The Raven’s Croak

God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that.

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out (croak, cry of a raven), “Abba! Father!” Romans 8:15 (NASB)

It makes me smile that the Greek word translated “cry out” here means to croak, like the cry of a raven. We croak like a raven, “Abba! Father!” I feel like I croak a lot.

Jesus told us to consider the ravens, alluding perhaps to Psalm 147.

Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! Luke 12:24 (NASB)

He gives to the beast its food, and to the young ravens which cry. Psalms 147:9 (NASB)

Why ravens? Why not something beautiful like a dove? The raven was on the list of “unclean” birds under the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 14:4, Leviticus 11:15). In Leviticus it says they are to be regarded as an abomination, as filth, detestable, disgusting. They eat dead things and maggots.[i] Yet (!) Jesus chooses this bird for his illustration of God’s care for us.

In a sermon called The Raven’s Cry, Charles Spurgeon wrote the following:

I can hardly leave this point without remarking that the mention of a raven should encourage a sinner. As an old author writes, “Among fowls He does not mention the hawk or falcon, which are highly prized and fed by princes. But He chooses that hateful and malicious bird, the croaking raven, whom no man values but as she eats up the carrion which might annoy him. Behold then, and wonder at the Providence and kindness of God, that He should provide food for the raven, a creature of so dismal a hue and of so untuneable a tone–a creature that is so odious to most men, and ominous to some.”[ii]

Encouragement for the sinner. Is this why Jesus chose the raven? To show us that no matter how disgusting, unclean – untuneable – that we think we are, or others think we are, or that we really are – God accepts us, God loves us, God takes care of us. What a picture of grace and mercy!

There is another amazing and curious mention of ravens in the Old Testament. It is in the retelling of Elijah hiding from Ahab. God told Elijah to hide at the Brook Cherith and that ravens would be sent to feed him (1 Kings 17: 3-4). Again, God didn’t choose a beautiful bird or a noble bird, or even a bird good for eating – but dirty, croaking ravens to feed Elijah – birds that probably had just been eating roadkill. I wonder what Elijah thought about that. And when the water ran out there at the brook, God sent Elijah to another sort of unclean raven, the Sidonian widow (1 Kings 17:9).

The Sidonians were idol worshippers. They worshipped “Ashtoreth the vile goddess of the Sidonians (2 Kings 23:13).” This worship included ritual prostitution (we call it human trafficking today) and child sacrifice. The notorious Jezebel was the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31).

So detestable were the Sidonians to the Jews, that when Jesus reminded them of this incident while speaking in a synagogue, He was almost thrown off a cliff (Luke 4:25-29). Yet(!), God sent Elijah there. And Elijah humbled himself to take food from the widow’s “unclean” hands – a widow, however, who was willing to give all she had for herself and her son to Elijah to obey the Lord God – and he ministered life and salvation to her and to her son.

Consider the ravens. Yes, we are all ravens. We are all Sidonians. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have eaten our share of the maggots of lies and idolatry, and maybe still are. Yet (!!) we are loved. And we have been called (even the ravens were called to feed Elijah at the brook!) and chosen to humble ourselves and minister His life and love to all the other fallen, unclean birds. We are not called to judge and condemn, but to love. And we can stand in the strength and grace that He gives. We can abide, we can rest in the assuredness that we are His and He will care for us. That we are His adopted sons and daughters, and that He hears, and is delighted, when we croak “Abba, Father!”

(Abba! Another good one-word prayer? See A Thousand Defects )

 

[i] Wikipedia, The Common Raven

[ii] Charles Spurgeon, The Raven’s Cry, A sermon delivered on Sunday evening, January 14, 1866 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. Reprinted in, The Power in Prayer. Whitaker House, 1996.

Image, Raven by Jim Bahn (background color changed) https://www.flickr.com/photos/gcwest/186088713/in/album-72157594158104053/ 

 

3 + 3 = 1

 

“God loves messes.” Pastor Troy Gentz

“He changes things.” Reverend David Sidwell

 

The above three-word sermons-in-a-sentence were part of two teachings I heard lately. I think these six words equal one passionate, grace filled message. God is always whispering his love.

If your life right now seems like a ruin, trust in him; surrender it all over to him. God loves you in your mess. But he loves your mess too. It gives him the chance to demonstrate how much he loves you, and his redeeming power to transform. He changes things.

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? Jeremiah 32:37 (NIV)

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV)

For nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:37 (NIV)

 

Image in the public domain

Hurling My Worries

Like a discus thrower, hurling the discus, we are flinging our burdens to a defined target – God’s unfailing love and care.

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:5b-7 (NIV)

Did you ever wonder why Peter combined the ideas of humility and anxiety in these verses? God opposes the proud – humble yourselves and cast your anxiety on him. I wondered, what do those two ideas have to do with each other? I have actually thought in the past that worrying and being anxious showed I was lowly and humble, that I knew I couldn’t do it. I mean, if I was confident about something wouldn’t that mean I was proud? But recently I have been reading a very good book on humility by C.J. Mahaney, and I read this:

“Where there’s worry, where there’s anxiousness, pride is at the root of it. When I am experiencing anxiety, the root issue is that I’m trying to be self-sufficient. I’m acting independent of God.”[i]

Ah, pride is so slimy and cunning and can disguise itself even as humility! Even though I picture myself as humble, really, I’m still thinking I can do it, or I have to do it. That somehow my worry will change things. I am still trying to be the Wonderful One. Oh, sure I am asking God to help me do it, but in my mind it’s still up to me.

The Greek word translated “anxiety” or “care” is merimna (μέριμνα) and comes from a word that means divided or disunited “through the idea of distraction.” Worry distracts us, divides us from God and his promises. It reminds me of James 1:6-8:

But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded (or divided) man, unstable in all his ways. (NASB)

I like how the Message says that last verse: “People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.” Ouch! Just in case God can’t do it, I’m keeping my options open, I’m still available to worry about it.

But Peter says to cast all our anxiety on God, trusting that he cares for us. The word translated “cast” means “to throw or place upon”. You have to let go of the worry to throw it, and in doing so you are putting all your trust in God. You are humbling yourself. Daniel Wallace put it this way: [Casting your anxiety] “is not offering a new command, but is defining how believers are to humble themselves … Humbling oneself is not a negative act of self-denial per se, but a positive one of active dependence on God for help.”[ii]

Psalm 55:22 (NIV) says to “Cast your cares (or burdens, the lot you have been given) on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” Hebrew is a passionate language and the word for “cast” is quite a bit more zealous than the Greek. The word is shalak (שָׁלַךְ) and means to “throw, cast, hurl, fling.” I love that! Hurl your burdens on the Lord. Yes, that is definitely “active dependence on God for help.” There is a sense of total abandon there – like a little child trustingly throwing herself off a high place into the arms of her father. But, it’s not just a vague, cosmic “letting go.” Like a discus thrower, hurling the discus, we are flinging our burdens to a defined target – God’s unfailing love and care.

“This is an important spiritual truth as is also the admonition in Psalm 55:22 to cast our burdens on the Lord. That is, our cares and burdens, are to be thrown away, abandoned into his care, so that we have nothing more to do with them.”[iii]

“Nothing more to do with them.” Wow, that’s scary stuff to the self-sufficient, proud person who secretly doesn’t trust God to get it right without her help. Lord, forgive me for my ridiculous pride and double-mindedness, for not trusting in you. Give me the grace today to humble myself under your mighty hand, to declare my total dependence on you, and to hurl my worries and my very self into your loving arms.

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Selah.              Psalm 68:19 (NIV)

 

Image by Ron Gilfillan, 2017 Canada Summer Games. CC BY 2.0 https://www.flickr.com/photos/2017canadagames/36281659232/

[i] Mahaney, C.J. Humility: True Greatness. Multnomah, 2005.

[ii] Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

[iii] M. Cogan, “A Technical Term for Exposure” (Journal of Near Eastern Studies 27:133-135 [1968J)