pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Just Pray

Reading: 2 Kings 5: 1-14

Verse 1: “He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy”.

Naaman was a great man: valiant, highly regarded, a man of authority. But he had leprosy. His title, his authority, his strength – nothing could save him from this painful and incurable disease. Except God. It must have been hard for such a man to be powerless to do anything about his disease.

Then God goes to work. First step is to place someone in Naaman’s home who can begin the process. The young Israelite slave girl says there is someone who can help. It probably would have been hard for Naaman to accept help from her, but he needs healing. The king hears his request and sends him off with a letter to the king of Israel asking to heal Naaman. He receives the letter as an attempt to pick a fight. He is distraught. But Elisha hears of his plight and intervenes, telling the king to send Naaman his way, to the prophet.

Naaman makes his way to Elisha’s home. He expects to be treated in a certain way. He expects Elisha to come out to receive him, to do something wonderful to cure his leprosy. But Elisha just sends out a servant with some basic instructions. Naaman has had all of the following of orders that he can take. He becomes angry and is ready to storm home, leprosy and all. Again, God intervenes through a servant – another without power who is now powerful. The servant calms Naaman and convinces the master to follow God’s simple plan. He does and is cured.

How often I am like Naaman. I think I can do something even when I obviously cannot. My faith tells me to pray. I think God must act in some big and amazing way. My faith tells me to just pray. How simple is it: just pray. Trust in God, the only one in control. Follow the simple path that he is leading me on. Turn to him in all things through prayer. Just pray. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, when I think I can, remind me again that it is only through you and your power that all is possible. May I turn to you in humble prayer. Amen.

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Obedience

Reading: John 13:31-35

Verse 31: “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him”.

Jesus’ ministry on earth was all about glorifying God. In the miracles Jesus brought glory to God. In His words that were full of wisdom from above, Jesus glorified God. As the gospel of John works towards its conclusion, Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him”. The Son will be glorified when God brings Him out of the tomb. God is glorified when the Son goes to the cross to fulfill the Father’s plan. Through an act of obedience Jesus glorifies God. It is through our acts of obedience that we too glorify God.

Jesus’ act of obedience is a bit more than most of us could offer. While the reality is that someone will probably be martyred today, it is an obedience most of us will only have to ponder. Yet in our day to day lives our smaller acts of obedience accomplish the same purpose – to bring glory to God. Each time we offer a simple act of kindness or do something unexpected for another, then the other sees the light of Christ in us. That reveals the glory of God.

Throughout our day today we will each feel nudges or hear whispers from the Holy Spirit, calling us to action. If we are obedient to the lead and guide of the Spirit, then our words or actions will bring glory to God. Often we are faced with a simple choice in these moments. The choice often puts self against God and the other. We can easily try and trick ourselves into thinking we are too busy or that the cost is too great or… Excuses are much easier than obedience. Yet what Jesus modeled and what God calls us to is obedience. It is not a pick and choose obedience but a full time commitment. That is the one that Christ offers to us. May we return the blessing today by offering our all in all to God, being obedient to the point of dying to self so that we can live for Jesus.

Prayer: God, I know most is not all. Being obedient most of the time is where I usually find myself. Move me closer to you and away from me today so that I can walk step by step with you. May it be so. Amen.


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Ways of Wisdom

Reading: Proverbs 1: 20-33

Verse 33: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”.

In my Bible, the passage for today is titled, “Warning Against Rejecting Wisdom”. My first thoughts are: who would reject wisdom? Don’t we all want to be wise? But upon a little more reflection, there are folks who are not wise, who do not make many ‘good’ decisions. And when honest, I must admit that I don’t always make the best decision. But is this all that the writer is talking about? It is being wise in life, yes, but it is more. The wisdom that calls out in the streets is God’s wisdom. It calls us to live according to God’s ways.

In a sense, God’s wisdom is calling out to Christians all the time. It is the Holy Spirit within leading and guiding us. It is also the Word of God that we read and meditate upon each day. It is the message we hear in church. It is the devotional thoughts that we consider daily. But because we are human beings, creatures inclined towards sin, sometimes we ignore the wisdom of God and sometimes we make decisions that run counter to the ways of God.

When we ignore God’s wisdom, I imagine the heavenly thoughts sound much like the words we read today. “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?” wonders the God whose thoughts are always higher than our thoughts. He also laments, “If only you had responded to my rebuke…”. If you’d only listened to the Holy Spirit, if you’d really studied the Word… There are consequences to choosing something other than God’s wisdom. Verses 24 through 32 spell these out for us. None are good. God’s ways are always better.

Our passage today closes with these words of hope and promise: “Whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”. Listen to God’s wisdom and live in safety. Listen to God’s wisdom and be at ease. Listen to God’s wisdom and live without fear. Yes, life is better with God.

Lord God, turn my heart and ears to your voice, whether written, spoken, or whispered into my soul. Give me the courage to not only listen but to follow. Your call is often counter to the wisdom of the world, so empower me to walk in your ways of wisdom. May it be so today. Amen.


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Simple Relationships

Reading: Mark 7: 1-8

Verse 6: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”.

Today’s passage deals with who we are as opposed to who we want to appear to be. This passage applies to us as individuals and to our churches as well.

The Pharisees and religious leaders notice Jesus’ disciples doing something that they think shouldn’t be done. They are eating with unclean hands. The disciples did not wash their hands before eating. Yes, there is a practical side to this. But the religious folk aren’t concerned with this aspect. They are concerned with the spiritual implications of eating with unclean hands. By simply being in the world, one can possibly touch something that itself is unclean. If you then eat without ceremonially washing, then the sin or impurity enters you. So they ask, “Jesus, why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders”?

Jesus does not really answer their question. He turns the subject back on them. Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13, saying, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. The religious folks know what to say. They also ought to know why they are saying it. They have lost their connection with the source of the Law. Over the years the Torah or law has grown to the point of being cumbersome. Many of the traditions or rules are things that man has added over time. The intent was to help people follow the law, but it has become a long list of things to do or to check off the list. It has moved far away from worshipping God. Jesus reflects, “You have let go of the commandments of God and are holding onto the traditions of men”.

We too can fall into following man-made traditions or rules and can allow these to drag us far from God. If we go to church on Sunday morning but it becomes a burden or hardship, is it really worshipful to God? If we go up and eat the bread and drink the juice but do not confess and repent of our sins, is it really holy communion? If we say we are a welcoming church but do not engage the stranger who enters our midst, are we really loving all people? If we read our Bibles each day but do not apply the Word to our lives, is it really a meaningful discipline? Yes, this is just the beginning of a long list of questions.

O Lord, give us faith and not religion. Give us relationships and not lists of rules. May our faith be about simple relationships – loving you and loving neighbor. And may all we say and do and think flow from these two central commands. May it be so. Amen.


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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!


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Here I Am

Reading: Exodus 3: 1-6

Verse Five: Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.

Moses’ life has settled into a simple daily rhythm.  Life consists of eat, sleep, and take care of the sheep.  For Moses, the wilderness is a welcome refuge.  He grew up safe and protected and in need of nothing as the son of the daughter of Pharaoh.  Then he found out about his heritage, defended a fellow Israelite, and ended up fleeing Egypt in fear for his life.  Jethro had taken him in and life was slow and quiet and peaceful, just as Moses wanted it.

Moses is not alone in his preference for the simpler, more relaxed lifestyle.  Many people choose to do not something because it is just easier.  There is more ease and less commitment to sit on the couch after supper instead of going for the walk.  It is easier to sleep in and watch cartoons than it is to get the kids up and ready for church.  It is easier to ignore the problem when a child has stolen something than it is to knock on the door and engage your neighbor in the difficult conversation.  It is easier to change the channel than it is to watch the news footage and to feel the urge to send some money.  This list can go on and on, can’t it?

Moses encounters the God that he has largely been absent from in the burning bush.  Moses is drawn to this strange site.  Once there at the bush, God has his attention and He calls Moses’ name.  Moses senses who he hears and responds, “Here I am”.  He accepts God’s call to engage again.  God goes on to instruct Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground”.  It is a gentle reminder that to be in the presence of God is to be in a holy place.  When Moses realizes just where he is at and just who he is with, fear overtakes him and he hides his face.

At times we too can wander into the presence of God.  Life is just rolling along as we tend our sheep (or sit on the couch or snooze or turn away…) and suddenly God intercedes in our lives.  An injustice or a tragedy or something else triggers compassion or righteous anger or empathy and we are called by God to engage, to get involved, to make a difference.  The unjust or unfair situation is our ‘burning bush’.  Then we too must decide.  As God calls “John” or “Susan” or “Henry” or “Jen” or …, do we too say, “Here I am”?  May it be so.


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Trusting

Reading: Psalm 17: 1-7

Verse One: Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry.

The psalmist cries out to God for an answer to his prayer: “Hear, O Lord, my righteous plea, listen to my cry”.  He asks God to “give ear” to what he requests.  Then he adds a reminder to “see what is right”.  He wants God to not only listen and to pay attention but to see it his way as well.  This is a familiar prayer pattern for most of us today.  We want God to hear our prayers and to answer as we have requested because, as you can see God, we are right and correct in what we are asking for.

To back up his case and to help God act on his behalf and in the way that he desires, the psalmist builds his case.  He invites God to examine him and to test him.  He is confident that God will not find any sin in his life.  He reminds God that he has kept “the words of your lips” and has not followed the ways of the violent.  The psalmist reminds God that he has “held to your paths”.  Some of the time we also add similar reminders to our prayers.  We add things like: went to church each Sunday, read Bible every day, served at the rescue mission last month… We remind God that we have not gossiped or caroused too much.  We also build our case and on occasion we may even pray the “if You’ll only…” prayer.

The psalmist closes this section by again asking God to hear and answer.  He requests that God would “show the wonder of your great love”.  It’s almost as if he were reminding God of how much God loves us as a way to prompt God to show it by answering his prayers.  It is an “if you really love me” kind of prayer.  We too go here once in a while.  We too imply that because God loves us, He should answer as we desire.

All of this seems to both bring God down to our level and to elevate our needs above God’s understanding.  God knows our needs.  God has plans to prosper us.  May we bring our humble and honest prayers simply to God, trusting that He will hear and trusting that He will act according to His will and to His plans for us.