Oh my people: “How long will you try to go both ways?”
My two e-books that explore this cry of Elijah’s heart are The Elijah Blessing and We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church. They’re on sale August 23-29 for $.99 each.
All my life, I’ve heard the story of Elijah and Mt. Carmel. But only as I prepared to write We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church did Elijah’s signature cry to God’s people begin to echo within me: “How long will you try to go both ways?”
After We Confess! was published, I returned to Elijah to explore more deeply his heartcry to those in covenant with the Lord: “Worship him alone!” What life could sound that call with such authority? Where and why was such a cry needed? What had lured the people of God to seek so stubbornly to go both ways? What warred against their surrendering fully to the Lord once more?
Searching Elijah’s life, I discovered Ahab and Jezebel. Oh my! I had seen that pair, up close and personal, without knowing what I saw. I’d suggest: So have we all.
Ahab and Jezebel, the two-headed snake
When you set your heart to follow God fully – to stand before his face, to live in his presence with a heart wholly his – hell sets itself to stop you. That’s not surprising. What can totally surprise you are the tactics hell uses to shut you down.
In places and eras where God’s people insist on trying to go both ways, one of hell’s favorite tactics is to unleash the two-headed snake. Today, Ahab and Jezebel have risen up in force. We tend not to recognize them – and to continue to be decimated by them – because we believe our own myths:
Myth 1: We think our church culture worships Jesus only, when instead we’ve colluded for a long time in trying to go both ways.
Myth 2: We think we know how Jezebel and Ahab work, when instead we’ve been misled.
Myth 3: We think that if we follow Christ and keep our heads down, Ahab and Jezebel will leave us alone.
We think our church culture worships Jesus only.
In particular, we in the conservative US church honestly see ourselves as world leaders in standing up for Jesus and calling the nations to follow him alone.
We fail to see how we have missed and misrepresented our Lord. We fail to see it because we’ve grown up in it. We do not recognize how deep and pervasive our collective double-mindedness is.
Many of our ancestors’ hearts became divided while the Second Great Awakening faded and died. Since then, our church culture has built a thousand little kingdoms and bowed before a host of golden calves. Though we preach and sing of Jesus and do many good deeds in his name, wholehearted devotion to Christ in our ranks is rare.
I describe this tragedy in detail in We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church. Here’s a glimpse into one aspect of our deep double-mindedness, adapted from chapter 7:
Seeking to serve the Lord, we begin to confuse loyalty to him with loyalty to something we link with him. Over time, we come to view whatever we’ve connected with Christ as inseparable from him. When that happens, we’ll disobey God himself in order to obey the person or structure we’ve confused with him. We will seek above all to protect and defend what has supplanted Christ, and convince ourselves that we’re defending Christ.
And thus double-mindedness, undetected and unconfessed, can grow into full-fledged spiritual schizophrenia. People halting between the true Lord and a beguiling counterfeit begin to show two radically different sides. Ultimately, they swing wildly between the appearance of godliness and blatant God-defiance.
Even when the spiritual schizophrenia has become full-blown, it may be astonishingly hard to spot, especially for those in closest proximity to it. For, typically, such double-mindedness is accompanied by strong deception.
We tend to see what we expect to see. And we in the conservative US church culture tend to see our words, attitudes, and behaviors as pretty close to right. Especially, we may expect the most active church members and the leaders of our organizations, congregations, and ministries to believe, think, say, and do what is godly. After all, the “committed Christians” in our churches have a long history of checking the right boxes. We’ve assumed they/we must be in right standing with God.
Happily, God knows every person identified with Christ who truly seeks to believe, think, say, and do what is godly.
Sadly, in our church culture the appearance of godliness often belies the reality. For the most active church members, as well as the leaders who have moved up the ranks in our structures, are often the most susceptible to confusing loyalty to Christ with loyalty to things connected with Christ. They’re especially susceptible to making a hidden idol of the organizations, ministries, and titles which offer them significance and power.
Oh, that we would shatter our golden calves and follow our Lord with undivided hearts! Oh that we would see how tenaciously we’ve tried to go both ways!
We think we know how Jezebel and Ahab work.
Our misconceptions about Jezebel can set us on a witch hunt for women who speak up in church, usurp authority and/or use subtle manipulation to control. Thus, we focus on one gender (although usurping authority and manipulating others are sins, regardless who does it). We condemn women for opening their mouths in church. And we completely miss Jezebel’s M.O.
While we hunt Jezebel in the wrong places, we help Ahab stay hidden. To our thinking, a Jezebel is a woman who doesn’t know her place; an Ahab, a man who can’t control his wife. He’s not so much evil, as weak. He just needs to learn to take charge: “Honey, do not kill Naboth to get his vineyard for me. I’ll quit sulking and do it myself.”
Ahab and Jezebel had anything but a godly marriage. Yet reading the Naboth story out of context, we’re even deceived as to what they did wrong and how it applies to us. Seeing only a king sulking on his bed, we dismiss Ahab as inconsequential. We ignore the snake’s other mouth.
That’s the thing with Ahab and Jezebel: They cloak themselves in strong deception – so strong that we can look right at them, and not know it. Brazen as Jezebel is, she can coerce all around her to join in blatant evil with her, without their ever realizing that’s what they’ve done. Impotent as Ahab seems, he can hoodwink just about anybody into getting into bed with him – and use them to bear the evil fruit he wants.
Suppose you’re about to travel through a swamp filled with poisonous snakes. You’ve never seen a snake, and people you trust have described the reptile as a creature with legs and wings. Armed with such false information, you’re in great danger of sustaining a deadly bite.
Now, suppose you know what a snake looks like. You can even identify the poisonous kinds. But you don’t know that a two-headed species exists and that it inhabits that swamp. Seeing a snake, you find the head and seek desperately to avoid its venomous fangs. Meanwhile, unknown to you, the other head poises to strike.
In The Elijah Blessing, I re-examine the Ahab and Jezebel of the Old Testament. God grant us eyes to see them both in the light of truth!
We think that if we follow Christ and keep our heads down, Ahab and Jezebel will leave us alone.
If you truly want to know Christ, you pursue him. You seek to cultivate an undivided heart, not to make a scene or pick a fight. Since you’re not trying to force your choice on others, or even to announce what you’re about, you may believe the enemy will go after other, more visible people and let you pursue the Lord in peace.
Beloved of the Lord, that belief sets you up to be blindsided – and taken out.
Anyone who seeks the Lord with a whole heart automatically exposes any divided hearts around. People with divided hearts do not like to be exposed – especially those who are leaders in a church culture that prides itself on its allegiance to Jesus alone.
As you pursue God, he will show you idols hidden in your own heart. As you renounce and forsake those idols, people still worshiping what you’re discarding will see you as a traitor and a threat. They will use every means available to get you to recant. They’ll coax, shame, manipulate, pressure, demand and, ultimately, attack.
It doesn’t matter that you’re not trying to expose anyone. The people who suddenly count you the enemy have put themselves in a terrible place. Slowly, over time, they’ve transferred their ultimate love and loyalty from Christ himself to other lovers. They’ve bowed before other gods. But they don’t see that. The more divided their hearts have become, the more self-deceived they’ve become.
Anything that threatens to expose the truth triggers a violent reaction within them, a loud and insistent alarm. Not seeing what they are doing, they rush to extinguish the threat.
So there you are, growing more in love with Christ daily, delighted with the ways he’s working in your life. Suddenly, people you thought were on the same path, and especially leaders you trust and believe to be godly, come after you with a vengeance. You’re confused and disoriented, grieved and shocked. As the blows keep coming, the ones bashing you will often look you in the eye and accuse you of being the troublemaker, the one at fault.
The people treating you so terribly aren’t the real enemy. They’re pawns in the hands of cruel despots. Ahab and Jezebel are almost surely running the show.
Elijah lived where Ahab and Jezebel ruled, yet he lived powerfully and victoriously. You too be blessed to live fully and to love fiercely from an undivided heart.
On sale August 23-29 for $.99 each: