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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Living Filled

Reading: 2nd Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 13-17

Verse 13: “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica during a time of trial and persecution. He writes and lives in a time when Jesus’ return was expected any day. The earliest disciples and apostles certainly believed that Jesus was coming back during their lifetimes. There was alarm and fear for their soul when someone died before Jesus returned. There was a “today is the day” excitement every day. False prophets, seeking to draw followers to themselves, were spreading rumors that Christ has returned and those in the church in Thessalonica had missed it. Paul’s advice: “don’t become easily unsettled or alarmed.” He reminds them that the evil and lawlessness of the current age, the trials and persecution, will be overthrown “with the breath” of Jesus’ mouth (verse 8). At that time all evil will perish.

In the second half of our Epistle reading Paul shares these words of hope and promise: “From the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” Paul reminds the believers that God chose them and called them through the gospel. He invites them to remember these things so that they can persevere in their faith until the day comes. For those who received these words and continued to walk in faith, they did come to stand before Jesus when their day came. This resurrection promise holds true for all who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Yes, waiting can be hard, especially during a time of trial and suffering. Paul offers hope, love, and grace in the time of difficulty. Like those in Thessalonica, may we too grasp onto these truths and hold fast to these promises, living filled with hope, love, and grace.

Prayer: Lord God, how mighty and awesome and great is your love for us, that we might be called children of God. This day and every day may we walk in faith, surrounded by and covered in your love. 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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A Better Word

Reading: Hebrews 12:25-29

Verse 28: “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

In yesterday’s portion of this week’s Hebrews 12 we were reminded of the new covenant established by its mediator, Jesus Christ. Today’s portion of Hebrews 12 begins with these words: “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.” This word of warning encourages us to listen to the one whose blood “speaks a better word.” Jesus spoke words of hope and life, not of fire and death. The new covenant offers forgiveness and redemption and salvation. Better words indeed!

In the past God’s voice has shaken the earth. These were signs of God’s presence, of God’s power and might. Quoting from the ancient book of Deuteronomy the author of Hebrews writes, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This too is a better word. We now live in a world that is easily shaken. For most of us, our faith is a faith that can be easily shaken. In these words God promises a time when all that can be shaken will be removed. One day the new heaven and earth will come. This created world and all of its sin and fear and sickness and disease and decay will be no more. We await the day!

So what is our response to this better word about a time to come? In verse 28 we read, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” We are to worship the Lord with joy and thanksgiving. We are to live as people filled with hope and joy and thanksgiving. We are to hold God in awe and reverence, amazed at God’s great love for us and for all of creation. May it be so this day.

Prayer: Lord God, what a promise. What a hope we have in you. Help us to lean into this promise of you one day making all things new. Yet some days I still struggle. My faith wavers. Lord, I know that you are also a consuming fire. Consume the idols that tempt me; consume my doubt and fear and worry. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Are You Willing?

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-8

Verse 5: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you a part.”

In verse 5 we hear Jeremiah’s call story. God is addressing him, readying him to begin his ministry. The Lord says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” This amazing statement is true for all of us. Before God’s hands brought our cells together, before God began to weave us together, God knew us. God knew our essence, our soul, our spirit. God knew who and what we were going to be created for before our first cells were formed. What an amazing and powerful thought.

Yet it gets better: “Before you were born I set you a part.” Woven together by God with a purpose for our lives, we were also set apart by God to live as a child of God. Created by God as a child of God we are to reflect our creator to the world. For each of us, God has a plan for how we are to do that. For Jeremiah, God created him to be a prophet. That might be what God created you to be too. Or maybe God created you to be a banker or a custodian, a mechanic or a lawyer, a business owner or a mom, a pastor or a carpenter, a chef or a firefighter… Whatever our vocation, we remain called by God to live a life set apart.

In verse 6 we hear Jeremiah’s ‘buts.’ we have them too. But God… Yet God says, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. I am with you.” God says the same thing to our ‘buts.’ Before I formed you… I knew you. Before you breathed your first breath, I set you apart. If we are willing, these are God’s truths and God’s promises. Are you willing?

Prayer: Lord God, it is amazing to consider that you have a vision for me and for each of us. You put me together in a unique and special way – to accomplish what you set me apart for. Wow. And you promise to go with me, step by step, word by word, deed by deed. Wowza! Thank you, God. Amen.


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In the Line

Reading: Hebrews 12:1-2

Verse 2: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.”

Hebrews 12 begins with a reminder of the past. First there is this “great cloud of witness” – the unending line of those who have lived out a life of faith, setting for us an example. In the line are those listed in Hebrews 11. Also in the line are folks we knew – parents and grandparents, pastors and Sunday school teachers, friends and neighbors. All of these witnesses provide both hope and encouragement as we journey in faith.

The journey is not always easy. The writer of Hebrews implores us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” Oh how these things can get in the way. The worries and the pleasures of this world, our proclivity to sin – they can easily derail us. Satan is tricky and sneaky and knows every trick. We are called to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” This is not a prescribed course, set in stone. No, it is a way to live.

In verse 2 we are shown this way: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.” Jesus marked out the way to live. He wrote the trail guide with his life. Therefore we are to fix our eyes on Christ. Doing so we too will pick up our cross with joy, knowing that denying self and humbly serving others are steps we walk daily with Jesus. We walk with joy because we know the promise waiting at the end of the walk of faith. The path ends at eternity as we step into God’s glory. With joy may we follow the way of Christ, one day becoming another who stands in the line of witnesses to God’s love, mercy, and grace. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, keep me in the path. Keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. Fill me with a joy that is contagious as I seek to love you with all that I am. May that joy then overflow as I seek to pour that love and joy out into the world. Amen.


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Something Better

Reading: Hebrews 11:39-40

Verse 40: “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.”

The writer of Hebrews notes that all of these heroes of the faith – from Abel right on up to the time of Jesus – were commended by God for their faithfulness. These men and women lived in faith, striving to walk obediently with God. Yet none received what has been promised. The covenants with Abraham, Moses, David, and Jeremiah remained unfulfilled. Yet the promise of these covenants gave a vision for what God had planned. This vision gave them hope.

In verse 40 we read, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would we be made perfect.” The new covenant of Jesus Christ is the “something better.” His perfect sacrifice once and for all defeated the power of sin. By paying the price once for all, Jesus opened the way to salvation for all who follow him as Lord and Savior. By rising from the grave, Christ became the first fruit of eternity. Christ left the Holy Spirit as a deposit of our eternal inheritance. The Holy Spirit, Christ in us, has the power to lead and guide us in faithful living here so that one day we can claim our eternal inheritance in heaven, finally being made perfect in Christ. Something better indeed! Thanks be to God!

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Through him all will be made new again. I await the day when you join the new heaven and earth. Thank you for so great a love. Amen.


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Living Beyond

Reading: Joshua 5:9-12

Verse 9: “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”

The Israelites journey out of Egypt began at the sea, where God parted the water for the people of God and then swallowed up the source of their fear (Pharaoh’s army). Just before today’s passage the Israelites once again crossed over on dry land as God parted the Jordan River. Once across, the adult males are circumcised. This physical act is a sign of belonging, of belonging to God and to one another.

In our opening verse God says, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” Forty years removed from slavery in Egypt… forty years of being led by, provided for, cared for in the wilderness… and the shame and disgrace of slavery still remains? Yes it does. The same can be true for us. The grief of a difficult loss never totally goes away. The sting of rejection or the pain of other tragic events is always just below the surface. In some cases, these things can come to define us. For the Israelites, they could only enter into the joy and blessing of the Promised Land if they put the reproach of Egypt behind them. The same is true for us.

What allowed the Israelites to do so? What enabled them to begin living into God’s blessings and promises instead of in their past? The people of God celebrated the Passover – the defining act of God’s love for them. Celebrating God’s love and grace in their promised land allowed the people to begin living in that place. What allows us to begin living beyond our grief or pain or loss or…? It begins as we remember when we passed through the waters of our baptism, when we were marked and sealed with the Holy Spirit, our symbol of belonging. It continues as we are fed, cared for, loved on, redeemed by God. Each act, however small, builds our trust in God. Through faith we are each empowered to step forth into the world, assured of God’s presence, power, and grace. Doing so we can live as beloved children of God, equipped to include others into this amazing family of God. May it be so for you and for me.

Prayer: Lord God, when I get drawn back to that thing – whether it was something I did or if it was something done to me – remind me that I belong to you. Flood my soul with thoughts of how you’ve lived me, cared for me, comforter me… again and again and again. Fill me so that I can step back out into the world, seeking to share your light and love with a world in need. Amen.


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Today I Choose

Reading: Psalm 71:1-6

Verse 3: “Be my rock of refuge to which I can always go.”

Do you ever just want to cry or to crawl back in under the covers or to hunker down in your favorite chair to watch movies? The last three years have brought me to this place more than in all my other 52 years combined. Instead of just hearing or reading about the number of cases or deaths, now we all personally know people that are battling or have been lost to COVID. Most of us know several people currently affected. I don’t know about you, but today I needed to read Psalm 71.

Psalm 71 reminds us of what God offers to all who will walk in right relationship with the Lord. We can find refuge in God. We can trust that God will rescue and deliver us in righteousness. We can ask God to deliver us from the hand of evil. Some days, though, I just want to withdraw, to be alone. These days that feels safe, easy. In that place I don’t have to say that word or deal with decisions surrounding the pandemic.

Psalm 71 reminds me, reminds all who are struggling a bit, that God is still right there. It reminds us that God desires to be our refuge, our rescuer, our deliverer. Sometimes it takes a conscious, intentional decision to declare God our refuge… instead of saying, yes, God can be our refuge… This day I choose to live into these words of hope and promise. This day I choose to not walk alone. This day I choose to lean into God so that I can be caring and loving in my words, actions, and decisions. Today I choose to love because God is love.

Prayer: Lord God, I pray for all who are struggling a bit today. I lift up all who would rather just sit the day out. And I pray too for all who cannot sit it out: for the health care workers and others who have to show up, for those who sit another day by the bed of a sick loved one or who stand by the grave of a loved one lost. Pour out your love upon us, O God. Amen.


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Words of Delight

Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5

Verse 3: “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.”

Photo credit: Jordan Wozniak

In today’s passage Isaiah is writing about Zion (or Jerusalem), the center of the Jewish faith. Isaiah wrote during tumultuous times, often speaking hard words of truth calling the people away from sin and back towards God. He also spoke words of hope. In spite of the sins of the people and the consequences that would come, God remained faithful, always loving God’s people. During their exile it often felt like God was silent or absent. That is where our passage today begins.

In the opening verse God declares, “I will not keep silent.” One day God will again speak. God will restore Zion. Her righteousness will then “shine out like the dawn” and the salvation she will experience will be “like a blazing torch.” All the nations and kings will see how God restores Zion. A new name will be given: “my delight is in her”. To Zion God says, “You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand.” How things will be different when the people return to walking in the ways of the Lord. What a glorious day that will be!

We can also read these words as words that are personal, as words that bring us hope when we have gone astray. The same love expressed for Zion is present in our relationship with God. The times of separation that we experience is much like the seasons when God felt silent or absent to the Israelites. In these seasons in our lives God longs to restore and redeem us, to return us to “crowns of splendor”. The promise remains: “the Lord will take delight in you.” God will continue to draw us back in, to call out to us, to pour out mercy and grace over us, to hold us tight. What words of hope and promise! Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Lord God, thank you for a love that never fails. Like Israel, sometimes I fall short; sometimes I wander from your love. But your love remains. You always seek to restore, to redeem, to reconnect with me. Thank you for your love that never fails. Amen.