Christianity 201

August 15, 2012

They Arose Up In The Twilight

2 Kings 7

New International Version (NIV)

7 Elisha replied, “Hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Lord says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.”

The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”

“You will see it with your own eyes,” answered Elisha, “but you will not eat any of it!”

The Siege Lifted

Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”

At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, no one was there, for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!” So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.

The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp, entered one of the tents and ate and drank. Then they took silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also.

Then they said to each other, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”

10 So they went and called out to the city gatekeepers and told them, “We went into the Aramean camp and no one was there—not a sound of anyone—only tethered horses and donkeys, and the tents left just as they were.” 11 The gatekeepers shouted the news, and it was reported within the palace.

12 The king got up in the night and said to his officers, “I will tell you what the Arameans have done to us. They know we are starving; so they have left the camp to hide in the countryside, thinking, ‘They will surely come out, and then we will take them alive and get into the city.’”

13 One of his officers answered, “Have some men take five of the horses that are left in the city. Their plight will be like that of all the Israelites left here—yes, they will only be like all these Israelites who are doomed. So let us send them to find out what happened.”

14 So they selected two chariots with their horses, and the king sent them after the Aramean army. He commanded the drivers, “Go and find out what has happened.” 15 They followed them as far as the Jordan, and they found the whole road strewn with the clothing and equipment the Arameans had thrown away in their headlong flight. So the messengers returned and reported to the king. 16 Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. So a seah of the finest flour sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley sold for a shekel, as the Lord had said.

17 Now the king had put the officer on whose arm he leaned in charge of the gate, and the people trampled him in the gateway, and he died, just as the man of God had foretold when the king came down to his house. 18 It happened as the man of God had said to the king: “About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.”

19 The officer had said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?” The man of God had replied, “You will see it with your own eyes, but you will not eat any of it!” 20 And that is exactly what happened to him, for the people trampled him in the gateway, and he died.

Today’s commentary is from Faith at the blog Faith Rises.

Twilight — The period of the evening which takes place, between daylight and darkness is called twilight…

In the days of Elisha, there was a severe famine. Outside the city gates there were four men who were lepers. These four men reasoned among themselves,  “Why should we just sit here until we die? If we go into the city, then the famine is in the city, and we shall die there, and if we just sit here, we will die also. Let’s go to the camp of the Syrians. Maybe they will save us alive, or if they kill us, we shall but die… And so they rose up in the twilight, to go to the camp of the Syrians.

When they got to the camp of the Syrians, there was no one there because the Lord had made the entire Syrian army to hear a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, and the noise of a great army approaching, and they thought that the king of Israel had hired other foreign armies to join with him to fight them...So they arose and fled in the twilight... When the lepers arrived they found an abundance of food, silver and gold. They sent word back to the king and the starving people were satisfied.

I love this story… You can find it in II Kings chapter 7. I am always amazed that at  precisely the same moment that the lepers decided to step out in faith, God began working on their behalf. As soon as they arose to go at twilight, God allowed the Syrians to hear an illusion at twilight, which scared them out of their wits and caused them to leave their treasures. The lepers were on their way, had probably walked all night, but God had already fought the battle for them, He had already solved their problem, and He had begun at precisely the moment that they believed… At twilight.

The next morning, with the rising of the sun, came long-awaited  joy and deliverance…

January 25, 2012

Can Worship Be Defined in Terms of Experience?

Over the weekend, I brought my obsession with Eugene Peterson to my readers at Thinking Out Loud, but I wanted to share the quotation — which my wife graciously typed out for me — with readers here…

For several days at Christianity 201, I’ve been sharing my excitement over discovering that Eugene Peterson The Message bible translator is also Eugene Peterson the author. For those of you who’ve known this secret for some time, I apologize for arriving late to the party. I’m reading The Jesus Way (Eerdman’s) and spreading the reading out over several weeks, which is really what is needed to take it all in.

Each section of the book deals with the different “ways” of living that some choose, including Old Testament characters such as Abraham, Moses and Elijah. The study of the text is most thorough, but in each section, Peterson breaks away from the text long enough to provide contemporary application. He minces no words in his concern over the state of the modern church in the west, particularly in North America with which he is most familiar.

The study on Elijah’s showdown on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal yielded these comments:


“Harlotry” is the stock prophetic criticism of the worship of the people who are assimilated to Baalistic forms. While the prophetic accusation of “harlotry” has a literal reference to the sacred prostitution of the Baal cult, it is also a metaphor that extends its meaning into the entire theology of worship, worship that seeks fulfillment through self-expression, worship that accepts the needs and desires and passions of the worshiper as its baseline. “Harlotry” is worship that says, “I will give you satisfaction. You want religious feelings? I will give them to you. You want your needs fulfilled? I’ll do it in the form most arousing to you.” A divine will that sets itself in opposition to the sin-tastes and self-preoccupations of humanity is incomprehensible in Baalism and is so impatiently discarded. Baalism reduces worship to the spiritual stature of the worshiper. Its canons are that it should be interesting, relevant and exciting – that I “get something out of it.”

Baal’s Mount Carmel altar lacks neither action nor ecstasy. The 450 priests put on quite a show. But the altar call comes up empty.

Yahweh’s altar is presided over by the solitary prophet Elijah. It is a quiet affair, a worship that is centered on the God of the covenant. Elijah prepares the altar and prays briefly and simply. In Yahwism something is said – words that call men and women to serve, love, obey, sing, adore, act responsibly, decide. Authentic worship means being present to the living God who penetrates the whole of human life. The proclamation of God’s word and our response to God’s Spirit touches everything that is involved in being human: mind and body, thinking and feeling, work and family, friends and government, buildings and flowers.

Sensory participation is not excluded – how could it be if the whole person is to be presented to God? When the people of God worship there are bodily postures of standing and kneeling and prostration in prayer. Sacred dances and antiphonal singing express community solidarity. Dress and liturgy develop dramatic energies. Solemn silence sensitizes ears to listen. But as rich and varied as the sensory life is, it is always defined and ordered by the word of God. Nothing is done simply for the sake of the sensory experience involved – which eliminates all propagandistic and emotional manipulation.

A frequently used phrase in North American culture that is symptomatic of Baalistic tendencies in worship is “let’s have a worship experience.” It is the Baalistic perversion of “let us worship God.” It is the difference between cultivating something that makes sense to an individual, and acting in response to what makes sense to God. In a “worship experience”, a person sees something that excites him or her and goes about putting spiritual wrappings around it. A person experiences something in the realm of dependency, anxiety, love, loss, or joy and a connection is made with the ultimate. Worship becomes a movement from what I see or experience or hear, to prayer or celebration or discussion in a religious setting. Individual feelings trump the word of God.

Biblically formed people of God do not use the term “worship” as a description of experience, such as “I can have a worship experience with God on the golf course.” What that means is, “I can have religious feelings reminding me of good things, awesome things, beautiful things nearly any place.” Which is true enough. The only thing wrong with the statement is its ignorance, thinking that such experience makes up what the Christian church calls worship.

The biblical usage is very different. It talks of worship as a response to God’s word in the context of the community of God’s people. Worship in the biblical sources and in liturgical history is not something a person experiences, it is something we do, regardless of how we feel about it, or whether we feel anything about it at all. The experience develops out of the worship, not the other way around. Isaiah saw, heard, and felt on the day he received his prophetic call while at worship in the temple – but he didn’t go there in order to have a “seraphim experience”.

At the Mount Carmel Yahweh altar things are very different. Elijah prays briefly. The fire falls. The altar call brings “all the people” to their knees. They make their decision: “Yahweh, he is God; Yahweh, he is God.” And then the rain comes.

~Eugene Peterson

January 9, 2012

Showdown on Mt. Carmel

Today I uncovered a blog post in my files that I meant to use back in October of 2010.  Since Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal is one of my favorite Old Testament stories, I thought it worth sharing.   It originally appeared on the blog A Joyful Noise under the title, Show Me Yours’ and I will Show You Mine!

The message that Elijah gave to the prophets of Baal was clear! He challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest ! Each side would make a sacrifice to their God without building a fire. The strongest god would light the fire!

“Show my your God, and I will show you mine!” was Elijah’s strong message.

They danced! They yelled! They even cut themselves to get their god’s attention. They continued to do their “Thing,” until early in the evening, with no results! There was absolutely no fire in sight! The prophets of Baal were not able to call down fire from heaven.

When it was Elijah’s turn, he did one better! He instructed the men to dig a trench around his sacrifice. After that, he had them carry 12 barrels full of water and pour it over the sacrifice, soaking it extremely well. When all this was done, Elijah prayed a simple prayer,

1Kings 18:36 “And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at Thy word”

– – – and the fire fell! Not only was the sacrifice consumed, but along with it, all the water that had been poured into the ditch. When Elijah prayed, first the fire fell, and then came the much needed rain!

Now, wouldn’t it be lovely if we could see some of these types of miracles occur today . . . say, fire falling to devour our tightly held sacrifice of hurts and pain?

When we discover that our past has NOT been burned up by the fire of God, we still find ourselves hurting. Though we pray, scream, cry and clinch our teeth, our fists, and even our toes, there is no peace!

Is there any hope to conquer our fears and our dreaded memories? God waits for us to admit our own weakness and failure, so HE can show us His power.

Oh may I ask, Lord God, show me your face and I will show you mine!

This is my prayer today,

“Oh Holy Spirit of God, you who possess the Fire to burn away the chaff and all the misery that goes on in our thoughts and minds. I ask that you first wash us with Your Living Water, and then send the fire from above to bring us to nothing before you. As nothing, take us and re-create us to become a new person in You. May we be that one who stands bold and triumphant knowing we have now been placed INTO Christ? It is in Him we become more than a conqueror.

God, we ask that you totally burn up our weakness, and leave only the strength that is in YOU. Reduce to ashes our fears and our failures and raise up in us a person of courage with confidence, as You take our hand and lead us into Your eternal truth. May we walk and talk strong in the “power of Your might.”

~Hazel Moon