Don’t forget who the story is really about

When I’m writing a story, sometimes I get lost in it. I’m not sure how other people do it, but when I write, I’m really just watching a story unfold and committing the events and dialog to paper. Sometimes I don’t even know how it’s going to end. There are stories I’ve written where all my attention has been focused on what a character looks like or what a character says or what happens next in the story, and those are all important things to know. But it’s in those moments when I get so caught up in the details that I forget the point.

Some people will say that character is the most important part of a story. Others believe it’s plot–the chain of events that unfolds in a book. But I disagree with both of those. They’re important, yes, but not the most important. The most important part of a story is the message. Every story has a message, a lesson to learn, a point to communicate. And if you get so tied up in the characters and the voices and the settings and all the million little picky details, you run the risk of letting the message slip through your fingers.

Today’s verses are Matthew 17:1-8.

Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus. Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.

Put yourself in the shoes of Jesus’ inner circle–Peter, James, and John. The original three amigos. Can you even begin to imagine what they saw that night? In the blink of an eye, the veil covering Jesus’ earthly form pulled back, allowing them to see a piece of who He is. And if that weren’t enough, two legends from Jewish history decided to stop by for a visit.

Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah! My gosh, you don’t even have to know the Bible very well to know who Moses is. And Elijah may not be as familiar to you as Moses, but he’s the guy who called down fire on Mt. Caramel. These guys are heavy hitters. And their bodies had long since returned to dust.

So you can’t exactly blame Peter. I would have been excited too. Moses and Elijah! But Peter missed the point. Just like we do so often.

We take Jesus for granted because He’s always around. His name is everywhere, and we get used to Him, sort of like Peter did. Yeah, Jesus is a big deal, but He was always with them. Seeing two Old Testament prophets wandering around like they hadn’t been “dead” for a thousand years? Now that was something to write home about.

But God set Peter straight. The story isn’t about Moses. And it’s not about Elijah. The story is about Jesus, and it always has been. From before time began and long after time runs out, the story will forever and always be about Jesus. He’s the message. He’s the point.

Have you started to take Jesus for granted in your life? Are you more excited about something God is doing rather than the fact God is the one doing it? Take a step back. Take a moment to think about what actually matters.

It’s great to celebrate the details. It’s wonderful to focus on specific aspects of a job or a relationship or, like in my case, a novel. But don’t let those details get so big that they overshadow what really matters. Don’t forget who the story is really about.

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School house window - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What friends are for

Do you ever feel the need to be alone? I’m not talking just getting away from people. Even the most extroverted person needs some quiet time every now and then. I mean alone, like you cut ties with everyone you knew. Alone, as in by yourself with no one around you.

Why is that? Why do some people feel the need to shut others out and try to shoulder their burdens by themselves? Well, I can’t speak for others, but I can speak for myself. I’m afraid that people will think I’m weak.

School house window - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

School house window – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 Kings 19:3-4.

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

1 Kings 19 is an interesting chapter. It follows one of the most amazing Old Testament stories in the Bible, when Elijah challenged Queen Jezebel’s prophets of Baal to a contest to see who was real, Baal or God. Elijah called fire down, and the prophets of Baal just made idiots out of themselves. And all of Israel that had gathered there declared that God was the true God and that they would worship Him.

It was a high moment in Elijah’s life. But, of course, that made Queen Jezebel pretty angry, and she threatened to kill Elijah.

Whenever this story comes around, most folks will focus on the fact that Elijah crashes. After experiencing a mountaintop day with God, the next day, he crumbles into a useless heap in a cave and has a pity party.

Or people will talk about God asking Elijah what he’s doing there. Or people will focus on how God spoke to Elijah, not in the wind and not in the fire but in the still, small voice. But as I was reading this morning, something stood out to me that I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed before.

Verse 3, at the very beginning of the story, tells us that Elijah fled for his life and left his servant behind before he went on alone.

Maybe that’s not significant. But it popped out on the page at me today because I am constantly doing the same thing.

I live on a mountaintop pretty much. My life is amazing. I get to see God doing awesome things just about every day. But it’s not uncommon for me to take a tumble and have a bad day either. I’m human. And I’m emotional enough, no matter how much I don’t want to admit it, that I can end up pouting under a broom tree asking God to kill me.

And on those days, I don’t want anyone to see me like that. So I leave people behind and go off and figure out how to handle my emotional breakdowns all by myself.

Is that the right thing to do? I don’t really think so. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with taking quiet time to get your heart and your mind right. There’s nothing wrong with taking alone time so you and God can get right again. But that’s not what I’m talking about. And that’s not what Elijah did either.

Elijah didn’t want his servant to witness him being less than perfect. This is the same servant who got to see his master be bold and daring just days earlier. This is the same servant who not only got to see Elijah call fire down from heaven but also rain, after it hadn’t rained in three years.

Elijah knew he wasn’t living up to the expectations God had for him. Why else would he tell his servant to stay behind while he went on alone? Elijah wasn’t wandering off to get his head straight. He was going off to beat himself up, to tear himself down, to rip himself apart. And he was too proud to share his feelings with anyone else because he was afraid of what they would think of him.

Maybe I’m putting words in Elijah’s mouth. But that’s what I do.

I’m still working through this. I’ve always been a loner, the kind of person who has to fight through challenges and struggles on my own. But God is beginning to show me that being alone isn’t always the best thing. He’s given us friends for a reason, to keep us accountable, to make us laugh when we don’t even feel like smiling, to love us on the days when we really can’t stand ourselves.

The simple truth is that none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes, and refusing to be honest about that with other people will only hurt our relationships, even if you’re just trying to protect them from your screwups.

God didn’t allow Elijah to be alone. He sent an angel to take care of him. And after God was through talking to him, he sent Elijah on several tasks, ending with appointing a successor, Elisha. They traveled together, and Elisha never let Elijah out of his sight.

God’s given us friends for a reason. And I’m not talking about the fair-weather friends, the ones who are only with you on the good days. I’d be willing to be that everyone has a friend who would do anything for them, whether they know it or not. Those friends love you for who you are. And on those days when you feel like crawling into a cave and asking God to kill you, instead go to those friends and tell them what’s wrong. Let them listen, and don’t worry about what they think of you.

Most likely, they’ll just listen. And they’ll love you anyway. That’s what friends are for.