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Friday, June 25, 2010

Life in the Valley Part 4

I have a request for all who visit this blog. In your prayer time, I would ask you to say a prayer for the people of Romania as well. I'd heard it was getting bad from my father, my wife, and other family and friends, but until you are boots on the ground here, it's hard to get the full picture. Besides the cuts in pensions, and the raising of basic staples, there have also been an unprecedented amount of nasty storms, which caused the subsequent flooding in most parts of the country. So please say a prayer for the people of Romania, and if ever you are in need of prayer, I am certain they will say a prayer for you as well.

I’ve preached on this passage in 1 Kings many times, but I’ve never written a teaching centering on it. As promised when I began this series on life in the valley, today we will be exploring the beauty of the mountaintop as juxtaposition to the valley, so we can better understand the fullness of our spiritual experience on this earth. We are certain to traverse both valleys and hilltops, to one day be on the mountaintop, the next deep in the valley below, but we are also certain that God will be with us every step of the way.

We enter the scene at a very dark time in Israel’s history, about eight hundred and sixty years before the birth of Christ. The tribes of Israel were splintered, Judah and Benjamin being separated from the other ten tribes, and although they had a king that was from their own midst, a man by the name of Ahab, he was a weak man, who went and married an evil woman by the name of Jezebel. Jezebel had come to be queen, and she had brought all her idols and false gods with her. Although Ahab did not forbid her worship of false gods, and strange idols, there was an outcry from the prophets of the Lord, the men of God, the watchmen who saw the vileness of what Jezebel had brought into their land.

Seeing as there was constant opposition against her, and her false gods from the prophets of the one true God, Jezebel began a violent campaign against them, causing them to run and hide in caves, and causing them to flee from before her wrath.

Even in those dark and turbulent times of persecution, there were men such as Obadiah who saw to the safety of the prophets of the Lord, hiding one hundred of them in caves, and feeding them bread and water.

Among the many prophets of the Lord during that time, there was one man that stood out, one man that was fearless and unwilling to bend, or cower before the wrath of Jezebel. His name was Elijah the prophet, a man who consistently and emphatically admonished the people of Israel to return to God, to turn their faces toward Him, to abandon the idols and the false gods of Jezebel, and thereby be spared the judgment of God, that had already begun to manifest itself in the form of a great drought.

There is a finite lesson for us in the fierce reaction of Elijah to the false gods and idols of Jezebel. Here was a man who did not see the ‘go along to get along’ attitude as a viable option when it came to the truth. Remember, Ahab the king was a Jew by birth, he feared God, even feared Elijah, and so it would have been easy for Elijah to go and strike a deal with him, to say ‘if you let the prophets of the Lord alone, then we will look the other way when it comes to your wife’s idols and gods.’

We see the integrity of this man, who was unwilling to compromise just to make his life easier. We see the integrity of this man who was not willing to compromise even at the risk of being hunted, and if Jezebel’s desire came to pass, even murdered. Elijah understood that true worship is first and foremost the refusal to bow to other gods, the refusal to honor false gods, and the refusal to acquiesce and accept idols.

Food was scarce, times were hard, a severe famine had overtaken the land, yet the people of Israel still refused to obey the voice of the Lord, they still refused to humble themselves, repent and return to God.

The time for a showdown had come, and Elijah sent word via Obadiah that he would meet with Ahab.

1 Kings 18:17, “Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, ‘Is that you, O troubler of Israel?”

Although the people had turned their back on God, although Ahab’s own wife was openly advocating idol worship, here stood Ahab accusing Elijah of being the one who had fueled God’s judgment against the land. Although much time has passed since this encounter, it would seem the attitude of the worldly minded has not changed much. Whenever a judgment of God is visited upon the land, many are quick to blame the selfsame servants who warned of coming judgment if they did not repent. Sin begets death, and sin begets the judgment of God. In His goodness, God sends servants such as Elijah to warn, to compel and admonish to repentance, but such men are vessels embodying the mercy and goodness of God. If a nation chooses to remain in their sin, if a nation chooses not to repent and turn its face toward God, then God will send the judgment He forewarned them of. It wasn’t Elijah’s fault that there was a severe drought in the land, it wasn’t Elijah’s fault that the people were starving, it was their disobedience, and unwillingness to humble themselves that brought them to this place.

Not one to mince words, Elijah reminded Ahab who was to blame for what was happening in Israel.

1 Kings 18:18, “And he answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord, and you have followed the Baals.”

After clarifying the situation, and reminding Ahab where the guilt ought to have been placed, Elijah threw down the gauntlet as it were, and proposed a sure resolution to the people’s faltering between two opinions, and to the people’s having divided hearts.

Because he was a man of God, Elijah had both foresight, and understanding of the spiritual condition that the men and women of Israel found themselves in. Elijah knew that they would only grow worse, that their hearts would only grow darker, and as consequence, God would continue his righteous judgment against them. Elijah had the foresight to see where the people were headed, spiritually speaking, as well as the understanding that the enemy never stops pursuing, never stops tempting, never stops beguiling until his victim is his in totality. If you think the enemy is content with only part of you, think again. A little vice turns into two, a little habit turns into a full blown addiction, a little sin turns into a constant and habitual practice, and so the enemy ensnares, and continues to consume all that is good and wholesome in you.

Given enough time, you’ll find yourself not even resisting temptation anymore, and the sins, habits and vices that once satisfied, satisfy you no longer. As such something stronger, viler, and more dangerous needs to be pursued in order to get the same momentary and fleeting satisfaction. The enemy never stops, and Elijah knew this.

Elijah’s proposition was simple and straightforward enough.

1 Kings 18:19-20, “Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table. So Ahab sent for all the children of Israel and gathered the prophets together on Mount Carmel.”

Even though Ahab was heavily influenced by his idol worshiping wife Jezebel, there was still something inside him that wanted to see the truth, that wanted to see whether it was Baal and Jezebel’s idols that had the true power, or the God of Israel, and the God of Elijah. So Ahab agreed to gather all the children of Israel, as well as the prophets of Baal and bring them all together on Mount Carmel.

What happens next is very telling, and I believe it is something that broke Elijah’s heart.

1 Kings 18:21, “And Elijah came to all the people, and said, ‘how long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ But the people answered him not a word.”

So here they were, all the children of Israel, descendants of those who had seen the hand of God move on their behalf, descendants of those who had witnessed the parting of the red sea, descendants of those who had seen God miraculously bring them out of captivity, and as the man of God asked who they would follow, and who they believed was God, their only answer was utter and deafening silence.

They had strayed so far from truth, they had given their hearts over to the idols and to Baal to such an extent, that when asked which was the true God, when asked to choose, they could not answer definitively and they could not make a choice.

I realize you may be asking, what does Baal have to do with today, and why should we be discussing a long dead pagan god? The truth of the matter is that Baal is not dead he is alive and well, and even living in the hearts of many who claim to be Christians today. No, there are no longer altars, no erected statues, but we have made gods of our possessions, we have made gods of our nationality, and we have made gods of our sports teams. Yes, there are many Baals among us, and if asked to choose definitively, I fear we would hear a great silence coming from much of the church today.

The truth is painful but necessary. We are unwilling to part with those things that hinder our relationship with God. We are unwilling to cut ties with the idols of our hearts, and surrender our all to God. We still believe that we can have one foot in the world, one foot in the church, and make it all the way to heaven. I’ve said it before, but I will say it again, the worst kind of deception, is self deception. Do not deceive yourself into believing that you can give God half your heart, and still know the fullness of Him. Do not deceive yourself into believing that you can be a halfhearted, lukewarm, indifferent and apathetic Christian, yet still be welcomed into the kingdom of God.

We must choose, or the choice will be made for us. We either walk with God and follow Him, heart, mind and soul, or we follow our idols, our dead gods, and our own imaginings. The tragedy here is, that dead gods and false idols satisfy in part, only until we really need them, then we realize that they are dead, they are illusions, they were fashioned out of clay and wood and our furtive minds, and can do nothing to help us in any way.

The word continues, and tells us what happened next. As the people were all gathered before Elijah, one lone man, and four hundred and fifty of Baal’s prophets, silent before them, Elijah presents a test to the people, one that would decide, and definitively so, which was the true god.

1 Kings 18:22-24, “Then Elijah said to the people, “I alone am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men. Therefore let them give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it; and I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire under it. Then you call on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, He is God.’ So all the people answered and said, ‘it is well spoken.’

Everything was done as Elijah suggested, two bulls were brought, and as the prophets of Baal were many, Elijah told them that they could go first. And so they did, the prophets of Baal preparing the bull, calling the name of Baal, crying aloud, and cutting themselves, but to no avail. No matter how hard they tried, no matter how much they cried out, no matter how much they cut themselves, there was no fire.

This is one of the main problems plaguing the modern day church. We have an abundance of teaching, we have an abundance of raised voices, we have an abundance of souls looking for something, anything, but with all the planning, and all the programs, with all the preparation and pomp there is still no fire. If there is no fire, all the screaming and yelling, all the barking and clucking, all the sweet words and fine buildings, mean nothing at all.

If there is no fire, if there is no Holy Spirit, are we any better than the prophets of Baal standing atop Mount Carmel crying out?

After the prophets of Baal had worn themselves out, tired and bleeding, angry at the mocking they’d had to endure from Elijah, it was Elijah’s turn to prepare the sacrifice, and call upon the name of the one true God.

1 Kings 18:30, “Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come near to me.’ So all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down.”

There can be no hope of fire, unless the altar is first and foremost rebuilt in our lives. I realize to some the basics of the faith, the elementary principles of Christ, the foundation of what we believe and why we believe it might seem pedantic, dull, simple, or otherwise above them, but these are necessary in the life of every believer. We want to know more, get deeper, and we come to resemble those of which Paul spoke, who are ever learning, but never coming to the truth. Elijah’s wisdom shone in that first and foremost he rebuilt the altar, because he knew that without an altar there can be no sacrifice. Without having the foundation of our faith firmly established, there can be no relationship with God, there can be no growth in God, and there can be no spiritual maturity.

After rebuilding the altar, putting the wood in order, cutting the bull in pieces and laying it on the wood, Elijah said something that most likely shocked the prophets of Baal who were now standing there, tired and bleeding.

“Fill four water pots with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice and on the wood” Elijah said, and if that was not enough he asked that this be repeated two more times. And here was the sacrifice upon the altar, soaked in water, the wood having been drenched and water running all around the altar.

There is a very deep spiritual principle in what Elijah did. When the Lord opened my eyes to this, it caused me to see this present world in a very different light, and even caused me to alter my prayer life, especially those things that I asked of the Lord.

The spiritual principle is this: It is an insult to expect of our God, only what the world expects of their God. Yes, you read correctly. If your expectation of the one true God extends only as far as what the world expects of their gods, then it is an insult to the one true God.

It is the enemy’s desire to keep us focused on the material, to keep our eyes firmly planted on the things of this earth, and to keep us asking God for those things, rather than the spiritual gifts He has reserved exclusively for His children. The enemy dreads and fears the moment a child of God receives this insight, and rather than asking God for worthless passing things, begins to ask for priceless eternal ones. Oh the power the children of God would have if only they knew to ask for the truly worthwhile, rather than the worthless.

The prophets of Baal would have been content with a spark amidst the dry wood and the pieces of bull, they would have even been content if someone would have flicked a match into the sacrifice so that there be some kind of fire, but the man of God would not be content with such a thing.

Elijah asked that water be poured onto and around the altar and the sacrifice, that when the power of God was revealed and made manifest, there would be no doubt that it was the hand of God. There would be no doubt that God had moved, and in a supernatural fashion.

From a purely human standpoint there would have been no way that this water drenched altar, wood, and sacrifice could have caught fire, and all who were there knew this as fact.

1 Kings 18:36-38, “And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel, and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God and that you have turned their hearts back to you again. Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.”

When a man is pure in the sight of God, it doesn’t take a long winded prayer, it doesn’t take them crying out, it doesn’t take them cutting themselves as the prophets of Baal did. It was a short and succinct prayer, but one that opened the windows of heaven, and when the fire came, it consumed everything, even licking up the water that was in the trench. At this point there was no doubt in the hearts of the people, they had seen the power of the God of Israel, they had seen the fire consume everything, while the prophets of Baal stood impotently by, their dead god and false idols silent in their death.

1 Kings 18:39, “Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The Lord, He is God, the Lord He is God.”

That day the heart of the people of Israel was turned back to their God. The witnessed the power of God with their own eyes, the felt the heat of the flame on their faces, and there was no longer any faltering between two opinions, there were no longer any divided hearts.

It is on the mountaintop, once we have rebuilt the altar of worship that we are able to see the power of our God. It is on the mountaintop that we see the glory of being in His presence, that we witness His mighty hand, and that we see His enemies flee from before Him.

I realize this series of posts is called life in the valley, but one could not readily see the contrasts, until they get a good look at all the benefits that the mountaintop has to offer. Yes, it is worth the journey, it is worth the struggle, it is worth the self sacrifice, to pick ourselves up, and journey from the valley toward the mountaintop. When we are faithful and obedient, we know that the victory will come not from, or through anything we do, but from and through God Himself, who will be there when we call on His name.

With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Michael, thanks for continuing with the "valley" theme. I'm enjoying this series so much, reading each installment slowly so as to savor every nuance of meaning. This series is very timely, considering our present world situation. I always feel spiritually well-fed after reading your blog or watching your videos. I thank God for you.

My heart is tender towards the suffering people of your homeland and I am praying for them, as well as for you and all your family and associates there.

In Christ,

Melanie

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