pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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The Fire of God

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-2 & 6-14

Verse 11: “Suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated them… Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind”.

Elijah and Elisha are walking along, essentially waiting for God to act. Elisha has remained steadfast to his mentor. Both know this will be their last walk and talk. As they walk, Elijah uses his cloak to separate the waters of the Jordan so that they can pass over. Their walk will continue. He then asks Elisha what he can do for him before he goes. Elisha requests a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Then God acts. In verse 11 we read, “Suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated them… Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind”.

Fire is a common theme in the Bible and it is often associated with God. In the Old Testament God spoke through fire, led by fire, and revealed his power with fire. In the New Testament fire remains a symbol of God’s power – the Holy Spirit comes as a small flame, fire refines the believers, and in the end fire will consume many. It is a chariot and horses of fire that finally parts Elijah and Elisha as Elijah is taken straight to heaven.

In our lives we too experience fire from time to time. It can be caused by stress or by a situation that arises. This type of fire is usually uncomfortable and we want it to end quickly. But sometimes this fire refines, so it is allowed to linger for a while. We can also experience a faith that is like a fire burning within. It is one that we cannot quite keep ahold of and that we seek to share with others. Fire remains symbolic of God’s presence and activity in our lives.

All that is physically left of Elijah is his cloak. Elisha picks it up and begins the journey home. The fifty men of the company of prophets is still present. Elisha asks aloud if God is still present too. Like his mentor, Elisha touches the river with the cloak. It again parts for Elisha to pass through. The cloak is the physical mantle that has been passed from Elijah to Elisha. The revelation of God’s power confirms that this too has been passed to the next prophet of Israel. The fire of God will continue to burn brightly, now in Elisha.

That same fire of God, in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, burns in each of us. It allows us to hear God’s voice in our lives and it empowers us to be God’s voice in our world. May we hear and exercise that voice today.

Prayer: God of fire, you are the light to my feet and you are the warmth to my heart. Shine bright in me so that I can share your light with my world today. Amen.

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Presence In Change

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-2 & 6-14

Verse 9: “Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you'”?

In our passage for today and tomorrow, Elijah knows a radical change is ahead. In the opening verse we read that God is planning to take Elijah up into heaven. As the passage unfolds, so does Elisha. Back in 1 Kings 19 God sent Elijah to Elisha to take him in as his understudy. Elisha had lived with and learned from Elijah, becoming close with him through the process. As Elijah is called to Bethel, he tells Elisha three times to “stay here”. Each time Elisha’s response is the same: “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”. Elisha is dedicated.

In life we too will find ourselves in positions similar to Elisha’s. For example, it happens when a good friend moves away. In the time left we rejoice over our friendship and we encourage one another on the journey ahead. It happens when a friend or loved one prepares to transition to the next life. We remain present and we assure them (and ourselves) of what lies ahead. We remind each other of our love for one another and of God’s love for us. As people of faith we commit to remaining engaged and connected in and through times of change.

At first Elijah seems to want to be rid of Elisha. On the surface it appears to be so. We must ask why. For some, this occurs because they want to spare the other being present right at the end. For some, they push others away to test, to see if they’ll really stick it out to the end. We do not know Elijah’s motivation, but we do see a change in him. Not only does he relent to Elisha’s request, but he begins to think of the other, of Elisha. As a way to acknowledge their relationship and to say thank you to his protege, to his friend, he asks Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you”? In a gesture of both love and concern, he asks what he can do for his friend before God takes him up into heaven. Elijah is thinking of much more than himself.

It is those content and strong in their faith that can remain present and have something to offer the other as the end draws near. As one says a last goodbye to a friend moving away or to loved ones before transitioning to eternity, sharing one’s faith and trust in God is a precious gift. We arrive at that point by living each day like Elijah did, connected to and loving and trusting fully in God. When we are content and strong in our faith, we too can witness to that faith as we make such transitions. May we invest in others for the building of the kingdom here on earth.

Prayer: God, parting is hard. Sometimes it simply comes and we are a part of it. Sometimes it is a choice made. God, grant me grace and love to walk faithfully through the changes that life brings. Amen.


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Go

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 9b-15

Verse 9b: “What are you doing here”?

Earlier this week I looked at verses 1 through 9a in this same chapter. To review quickly, Elijah angered the queen, fled in fear, and was cared for and guided by God to the cave on Mount Horeb. In the morning, God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here”? This is a question that I think God asks often.

Fear and worry and doubt and job fatigue led Elijah to flee – to hide from the world. I can relate to some of these emotions and to Elijah’s response to them. Once in a great while monastic life seems like a great idea. His loving God leads Elijah to a safe place, to a cave atop a mountain, far away from his enemies and from the world. Until God asks this question, the cave is a comfortable place for Elijah.

When I retreat it is not usually to a cave or to any other physical place. When I do retreat it is usually into myself. In those moments when the world seems against me or when it seems to be closing in, I withdraw emotionally. In my mind I disconnect. I try and create felt distance and separation. But soon enough, God asks, “What are you doing here”?

Elijah has a response. He has been thinking about it. He knows the question is coming. This process is familiar to me too. Elijah tells God that he has been “very zealous for the Lord God Almighty” – I’ve been working really hard for you God. And these people – these Israelites – they have broken the covenant. Why would I want to be with those sinners? And then the ice cream atop the cake – “I am the only one left”. Woe is me. Have you been here? I certainly have.

The God says, in essence, ‘Come here. Come here Elijah’. Elijah goes to the entrance to the cave and the noise of the world passes by. The wind, the earthquake, the fire – those are the threats of Jezebel, the fears of the world, the self-pity. Then Elijah hears a gentle whisper. Ah, God has arrived. It is significant that God comes in the calm, in the quiet.

But once again Elijah tries the “I’ve been so busy…” excuses. God simply says, “Go…”. Return to the world, go where I am sending you. I will be with you. God knows we will stumble and falter too. God says the same thing to us: go, go where I lead. I will be with you. God continues to lead Elijah every step of the way. God will do the same for us. So, go.

Prayer: God, in those moments when I too doubt or fear or feel wrung out, come and push me back out into the world. Use me for what you will. Strengthen and encourage and fill me for the task at hand. Help me to ever step forth in faith. Amen.


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When I Fear…

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 1-9a

Verse 3: “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”.

Elijah is threatened by Jezebel, the queen of Israel. He has angered her and she pledges to take his life. Like most of us would do, he assesses the situation and immediately flees. Elijah flees out into the desert and tells God that he has had enough. He just wants to die. Elijah fears dying at Jezebel’s hand, but out in the quiet and peacefulness of the desert would be just fine.

I have a hard time relating to all of Elijah’s decisions. If I were in such a position, threatened by someone powerful, I would flee too. I probably would. But my next thoughts would turn to resolving the issue or doing something about it. I feel like there is a lot of productive life ahead of me. Elijah feels old and tired at this point. Maybe in 30 or 40 years this will be my response too.

When I consider Elijah’s story to this point though, I realize that he has seen the power of God over and over and over. He has just finished seeing God defeat 950 prophets of Baal and of Asherah in a sacrifice showdown. Slaughtering all of these prophets is what draws Jezebel’s threat. In spite of his history with God, Elijah reacts with fear. We read, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life”. If anyone should trust God, it’s Elijah. Yet he fears and flees. Instead of turning to God, he fears and flees. Instead of calling on the power that he has seen demonstrated over and over and over, he fears and flees. How like Elijah I am.

What is God’s response when Elijah fears and flees instead of turning and trusting? God meets Elijah where he is at – right in the middle of his very real human emotions. God provides food and water and rest. God gives Elijah what he needs. God does not condemn or judge or scold him. Elijah is accepted as he is and is strengthened for the journey ahead.

What is God’s response when I fear and flee? It is the same. God loves me and cares for me, encouraging me for the journey ahead. May you allow God to do the same for you.

Prayer: Providing God, you never give up on me. In spite if my human weakness and emotions, you pursue me, you find me, you sustain and encourage me. Thank you God. Amen.


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Listen

Reading: Luke 9: 28-36

Verse 35: “A voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to Him”!

I think Peter, James, and John have been up a mountain with Jesus before. They get to the top and are weary. They expect the same again – Jesus will pray and pray and pray and they’ll try to stay awake to pray with Him. But as He is praying, Jesus is transfigured. The appearance of Jesus’ face changes and His clothes become as “bright as lightning”. Moses and Elijah, also in “glorious splendor”, appear and talk with Jesus about His departure.

Who is talking with Jesus and what they are talking about are both significant. The Law is the core of the Old Testament. Moses represents the Law. When the people deviated from the Law, God would send a prophet to lead and guide the people back into right relationship. Elijah, one of the ‘greats’, represents the prophets. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking about Jesus’ departure. In short order He will enter into Jerusalem to be tried and crucified. Jesus will not be held by the power of death. He will walk out of the grave and eventually ascend back to heaven. In short, this conversation is connecting the Law and the prophets to what is about to take place. It must have been of great encouragement to Jesus to be reminded of the plan that has been in place all along – the plan that leads to the cross and the plan that leads all who believe in Him as Lord to one day join Him in eternity. Seeing and overhearing all of this must have been great encouragement to Peter, James, and John as they head down the mountain and at points in their ministries when they faced trial and suffering.

Peter, perhaps aware of the meaning and magnitude of what was happening, asks about building shelters. Peter wants to prolong something that must have been really amazing. But then a cloud moves in. A cloud is often symbolic of God’s presence. Again, Peter, James, and John are afraid. God speaks from the cloud, echoing what was said at Jesus’ baptism, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen: listen to Him”! God announces that Jesus is divine and that He chose to send Him. Listen to Him. Listen to all that Jesus says. All of it. As it was for Moses and Elijah, as it was for Peter, James, and John, may it be for you and I. May we listen.

Prayer: Father God, place in me the heart and eyes of Jesus. Fill me with His love. May I feel and see as Jesus did. Fill me with your Words, lead and guide me by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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Share and Connect

Reading: Mark 6: 14-29

Verse 14: “King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known”.

Faith is all about our experiences and our connection to God, Jesus, and others. In today’s passage, the first part of the conversation connects Jesus to several other people or groups that were connected to God. In this way, we come to know more about Jesus.

First, Jesus is connected to John the Baptist. Herod and guests wonder if Jesus is John reborn because of the miracles that Jesus is performing. As we remember the stories of John’s and Jesus’ births, we recall that both were miraculous births. We also recall the angel’s visits and John’s recognition of Jesus while both were yet in the womb. In his ministry, John fearlessly spoke truth into people’s lives and called them to walk more holy lives. These things will become central to Jesus’ ministry as well.

Next, they wonder if Jesus is Elijah returned. Both men offer miracles as proof of connection to God and both men freely speak the word that God gives them to speak. Both men clash with those in power – calling them to be better followers of God and His ways. Elijah’s final moments on earth also foreshadow Jesus’ ascension into heaven as God lifts them up.

Lastly they compare Jesus to the “prophets of old”. The Old Testament prophets collectively connect well with Jesus. The prophets of old provided for the widow in need, withheld rain for a time, went up the mountain to speak to God, and called out those who worshiped idols and false gods. We see much of this in Jesus’ ministry. Care for the poor and the outcast were a high priority for Jesus. Calming the storm and walking on water demonstrated Jesus’ power over nature. His frequent trips up the mountain and to other isolated places to connect with God were important times of communication, renewal, and reassurance for Jesus. The conversations with religious leaders and everyday people were both opportunities to teach, to guide, and to correct – all to draw people closer to God. In many ways, Jesus connects to the prophets of old.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is the fuller revelation of God. It makes perfect sense that Jesus and His ministry would connect to others who served God and sought to build the kingdom here on earth. Our faith experiences also further the revelation of Jesus to the world. Through these connections and through our faith experiences we have much to share with others that can help them to connect with Jesus. May we be willing to share both who we know Jesus to be historically and personally, helping others to know Him as well. May it be so today. Amen and amen.


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Encounter

Reading: Mark 9: 2-6

Verses Three and Four: “His clothes became dazzling white… And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses”.

As Peter, James, and John headed up the mountain with Jesus, they had no idea what would happen next. The usual trek to someplace like this usually led to a time of prayer. Apparently without warning, Jesus is “transfigured”. This means to “transform into something more beautiful or elevated”. In Mark’s gospel the scene is described this way: “His clothes became dazzling white…” It was Peter, James, and John’s limited way to describe something amazing and never before seen.

At times we find ourselves here. When we try and describe our encounter with Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit, we use a lot of “it was like…” terminology. We try and relate it to experiences we think others have had and then we try to elevate that to describe our encounter. The disciples use the bleaching analogy to try and describe the level of dazzle.

To add to their surprise, “And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses”. These two greats of the Old Testament appear and start talking with Jesus. One can only imagine the conversation between the men who represent the prophets and the Law, respectively, and the One who represents the new covenant, Jesus. What a deep and rich theological conversation it must have been!

Just as suddenly as Elijah and Moses appear, they are gone. In an instant, the old Jesus is back. Heads spinning, Peter, James, and John must have wondered what just happened and pondered why were they there. This experience must have left them with more questions than answers. What does this mean? How will this impact our lives and our ministry? Who really is Jesus? What now?

In those moments when we too experience Jesus in extraordinary ways, we are left with a sense of the divine touching our lives. We too are left with questions and much to ponder. This is a good thing. Life-changing moments are supposed to change us! From our Jesus encounters, may we continue to wrestle and seek, to learn and to grow. May we allow these encounters to guide us along our journey of faith, ever closer to our God.