Rejection. Not welcome in the group. Not fitting in. loneliness. Depression. The struggle many people face is where to fit in. the worst of all: when you feel abandoned by God. When I read the question posed by Paul in Rom. 11:1, the word that leaps off the page to me is REJECT.
Paul is talking to the church in Rome that is feeling rejected/small. There is a great irony: the basic problem in the Church at Rome is that they are such an exclusive group, they have such high standards of becoming a member of their church, they regularly exclude people from fellowship. This is why Paul goes to great lengths to remind the people all have sinned and nobody is worthy of the salvation of Jesus Christ. This is why there is emphasis on grace, not what we do to earn salvation, but a free gift through Jesus Christ who died on the cross…You can’t go far in Romans without running into grace…. I once read you are never more than three feet from a spider, in Roman’s you are never more than a few verses from grace. READ Rom. 11:6.
A quick lesson in encouraging others that are discouraged: Often, there is not a lot you can say, so in my simple mind in a variety of ways I remind people quote often that God loves them. I read Doug and Diane’s daughter, Kelsey say that to her mother earlier this week on Facebook: God’s with you. We need the simple reminders. Paul goes on to answer more about the question of rejection, but perhaps the most profound message Paul gives to the Roman’s is found in the first verse: “By no means.” Not a chance. God still believes in you. God loves you. When you feel alone, listen for the simple truth that God still believes in you….
I’m not complaining, I honestly believe I have the best “job” in the world. This week I felt the weight of a lot of issues to the point of physical pain in my back and body. I have a stack of old tax documents next to my desk that I shred a little bit at a time... a mini break as I’m diddling away on the computer. I was shredding away, just glancing at each document to kinda make sure it needed shredding. As I pick up one formal looking document, the year 2013 leaps off the page at me. I looked closer and it was the current credit card bill that I had just received, including a $75 rebate check. I was so close to shredding a $75 check. I would have lived, but I would have been annoyed if I ever found out. More than the $75, I took it as a simple reminder from God that all will be well. God still loves me. Has God rejected me? Of course not. Here’s the rule you can take to the bank: If you are struggling with the feeling that God is rejecting you, He isn’t! /////
God still believes in you. Paul uses himself as an example for those who are feeling rejected ~ in fact, Paul is one that should have been rejected if God were to judge by human standards. Look at me, Paul is saying, READ Rom. 11:1b. Did you know that before he became a Christian, Paul persecuted the Christian church. He hated Jesus and he hated the followers of Jesus. Paul should have been rejected, at least by human standards. Yet God chose Paul! Paul says, “Look at me and remember what I used to be and what I am now.” When you are feeling alone, rejected, abandoned, start looking around at some of the amazing people God has clearly accepted. But more amazing is your own story ~ you alone know the depth of your own sinfulness, your unworthiness, the truth is we deserve nothing from God because of who we are, we cannot do enough good to save ourselves. Yet in our sinfulness, we are exactly the type of person God chooses to love. I hope you are astounded that God loves you.
In the next verse we run into the name Elijah. Rom. 11:2 asks the question, do you remember? He’s bringing to mind a story that the people know. It’s a story you may not be familiar with, but they were. Kind of like if I were to refer to the Ugly Duckling, you know the story without me explaining it. The story of Elijah. V. 2 says Elijah “appealed to God against Israel” that means he complained! I’m sure complaining is foreign to your life. ~ Elijah was overwhelmed, he was feeling lonely and sorry for himself ~ Elijah is just like us when we start complaining, we start piling on, piling on, one problem is resolved and we replace it with five more negatives.
There is a wonderful background story to fully understand Elijah’s complains: It’s found in 1 Kings 18. Elijah is God’s prophet, a tremendous man of God, amazing faith, bold actions in the name of the Lord, a fearless man. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah is in a face off on Mount Carmel: Elijah, the man of God vs. Ahab and the 450 prophets of the god Baal. This is the heavyweight fight of the O.T. The King summons the crowd. Two bulls are laid on an altar and the rules are established: the prophets of Baal go first and attempt to call on the god Baal to send down fire to burn up the sacrifices. For hours the prophets of Baal go through their rituals, shouting, dancing, cutting themselves, pleading, hop like a bunny, balance on one foot, they probably even played helter skelter backwards: and the god Baal? Silence.///. Nothing. It’s a great story. I encourage you to read 1 Kings 18…
at last it is Elijah’s turn. Elijah rebuilt the stones, prepared the bulls for a proper sacrifice to God, then to accentuate God’s power he floods the entire sacrifice and altar with water to the point of overflowing; in contrast to the rantings and ravings of the 450 prophets of Baal, Elijah, the true prophet of God, prayed a simple prayer. And the result: “Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the ditch. And when the people saw it they fell on their faces and cried out, ‘The Lord is God! The Lord is God!”
That’s the ancient story that would immediately come to mind the moment Paul spoke to the people of Rome and merely mentioned the name Elijah. What a powerful story. The heavyweight fight results in God being the undisputed victor.
In the aftermath of the great victory of God what is Elijah’s response? 1 Ki. 19:1, Ahab goes home and tells his wife Jeze-‘baal.’ and in 1 Ki. 19:2 Jezebaal sends a message to Elijah: “by this time tomorrow you are a dead man.” Elijah has just witnessed a most remarkable display of God’s power, he has watched 450 prophets of Baal fail miserably and with great confidence called on the name of the Lord to show his glory to the people. Now his life is threatened by Jezebaal. You would think Elijah would be able to stand up to Jezebaal. We have to smile because Elijah is so much like us: READ Rom. 11:2-3.
“I am the only one left” Elijah says. This is one of those situations where I really think God intends us to laugh it is so absurd. (And you know, with some of our actions we really need to laugh at ourselves. I ran away once. I was a small boy. I was good at playing games and I usually won, especially Monopoly. One evening we were playing as a family in the old house on Vancouver Street, and I lost. I was in shock. I could not believe it. So I got up from the table and ran to my room and hid under the bed. You gotta get to the point where you laugh at yourself and the crazy things we do… what sense does it make to feel alone and then cut yourself off from people. I know depression is real, I know it is not easy, but at some point, to see the absurd things we do)
In 1 Ki. 19 after Jezebaal threatened Elijah, the prophet runs away and kept on running for forty days and forty nights, all the way to Mount Horeb (Sanai), the Mountain of God, (at least I only ran to my bedroom) the Mountain where the ten commandments were given, and he hid in a cave (1 Ki. 19:8-9a). While he is hiding in a cave, the Lord asked him a simple question: “What are you doing here?” (1 Kings 19:9b). Elijah says something like this: “Lord, you don’t understand. Your people have rejected the covenant. They are tearing down the altars and killing the prophets. I’m down here running for my life. What do you mean ‘What are you doing here?’ They are going crazy up there.” Then he added these words: “I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Ki. 19:10, Rom. 11:3). It’s funny, you gotta laugh, I’d like to think that later Elijah laughed at himself… and it’s sad…
The feeling of loneliness and rejection is real, but you need to know it’s not true. God has not abandoned you. The crazy things we do when feelings of rejection take over, as crazy as Elijah running 40 days and nights all the way to a cave to get away from Jezebaal, as crazy as hiding under the bed. When we start feeling alone, depressed, overwhelmed, your problem appears to be bigger than God. To Elijah, Jezebaal looked bigger than God. Then Satan put the problem under the microscope and magnified it. We dwell on the what if’s, should have’s, how come questions…and it is so ironic, we isolate ourselves and then declare to the Lord we feel abandoned.
There is a real sense where believing you are alone is an issue of pride: I am the only one who is left. REALLY? Are you sure? Look again. Here is God’s reply to Elijah: READ Rom. 11:4. That’s what God says to Elijah. And that’s what we need to hear, too. When I am feeling sorry for myself, there is real sense that I need my pride broken. When you feel abandoned, it takes guts to ask the Lord to examine you to see if there is pride in you, then break it. Who are we to think we alone get it, we alone are faithful…Elijah’s pride gets the better of him. I hid under the bed because I was so proud of myself. There are a tremendous number of Christians in this world of ours that think they don’t need other Christians. There are many folks who run away from the community of faith because they don’t think anyone else understands them. REALLY?
The last word for today. Back to that word grace. READ Rom. 11:6. When you get lonely, first consider that God has been pretty amazing to you and there really are others as well, like Paul, a murderer turned preacher, that don’t deserve God’s grace. If overwhelming ideas keep popping into your mind, and like Elijah, you run away to a cave…God will find you. Ask him to break your pride. The good news: God is gracious and no matter how far you flee, no matter the depth of your sense of rejection, he will not give up on you. He still believes in you. The craziest thoughts, the wildest behavior, will not undo his great love for you. Has God rejected you? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
Let’s sing #378, Wounded for me. Not only has God NOT rejected you. He took your place to pay for your sins.