During a long drought and famine, God sends Elijah away from Israel to the city of Zarephath in Sidon where God directs a widow, a foreigner, to give Elijah food. When Elijah reaches the town gates, he see a widow and asks her for water and bread. Though she is willing to fetch him water, she has no bread to share. In fact, she plans to use her last remaining provisions to make a final meal for her and her son, before they die of starvation.
Elijah tells her not to worry, to go home and prepare this meal for her and her son – but to first make a small loaf of bread for him. Through God, Elijah promises that her flour and oil will last until it rains again.
She does as Elijah instructs. As pledged, her supplies last, providing food for the three of them every day.
After a while, her son dies. The woman blames Elijah. He takes the dead boy to his room, imploring God to restore life to the lad. God does as Elijah asks.
When Elijah presents the boy to the widow, she finally acknowledges Elijah as a man of God.
Centuries later Jesus recounts this story, reminding the people that God didn’t send Elijah to any of the needy widows in Israel but to a foreigner. This infuriates them, and they try to kill him, but Jesus walks through the mob and leaves.
Sometimes God asks us to do things that don’t make sense. The Widow of Zarephath did what was illogical and lived.
With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #26.
Beyond their worship of God and approach to him, two other things stood out about this minority congregation. First, the kids were an active presence during the service, both in their participation and in their can’t-sit-still bouncing from seat to seat. Although at times distracting, I’m glad for their involvement in the service.
The other item is their view of time is different from mine. Though the service started when specified, the crowd was sparse. For the next fifteen minutes, people wandered in, eventually doubling our numbers. The last family showed up thirty-five minutes after the service started. I know this is a factor of culture, but it’s hard for me to understand.
Likewise, their service lasted longer than most, scheduled for two and a half hours, and extending beyond that with an after-service meal to celebrate the baby dedication. Though we stayed to eat and talk, we were still the first to leave; everyone else seemed content to stay even longer.
This was one of the two non-white churches we visited. (The other was church #20.) At both, I felt, for a brief time, a hint of what it’s like to be a minority. Yes, these experiences were shallow in that respect, but it’s all I have to go on. More important, however, is that their worship of God was fresh to me, invigorating my soul. I desire to return and spend more time with them.
Do you want more from life?
- I’m not talking about more money, power, or prestige.
- I’m not even talking about more love or respect.
- I’m certainly not talking about the latest gadgets, a new car, a nicer home, tastier food, or better sex.
I’m talking about more from a spiritual standpoint. I yearn for a spiritual “more.” I suspect – deep down – you do, too. Everything else is a hollow substitute for what God has to offer, not just any god but the God revealed in the Bible: biblical God.
But we don’t often find this spiritual “more” at church – at least not how today’s society practices church. We may not even find biblical God there. Most churches fall far short of what God intends for us to experience. We’re drinking Kool-Aid, and he’s offering us wine.
Though I do go to church, I often wonder why. The purpose of church isn’t the music or the message; it’s about community. True church is connecting with God and connecting with others. It’s an intimate spiritual community with true friends who matter, mean something, and stick around. This is where we find a spiritual “more,” as part of a community of like-minded Jesus followers who diligently pursue the God revealed in the Bible. I call this biblical spirituality. This is why I write and blog.
I’m not a guru and may not even be a worthy guide; I am a fellow pilgrim. Let’s journey together as we pursue biblical God and seek to grasp this spiritual more. It starts when we follow Jesus – and if you’re not ready for that, come along anyway; it will be a great trip.
I updated the home page with this message. What do you think?
With the Pharaoh out to get him, Moses flees for his life. He marries the shepherdess Zipporah, daughter of the priest of Midian. They have two sons: Gershom and Eliezer.
Years later when Moses and his family travel to Egypt, God afflicts Moses. This is apparently because Moses had not circumcised his son Gershom, as God commanded the Israelites to do through Abraham.
Just as God is about to kill Moses, Zipporah takes decisive action, circumcises Gershom, and touches Moses with the removed skin. This appeases God and Moses is spared.
Zipporah does what her husband did not do, she obeys God’s command, and saves her husband’s life.
With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #25.
I praised this church for not having a building; instead they rented space on Sunday for their services. That meant the money they’d normally spend on a mortgage and building maintenance could instead be used for community outreach and service.
Shortly after our visit, this church announced a merger of sorts with another nearby congregation from the same denomination. The other church, small and struggling, did have a building, but their dwindling membership made it impossible for them to continue. However, as the melding of their two congregations progressed, both churches shut down for several months, before re-emerging as a new entity in the second church’s building.
During this in between time, some members grew weary of the delay and scattered to find other churches, while others gave up and stopped going to church altogether.
I lament the loss of people, and I lament they now have a large building to maintain. I wonder if their focus on the surrounding community will suffer as a result.
Have you ever heard someone grumble about church by saying, “I’m just not being fed”? Perhaps you’ve even said it; I have. However, we’re not talking about physical food, but spiritual sustenance. When we say this, we sound so righteous, but what we’re really doing is complaining that church doesn’t give us what we want.
We too often look at church through the eyes of the modern consumer, demanding church will meet our needs, to give us something in return for our investment of time and money. But when church fails to meet our expectations, our first impulse is to act like a shopper and take our business elsewhere.
However, the main purpose of church isn’t for us to receive what we want; it’s for us to give. We give God what he desires, and we give people what they need. Our goal at church should be to worship God and to serve others. It’s countercultural today, but it’s what Jesus modeled for us two thousand years ago.
Yes, sometimes we are hurting, and sometimes we are in need. Then we should go to church to rest and to receive. But our normal, prevailing attitude at church – and everywhere else, for that matter – should be one of giving.
After all, it is better to give than receive. So don’t go to church to get something out of it but with the intent to give something to it: worship God and serve others.
The Egyptians fear the mushrooming population of the enslaved Israelites and command all the Israelite baby boys be thrown into the Nile River. However, one mother sees something special in her baby and hides him for several months. When she can conceal him no longer, she does indeed put him in the Nile River, but not before protecting him in a watertight basket. Then she strategically places the basket where he might be found by a compassionate person. Her daughter hides nearby to see what happens.
When Pharaoh’s daughter comes to the river to bathe, she discovers the baby and wants to keep him. The girl offers to find a woman to nurse the baby; she then goes and gets her mom. Although the boy should have been killed, the Pharaoh’s daughter saves him and even pays his biological mother to care for him.
When the baby is weaned, his mother gives him back to Pharaoh’s daughter – who names him Moses.
This mother’s name is Jochebed and she has two other children, Aaron and Miriam.
Jochebed, like many moms, sees promise in her child and takes extraordinary measures to make sure he can reach his potential.
With our journey of visiting fifty-two churches over, I can reflect more on the complete experience. Today, I’ll add to my thoughts about Church #24.
The people at this traditional church were friendly, much friendlier than most. The message was good and gave me something to contemplate, but it was the teens who led music that left a lasting memory with me. They showed me what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth.
The pastor of this church saw my original post and forwarded it to the music director. She contacted me, thanking me for my words, which she shared with the musicians and singers. A week or so later, we met at a coffee shop to talk about worship, church, and faith.
She likes to offer the congregation variety in worship styles and content, from traditional to contemporary. Her goal is to bring in youth once a month or so. I really want to go back and hear them again, but I fear a second experience would pale in comparison.
Instead, I choose to let my memory of this service suffice.
A phrase I’ve heard often in church over the years is “celebrate communion.” Yet what I witness seems nothing like a celebration. Instead, it is the most somber, solemn of affairs; it feels even more crushing than a funeral.
Wait, communion is a funeral of sorts: Jesus’ funeral. Yes, communion commemorates Jesus’ death. That means communion should be a time to mourn. Why then do we talk about celebration?
People told me communion is a time to reflect on Jesus’ death, the pain he endured, and the sacrifice he made – for me. So that makes it my fault; I’m to blame. I certainly can’t celebrate that.
But the celebration is what happens as a result. Jesus’ death makes us right with God the Father. Communion reminds us of that, too – or at least it should.
Jesus died so we can live. I can celebrate that!
Yes, communion is a time to reflect on what was – Jesus’ death. But communion is also a time to embrace what is – our right standing with God the Father. Even more so, communion is a chance to anticipate what will be – eternity with God. That’s worthy of a celebration. So why don’t we do a better job at celebrating communion?
Next time you take communion, dip the bread in the juice and then raise it as a toast. Say to your friends, “Jesus died so we can live.” Then share tears with those who cry, be it tears of sorrow or of joy. And share shouts with those who cheer, praising God for what was, what is, and what is to come. That’s a party.
That’s how to celebrate communion.
Joab seeks an object lesson for King David to encourage him to reconcile with his estranged son, Absalom. Joab sends for a wise woman from Tekoa and coaches her what to say to the king.
The story she skillfully shares with the king – of how one son killed the other and is now on the run – is a ruse. With her surviving son being sought for murder, she seeks the king’s protection. Her pretend story parallels David’s real story, of Absalom killing Amon and then fleeing to another country.
With increasing urgency, she three times asks for David’s support. Three times he promises his protection, each time with increased fervency.
Then, with boldness, she connects her story to King David’s, asking him to follow his own advice and apply it to his son Absalom. David suspects Joab’s hand in this and then tells Joab to arrange for Absalom’s return.
Playing her part brilliantly, the wise woman from Tekoa, sets in motion the homecoming of Absalom. Thanks to her, Joab’s plan worked.
[Read this story in 2 Samuel 14:1-20.]