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The Forgetful Prophet

The Forgetful Prophet

One of my favorite things to do in Kansas City is visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Every time I visit I am drawn to a particular painting that depicts God sending an angel to encourage the prophet Elijah. This is one of my favorite stories in Scripture and the more I have studied the passage, the more I realize that I identify with Elijah. But that identification is not with the positive aspects of Elijah’s character but rather the unfortunate deformation that is taking place in his ministry.  

 

Elijah’s Encounter with God

Before God sends his angel to Elijah in 1 Kings 19, the wicked king Ahab and his wife Jezebel have led Israel into apostasy through the worship of false gods. In the chapter just prior to the encouragement of Elijah, God had shown his glory through the defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. In that scene both Elijah and the prophets of Baal had prepared a sacrifice for their respective god and they were going to see whose responded. Listen to the prayer of Elijah at that moment:

 Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that at your word I have done all these things. Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” 

There are three things to notice about this prayer. First, notice Elijah’s remembrance. He calls on God’s personal name, Yahweh (anytime you see the name translated Lord, it is referring to God’s covenant name), and refers to him as the God of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (or Jacob). This title brings all sorts of images and memories of the prior work of God to mind in the story of the Torah. Second, notice his humility. His desire is that people would know Yahweh is Lord and that Elijah is his servant. There is no self-commendation, there is a servant who has only done as his God has commanded. And finally, his ultimate desire is to see the glory of God displayed and have it recognized as such. 

God answers this prayer and sends a fire to consume the sacrifice and the prophets of Baal are defeated and destroyed and there seems to be a glimmer of hope for a nation that had abandoned its God. Keep this prayer in mind as we fast forward one chapter and we see a very different interaction between God and his servant Elijah.  

 

Elijah’s Spiritual Amnesia

In chapter 19 we are told that Jezebel, after hearing about the defeat of the prophets at Mount Carmel, orders the death of Elijah. We are told that the prophet “became afraid and immediately ran for his life.” Our prophet who just watched Yahweh show his power at Mount Carmel is now asking that the Lord would take his life (1 Kings 19:4). In Elijah’s next words to God note the change of tone from his last prayer: 

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God of armies, but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are looking for me to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10). 

God responds by asking him to stand on Mount Sinai so that God might speak with him in a soft whisper (19:12) but when Elijah hears the voice it says “he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” 

Did you notice the changes? Instead of remembering the character of Yahweh when Jezebel threatens him, he gives into fear and despair. Instead of humbly submitting himself to God, he questions why God has not honored his zeal. Instead of seeking the glory of God, he covers his face to keep from seeing it. What happened? How could there be such deformation in such a short time frame? 

 

Deformative Forgetfulness 

Since Genesis 3, the serpent has sought to lead God’s image bearers into deforming forgetfulness. Curt Thompson says in his book Anatomy of the Soul that “being tricked always involves the subtle or blatant manipulation of fear, memory, and shame.” I believe this is what we see taking place in Elijah’s life. The deformation of fear has allowed him to see Jezebel as a threat beyond God’s control. The deformation of his memory has led him to forget the superiority of the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, demonstrated on Mount Carmel. The deformation of shame has led him to cover himself from the glorious presence of God, much the way Adam and Eve covered themselves in the garden. But similar to the garden, the Lord responds in surprising grace toward this deformed prophet. 

The Lord responds to Elijah in several ways. After the prophet put himself under a tree to die we are told the angel tells him to eat and sleep (twice!). Then God calls him to Mount Sinai, the mountain where Yahweh made his covenant with Israel. God brought him to a physical location where he would feel secure and would encourage him to remember the God who cared for the likes of Abarahm and Moses would also take care of him. Once Elijah arrives at the mountain, the Lord asks him two times: “What are you doing here, Elijah? It reminds me of God asking Adam and Eve in the garden after they ate the fruit, “Where are you?” God is gently inviting his weak servant to see the waywardness of his ways. God does not lash out at his prophet, but instead speaks to him in a whisper and he reminds him he is not alone. There are in fact seven thousand prophets who have not bowed to Baal and God’s plans have not been thwarted. Even so, we see a disturbed prophet who, until the Lord takes him to heaven in a chariot of fire, seems to only reluctantly and begrudgingly listen to his God (2 Kings 2). 

 

Grace to Remember 

So why do I identify with this prophet? Perhaps you can relate: I often allow my circumstances to be much larger than my God. This leads to a forgetfulness of God’s prior work and a “woe is me” mentality. My fear leads to a forgetfulness that I am ashamed to admit. So how can we combat such deformation? 

What is your pace in life? Do you ever find it fascinating that the first thing God has this weary prophet do is eat and sleep? I know that my greatest vulnerability to deforming practices is when I am tired, hungry, and alone. God treats each of these in his interaction with Elijah. Reflect on the rhythms you are setting. Are they for your flourishing? 

Who or what are you paying attention to? Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “The devil doesn’t fill us with hatred for God, but with forgetfulness of God.” Are there ways you live like God is absent? What are some practical reminders and rhythms to keep you mindful of God?  

I believe that today the prophet Elijah is able to look upon the face of his Savior despite his previous desire to cover his face before the glory of God. What a patient God we worship! I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my spiritual amnesia, that even the prophets of old had moments of weakness. But I take even greater comfort in knowing that we worship a God who beckons us back to himself. Even in a soft whisper. 

Remembering to Remember

Remembering to Remember

With the beginning of a new year we often pause from the hustle and bustle of busy schedules to reflect on the speedy passage of time. As the years pile on, we increasingly marvel how the past year has flown by with such breakneck speed. We hear in our hearts with increased beckoning the psalmist prayerful words, Lord teach us to number our days that we may apply our heart to wisdom.  Seeking to live more wisely in the new year, we may consider priority adjustments that require attention; life pace that needs slowing, more consistent sabbath rests, curiosities that need fostering, or relationships that call for greater deepening. Yet, there is a reflective question that we may overlook, one a life of wisdom requires. What may we have forgotten that we dare not forget?

 

The Peril of Forgetfulness 

We often call them “senior moments,” those frustrating gaps in our memory as we age. It may be someone’s name we just can’t recall, a computer password that simply has vanished from our memory, or an important anniversary date. Forgetting is embarrassing, unpleasant, and even annoying, but it can also prove perilous. A missed deadline can lead to an IRS audit, a doctor’s prescription not taken can lead to hospitalization, a burning candle left lit can burn an entire house to the ground.  But perhaps the greatest danger we face is in forgetting God’s manifest presence, his bedrock promises and his great faithfulness to us.

Martyred German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us of the evil one’s temptation strategy to get us to forget God in our daily lives. Bonhoeffer puts it this way in his book Creation and Fall, Temptation, Two Biblical Studies: “At this moment God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real; the only reality is the devil. Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God.”

Forgetfulness is not something we take as seriously as we ought, yet it may well be the most perilous obstacle to our spiritual formation in Christlikeness. Just a cursory glance of the Bible reminds us over and over again of the peril of forgetting as well as the crucial importance of remembering. In this new year, as we seek to live an increasingly wise life, perhaps few things are more important than remembering to remember. What do we need to remember to remember? What must we dare not forget?

 In a very dark moment in redemptive history, the writer of Lamentations encourages God’s covenant people to remember to remember. “This I call to mind and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23  In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases this text beautifully. “But there is one thing I remember and remembering I keep a grip on hope. God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I got left.”

 

Remembering God’s Unfailing Love  

As we enter a new year, let’s remember to remember God’s unfailing love to us. Others will let us down, disappoint us and fail us, but God will not. His promises are golden. His presence is never in doubt. He is always there for you. He will never leave the room on you. As his son or daughter, he simply, purely, and utterly delights in you. The prophet Zephaniah describes God’s loving presence with sheer delight for his covenant people. “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save, he will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV) What this coming year will bring we do not know, but we can truly know God’s unfailing love will be there for us both as individual apprentices of Jesus as well as a faith community. Nothing, or no one, can ever separate us from God’s unfailing love.

                                   

Remembering God’s Past Faithfulness

In this new year, let’s also remember to remember God’s past faithfulness. Few things build more hopeful buoyancy in our hearts and minds than remembering God’s past faithfulness. It is seen in his loving protection of our lives, abundant provision for our needs, his guiding and comforting presence even in the midst of suffering, and the many good things he showers on us simply for our delight and joy. How has God shown his faithfulness to you this past year? When God’s covenant people crossed the Jordan river into the promised land, God instructed them to carry with them twelve memorial stones of remembrance so they would not forget God’s past faithfulness in the forty years of rugged wilderness living. What might be a tangible way you can better remember to remember God’s past faithfulness in your life this year? Where are your stones of remembrance? How will they help you not forget what you dare not forget?

 

Remembering Christ Together

Remembering to remember is not only an individual endeavor, it is woven into the hopeful and joyful fabric of local church community. When we  make weekly corporate worship a high priority, together in the power of the Holy Spirit we are remembering to remember God’s good news to us, Christ’s work for us, his unfailing love for us, his faithfulness to us and his manifest presence with us. When our Lord Jesus instituted Holy Communion for his local gathered church, he placed it in a frame of remembrance.  Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This year will you join me and our Christ Community family on Sundays with greater regularity and more joyful expectation of remembering to remember our wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? He is the one who has forgiven us, given us new creation life, and welcomed us into his already, but not fully yet kingdom. If we are going to live a life of increasing wisdom in this new year, let’s remember to remember what we dare not forget.

How to Discover Who We Are Meant to Be

How to Discover Who We Are Meant to Be

 

“Did you know we have ancestors from France?” 

Before I could say anything in response, my family member was on Google earth exploring the countryside of France pondering what this means for her and our family. 

She was searching, but for what?

Searching for who we are

Maybe you or a relative has gone through this process. In a world filled with uncertainty, we long for rootedness. We long for history. We long to belong. This is partly why DNA and ancestry services are exploding. Our anxious world is seeking to know who we are

But like a mirage, when facts and figures land in our hands, it still doesn’t fulfill that deep thirst. This is because we don’t just want to know our history and get the nuts and bolts of the where/when/what. We want to hear stories about our people and find out something specific about why we are who we are today

We want to learn, grow and not feel so alone. But to do that, we need to go further back than a few centuries. We need to go back a few millennia to the stories of our faith family in Scripture. 

As Christians, we come to the Scriptures with the belief that God is telling a story that is true and relevant to life today although it is anchored in history. This informs why we come to Scripture looking for answers. We come seeking guidance, but what we may miss is that it is here that we also find belonging. 

The role of storied memory

Imagine an oral culture, which is the primary context when Scripture was recorded, and the primary mode of communication is story. In a collective society, it is these stories of God’s people that shaped not only their understanding but also their identity. Under the stars around the fire Grandma or Grandpa, the keeper of the stories, would tell of Joseph and his envious brothers, Moses parting the Red Sea, or David being anointed by Samuel. 

In these stories, generation upon generation not only learned about their ancestors, but they learned about who they were. They would understand “this is how we do things as God’s people,” and simultaneously embody hatred of practices that went against “who they were.” The stories of God working through their ancestors helped them make sense of what God was doing among them as His people in the present. 

Remembering is NOT an option

This is why the most common command in all of scripture is NOT: “fear not” or “love your neighbor.” While both are crucial, the most common command is to “remember,” because in these stories recorded and passed down for generations, we find belonging and behavior that is in accordance with being God’s people. 

Since all of Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for our growth and maturity (2 Timothy 3:16-17), that means when we forget our family — or when the stories of God’s people throughout Scripture escape our imagination — we forget a portion of ourselves. We forget who we are supposed to be today. 

Therefore what we need on our journey toward wholeness is less akin to a baby shower or a birthday where both celebrations have their eyes set forward. Rather we need something more akin to Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday, that looks back and remembers our ancestors of the faith to see how their stories continue to speak into who we are, and connect with us today. 

Rewards of remembering

In our Forgotten Family series, we’ll explore overlooked stories in Scripture. But this isn’t just for Bible knowledge. Studying some of the forgotten stories of our faith family will provide at least three assurances: 

  1. We’re not the first. When we hear stories of our faith family who have gone before us, we rest assured that we aren’t the “first” of God’s people to face challenges in our faith (1 Corinthians 10:11). The Christian life is a path worn by many who have walked before us. 
  2. We’re not alone. As we remember stories of forgotten family, it’s a reminder that we are not “alone” in our battles. There is a beautiful mystery of those who have lived, died and are with Christ, who also make up this great cloud of witnesses cheering us on in our faith (Hebrews 12:1). We aren’t the first to walk this way, and we aren’t alone. 
  3. We’re not without guidance. By listening to stories of our faith family with God’s commentary in Scripture, we gain clarity in understanding “who we are” and thus greater understanding of how we as “God’s people live out who we are in various circumstances.” 

The more we learn about those who went before us, the more we understand how our family history is a window into who we are today. When we forget our roots, we are less equipped to bring our whole selves to the opportunities and challenges of our lives. 

Join us!

We long to have a more secure identity in our good God, and for that we need to remember who we are as God’s people on a deeper level. Our hope is that you don’t just join us as we remember what God has done before, but that in remembering, we better understand together who we are and join in how He is continuing to work through us today!