Christianity 201

June 9, 2017

Big Ideas

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Today a short excerpt from the blog of Youth Unlimited. (This is a different YU than the one associated with Youth for Christ.) Click the title to read at source.

Don’t be Afraid of the Big Ideas

Do you ever feel too small for your big ideas? God loves to use people who don’t seem important enough to do his most important work. Consider these examples from the Bible:

Elijah- He spent some serious time in prayer and it changed the weather for THREE YEARS! You know the weather, that thing everyone acknowledges is totally out of our control… Elijah affected it through the power of prayer and he was just a guy like us.

17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” James 5:17-18

Moses- This guy got asked to do big things by God and had some serious doubts about his own ability.

10 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.’”– Exodus 4:10.

But when he put his faith and trust in the Lord’s power working through him, he was able to lead the Israelites out of Egypt through the Red Sea which he separated to make a dry path. Wow, that is a big dream that God used “un-eloquent” Moses for.

Gideon- Gideon was from a small clan that was being ruled and terrorized by a bigger clan, the Midianites. He was scared and felt hopeless when an angel appeared to him and told him that if he went and stood up against the enemy the Lord would make sure he won! Crazy.

15 And he said to him, ‘Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.’ 16 And the Lord said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.’” Judges 6:11-16


Bonus item:
Sometimes we return to previous blog posts from other years. One we used a long time ago was the newsletter from author and missionary Elizabeth Elliot.

When she concluded writing in that forum, she ended her last piece with a hymn written by Anna L. Waring in 1850:

Father, I know that all my life
Is portioned out for me,
And the changes that are sure to come
I do not fear to see;
I ask Thee for a present mind,
Intent on pleasing Thee.

I would not have the restless will
That hurries to and fro,
Seeking for some great thing to do
Or secret thing to know;
I would be treated as a child
And guided where I go.

Wherever in the world I am,
In whatsoever estate,
I have a fellowship with hearts
To keep and cultivate .

December 21, 2015

Asking for a Double Portion

2 Kings 1 (NLT) When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal…

…8 Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!

When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.”

And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”

11 As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.

13 Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. 14 He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.

15 When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

Though much more meaningful than a “What do you want for Christmas?” type of question, Elisha is still given a wide open set of possibilities when Elijah asks him what he would like. It’s a question of what Elijah will “do” so some type of blessing is in view here, but Elisha’s response is unique in scripture.

Most translations refer to the request as for a “double portion” but we also have:

  • Let me have twice your spirit (CEB)
  • Please give me twice as much of your power as you give the other prophets (CEV)
  • Please, let me inherit two shares of your spirit. (Holman)
  • Your life repeated in my life. I want to be a holy man just like you. (Peterson)
  • Leave me a double share of your spirit. (NCV, NRSV, NLT and others)

Double PortionEven with the help of various translations, I still wasn’t clear as to what was meant by the request. Did he want be Elijah-times-two? Actually, the translation by Peterson above (The Message) is closest to what I read at sermonnotebook.org : (I’ve underlined key sentences)

The Content Of His Request – Elisha asked to receive double portion of Elijah’s spirit! The request was not for twice the power that had rested on Elijah. The request was to be recognized as Elijah’s replacement. Of course, he had already been selected by God for that position – 1 Kings 19:16. It was common for firstborn children to receive a double portion of their father’s estate. This was mandated by the Law, Deut. 21:17. (Note: He called Elijah “my father” in verse 12.) Elisha was asking for the right of the firstborn! He was asking that the same Spirit that had empowered the ministry of this great man of God be given to him as well. What kind of spirit was he asking for?

1. A Spirit Of Faith – Elijah learned to trust in the presence and power of God in this world. He knew that God was in absolute control of every situation. He walked by faith!

2. A Spirit Of Obedience – Elijah instantly and without question, even when the commands of God made no sense at all!

3. A Spirit Of Courage – His faith in God and his obedience to God combined to give him the courage to stand for God, even when others ran away.

He merely wanted to take over where Elijah had left off. He wanted to be the next prophet to Israel!

But scripture, ever rich in meaning, can offer us multiple perspectives, insights and applications. At biblestudytools.com the double portion is said to be: (again, I’ve done some underlining; read slowly)

The two parts of the gifts of the spirit he had, that of prophecy, and that of doing miracles, as some think; or two parts out of three of what Elijah was possessed of; or rather double as much, and which he might desire, not from a spirit of vanity and ambition to be greater than his master, but from an eagerness to promote the glory of God, and the interest of religion, to reclaim the Israelites from their idolatry, and establish the true religion, which he might observe Elijah was not able to do with that measure of grace and gifts he had; or however this phrase denotes an abundance, a large portion or measure, as it everywhere does.

Many… have thought it refers to the double portion of the firstborn, and that Elisha does not mean a double portion with respect to Elijah, but with respect to the junior prophets, with whom he might be considered as a firstborn, and so desired a double or greater portion than they, and which may be most correct; and when he asked this, he did not suppose it was in Elijah’s power to give him it, only that he would pray to God, at parting with him, that he would bestow it on him.

So when you’re asked what you want for Christmas, you can give the person who asked you something to think about when you say, “A double portion of God’s Spirit.” Seriously, what better thing could Elisha, or any of us, ask for?


We’ve covered the meaning of “double portion” before here in May of 2012 in an excellent devotional study by K.W. Leslie.


Do you have a verse or passage you’d like to see studied here? Send us the reference using the contact/submissions page.

January 23, 2013

God on the Mountain

This was posted last week by Daniel Jepsen at the blog Sliced Soup and all I can say is, “Wow!” There is so much depth to scripture that allows for so many fresh insights.  Check it out for yourself by clicking on the title below.

Meeting God on His Holy Mountain

I saw something new as I was reading scripture this morning.

In Exodus 19, you have perhaps the most dramatic scene in the whole Old Testament.  Moses, after being used by God to lead Israel out of slavery, is instructed to climb to the top of Mount Horeb (also known as Mount Sinai).  It was on this occasion that God then revealed the Ten Commandments, the covenant stipulations between God and Israel, by which He would be their God and they would be His people. God told Moses he would meet with him in a thick cloud, and indeed the whole mountain, we are told, was covered in smoke and thick darkness. Apparently the presence of God was marked by a tremendous storm (some think Horeb was an active volcano) both to reveal His power and to conceal where His voice came from. And there, the invisible God met with the representative of His people. There in the dark mist and cloud, Moses could not see anything of God, but could only hear his voice.  Such is the way the Holy God appears to unholy men. His presence is ever veiled. God spoke to Moses in a more intimate way than anyone before Christ, yet it was still in a thick cloud of darkness and storm.

Several centuries later another prophet of God was instructed to make the trek to Horeb. Elijah had been used by God greatly to call Israel back to repentance and faith (and away from idolatry).  Again, God called his prophet onto the mountain, and again God spoke to him.  I Kings records:

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Again, though the prophet is called to the mountain to meet with God, it is in the midst of a storm. And again, the prophet veils his face, and sees not from whence the voice came.

In the New Testament, we also find a prophet (though more than a prophet) who ascends a mountain.  You will find the story in Matthew 17:

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.

Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Here Jesus (like Moses and Elijah) goes up to the mountain for holy conversation.  But we note some differences in what happens.

First, Jesus apparently does not go to Mount Horeb, but (most likely) Mount Hermon, far to the north of Israel instead of far to the south.  This is not to sanctify north as more spiritual than south of course, but to point out that it is not the mountain that makes the divine conversation possible, but Jesus Himself.  He does not come to holy ground. He makes every ground holy.

Secondly, Jesus, unlike Moses and Elijah, does not come to the mountain alone for the divine conversation.  He brings Peter, James and John, those who represented all his followers, to the mountain with him, and they hear and see what he hears and sees.  This fits in well with the promise of Jesus that He is not only the one sent from the Father, but is the one by whom we also can be brought into close fellowship with the father (see John 14).

Thirdly, when Jesus ascends the mountain, there is no great and forbidding storm, no thick darkness and trembling mountain. Yes, a cloud of God’s presence does enter into the scene, but it is a “bright cloud”.  Jesus (by his later work on the cross) takes the terror of God upon Himself, so that he can say to us as he does to his followers on the mountain, “Get up. Don’t be afraid”.

Let us love and sing and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior’s name!
He has hushed the Law’s loud thunder,
He has quenched mount Sinai’s flame

John Newton

Finally, we see this great contrast. Though Jesus, like the Moses and Elijah, goes up to the mountain for a divine conversation, the motif is flipped on its head when we see what happens on the mountain: Moses and Elijah appear, conversing with Jesus.  They come to the mountain again, not to see God veiled in thick darkness and surrounded by storm, but to speak with God in the person of Jesus.  And Jesus himself is transfigured (or, perhaps better, revealed) as a person of light and majesty. He is not simply another prophet of God, nor even the greatest prophet of God. He is simultaneously the great prophet of God and the great God of the prophets

Oh, Holy Father, thank you for revealing yourself to flesh and blood, sinful and stupid as we are.  Thank you that you have always had your prophets by which you revealed your ways and laws, and you have called us to listen to those prophets. But thank you so much more for Jesus, the Son sent from your right hand, to be not only your last and great prophet, but You yourself in human form.  Help us all the more to heed your call, and listen to him.  Amen.

May 17, 2012

Receiving a Double Portion Isn’t Twice as Much

Sometimes, churches build a ‘culture’ around an interpretation of certain words and phrases which come to mean something to them that it never meant in the original text. K.W. Leslie, whose writing has been seen on this blog a couple of times before deals with this in an article entitled Out of Context: The Double Portion. To support the writers quoted here, please click the link and read the day’s thoughts at the source blogs.

Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.”

2 Kings 2.9 ESV

Years ago I listened to a youth pastor quote this verse as he spoke about how each generation of young people should ideally receive a “double portion” of their parents’ spirit. I’ve heard other pastors teach likewise. By “spirit” they don’t usually mean the Holy Spirit—though sometimes they do, and the preaching starts to turn mighty weird. Most commonly they mean a person’s enthusiasm, their devotion to God, their spiritual activity, and so forth. Ideally, parents should pass this “double portion” to their children, who would in turn pass this “double portion” to their kids, and so on till Jesus returns.

Here’s the thing. By “double portion,” the pastor meant twice as much. The kids would have twice as much spirit as their parents. Their kids would have twice as much spirit as they. Their grandkids would have twice as much spirit as their kids—and, if you do the math, that’d be 16 times as much spirit as the first generation.

In fact, let’s do even more math. Assume the very first generation of Christians, namely the 120-some people who originally received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost in the year 33, were following this “double portion principle,” so to speak. Assume there’ve been 100 generations of Christians since—a really conservative estimate. After 100 generations, the “double portion” we should receive would be 2100 times the original amount of spirit. That’s more than 633 octillion (i.e. followed by 27 zeroes) times the spirit. More spirit than there are atoms in the universe.

So: Why aren’t we Christians walking around with so much spirit that, frankly, whenever we make a new convert, their chest explodes from the amount of spirit suddenly whooshing into them?

Obviously because “double portion” doesn’t mean twice as much. The New Living Translation tacks on a few words at the end of the verse to explain the historical context:

Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”

2 Kings 2.9 NLT

In the ancient Middle East, when a father died, his property was divided into equal portions and given to each of his sons. (If he had no sons, the Hebrews had it given to each of his daughters, Nu 27.8.) The firstborn, or the eldest, would be given two of these portions—the double portion. It wasn’t twice as much as his father had; that’s not mathematically possible. It was simply twice as much as his brothers received—and in those days, with those big families, it wouldn’t have amounted to that much. Even in the richest of families. It definitely wasn’t the eldest-male-takes-all system we find in Western aristocracies.

The firstborn inherited the double portion largely because he had particular responsibilities as his father’s successor. He was now responsible for leading his extended family. He had to care for his father’s wives and minor children. He had to arrange husbands for his sisters. If his father was a tribal leader, that role fell to him. If there were any personal blessings or prophecies (or even curses) attached to the family, they might fall to him too.

The birthright Jacob bought off his twin brother Esau (Ge 25.29-34) didn’t threaten to leave Jacob penniless when their father died. It only meant Esau would inherit twice as much—but have ten times the responsibility. The writers of the bible didn’t rebuke Esau for not caring about the stuff; there’s nothing wrong with rejecting material possessions. It was for dodging his duties. It was for setting aside God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants.

When Elisha asked for a double portion, he wasn’t asking for twice as much Holy Spirit. He was asking to be Elijah’s successor—to be recognized as the LORD’s chief prophet in northern Israel, the recognized leader of the LORD’s other prophets, the go-to prophet for kings and priests and people. Now, he could have asked for this because he wanted the honor—although considering how pagan the kings of Israel were, the constant threat of death didn’t make the job that much of an honor. More likely Elisha asked it because he wanted to serve. He recognized the people, in Elijah’s absence, would want someone to look to, and the prophets needed leadership. He offered to do it.

This is why Elijah’s response was, “You have asked a difficult thing.” (2Ki 2.10 NLT) Elijah wasn’t warning Elisha away from his request, or rebuking him for hubris. True prophets, like both Elijah and Elisha, are humble. They know they’re working for God; that titles don’t matter. It was in humility Elisha asked to succeed Elijah. It was in humility Elijah said the decision wasn’t really up to him, but Elisha would get his request if God permitted him to watch Elijah ascend to heaven. And the other prophets confirmed it when Elisha met with them afterward. (2Ki 2.15)

Some of the reason for this twice-the-spirit teaching is partly because people aren’t aware of the historical context. Some of it is human greed—hey, check this out, we can get twice what some other person got, so let’s seek that!—and how the possibility of a really nice blessing appeals to us. And, as usual, if a person we respect teaches it, we pass along that teaching without investigating it for ourselves, assuming the respected preachers probably know what they’re talking about. And sometimes they do. Sometimes not.

Plus there’s evidence: There are more stories about Elisha’s miracles in 2 Kings than there are stories about Elijah’s. Some pastors have estimated there are precisely twice as many Elisha stories, which conclusively proves their twice-the-spirit theory. (In fact there are actually more than twice as many Elisha stories.) Some have even attempted to teach that Jesus’s disciples performed twice as many miracles as did Jesus. (Which stands to reason: Jesus ministered on earth for maybe three years or so, and his apostles ministered for decades.) Honestly, we should see later generations do more in faith because they’re preceded by so many good examples. But it’s not a matter of doubling the power, doubling the spirit, doubling anything. It’s not math.

Math is actually limiting. If you assume you should do twice as much as your predecessors, you may burn yourself out trying to be (or look) twice as busy. You may spend more time trying to perform mighty deeds, and less time getting closer to God, trying to obey him, trying to reform your character, and worshiping him as he wants. There will be this foolish drive to prove your anointing, instead of obeying the Holy Spirit and letting him prove it for you by working with and through you.

Or, on the other extreme: If the Holy Spirit wants to do ten times as much, but you have a mindset of achieving only twice as much, you’re not going reach your potential. The Spirit may be obligated to use someone else—someone with the faith for it—to achieve his big goals. You’re never gonna have the faith to achieve more than the small tasks. (Or the tasks that only appear small.) In many things, twice as much isn’t anywhere near big enough. Certainly not for an infinite God.

But if you want to follow Elisha’s actual in-context example, do this: Get involved in a ministry like Elijah’s. Doesn’t have to be a prophetic ministry; any ministry will do. Assist the leader. Be helpful. Be useful. Be humble. Be Spirit-led. Develop those gifts and abilities that help the ministry, and the Kingdom, most. When the time comes, and you see your talents can serve the ministry best in administration, then ask for that double portion. If you ask in all humility, he may say yes. Or he may not; it’s entirely up to him, and if you did ask in all humility, you’ll be okay with his answer either way. But Christianity always suffers a shortage of humble leaders, and if you want to take on that role, go for it.

~K. W. Leslie

October 5, 2010

So… What are You Doing?

In the days before Thinking Out Loud, I enjoyed reading other bloggers including Jim Lehmer.     He called this post, “My Second Favorite Bible Verse.”   You’ll have to read it at its source to find out his first favorite!

Last night as I was reading through the genocide, backstabbing, lechery and mayhem in 1 Kings I discovered my now second-favorite verse(s), 1 Kings 19:11-13 (TNIV):

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

That really started me thinking. What is God whispering to me? To you? Are we listening for it, or are we waiting for some big, grand revelation? When the whisper comes, will we be ready to pull our cloaks over our faces and walk to the mouth of our self-made cave to hear what He has to say to us? Will we be ready to answer His quiet question, “What are you doing here?”

That last question is enough to keep you up nights, you know?