pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


2 Comments

A Simple Thanks

Reading: 2nd Kings 2: 8-12

Verse Eleven: “As they were walking along and talking together…”

In one devotional I read today, it referred to the term “outlier”. Immediately my mind went back to many years teaching 7th grade math. We identified outliers when we were studying mean, median, and mode. An outlier in math is a piece of data that stands out from the other data. Outliers can really impact the mean, or the average. In its original content in the book my devotional referenced, an outlier was a regular person who practiced a skill or talent or job thousands and thousands of times. The result was extraordinary skill or proficiency at their chosen pursuit.

Using both of these understandings of outlier, the term pertains much to our faith. In today’s passage, Elijah is an outlier. He was a prophet who stood far outside the norm. At times, he was practically the last one standing for God. He spoke the truth no matter the risk, always being obedient to God. Accordingly, Elijah is widely accepted as the greatest Old Testament prophet. In our passage, Elisha shows the dogged persistence required to become an outlier. He has personally witnessed Elijah’s absolute faith in God and his total trust to go where God sent and to say what God said to say. It is something he wants for himself, so he follows closely as Elijah’s end draws near. Elisha’s persistence pays off as he sees Elijah taken, thus receiving the reward: a double portion of his spirit.

It is interesting to me that Elijah is taken not in some suspenseful moment but simply as they are “walking along and talking together…”. Elijah had just nonchalantly yet miraculously parted the Jordan so they could cross, allowing them to continue to simply walk and talk. These ideas remind me of our faith journey. We too walk and talk through life alongside God. Much of the time life is routine or normal. Yet by walking close and talking consistently, we grow deep in our relationship with God. And we do have moments, times God parts the waters, allowing us to safely pass through. Some of the time we do not even know God has intervened. Other times, it is right there for us to see. At times God gives us these moments that awe and uplift us. These too build our relationship.

As I ponder my daily walk with God, blessed here and there with those “God moments”, I am humbled and awed. I simply say: thank you God!

Advertisements


1 Comment

Faithful

Reading: 2nd Kings 2: 1-7

Verse Four: “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho”… “I will not leave you”.

Elijah is known as the greatest Old Testament prophet according to most Biblical scholars. His tenure as prophet is full of great stories that demonstrate his obedience and faithfulness to God. Elisha is his prophet-in-training. Elisha will succeed Elijah as the next “prophet of God” in Israel. As we begin 2nd Kings 2, we hear that the time is now: “when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven…”. Elijah will not die a normal death. Instead he will be taken up into heaven in a chariot of fire. For his part, Elisha has been a few servant to Elijah and loves him dearly. He wants to be with him right to the end.

What unfolds over the course of our passage is sort of like a game of cat and mouse. Elijah says, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho”. Over and over Elisha’s response is, “I will not leave you”. Elijah wants to leave Elisha behind, maybe to spare him actually seeing Elijah go. Elisha keeps repeating his line, showing the deep dedication he has to Elijah. “Just one more moment..” is what Elisha is saying. At each juncture the prophets of that place remind Elisha that God is going to take Elijah today. And each time his response is the same: “Yes, I know. But do not speak of it”. Elisha is saying, I know already! You don’t need to remind me of it!

Elisha is as dedicated and faithful as Elijah. He will not leave the one he loves and serves. We have to admire Elisha’s level of commitment. It is one we would do well to emulate. As we reflect on this today, we first must ask ourselves: how could my life better reflect my love and dedication and commitment to Jesus? Secondly, we must ask: how could I be as faithful and dedicated to Jesus?


1 Comment

Present and in Control

Reading: Isaiah 40: 21-31

Verse 26: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these?”

The prophet Isaiah writes and speaks to a people who are living in exile. When the people were disobedient to God the Babylonians conquered them. The Israelites were then taken off into captivity. They understood the consequences of their disobedience to be the exile. But as time wears on and exile continues, they begin to feel as if punishment has turned to abandonment. Through Isaiah, God wants to remind the people that He is still present and is still in control.

In verse 26 Isaiah tells the people, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these”? He is saying to not remain downcast but to look up to God instead. Focus not on these feelings of abandonment but look up and marvel at the power and might of God revealed in the heavens. Remember that God is the creator and sustainer and that God is fully in control. At times we too can get bogged down or run over by life. Every now and then we too need to take a moment to recognize and connect to the God of all creation.

Isaiah then draws the people back to the essentials of their faith as he asks them, “Do you not know? Have you not heard”? Isaiah asks them to remember how God has always been their God both personally and corporately. He is saying, ‘don’t you remember?’ all the ways we have known and experienced God throughout our history. Isaiah then reminds the people that “the Lord is the everlasting God”. God has been, is, and always will be. As a word of encouragement, Isaiah writes, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak”. The people long in exile feel weary and weak. Yes, they need strength and power from God.

Isaiah will go on to inform the people that because God is in control, that the exile is almost over. Although they cannot see the end, Isaiah tells them that the ends nears. As they wait, Isaiah reminds them to keep their hope and trust rooted in God. This promise of God’s faithfulness remains true for us as well. In those times or seasons that feel a bit like exile, we too must hold firmly to our faith, knowing that God was, is, and always will be present and in control. He holds us in His hands.


1 Comment

Word

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 18: “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”.

God speaks to us in a variety of ways. We can feel God’s presence in nature, in the actions of others, in prayer and worship. This is one way that God ‘speaks’ to us. We can open our Bibles or listen to a sermon and God speaks directly into our lives. God frequently speaks through the voice of the Holy Spirit as He leads, guides, reminds, redirects, … God is in no way silent or distant or hard to hear from, yet not all people are prophets of God.

Over time God has raised up many great prophets – Moses, Elijah, Samuel, Ezekiel, … This line that we can find in the Bible also includes Jesus. Jesus did not just bring the word of God, Jesus is the Word of God in the flesh. As we read and study Jesus in the New Testament, we come to know God more fully and to understand the depths of His love, care, compassion, mercy, and grace. It is through the life, words, and actions of Jesus that God speaks the loudest. In verse 18 today we read, “I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him”. Jesus was the full revelation of this verse. It is by living out Jesus’ words that we grow and live out our faith. To a degree we can do this on our own, but at times we also need help and encouragement.

Just as God has done since the beginning of the faith, God continues to raise up voices to draw us to and deeper into our faith. Our pastors, priests, and teachers continue to bring God’s words and to share His voice. It is through our study and today’s prophets that we grow as individuals and as a community of faith. Today’s prophets are not perfect. Even the great Moses has his moments of anger and frustration. Yet the voice of God worked through Moses and continues to work through His prophets today. I am thankful that God continues to be present to us today, both in the Bible and in the words of men and women past and present who teach and encourage and rebuke and refine us. May the Lord ever speak in and through us.


1 Comment

Presence

Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

Verse 15: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet”.

Today there is an understanding that God is real and present to His people in several ways. In Moses’ time, God was definitely real and present to them, but there was a fear of God being too physically present. Moses became the people’s designated person to go and communicate with God. We see this unfolding in the first few verses of our passage today.

God next decides that what has been established with Moses is good. He will continue this pattern of raising up prophets to speak God’s word to the people. For many years this is the pattern, with varying degrees of success (or failure). When the people were concentrated in one place or area, a prophet called to speak God’s word could speak to the whole nation. But at times, such as when some were in exile, it was harder. Yet prophets often played a key role in the development, guiding, and realignment of the people’s faith. Prophets were most often used to call the people back to God and God’s ways.

Today we still have prophets but not quite in the Moses mold. God continues to speak through people and through things such as miracles and natural events. But today our prophets seem to speak to a more focused area or group of people. Perhaps the Pope is the closest to an Old Testament prophet as he speaks to the whole Roman Catholic faith. Today many pastors and teachers function as a prophet in the church or place that God has planted them.

We are also blessed with a personal connection to God. As Jesus departed this earth, He blessed His followers with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is like a built-in prophet as it reminds us of God and of God’s ways, and as it calls us back when we sin and wander. I am grateful for those who speak into my life and who help me along on my spiritual journey. I am also grateful for the personal attention that God gives me through the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life. It is a presence that all believers are blessed with. May God continue to lead and guide all believers in all we do and say and think. Thank God for His constant and personal presence in our lives.


1 Comment

Among Us

Reading: John 1: 1-6 and 19-28

Verse 26: “Among you stands one you do not know”.

John’s gospel begins in the beginning – literally – stating that Jesus was there at the beginning of it all.  Jesus is the creator, the giver of all life.  Jesus is the light that shines into the darkness.  Jesus has been present to mankind since the beginning of time.  For the Israelites, it feels almost that long that they have been waiting for the Messiah.  Their collective journey of faith has been long and winding, filled with ups and downs for a long time now.  And for a long time, hundreds of year now, they have been waiting for, longing for, anticipating the coming of the One.  It has been 400 years since the last prophet of God even spoke, so John the Baptist draws a crowd when he begins to preach and baptize out in the wilderness.

As a little buzz begins to grow around John, the religious leaders send out some investigators to find out just who John the Baptist really is.  It sort of sounds like he could be the One.  In response to the investigators initial question, John responds clearly, “I am not the Christ”.  For all real purposes, they quit listening.  But then they remember they were sent to find out, so they continue to ask who he is.  Okay then, who are you?  John tells them he is not Elijah returned or any other prophet that they know.  He simply tells them that he is the messenger that Isaiah prophesied.  John quotes from Isaiah 40, saying, “I am the voice of one calling out in the desert, ‘Make straight paths for the Lord'”.  Instead of hearing that the Messiah is about to emerge, they turn to other questioning, giving evidence that they did not really hear this answer either.  The religious leaders miss the point of why John is here.  It is not about John or what he is doing, it is about what is about to happen.  You’d think that for a people waiting hundreds of years for the Messiah, they’d be all over John’s news.

Many people are right here today, just where the religious leaders are.  They sense there must be more to life, they want more for their life, they sense the possibilities.  John says to the religious leaders, “Among you stands one you do not know”.  This remains true today.  Jesus is still right here, right now.  He stands among us.  May we, like John the Baptist, be the voices calling out in the wilderness today, helping others to know the One who stands among us, Jesus Christ.


1 Comment

Testify to the Light

Reading: John 1: 1-8 and 19-21

Verse Eight: “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light”.

Today’s passage is about what is and what is not.  John begins by establishing just who Jesus is.  John draws on Genesis imagery to remind us that Jesus was there in the beginning and that He was with God.  He reminds us that all things were created through Jesus.  And, lastly, John reminds us that Jesus is the light that shines into the darkness.  This is an ongoing reality that many in the world struggle with today.

John’s Gospel then turns to John the Baptist and who he is.  John the Baptist is first a man sent by God.  He came as a witness to the coming of Jesus in the flesh.  Our passage defines John’s role this way: “He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light”.  John the Baptist is not the light; he is the witness to call people to the Light or to Jesus.

Sometimes is is easier to describe or understand who we are not.  This is usually a much longer list than the one that attempts to define who we are.  As the priests and Levites that have been sent by the Pharisees begin to question who John the Baptist is, he begins with the most important who He is not: he is not the Christ (or the Messiah).  They press on.  No, he is not Elijah.  No, he is not the Prophet.  Despite telling them who he is, John the Baptist is still pressed for more detail.  He is the witness to the light that is coming into the world.

Who John the Baptist is should sound familiar to us because this is the role that we are called to play.  The Light himself spelled this out for us in the Great Commission: “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  We too are called to testify to the light that has come into the world and that continues to shine into the darkness.  We are not John the Baptist and we are not Elijah ad we are not some other great prophet.  We are simply followers of Christ called to share the good news of what Jesus has done in our lives so that the Light can shine into other people’s darkness, helping them to begin to walk in the Light.