pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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New and Improved

Reading: 2nd Kings 5:1-14

Verse 12: “So he turned and went off in a rage.”

Elisha and Naaman are the main characters in our passage from 2nd Kings 5. Elisha is the prophet in Samaria referred to by the slave girl. He too is confident in God and has a strong faith. Hearing of the king of Israel’s distress over the letter, Elisha sends a message: “Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” Naaman and his entourage are directed to Elisha’s house.

Instead of going out to greet this important general, Elisha sends out a messenger with this simple prescription: “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan…” Naaman, however, expects to be greeted. He expects something showy from the prophet. He has a deeply pressing need – to be healed of his leprosy – and he expects a matching response. Naaman receives none of this. He is insulted and angered by Elisha’s interaction with him. “So he turned and went off in a rage.”

Do you suppose Elisha was peeking out the window the whole time, evaluating how the scene played out? He was patient. Perhaps God told him Naaman needed more than a physical healing. Or maybe it was easy to see that Naaman needed an attitude adjustment. As he’s about to storm off, Naaman’s servants reel him back in. Convinced that he should at least try this simple thing, Naaman finds “his flesh restored.” His skin “became like that of a young boy.” Naaman isn’t just healed. He is new and improved. He is healthier than he could have ever hoped for. I suppose Elisha smiled broadly as he watched Naaman’s reaction to God at work in his life. How would you react if you were Naaman?

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for the reminder that you are a God who does more than. More than we expect. More than we can imagine. More than we deserve. More than we could ever earn. Thank you for your abundant and generous love that makes us new and improved. Amen.


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How Might We Walk?

Reading: 2nd Kings 2:1-6

Verses 2, 4, and 6: “Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here, the Lord has sent me to…'”

In last week’s reading from 1st Kings 19 we heard God twice ask Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Running for his life, filled with fear, Elijah runs far away, ending up on the mountain of God. On Horeb God questions Elijah – his dedication, his trust, his faith. Instead of giving up on or getting angry with Elijah, God sends him on his next mission. Elijah will go and will anoint Elisha as the next prophet of God’s people. After a little on the job training we arrive at today’s passage.

In today’s passage three times we hear Elijah say to Elisha, “Stay here, the Lord has sent me…” to Bethel, to Jericho, to the Jordan. Each stop is significant in the history of the Israelites. Each place is a place where Elisha could pause to worship God. Perhaps a lesson could be learned at each stop. But Elisha senses that his call this day is to walk with Elijah, his master. Each time Elijah tries to send him away, Elisha responds, “As surely as the Lord lives and you live, I will not leave you.”

Elisha continues on even when the prophets of Bethel tell him that the Lord will take Elijah that day. The prophets of Jericho repeat the message and Elisha walks on. Elisha walks on faithfully, knowing that the end is near. Walking steadfastly and without fear, Elisha demonstrates that he is ready to lead as a prophet of God. How might you and I walk today, revealing our faith and our trust in God?

Prayer: Lord God, I do not know where or to whom my steps might take me today. But I know you do. So I ask that you would lead and guide me each step, using me as you will. Amen.


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May They Know

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-12 (and 13-14)

Verse 9: “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit”.

Continuing from yesterday we see that Elisha and Elijah have at last arrived at the Jordan River. This is a place of transitions – it is where Joshua took on leadership from Moses as the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land. Joshua struck the water with Moses’ staff and they crossed over on dry land. Elijah takes his cloak and strikes the water – Elijah and Elisha cross over on dry land.

Elijah knows the time has come. He asks Elisha what he can do for him before he is taken from him. Elisha responds, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit”. He wants to continue the work of his master and to do so to an even greater degree. Elisha wants to be twice as connected to God. Elijah understands the request and the enormity of the request. He tells Elisha that it will be so if he sees him being taken away. After the chariots of fire whisk Elijah away to heaven, Elisha tears his clothes in grief.

In verses thirteen and fourteen we see that the cloak has been left behind for Elisha, just as the staff was given to Joshua. Asking, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah”? he strikes the Jordan with the cloak and crosses over on dry land. Clearly God is now with Elisha. The mantle has been passed. The Spirit of the Lord is upon Elisha.

At the close of Jesus’ ministry he too passed the mantle on to his disciples. To each of his disciples Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit. In this way, Jesus passed on the mantle – the task of being God’s love lived out in the world. Joshua would go on to lead as Moses had led, Elisha would go on to prophecy as Elijah had. In the same way, as disciples we are to go on as Jesus taught us to. Led by the Spirit we are to continue in his footsteps, offering sacrificial service, radical welcome, unconditional love, undeserved grace… Just as Jesus stood out from the religious and political leaders of his day, we too are to stand out.

The fifty prophets stood at a distance watching. As Elisha struck the Jordan and crossed over on dry land, they knew a prophet was in the land. As folks stand and watch us, may they know that Jesus is in the land. May they know.

Prayer: Lord God, pour out your Spirit. May it be evident in me. As others see me, watch me, hear me, spend time with me, may they sense the presence of Jesus within me. May this presence lead to questions, to conversation, and to the sharing of faith. Amen.


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Walking Into Places and Spaces

Reading: 2 Kings 2: 1-12

Verses 2, 4, and 6: “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”.

Photo credit: Lili Popper

As we begin this week we enter into the end of Epiphany, the season that focuses in on the revelation of Jesus Christ. In this season we highlight who and what Jesus is. Our call, however, is to reveal Jesus Christ to the world every day of our faith journey. It is fitting that this season culminates on Transfiguration Sunday, when the Christ is filled with light, revealing him in all of his glory. In each passage this week we enter into the thin spaces of holiness, into the places where God is at work.

As 2nd Kings opens there is turmoil in the land. The king tries to consult Baal, one of the local pagan gods. Elijah, God’s prophet, condemns this action and proclaims that the king will die. It is also time for Elijah to end his earthly life and to cede the role of prophet to Elisha. After clearly demonstrating that God is with him, Elijah comes down the mountain to walk out his final steps. Three times Elijah tries to leave Elisha behind, seeking to spare him. Each time they arrive at a new place, the local prophets come out and tell Elisha that the Lord is going to take Elijah from him. Three times Elisha asks them not to speak of it. Each time Elijah tries to leave him behind Elisha says, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”. He will not abandon Elijah. He will continue to walk faithfully with him. Elisha chooses to walk into that thin space with Elijah. As he walks through that space, Elisha is transformed from protege to prophet, from student to master, from one who follows to one who leads others into God’s presence.

As believers we too will face times when the Holy Spirit invites us to walk into those thin spaces, into those holy places. We will be called to be the presence of God in the lives of others. We will be asked to walk with another on a difficult journey. We will be asked to sit or pray with another in a time of pain or loss. We will be asked to share our faith and our hope with another who is lost or broken. In these sacred moments we will be called by the Holy Spirit, asked to be the very presence of God to another. Yes, it is scary and hard to step into those places and spaces. We do not go alone. The one who invites goes with us. The Spirit is ever present, ever ready to reveal the power of God’s love, peace, hope, power… through us. As we feel ourselves called and as we stand on the doorstep to these holy and sacred moments, may we too say, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you”.

Prayer: Lord God, each time that I have stepped into that thin space, you have been right there with me. Your Spirit leads and guides, strengthens and encourages. Each experience has been holy and sacred. Yet each first step is always hard. It ever requires trust and faith. Continue to give me the courage and belief to step into those places and spaces. Walk with me day by day. Amen.


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Moments of Faith

Reading: 2 Kings 5: 9-18

Verse 17: “Please let me… be given as much earth as two miles can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord”.

Naaman humbles himself and does what Elisha told him to do. It seemed so simple. On the journey over to Israel and then to Elisha’s house, Naaman must have envisioned some grand process to be healed. He must have thought a lot about returning to normal life. He would no longer be an outcast. No longer would his only human contact come through the violence of battle. No longer would others look at him in disgust. There would be a lot of emotions inside of Naaman.

After dipping himself seven times in the Jordan, Naaman’s flesh is restored, becoming “clean like the flesh of a young boy”. Healing! Healing! Naaman and his folks head back to Elisha’s to give him the thank you gifts that they brought. Elisha refuses the gifts. The proud Naaman would have become angry and perhaps left the gifts in a pile in the road. But Naaman is not so proud any more. He knows how he was healed: by the one true God. We cannot miss Naaman’s request: “Please let me… be given as much earth as two miles can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord”. He wants dirt. He must return home to continue his service to the king. But he wants enough dirt to stand or kneel upon to worship God. This request shows how grateful he is for his healing and how moved he is by God. To take a physical piece of Israel home to worship on speaks volumes about the impact of the healing upon Naaman. He wants to remember his God moment.

This is something we all do. As I look back over my faith journey, I can recall images of God moments. These experiences are etched in my mind. There are also physical items – like Naaman’s dirt. Each item is tied to a faith experience that moved me forward on my journey of faith. Take a moment or two and recall your God moments. Join me in thanking God for each and every one of them.

Prayer: Living God, thank you for the many ways and times that you have touched my life, reminding me over and over of your love for me. Please continue to do so. Amen.


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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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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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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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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?