pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Even in This

Reading: 1st Samuel 8: 10-20

Verse 18: “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”.

Photo credit: Nick Fewings

After God acquiesces to the people’s request for a king, God gives some words of warning to the people. Yes, a king can bring stability and leadership and authority to the nation. Yes, a king can negotiate with other kings and can lead the troops out into battle when needed. A king can fight for the people! But a king can also demand or, at times, take when the demands are not met. A king can call for military service and can seize land, crops, livestock, and servants. A king can tax the people to support his reign. A judge or prophet would never do any of these things. The leader that the people reject, God, would never do any of these things. Yet the people want a king.

All of this, both the good and the bad, comes true as king after king leads Israel. Reading through 1st and 2nd Kings, we see that God is right. There are more bad kings than good kings. The fate and the lives of the people rise or fall under the leadership of each king. Yet even though the people reject God in favor of a king, God remains engaged. Even though God grants them this autonomy, God does not abandon his children. God continues to send prophets to guide and redirect and shepherd these kings. God even chooses the first few kings.

God leads you and me in the same way. God does not force us to love and obey him or to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. God engages us, the Spirit leads and guides us. But we are free to choose our own kings, our own gods. God allows us free will, just as he did with the Israelites. God warned them, saying, “You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day”. When leadership is oppressive, selfish, authoritarian… God will allow them to learn their lesson. In time God will respond to their cries. We too experience this process. We have to endure a consequence for our poor choices. God will always forgive us when we’re repentant. But our poor choices and bad behaviors often impact others, creating ramifications. We too must go through a refining and learning process. Even in this, God is at work. Thanks be to God for loving us enough to always be there on the other side.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, your love always leads and informs. Your love is greater than our limitations and failures. We are ever a work in progress. You are so patient, so faithful, ever true. What a wonderful God you are! 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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Listen and Learn

Reading: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20

Verse 8: “Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy”.

On Monday I focused in on the call part of this passage. Just like Samuel, we all have a story of how God calls us. Samuel might not have known his call story if not for Eli. At this point, Eli is like Samuel’s father figure. Eli has raised Samuel since he was weaned from Hannah. Eli has been serving God a long time and has taught Samuel much, but “Samuel did not yet know the Lord”. Samuel knows who God is and knows a lot about God, but he does not know God. The head knowledge has not yet become heart wisdom. It is Eli that perceives that God is calling Samuel. Eli’s willingness to allow God to speak through another is a testament to his trust in God and to the love and trust that he has in Samuel. It is an example of humble servant leadership.

When Samuel does invite God to speak, the words are difficult to hear. Destruction will fall upon Eli’s household because Eli’s sons are “contemptible” and because Eli failed to “restrain them”. In the morning Eli presses Samuel, wanting to know what God said, probably sensing the bad news. Samuel speaks truth to Eli. Eli accepts the words, humbly acknowledging God’s goodness. I cannot imagine how hard it was for Samuel to say these words to Eli. Yet Samuel loves and trusts Eli enough to tell him.

Both Eli and Samuel understood that there was something bigger than themselves. Both Eli and Samuel loved and trusted God, as well as each other, enough to listen and to learn from each other. To listen and learn from each other. To understand the bigger picture. How our land needs these skills today! Both sides are so polarized that they cannot even hear each other, never mind listening to one another. Listening is essential. It is the only way to discern a good and right way forward. Yes, we can continue to plod down the road we are on, filled with self and contempt and half truths and rancor. We can walk the road of Eli’s household. Or we can choose a better way, one covered in love and peace and trust. These things will not come easy. Surrender never does. Elevating other over self, walking the path of unity and compromise, fighting for our way not my way – all are the work of a humble servant. May it be so Lord. Heal our land.

Prayer: Lord, the wind is howling here in South Dakota. Things are shaking and groaning. It reminds me of our nation right now. The winds can fan the flames or they can usher in something new. Bring a new sense of humble servant leadership to the land, blowing away the chaff. Bless us, O God. Amen.


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Whose Are You?

Reading: Matthew 21: 23-27

Verse 23: “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority”?

Today’s passage is about identity. It is about who we are and whose we are. So often our identity comes from what we do. When asked who we are, we often respond with words like pastor, doctor, student, teacher… We allow what we do to define who we are. Too often our work also defines whose we are. Many are beholding to their job. Some of the time we will describe who we are using other parameters – grandparent, oldest child, widow, free spirit… Perhaps, if feeling particularly brave or if in a comfortable crowd, we might say something like “child of God”.

Who we are in society’s eyes often is the basis of our authority or of how we see our authority. For many, their position or title at work grants them some measure of authority. The manager, for example, is in charge of the employees. Within that group a more veteran employee feels that they have a degree of authority over a new hire. When a person tries to take authority or when someone has better natural leadership… then the organizational structure begins to feel strain and unease. This is what leads to today’s two questions: “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority”? The religious leaders were feeling threatened by Jesus, just as they had been by John the Baptist. The religious leaders were the ones with the years of training and with the titles: Pharisee, Sadducee, scribe. Who was this carpenter from a small town? What did he think he was doing? What right did he have? Who does he think he is?

Instead of answering, Jesus asks a parallel question. Instead of asking what they thought about Jesus’ authority, he asks them about John the Baptist’s authority. In many ways, John and Jesus fit into the same box: untrained in the normal sense, clearly being empowered by God, speaking truth that drew crowds to them, changing lives. The leaders cannot “win”. To say John, and therefore Jesus, is from God would imply the hierarchy has shifted. That threatens their identity, who they are. To say John (or Jesus) is from men also threatens their place. Too large a crowd believes John was a prophet and that Jesus is from God. How else do you explain the miracles? The religious leaders place in society rests upon their answer. It is a hard question to answer truthfully while holding on to who you are.

Before we think too little of the religious leaders, let us consider how we would answer the question if someone questioned our faith or our place in God’s family. If we were asked whose we were, would we answer the same way at church as we would out in the public square?

Prayer: God of all, lead and guide me today to live under your authority and rule. May all I do and all I am be grounded in you. May my purpose and my identity come from you alone. Amen.


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Shepherd Kings

Reading: 2 Samuel 5: 1-5 and 9-10

Verse Two: “The Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler'”.

In many ways David is an early example of how a faithful believer should live their life. No, David is not perfect, but he does provide a very good example. The best example will always be Jesus, but in today’s passage we find a man who was closely attuned to God. From David we can learn much as individuals and as leaders.

Long before he was king, Samuel came and anointed David to one day be king. David was just a shepherd then. From that moment of anointing, we remember, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David” (1 Samuel 16:13). As we read through the rest of 1st Samuel and into 2nd Samuel, we see over and over how God was with David as David trusted and leaned into God, remaining ever faithful to God. The leaders of Israel saw this too. They gathered at Hebron to make David king over all of Israel. The people said, “The Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler'”. They want David to shepherd the nation. He will do so for forty years.

Often we relate the job of shepherd to the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. While there is some truth to this, we cannot miss the parallels between a shepherd and a leader as God intends one to lead. In Ezekiel 34 we get this job description for a shepherd: feed the sheep, heal the sheep, protect the sheep, strengthen the sheep, recover the lost sheep, guide the sheep, keep the flock together. This list sounds a lot like Jesus. This is also how David was a shepherd king for Israel. One of the main reasons that David is considered Israel’s greatest king ever is because under his leadership Israel prospered and lived in security and peace. Life was good for the sheep under David’s care.

How awesome would it be if all leaders led this way? What would life be like if peace and safety and security extended to all people? Today may we pray for our current leaders and for our future leaders – local, state, national, and world – to model their leadership after the shepherd king. Pray for our leaders. Amen.


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Lead

Reading: Matthew 23: 1-12

Verse 11: The greatest among you will be your servant.

Leadership today is usually about having good people skills, making wise decisions, knowing the intricacies of the trade, carefully using ones power, and gaining experience in one’s field.  Society may even overlook some behaviors or actions if the bottom line is healthy enough.  In our world we also see some trying to lead, but they lack some of the necessary qualities and skills to lead well.  Others are following their own agendas and are leading a very small band or a group of one.

Jesus addresses leadership in Luke 23.  He is talking once again about the religious leaders and the Pharisees.  He begins by acknowledging that they sit in the seat of authority.  Therefore, He says they deserve obedience.  But from here, Jesus addresses their woes.  First, they do not practice what they preach.  Second, they use the Law to place heavy burdens on the people but they themselves do nothing to help the people live out the Law.  Third, they love recognition.  They desire to be noticed and recognized for their apparent holiness and esteemed positions.  It is all about them and little about helping others to know God and to live devout and righteous lives.

Jesus then shifts the focus to who we should really be following.  He insists that there is really only one true Father and only one true Teacher.  God alone is to be worshipped and we should follow Jesus alone.  As John the Baptist said, we must become less so that Jesus can become more.  Jesus also speaks of this today, saying, “The greatest among you will be your servant”.  The greatest here on earth will be the servant.  Faith is about loving God and, in turn, loving others.

The humble servant loves and serves and then points to Jesus Christ and His love as the reason why.  This is the task of all Christians: through our lives we are to point others to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.  To a degree, we are all called to lead.  By our prayers, our presence, our witness, our service, and our gifts, may we always lead others to Christ.  As we live out our lives and as we love others as humble servants of the Lord our God, may we ever shine the light on Jesus, the author of our faith.


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Caught Up in Conflict

Reading: Exodus 17: 5-7

Verses 5 and 6: Walk on ahead of the people… I will stand there before you.

At times we have all experienced flaps and disagreements in our churches.  Generally speaking these conflicts are not over large theological issues.  These issues, for the most part, have been hashed out and settled as the different denominations have formed and defined themselves.  Today the conflicts tend to center around personal preferences and choices.  But some of the conflicts center around important and path-altering issues or decisions.  Such is the conflict Moses faces today, at least on the surface.

The central issue is the lack of water for the people and the livestock.  Water is an essential of life so it is a need, not a want or a personal preference.  But the issue is brought forth with much grumbling and a bit of complaining.  It is not an open and honest conversation.  Couched within the need is a questioning of both Moses’ leadership and God’s care for the people.  Conflict often has multiple layers to it.

Moses has some options on how he could handle the situation.  At first one can read some frustration into his words with God.  Moses could go to the grumblers and react back out of his emotional hurt.  But this does no good so he instead seeks out the one who can give him a little guidance and some empathy.  Moses turns to God and God gives him guidance, directions, and reassurance.  God instructs Moses to “walk on ahead of the people”.  He is instructed to take some elders along – wise and trusted leaders, not the grumblers.  ‘Gather some support around you’ is what God is saying here.  God then says, “I will stand there before you”.  God will be there with Moses.  Then strike the rock and water will pour out.  God will meet the need and He will be present for Moses, bringing him reassurance as God reinforces Moses’ leadership role.

Moses’ example gives us good steps to follow when we feel caught up in conflict.  Don’t take it personal, seek God as trusted friend and guide, proceed forward in God’s presence.  Doing so, we know that God is in our thoughts and decisions and that God is in control.


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How Far?

Servant leadership is difficult.  It is pretty easy to serve, to go out and do for others.  There are lots of needs that can be met and many people who would appreciate a group of volunteers showing up to help them out.  If one is gifted with certain characteristics, then leadership can also be pretty easy.  As people rise into higher positions, we usually recognize these characteristics in the person.  Almost all leadership positions come with some level of power and authority.  Jesus warns against using this to lord one’s position over others.

Great leaders do not dominate but include others.  Great leaders do not dictate but they participate.  Great leaders have vision and drive and purpose and they spread this to those on their team.  Great leaders build up their team and keep it moving towards its goals and purposes.  If one is able to lead in this manner, power and authority tend to find them.  To be a servant as well can be difficult.

As servants we must sometimes do things we do not want to do.  As servant leaders we may have to lead others in doing these things.  Great servant leaders have a gift for bringing others along on these difficult journeys.  Jesus gave us many great examples of the leader serving and He calls us to do the same.  How far are we willing to go?  On the cross the Most High suffered and died for the lowly and sinful, for the sake of saving us.  How far will we go to save the least and the lost, the sinful and the broken?  Leaders go as far as needed.  May we go where He sends us.

Scripture reference: Mark 10: 42-45


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True Leadership

How often do we long for power and authority?  Not to be under it, but to have it.  How often do we think, “If only I were in charge…”?  How often do we think, “Man, I am glad I am not in charge of that …”?  At one time or another we all have these kinds of thoughts.  And the truth is that we sometimes crave power and at other times we are as happy as we can be when we have no responsibilities al all.

James and John ask Jesus if they could sit at His left and right in glory.  But alas, Jesus tells them that these spots are already spoken for.  The other ten, when they hear about this request, are naturally angry that James and John could even ask such a thing.  But in reality most of them probably fluctuated between thinking ‘how could they ask for such a thing’ and ‘why didn’t I think of that’.  Jesus gently redirects all of their focus (and ours): whoever wants to be great must become a servant, like a slave to all.  What a 180 degree swing!

True leadership in the Jesus model is exhibited by being in humble service to those in our lives.  It is making the choice to think of others before considering yourself.  It is at times denying self in order to be able to help another.  It is being willing to make a sacrifice in the name of the One who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Jesu asked James and John if they could drink the cup He was going to drink.  They said yes and they did, both giving their all and dying for Jesus, their King.  He asks us the same question.

Scripture reference: Mark 10: 35-45


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In Charge by One

When Samuel went to Bethlehem to anoint Israel’s next king, he was looking for what we often look for in a leader –  strong, powerful, mighty, charismatic…  Some of these are surface characteristics but others are ‘hidden’ or are things we can sense about someone.  But this is some of the typical list that we look for in our leaders.  They are also characteristics that many of us would like applied to ourselves as well!

But God told Samuel ‘No, no no!’  God told him that it is what is in the heart that matters.  In essence, God told him, ‘To rule my people Israel, faithfulness to me is what matters.’  A heart for God is what counts.  To rule or leas from the perspective of God is what is needed.

It is still what matters today.  It does not matter if you own your own business or if you are in charge or a large number of people.  To live with a heart turned to God matters just as much as if you are only leading yourself.  Most of us fall somewhere in between owning our own business and leading just ourselves.  It does not matter.  Leading a God-filled, spirit-led life is ALL that matters.  And we each are fully in charge of whether or not we live that way.  Seek God.  Love God.  Share God.