Sunday, February 12, 2012

Life Lessons From the Prophets: Elijah - I Kings 18:16-29 and I Kings 18:30-46

Today we are going to continue our preaching focusing on the prophets. Those stories contained in the Old Testament about people who walked by faith and not by sight. Last week we began with Isaiah as we looked to his example of submitting to God. Today our focus is on the prophet Elijah and his example to us of how to continue following God, even when those around you don’t.

You're Cheering for Who?!?
I read a story recently about a fellow attending a major league baseball game who caused quite a bit of a stir in the stands. No matter which team made a hit or a run, he cheered. Finally, curiosity got the better of someone sitting behind him. Leaning forward, the second man asked, “Why are you rooting for both teams? Don’t you understand this game?” And the first man told him, “I live too far away to get to a ballgame like this more than once every couple of years, so I pull for both teams. That way, no matter who wins, I go home happy.” You don’t have to be much of a sports fan to know that if you have any sense of loyalty to the home team, you will not root for both sides.

Elijah's Background
Our Scripture lesson today speaks to us of a time in the history of God’s people when there was an attempt to root for both sides at once, when they tried to not only worship God but also several other false gods at the same time. This is about 135 years before Isaiah’s ministry in Israel. During this time, the twelve tribes of Israel have split into two kingdoms. The northern ten tribes seceded and formed the nation of Israel and the two southern tribes form the nation of Judah. The southern kingdom of Judah at this time is enjoying spiritual revival. But the northern kingdom of Israel has fallen away from God. They are led by a man named Ahab, who according to Scripture, did more evil than all the kings before him. You see Ahab let his wife Jezebel talk him into building a temple for the false god Baal, and led the people into worshipping idols. The people of God began to worship not just God, but false gods like Baal and Asherah at the same time.

This is the situation that God calls the prophet Elijah into. He’s called to speak God’s truth to King Ahab and the northern kingdom of Israel. Now Elijah is one of those prophets that we don’t know very much about prior to his ministry. But no matter what his background is, Elijah’s name seems to fit his ministry. His name means, “The Lord is My God.”

The Showdown with Baal
Because of Ahab’s sin, God instructed Elijah to proclaim a drought. He did and the drought came. For three and a half years the people of Israel lingered in a horrible drought. Scripture tells us that the prophet Elijah survived because of the kindness of widows and because at times God sent ravens to bring food to him. Then one day God instructed Elijah to go up and meet Ahab and proclaim God’s judgment. Elijah asked Ahab to assemble all of prophets of the false gods Baal and Asherah, which was about 850 men in total, and meet him on Mount Carmel. And then Elijah assembled the people of Israel and asked how long would they waver between God and Baal. When they did not respond, Elijah laid down a challenge for the false prophets. They would each sacrifice a young bull upon an altar and they would each call on their god. Whichever god answered with fire, would be the one true God.

And so the false prophets of Baal and Asherah sacrificed a bull upon an altar. All morning long they called on the name of Baal and danced around the altar, but there was no response. When noontime came, Elijah began taunting them. “Maybe he’s busy, or thinking or traveling, or sleeping… shout louder!” And so the false prophets shouted louder and they got so desperate that they began cutting themselves with their swords and spears to show Baal how serious they were. But Baal still did not respond.

Then Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord and put the bull on it. He dug a trench around the altar and instructed the people to empty four large jars of water upon the offering and the wood on the altar. They repeated this two more times, until the water had even filled up the trench around the altar. Then Elijah stepped forward and prayed to God. “Let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, having done everything at your command. Answer me so these people will know you are God and turn their hearts back again.”

And what happened? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sent down fire from heaven which burned up the sacrifice, and not only the sacrifice, but also the wet wood, the altar, the soil, and even the water in the trench around the altar. And when the people saw this, they fell on the ground and cried out, “The Lord is God!” Elijah then predicted to King Ahab that the drought would end and that there would be a great rainstorm, and there was.

Life Lessons
There’s a lot we can learn from Elijah. Elijah was faithful to follow God, even when the nation of Israel didn’t. And in the end, his life had a great impact on the people. They saw God through him and turned their hearts back to the Lord. Yielded lives have great impact because God can minister through us towards others.

A. Following God means doing His Work, not our own (to do my duty to God and my country)
Elijah’s ministry was received, not achieved. He didn’t try to make a ministry happen on his own. He met with God and then responded to his leading. An achieved ministry, one that is initiated by humanity instead of by God, is of no consequence in eternity and is also much more difficult to maintain. When we cease to do his work, the work gets burdensome because we are trying to perform tasks without the grace that only God can give.

To have a received ministry, we must hear from God before we act. The often repeated refrain of Elijah’s life was “the word of the Lord came to Him.” Elijah was not thinking up ideas and asking God to bless them. He was walking in a relationship with God, following Him and simply obeying what the Lord told him to do. What this makes clear is that the Word must come before the work. We need a regular diet of God’s word if we want to see Him minister through us to others.

And scouting gives each of you that word. In your oaths you pledge to do your duty to God and your country. That means that you look for that received ministry. You look for that way to help other people at all times. The lessons you are learning here in scouting are lessons that I can tell you will follow you for a lifetime. These are more than just requirements for badges. They are more than Silver awards, Gold awards and Eagles Scout ranks. They are what make you morally straight and convince you to make the world a better place. Look for ways, expect ways that your scout training can help you realize the received ministries God has in plan for you.

B. Following God means making God the focus (obedient and respect authority)
When we follow what God is asking us to do, one of the things we must realize, is that just because it is God-initiated, doesn’t mean it will be easy. There will be high places where we see God move and work in miraculous ways, that is where it is easy. But there will also be low places and sad times, that is where it will be hard.

When things go well, when life is good, when we can readily see what God is doing, it is easy to follow, it is easy to trust. But what can we do to sustain us through those hard times when things are not going well, when things can and are discouraging? Trust in God and lean on each other. Walk by faith and not by sight. The Scouting oaths call their members to be obedient and respect authority. The lessons your are learning now about depending on each other, trusting each other, and working together are vital. We as believers need to be obedient to God and respect God's authority, at all times, even when we have doubts. One of the ways God acts to encourage us and support us is through us. Believer and scout alike are called to lean on each other, trust each other, see God in one another.

C. Following God requires faith (brave and courageous and strong)
To follow God also requires faith. For Elijah to stand atop Mount Carmel and put his faith and his life on the line required incredible faith in God. After all he was not only asking God to burn the sacrifice, he was asking God to burn a water soaked sacrifice, water soaked wood, and a water soaked altar. Now for those of you that have gone camping, how well does wet wood burn? But here God burned every bit of it up. To be a believer takes bravery and courage. We are called to be counter cultural, to be in this world but not of this world, and to live by values that this world does not always reflect. We are called to love all people, by being friendly courteous and helpful, to put others above our selves, to help other people at all times, and make sure we honor God in all we do.

I think the Girl Scout Law says it best, I will do my best to be a sister to every Girl Scout. When we band together in a common cause, with a focused goal, and move in the same direction, yielding our lives to God, anything and everything is possible.

I know it’s hard to be faithful to follow God when those around us do not. Elijah was able to do it as he led the people of Israel. But he didn’t do it on his own and we don’t have to either. Elijah was a Spirit filled man and the same Holy Spirit who lived in him lives in every believer today.

As we strive to follow God while those around us don’t, we need to remember these three things: 1) Following God means doing his work and not our own; 2) Following God means focusing on him and not ourselves; and 3) Following God requires faith.

When we are faithful and surrendered to him, when we yield our lives to God, God can use us in mighty ways to influence others. The lessons you learn in scouts, the values we find in Scripture, when used together can help all of us find received ministries from God. You all have a purpose, you all have incredible value. Be bold for your beliefs, rely on God and on each other, and may the life and words of the prophet Elijah inspire us all once again.

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