dependence upon You, and our need to wait patiently for the harvest to come. Amen.

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Broken on the Side of the Road

“As He drew near Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. Hearing a crowd passing by, he inquired what this meant. ‘Jesus the Nazarene is passing by,’ they told him. So he called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ … Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him. When he drew near, He asked him, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘I want to see!’ ‘Receive your sight!’ Jesus told him” (Luke 18:35-42 HCSB).

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem for the Passover, where He will be crucified by the Romans. He makes His way with a crowd of pilgrims, which includes His disciples. This traveling crowd found itself in hopeful anticipation that Jesus would inaugurate God’s kingdom immediately.

On the one hand, Jesus makes His way toward the cross, where the axis of history will come crashing down on His shoulders. And, on the other, He’s surrounded by people caught up in His charismatic greatness.

We can imagine Him laser-focused on the Father’s will and ready to face the suffering that awaited Him in Jerusalem. We can also imagine Him caught up in the redemptive expectations of the crowd surrounding Him. Either way, how easy would it have been for Him to completely miss the cry of a blind beggar broken on the side of the road?

That’s how many of us would have responded in a similar situation. Focused upon our task, with nothing distracting us, or caught up in our own press. But not Jesus. He heard the blind man’s call in the midst of the crowd’s enthusiasm and His own steely determination. He heard the cry, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And He stopped.

Jesus was an important man, to both God and men. Yet He stopped. His mission was the most important mission ever given by God to a man. Yet He heard. Jesus never became so enamored with Himself or so task-focused that He lost the ability to see and hear the cry of a person broken on the side of the road.

Would the cross have meant as much if He had walked by, ignoring the blind man’s desperate plea for mercy and healing?

We can find ourselves so caught up in our tasks, even our tasks for God (or, even worse, believing the hype that surrounds us), that we fail to see the broken, poor, and suffering on the side of the road crying for help.

If Jesus could hear the cry, if He could take the time to stop, and if He could bring healing mercy to the blind man, then so can we.

PRAYER

Father, open our eyes to see and our ears to hear the cries of the suffering, broken, and poor in our world, because in their cries, we meet You and can follow Your Son. Amen.

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Complaining to God

“Lord, how long will You forget me? Forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day? How long will my enemy dominate me? Consider me and answer, Lord my God. Restore brightness to my eyes; otherwise, I will sleep in death. My enemy will say, ‘I have triumphed over him,’ and my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in Your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in Your deliverance. I will sing to the Lord because He has treated me generously” (Psalm 13:1-6 HCSB).

The Bible is beautiful because it’s real. It’s about real people. Real emotions. Real frustrations.

Too often, we hide behind a forced spirituality that has more to do with the power of positive thinking than the faith of the Bible. We bury our emotions and frustrations because true faith doesn’t have doubts or fears, and it certainly doesn’t get upset with God.

The Bible, however, invites us to be real. It encourages our frustrations and our emotions of abandonment, especially abandonment from God. The psalms contain a number of laments, both individual and communal. The lament is simply a complaint to God. A holy complaint. It expresses raw feelings, emotions, and frustrations. Reading the laments in the Bible should teach us how to complain to God—and get real with our emotions before Him and before ourselves.

The lament follows a pattern: (1) address God, (2) describe the complaint, (3) request God’s help, and (4) express trust in God.

The author of Psalm 13 addresses himself to God and openly describes his complaint. He acknowledges feeling ignored by God, that God has hidden Himself from the psalmist. His cares and grief seem never-ending. Those he considers his enemies have come against him. He asks God to be moved to action and come to his aid, lest he be overwhelmed. He concludes by affirming his trust—despite his feelings and frustrations—in God’s faithfulness. God has been good to him in the past; he expects Him to be the same in the future. Notice, however, the psalm does not end with the resolution of his problems. He simply articulates his trust in God.

Do we allow ourselves to complain before God? Do we give voice to our deep frustrations before Him? Even our disappointments with Him?

The biblical lament never allowed for the person to be consumed with their feelings. The lamenter always returns to an affirmation of hope and trust in God. We can complain to God. We would grow in our faith if we genuinely allow it in ourselves and others. Our communities could become true places of refuge and healing if we allowed such raw, unfiltered expressions of our frustrations and emotions framed within our trust of God, even when He seems hidden.

PRAYER

O Lord, at times we feel cut off from You, like You have forgotten us. Like You have hidden Yourself from us. But our cry stretches out to You, our Father. We trust in You. Amen.

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What Kind of Disciple Are You?

“Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name” (Psalm 86:11 NKJV).

Are you a lifelong learner? Do you desire daily to learn from the Lord? Walking with the Lord, walking in His truth, means that we seek to learn from Him, to be taught by Him.

The word for disciple in both Greek and Hebrew means “a student.” Being a disciple, then, requires us to daily seek to learn from God, knowing His way, and walking in His truth.

When Jesus commanded His disciples to go and raise up disciples, He expected that their efforts would produce a community of students eager to learn God’s way and walk in His truth. But in order for His disciples to create such a community, they first had to be that kind of disciple.

The actions of Ezra, the scribe, describe biblical discipleship: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10 nasb)—to study, to do, and to teach others. This provides the process of biblical discipleship: Study leads to action, and both provide the foundation from which instruction to others can occur.

The second clause of the Psalm—“unite my heart to fear Your name”—indicates that one of a divided heart cannot truly fear (or revere) God’s name. In other words, a person cannot be truly devoted to God with a divided heart.

What is the connection between requesting to learn God’s way and receiving an undivided heart? Learning from God is not simply learning an algebraic equation or the history of the United States. Being taught by God requires a diligent obedience, which is what the Bible means by walking in His truth. One cannot obey God with a divided heart. To learn from Him, we must passionately pursue Him with singularity. We must seek to study His word, then do it, and then we must instruct others in what we have learned.

This is what Jesus envisioned when He commanded His disciples to raise up disciples. As students, they would raise up other students—all to live out His word and message.

PRAYER

Father, teach us Your way so that we may walk in Your truth. Give us an undivided heart, so that we may fear and revere Your name. Amen.

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Sinning Against Others

We often think that God takes more seriously the sins we commit against Him than those we commit against others. It’s not that we think we should sin against others, but we tend to allow ourselves a bit more freedom and grace for these sins. What does the Bible say about this?

The prophet Jeremiah announced to the leaders and people of Judah that God would judge them, with the destruction of Jerusalem and the kingdom, because they reneged on the covenant that they established to honor the year of release (in Hebrew the shmittah). The law of the shmittah required that every seventh year everyone set free his Hebrew slaves, both male and female, and settle all debts.

The people of Judah made a covenant to honor this commandment of God, but then they went back on it. After setting the slaves free, they forced them into slavery again. And God was furious.

Jeremiah declared that God had been pleased with the initial action of the people because their fathers had ignored the shmittah, but now, by turning back, they actually profaned God’s name.

Do we recognize that the way we treat those around us may profane the name of God? God’s name is at stake in how we conduct our human relations.

As a result of their action, God proclaimed destruction to the leaders and people of Judah by the sword, pestilence, and famine—making them a horror to all the earth. He would fill their land with their dead carcasses, and the city of Jerusalem and Judah would be destroyed because they violated the shmittah by sinning against their fellow human.

The Bible clearly demonstrates that God takes very seriously our treatment and behavior toward others, and that violating those relationships carries divine consequences. The way we treat others can profane God’s name and arouse His anger.

We often look at the brokenness within our world today, and we want to blame it on others, especially those we deem godless. Some of us may even long for God’s justice and vengeance against them.

But do we recognize His anger at how we treat others? Do we see that perhaps some of the devastation in our world comes as a result of us not following His commands about human relationships? Perhaps it’s our actions toward others that is the source of His name being profaned in our world.

PRAYER

Father, forgive us for not taking as seriously as You do our behavior toward those around us. Lord, we acknowledge that we cannot truly love You and serve You if we do not love and care for those around us. Help us to love and serve people as You do. Amen.

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