Sunday, June 18, 2006

No good deed...

What do Peter and Elijah have in common? That their good deeds were immediately attacked! Elijah definitely had a harder time of it, though.
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them."
1 Kings 19.1-2

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them."

Acts 11.1-3
The big difference, of course, was that Elijah was literally under threat of death by an enemy, whereas Peter just got a bunch of flak.

They responded in completely different ways, too. Elijah surprised me; I would have thought he'd say something like "Shock and awe weren't enough? I laugh at your threat! Bring it on!" Instead he flees in despair. The contest with the prophets of Baal apparently took a lot out of him -- a phyrric victory of sorts. The Lord tells him to eat, drink, and sleep... then after some dialogue tells him to go back the way he came to the desert of Damascus and
  1. "when you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also..."
  2. "anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and..."
  3. anoint Elisha son of Shaphat to succeed him as prophet
(1 Kings 19.15-16)

I never noticed this before, but Elijah does only #3; it turns out that #1 and #2 aren't done until 2 Kings chapters 8-9. I guess he was really depressed by that whole prophets-of-Baal thing.

One lesson for me in all this is that everyone's human -- even guys that we might think of as mighty men of God. Your Billy Grahams and Bill Hybelses and John Ortbergs and John Pipers and Joseph Ratzingers -- as well as the less famous but no less important teachers and prophets and prayer warriors (yes, even prayer warriors) and deacons and elders and pastors -- are all human, they all need support and prayer, and all have their dark nights.

Peter had a different experience. In one sense, Elijah got from Jezebel what he might have expected given that she was a, well, to steal a line from Sandra Tsing Loh, "rhymes with rich," and was evil and idolatrous besides. Peter, though, got criticized by people on the same team for doing what they all wanted done -- i.e., spreading the gospel of the kingdom "to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1.8) and making disciples "of all nations" (Matthew 28.19). "Nations" here would have been understood to mean "non-Jews" by the way.

The good thing in Peter's experience is that once he explained what happened in his vision (here's the 3rd time we read about it) and at the home of Cornelius...

...they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then,God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life."
Acts 11.18
The lesson I get from this is the importance of face-to-face communication, particularly when things are changing in the church.

I mentioned the other day that emails aren't necessarily satanic but that there are lots of opportunities for misunderstanding and miscommunication. I think this is something I have to keep in mind at work, but especially at church and when working on mission-related stuff. Why especially then? Because we have an enemy who likes to deceive and confuse us, to sow discord among the brethren, that's why. And also because so much of what we do is about the communication. At the office, I can say, "My code is at /u/collin/p4/msub - please have a look" or "Does this data set look like what you were thinking of?" -- not so at church.

We live in the world, and though we try not to be of the world, it's hard -- it's well nigh impossible to keep the culture (the system of this world's kingdom) from affecting our thought patterns as we try to do the Lord's work. So we want to do the Lord's work and we want to be good stewards of the resources the Lord gives us... of which time is the scarcest! So we take short cuts. We use email and text messages, and this is not necessarily all that bad! But when we reduce face-to-face communications and try to make up the difference with short emails, we may run into difficulties. The ensuing repair work (read "damage control" if you like) can end up being more costly than the time we thought we were saving.

Why do we do it then? Because of the pressure we feel to do more, launch more things, keep more balls in the air. Where does this pressure come from? For me, it comes from the fear that when I'm gone, I won't have accomplished anything for the kingdom of God. Gaaaa! We've taken the fears of the world and adapted them into our church context! Balderdash and baloney in the highest!

And yet... do you suppose that even Really Spiritual people might be driven by some of the same pressures and fears that I feel? May it not be so! But they are human, they need prayer and support, they have their dark nights... so maybe some of them are driven like this? Yow!

The lovely Carol has a mobile, which now hangs from the ceiling in our bedroom. There is driftwood. There are shells. And there is a sign which reads, "By the God's grace I am doing enough."

A good word for me, and a needed one. For you too? And maybe even for some Really Spiritual people like pastors and missionaries?

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