Unique People for God’s Unique Purposes

The Monuments Men Cover…and [King] Ahab had summoned Obadiah, his palace administrator.(Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had suppliedthem with food and water.) 1 Kings 18:3-4 (NIV)

This past summer I read The Monuments Men by Bret Witter and Robert Edsel. It is the book upon which the movie by the same name was based. One of the more intriguing pieces of the story was person of Rose Valland (Cate Blanchett played a character in the movie based on Valland). There was nothing particularly remarkable about her. She is described as the type of person who blended in and did not attract attention. She was, however, a woman of acute intellect, strong character, and indomitable courage.

Valland found herself a clerk in the midst of the Nazi’s looting of the world’s artistic treasures. A passionate lover of art, she literally risked her life to secretly document which paintings and works of art were stolen and where they were taken. The men who served with the Monuments Men were rightfully praised for their efforts, but were it not for Rose Valland being in the position she held and having the courage to do what she did, many of the world’s great works of art would no longer exist.

As I travel this life journey, I am intrigued to observe how people find themselves uniquely placed in situations and circumstances in which they are able to use their God given gifts and abilities in order to accomplish specific purposes. I thought about Obadiah and Elijah as I read today’s chapter. Here are two very different characters in two very different circumstances who are part of the same events. Elijah the prophet is a reclusive, unpredictable outsider living in the wilderness far away from the centers of political and religious power. Obadiah, on the other hand, is a polished and educated insider working in the administrative heart of the corrupt and evil monarchy. Very different men, very different places, but both uniquely suited to fulfill God’s purposes. God used them both, and they each had a unique job to perform.

I have found that we like to place God, His followers and His purposes into neat little prescriptive boxes that fit our comfortable paradigms. I am reminded this morning by Elijah, by Obadiah, and by Rose Valland, that God uses vastly different individuals of His own choosing and calling to accomplish purposes that lie beyond our comprehension.

 

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The Intriguing Person of the Prophet Elijah

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) b...

The upper part of The Transfiguration (1520) by Raphael, depicting Christ miraculously discoursing with Moses and Elijah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So [Elijah] did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. 1 Kings 17:5-6 (NIV)

The prophet Elijah is one of the most intriguing characters in the entirety of God’s Message. He appears out of nowhere, has a brief ministry marked by miraculous events, confronts the evil and powerful King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel, and then disappears in a whirlwind.

Most people don’t realize it, but Elijah also figures into Jesus’ life and teachings. When asked who people that Jesus was, his followers respond that Elijah was a trending vote getter. Jesus told His followers that John the Baptist was the person of Elijah returned to restore all things. On the mount of transfiguration when Jesus was revealed in His glory, Elijah appeared with Him. Jesus referred to Elijah in His teaching on multiple occasions. While hanging on the cross, witnesses thought Jesus was calling out to Elijah.

As I read today’s chapter, I found it interesting that the miracles of Elijah seemed to strongly parallel the miracles of Jesus. The widows flour and oil never ran dry, much like the baskets filled with bread and fish when Jesus fed the crowds with His all you can eat fish fry by the Sea of Galilee. When Elijah takes the dead widow’s son into an upper room and bring’s the boy back to life, it is eerily reminiscent of Jesus going into the room of Jairus’ dead daughter bringing her back to life.

One of the things I have come to appreciate more and more in my sojourn through God’s Message is the connections, parallels, foreshadowing, and recurring themes that stretch across the entirety of the story that God has told and is still telling. I love that God is both an artist and an author. He is telling a story. It is His-story.

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Peace and Stability in Volatile Times

source: eastcentralillinoiswxphotography93 via Flickr

source: eastcentralillinoiswxphotography93 via Flickr

 

In the twenty-sixth year of Asa king of Judah…
In the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah…
In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah…
In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah…
1 Kings 16:8, 15, 23, 29 (NIV)

 

After the reign of Solomon, the nation of Israel was split in two. Ten of Israel’s tribes comprise the northern kingdom of Israel with the capital in Samaria. A “Game of Thrones” is a good way to describe the political situation in the northern kingdom as the throne is occupied by a string of strongmen who largely ascended by power, violence and force. Nineteen kings occupy the throne over a period of about 200 years before being conquered by the Assyrians.

 

The tribes of Judah and Benjamin comprise the southern kingdom of Judah with the capital in Jerusalem. Judah remains loyal to the house of David and clings to God’s promises to David. The throne is occupied by nineteen kings and one queen from the line of David over a period of about 350 years before Judah is conquered by the Babylonians.

 

I found it interesting that King Asa of Judah was described as being faithful to God and he reigned over 40 years. It struck me while reading today’s chapter that during Asa’s reign the political situation in the northern kingdom is extremely volatile with a series of military leaders and strong men claiming the throne. Every one of them is described as being committed to the local pagan idols and gods rather than the God of Israel. In the case of Zimri, he held the throne for an entire week before committing suicide by burning the palace down around him. Yikes.

 

This morning I’m pondering the contrast in the two nations during Asa’s reign. It’s an apt word picture for how I think of my life with and without my faith. Despite the ebb and flow of blessing and tragedy along life’s road, I find a high degree of peace and stability from my faith in Jesus – much like Judah seemed to experience during Asa’s reign. I think back to what I remember life being like before my decision to follow Jesus and it feels a lot like the political situation in Israel with life swaying aimlessly with each shift in the power of emotions or circumstances.

 

Today, I’m thankful for peace and stability even in the midst of volatile life changes.

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Counting the Cost of Family

(source: leshaines123 via Flickr)

(source: leshaines123 via Flickr)

[King Asa] even deposed his grandmother Maakah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive image for the worship of Asherah. Asa cut it down and burned it in the Kidron Valley. 1 Kings 15:13 (NIV)

I thought about Asa this morning as he attempted to bring spiritual reform to the tribe of Judah. I try to imagine the family drama playing out when he deposes Grandma from her position of political power. We are told very little about the situation in the text. Knowing a few things about the ways family systems operate I can only believe that it was a tremendously messy affair, especially when you consider that it was far more than just a family issue. Asa and his grandmother were vying for positions of power within the political and spiritual systems of the nation. It had to have gotten ugly inside the palace.

As I pondered Asa’s situation, I thought about a string of incidents in which Jesus emphasizes that following Him often happens at the cost of family relationships. Jesus told the crowds that those who follow Him must be willing to walk away from fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers. When a man said that he would follow Jesus just as soon as he fulfilled his obligation to bury his father, Jesus told the man to “let the dead bury their own dead” and to follow immediately. When another man said he would follow, but first had to go back and say good-bye to his family, Jesus’ response was sharp. He told the man that he shouldn’t put his hand on the plow and then turn back.

These certainly aren’t among the easy, Pinterest worthy sayings of Jesus’ teaching. Family is messy, and Jesus knew that broken family systems often hold people in spiritual bondage. The control that some families exert over individual members, while often appearing to be quite loving and healthy, can keep those individuals from following Jesus and achieving God’s purposes and callings for their lives.

Today, I’m thankful for family who encouraged me to follow Jesus and who gave me the freedom to embark on the course that God set for my life (even when I know they may not have agreed nor been comfortable with where it led). I’m saying a prayer for all of those for whom following Jesus comes at the cost of family relationships. And, I’m continuing to seek out how I can encourage our girls to follow Jesus and His path and purposes for their lives (even when it runs perpendicular to the paths and purposes I might desire for them).

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The Problem with Pictorial Directories

What if church pictorial directories showed us as we really are?

What if church pictorial directories showed us as we really are?

At that time Abijah son of Jeroboam became ill, and Jeroboam said to his wife, “Go, disguise yourself, so you won’t be recognized as the wife of Jeroboam. Then go to Shiloh. Ahijah the prophet is there—the one who told me I would be king over this people.”
1 Kings 14:1-2a (NIV)

Yesterday I had the privilege to give the Sunday message at Westview church in Waukee. I shared a tongue-in-cheek illustration about church pictorial directories. Every church I’ve ever attended has done a pictorial directory. A company comes in with their portrait cameras and families sign up to come to the church to have their professional portrait done. The company puts together a directory of the families for the church and makes money off of the photos packages that they sell.

My illustration was simply that when we go to have our family portraits done, we put on our nice clothes, get cleaned up for the camera, and try our very best to look the part of a picture perfect family. We want to appear to be who we think God and the church want us to be. I think it’s very similar to what many of us church-goers do every Sunday morning. We want to appear, not as we really are, but as who we suspect others want us to be. What would that portrait look like, however, if the camera captured us as we really are?

Jeroboam’s wife did her best to pretend to be someone she was not when she went to Ahijah the prophet. But, God and the prophet saw through her charade, as I believe God does with all of us whenever we try to pull the same trick.

This morning I’m thinking about living authentically and being honest about who I am. Life is messy, humans are imperfect creatures, and the further I get in life’s journey the more I discover the depths of my own depravity and my need of grace and forgiveness from both God and others. Hiding and pretending does nothing for my spiritual progression, and, in fact, only hinders and delays the process. Only when I am honest and authentic with myself, God, and others, can I deal honestly with my blind spots make progress on this spiritual pilgrimage.

 

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Dealing with “God Told Me to Tell You” Statements

source: n3k via Flickr

source: n3k via Flickr

The man of God said, “I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. I have been told by the word of the Lord: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.’”

The old prophet answered, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’” (But he was lying to him.) So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house. 1 Kings 13:16-19 (NIV)

Along my journey I have been, from time to time, approached by individuals who proclaim to have some kind of “God told me” word or statement that pertains to me. I am not discounting the possibility that God could speak to me through another person, but I have learned over time to approach these situations with Jesus’ words in mind: “Be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves.”

The man of God in today’s chapter had been given a clear directive by God. Along comes another prophet whose “God told me” statement contradicted the clear word he’d been given. His blind faith in the stranger had disastrous results. I don’t want to make a similar mistake, so when someone claims to have a word from God that affects me, there are a few simple guidelines I’ve learned to follow:

  • Consider the source. If approached by a stranger or a casual acquaintance whom I don’t know, I am going to be appropriately more cautious. If it comes from Wendy, one of the guys in my inner circle, or a fellow believer who knows me and whom I know and respect, then I’m immediately going to give it greater weight in my consideration.
  • Beware of contradictions. There are some things that I’ve learned about myself and believe wholeheartedly based on my own experiences and faith journey. I am supposed to be in Pella. I believe that God has a purpose for both me and Wendy here. If someone approached me today and said, “God told me that you are supposed to move to Timbuktu,” then I would be immediately, shrewdly suspect. This contradicts all of the sign posts and waypoints on my journey.
  • Seek wisdom. I have a strong circle of family and friends who are wise, who know me well, and whom I have given carte blanche permission to speak into my life. Before giving a stranger’s “God told me” statement any credence, I would run it by these people whom I trust. If I share the word given to me and their B.S. Meters start sounding an alarm, then I feel totally secure dismissing it.
  • Don’t worry. God will accomplish His purposes in me (consider Jonah). I am open and actively listening. I am continually asking, seeking, and knocking. If I’m supposed to move to Timbuktu then that’s where I’m going to end up. Just because a stranger tells me such doesn’t mean I need to obsess about it. Chill. Have faith. Follow. Press on.
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A Lesson for this Leader

rehoboam

King Rehoboam sent out Adoniram, who was in charge of forced labor, but all Israel stoned him to death. 1 Kings 12:8 (NIV)

A few weeks ago we were reading about Solomon’s reign and I commented:

Taxation, nepotism, and slave labor. [Scratching my head, carefully avoiding the receding hairline] If I’m standing in Solomon’s sandals things seem pretty cushy. If I’m standing in the sandals of a common citizen on the outskirts of Gilead who just watched the king’s official walk off with my children, my livestock, and a two month’s supply of olive oil, I’m not exactly feeling the love.

I feel a storm cloud rising on the horizon. 

Today those words came back to me as I read the conversation between Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, and the nation. It sounded to me like the people were being more gracious and reasonable than I might have been if I’d been standing in their sandals. David and Solomon had built a great kingdom, but somewhere along the line they forgot a small principle that Jesus was fond of reminding his followers: Anyone who wants to be great among you must be the servant of all.

I can see the progression across the generations. David, and to a greater extent his son Solomon, and to an even greater extent his grandson Rehoboam, were willing to advance their own self-centered desires by using their power, authority, and position to subjugate their own people rather than serve their own people.

In today’s chapter the inevitable happens. Rehoboam has an opportunity to redeem the situation, but he chooses to follow his father’s example and his peers’ foolishness. The people rebel in a bloody coup. Adoniram, who has been the national slave master since the days of David, is stoned to death. Rehoboam barely escapes with his life.

Today, I am thinking about my own positions of leadership, power, and authority as they relate to my family, my work, and my community. I want my own life and leadership to be marked by Jesus’ admonishment to be a servant all, especially those I lead. I don’t want a blind spot of pride, self-centeredness, or foolishness to keep me from doing the right thing for those I serve.

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