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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Even the Dogs

Reading: Mark 7: 24-30

Verse 28: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Photo credit: Charles Deluvio

At the start of our passage Jesus and the disciples travel to Tyre, a city along the coast north of Israel. Jesus is looking for some rest as they enter a house hoping no one notices. Yet even in this Gentile land the rumors of Jesus have crept in. Scholars believe that some from this region would have traveled to see this Jesus. Because of all this, “he could not keep his presence secret.” A woman, a Gentile, comes and falls at his feet, begging Jesus to heal her demon-possessed little daughter.

While on an attempted getaway someone wants Jesus to be Jesus, the Son of God, the healer. We’ve all been interrupted on vacation. We know what it is like. Add in the inherent cultural bias present in almost all Jew-Gentile interaction and this was a hard request for Jesus to receive. After all, he was partly human. In an attempt to dismiss her, Jesus says these words: “First let the children eat all they want”. He came to save the lost sheep of Israel, the children of God, the chosen ones. Let him care for them first. To add haste to her possible departure, Jesus continues, saying, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” The Jewish-Gentile antagonism that was all around Jesus slips out of his lips as he calls her and her people a “dog.” The Jews saw the Samaritans and others from the north as half-breeds and often called them dogs or worse.

We’ve all been really tired and in need of rest. We’ve all been interrupted when it was annoying or inconvenient or frustrating or… Some of those times I have not been the most gracious. I have said things or responded in ways that I am not proud of. Perhaps you have too. I think Jesus did this day. But the woman’s belief in Jesus as the healer and her love for her daughter is greater. The dismissive words and the insult do not deter her. She says, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” But you can heal my daughter. But you are here right now. But even us Gentiles deserve a little bit of God’s mercy.

Jesus is moved. For such faith the daughter is healed. He tells her to go home, the demon is gone. It is as Jesus said as the woman returns to her daughter. As we will also see later in the week, Jesus was not just for the Jews or is not just for Christians today. His love and care extends to the ends of the earth, covering all people in his grace. The challenge for us as followers of Jesus Christ is to allow the Spirit to work within us too, leading us to love as Jesus loved. May it be so – even when we are tired, even when the other isn’t ‘ours’ or isn’t just like us!

Prayer: Lord God, give me the strength and the courage to love well, no matter the situation, no matter how I feel. Always fill me with your love and grace so that I have plenty to offer. Amen.


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When I Am Weak

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 12: 2-10

Verse 9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson

As our passage today begins, Paul speaks of himself in the third person. He tells of a “man” who has a grand vision of heaven. There he witnessed “inexpressible things”. Paul could choose to tell all about this vision but he refrains. He does not want others to “think more of me” than they should. Paul’s language here reminds me of those ‘just asking for a friend’ questions we give or receive once in a while.

In our time many are drawn to leaders with awesome resumes, excellent credentials, and/or with amazing charisma and leadership skills. It was not any different in Paul’s day. There is never a shortage of people that want to lead or that think they are just the best leader ever. Both are in great supply. Paul could have boasted of his encounter with the risen Lord or of his vision of heaven. Instead he admits his weakness and his brokenness. He chooses the path of humility. Paul shares that he has a “thorn” in his flesh. It torments him and he has begged God to take it away. God will not. The Lord instead tells him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. The Lord allows the thorn to stay to remind Paul again and again that he’s not perfect, that he’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread. Paul can think back to his Pharisee days and say, ‘I once knew a guy like that…’

Paul was found by Christ and has matured in his faith. He now knows that when he is weak, Christ is strong. When insult or persecution or hardship comes, Paul now relies even more on Jesus Christ. It is then that Paul finds strength. It is then that we are strong too – when we rely on and trust in Christ. In humble faith may we ever turn to the only one who can save: Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, in Paul I see Jesus’ humble servant’s attitude. When I look within, may my life and leadership reflect this same grace and humility. Remind me of my flaws and weaknesses when I think too much of self. Thank you God. Amen.


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Loving the Outsiders

Reading: Matthew 15: 21-28

Verse 22: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me”.

Today’s passage is one with layers. A simpler version would tell of a woman who came to Jesus and received healing for her daughter. That is the basic story. But our story is layered with cultural prejudice and years of dislike and distrust. The story contains relatively few words between Jesus and the woman and the disciples. It does not get unpacked later in a private moment with the twelve.

By identifying her as a Canaanite woman Matthew is pointing out a barrier. In his world, you were either a Jew or you were not. If you were, you were in. If you were not you were an outsider, a heathen, unclean. Yet she identifies Jesus as “Lord” and as the “Son of David” – she recognizes him as the Messiah, as the Savior of the world. She begs for healing for her daughter. She at least knows that Jesus is a healer. Jesus does not answer her. She persists. What do we make of his silence? Maybe Jesus is testing her sincerity, her level of commitment, her faith. Perhaps he is struggling within with the cultural biases that he grew up with. Or maybe the time is allowed for the disciples’ benefit. The disciples buckle first, asking Jesus to “send her away”. Instead he replies, engaging her while putting her off. Jesus tells her that he came to the Jews only. He is reminding her that she is an outsider. Or… is he reminding the disciples? Or himself? Or us? She begs again.

Jesus adds insult to his next “no”, calling her a “dog”. This is cultural slang for all those below or outside of the pure Jewish religion. It is a degrading and demeaning term. This is not the Jesus we know and love, is it? So we must ask “why?” Is the human inside struggling? Is it to force the disciples to reconsider their own prejudices? They will soon enough be going out into the world of the Gentiles with the good news. Or is it to add emphasis to the healing of the other?

The Canaanite woman sticks to it, noting that “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table”. She again identifies Jesus as the One, as the Lord of all, as the master. She does not want to take Jesus from the ones he is sent to, she just wants a little of him too. Her great faith is applauded by Jesus and the daughter is healed.

This is a powerful and complex story of how Jesus loves even the outsider. How will our love reflect his love today?

Prayer: Loving God, thank you for this story that challenges and forces my love and welcome a bit wider. Continue to work in me and in my heart, removing all that hinders and limits how I love others. Amen.


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Simple Invitation

Reading: John 9: 24-41

Verse 33: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”.

As we pick up the story half way through today, the conversation becomes much more heated and lively. The religious leaders ask the man to explain what happened a second time and he responds by asking them, “Do you want to become his disciples, too”? This could not be further from the truth. The religious react strongly in a negative way, hurling insults at him. This reveals the true nature of their questions and also the true state of their hearts. They desperately want to discredit Jesus and to maintain their place of religious superiority. The man’s heart is also revealed. He asks a sincere question as his heart is now becoming the heart of a disciple.

In spite of the religious leaders’ harsh and angry words, the man stands his ground. They claim not to know where Jesus comes from. He is happy to tell them. He first reminds them that God does not listen to sinners but does listen to those who do his will. His parting words also ring with truth: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”. At this point he is thrown out of the temple. The light of Jesus Christ shining into their darkness is more than they could take. If we are as brave sharing our faith as this man was, we too will encounter rejection and maybe abuse at times.

Hearing of all that had happened Jesus finds the man. He inquires if the man believes. The man is searching. At this crucial moment Jesus reveals that he is the Son of Man. In pure emotion and faith, the man worships Jesus. This is a scene that has continued to play out over and over as the risen Christ meets people as they seek him. His first calling of the disciples came with the simple invitation, “Come and see” (John 1). That continues to be the simple invitation: come and see who Jesus is, allow him to change your life. As modern day disciples, may we continue to cast the light and to spread the love of Jesus, inviting others to come and see, to meet Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

Prayer: Today, God, today use me as you will. Reveal your will as I seek to live as your hands, feet, and voice. Fill me with your light and love, allow it to overflow. Amen.


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What Then

Reading: Luke 3: 7-18

Verse 10: “What then should we do”?

Perhaps you remember a few years ago when the WWJD bracelets and t-shirts were popular. The WWJD stood for “What Would Jesus Do?” It was a way to focus Christians in on how they should live out their faith. In many ways, John the Baptist is a precursor to this movement. He is helping people to prepare for the way of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ.

There was a certain feel-good aspect to the whole WWJD movement. Although John the Baptist was a bit confrontational, there was a feel-good aspect to what John was doing out there in the wilderness. Our passage today begins with John addressing those who only want to look religious. The “vipers” look good but their faith has no depth. They are the folks today who come to church on Sunday morning and go home and swear at the television because their team is losing a ball game.

Some in the crowd hear John’s confrontation not as insult but as challenge. It is interesting to note who hears the challenge. The ordinary people in the crowd and the dreaded tax collectors and the hated Roman soldiers. Yes, there is a Good Samaritan angle to this passage too. In a similar way to this later teaching of Jesus, the religious leaders only hear insult in John’s words. He warns them, saying not to just claim Abraham as their father and think all is good. To many today, John would say, ‘Don’t just show up for an hour on Sunday and wear your little WWJD bracelet to work (or school)’. Just saying or pretending to be a Christian isn’t worth much.

To those whose hearts hear John’s message, there is a good conviction that occurs. In response they ask him, “What then should we do”? John’s response is what the WWJD gear was supposed to do: illicit the godly response in all situations. In essence, John said, ‘Do the right thing’. Share what you have, treat others well, don’t abuse your power, be content. Jesus would say, “Love your neighbor as yourself”. May we each go and do likewise.

Prayer: O Lord, sometimes I fall short. When I do, send your Holy Spirit, loud and clear, reminding me of my call to love and care for all of your children. May it ever be so. Amen.