pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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A Shoot… Bear Fruit

Reading: Isaiah 11:1-5

Verse 1: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.”

Sometimes all we can focus on is what we see and hear around us. Sometimes the noise is so loud and the swirl so powerful. We can struggle to see or hear beyond the immediate. For the Israelites of Isaiah’s day, their nation had been soundly defeated; their homes, city, and temple were destroyed; and, many people were hauled off into exile. That’s a lot of noise and swirl. Into that scene Isaiah says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.” Yes, all appears dead. All seems lost. Hope is all but gone.

Now, God isn’t promising to make things immediately right again. God isn’t going to spare them from the consequences of their deep sin. But God is saying that this is not the end of the story. Maybe looking around there were a few saying, ‘Yah, right, God.’ I can go there when the noise and swirl are strong. So Isaiah goes on to describe this shoot. The spirit of God will rest upon him in wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and with a fear (or reverence) of God. Wow. This new leader will really be something. Imagine such a leader. Hope rises.

Yet God is not promising another David or even a Solomon. No, we must also hear verses 3-5. This king won’t just address what is easily seen with his eyes or heard with his ears. It’s much deeper. Righting this ship will strike at the roots. It will require righteousness, justice, and faithfulness. These qualities have been sorely lacking in the nation of Israel. These words may temper hope for some of the Israelites. Much like they would in our world today. Yet these words are true. They are a promise. Hope will come. The Lord will bear good fruit. We are called to be people of hope. May we go into the world today, seeking to live a life of active faith and hope.

Prayer: Lord God, the gift of this shoot brought hope and peace and love into the world, bearing good fruit. Through Jesus Christ you have begun to restore and redeem all of creation. May my words and actions help to build this new kingdom of righteousness, justice, and faithfulness. Amen.


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Reign of Christ

Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6

Verse 5: “I will raise up a righteous branch, a king who will rule wisely and do what is right and just in the land.”

Photo credit: Milo Weiler

As we begin this week that culminates on “Christ the King” Sunday, we begin with our only Old Testament reading. Jeremiah begins this passage with a brief word of warning. He proclaims, “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” In the next two verses we see that this will not go unpunished. Because God is faithful, though, God will regather the sheep.

Beginning in verses 3-4 God speaks of restoration. God will “gather the remnant of my flock” and will “place shepherds over them who will tend them.” God will begin to rebuild the flock, to restore the people of God. The culmination of this process comes in verse 5. Here we read, “I will raise up a righteous branch, a king who will rule wisely and do what is right and just in the land.” This branch will be Jesus. He will bring justice and righteousness and salvation. He will be the King of Kings and will be “the Lord our righteousness.” All this has come to be. Today all believers seek to live under the reign of Christ the King.

The question for us as we begin this week of “Christ the King,” leading into the season of Advent, is this: How do we reflect the reign of Christ upon the throne of our heart? This is a challenging question. Because we are sheep, we wander. So we need the Good Shepherd to rule in our lives. Living in our heart, Christ calls us to reflect his love, his mercy, his compassion, his justice, and his righteousness to the world. Living as children of salvation, may we faithfully reflect the reign of Christ in our hearts this week.

Prayer: Lord, shepherd me this week, each day, as I strive to reflect you as the king of my heart. When you give me the opportunity may I reflect you well to a world in need. May the light of Christ in my heart shine into the darkness, sharing the path of salvation with all. Amen.


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What We Can

Reading: Habakkuk 2:1-4

Verse 1: “I will stand at my watch… I will look to see what God will say to me.”

Photo credit: Tyler Milligan

Moving into chapter 2 of Habakkuk the prophet has registered his complaint with God: there is much evil in the world and it is destroying the nation. Before pressing on, let us admit that this is a 2,600-year-old complaint that remains relevant today. Habakkuk wants to know what God is going to do about it.

Habakkuk does not ask God like we ask God with most of our prayers and petitions. He doesn’t pray about this and then forget about it until the next time his morning or evening prayer time rolls around. No, he declares, “I will stand at my watch.” Habakkuk will wait faithfully upon the Lord. He will take up his post on the ramparts and will wait patiently for God to answer. In faith and hope and trust he states, “I will look to see what God will say to me.” He is sure that God will answer his complaint.

And God does answer. God says, “Though it linger, wait for him.” It will not be a short wait. But hold onto your faith and hope and trust. Wait patiently. For Habakkuk and his generation, it will be a 600 year wait for the Messiah to come. For those of us reading this response post-resurrection, the wait is almost 2,000 years and counting. We await Christ’s second coming.

The evils that drew Habakkuk’s complaint remain present today. Personifying evil, God says, “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright.” Even so, God says to wait, to be patient, to keep the faith. Calling for our trust, God says, “The righteous will live faithfully.” Doing what we can to resist evil, to fight for justice, to do good in the world, may we live faithfully day by day, shining light into the darkness of the world.

Prayer: Lord God, while evil abounds in this world, your love is greater. While evil plots destruction and ruin, your love and grace triumphs in good. Use me day by day to bring light into the darkness, offering the healing and wholeness that Jesus brings to those who are lost and hurting and broken. May it be so today and every day. Amen.


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Again and Again

Reading: Luke 18:1-8

Verse 7: “Will not God bring about justice for God’s chosen ones, who cry out day and night?”

Returning today to Luke 18 we focus on the widow and her faith. She was fully convinced that an injustice had been done against her. As a widow, she was powerless to affect change in this case. The judge was her only option. So she goes to the judge over and over. And then she goes again and again. The widow persists; she will not give up.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been so moved by an injustice that you won’t give up? If so, you were like the widow – you prayed and prayed, you came over and over to the one(s) who could affect the injustice, you acted in ways to bring healing or change or justice. You demanded to be heard and used any means possible to shine light on your “case.” You were persistent. You would not give up.

Who or what in our world or in your life needs your focus and attention? Who or what do you need to pray and pray and pray for? How else can you affect change? Maybe it is the divided in our nation and among us. Maybe it is for a friend in an unjust situation. Maybe it is for the homeless or the orphans or the single parents or for the foster care system.

Whatever it is, remember that the parable is about always praying and never giving up. It must be so because we pray to a God who will bring about justice. May we go to God again and again, trusting God to act.

Prayer: Lord God, you are gracious and merciful and loving. You are a champion of justice and peace and wholeness. Lord, bring your power to bear on our hurting and broken world. Amen.


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A God of Justice

Reading: Luke 8:1-8

Verse 5: “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out!”

Today, as we begin to consider the parable of the persistent widow, we will focus on the other human character: the unjust judge. At the start of Jesus’ parable we learn that the judge “neither feared God or cared about men.” He was likely a person who shouldn’t be a judge. In the next verse we learn that a widow had an injustice done to her and she keeps bringing her case to the judge. Over and over he sends her away. Over and over she comes.

I wonder why the judge would not hear her case. Maybe he was really busy. Or maybe he was really lazy. Perhaps he didn’t hear the sound of coins rattling in her pocket or purse, indicating a bribe could be had. Maybe he knew this was a widow – a person with almost no standing in society. Why bother with her case? Just keep sending her away. Eventually she will give up.

But she doesn’t give up. That’s what happens when justice is at the core of the matter. After some time the judge says to himself, “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out!” We see here that the judge doesn’t care about justice either. He just wants to be left alone. What a judge!

Contrasting God to this judge, Jesus says, “Will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to God day and night?” Jesus’ answer to this rhetorical question is an emphatic”YES!” God is a God of justice. God will see to it that justice reigns. God will hear our case and will decide on the side of justice. That is the promise in today’s passage. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, I am grateful that you hear our cries for justice. This is the cry that calls for wrongs to be made right, for good to triumph over evil. Your heart goes out to those who suffer injustice. In compassion and truth you reign, bringing justice to our lives and to our world. What a God! Amen.


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Pray (and Live) for the Kingdom to Come

Reading: Luke 11:1-4

Verse 2: “Your kingdom come.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

As we turn to Luke 11, we see that this week’s theme of reconciliation continues. In the opening 4 verses we read Luke’s version of what has become known as “The Lord’s Prayer.” (The longer version is found in Matthew 6.) In this prayer example that Jesus gives, forgiveness is a key feature. Jesus teaches the disciples to ask God to forgive their sins “for we also forgive.” There is an indication that we are to forgive others if we desire for God to forgive us.

The art of forgiveness can be tricky. Sometimes, usually most often, our apology is sincere and earnest and the one we hurt or offended accepts it and our relationship enters the reconciliation phase. But once in a while our apology is rejected. Perhaps the hurt was too deep to forgive. Perhaps there are other factors, such as past history with us or past experiences outside of our relationship. Some of the time the other person needs more time and space to process the situation. It is hard when reconciliation does not come. Yet we cannot force it. We must offer grace nonetheless. This is something God alone supplies.

In verse 2, after acknowledging that God’s name is holy, Jesus teaches the disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come.” At the point of Jesus’ time on earth the world had already become much less than God intended it to be. So, after the salutation, Jesus first instructs the disciples to pray for the kingdom of God to come. When we pray this we are asking that love and justice, grace and mercy, compassion and forgiveness, generosity and reconciliation be the new norms in our world. Looking at our world today, what a radical prayer this is. Yet it is so needed. So as Christ followers may these three words be both our intent and our resulting action as we pray and then live out these words. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, things roll on as they are, day by day. Same old, same old. Until change is made, sometimes forced. May I be used today as a part of breaking your kingdom into this world. Amen.


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The Spirit of Adoption

Reading: Romans 8:14-17

Verse 15: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear again, but you received the Spirit of adoption.”

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon

Our Romans 8 passage reminds us of whom we belong to. It reminds us that we are first and foremost daughters and sons of God. As we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit, our adoption becomes clearer to the world as we better reflect our family resemblance. At times doing so is easy and within our comfort zone. Maybe we help a neighbor by picking up some groceries. At other times the call of the Spirit is challenging and calls us to step outside of these comfort zones.

The Disciplines devotional for today uses the late John Lewis as an example of one willing to risk much for the advancement of God’s kingdom. Lewis did so primarily in the world of politics. He allowed the Holy Spirit to push him to be a champion of racial justice, which began in the battle to end segregation. Lewis is known for coining the phrase “good trouble.” Led by God’s mandates to live and to acts justly, Lewis willingly and obediently got into good trouble.

In verse 15 we read, “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear again, but you received the Spirit of adoption.” God didn’t draw us into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ just to sit in our pew once a week. God drew us into relationship so that we would be equipped and empowered to go into the world. Where might the Holy Spirit be calling you? For me, God has placed a call to minister to those being impacted by dementia. Led by the Holy Spirit, we are moving in that direction. Where might the Holy Spirit be calling you? Maybe it is to a friend or family in need. Maybe it is to a place of injustice or oppression. For each of us, may we lay aside our fears, trusting in God’s Spirit as we seek to live as daughters and sons of Jesus Christ, the Lord of life.

Prayer: Lord God, how shall we proceed? When and where do you want us to go? By the power of your Holy Spirit living in us, reveal your desires for our life and for our witness. Amen.


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Righteousness and Justice

Reading: Psalm 97

Verse 2: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne.”

Psalm 97 is a call towards faithful living and away from sin and idols. It is a recognition of God’s power – found both in the consuming fire and in the protection of “the upright in heart.” The concepts of righteousness and justice apply to those who love God. These are not just ideas that God likes or favors. They are the foundation of God’s love and our love. I am draw to these because both of these concepts are deeply rooted in traditional Methodist beliefs and practices.

Personal holiness and social justice are two cornerstones of the Methodist tradition. This is true of many other traditions as well. While some have Methodist roots, in reality, it is what Jesus taught and practiced himself. As his faith matured a young John Wesley began to deeply explore his personal faith. Beginning in college as a part of what was known as the “Holy Club”, reading scripture and praying daily became central to Wesley’s faith or personal holiness. Later, as his methods spread and Methodism took root, he formed groups and classes that met primarily to hold one another accountable in their Christian walk of faith.

Wesley’s personal holiness led him out into the world, where he became aware of the plight of many: the illiterate, the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, the working class, the orphans, and the widows. He began to love these as Jesus would love them. Wesley became a vocal and financial champion of those in need of education, basic health care, safe working conditions, and the basic necessities of food and shelter. In many ways he was a social justice warrior. His personal holiness and intimate relationship with Jesus fueled his passion for social justice. Here he found the center of Christian love. May we do so as well.

Prayer: Lord God, guide me to grow closer and closer to Jesus, deeper and deeper into your love. In turn, lead me to apply your love of all people to my life and to the world. Amen.


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Who and Whose

Reading: Luke 4:1-12

Verses 1-2: “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit… was led by the Spirit into the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.”

Photo credit: Mael Gramain

Today and tomorrow we look at the temptation of Jesus found in Luke 4. Fresh off being baptized and anointed by the Holy Spirit, Jesus finds himself being led into the desert, into the wilderness. Rather than celebrating the amazing and powerful experience at the Jordan River by taking that energy and launching his ministry, instead Jesus is led away, alone, to prepare for a ministry that will be and look much different than expected.

When I struggle with temptation, at the core, it is a battle for who and whose I am. When I am drawn towards sin, it is almost always to please that fleshy part of me. Temptation never draws me initially to be more of who God created me to be. The pull is always to the ways and things of the world be they material, social, political, emotional or whatever.

The temptations that Satan or the devil places before Christ are much the same at their root. Be the Messiah that people are looking for Jesus. Wield great power in ways that look good on the surface – feed the hungry, take authority and rule wisely, use the power in miraculous and amazing ways. Use power as force, as intimidation, as warning against questioning your authority, as proof of who you are. Be and act as something you’re not Jesus, because that’s what the world is looking for. How easily we too can fall into this trap.

Jesus does have great power. He could have done all that the devil described without an iota of help from the devil or anyone or anything else. But Jesus knows who and whose he is. The great power of Jesus will be manifest in love and compassion, in mercy and justice, in forgiveness and restoration. At the tipping point in his life, it was this power that Jesus chose. In those moments of choice, may we too choose as Jesus chose, remembering who and whose we are.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your love, your compassion, your mercy, your justice, your forgiveness, your restoration. Purge from me the versions of these that I twist, melding them into the world’s selfish version of these things. Keep me on Jesus’ path of humble service. Grow me to be more like him. Amen.


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Justice, Equity, Righteousness

Reading: Psalm 99:1-5

Verse 4: “The King is mighty, he loves justice… equity.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Psalm 99 is a song of God’s faithfulness, holiness, and justice. It calls us to worship God and it reminds us of God’s actions on behalf of the people of God. The psalmist opens with, “The Lord reigns.” For all who believe, this remains true. As the Psalm continues we read, “Great is the Lord in Zion.” At the time, that meant Israel, where God’s “chosen people,” the Jews, lived. Today “Zion” is many places. It is everywhere and anywhere that those who love and worship God are found.

In verse four we read, “The King is mighty, he loves justice… equity.” The psalmist continues in this same verse, noting that God has done “what is just and right.” The heart of God has always been bent towards justice and to equity, to what is right. Today ‘right’ seems to be a subjective term in many ways and places. But in God’s kingdom it is living according to God’s ways as defined and exemplified in the Bible. To me, this way of living is best exemplified and modeled by Jesus.

God in Jesus has a heart for those experiencing injustice, inequality, marginalization… Over and over Jesus was drawn to these people and situations and those experiencing these unrighteous things were drawn to Jesus. He saw their plight, their struggle, their suffering and he offered healing, wholeness, life in community… Jesus loved them as they were and sought to restore and redeem them and/or their situation.

God remains the God of justice, equity, righteousness… As God’s hand and feet and voice in this world, we are called to see and be drawn to the lives and places where these things are missing, lacking, inadequate. In love, may we walk with and minister to these, bringing God’s restoration, healing, and wholeness. May it be so.

Prayer: O God of all people, lead me to live and love as Jesus did, with a heart for the vulnerable and the hurting. In all I say and do and think, use me to build the kingdom that you desire here on earth. Amen.