Apr 11, 2011

1 Kings 17

I am a smart and educated man who lives in the 21st century.  I embrace technology and understand the basics of science and acknowledge its validity.  I have been in many sermons and Bible studies over the years that have taught that the Age of Miracles is largely over.  God doesn't work that way any more.  And many of the things we believed were miracles in the past probably were just misunderstood phenomena.  (I don't buy the complete validity of that last point.  I don't care how much science you know, there are some happenings in the Bible that can't be figured out academically.)  In fact, our modern society has kind of come to the place where we explain away many awe inspiring acts.  Fire from Heaven was probably lightning.  Jesus walked across a sandbar, not the water.  Jericho was destroyed by an earthquake.  We've gotten to the point where we brush away anything unexplainable - and certainly anything like that fits that bill that happens today.

But still, there are those things that just don't make sense.  Lately, the passage of 1 Kings 17 has been coming to mind quite frequently.  The Campbell's condensed soup version is as follows.  There was a famine and drought wrecking havoc over in Israel.  Elijah, God's prophet, was getting his water from a brook and food from ravens who brought it to him.  (Weird happening #1)  After that dried up, he went and visited a widow and her son.  He asked her to make him some bread.  Since he was the well known prophet of God, she wanted to do this - and would ordinarily have jumped at the chance.  But the fact was that she only had enough oil and flour to make one cake for her and her son to eat and then die.  Elijah told her to go ahead and make him a cake first and that God would not let the flour or oil run out until rain returned to the land.  The lady made the cake.  The stuff never ran out.

Now, it never says that the lady suddenly had buckets of oil and flour.  (That happens with Elisha in 2 Kings 4 and a DIFFERENT widow.)  Instead, it appears that she always had just what she needed.  It reminds me of the story of the Israelites and the manna in the wilderness.  They had enough to eat each day.  If they hoarded too much, it went bad.  God told them to take what they needed and that was it.  It forced them - and the widow - to rely on God EACH DAY for their provision.  They didn't save.  They didn't store.  They got and used and did the same the next day.  (What would Dave Ramsey say about THAT mentality?  No six months in savings?!?!  AAACCKKK!  I kid, I kid.)

That brings me to why I have been thinking about this passage.  In our current phase of life, finances are a constant source of struggle.  Heather goes to Med School.  I stay home with the kids.  My income opportunities are limited, due to that schedule.  I earn money here and there from speaking engagements, curriculum sales, random graphic design work, and from Defender Ministries - when we have donations enough to generate some salary.  So I'm hit and miss.  Heather gets loans to cover expenses three times a year.  So here is the way we deal with our budget.  Have enough for three months, panic for three months, have enough for four and a half months, panic for one and a half months.  It is awesome.  We are in the midst of a panic stretch.  And, to make that panic burst even more enjoyable, we HAVE TO move back to Orlando in June.  FSU runs years three and four through satellite locations and we were assigned to Orlando.  So we have to be there by June 29 for Heather to start her rotations.  Which means security deposits, start up costs, moving truck, blah blah blah.

To explain how this panic feels, I use this illustration.  Imagine that you are driving your minivan (or SUV) as fast as you can down the road with your family inside.  This represents your financial wherewithal.  As you race down this road (unable to go slower because the world slows down for no one), you are approaching a wall.  That is the point where your money runs out and your bills come due.  As the month goes along, you get closer and closer to the wall.  You try everything you can to fix the situation, but it comes down to the fact you are going to crash.  So you kind of brace for impact and pray like crazy that something happens.  Sounds fun, right?

Well, this is how it goes.  We race towards the wall and I prepare to crash.  And then, right before the end of the month, somehow we get enough to make it into another month.  A family member gives us money (God bless those family members - they know who they are).  Defender gets a big donation.  A church buys a big chunk of curriculum.  Something happens.  It doesn't make the wall disappear, but it pushes it back about 500 yards.  So we can relax for a couple weeks before the panic sets in again.  Now, I don't really like living this way.  My prayer is usually that we hit a point where the wall is gone and we are able to drive without the panic bursts.  Actually, my prayer is actually that we are able to do that and then help the other people in panic mode all around us.  But that - for now - doesn't seem to happen.  I know some day it will, just by the fact that my wife is going to be a doctor in a few years.  But, for this time period, the wall just slides backwards a bit.

We're in panic mode now.  It started with the arrival of April - when the latest resources ran out.  We got through that through someone's generosity.  Now May is looming - and it seems like the wall is even bigger.  The move combined with the normal bills means the wall got thicker and taller.  So the panic is more intense and overwhelming.  Through it all, I am trying like crazy to trust that God is going to provide.  But I can't see how.  Libya doesn't look promising (look to this post for why that matters).  There haven't been any mysterious envelopes in our mailbox.  The economy didn't get healthy overnight.  In fact, gas now is almost $4 a gallon down here - making the situation WORSE.

God has been trying to show me something through all of this, but I have been hesitant to believe it.  So He keeps trying.  But, remember, I'm an intelligent modern Christian with a healthy skepticism of miracles.  So I doubt.  And He keeps trying.

  1. THE SHAMPOO - I have a bottle of Axe men's dandruff shampoo in the shower.  Two weeks ago, I noticed it is running out.  With shampoo, I let it run down to about two or three days worth left and get a new bottle - usually something for men with dandruff.  Of course, on sale.  Two weeks ago, I bought a new bottle at Target.  The thing is, my Axe still hasn't run out.  And, truth be told, it still is as full as when I bought the new bottle.  Every day, I grab it and say, "Why is this so full?"  Then the widow's oil goes through my head.  And I push it away, thinking that is ridiculous and God doesn't miraculously replace shampoo.
  2. RAZOR BLADES - I have very sensitive face skin.  I've been shaving for over twenty years and I still can easily cut myself and bleed out.  I have tried everything.  I even have cut myself with an electric Braun razor.  Don't ask me how; I don't know.  This is why I almost always look unshaven.  I shave three time a week, if I need to look presentable - once if I don't.  To avoid blood loss and the inevitable transfusions, I have to use the fancy expensive blades.  Anything else makes me look like I lost a knife fight.  Well, I'm out.  The three blades I have in the shower all have lost most of their lubricant strip - showing the yellow warning strip beneath.  This translates to, "GO GET NEW BLADES, SUCKER, OR YOU WILL BE SHAVING WITH THE EQUIVALENT OF A RUSTY MACHETE!"  Well, I can't justify spending the money on the new blades.  A month ago, I told Heather that I needed blades.  When I shaved on Saturday, I noticed that the green strip hadn't decreased any from the last time I used it.  In fact, it looked the same as it has for the last month.  Then the widow's flour went through my head.  And I pushed it away, thinking it crazy and God doesn't miraculously replace razor lubricant strips.
  3. PRESCRIPTIONS - Thanks to my rheumatoid arthritis, I am one of the many Americans experiencing better living through chemistry.  I use two medicines to treat my RA (plaquanel and mobic) and two medicines to treat the side effects of my prescriptions (Zegerid for reflux and Zyrtec for allergies).  Originally, I was on Nexium for reflux, but it was $40 WITH the insurance copay.  Last month our stellar (read: dogmeat) student insurance plan told me they would not cover my prescriptions any more.  I only have $350 of coverage a year - so I'm on my own until August.  That meant my $3.75, $9, and $40 payments would balloon to $9, $35, and $177.  I ditched Nexium for Zegerid - which was only $22 a month.  And I found Zyrtec at Costco for $15 A YEAR.  But I knew that my prescriptions this month would be $45.  Target was running a deal where if you transferred your prescriptions they would give you a $10 gift card.  I sent both of mine over there and went to pick them up.  When I paid, it was $13.  I questioned this and explained that the insurance had said I had used up my coverage.  But the pharmacist assured me it was right.  It was $13 - and I got $20 in Target gift cards.  This was the third time that something that was supposed to have been used up had somehow refilled itself.  This time, I didn't push the thought away.
I began to realize that God was trying to show me that He isn't necessarily going to move the wall away. It may just be Him pushing it back.  But that still is provision.  God is still answering prayers.  It isn't how we want it.  But it is teaching me to continually trust on His provision.  Today, I also found out that we got a pretty large donation to Defender.  It wasn't "The Big One" - but it was larger than we usually get.  That meant that I was getting a check.  My first thought was, "AWESOME!"  That was followed by, "It isn't enough to cover the whole month of May."  But I stopped and thought about it.  It was enough to make sure we could secure a place in Orlando - and cover most of our bills and expenses until mid-May.  And that pushed the wall back again.

It is a continual challenge.  No one likes living with the constant fear of impending destruction.  I would wager that most people reading this can understand that feeling.  I don't know too many people who never have financial concerns or hardships.  I have found that one of my lessons through this is to be grateful for God's provision - whatever amount it is, whoever it comes from, however long it lasts.  Sometimes He doesn't want us to have too much because it will be too easy to forget Who is behind meeting our needs.  It is good to stop and think about the fact that God is still the One who is in control of resources - even things as small as shampoo, razor blades, and prescriptions.  And certainly in large things like rent and moving expenses.

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