pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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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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Freedom and Wholeness

Reading: Luke 8: 26-38

Verse 27: “When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man”.

Our story today is a story of fear. The demoniac is afraid of what Jesus might do to him and the townspeople are afraid of the same thing. Our story today follows another story of fear. In a raging squall the disciples fear they will die. Jesus is awakened and he calms the storm. He then asks the disciples, “Where is your faith”?

In verse 27 we read, “When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man”. The man is possessed by demons, so we can say he has no faith. Yet the demons recognize Jesus and the power that he has over them. If the man himself were able to speak, he would surely plead with Jesus to free him from this legion of demons. But the man is not in control. He has not been for a long time. Now the demons realize that they are not in control.

We read in our passage that at first the townspeople tried to chain the demon-possessed man hand and foot and kept him under guard. But the chains were broken over and over and then demons drove the man to live in isolation out in the “solitary places” – the tombs outside of town. The townspeople probably really appreciated this, except when they had a burial. Then they would have to once again encounter the demoniac. It is by no coincidence that Jesus goes where the world would rather not go. Jesus meets the man right where he is at, both physically and spiritually.

The demons fear Jesus’ power and rightly so. They do not want to return to the Abyss, so they beg to be sent into the pigs. Rather than return to hell, the demons end their existence by drowning themselves in the lake. Mercifully, Jesus allows this. The man is free. The townspeople find him clean, dressed, and sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening. It is an amazing restoration to wholeness that leads to fear of Jesus, not to engagement or even interest on the part of the townspeople. They ask Jesus to leave.

Sometimes the power of Jesus feels like too much. The Bible is full of these stories. We were once at this point ourselves. Many are there today. The idea of freedom in Christ is a little enticing but the power of wealth or the draw of the addiction or the fear of surrender is too great. We know folks who are struggling to take that step towards Jesus. Unlike the demons in our story, their demon tells them that Jesus has no power, that Jesus cannot make them whole again. May we be willing to cross that “lake”, to go to them where and how they are, to share our Jesus and the story of how he set us free.

Prayer: Lord, give me the courage to go across that lake, to be willing to engage those that others would rather not. Grant me words of healing and hope. Amen.


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Perceive

Reading: Isaiah 43: 19b-21

Verse 19: “Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”.

Thirst comes in many forms. It can be physical at times. After a long hike on a hot day that cool drink of water can taste so good. It can be emotional at times. When I have been away at school or on a mission trip or at an event over a long weekend, it feels so good to see and hug my family once again. When a good friend returns to your life, it is refreshing and renewing too.

The thirst can also be spiritual. This is the thirst that Isaiah writes about. Israel’s unfaithfulness has drawn them away from God. Our sin does the same to us. Because of their behaviors and choices, they cannot drink deeply of their faith. Exile has deepened the thirst and made it feel more profound. Through Isaiah, God says, “Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”. God is starting the renewal process. God asks, can’t you see it? God is beginning to pour back into a people starting to seek God again. The exiles feel like they are in a dry and weary place, especially spiritually. Even though they may not see it yet, God is preparing to bring them back to the Promised Land. God is at work in the happenings of the world to orchestrate their return to their homeland. God is bringing streams of hope and restoration to “the people I formed for myself”.

God seeks to do the same in our lives. God is always at work seeking to draw us closer, to deepen our faith. When we wander, the Holy Spirit convicts us and leads us back into right relationship. When we feel a bit disconnected, God brings us a spark through the Word or sends a brother or sister in Christ to us with the presence or words of encouragement or accountability that we need at that moment. God is ever at work in our lives. Sometimes the question is the same for us: do you not perceive it?

We perceive it best when we engage with God and our faith. God wants to fill us up, to be our all in all. God wants us to drink deeply of our relationship with and connection to Himself. We too are His chosen people. The promise is that if we draw near to God, God will draw near to us. Each day may we engage in our faith, seeking the Lord. In doing so we will find God is very present and we can then proclaim our praises. May it be so.

Prayer: Father God, this day may I sense you all around me and in me. As I seek you, help me to grow closer and deeper in my faith. In all I say and do and think, may I proclaim your praises. Amen.


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Endures Forever

Reading: Psalm 138: 4-8

Verse 8: “The Lord will fulfill His purposes for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands”.

The psalmist begins our passage for today asking for all the kings of the earth to praise the Lord. He goes on to ask that they sing of the ways of the Lord. These are things that David did faithfully. David walked and ruled in faith and knows the value of other kings doing likewise.

It is not by coincidence that David next turns to remind us that God looks upon and knows the lowly. By contrast, the Lord chooses to remain far from the proud. Jesus’ ministry echoes this idea too. He certainly practiced this way of life. Jesus ate with tax collectors and prostitutes, hung out with the poor and marginalized, healed the shunned and outcasts. By contrast, Jesus did not spend much time with the proud – the wealthy, the Romans, the Pharisees, the Sadducees…

Throughout his lifetime, David learned that there was reward in walking with God. In verse 7 David speaks of how in times of trouble, “you preserve my life”, and of how “with your right hand you saved me”. Throughout his lifetime David experienced God rescuing and redeeming him. Each of these experiences helped David’s faith grow and deepen.

Because of the conscious choices to not be proud and to walk daily with God, David could own verse 8. He writes, “The Lord will fulfill His purposes for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands”. God anointed David as a young shepherd boy and then proceeded to fulfill that purpose for David. Even when David succumbed to great sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, God did not abandon him. Instead, that “love that endures forever” reached out through Nathan and drew David back into walking with the Lord.

Just as God did with David, God has plans for you and for me. Sometimes we don’t make choices or decisions that align with God’s plans. Sometimes we sin and separate ourselves from God for a time. Yet that love that endures forever always seeks to engage us, to draw us back in, to get us back on the path that God has for us.

Jesus also ministered to people with the same purpose. The healings brought people back into the community of faith. The teachings sought to create or renew a relationship with God. The times He said “go and sin no more” returned people to living as God intended them to live. All of these things were done in that same enduring love. We too know this love. We too have experienced this love. We are called to model this love and to share this love as we spread the good news of Jesus Christ. In doing so, others will come to know of God’s love that endures forever. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, may I too humbly serve you, spreading your love abroad, drawing others to you. Amen.


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Perfection?

Reading: Psalm 25: 8-10

Verse 9: “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His ways”.

Sometimes I wonder why God engages us. Over and over I sin – yet God continues to love me. The good words of the psalmist remind me of why. He begins with, “good and upright is the Lord”. God loves us because of who He is, not because of who we are. God keeps His promises. God promises to always engage us – God will be our God always; God will never leave or forsake us; God’s mercies will never end.

Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, God continually instructs the sinners. The Holy Spirit convicts us and leads us to repentance when we do sin. The Holy Spirit and God’s Word also work in us to teach us more about God and our faith, to do good works, to love our neighbors, to live faithfully. In verse 9 the psalmist writes, “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His ways”. God guides the humble. If we think we know it all or if we are arrogant or, worse yet, if we think we have ‘arrived’ on our faith journey, then we are not humble. Humility is required for the continued walk of faith.

Our section of today’s Psalm closes by again reminding us that God is loving and faithful to those who obey. When we keep the commands of God, then we experience God’s love and faithfulness. God does not bless the wayward. God does help the prodigal to return home, to a right relationship with God, so that He can bless us. Thankfully, God is never done with us.

The process of God continuing to work in us to be more and more like Jesus Christ is called ‘sanctification’. This refining process draws us in and leads to our becoming more holy. John Wesley called this process “going on to perfection”. Jesus was perfect. The goal of our faith is to become more and more like Christ. I think we only become perfect when we stand beside Him in eternal glory. But for now, in this life, may we seek to draw ever closer to Jesus Christ, the perfector of our faith.

Prayer: Lord, even as I acknowledge my imperfections and admit my failures, I ask you to make me more and more like Jesus today. Make me a better witness, a deeper follower, a more willing servant. In all my seconds, minutes, and hours, may I shine your light. Amen.


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Love, Bless, Value

Reading: Mark 10: 13-16

Verse 16: “He took the children in His arms, and He blessed them”.

Our short passage today is about many things. It begins with a desire for a blessing. It includes a desire to see the “real work” of God being done. It includes an invitation with a nod to having such simple faith. It concludes with welcome, love, and blessing.

The passage begins with parents bringing their children to Jesus. It was the norm to have the rabbi bless the child. This usually occurred at the temple, much as baptism occurs in many of our churches. To bring them to this itinerant rabbi was similar – except there was something special about this Jesus. As parents we all want our children to be blessed, so we can relate to their motives here.

But the disciples try to intervene. Children were at the bottom of the social ladder, of little worth in society’s eyes. This was part of their trying to ‘protect’ Jesus. The larger part, though, was that this would distract Jesus from the ‘real work’ of ministry: preaching, teaching, healing. This was the disciples angle, to allow Jesus to work. We can all relate here too. How often we ignore or wish we could have avoided those trivial or unimportant things or people. That phone call, that knock on the door, that email – yes, maybe distractions. But maybe opportunities to minister to another.

Preventing the children from coming to Him upsets Jesus. He elevates their status – the kingdom belongs to these – and He recognizes their inner value – examples of how to receive love and God and faith. To demonstrate this, Jesus takes them in His arms and He blesses them. I envision this being a robust hug and a personal engagement with each child. I imagine the blessing is compassionate and loving and focused on each child. It is dedicated and intentional time. It is how we too should see and receive and treat all people, especially those that society deems unworthy and of little or no value. To these belong the kingdom of God.

Father God, how you love the children! Help me to love them as you do. May I never be too busy or too selfish – for then I miss the opportunities to love and bless those you send my way. In your name I pray. Amen.


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The Maker

Reading: Psalm 124: 6-8

Verse 8: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

Our Psalm continues the thanksgiving for God’s presence and rescue from those who sought to capture Israel. The Psalm ends with a familiar line: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”. God, the maker of all, is surely our help too. The bigger question to me is: what do we do with this experience and knowledge? Do we hunker down within the walls where it is safe and comfortable? Or… do we venture outside the walls where it is unknown and is where those who attacked us, those whose anger flared against us, those who tried to sweep over us live? Do we peer out through our stained glass windows or do we engage the world, inviting them too to know the maker of heaven and earth?

The stories and promises of faith – that God will rescue us, that God will be present in the trials, that Jesus is the way, truth, and life, that Jesus is the hope for more than this earthly life – are all parts of our faith that we treasure. They are what sustains us in our day to day life. Together this is the good news that Jesus commissioned the disciples and all who would later take up their cross to follow to share with the lost, the broken, the least, the arrogant, the marginalized, the self-assured, the lonely…

Today each of us will have opportunity – maybe just one or two, maybe many – to introduce those who do not know Jesus to the Son of our maker. We will have a chance to hear their story, to connect that thing inside them to the answer. Whether they need rescue or presence or truth or hope or whatever else, the answer is found in Christ. Modeling Jesus and His love, may we offer whatever ministry we can then and in those moments. In doing so, may we begin to connect them to their maker, to the One who loves them as His dear child.

Today, God, may I recognize and seize the opportunity you give me. May I be your hands and feet, your eyes and ears, when I can. May I always be your voice, whether by word, action, or deed. This is my prayer for today and for every day. Amen.