Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Misconception Correction

            Today’s Secret Place devotion directed me to 1 Kings 19, a chapter I always like to read. I first encountered this narrative about Elijah in May of 1966, in fact, on the Sunday following May 9. How do I know this?
Not all Mondays are bad.
            The counselor who helped me pray to receive Christ gave me a booklet which included pages to take sermon notes. The first sermon I heard after my conversion was titled “A Prophet of God under the Juniper Tree,” preached by Rev. Bruce Allen, the young, red-haired pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pascack Valley in Washington Township, New Jersey.
             Being the nostalgic pack rat I am, I imagine that little booklet with the notes is still in a box in my attic.
Super 8 has red Gideons Bibles.
Reading 1 Kings 19 (in the hotel’s Gideons-placed KJV Bible), I’m captivated by God’s compassion and tenderness toward Elijah, when God could have said, “Suck it up, Buttercup!”
            In chapter 18 Elijah experiences a huge spiritual victory, validating both Elijah as a prophet and God himself as God alone. However, chapter 19 starts with a death threat from the infamous Jezebel, and Elijah, terror-stricken, heads for the hills.
            At a safe distance from Jezebel, Elijah experiences restorative sleep and is awakened twice to eat meals prepared by an angel. What was in that second meal? It powered him to travel forty days and forty nights to God’s mountain. Talk about your superfood!
            In a cave, Elijah gets to tell God his complaint, which turns out to be a misconception. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too. (verse 10)
            God gives a three-fold demo of brute strength and finally speaks in “a still small voice” (KJV) or “a gentle whisper.” (NIV) Elijah responds only to the whisper and comes to the mouth of the cave. God renews Elijah’s mission and tells him where to find an assistant. Then God corrects the prophet’s misconception. “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (verse 18)
            Instead of a harsh tongue-lashing for his wrong thinking and lack of faith, God gives Elijah a gentle misconception correction. “You’re not alone, buddy. You may feel alone, but I have thousands more faithful non-idol-worshiping followers. But why don’t you take Elisha with you for moral support?”
Who is wielding the fly swatter?
            Why do so many of us feel God is waiting to squash us like bugs? Have we experienced too much squashed-bug corrections from parents, teachers, spouses, and other authority figures? And here’s a scary question:  Because of my own squashed-bug experiences, am I prone to squash others like bugs when I’m in the position to correct? Have I made my sons and my students feel like squashed bugs?
            I know the Gospels well enough to know Jesus often used a fly swatter on the Pharisees, but it seems he was much gentler with his friends and followers. Even Peter, after denying three times that he knew the Lord, received only a look. (Luke 22:61)
            In his Gospel, Matthew uses this quote from Isaiah to refer to Jesus: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out…” (Matthew 12:20, Isaiah 42:3) I want to wrap myself in the tender poetry of these images.
            And I want to remember this blog post after school starts.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is quoted from the New International Version.