Saturday, November 9

Mark 9:2-4

What has been the greatest spiritual experience of your life? Where did it occur? Who was there? How did God speak to you through it? 

Several experiences immediately stand out in my memory. When I was 10 years old, my church group was sitting around a campfire at summer camp hearing the salvation story when I felt an irresistible urge to follow Christ. A similar experience occurred years later. In an incredibly moving worship service, my husband and I were appointed to be missionaries to the African country of Zambia. Those indelible memories, God willing, will endure throughout my lifetime.

Surely the transfiguration was an experience that Peter, James, and John would carry in their hearts and minds forever. In these verses the disciples literally see Jesus in a new light, transfigured and appearing with the legendary figures of their faith, Elijah and Moses. 

Surely the disciples’ relationship with Jesus breaks new ground. After an exhausting road trip when one of the crowds had been especially challenging, did the disciples sit around a campfire and retell the story of what they saw and felt that day on the mountain?

God knows that we need moments that offer light on the long road of discipleship. Glimpses of what is holy, those encouraging revelations that leave us with awe and insight, are God’s gifts for our journey.

Consider

What holy moments in your life have been God’s gifts for your journey?

Pray

Holy God, thank you for giving us glimpses of your grace and goodness. May such experiences light our way and draw us nearer to you. May we live the holy life you offer us. Amen.

Friday, November 8

1 Kings 18:38-39

In Elijah’s day, fire indicated judgment. In this story, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel not only arrives on the scene, but shows up in such a spectacular fashion as to remove any doubt about God’s omnipotence. The onlookers who are hoping for a supernatural intervention receive much more than they bargained for. 

God’s fire differs from the normal flame that humans supplied to light a sacrifice; it is the opposite in every way. Rather than rising up from the wood, it falls upon the altar. These intense flames consume everything, including the stones. Even the dust is destroyed, as well as every drop of water filling the trench. 

The contest is over, but the Israelites are not dancing in the end zone. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD indeed is God; the LORD indeed is God” (v. 39).

They respond with an instinctive humility, always the authentic reaction of those who recognize they are standing in God’s presence. 

What goes through the people’s minds in that moment? As they recognize God’s powerful presence, do they experience the pain of recalling all the ways they have failed their Maker? Surrounded by the heat of the flames, is their hope rekindled that God loves them enough to purify them, painful as that process is? Do they finally believe the words they say in worship, that The LORD indeed is God

Consider

When have you been humbled by the reality of God’s presence? How did that experience change you?

Pray

God, thank you for pursuing us with your unfathomable love. Thank you for loving us enough to help us change. Teach us to be more like you. Amen.

Thursday, November 7

1 Kings 18:36-37

As a hospice chaplain I’m often called upon to officiate a funeral. When I first became a chaplain, the prospect of speaking and praying before an audience of my patient’s loved ones terrified me. Then I learned what an awesome privilege it is. Now I find great satisfaction and blessing in speaking at such a sacred gathering.

Do you get nervous when you’re asked to pray in public? What if you were asked to pray and you knew it would be one of the most important prayers of your life? Or perhaps, the most important prayer of your life? Elijah’s prayer was just that.

Baal’s prophets had prayed for hours to their nonexistent god. They begged the fake deity to hear their prayers and answer. Now it’s the other team’s turn. 

Elijah’s prayer is brief and to the point. He asks three things of the Lord. First, he asks that the people would see that God alone is the one true God. Second, he asks God to affirm that Elijah is the Lord’s servant and had only done what God’s asked of him. Finally, Elijah asks God to demonstrate that God has repaired the relationship between the Lord and God’s people.

Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back (v. 37). This was Elijah’s prayer. Is it our prayer as well? 

Consider

How often does a concern for the spiritual well-being of others become the purpose of your prayers? 

Pray

God, may we love you so completely that we do not hesitate to ask you for help either privately or publicly, fully confident that you will respond and be present in our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, November 6

1 Kings 18:30-35

Wouldn’t it be great to hear, Come closer to me, whenever we stray from God (v. 30)? Elijah calls the Israelites, who have been far away from God, to come closer. The prophet is asking them to physically draw near as he speaks, but his words have deeper meaning also. He’s inviting those who’ve wandered from the Lord to return and see firsthand what God is about to do. 

Come closer, he says, and as they do, Elijah repairs the broken altar that symbolizes Israel’s broken relationship with God. This was where their ancestors worshiped the one true God. Over the years God’s people forgot their identity.

Elijah repairs the altar with twelve stones representing Jacob’s sons, the tribes of Israel that had become a divided kingdom. Now the altar is being mended, rebuilt so that it’s usable for worship again. 

In case the Israelites are slow to understand the imagery of twelve stones, Elijah digs a trench and places wood around the altar, puts the bull upon it, and pours twelve jars of water over everything. The water covering the meat and wood is so excessive it fills the trench. 

Sometimes we forget who we are and whose we are. Come closer to me is a message we need to remember. May it become a regular rhythm in our lives.

Consider

When have you wandered away from God? How did God call you back? Identify a broken altar in your life, a place of spiritual neglect that needs restoration. What steps can you take to begin the rebuilding process? 

Pray

God, grant me wisdom to see where I’ve neglected the sacred places of my life. Please forgive me as we rebuild what I’ve torn down. Thank you for hearing when I call on you. Amen.

Tuesday, November 5

1 Kings 18:25-29

On the day of the big event, the epic showdown, the Super Bowl of all competitions, Baal wins the coin toss. All 450 of Baal’s prophets are lined up and pitted again Elijah in the battle to see whose god will show up. Emotions in the crowd mount into a strange mixture of fear and anticipation.

Elijah gives Baal’s prophets an advantage, allowing them to choose their bull, prepare their sacrificial meat, and place it on the altar first. In a sort of spiritual pep rally, the prophets of Baal surround the altar and begin to call upon their god to light the flame for the not-yet burnt offering. 

“Light the fire! Light the fire!” 

Nothing. (Perhaps Baal prefers steak tartare, some may have wondered.) The false prophets keep calling out from morning to noon, but without any reply.

Time to up the ante, they think. If Baal won’t listen to their loud cries and pleas, perhaps blood will motivate him. In a state of frenzy, they cut themselves to demonstrate their utter devotion. Surely, their god of thunder would see their dedication, hear their cries, and make an appearance, plus provide a little spark for the firewood.

Following hours of this, Elijah begins taunting the opposing team: “Where is your god? Perhaps he stepped out or is taking a nap?” Elijah perfects the art of trash talking. He’s convinced that his God will show up and be victorious. The prophet has already been assured of the One he worships. Elijah’s trust in God comes from his experiences rather than a long-shot hope. 

Consider

When have you felt the kind of confidence in God that Elijah expresses?

Pray

God, thank you for showing up in our lives and assuring us of your promise to never leave or forsake your children. Amen.

Monday, November 4

1 Kings 18:20-24

Whether an election day is on your agenda this week or not, making choices will be. In the grand scheme of things, some of those decisions seem unimportant. (What’s for lunch today?) But some choices, with their resulting consequences, have the capacity to change lives. Sometimes we forget how powerful a choice can be. Elijah makes sure that Israel knows how much theirs will mean. 

Reminiscent of what Joshua told the children of Israel in Joshua 24:15 (“choose this day whom you will serve”), Elijah warns God’s people that they must declare their divine allegiance. He spells out their choices, either Yahweh or Baal, the one true God or the false one. Then he sets up a competition that, on the surface, seems totally unfair. The 450 prophets of Baal will face off against the lone prophet of God? (Apparently the prophets of Asherah were a no-show.)

In actuality this is not a contest between humans, but an opportunity for the Lord to demonstrate power. It also gives Elijah an opportunity to bring God’s wayward children back to their senses and into a right relationship with their Creator.

Why is declaring allegiance to the divine important—for the Israelites and for us? Elijah asks the people, How long will you go limping with two different opinions? (v. 21). We pay a price when we remain in limbo about what matters most. To move forward, we commit to a particular direction. To grow in spirit, we embrace a relationship with the One in whom we live, move, and have our being. Our choices have the capacity to become holy moments that can lead us to the Holy One.

Consider

In what ways am I choosing to follow God today?

Pray

God, thank you for the opportunity to choose a relationship with you. Give me wisdom to seek you, to share your compassion, and to embrace the way in which you lead. Amen.

Sunday, November 3

1 Kings 18:17-19

You have been invited to meet someone who has an incredible reputation as a powerful servant of God. What will you say to them? You consider your opening words carefully. Most likely you don’t plan to greet this person with an insult. But that’s exactly what King Ahab does when he meets Elijah. Despite the miracles that surround Elijah’s leadership and his powerful reputation, Ahab shows no respect for this person of God. 

“Are you the one causing trouble for Israel?” Ahab asks (see v. 17). His greeting shows the king’s lack of respect for the prophet. More importantly, it reflects a tragic misunderstanding and underestimation of the God of Israel whom Elijah represents. 

Surely Ahab is familiar with the terms of the covenant between God and Israel, which require that he, as leader, remain faithful to Yahweh, the one true God. So long as the king remains loyal to God, God will continue to protect and bless Israel, God’s chosen people. 

The prophet responds quickly to Ahab’s insolence, setting the erring king straight. Elijah strips away the king’s bravado and brings to light Ahab’s grave disobedience and his family’s wrongdoing: Ahab has allowed the children of Israel to stray from the one true God.

Elijah issues an invitation that the king dare not ignore, a meeting between himself, the lone prophet of the Lord, and the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. Because he knows that he answers to a higher power than this earthly king, Elijah responds to King Ahab courageously. What does it take for us to make our relationship with God our highest priority? 

Consider

When have you had an opportunity to speak truth to power? How did you respond? What gives us the courage to say what needs to be said?

Pray

God, give us the courage of Elijah to stand against the evils of this world on your power alone. Amen.

Saturday, November 2

Mark 10:42-45

Two different experiences are deeply embedded in my memory.

In one memory our gym teacher announces that our class will divide into two teams, then she chooses two lucky children to be the captains. Typically these two are the most popular, the ones who, in the second grade, already wear mousse in their carefully styled hair. The rest of us, the average and the ordinary, sit and wait to be chosen. One by one, the captains select their teammates, sometimes on the basis of skill but more often on the basis of their social network. Soon only two classmates are left, the ones too clumsy and uncoordinated, too big or too small, too awkward and unpopular to be selected earlier. I and my classmate stand in the middle, hoping to be chosen. Both of us pray the same prayer, “God, please don’t let me be last.”

In the other memory, my wife Jen and I are on vacation in Disney World soon after our wedding. Do you know why Disney World is successful? They make everyone feel important with a smile or a kind word. No one is too old or too young, too fat or too thin, too one label or another. Everyone is treated like someone special, as if every person is a VIP. They call this place the Magic Kingdom.

Jesus tells us that in God’s kingdom, the first will be last and the greatest leader will be the greatest servant. God has chosen you and sees something blessed and beautiful in you. God smiles at you and on you, commissioning you to go and share your life with others. Jesus says, “Listen, I am going to give my life by serving others.” Then he invites you to do the same.

Consider

You are a child of God. Look at yourself through God’s eyes and ask what gifts you have to share with others.

Pray

God, remind us of the grace you so abundantly share with us. Help us humbly embrace your hopeful call to follow Jesus by serving others. Amen.

Friday, November 1

1 Kings 12:30-33

It didn’t start as a sin, at least not for the people of Israel. They were searching for a leader and wanted to be loyal subjects. Their new king Jeroboam made some statues, then placed them at Bethel and Dan. The people watched this happen, and then they fell in line and worshiped. The problem was that the people never contemplated, meditated, or evaluated, but simply followed.

This thing became a sin (v. 30). What starts as a thoughtless action becomes an act of idolatry. What begins as a political strategy becomes religious mockery. King Jeroboam bears an awful burden for misleading the masses, but the people cannot claim innocence either. The Bible gives no indication that this idol worship was enforced, only encouraged.

If you and I were there at Bethel so long ago, we would not be wearing the crown. We would be standing in the crowds. A question haunts me: would I speak up and speak out, or would I just go along to get along? 

English philosopher Edmund Burke’s quote, often associated with the Holocaust, reminds us, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”

Silence in the face of evil or injustice is a sin. We have a perfect villain in this story. King Jeroboam plays that part. What is missing is a hero who will emerge to stand for what is right in the face of all that is wrong.

Their world needed heroes. Our world does too. 

Consider

What is broken or wrong in your country and your community? How can you work to make this right?

Pray

God, grant me the vision to see sin, the courage to confront it, and the boldness to seek justice. Amen.

Thursday, October 31

1 Kings 12:25-29

Fear is a powerful force in our lives. For many people, the fear of death strips away life’s joy and peace. Paralyzed with worry about the future, some people are incapable of living fully or enjoying the present. 

Jeroboam is afraid of losing his power as the king of Israel, so he sets up an alternate worship location. This way his people won’t keep going to Jerusalem in Judah to worship. Then, doubling down on the mistake Aaron made earlier in Hebrew history, Jeroboam casts two golden calves and declares to Israel, Here are your gods (1 Kings 12:28). 

What made those golden idols so appealing then? That may be the wrong question to ask. What makes them appealing now? We want something we can touch, something we can see. We want something that will not change. A god set in stone will never change and will never ask us to change.

In 2019, we are far too sophisticated for this primitive religion that would trap god in a golden calf, but we know the temptation of idolatry. We can make an idol of almost anything—entertainment, money, power, family. We can worship at the altar of partisan politics or personal gain. We craft and create gods that affirm our persuasions, share our convictions, and endorse our lifestyle without causing us to question any of our values.

Most of our idolatry is born in fear. Faith requires us to move beyond our fears and step outside of our comfort zones. God calls us on a journey that will include great risks.

Golden calves are safe, but they are not capable of saving anyone. They promise the easy life, but Jesus came to offer life to the fullest
(Jn 10:10).

Every day, we choose to worship God or a god…not by what we say, but by what we do.

Consider

What fears do I face, and what idols have I created to address those fears?

Pray

God, comfort my fears and remind me of your love and grace so that I may no longer be satisfied by anything less than you. Amen.