Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Elijah on the Sideline

Have you ever been kicked in the teeth, thrown in the mud, bent over in pain, with your enemy standing over you... taunting and powerful? 

Or worse, has there been a season of winter... winless.. and there doesn't seem to be a heartbeat left and no friend on the horizon?

We almost always think of the Bible in terms of wins and perfection. But the Bible is more about loss and depression. It has few level plains.... everything in the Bible seems to model human existence as short peaks and deep, dark valleys. 

If there is a passage that speaks to our life in times of isolation and darkness, there is no more powerful passage than the account of Elijah running from Jezebel in I Kings 19. There is enough content in these 22 verses for an entire book.

THE STORY OF TWO MOUNTAINS:

Elijah was a prophet with power. There is no more public and powerful victory in the Old Testament than the one on the top of Mount Carmel when Elijah called down fire on the prophets of Baal. Elijah's story is one of dramatic showdowns and extremes. He is a man fed by ravens and who prays down rain.

But there is another mountain that Elijah will end up up on.... just a few chapters in your Bible... but the journey was 40 days and nights... only 260 miles... but when you are wandering in a state of loss and darkness, everything is slow and wearying. 

A MAN ON THE RUN: Emptiness, Fear, Loneliness, and Isolation

Often after great highs, we sink into holes.

Hal Higdon has an entire section in his book, “Marathon- The Ultimate Training Guide” devoted to ‘Post-marathon Blues”.“We focus our lives on this one event for 5 months- and then its done” reflects a Melbourne Beach, Florida runner “Now what?You have the great high of race day, especially when you finish or meet your goal...but soon after- there is this tangible reality of emptiness.

It isn't just in running....Ernie Conwell works for the NFL Players Association. He was a college standout for the University of Washington and achieved great accomplishments as a pro. He was drafted by the Rams in 1996, won a Super Bowl after a horrific knee injury, named a captain for the New Orleans Saints- An All-Pro selection in 2001.

I had the privilege to have Ernie coach with me in Nashville and I loved hearing him speak to men about his miraculous journey back from the knee injury and what it felt like to compete in the NFL.

But you could hear a pin drop when he explained the saddest reality of all......

Right after his Super Bowl win - the pinnacle of a sport achievement- a lifetime pursuit that organizations invest millions to get, and individual's pour blood, sweat, and tears to grasp...
In the locker room...right after winning THE SUPER BOWL!.... after hugs and laughter...
a lot of grown men sat there with empty stares on their faces... now what?


This isn't to minimize the lasting memories or value of the accomplishment. It is a recognition of all human existence... the thrill is momentary and often less than satisfying.

It isn't just in big things... it is in almost every aspect of life.

I always thought it was appropriate that Pip experienced all the shock of seeing his world collapse in the classic novel, “Great Expectations”.

“All the truths of my position came flashing on me; and its disappointments, dangers, disgraces, consequences of all kinds, rushed in in such a multitude that I was borne down by them and had to struggle for every breath I drew.”

But it was the subtle letdowns that he noticed first:

My (new) clothes were rather a disappointment, of course. Probably every new and eagerly expected garment ever put on since clothes came in, fell a trifle short of the wearer's expectation.

So RIGHT after Elijah's great victory... he get's word that Jezebel was making a promise... she was guaranteeing the death of Elijah!

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. [2] Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” (1 Kings 19:1–2 ESV)

And Elijah grew VERY afraid:

Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life ....

Have you ever run from something that is scary? ... I have.... one time as a boy I jumped a fence and a german shepherd ran toward me... I turned and ran so fast and so full of fear that I leaped over the chain link! The panic! Yes, usually there is danger... but we also are running from something that we can't see anymore, and in our mind the beast is growling and drooling and about to snatch us...

When a powerful enemy puts you in their site... it can create such a panic.  But with Elijah, he had just publicly stood up to the state and the prophets of darkness... why run now? I think it was the nature of her vow... it sounded drop dead serious and it made Elijah not only quiver, but run.. and the running creates thought distortions as well.

[4] But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 

One of the alarming statistics coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic is the staggering amount of suicides and crises of anxiety that are as dominant as the plague itself!

The CDC reports that during June 24–30, 2020, U.S. adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.

So where do we go and what do we do when these thoughts begin to overtake us?

Mental health is a very complex issue and usually there is not an instant cure. In Elijah's case, the Lord intervened in a very supernatural way... but there are principles here that can help all of us. Living moment by moment and taking steps is a type of miracle... and we should celebrate all victories, even the tiniest ones!

DON'T MISS THE BROOM TREE

 And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” [6] And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. [7] And the angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” [8] And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:5–8 ESV)


At some point our human energy meets its limit and we fall down... incapable of going forward. In the middle of the desert, the Lord had been growing a broom tree, some of which can grow to heights of 9 feet or more. Years previous, it was just a shoot, struggling to survive in the harsh heat and dehydrating winds. But God knew it would serve a purpose ( and many more we will never know) to hide the prophet in pain. And there Elijah was fed by angels. On two occasions, as he woke up... maybe years later he thought it a delirious dream ...... but we know better. God feeds us as well when we reach the end of the rope. The text that comes at an unusual time. A song we hear. A stranger we meet. We pass it off later as a coincidence, even at times we run away God's angels- but they won't stop until you have been given enough to finish the journey and get back on mission.

Just a note- it doesn't take 40 days to get from Carmel to Horeb and it doesn't take 40 years to get from Egypt to Canaan. But we never get to go in a straight line anywhere when it comes to matters of faith. We fight the path and God has to nudge us bit by bit. This is not a hike in a meadow, this is a wrestling match all the way! And when we finally get there, we always laugh at why it took us so long!

THE AMAZING ENCOUNTER THAT CHANGED NOTHING AND EVERYTHING

So this is one of my favorite passages in the Bible:

There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [10] He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” [11] And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. [12] And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. [13] And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” [14] He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1 Kings 19:9–14 ESV)

What a mystery and what a moment!

God asks... "What are you doing here?". Don't you love the questions of God! "Adam, where are you?"
"Peter, who do men say that I am?"

God knows the answers.... but he LOVES the interaction!

And those questions can haunt, can convict, and uplift... sometimes ALL at the same time!

What we miss here is the passion and conviction of the two answers, even though the words are the same!

I really got knocked down this week when I learned some very sad and disturbing news about one of my heroes, Ravi Zacharius. No need to go into the details, but it made me sad. Combine that with some physical fatigue, a nagging calf injury, and a week full of complaints and grumbling and I was knocked flat.

And it is easy to ask in those moments... "Is God there? and Does He care?"

But even through the winds, and earthquakes, and fires... His still small voice nourishes me to keep crawling. And what is our response? Get up and get on mission.

And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. [16] And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. [17] And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. [18] Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:15–18 ESV)

God is there... He does care... and we are NEVER alone. There is no such thing as the 'last Christian on earth' though the devil wants you to believe that.

So where are you?

A failure because of sin?.... yes, that happens to everyone, even those we think are bullet proof (heed the lesson there).

The target of an enemy? Yes, sometimes we run and the thought distortions grow!

A let down after a high?... yes, that is a normal existence, listen for the small voice!

Worn down and exhausted? As you lay down, look for the broom tree... nourishment is coming.

Lonely and without a friend? Hang in there... keep loving and keep serving

As Elijah went on in obedience, he picked up a friend.

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. [20] And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” [21] And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him. (1 Kings 19:19–21 ESV)

My mom had a strange obsession with the Blood, Sweat, and Tears song, "And When I Die".. the chorus went like this.

And when I die, and when I'm gone
There'll be one child born
In this world to carry on, to carry on

I did NOT like the song... I told her it was stupid and she just laughed. But there is a lot of truth there-  our seasons will come to an end and we will be too frail to go on the journey one day. But we can cheer from the sidelines and encourage those that will then be walking a well worn path!

We must be willing to train (disciple) the next generation to live for Christ. Hard times are coming for those who cling to Christ. But don't fret- love them well and shepherd their hearts.

When we serve other people, it helps to lift us up out of fear, worry, anxiety, and depression.

After some rest, some fishing, prayer, a day of snow... there came the still small voice and I was ready to go again!

May we all be led to keep walking in Him!

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