Raven meat

I’ve been reading in the Old Testament. I was interested in David, so I started with 1st and 2nd Samuel. To set the stage, 1st and 2nd Samuel follows the books of Joshua and Judges. Joshua tells the story of the Israelites entering the promised land (Canaan) after their delivery from Egyptian slavery and 40-year sojourn through the desert. Judges describes leadership by several judges, including my personal favorite, Samson. 1st and 2nd Samuel marks a pivotal time in the nation’s history. This is when they moved from a God-king arrangement to a man-king scenario. The first king was Saul; David was the next.

1st and 2nd Kings follows 1st and 2nd Samuel and tells the story of the post-David kings, starting with his son Solomon and degenerating into a succession of kings who departed from God-worship and embraced idol-worship. It’s not a good time in the now divided nation: Judah in the south and Israel in the north. The evil Ahab is the current king of Israel in 1 Kings 16.

In 1 Kings 17, we are introduced to a new character, Elijah. Elijah was a prophet that God used to redirect Israel from idolatry back to God-worship. This chapter is simply amazing. Let’s camp there for a bit. Here’s the sequence of events from this single chapter.

  • Elijah announces a drought. No rain, no dew for three years.
  • God instructs him to hide east of the Jordan (that’s the “other” side from the promised land). The drought is not especially popular, especially with Ahab.
  • God sends the ravens to feed Elijah meat and bread each morning and evening; Elijah drinks water from a brook.
  • The brook dries up. God sends Elijah to a widow with a young son.
  • God provides sufficient oil and flour for the widow to feed him, as well as herself and her son. There is always just enough oil and flour for the day. No more, no less.
  • The woman’s son gets sick and dies. She blames Elijah.
  • Elijah prays to bring him back to life and God answers with a miracle. Elijah does this alone, just God, the boy, and him.

What can we learn?

  • Prayer matters to God. He answers.
  • God provides. Always. Caveat: it may not be in the way we prefer or imagine. The ravens may bring your meat.
  • When we help, do it just to help, not for recognition or praise.

What do you suppose happens next? Read 1 Kings 18. Spoiler alert: Elijah faces Ahab. Fire and rain ensues.

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It’s not me, it’s you

In Galatians 2, Paul explains grace to the young church in Galatia. He teaches that “earning” God’s acceptance through good behavior is a dead end. By replacing a focus on self with submission to grace, we place Jesus front and center. This is the rightful position of our Shepherd-King and frees us to worship Him in faith and love.

What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily. (Galations 2:20 MSG)

Want to grow your relationship with God? Pray this: “Jesus, I’m imperfect. I cannot earn righteousness. You paid the penalty for my sins and now offer me forgiveness through your gift of grace. I accept! For my salvation, hope, peace, and joy, it’s not me, it’s you.”

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Sifted wheat

When I was in high school I worked at a grain elevator in Oxford, KS. This is where wheat is collected after being harvested from regional farms. It is stored and then loaded onto railway cars for transportation to processing facilities. My job was to weigh and sample each truck load of wheat when it was delivered. The truck arrived from the field and pulled onto the scale where it was weighed. At this time I’d collect a sample of the wheat and then weigh a specified volume of this sample. This measurement was used to determine the amount of foreign material. You see, a field of wheat is not just wheat. The wheat is covered by chaff that must be removed. There are also weeds, some disguised to look much like wheat.

I’m not so different than the wheat. I’ve got a covering to strip away and weeds, too. Content that does not belong. Pride. Envy. Impatience. Lust. Important steps in harvesting wheat are threshing and winnowing. In threshing, the inedible chaff is loosened from the edible grain. The chaff is then separated from the wheat during winnowing. Historically, threshing was completed by spreading the wheat on the ground and beating it with a flail. The winnowing was completed by throwing the wheat in the air where the lighter chaff was blown away in even a moderate wind. Jesus used this sifting metaphor when warning Peter about his denial on the night He was betrayed. Jesus said:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

All too often I feel like there is so much sifting to be done in my life. My foreign material percentage is way too high. However, when thinking about this passage recently, something very important occurred to me. It sounds obvious…

When sifting wheat, there is chaff to be removed, but there is also wheat! The wheat is already there. There would be no point in sifting otherwise.

Take heart friend, God sees you as valuable, golden wheat. The chaff just drifts away in a gentle breeze as you continue in your obedient walk with your loving Father.

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O how the mighty have fallen…

Have you ever heard or used the phrase, “how the mighty have fallen”? It’s generally a demeaning statement. If you aren’t familiar with its popular use, it is a jovial or mocking way of remarking that someone is doing something that he or she used to consider very demeaning [1].

This idiom is often applied to indicate a reduction in status, a moral failure, a day of reckoning. A person is particularly susceptible to this response from onlookers if he/she acts prideful in his/her elevated position. I would suggest that if someone makes an idol of something that is otherwise a good thing, a “mighty fall” is in their future.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a big fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again
. [2]

The origin of “how the mighty have fallen” has a very different meaning, however. Rather than a negative connotation, David wrote it in verse to sing the praises of his king, Saul, and his dearest friend, Saul’s son, Jonathan, when they were killed in battle.

How the mighty have fallen!
The weapons of war have perished!
” (2 Samuel 1:27)

The irony is that Saul had become envious of David and disobedient to God. His envy had led him to hunt and attempt to kill David despite the best efforts of both David and Jonathan to convince him of David’s loyalty. David’s response was one of integrity that rose above his circumstances. His use of the phrase was the polar opposite of today’s implementation.

I hope to follow in David’s footsteps. Let’s use words to honor. Let’s offer grace, not judgement. Let’s pivot and be a voice that obeys Jesus’ charge to his followers:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Rise up, mighty one! Love as you are loved.

  1. https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/How+the+mighty+have+fallen
  2. I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), ISBN 0-19-869111-4, pp. 213–5.

 

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Flesh and stone

I’ve been thinking about flesh and stone. Take a look at Ezekiel 36:26 (KJV).

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

This verse confused me for a long time. I thought the stone heart represented one that was unfeeling and stoic. I knew that I wasn’t without feeling (at least most of the time, I am a man after all), but I was also familiar enough with my own inconsistency that I knew I needed less flesh, less me, not more.

Let’s take a look at The Message translation to shed some light on the true meaning of this passage.

I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands.

Aha. Stone/stony refers to being hard, non-compliant, stubborn. I can relate. It is a daily struggle to replace my stubborn will (stone) with one that is compliant (flesh) and gratefully submits to God’s way. This new heart enables me to be obedient when it was not possible before!

This stone vs. flesh metaphor takes on universal significance if we compare the Old and New Testaments, which represent God’s promises to His people. With the Old Testament, we have the law, our guide and mirror in remaining obedient. In Exodus 24:12 we learn that God wrote His commands on tablets of stone and gave them to Moses.

The New Testament brings the good news of Jesus, God made flesh to serve as a living, complete, once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins. With Jesus’ death and resurrection, the path was blazed for our forgiveness and, unbelievably, our righteousness in Him.

I continue daily in this heart transplanting. My experience is that, while it may be a one-time operation, strengthening and learning to use this new heart of flesh, this new obedient heart, is a process. Some days my heart beats strongly, pumping fresh blood of the grace and mercy that I’ve been shown through my veins and into my interactions with God’s children. Other days, my old stony nature erupts into impatience, self-importance, and bitter disappointment.

My continual hope, however, is my trust in a faithful God who tells us that: …he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 1:6)

Take heart, friend. God’s stone-to-flesh transplant is just waiting on your request. Peace!

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Thankstrusting

There are pumpkins on my porch. There is football on television. These clues tell me that fall has arrived on the calendar, even though the Charlotte weather doesn’t seem to be cooperating. Fall means Thanksgiving.

I was reminded of the importance of gratitude through a conversation with my son; he’s a freshman at UNC. He expressed his appreciation to me for being his dad and all that includes. I was immensely gratified by his position of thankfulness, not because I needed him to thank me but because it tells me about his perspective.

A posture of gratitude is also God’s desire for us. The Bible, God’s love letter to us, has a lot to say about thankfulness. Let’s take a look. We’ll answer some key questions regarding the details of thanksgiving.

About what?

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

We’re to give thanks for every thing, not just touchdowns. It’s God’s will for us!

When?

giving thanks always for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ Ephesians 5:20

We’re to give thanks always, not just when things go our way.

For what?

Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His faithful love endures forever.
Psalm 136:26

We’re to express our gratitude to God’s because He loves us. This puts our focus on God and His goodness, not us and our temporal desires.

Why?

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Psalm 107:1

We give thanks because God is good, because He is faithful, forever.

True gratitude is closely connected to trust. We cannot appreciate someone unless we trust them, unless we believe their motives are pure. This is true in our relationship with God as well.

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
Psalm 28:7

Look at the order. We trust, we’re helped, we exult, we give thanks. Trust leads to thanksgiving. What appears next on this path? The answer appears in one of my favorite passages.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. Phillipians 4:6-7

We pray. We trust. We’re helped. We give thanks. We are given peace that exceeds our circumstances.

Give your thanks to God. For every thing. Always. Peace to you brothers and sisters!

 

 

 

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Thyine wood

When I’m reading the Bible I sometimes find a word or phrase that catches my attention and sticks with me. This week I was studying Revelation 18 and read: “things made of fragrant thyine wood” in verse 12 (NLT). I’m a country boy. I took wood shop in high school. However, I’ve never heard of thyine wood… so I did my research (which means I typed thyine wood into my Internet search engine).

Thyine wood is a 15th-century English name for a wood from the tree known botanically as Tetraclinis articulata (syn. Callitris quadrivalvis, Thuja articulata). The name is derived from the Greek word thuon, “fragrant wood,” or possibly thuein, “to sacrifice”, and it was so called because it was burnt in sacrifices, on account of its fragrance. [1]

That’s interesting because chapter 18 is about the future destruction of the city of Babylon. Why would citizens of this epicenter for evil behavior purchase wood for sacrifices to God? The short answer is “they didn’t”. What they purchased was “things made of fragrant thyine wood”. This means that we can misuse what is good and turn it toward what is evil, outside God’s desire for His children to live a life free from the tyranny of sin (Romans 6:12).

Let’s take inventory. Is there anything you’re using inappropriately? Sex outside marriage? Run the other direction. Wealth without generosity? Give it away. Pride in self? Offer credit and gratitude to your Creator. Have you made a good thing the ultimate thing? When any “good” is elevated to “god”, it has become an idol. God won’t leave you there. He’s a jealous God (Exodus 34:14).

Let’s spend this week looking for the thyine wood in our lives. Let’s make sure it’s being used for its intended purpose: to honor our God, our Savior, our King. Let our worship be a fragrant sacrifice!

  1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thyine_wood

 

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