Having the Courage of Elijah

“Elijah Confronts Ahab and Jezebel in Naboth’s Vineyard” by Sir Francis Dicksee in 1875
(colorized from black & white original)

I don’t think I would have been comfortable being King Ahab. The Bible says in 1 Kings, chapter 16, that the king “did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those [kings] before him” (v. 30). It also says King Ahab “did more to provoke the LORD … to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him” (v. 33). He must have really been something.

Now, just imagine that you were Elijah, the prophet, and that you had been chosen to confront this evil person with a word from the Lord that would naturally displease the king very much. That assignment would not be a walk in the park, would it?

As you know, Elijah was up to the task. He obediently did confront Ahab, contested the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, was threatened by Queen Jezebel (which filled him with fear), was ministered to by the Lord under the broom bush, and eventually continued to stand firm for the Lord until Ahab was finally killed in battle.

Well, my friend, the assignment that Elijah accepted is similar to the task that our Lord has for you. You, as a kind of Elijah, have been consigned by our Lord to defend righteousness and confront evil. As the servant of God, it is your assignment to take a stand.

Taking a stand for the Lord is not always easy or safe. When a contemporary of Elijah, the prophet Micaiah, son of Imlah, was called upon to confer with Ahab, he was urged by the messenger who summoned him to prophesy in agreement with the 400 prophets of the king instead of with the true word of God. But Micaiah courageously said, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me” (1 Kings 22:14). Micaiah ended up in prison, but the prophecy he delivered came true and, because Ahab ignored it, he was wounded in battle and died.

Every day presents us with challenges — things we can take a stand for or against, issues that might not be too popular with some in the community, topics that might even stir up our congregants. Will you take a stand, even if your words and actions displease people? Will you have the courage of Elijah to speak truth even if you become a target for people’s hostility?

As pastors, we have to do what’s right rather than what’s popular!
I pray that God will give you the courage — both to be and to speak that for which He has called you.

I came across a novel several years ago by best-selling author Francine Rivers called And the Shofar Blew. It tells the story of a gifted young man who becomes a pastor. He is charismatic and a skilled orator, and he is used by God to build a great church. But he lets down his defenses, and drifts into a self-centered scenario, preaching only what people want to hear, that which is profitable. As a result, he nearly loses everything. It’s a story that has become far too familiar to me in real life.

I dealt with members of the clergy nearly every day in the past who, for one reason or another, gave their ministries away. Sometimes, it was for “30 pieces of silver.” Other times, it was for a fleeting moment of pleasure. There were even those times when “power needs” overtook them and they felt they could operate by another set of guidelines. In other words, they did whatever they felt like doing. Most often, the result was a betrayal of the trust our Lord had placed in them.

Satan and the forces of evil stand before you with an offer you must refuse. “The wages of sin” can cast a shadow that covers your whole ministerial history. We must be willing to count the cost of our words and deeds. When we are tempted, our defense is always the whole armor of God, so that we can “stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11). We cannot risk our ministries with a weak defense. We cannot exasperate or provoke Him through our fears or apathy.

These days are challenging for our world, our nation, and the church. The battles we face are turbulent and demanding, but you who lead the church are standing in the gap for righteousness. Whatever you do, please do not give up. Pray more, study more, read more — gird yourself in the whole armor of God and stand firm.

“In everything, set them an example by doing what is [right] good” (Titus 2:7).

“Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?” (Psalm 94:16).

Being Fundamentally Sound

I have noticed that a lot of churches have already held their vacation Bible school programs this summer, while others are doing so this week or will be doing so in the near future. I think this is great! A good VBS program can begin to tackle one of my most serious concerns about the church today — biblical literacy. How familiar is your congregation, your family, or even you with the facts surrounding the characters, stories, and writings in the Bible?

My colleague, I often wonder how fundamentally sound we are in the North American church? We constantly try to simplify the Lord’s message, often without including the nitty-gritty background details that make it so relevant. How about those of us (you) who are leaders in the North American church? Are we fundamentally sound?

I find it hard to imagine that any church or any believer could be considered fundamentally sound without an ever-deepening knowledge of God’s Word. How can anyone fully relate to a biblically sound sermon or lesson without knowing the facts of the biblical story, the context of a scriptural quote, the historical background in which that part of the Bible came into existence, the names and accounts of those characters whose faith, exploits, adventures, and misadventures were used by God in His book to reveal His important teachings.

And yet, that’s what I see more and more often. I see those who cannot identify in which book the story of creation is recorded, the distinct chapters in the rich life of Joseph, the unnatural courage demonstrated by Daniel, the risks taken by Esther, the tension surrounding Jeremiah, the apathy faced by Jesus, the anger encountered by Paul, or the political world in which Epaenetus became the first Christian convert in Asia (Romans 16).

Pastor, your people need to know the Bible and its content. They need to be proficient at Biblical quizzes. They need to know which major world empires and forces existed as God was working with His chosen people at the various stages and eras of their development. They need to know what prevailing philosophical and theological concepts the people of God faced as they moved forward in their maturity. Of course, people won’t completely grasp much of this information as they begin their journeys of faith, but you must be sure they are continuing to grow in their biblical literacy each year until they do. Only then can they fully appreciate how amazing God’s presence has been throughout the history of mankind, and the enormous power He brings to bear on our futures.

Paul advised Timothy, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). In an earlier letter, he told Timothy to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity … devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:12-13). Paul was referring to the basic gospel that “Jesus is Lord,” but as one who had learned every detail of the Scriptures as a Jewish student and theologian, he certainly hoped that the characters, stories, and content of the Word would eventually become equally as familiar to those in the churches he led.

Paul also admonished his protégé to “pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace” (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul regularly referred to these and other fundamental contents of God’s Word as he explained their applications for his readers. Fundamentals! You can’t maintain a high level of ministry without good fundamentals.

What do you think? What do you perceive to be a fundamentally sound church and/or Christian leader? Please take some time to consider the fundamentals and whether your church needs a course correction.

“They must keep hold of the deep truths [stories and concepts] of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9).

Keep Your Marriage Strong

I sincerely hope you had a great Mother’s Day this past Sunday with your own family and with your congregation. If your mother is still living, I hope you were able to reach out to her with your love and words of appreciation. If you have children, I hope their mother felt special and honored by you and the kids.

If you are married, I hope that Sunday provided you and your spouse with an opportunity to give undistracted attention to one another. I also hope you both regularly experience tangible moments that keep the bond between you growing and burning with passion. Cultivating a satisfying marriage is an important part of emotional and spiritual wholeness. A commitment to marriage development is pleasing to God, fulfilling to both partners, crucial in the eyes of children, and healthy for the church.

Marriage offers joy, meaning, and pleasure. The intense demands of ministry, which many consider harmful to marriage, can be used to cultivate closeness that grows out of sharing thoughts and experiencing service together. Every marriage can be better, and happily married pastors are more effective pastors. My colleagues, it’s time to demonstrate in our own marriages all we preach to others about commitment, integrity, accountability, and virtue.

Think for a moment about the topics you cover in your counseling sessions with potential brides and grooms — issues like open communication, personal finances, spiritual oneness, common interests, time alone, emotional support, marital fidelity, and expressions of love for one another. Successful marriages demand time, dedication, and work. And that’s true even in the parsonage.

Do you routinely take time to work on your marriage? Do you practice the principles you recommend to the couples you counsel? Make a concentrated, deliberate choice to strengthen your marriage by just talking to one another about ways each of you could improve the union. Take some time to get out the wedding pictures and reminisce. Play the video of your wedding. Renew your vows. Have a date night for the specific purpose of talking about your marriage and family. Gifts would not be inappropriate either. But, for sure, take a moment away from the hectic pace you’re keeping just to say to the one God has given you, “I love you!”

If your problems are more serious, find a Christian counselor who can help you work on your relationship. As the pastor, you must keep your marriage strong.

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). “In everything, set them an example by doing what is good” (Titus 2: 7).

The Effects of Easter

“Golgotha” by Charles E. Barre

Fresh out of the tomb, Jesus began to comfort those who loved Him most. He saw Mary crying at the entrance to His grave and comforted her. “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18), she told the disciples. In one of my favorite biblical narratives, Jesus walked with two of His followers on the Emmaus Road. When they recognized Him, their hearts burned within them (Luke 24:32). He ate with His disciples and showed them the scars in His hands and feet. He comforted Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). Thomas was overwhelmed.

Then, there was that marvelous moment on the beach when Jesus fixed their breakfast while Peter and his comrades were out fishing. In that life-changing moment, He reinstated the one who had denied Him three times. In simple words, He commissioned Peter to “follow me.” The fisherman never looked back.

In the time before the Lord ascended into heaven, He encountered hundreds and hundreds of people. The reality of the resurrection would in time take over the world.

It’s amazing what can happen in just a few days — from loneliness to exceeding great joy, from emptiness to fulfilled!

Well, Easter has come and may be gone by the time you read this. We know the story. We have been confronted with resurrection power. Now what? The church is in many ways impotent, but the power that amazed Jesus’ disciples the week following Easter is just as powerful today as it was then. Will we recognize it? Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). How about you? The aftermath of Easter is more powerful than ever! Are you ready for it?

I always thought that one of the more enjoyable characteristics of living in Colorado Springs was that the weather could change dramatically from one day to the next (or one moment to the next). We were blessed by a sight we sometimes took for granted — Pikes Peak. It stands majestically along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. When you look to the west, it is nearly always visible. But there are days when the clouds hang low and the 14,000-foot peak is hidden.

It seemed strange when you couldn’t see “The Peak,” but I am reminded of a truth I heard from an old pastor years ago. He said, “Remember, son, even when the clouds hide the beauty of the mountains, the mountains are still there, and that is what makes the difference.”

What a comforting thought for folks like you and me as we pass through the Easter season. Sometimes trouble, distress, setbacks, or sickness overwhelms us to the point where we feel separated from God. During those times — behind the clouds of despair, beyond the fog of doubt — we know God is there, and that is what makes the difference. That is what we call faith.

In writing her little daily devotional book, Jesus Calling, author Sarah Young “listened to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying.” Her devotionals, therefore, reflect what Jesus might say to us in first person. Open your ears of faith as you read one of her entries:


 J a n u a r y  28

I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS. These were the last words I spoke before ascending into heaven. I continue to proclaim this promise to all who will listen. People respond to My continual Presence in various ways. Most Christians accept this teaching as truth but ignore it in their daily living. Some ill-taught or wounded believers fear (and may even resent) My awareness of all they do, say, and think. A few people center their lives around this glorious promise and find themselves blessed beyond all expectations.

When My Presence is the focal point of your consciousness, all the pieces of your life fall into place. As you gaze at Me through the eyes of your heart, you can see the world around you from My perspective. The fact that I am with you makes every moment of your life meaningful.

MATTHEW 28:20;  PSALM 139:1-4


“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).

A Time of Personal Examination

Web editor’s note: As mentioned last month, H.B. has been battling a number of health issues for the past few months. We continue to encourage you to pray for him, his family, and his doctors as he slowly heals and regains strength. Once again, we are reposting a previously used blog entry, this one from March 15, 2014. We believe it still imparts an important message and challenge for all pastors.

Spring break is taking place across the country during various weeks of this month and next — depending on one’s school, school district, or college institution. When I was young, the idea of spring break was much different than it is today. For most of us, our schools actually called it Easter break or Easter vacation, and it occurred the week between Palm Sunday and Easter. It was not the socially celebrated time to get away from home and party with friends and strangers like it seems to have become today. In fact, a lot of churches in those days planned youth camps during this week and used the time off for spiritual activities. Others did other special things. But, among many of the “high church” denominations, the emphasis at this time of the year was on Lent.

Lent is the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting. The term comes from the Middle English lente — meaning “springtime” — and from the Old English lencten, and was akin to the Old High German lenzin — meaning “spring.” Its first known use was in the 13th century. The Latin term is Quadragesima (a translation of the original Greek Τεσσαρακοστή, Tessarakostē, or the “Fortieth” day before Easter).

“Christ in the Wilderness” by Ivan Kramskoi

The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement, and self-denial — linked to the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert preparing for His ministry. This event, along with its pious customs, has long been observed by Christians in the Anglican, Reformed, Lutheran, Methodist, and Roman Catholic traditions. Today, some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season. During Lent, many believers commit themselves to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional, to draw themselves nearer to God.

I believe that — for you, my colleague — the Lenten Season should be much more than planning for a big crowd and festive weekend. It should also be a time of personal preparation for your heart, your attitude, your message, and your relationship with the risen Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:2-5).

As a pastor, I used the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday to call my people to a time of personal examination. Every service, including midweek, had an Easter theme that would draw people along the road to Jerusalem, to the foot of the cross, and into the celebration of the empty tomb.

During the Lenten Season, I would ask our congregation:

  1.   Who among us has someone to forgive?
  2.   Who among us has a blockage that would keep the Holy Spirit from moving freely in his or her life?
  3.   Who among us has allowed his or her relationship with the risen Lord to stagnate?

What if, during this time of preparation, you guided your people to a new plateau of intimacy with Jesus? (Of course, it is nearly impossible to guide another to a place you haven’t been to or experienced yourself.) The celebration of Easter can hold great significance, especially to the new believer. I pray that your Easter activities will be underscored by the Spirit’s power.

“Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:3).

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