What Is God’s Greatest Challenge?

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

What is God’s greatest challenge? You have probably shouted out the answer already—at least in your spirit: Nothing! There is no such thing as a challenge with God. He has no unsolvable problems, no dilemmas, no head-scratching issues, and certainly no worries. Jeremiah said it well, “O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!” (Jeremiah 32:17) Lean into that truth today—you will need it!

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 7:1-2

Elisha replied, “Listen to this message from the Lord! This is what the Lord says: By this time tomorrow in the markets of Samaria, six quarts of choice flour will cost only one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain will cost only one piece of silver.” The officer assisting the king said to the man of God, “That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!” But Elisha replied, “You will see it happen with your own eyes, but you won’t be able to eat any of it!”

What is God’s greatest challenge? You have probably shouted out the answer already—at least in your spirit: Nothing! There is no such thing as a challenge with God. He has no unsolvable problems, no dilemmas, no head-scratching issues, and certainly no worries. Jeremiah said it well,

O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you! (Jeremiah 32:17)

God himself told a childless couple, Abraham and Sarah, well into their nineties, that they would become the parents of nations. But they found that wild promise a bit much. So God had to remind them that he who created the universe with a mere word would have little challenge opening the womb of a very old woman,

Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son. (Genesis 18:14)

When Jesus’ disciples challenged him with the human impossibility of being made right with God, he agreed. But he then added that the impossibility of eternal salvation was no challenge to God.

Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible. (Matthew 19:26)

In this story from 2 Kings 7, there is a devastating famine going on in Israel. The suffering is untold, the desperation of the people is unspeakable—parents actually eating the bodies of their own children. The king is so disgusted with God—he misplaces the blame on the Lord rather than on his and his own people’s abandonment of God, as rebellious people are wont to do—that he wants to kill the next best thing to God, Elisha the prophet.

But in a great act of mercy, God tells the wayward king that by the next day, there will be plenty to eat in Israel. In fact, there will be so much abundance that it will cause deflation in the economy like the world has never seen. Of course, neither the king nor his entourage believed this was possible. So they issued the one challenge to God that the Almighty loves to take:

That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven! (2 Kings 2:2)

In other words, “that’s impossible; that’s not going to happen. Not even God could do that!” “Oh yeah,” God says, “watch this.” And he does it, just as he said.

Now the point I want to make is this: If God will do that for evil, rebellious people, how much more will he move heaven and earth—not a big deal to him; he’s just rearranging the furniture—for you, his dearly loved child. Perhaps you are facing an impossible challenge right now. Just know this: What is challenging for you is no big deal for God. He thrives on challenges, which are no challenges to him at all.

How so? God has no challenges!

Going Deeper With God: Memorize this verse today—and then lean into it, for it is as true as true can be: O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you! (Jeremiah 32:17)

Never Alone—Not Even in the Minority

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

There is no area of weakness and struggle in your life where sin is guaranteed a victory. No sin is too big, too powerful, too overwhelming. It might be tough, but there is always a way to win! And furthermore, God stands at the ready to offer his help to give you that victory—even over the toughest temptation!

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 6:16-17

“Don’t be afraid,” Elisha told his servant. For there are more on our side than on theirs.” Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.

I love this story! What a great reminder for Elisha’s servant, and for you and me: There is more on our side that on theirs! You see, when you have the Lord in your life, you are never alone—you are not even in the minority. You plus God always equals a majority!

Like Elisha’s servant, you would be amazed if your eyes could be opened to the spiritual realm all around you. What you would see is that the Lord of hosts is fighting your battles for you. While your enemy might be legion, they stand no chance against the armies of the Lord of Hosts. No matter what it looks like in the invisible realm, that is not the critical realm where victories are won or lost. That realm is the unseen world of spiritual warfare. And the good news is that in the unseen realm, you are on the winning team. Let me say it again: you are on the winning team, so you have nothing to fear!

What are you battling today? Are people opposing you? Are you on the losing end of an addiction? Are you facing an impossible situation in your family or your marriage? Are your finances going south? Is your job on the line? Are you expecting a bad report from your doctor? May the Lord open your eyes to the divine truth that there are more on your side than on the other. The Lord has put all of heaven’s resources at your disposal; His ministering spirits will fight on your behalf, for the battle is the Lord’s!

Facing overwhelming odds and certain defeat at the hands of the advancing Nazi war machine, on June 18, 1940, Winston Churchill stood before Parliament and rallied his countrymen in a speech in which he uttered these now famous words: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that [a thousand years from now] men will say, ‘this was their finest hour.’”

Whatever you are up against, take courage! Face your challenge in the strength of the Lord, knowing that he is on your side. Perhaps in retrospect, people will say of you that this was your finest hour!

Going Deeper With God: Join me in this prayer: Lord, open my eyes today, like Eilsha’s servant. May I see, even if it is just a glimpse, into the supernatural realm. May I see that all of my battles belong to you and that you have assigned your ministering spirits to fight on my behalf. May I face every enemy with renewed and unshakeable confidence in you. Lord, grant me victory in all of my battles, and may you be glorified in them. Amen.

Whatever The Cost To Follow God, Do It!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God will ask us to surrender our dependencies and self-sufficiencies to him; he will need to crush our pride in order to build our trust. And once he has that—our trust—his blessings are freed up to flow down upon our lives. So whatever God asks you to surrender, in whatever way he asks you to demonstrate it, do it! Whatever it costs to follow God, do it! You won’t regret it!

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 5:1-6

So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.” But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

God doesn’t always ask people to do weird things, but he reserves that right. Of course, those things are only weird from our perspective, not God’s. But whenever we obey God’s commands, blessings follow—always!

God asked Noah to build an ark because it was going to rain, neither of which had happened before—neither an ark nor rain. God asked Joshua to have his troops march around Jericho once a day for six days, then on the seventh, march around it seven times with the band playing the fight song—and the rest is history. Jesus made mud out of spittle and put the mixture on a blind man’s eyes, and he was healed—not a precedent setting act for eye-healing, thankfully. God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the son of promise in one of the greatest tests of faith ever—and with that came the greatest preview of the sacrifice of God’s Son of promise.

No, God doesn’t always do that, but when he does, we best obey. Naaman, one of the King of Aram’s most effective and popular generals, had leprosy—a horrible disease that not only destroyed the body physically, but damaged people relationally in the most cruel way—through isolation. Naaman was a good man, and loved, so much so that servants and kings wanted to see him healed. That is why he was sent to the man of God in Israel. Elisha could heal him—through God’s power, that is. But when Elisha gave what Namaan thought were demeaning instructions, he got angry. Why should he wash in that muddy little creek, the Jordan, when he had beautiful rivers back home in which to take a therapeutic bath? So he left the prophet, angry, sullen, insulted—and unhealed.

Fortunately for Naaman, the cooler heads of his entourage prevailed, and he ultimately did as Elisha had instructed—he washed in the Jordan River, dipping seven times, and was completely healed:

But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed! (2 Kings 5:13-14)

Why did God give such strange instructions to Namaan? I don’t know; no one does for sure. God has his reasons, but I suspect it had something to do with Namaan’s pride. Namaan didn’t think he needed God, but until he surrendered his self-sufficiency and declared his dependence upon the Almighty, God’s hands were tied. Once he bowed to God’s commands, he not only got his need meet, he met the Great Need Meeter.

Now it will probably work that way for you, too, at some point in your life. That goes for me as well. God will ask us to surrender our dependencies and self-sufficiencies to him; he will need to crush our pride in order to build our trust—perhaps it is a strange way that will require ruthless obedience. And once he has that—our trust—his blessings are freed up to flow down upon our lives.

Whatever God asks you to surrender, in whatever way he asks you to demonstrate it, do it! Whatever it costs to follow God, do it! You won’t regret it!

Going Deeper With God: You don’t need to manufacture weird things to demonstrate your worship of God. But when God leads you to a strange step of faith, get confirmation of it through prayer and a trusted spiritual director, then do it. And watch blessings flow.

God’s Principle for Economic Growth

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God’s suprarational laws apply to you as much as they did to the characters in the Bible. But like them, you have to trust. When he calls you to give—even if it is your last—give, and he will prosper you. Now you can’t manipulate his economic laws for your own purposes, but when you bring your needs and desires to him and he tells you to risk trust, do it, and his favor is guaranteed. Whenever, wherever and however he calls you to step out, do it in obedience, trusting God to bless you, and he will. That is his inviolable, universal, eternal law of kingdom economics.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 4:1-6

One day the widow of a member of the group of prophets came to Elisha and cried out, “My husband who served you is dead, and you know how he feared the Lord. But now a creditor has come, threatening to take my two sons as slaves.” Elisha asked, “What can I do to help you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” She replied, “Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil.” Elisha said, “Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you. Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars, setting each one aside when it is filled.” So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. Soon every container was full to the brim! “Bring me another jar,” she said to one of her sons. “There aren’t any more!” he told her. And then the olive oil stopped flowing.

God is not irrational. He has revealed himself so that we can understand him with our rational mind. And forever, we will be exploring the wonderful depth and breadth of God and his ways. Even into eternity, we will be pursuing the unlimited riches of who God is and how he acts within his created order. God is knowable, and for that we are and will be forever grateful.

But there is far more to God that we do not know than what we do know—and it will always be so. Even in eternity, with unlimited capacity for intellectual growth, God will be way ahead of us. By definition, we will never reach the full capacity of God’s brilliant mind. If we did, God would cease to be God and we would assume that role. And that is not going to happen. One of the things that will make eternal life so endlessly and indescribably exciting, purposeful and fulfilling is this very thing: the pursuit of the mind of God.

God is not irrational, but he is rationally knowable. Yet with the things of God that we cannot grasp, we might say that God is suprarational. That is, God is not understandable by human reason alone; he is beyond rational comprehension. And when we come into circumstances that fit into that category, we are asked to trust. And for those who put their trust in the wisdom and kindness of God in those beyond-comprehension-moments, there is a 100 percent guarantee of satisfaction and blessing:

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

That is the eternal testimony of the great heroes of our faith. Speaking for them all, the psalmist declared, “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame.” (Psalm 25:3).

Such is the lesson Elisha is teaching the desperate widow in 2 Kings 4. She had been married to a man who was a part of the school of the prophets, but his untimely death has left her and her children in dire straights. So she comes to Elisha for help with a creditor who is threatening to foreclose on her home. She will be left not only in grief over the loss of her husband, she will be destitute, evicted from her home, and at the mercies of a cruel economy.

So what does Elisha tell her to do: Take a risk and trust. She was to borrow as many jars from her neighbors as possible. Then she was to go behind closed doors and began to pour what little oil she had left into those jars. And trust!

Obviously, when she and her sons were told to go throughout the neighborhood to borrow the jars, they would have to explain this “irrational” concept to curious lenders. They would have to risk reputation; they would have to risk an investment of trust to obey God. Trust is exactly what they did, and then the miracle happened: Enough oil flowed from one small flask to fill all the jars they had borrowed. When they ran out of jars, the oil stopped flowing, but they had enough to sell at the market at a handsome profit. They risked faith, they trusted God, they acted in obedience, and in so doing, they unleashed God’s suprarational law for their economic growth—which met their need, and then some.

God’s suprarational laws apply to you as much as they did to the characters in the Bible. But like them, you have to trust. When he calls you to give—even if it is your last—give, and he will prosper you. Now you can’t manipulate his economic laws for your own purposes, but when you bring your needs and desires to him and he tells you to risk trust, do it, and his favor is guaranteed. Whenever, wherever and however he calls you to step out, do it in obedience, trusting God to bless you, and he will. That is his inviolable, universal, eternal law of kingdom economics.

That is God’s economy. And he desires for you to live within it!

Going Deeper With God: Do you have a need? Ask God for his direction, then trust him ruthlessly. Step out in obedience. Risk faith. Then wait for God to answer, because he will—and then some.

The Umbrella of Blessing

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Do the unbelieving people with whom you live, work and play benefit from the residual godliness that spills over from your life? They should. The fact is, your faith should be making an impact on the people around you, even if they don’t embrace it. Hopefully they will at some point, but they may never. But as long as you are there, there ought to be a sense among unbelievers that they are better off precisely because you are among them. Your job is to make the gospel of Jesus attractive.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 3:14

Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, if I did not have respect for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not pay any attention to you.

Israel was circling the drain. They had lived under the successive reigns of one evil king after another, and consequently, the nation had been in a downward moral spiral for decades that had turned into centuries. So bad was their national sin that soon they would reap what they had sown: divine judgment was coming, from which they would not recover.

In this story, wicked King Ahab’s Son, Joram, was now the leader over Israel, and he was spoiling for a fight. A nation that his father had subjugated had rebelled now that Ahab was dead, and King Joram was distressed to lose this vassal state of Moab, which would not only be an embarrassment to his new leadership, it would cut off the tax revenue that subjugated nations had to pay their overlords. (2 Kings 3:3-4)

So Joram rallied his troops to rectify this disappointing development. (2 Kings 4:6) Then as he readied his army, the idea came to him that it would be wise to get help. So he asked King Jehoshaphat of Judah, Israel’s cousins, to join him in the battle. And the good and godly king of Judah agreed to go to war alongside the ungodly king of Israel—a decision he probably should have fasted and prayed over before making:

On the way, he sent this message to King Jehoshaphat of Judah: “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you join me in battle against him?” And Jehoshaphat replied, “Why, of course! You and I are as one. My troops are your troops, and my horses are your horses.” Then Jehoshaphat asked, “What route will we take?”

Now this is not the first time Jehoshaphat had agreed to an alignment that he should have first prayed over (1 Kings 22:1-9) And sure enough, once the armies set out, they ran into a real problem: After days in the wilderness, there was no water to sustain neither the troops nor their animals—and the situation was dire. (2 Kings 3:9) It was at this point that the king who did not follow the God of Israel now blamed God for the mess they now faced:

“What should we do?” the king of Israel cried out. “The Lord has brought the three of us here to let the king of Moab defeat us.” (2 Kings 3:10)

At this point in the story, albeit after the fact, Jehoshaphat finally did the right thing and sought the advice of the Lord:

But King Jehoshaphat of Judah asked, “Is there no prophet of the Lord with us? If there is, we can ask the Lord what to do through him.” (2 Kings 3:11)

It was here that Elisha the prophet was introduced into this story. Pushed by Jehoshaphat, King Joram reluctantly sought the counsel of the man whose predecessor, Elijah, had been the bur under King Ahab’s saddle—and if Elijah had been surely and sarcastic, then Elisha was Elijah on steroids. When he heard Joram’s request Elisha asked,

“Why are you coming to me? Go to the pagan prophets of your father and mother!” (2 Kings 3:13)

Dripping with sarcasm, Elisha rightly suggested that King Joram seek those inept false gods upon whom he and the nation had been foolishly depending on for decades. Nevertheless Elisha finally agreed to give a word from the Lord, and it was a word that resolved the water issue that threatened to decimate the armies of Israel and Judah—a miraculous resolution when overnight, God provided water in the middle of this dry wasteland,

The next day at about the time when the morning sacrifice was offered, water suddenly appeared! It was flowing from the direction of Edom, and soon there was water everywhere. (2 Kings 3:20)

That is a long contextual build up to the stunning reason Elisha was willing to go to God on wicked Israel’s and foolish Judah’s behalf: good King Jehoshaphat. The godly prophet had immense respect for the godly king, so he stepped in to help. (2 Kings 3:14)

Which leads me to this question: do the ungodly people with whom you live, work and play benefit from the residual godliness that spills over from your life? They should. Would they truly miss you if you were gone? The fact is, your faith should be making an impact on the people around you, even if they don’t embrace it. Hopefully they will at some point, but they may never. But as long as you are there, there ought to be a sense among unbelievers that they are better off precisely because you are among them.

Of course, that means you must be boldly, visibly, vocally and sacrificially living out your faith in an attractive and compelling way. You must make the gospel attractive by the way you live, as the Apostle Paul profoundly taught in Titus 2:7-13,

You must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. Teach the truth so that your teaching can’t be criticized. Then those who oppose us will be ashamed and have nothing bad to say about us. Slaves must always obey their masters and do their best to please them. They must not talk back or steal, but must show themselves to be entirely trustworthy and good. Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way. For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.

Though quite flawed but organically righteous, King Jehoshaphat’s life attracted favor from God through his prophet, Elisha—and ungodly Israel reaped the results. That is your job today: through your life, make Jesus attractive.

Going Deeper With God: Examine your life—your work ethic, your language, your presence. Do you make Jesus attractive before the unsaved in your world? You should. And if you have not been, ask the Lord to help you begin today to make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

You Will Pass The Baton Someday—So Do It Well!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

When a man or woman of God dies, or departs, nothing of God dies or departs—it carries on. When the work of a great and godly person is finished, we need to realize that the beginning of another great man or woman will start—and hopefully carry on in even greater power and with even greater impact because of how their predecessor set them up. Instead of ending, God desires ministries to transition; to enter new phases of development and effectiveness. That’s God’s way, and Christians would do well to learn that truth. Ministers, moms and dads, and leaders of all kinds would do well to adopt the certainty of baton passing as one of their chief aims in life, and when the time comes, to passing that baton well.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 2:9-14

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.” Elijah replied, “You have asked a difficult thing. If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.” 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. 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. Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. 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.

As from the beginning of our experience with Elijah in 1 Kings 17, to now at the end of his life, the ministry of this prophet of fire has cast an impressive spiritual shadow over Israel. We have been with him through a variety of dramatic experiences, particularly in 1 Kings 18-19. We have been with him on the heights of Mt. Carmel, both literally and spiritually, to the depths of his despair beneath the broom tree in its aftermath. We have stood with him when he courageously confronted evil King Ahab then fled in fear when the king’s wicked wife, Jezebel, threatened to end his life in the same manner he had ended her false prophets’ lives. We sat with him in the silence of the Cherith Brook and saw the miraculous provision of God as ravens fed him breakfast, lunch and dinner, then felt his despair and disappointment with God when the Almighty dried up the very brook he had given him. We have seen him call down fire from heaven on sacrifices and soldiers, yet we have seen him depend on a widow just to stay alive.

And in every place, under every circumstance, God has proven himself faithful, consistent, and encour-aging to Elijah. Now, appropriately, the end of his life and ministry will be just as dramatic as the rest of it was as God will again prove himself faithful to his prophet. Elijah will be taken up to heaven in a blaze of glory, something most prophets and preachers dream of but never experience. That glorious swan song belongs to one, and one alone. Elijah.

Now as we have come to know Elijah, we have also found him to be a bit temperamental. He is testy, he is fearsome most of the time, and he is radically devoted to speaking the word of the Lord to people, prophets, priests and potentates. But what we have never found him to be is warm and fuzzy. Prophets of his cut of cloth never are—and probably they shouldn’t be, given what they are called to carry out.

Yet at the end of his life, we get a glimpse at Elijah’s softer side, spending his final days on earth, knowing the Lord is bringing his chapter to a dramatic close, caring for the school of protégés he is leaving behind. (2 Kings 2:5-9) But not only is the prophet caring for his young men, he is caring for the work that God gave him to do. He wants to pass it on in the best way possible. He wants it to live on, stronger than before. He knows the work of God is not done, not by far, so he sets up his successors in the best way possible.

You see, when a man or woman of God dies or departs, nothing of God dies or departs—it carries on. When the work of a great and godly person is finished, we need to realize that the beginning of another great man or woman will start—and hopefully carry on in even greater power and with even greater impact because of how their predecessor set them up. Instead of ending, God desires ministries to transition; to enter new phases of development and effectiveness. That’s God’s way, and Christians would do well to embrace that truth. Ministers, moms and dads, and leaders of all kinds would do a God-honoring thing to adopt the certainty of baton passing as one of their chief aims in life, and when the time comes, to pass that baton well.

Now what is true in the realm of spiritual leadership is true in the realm of all leadership—parenting, mentoring, business ownership, etc. The truth is, we will all pass the baton someday, and it will likely come sooner than we were expecting. So think through how you will pass it so that those who follow in your shoes can take a double portion of your leadership.

A double portion—now that is a mysterious request Elisha asks of his mentor, Elijah. What was that all about? In reality, Elisha was asking to be the heir of Elijah’s ministry. Literally, that phrase referred to the designation as rightful heir. It is the same phrase that is used in Deuteronomy 27:17 when Moses instructs that a father must “acknowledge the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has.”

But notice how Elijah responded to the request: “You have asked a difficult thing, yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise not.” What is Elijah saying? In effect, he is saying, “I cannot grant you that, only God can. But if God permits you to see his power and his presence when I am taken, it will be a sign that he has granted your request.”

Obviously, Elijah thought Elisha was special and would make a great successor, but he knew that only God could choose the heir to his ministry. Likewise, when new leaders are chosen to replace a pastor, a chairman of the board, a teacher, or a boss, we need to be careful to allow God to designate that person. While we need to do the best baton pass we can, remember that it is God’s role to chose who takes the role, and it will then be up to that new leader to run worthy of what you have passed on, and worthy of their new calling before God.

Yes, you will pass the baton. The time for that will get here sooner than you can imagine. So start anticipating it now, then do your best when the time comes for whomever takes it from you, the race will be theirs to win or lose.

Going Deeper With God: What are you doing to prepare someone to take your spot—as a mom or dad, a business owner, the leader of a ministry, or in whatever arena over which God has given you influence? Give that some thought today, and revisit it regularly. When the times comes, I hope you will do it well.

Grouchy Prophets and God’s Grace

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

If you don’t learn to read the Bible stories about judgment, properly and in context, you are going to miss out on the opportunity to see in each case that the tough love of God, patiently expressed in his righteous wrath, is really an invitation to live under his loving rule. Truly God’s judgment is the revelation of his grace.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 1:13-15

Once more the king sent a third captain with fifty men to fetch Elijah. But this time the captain went up the hill and fell to his knees before Elijah. He pleaded with him, “O man of God, please spare my life and the lives of these, your fifty servants. See how the fire from heaven came down and destroyed the first two groups. But now please spare my life!” Then the angel of the Lord said to Elijah, “Go down with him, and don’t be afraid of him.” So Elijah got up and went with him to the king.

If you read the entire story in 2 Kings 1, you might be surprised by the title of this devotional. For sure, at least half of it is right: Elijah is indeed a grouchy prophet. When the king of Israel twice sends platoons to “escort” the well-known prophet to the palace, he calls down fire from heaven. The charred bodies of 100 men are proof: Elijah was not a cleric with which to be trifled.

But the grace of God—how in the name of all that is right can I refer to God’s grace when he has equipped his spokesmen to annihilate 100 men who were just doing their job? This particular story seems to confirm the suspicions of many that the Old Testament God is unloving, unbending and unfair—and brutal, to boot.

Before I get into why I think Elijah called fire down on the soldiers, let me first address the unfair meme that slams the Old Testament God as a mean deity. First, leveling that accusation against the God who has revealed himself in the Jewish scripture simply reveals that the accuser has not read the whole story. It also exposes a bad hermeneutic. The rules of reading and interpreting literature, any kind of literature, have likely been violated six ways to Sunday—especially the rule of context. It is probable, in this particular case, that 2 Kings 1 was not read against the backdrop of what has been happening throughout 1 Kings, where one king after another, more evil than their immediate predecessor, has led Israel away from God and into the most vile, violent, dehumanizing and degrading practice of idol worship. By all accounts, if anything, we should be surprised that God has not torched the entire nation, and way sooner.

Second, we can call God what we want, but by definition, God gets to choose how he acts. And if he reveals himself as the righteous God who forgives the sins of the repentant but brings judgment upon the persistently sinful, then who are we to judge God? Who are we to say that doing what is deserved is unfair? Who are we to reinterpret righteousness as meanness? That is simply pointless, and wrong. Furthermore, it demonstrates the tendency of human beings to dumb down their version of God to a manageable deity—a softer, kinder God that can be controlled. But think about it: who wants to follow a God they can control. I don’t! I want a God to whom I must surrender, because I am not trustworthy and wise enough to set the rules for him.

Third, when you read the entire Old Testament in context, this God who often gets labeled as mean is actually painfully patient, indefatigably gracious and unceasingly loving. The God you come to know from Genesis to Malachi is truly a Being with paternalistic intent—he is a loving, caring, involved Father. And once the Old Testament concludes, he says, “Look, you still don’t see how loving I am, so let me send you the literal, physical, undeniable, exact representation of my being. Meet my Son, Jesus Christ. When you see him, you see me.”

Now, in light of that, why did God empower his prophet, Elijah, to call fire down from heaven on back-to-back occasions to take the lives of these 100 men who were simply doing what good soldiers do by following their king’s command? The truth is, they were well aware of Elijah. They knew the story of the showdown against the false prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel where Elijah had called down the fire of God. The score in that contest was a shut-out—850 to 0. Elijah came away unscathed while 850 unholy priests lay dead.

These men in the present story knew that Elijah represented a God who demanded (and deserved) total allegiance, and who was not shy about proving that point to kings and people in no uncertain terms. These men knew, or should have known, the likelihood of messing with the man of God. And this was a point in time at which they should have done what we all should do in these kinds of situation: “We must obey God rather than man,” (Acts 5:29) no matter what the penalty for going against the will of the man.

Really, if you can’t read this story, properly and in context, you are going to miss out on yet another opportunity to see that the tough love of God, patiently expressed in his righteous wrath, is really an invitation to live under his loving rule. Truly his judgment is the revelation of his grace.

And one more thing: the grace of that loving, caring Father is available for your life today.

Going Deeper With God: Reread the story in light of the context I have provided. Then offer your grateful praise to your gracious God.