Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
For God to send down the angels to take away our doubts would only result in removing our freedom to have faith in the love of God. Like hunger, doubt gives meaning and substance to our choice to live as God’s beloved. Craig Barnes, Best Advice, ed. W. Carl p17
No More Fence-Sitting
“1 Kings 18:17-29, 36-39”
When I was going into 5th grade our family moved into a new house. It was in a suburban community with fences marking off our yards. One of the activities that my friends and I used to do was walk on top of the fences. We’d climb up and walk along the fences through people’s backyards. Sometimes there were trees next to the fence and we’d have to climb through the branches. Other times there were dogs that would bark and bang against the fence. That made it challenging. The goal was to stay on top of the fence, without falling off one side or the other into someone’s backyard.
Unfortunately, many people try to do the same thing in the spiritual life. People try to stay on top of the fence rather than choosing one side or the other. Elijah calls us to stop our fence-sitting and make a choice – who, or what, will be our God?
In our passage there were two rival gods: Yahweh, the God of Israel, the God who brought them out of Egypt and gave them the Law at Mount Sinai; and Baal, the generic name for a variety of different gods in that area. Did you notice in our passage it said “Baals?” It was in the plural. “You have forsaken the commandments of the LORD and followed the Baals” (1 Kings 18:18). Ahab was trying to keep all of his options open. He wanted to worship all of these gods, including Yahweh. He hadn’t rejected Yahweh. He even named several of his children after Yahweh. Ahab simply worshipped Yahweh and other gods named Baal. The problem is that for the people of Israel there is no Yahweh and another god. Elijah forced the people to choose.
Ahab was not alone in trying to worship a variety of gods. Elijah challenged the people. “‘How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ The people did not answer him a word” (1 Kings 18:21). They knew that Yahweh was the God of Israel and that they had turned away from him. Yet they also wanted to worship Baal, so they didn’t say anything. They refused to commit.
Finally, Elijah proposed a competition between the two gods – set up two altars, sacrifice two bulls, put one on each altar. See which god lights the fire on the altar without any human help. Remember, the belief was that Baal controlled the rains and the storms. He was the god of the thunder and lightning. The competition was on – Elijah verses the 450 prophets, Yahweh against Baal.
Elijah let the prophets of Baal go first, trusting that they wouldn’t succeed. The prophets prayed for five or six hours. They tried all their religious rituals and nothing happens. Elijah mocked them and taunted them. They tried everything and nothing worked. Finally, late in the afternoon, Elijah called all the people to himself and took his turn. He built an altar with twelve stones, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, reminding the people of their identity as people of Yahweh. He put wood and the bull on top of the altar. Then he had some people poor twelve jars of water over the altar, until everything was completely soaked. Then he prayed and fire came out of heaven. It lit the altar, burned up everything and evaporated the water. Yahweh was, and is, God!
You might think that Elijah’s and Yahweh’s victory on Mount Carmel would settle things once and for all. It was dramatic and overwhelming. There was no doubt. Yahweh is God! But all you need to do is read a few more chapters to realize that people continue to worship Yahweh and other gods. Let me suggest that if we look at our lives we all have the same problem.
CS Lewis wrote the book, The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape is a senior devil who is training his nephew, Wormwood. He writes a series of letters to help Wormwood learn how to draw people away from God and keep them from growing in their faith. In the 25th letter Screwtape says this.
What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call “Christianity And.” You know – Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians, let them be Christians with a difference” (p73).
I would suggest that Screwtape has been successful. People today, including us, don’t reject Jesus. You wouldn’t be here if you did. However, we all have a tendency to follow God and our own dreams, Jesus and our own desires, Jesus and our own gods. Let me share with you a few examples.
The first I would call God and My Cause. God cares about the world we live in and how we live in the world. Christians are appropriately involved in a variety of causes and social issues – trying to overcome racism and poverty, caring for the environment, feeding the poor. Christians are involved on both sides of issues like abortion and homosexuality. These are important issues and we ought to be involved with them. The problem is that sometimes these causes become more important than God. These issues become our Baal.
Another example would be God and My Convenience. These are people who love Jesus and would claim him as the most important thing in their lives. They may be involved in a church. They are good Christians, as long as it is convenient and doesn’t interfere with their other activities. These people will come to church, unless they can get a Sunday morning golfing tee time, or the Steelers are playing, or they want to spend some time in a family activity. God ends up being our second or third priority. Does your calendar show that Christ is the most important part of your life? Does the way you spend our money demonstrate that Jesus is your lord and savior? Is there evidence in your life that God is more important than anything else?
Another example, God and My Success. This is the prosperity gospel, the belief that God wants us to be rich. Anything that increases my wealth must be from God. Money becomes our god. How about God and My Nation. I love our country and consider myself fortunate that I live here. Yet the United States is not the Kingdom of God. Unfortunately, for some people, the United States is their god. Finally, God and My Comfort. Anything that makes me feel good must be from God. Anything that touches my heart and helps me feel loved is good. What are the gods in your life that compete with Jesus and keep you from living as faithful and obedient servants of God?
God and anything else is not an option for Christians. We are called to get off the fence and to make Jesus the number one priority in life. We are called to reject the Baals of our lives, and worship God alone.
Yahweh is the only true God. Mount Carmel was an overwhelming victory for Yahweh. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind who won. Easter was an overwhelming victory for Jesus. On Good Friday he was dead. Satan thought that he had won. Yet God raised Jesus from the dead and he is alive today, sitting at the right hand of God. God won. Jesus is Lord. Yahweh is God. Choose the side of God, who won at Mount Carmel, who won on Easter morning, who is the Lord of life.