Pastor Roger his New Year message by turning to an Old Testament lesson.

Which Wall?
1 Kings 18:20 – 24 January 5, 2020

This is the time of year when millions of people make resolutions to change their lifestyle.

Most of these are good resolutions – eat better, exercise more, Facebook less.

Not surprisingly, by February about 80% of us are back to hamburgers and french fries, binge-watching Netflix, and clicking an average of 135-minutes a day on social media.

I’m not here to criticize anyone’s New Year’s resolutions, but rather encourage each of us to step back and reflect on the bigger question of what kind of resolutions would make sense for us.

What do we really value?

Before we start climbing the ladder of success, we need to make sure we have it leaning against the right wall.

About 95% of Americans say they believe in God, but church participation across all denominations (except Mormons) has plummeted during the last two decades.

What hasn’t declined is our worship of the “A-List gods”: Affluence, Achievement, Approval, and Appearance.

We spend money that we don’ have, on things we do not need, to impress people who don’t care.

Even us (we) churchgoers may affirm Jesus as our Savior on Sunday, but go home and break our backs trying to be our own savior through over-work or trying to make everyone happy.

We waver back and forth between what we think we believe and how we actually live.

It’s a kind of spiritual schizophrenia, and it’s not unique to our generation or our culture.

It reminds me of what faced the prophet Elijah when Ahab and Jezebel ruled the Northern kingdom about 850 BC – that’s around 120 years after King Solomon’s death.

Ahab’s father, Omri, had led military expansions of the Northern territories and later, after a lengthy and bloody coup, established a dynasty that lasted four generations.

After becoming king, Omri erected a lavish city to showcase his power, and he established friendly relations with former rivals, the sea merchant Phoenicians, who lived along the Mediterranean coast in an area now part of Lebanon.

From the Bible authors’ point of view, his disregard for the Lord as he fought his way to power was abhorrent.

1 Kings 16:25 says, Omri did evil in the eyes of the Lord and sinned more than all those before him.

His son Ahab inherited the kingdom and married a Phoenician princess named Jezebel to cement their political alliance.

Jezebel was adamant about her faith in the god Baal and his consort Asherah, so Ahab built her a temple large and grand enough to support eight-hundred-fifty priests and priestesses.

Baal promised fertility, abundant crops and plentiful rain to those who would sacrifice to him.

The people were okay with this …  they reasoned that they could hedge their bets by professing a faith in the Lord, while also worshipping Baal “just in case.”

Lots of us have “just in case gods”.

I trust in the Lord’s plan, but “just in case” I’ll work sixty or eighty hours a week and micromanage everyone around me to be sure things happen my way.

I trust in God’s provision, but “just in case” I’ll accumulate wealth and ration to missions just what I feel I can safely afford.

It is especially tempting to turn to all those “just in case” gods in times of drought.

During Ahab’s reign, Israel experienced a three-year drought that led to a famine, which was an embarrassment to Baal’s prophets.

The Lord had grown alarmed by the growing double-mindedness of His people, so he sent Elijah to give Ahab a warning.

1 Kings 18:1 After a long time, in the third year, the word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.”

This was a dangerous mission because Queen Jezebel had ordered the murder of all the Lord’s prophets, and Ahab had been specifically hunting for Elijah, who had repeatedly eluded capture.

Unbeknownst to Jezebel, Obadiah – Ahab’s right-hand man – had rescued and hidden a hundred prophets, but as far as Elijah knew, he was the only surviving prophet in the Northern Kingdom.

While Ahab and Obadiah were out surveying the land for relief from the famine, Obadiah met the elusive Elijah, who asked him to arrange a meeting with the king.

Obadiah feared that if he went to Ahab with such a request that Elijah would again disappear and Ahab would kill Obadiah as a punishment.

After Elijah reassured him, Obadiah arranged the meeting.

Elijah invited Ahab to send all Baal’s 450 prophets and 400 priestesses to a public competition to once and for all demonstrate who is most powerful – Baal or the Lord.

He staged this competition on Mount Carmel, which is part of a fifteen-mile stretch of hills that are about as high as Mission Peak at the north end of the San Fernando Valley.

Normally it is well watered by rain from the Mediterranean Sea so its hillsides were terraced with vineyards and crops that were now withering in the drought.

This short range of coastal mountains separates Israel (to the south) from Phoenicia (to the north) so it was ideally located for witnesses in both Israel and Phoenicia.

A huge crowd gathered as 450 of Jezebel’s prophets approached the two altars – Baal’s in pristine condition because it was popular and well used; the Lord’s in disrepair because of neglect.

Elijah arranged for a deep hole to be dug at each of the altars for the bulls to be sacrificed.

Elijah then set the stage:

1 Kings 18:21   Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

Elijah let the prophets of Baal choose the choice bull for sacrifice, and he let them go first.

1 Kings 18:25     Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.  Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire–he is God.”

From morning to noon,Baal’s prophets danced in front of their altar.

1 Kings 18:26   They prayed all morning long, “Oh Baal, answer us!” But nothing happened—not so much as a whisper of breeze. Desperate, they jumped and stomped on the altar they had made.

One translation says they began to “limp in fatigue”.

By noon, Elijah displayed a little showmanship by taunting the prophets about their impotent god.

1 Kings 18:27     At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.”

That’s the problem with the false gods of life.

The Baals of this world are our own creations.

So, when we really need them, it doesn’t matter how frantically we call or how much we’ve sacrificed to them there will be no response.

Soon the prophets became so desperate that they resorted to spilling their own blood.

1 Kings 18:28 They cried aloud, and cut themselves in their way with knives and lances until the blood gushed out on them.

Eventually, our false gods suck our lifeblood right out of us.

By 3 in the afternoon, Elijah figured they’d had their chance and that it should be his turn now.

The narrative now changes its pace.

From the crazed dancing and shouts of Baal’s prophets, the narrative slows to the deliberate, non-anxious preparations of Elijah.

First, he called the people to rebuild the neglected altar of the Lord.

1 Kings 18:30-31 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.”  They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.”

So that there would be no lingering doubts, he then doused the bull and the wood with twelve jars of water

Now the solitary Elijah walked to the altar.

1 Kings 18:37-39 “Answer me, God; O answer me and reveal to this people that you are God, the true God, and that you are giving these people another chance at repentance.”   Immediately the fire of God fell and burned up the offering, the wood, the stones, the dirt, and even the water in the trench.   All the people saw it happen and fell on their faces in awed worship, exclaiming, “God is the true God! God is the true God!”

If we insist on flirting with the Baals, then the Lord may eventually lead us to a
Mount Carmel experience to expose their limitations to us.

If you are expecting career success, a hot relationship, total popularity – even perfect health –to be your salvation, then you will be massively disappointed.

Like Baal’s prophets, you will be left limping and bleeding around the altar you erected to such gods.

Eventually, you may fall on your face before the true God’s altar … but that is not what God wants.

God isn’t interested in circus-like exhibitions of power, but in a relationship.

What God really wants is for you to never need a Mount Carmel revival.

What God really wants is that you walk with Him day by day … not just Sunday morning, but Monday as well.

The danger of double-minded spirituality is so important, that the Lord has always dealt with it very harshly.

1 Kings 18:40 Then Elijah commanded them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let anyone get away!” They seized them, and Elijah had them brought down to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered there.

Because of the drought, the brook cutting through Kishon would have been dry when the prophets of Baal died there, but the rain that immediately followed soon filled it with water.

The brook flows toward Phoenicia, meaning that the blood of the false prophets returned to where it belonged.

To cap the victory, the Lord then brought what all the Baal prophets had failed to deliver.

1 Kings 18:45 Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.

God doesn’t want to overwhelm you.

God doesn’t want you to fall face down as they did on Mount Carmel.

Rather, He wants you to choose to love Him … and to put your hope in Him alone.

Maybe this year you can reframe your resolutions into encouragements … valuable things you’ll encourage yourself to do day by day.

Rather than goals to limit yourself to 1500 calories a day or five trips a week to the gym, you’ll just heighten your awareness of time passing and what you really value.

What gives you joy?

Or, consider how you can be love for someone you encounter.

That may mean taking time to listen.

That may mean stopping what you’re doing so you can phone someone and encourage them through a rough patch.

That may mean praying for someone or giving them some money.

After all, isn’t love what we most highly value?

Galatians 5:13-14 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

It may feel awkward or unnatural for some of us.

Learning to love in these simple, personal moments is like learning to ride a bicycle.

At first, you’re all wobble – and you do fall and scrape your knee a few times.

You may wobble and stumble as you find what to say, you may find that some people don’t react as expected to your kindness … a few may even take advantage of you.

After you get your bicycle balance, you have to concentrate very hard on how to steer, how to stop, how to dismount.

But eventually, it all becomes so natural that you can’t remember what it was like not to ride.

This year, consider encouraging yourself to recognize little opportunities for joy and love.

As an encouragement, we’ve included a little handout in your bulletin.

It is a quote that David and Meredith have at their front door so that they remember what’s important as the head off into the world.

What you do today is important
because you are exchanging a day of your life for it.

This is the beginning of a new day. You have been given this day to use as you will. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever; in its place is something that you have left behind … let it be something good.”