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The Elijah Syndrome

elijah

The prophet Elijah had just experienced a gigantic “mountaintop” experience (literally – and I mean that literally). God had shown Himself to the people of Israel in great power and glory on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:20-40). The prophets of Baal – false prophets all – had come up woefully short in a contest set up by Elijah.

Israel’s wicked King Ahab quickly reported the news to his pagan wife Jezebel, who sent a “watch your back” note to Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-2). She promised to do to him what he’d done to the prophets of Baal – kill him, in other words. The prophet’s mountaintop high turned into a “valley” experience as soon as he heard the note read to him. “And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there” (1 Kings 19:3).

From Beersheba, he continued on to Horeb and hid in a cave. All this time, by the way, God provided everything He needed. At one point, Elijah said to Yahweh, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10). He thought he was the only one left in Israel who was obedient to God and zealous for Him. He wasn’t, of course, but that’s how he felt.

Elijah needed some fact-checking, which is exactly what God did. In verse 18, the Lord told Elijah that, in fact, there were 7000 prophets in Israel who hadn’t bowed the knee to Baal. Therefore, even though Jezebel was after him, he wasn’t alone in his devotion to God.

It isn’t hard for us to fall into the Elijah Syndrome, especially when we’ve been on the mountaintop but now find ourselves in the valley. We can think we’re the only person who’s really interested in following the Lord, but He says otherwise.

No, you’re not the only pastor in your town who’s faithful to the Lord. God has others.

No, you’re not the only teacher in your district who’s faithful to the Lord. God has others.

No, you’re not the only student in your school who’s faithful to the Lord. God has others.

No, you’re not the only one in your vocation who’s faithful to the Lord. God has others.

No, your church isn’t the only one that’s faithful to the Lord. God has others.

The list could go on and on, but the point is straightforward: You’re not alone in your faithfulness and devotion to the Lord. He has His people everywhere, and that should be encouraging to us whether we find ourselves on the mountaintop or in the valley.

 

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heidelberg

Contemporary Evangelicals need to rediscover the wisdom of the catechisms which were written during the Reformation. The theology found in them is rich, pastoral, and thoroughly biblical. As a church, we’re poorer because of our neglect of them. Here is a little bit of that wisdom:

Question #60

Q – How are you right before God?

A – Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ;

so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them,

and am still inclined to all evil;

notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine,

but only of mere grace,

grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ,

even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me;

inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.

“How can I be right before God?” is the most important that anyone will ever ask. Our destinies depend upon it, and the Heidelberg Catechism gives us a brief answer of what is found in God’s Word, the Bible.

Grace Saves and Teaches

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Grace – God’s unmerited and undeserved favor – is amazing in more ways than we normally think. Titus 2:11-14 illustrates it: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” 

“The grace of God has appeared” (verse 11) in the person of Jesus Christ. That grace brought “salvation.” God saves us by His grace and we praise Him for it! He opened our eyes when we were spiritually blind; He opened our spiritually deaf ears; and He gave us a heart of flesh in exchange for the heart of stone each of us have by nature – and He did all of this by His grace! We didn’t deserve it, couldn’t earn it, and, in fact, deserve the exact opposite.

Everyone who has repented of their sin and has believed in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation did so solely because of God’s grace. We’ve been redeemed by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. But does that give us a “get out of jail card free card” with respect to our behavior and conduct as a Christian? Can we live any way we want because we’re saved by grace?

No, it doesn’t and no, we can’t! Still on the subject of “the grace of God” from verse 11, verse 12 begins with the phrase “instructing us.” The grace of God not only saves us, but instructs us (or teaches, disciplines, trains us). To what end? Grace instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” In other words, grace doesn’t softly whisper in your ear to go ahead and indulge yourself because God doesn’t really care anymore; rather grace teaches us, trains us, and disciplines us to say no to ungodliness and yes to godliness. While we’re at it, we await the second coming of “our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (verse 13), who “redeemed us from every lawless deed” on the negative side, and is purifying “for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (verse 14). By His grace, God has redeemed us “from every lawless deed” and “for good deeds.” God is just as concerned with our birth (justification) as He is with our growth (sanctification).

God’s grace is truly amazing – through it we’re saved, taught, empowered, and changed!

Calvin on Self-Denial

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After quoting Romans 12:1-2 (“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”), Calvin writes,

This is a marvelous thing – we are consecrated and dedicated to God to the end that we might not think, speak, meditate, or act unless it be to His glory. The sacred can’t be put to profane use without injustice to God.

If we are not our own but the Lord’s, it’s clear what errors we must flee, and what we must direct our whole lives toward. We are not our own; therefore, neither our reason nor our will should dominate our plans and actions. We are not our own; therefore, let us not make the gratification of our flesh our end. We are not our own; therefore, as much as possible, let us forget ourselves and our own interests.

Rather, we are God’s. Therefore, let us live and die for Him. We are God’s. Therefore, let His wisdom and will govern all our actions. We are God’s. Therefore, let us – in every way in all our lives – run to Him as our only proper end. How far has he progressed who’s been taught that he is not his own – who’s taken rule and dominion  away from his own reason and entrusted them to God. For the plague of submitting to our own rule leads us straight to ruin, but the surest way to safety is neither to know nor want anything on our own, but simply to follow the leading of the Lord.

Let then our first step be to abandon ourselves, that we may apply all our strength to obedience to God. When I say “obedience,” I don’t mean giving lip service to God; but rather, being free from the desire of the flesh, turning our minds over completely to the bidding of the Spirit of God.

(A Little Book on the Christian Life, by John Calvin, translated by Aaron Denlinger and Burk Parsons, pp. 22-23; Reformation Trust, 2017.)

Sermon in a Sentence

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This morning I had the privilege of hearing Pastor Rick Elzinga preach on Psalm 32. Here is a summary of his sermon in one sentence: Don’t be stubborn and prideful – humbly confess and repent of your sin.

How Has God Blessed You?

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If you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, God has blessed you with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3), and all of them are because of His amazing grace! So what are some of those blessings? Here are just a few as compiled by F.E. Marsh:

  • An acceptance that can never be questioned (Eph. 1:6).
  • An inheritance that can never be lost (1 Pet. 1:3-5).
  • A deliverance that can never be excelled (2 Cor. 1:10).
  • A grace that can never be limited (2 Cor. 12:9).
  • A hope that will never disappoint (Heb. 6:18-19).
  • A bounty that can never be withdrawn (1 Cor. 3:21-23).
  • A joy that never need be diminished (John 15:11).
  • A nearness to God that can never be reversed (Eph. 2:13).
  • A peace that can never be disturbed (John 14: 27).
  • A righteousness that can never be tarnished (2 Cor. 5:21).
  • A salvation that can never be cancelled (Hebrews. 5:9).

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“Encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13)

When things get tough, or as some would say “when the wheels fall off,” it’s difficult to see beyond our circumstances. When we’re hurting, our tendency is to focus on ourself and our problem – to look inward in other words.

While that tendency is understandable, it isn’t right. During even the heaviest trials, we have to look beyond ourselves to the bigger picture – to look up and around, in other words. Our lives, and every individual aspect of it, are part of a much larger picture.

Paul told the church in Corinth, For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

The trials and tribulations we experience are called “momentary, light affliction.” They may not feel like it, but that’s what they are. It comes down to a matter of perspective – how we look at things. But we can’t do that without the second half of the verse: “is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” Our afflictions have meaning because the God who is absolutely sovereign uses them for His glory and our good.

When we understand and believe that, we can actually look at the bigger picture and know that God has a purpose and a meaning for those afflictions. On the other hand, if we don’t, we’ll turn in on ourselves and have a small and bitter view of life. The good news is, what God is doing in us, through this “momentary, light affliction,” is truly “beyond all comparison.” That’s encouraging!