Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Faith in Funny Places

"Sometimes the greatest faith is found in the most surprising places, simply because faith depends on a relationship rather than a religion. Religion can be one of the greatest hindrances to faith because it creates a dependency on a ritual rather than on the God of the universe who can do all things." -from Kingdom Woman



I recently read this quote in a book that I have been slowly trudging through. It was recommended by a friend, but so far has proven disappointing. This piece, however, made it all worth it. I would like to share the story referenced from the Bible.

In 1 Kings 17, the Nation of Israel was submerged in a drought brought on by King Ahab and his idolatrous influence on God's people. The prophet Elijah had warned of the drought then retreated to a place where God fed him by way of ravens and a brook. When the brook dried up, God commanded Elijah to go to Zarephath in Sidon where a widow would feed him. 

Just a backstory on Sidon-the current and very wicked Queen Jezebel hailed from Sidon. Sidon was ruled by King Ethbaal, her father who lead in their worship of idols including Ba'al. If you remember, Ba'al dates back to the Canaanites and the struggle Israel had years prior with idols. This was not a new idol for Israel and being a Prophet, Elijah would have been very aware of that. 

Add to that, women at this point in history were not well respected and whatever attention they received was often due to their husband. What business did the "great Prophet Elijah" have getting aid from a widow woman?

God tells the great Prophet Elijah to leave Israel, where there were an estimated 7,000 still faithful to the Lord and who would have been honored to feed the prophet, to leave and go to idolatrous Sidon and find a widow woman who would feed him. Talk about humbling!

Elijah obeys and locates the woman who is out collecting sticks. He asks her for water and as she starts to get him some, he then asks for food. She proceeds to tell him that she is in the process of collecting supplies to make a "last meal" for her and her son before they die of starvation. Elijah then tells her, "Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land."

Now customs in these days were much different than ours, but the facts remain that he was clearly an outsider and a stranger who approached her and is, in essence, commanding her to believe the God of another land, go against her motherly instincts to feed her child, and give her family's last meal to this complete stranger. What on earth is God doing? Both perspectives are crazy! Why does he have to go to Sidon for a woman? And why should she trust some God? She doesn't even have Paul's promises to the Gentiles to fall back on!

God chose the most unlikely of sources to do His work. Undoubtedly Elijah could have gone to the widows of Israel who were surrounded by their church family and actively involved in the right "religious" circles, but would the result have been the same? Would they have turned the prophet away and suggested he try a wealthier member of the community? 

"Sometimes the greatest faith is found in the most surprising places." God doesn't demand that we come from a background of faith or require a strong line of ministry-minded generations before us. God requires a heart of service and faith-the faith of a child that doesn't look at their circumstances or look at the odds stacked against them, but instead looks at their Daddy and says, "My Daddy is the strongest one out there and if he says it will happen, I believe it!"

Working as a traveling nurse, I have had some time out of being involved in direct church ministry. Finding a church family while on a three month assignment and working two weekends a month is challenging. After being immersed in the church for the first twenty years of my life, it has taken some time for God to show me that there are seasons of life for everything and sometimes the ministry He has for you at times in your life does not involve a church. Sometimes it is two small children that you are struggling to raise as a single parent while working several jobs. Sometimes it is a sick neighbor that you are able to spend time with. Sometimes it is a coworker who's shadow will never cross the threshold of a church but who will know about Christ because of the reflection of your life. While the church is an hugely important part of our lives and growth as Christians and can be such a blessing and help, do not underestimate the times where God may pull you aside for a "time-out" and help you develop your faith outside of the church.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Handicap Representative

Consider your physical abilities. The ones we take for granted each day. Imagine never having been able to walk without assistance. Imagine the inability to prevent a continuous stream of drool from escaping your mouth. Picture your reality limited by whether or not your wheelchair could make it through the door or up the ramp of the places you enjoy going. 

Many people are born with or develop debilitating reality. Both are challenging but the I want you to consider those that are developed. As a nurse, I see the scenario on repeat. The CEO who used to command the respect of a company one night goes to bed and wakes up with partial paralysis from a stroke. He is no longer able to walk and his memory is skewed. The mother who is used to taking care of three generations who has been ignoring increasing lack of coordination and muscle weakness is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and watches as each day her independence slips away from her. The people who want their bodies to perform but are constantly left embarrassed at the lack of performance or sometimes inappropriate over-performance.

I wonder if, when God chose for us to be "made in His image", he tossed around the idea of doing so AND providing us with free will. As representatives of Him, how many times a day do we embarrass Him? Just like a handicap person is more than just what you see on the outside, when we are Christians we have more to us than just our physical being. That being said, we are still human and make some pretty fantastic mistakes that poorly reflect on God. 

Thoughts for today.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Mercy

At some point in life we all want mercy. We want the law enforcement officer who pulled us over for to look past the law and rules and cut us some slack. We want that bill that we were late on paying to not count against our credit score. We want to pull on the "everyone is human" strings and count on those to provide us a blanket of mercy in our time of need. But do we want to give it? Particularly to those we have the most conflict with; those we interact with on a daily basis who are the "nails-on-chalkboard" to our day?

Jonah was sent to Nineveh to preach their destruction if they did not turn from their evil ways and repent. Jonah disobeyed and in trying to run from God, found himself in the belly of a whale. As he sat in the darkness with the stench of gastric juices and partially digested whale food, Jonah cried out to God and repented of his actions and vowed to turn back to God if God would deliver him. We know the story, the whale vomited Jonah onto dry ground. Jonah immediately traveled to Nineveh and told the city that if they didn't repent from their wickedness that God was going to destroy the city. Jonah delivered his message, then stepped back to watch the city destroyed. Strangely enough, the city "from the greatest down to the least repented in sackcloth and ashes...and God saw what they did, how they had turned from their evil way, and God relented of the disaster".

As much as I wish the story ended there, it doesn't. Jonah witnesses an entire city of positively changed hearts and lives and becomes "angry". The most ironic part of the book, and one of my favorite of the Bible is when Jonah tries to "call out" God. He says," O Lord, is this not what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster." Understand what is happening here-Jonah is upset about God's love and mercy-the same love and mercy that allowed him to be saved from the whale. Jonah calls out God's "soft spot" in His heart for his creation. As Robert Frost said, "After Jonah, you could never trust God not to be merciful again."

Jonah stomps off to fume in the desert where a vine provides him shade from the scorching desert sun. Then a worm comes and kills the vine and Jonah becomes so angry at the plant dying that he says to God "just let me die". God points out the irony of Jonah wanting 120,000 plus souls to perish while a single plant lives. As stated in "Robert Frost: The Ethics of Ambiguity", "Quantitative assessment of mercy is always secondary to the ethical quality of the act itself."

Remember this, if nothing else. We want God's mercy, therefore we must extend mercy. God surprises us with extending His mercy all throughout the Bible, therefore we must pray that He give us the same and help us to give mercy to those who are the most challenging in our lives.