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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A Simple Faith

Reading: 2nd Kings 5:1-14

Verse 3: “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

As we begin the first of two days in 2nd Kings 5 let us focus on the supporting characters. Tomorrow we’ll look at the main characters: Naaman and Elisha. Verse 1 sets the scene. Naaman is a great and powerful man, an army commander from Aram. He is highly regarded by the king of Aram. But Naaman has leprosy, a skin disease.

The main supporting character is a slave girl from Israel. She was taken captive, possibly in a raid led by Naaman. She surveys his condition and declares, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” What an honest and strong faith she has! Just go and see the prophet and be healed. Her declaration leads Naaman to the king, who says, “By all means, go.” He sends a letter along to the king of Israel, expecting Naaman to be healed. This is a lot of trust to place in the faith of a simple slave girl.

The king of Israel receives the letter and tears his robes. He fears that the king of Aram is trying to pick a fight by asking him to do the impossible. What a contrast to the faith of a simple slave girl. Elisha intercedes and Naaman is sent to Elisha. A servant of Elisha – not the prophet himself – comes out and gives instructions. Angry and insulted, Naaman is ready to go home mad. But his servants intervene, calling him to trust in this simple slave girl’s faith. Naaman submits and he is healed. He in made clean.

What a great healing comes from the contagious faith of a simple slave girl! In this big old world most of us are not a Naaman or an Elisha. Yet we can practice a powerful faith, one that trusts in the power of God and invites others to do the same. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, in my heart I know that you can do anything. Help me today to reflect that in my words, actions, and thoughts. Doing so, may others come to know you too. Amen.


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Really That Simple

Reading: Galatians 5:1 and 13-21

Verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

Paul begins our passage today with a word of encouragement: “Christ has set us free. Stand firm.” No longer living under the Law, Paul has found freedom in Christ. Yes, he still wrestles with sin, as we all do, but he has been freed from the guilt and shame. No longer remaining stuck there, Paul has been freed to follow Jesus Christ and to live captive to Christ. No longer hindered by that old “yoke of slavery” to the Law, Paul stands firm in his faith in Jesus Christ and invites us to join him.

The freedom Paul finds is not a “you can do anything you want” freedom but a freedom lived within the bounds of Christ’s words and example. Paul identifies the filter for determining this line in verse 14. Here he reminds us: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Is he speaking of the old Jewish Law or of the new law of Jesus Christ? Or is it both? I believe it is both. Jesus himself said that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5). He fulfilled it by being God’s love lived out in the world. Doing so, Jesus was led by God or the Spirit, as Paul refers to in verses 16-18. Led by the Spirit, Christ was not captive to the desires of the sinful nature. We too can claim this Holy Spirit power and the freedom it brings.

In verse 19-21 Paul gives quite the list of “acts of the sinful nature.” Even though quite the list, it is quite incomplete. That maybe being a given, the sins on Paul’s list and on any other list we can generate come down to following the single command given in verse 14. If we truly love our neighbor more than self, we will not sin against them or against God. It’s really that simple: love unconditionally and fully.

Prayer: Lord God, help me to see with your eyes of love. This is where so many of my relationships and my interactions begin, with what I see. So let me see all as you see them, as a beloved child of God. Then lead me to love them – all of them – in a way that they come to better know your love. Amen.


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In Christ

Reading: 2nd Corinthians 5: 16-17

Verse 17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”.

Our verses for today begin with Paul inviting us to look beyond the world and its points of view. Too often we see as the world sees. People of faith can be just like the world in terms of how we define ourselves and others. We too easily see and understand ourselves and others through terms like race, class, gender, occupation, ethnicity, age, and so on. Too often terms like these lead to judging another’s worth and value – all us relative to how we see or define ourselves. Jesus did not see or understand the world and the people he encountered this way. Why should we think it OK to do so?

Who we are and how we see and understand ourselves is part of our sacredness. God created all of us, knit us together in love. Our worth and our value is rooted in this holy creation. Each created by God, each made in the image of our God – this is how we should see and understand ourselves and others. No worldly terms or constructs should in any way lessen how we see and understand and love ourselves and one another.

Early in the history of the church a deadly disease spread through many communities. Out of fear of dying themselves, many people placed loved ones out in the street to die. It was those early Christians who took the sick into their homes to care for them, to love on them. The early church did not care that they were pagans or Jews or that they were rich or poor or anything else. Jesus had instructed them to care for the least of these. How far some of us have gotten from such simple instructions.

As followers of Jesus Christ may we reclaim the vision and love of the one we say we follow. Loving and caring for all we meet and encounter, may we see and understand each as created by God, each as beloved by God. Doing so we live into these words: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”. In Christ may we transform ourselves, the church, and the world into a more loving, caring, and just place.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me this day to love as Jesus Christ loved. Grant me eyes to see all as you see them – created in love by you. Seeing as you see, may I live out your love in the world each day. Amen.


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The Divine Heart

Reading: Luke 1: 47-55

Verses 52-54: “He has… lifted up the humble… filled the hungry… remembering to be merciful”.

As we read this beautiful song offered up by Mary, I can’t but wonder if the baby in her womb and connected to her heart heard these words and began to internalize them. As a young man Jesus would have been raised by this faithful soul. He would have been taught the faith by Mary and Joseph, learning of how God loved the people and of his great mercy towards them. In her song Mary also personalizes these aspects of God – “called me blessed”… “done great things for me”. In her song Mary glorified both the God of Israel and the God of her heart.

Towards the end of the song Mary recognizes God’s preference for the lowly and meek, for the simple and ordinary. Mary’s God is one who “scatters the proud” and “brings down rulers”. In Jesus’ ministry we certainly see evidence of these actions being lived out and we hear of their completion in his return. In verses 52 through 54 Mary glorifies her God who “lifted up the humble… filled the hungry… remembering to be merciful”. Again, Jesus will live out the heart of his mother and the heart of his God as he ministers to the poor, the lost, the broken, the least, the sinners.

The divine heart clearly connects to and values and loves those who are suffering, those on the fringes, those without power or voice. Just as Mary sings, the divine heart has always loved and cared for such as these. You and I were created with this spark of the divine within us. We hear it beating in Mary’s song and we feel it beating in our own hearts. May we live it out each day.

Prayer: God of the outcast and marginalized, help me to draw close to those you love. Lead me to be your hands and feet and voice in our hurting world. Use me as part of your desire to bring healing and hope. Amen.


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Pray, Listen

Reading: 2nd Samuel 7: 1-11 and 16

Verse 2: “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”.

At this point in his story, David is at a good place. He has conquered all of his enemies. He has established Jerusalem as the capital. He has a beautiful home made of expensive wood. Life is good. David calls in his advisor, the prophet Nathan, and says to him, “Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”. Nathan thinks it a splendid idea to build God a big fancy home. But before David can even begin to line up all the workers and start gathering up all the materials, God reigns him in.

God begins with a question. He asks David, “Are you the one”? God reminds them that he has not had a house, well, ever. God once had a garden… But God has never once even asked for a house. A house is, after all, a human construct. God is perfectly content with a tent. It is adequate. It is simple. It is humble. In this season, it reminds me of the manger.

David does something here in today’s passage that I can do too. I can set my plans out before God’s plans. This happens one of two times and both are equally dangerous. Like with David, when things are going well, I can strike off with my own grand idea for ministry or service. On the other end of the spectrum, when things are going really bad, I can try quick fixes, much like firing darts at the dartboard while blindfolded. In both cases I fail to do what David failed to do: pray. Include God at the planning and thinking stages instead of at the point that the ship is sinking. Too often our plans can be formed and executed without God’s help and guidance. Usually these end with God reigning me back in, with me learning another hard lesson. Step one: pray.

As I read and pondered this passage this morning, at first I thought, ‘If only I had a Nathan’, one sent by God to guide me, to help me, to lead me, to walk with me. And then I realized that I do. The Holy Spirit is my personal connection to God. Thinking back on my hard lessons, I can see when I ignored the quiet whisper, when I shoved back against the gentle nudge. Step two is to listen, to hear.

To pray and to listen are two key steps on our walk of faith. Both align us and keep us in tune with God. May all we do and say and think begin with these two steps: pray and listen. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for this reminder today. In my too frequent battles with pride and wanting to be in control, reminders of your ways are always needed. Thank you for the reminder today. Amen.


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The Chance to Witness

Reading: John 1: 6-8

Verse 7: “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe”.

The opening verses of John’s gospel are beautiful and introduce Jesus to the readers in a way unlike the other three gospels. So too is the way that John the Baptist is introduced and brought into the story of Jesus. In verse six we hear, “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John”. It is simple and straight forward, but tells the reader all we need to know. In Luke 1 we have a detailed description of the events leading up to and of John’s miraculous birth. Like Mark, John jumps right into the meat of the story. John describes it this way: “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe”. This verses contains two pronouns and a reference to “that light” that beg further thought and draw the reader into exploring the text.

The first “he” refers to John the Baptist. As we read last week, John the Baptist came as a “messenger” sent to “prepare the way”. John did so by preaching a “baptism of repentance” (Mark 1). “That light” refers back to verses four and five from the powerful opening of John 1. In Jesus we find “life” and John refers to this as “the light of men”, a light that the gospel writer describes as one that “shines in the darkness”. This light that shines in our darkness reveals the sins and struggles within each of us and in our world. This connects to the personal call in Isaiah 40 to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord by making “straight in the wilderness a highway for the Lord”. This involves clearing away the sin and other obstacles that keep us from walking in faith with Jesus Christ.

The “him” refers not to the witness but to the one to whom John the Baptist is witnessing, to Jesus Christ. It is in and on Jesus that we believe. Here John the Baptist is pointing away from himself and on to Jesus Christ. John knew his role, his place in the work of the kingdom of God. Reading on, in verse nine, John points even more directly to Jesus.

John the Baptist was a witness, one sent to testify, just as we are called to be and do. While none of us are likely to be in a street corner or out in a field preaching today (the modern equivalents of John’s place by the Jordan River), we will all have opportunities to witness to our faith and belief in Jesus Christ. When people notice our calm in the storm or our strength in the trial, when others take note of our generosity or of our kindness to all, these are opportunities to do as John did – to point to Jesus. He is the source of our calm, of our strength, of our mercy and grace. When given the chance to witness, may we point to the light of the world, to Jesus Christ our Savior.

Prayer: Lord God, may your light shine in me today. Through Jesus, fill me with a spirit of power. Use that Holy Spirit power to tell the story of what Jesus has done and will do for me and for all who believe. Amen.


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Hear, Listen, (Follow)

Reading: Psalm 78:1

Verse 1: “O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth”.

Just one simple verse today. It is God’s plea for our attention and focus. It is spoken to you and to me: “O my people”. To adhere to this plea anchors our life in something more important than anything else: our relationship with God. This, in turn, anchors all of our other relationships, leading us to walk each of our days in truth and love.

“O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth”. It is such a simple plea. Hear and listen – take in and understand the words of life, make them your guiding light. I’ve often thought that I could do better if I lived in a monastery. But even there, isolated from the world, there’d be the longing to be the next head monk. The thoughts that I was the most pious or hardest working would creep in. At times I’d long for the things of the world. Even in an isolated place I would be driven to gain the approval of others. Most all of us would struggle with these things.

No matter where we lay our heads down and no matter where we spend our working hours, we must all strive to be “in the world but not of it”. Defining what is most important in our lives and then living by it is a challenge to us all. Tuning out the other voices, the distractions, the shiny and the enticing – for all of us this is a constant battle. God longs for us to stop each day, to be still, to hear his voice, his word. When we do stop and hear, we are better able to listen and then to follow. May it be so. Amen.

Prayer: O great teacher, life is found in you and in your words. In your son’s example we see what it looks like to really hear and listen and live the words out. May I understand and follow the words of life each day. Amen.


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Step by Step

Reading: Matthew 16: 17-20

Verse 20: “Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ”.

In response to the question that we were pondering yesterday Peter had declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. As we continue today in Matthew 16, Jesus praises both God and Peter for this revelation. Jesus is elated that God has blessed Peter with this understanding. Jesus tells Peter that he will be the foundation of the church. Jesus will use Peter to lead the church as the Holy Spirit moves out in mission. Peter and the disciples will be given the “keys” – the wisdom, courage, faith, trust, words, actions… to loose Christianity upon the world, binding hearts to God. It is quite the statement that Jesus makes. It is one of the most effusive and encouraging statements from Jesus that we find in the Gospels.

And then Jesus warns the disciples “not to tell anyone that he was the Christ”. What?! Wait a minute. Hold on! Without digging a little deeper, this warning seems out of place. Just as Jesus’ words to Peter are a future thing, so too is sharing that he is the Messiah. To go out and to start proclaiming this would be like reading the last few pages of the book first. It would alter how you read the story. It would be like us sharing “Jesus’ blood will wash away your sins” as our opening line to a non-believer. In their minds they would think, “Blood? Sins?” and our conversation would be over. Yes, we might keep talking.

While the statement is true, it is not a good starting point for sharing our faith with a non-believer. We can get there, but first we must share how Jesus makes a difference in our lives. We can get to salvation and atonement and justification… but we must start with how Jesus changed our life. Our relatively simple but deeply personal faith stories have the power to change lives.

Through Jesus’ life and teachings and through the disciples and apostles, people came to know Jesus as the Messiah, as the Lord of their lives. It is a journey, not a destination. Faith grows one step at a time. Today may we help another move one step closer to Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, give me the words to say, the level at which to share, in each encounter today. Guide me by the power of the Holy Spirit to help draw others closer to you. Amen.


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Holy Spirit Prayer

Reading: Romans 8: 26-27

Verse 27: “The Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”.

Our prayer lives can run the gamut from rote mealtime prayers to times of deep prayer where we are barely using words. Our simple mealtime prayers are an acknowledgement of God’s gifts and a request for God’s blessings. Our daily prayers are usually petitions and requests, sometimes with a little thanksgiving and confession sprinkled in. In times of more pressing need our prayers can take on an urgency or a desperation that usually reflect our human emotions rather than God’s will and ways. Our hearts and lips will also offer breath or thought prayers. For example, in my prayer life the sound of sirens trigger a simple prayer for the EMTs… and for those being responded to…

All forms of prayer are good because they connect us to God. Prayer, at its roots, is simply communication with God. At its most basic it is simple and plain communication – like saying hello to the person you pass on the sidewalk. As we work our way into deeper prayer the communication becomes more and more personal, more honest, more transparent. The deepest prayer involves laying oneself bare before God and giving oneself up in total surrender. There is a feeling of vulnerability and a sense of discomfort to this level of prayer. Today, though, Paul reveals a truth about prayer.

In verse 26 we read that the Spirit intercedes for us – often in “groans that words cannot express”. The Spirit searches our hearts and then “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”. The indwelling presence of the living God searches our hearts and then prays for us in accordance with God’s will. These are honest and sincere prayers. They are open and full of transparency. Knowing that the Spirit is praying with and for us in this manner should free us up to bring anything and everything to God. The Spirit already is.

Our prayer life will operate on many levels. On occasion, though, may we delve a bit deeper in prayer, to that place of sighs and groans, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us into a deep intimacy with God. There we will find out deepest connection to the Lord our God.

Prayer: God, I recognize the call to deep and intimate prayer begins with a step away from the busyness and noise of the world. And then I must take willing and intentional steps into your presence. Give me the courage and strength to step there, into your light and love. Draw me in today, O Lord. Amen.