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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Standing Firm

Reading: Luke 21:12-19

Verse 12: “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.”

In the opening verses of this week’s gospel lesson, Jesus told the disciples of the false prophets and difficult events that will come. Shifting to a much more personal focus Jesus tells his followers, “They will lay hands on you and persecute you.” Those who follow Jesus will be imprisoned and will stand trial before earthly powers. The way of Jesus runs counter to the ways of the world. Instead of accumulating more and more for self, Jesus calls for generosity towards those without. Instead of using power to dominate relationships, Jesus calls for love to guide all we do and say. Instead of using others to further our own interests and desires, Jesus calls us to walk alongside and to lift others up.

In and of themselves, these things that Jesus calls us to are not likely to land us in hot water. But living this way shines a light on the darkness of the world. That creates tension with power. Standing for justice and equality and redemption are also all good things – until they challenge systems that work against these values of God. It is then that power rises against the followers of Christ.

Jesus offers the disciples and us today words of encouragement. First, these trials will be opportunities to witness to our faith. Second, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus will “give you words and wisdom.” Opponents will not be able to speak or stand against us. And third, “by standing firm you will gain life.” This is a both/and promise. Because of the Holy Spirit power within, we will be freed from the cares and worries of this world. And because of that, we are able to live towards the eternal glory found in Christ.

Jesus warns us that it will not be an easy road. But he also promises us that the path of discipleship will transform our life and the world around us. May we ever be faithful.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with Holy Spirit power each day. Give me a holy compassion for all who are held down, held back, held below. Through your power and presence, use me to lift others up and to free them from the darkness of this world. Amen.


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Stand Firm, Hold Fast

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

Verse 15: “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”

The first five verses address some of the false teaching that has been a challenge to the people of faith in Thessalonica. Of focus is the event of Christ’s return. Some are falsely preaching that Christ already returned and that the church there missed it. Others are raising themselves up into the role of the Lord in an attempt to gain a following. While we can be susceptible to being led away from the truth, we tend to struggle today with what the world says is important: success, power, status, popularity, wealth… So verses 13-17 are still very relevant to our lives today as we seek to live faithfully.

In verse 13 Paul thanks God for this group of believers, chosen and saved by “the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and through belief in the truth.” He next attributes the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ as that which drew them to faith. Our personal relationship with Jesus, the ongoing work of the Spirit, the way of life we find through reading and studying the scriptures – these are the foundations that enable us to live faithfully as strangers or foreigners in this world. This is what Paul is encouraging in verse 15 when he writes, “Stand firm and hold onto the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Continue to walk the walk of faith. Hold fast to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul closes this section with a blessing. He asks for Jesus and God to “encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and work.” May this too be our blessing as we seek to walk in faith.

Prayer: Lord God, give us the will and the courage to stand firm and to hold fast to all we have received from you. Open our hearts to the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. Open our minds to the words of life that we find in the scriptures. Open our hands and feet to the call of Christ to unconditionally love and humbly serve others just as he did. Amen.


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Resurrection Life

Reading: Luke 20:27-38

Verses 35-36: “Those who are considered worthy of taking part in the resurrection… are God’s children… are children of the resurrection.”

Photo credit: Greg Rakozy

In our gospel lesson this week the Sadducees come to Jesus and pose what they believe to be an impossible scenario. We read that they do not even believe in the resurrection. Yet they ask to solve a riddle about the resurrection. Their question is really about legacy and power – two things that they think are in their hands, not God’s. Jesus, as he often did, answers the impossible question as well as the real but unasked question.

Jewish law required a brother to marry a dead brother’s wife if they had no children. There were two factors behind this law. First, the family name would be carried on (legacy.) Second, children were produced to provide needed labor (which equals power.) In their wild scenario, 7 brothers marry the woman and none produce children. They all die. The Sadducees want to know whose wife she’d be in this resurrection thing. Again, this is a question of power for these religious leaders. Who would have full authority over this woman in your imaginary place, Jesus?

Jesus explains that the resurrection life isn’t like our earthly life. He begins by clarifying who will experience resurrection: those who are “worthy.” Jesus tells them that in the resurrection all are alive in God, all there are God’s children – not yours or mine or anyone else’s. Then Jesus turns to the unasked question. Yes, gentleman, there is a resurrection. He quotes from Moses, the one in whom the Sadducees place all authority, pointing out that Moses himself speaks of resurrection, naming God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses did not say God was their God, but the God IS their God. Gentlemen, the soul, the spirit, our essence – who we are at our core – this remains alive in God.

In verses 39-40, the non-Sadducee religious leaders score one for Jesus. Debate over. Jesus 1, Sadducees 0.

Prayer: Lord God, to stand one day in your presence, a day without equal. It is so without equal that we can only begin to imagine how awesome it will be. We’re at maybe a 1 or 2 out of a million in our understanding. Yet we trust absolutely in the promise of life eternal. Day by day may we live worthy of the resurrection. Amen.


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Greater, Stronger

Reading: Joel 2:28-32

Verses 28 and 32: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people… Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Continuing in Joel 2 today we see again that the text is the promise of a better day for Israel. It speaks of a day yet to come for God’s people. Yet for us, it is a day and time that has come in some ways. These promises of “one day” are a reality for our day today.

In verses 28-29 God promises to “pour out my Spirit on all people.” With this Spirit, all of God’s people will dream dreams and see visions. To me this has happened in two ways. First, God took on flesh and revealed the spirit of God to humanity. In and through Jesus we have an example of God’s love, grace, and mercy lived out in human form. In Jesus’ words and teachings he cast the vision and shared God’s dream for a kingdom here on earth. And then, on the day of Pentecost, God came again in the form of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus had promised, God in the flesh became God in the Spirit, dwelling in the hearts of all who called on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This second revelation of Christ comes in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

Then verses 30 and 31 speak of the day when Christ will return in glory to achieve the final victory. This third revelation of Christ will be both a “great and dreadful day.” In verse 32 we read, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” But not all will call on the name of the Lord. Some will rely on self and on the things of this world. This day will be dreadful for them. Only the faithful – those whose faith declares Jesus as Lord and Savior – only they will be delivered to glory.

Yesterday we read of the wrath of God, that which brought locusts and led to exile for Israel. We too live under God’s wrath. We experience hardship and suffering and separation when we choose to live in sin. But God’s love is greater than God’s wrath. God’s love is stronger than our sin. In grace God seeks to rescue us. In mercy God seeks to restore us back into right relationship. There, deliverance is ours. May we all call on the name of the Lord, the God who saves. May it be so.

Prayer: Lord God, you remind me today that the power of your love far exceeds my ability to sin. So your grace can always wash away my sin. You remind me that the depth of your mercy far surpasses the brokenness of my humanity. So your mercy ever calls me back to you, restoring me to right relationship with you. Thank you, God. Amen.


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Relationships

Reading: 2nd Timothy 1:1-7

Verse 5: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois… and now lives in you also.”

Photo credit: Wylly Suhendra

Today and tomorrow’s passage from 2nd Timothy 1 is a great example of one of the things I love about the Bible: it is real. It’s not just a story of God’s love and nice miracles that Jesus performed. Yes, it is partly this but there is real life in there too. There is adultery and betrayal and murder. There is sin and falling away. There is denial and dishonesty too. And today we begin a passage that speaks of the hard realities of faith and of the means that God provides to continue walking faithfully through the trials. We’ll delve into the trials tomorrow. Today we’ll look at the means that God provides to get us through the hard things of life.

Paul begins by reminding Timothy of the relationships in his life. He encourages Timothy by telling him that he prays for him. Paul then recalls the closeness of their relationship and the tears that bore evidence of this at their parting. He next lifts Timothy up by saying, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois… and now lives in you also.” His grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice have both poured into Timothy and have helped him to grow in his faith. Paul encourages Timothy to “fan into flame” his faith, this “gift of God.” His mentor Paul and his family have planted and nurtured this gift in Timothy. Who comes to mind for you as we consider these relationships and how they guided Timothy? Who mentored and nurtured your faith?

Paul backs this relationships up with another vital relationship. In verse 7 he reminds Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity.” No, the Holy Spirit is not timid. Quite the opposite. The Spirit is a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. The Holy Spirit, the spirit of Christ living in us, fills us with all we need to walk faithfully in and through the times of trial and suffering. The constant presence of Christ walks with us always. Reflect upon this too. When has the Holy Spirit given you power or love or self-discipline or whatever it was that you needed to get through a difficult thing?

Prayer: Lord God, you fill my life with vital relationships for my walk of faith. Thank you for the people in my life that teach and encourage and support me. Thank you for those who hold me accountable. And thank you for the Holy Spirit, my constant friend and guide. Amen.


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The Nitty Gritty

Reading: Jeremiah 1:9-10

Verse 9: “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.”

After working through the appointment and Jeremiah’s ‘buts,’ God now turns to the details of his work as a prophet. God first reaches out and touches Jeremiah’s mouth, saying, “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.” What a great confidence this must have given Jeremiah. In our own way, though, we too are touched by God’s hand. As we read and mediate on God’s word and as we interact with sermons, devotionals, and in small groups, the Spirit is putting the word of God into our mouths, hearts, and minds. This becomes a resource for the Holy Spirit to tap into as it leads and guides, whispers to and nudges us, empowering each of us to speak the truths found in God’s word.

In verse 10 God gets down to the nitty gritty. Jeremiah will “uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow, build and plant.” The process of discipleship is not easy. Jesus talked often about frequently dying to self and about the constant pruning away all that hinders our faith walk. He spoke regularly about the costs of following him. While God was speaking on a national scale in Jeremiah 1, describing what must happen to realign Israel with God, it is individuals that lead and that make up the nation. In this sense, realignment must be very personal too.

The first four verbs are a good descriptor of our battle with the world and with the flesh within us all. We must diligently root out and rid ourselves of the lies of the world and of Satan. True life is not about chasing after wealth, status, popularity… To walk as Christ calls us to walk we must overthrow these lies. In this battle we must constantly build up and plant God’s truths in our heart and mind. In this ongoing battle we must be disciplined to lean into and stand upon the word of God. True life is found here.

May we ever seek the one who formed us with a purpose. Finding all we need in the Lord, may we strive to be light and love in the world, drawing others towards these words of life.

Prayer: Lord God, when the temptations of this world begin to draw my attention, may the Holy Spirit be louder, firmer, stronger. Day by day lead me in your ways, growing deeper and deeper in my love for you and for neighbor. Amen.


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Fire and Division

Reading: Luke 12:49-53

Verse 51: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.”

Photo credit: Ricardo Gomez Angel

Jesus begins this teaching by declaring that he came to “bring fire on earth.” This reminds me of an expression once used to describe enthusiastic Jesus followers: they are “on fire” for Jesus. This phrase was used to paint a picture of someone who was super eager to share Jesus with everyone they met. Oh, wait. Isn’t that what Jesus is talking about here? And does this describe you and me?

The fire Jesus refers to next is the fire of the Holy Spirit. The baptism that he had to undergo was the baptism of his death. Here Jesus is longing for the day when he returns in Spirit, dwelling in each believer’s heart. Leading and guiding, the Spirit empowers all believers to be “little Christs” in the world. Sadly, this often looks more like poking and prodding. “On fire” isn’t exactly the best description, is it?

One reason for this might be what Jesus touches on in verse 51-53. In verse 51 he says, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” Peace to our lives? Yes, Jesus! Peace to our world and to our relationships? Well, no. Living out our faith will cause division. It will create rifts in all of our relationships – family, friends, coworkers, classmates. Living for Christ will inherently push against living for the world. Selfish versus selfless, greedy versus generous, authority versus service – these and many more are places of division, places where we will pay a relationship cost for walking in Jesus’ footsteps. May we tread faithfully, assured of Christ’s Holy Spirit presence within our hearts.

Prayer: Lord God, grant me the courage and strength to always choose you. Empower me to walk the path that you set before me, no matter the cost, being light and love and hope for the world. When the desires of the flesh rise up in me, make greater the fire of the Holy Spirit. Refine me then to be more like Jesus. Amen.


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Living Water and Word

Reading: Psalm 107: 8-9 and 43

Verses 8-9: “Give thanks to the Lord for unfailing love… God satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”

Photo credit: Fuu J

Today’s three verses from Psalm 107 invite us to consider and heed how God gives to the children of God. The psalmist first invites us to thank the Lord for unfailing love. This is not a human love – a love that is fickle or easily turned inward. God’s love for us is a love that is steadfast and unchanging. God’s love flows from a heart that is so deep that we can only begin to fathom the endlessness of God’s love.

In verse 9 we read of God giving to fill our thirst and our hunger. We often pray “and give us this day our daily bread.” God can certainly be a provider of bodily sustenance. But what if the psalmist is speaking of more? What if the psalmist is speaking of the living water of Jesus Christ that springs up to eternal life? What if the author is speaking of the living word – the Bible and the Spirit of Christ in our hearts? Satisfying this hunger sustains us in and through all of life. Yes, it is right and good to give thanks for the bodily sustenance that we receive from the Lord. But how much moreso for the spiritual sustenance that is offered to us daily by the Lord?

This day may we first seek the water and food that does not perish or fade. May we seek to be filled with the things of God this day – the imperishable and everlasting love of the Lord our God.

Prayer: Lord God, fill me with your holy word today. May these words sink down deep and fill me with joy, peace, hope, mercy, grace, kindness, compassion, and light. Guide me in the way in which I should go. Use me to be Christ to the world. Amen.


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God with Us, Christ in Us

Reading: Colossians 1:24-28

Verse 27: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Continuing in Colossians 1 today, Paul rejoices that Christ suffered for us. It was a suffering that was willingly endured to defeat the power of sin and death. It was also necessary so that we could experience the mystery that has been “disclosed to the saints.”

To me, we need God more than ever. Our time is challenging and difficult. There is great division and divisive thinking: if you are not completely with us, you are against us and you are absolutely wrong. It hasn’t always been like this. Yes, we’ve always had varied opinions and thoughts on this, that, and the other thing. We’ve not always seen eye to eye. The world has always been a messy place. God in Christ was willing to enter our messy world to show us a better way to live with and to love one another.

Our world needs more love, more compassion, more understanding, more empathy. Our world needs Jesus. Our world needs forgiveness and restoration, healing and unity. Our world needs Jesus. In our text for today, Paul recognized that he was commissioned to make Christ known. Jesus commissioned all who believe to do the same thing as we seek to make disciples of Christ. This feels like a hard task. God is with us. In verse 27 we read, “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ dwells in us. The Spirit fills us with the hope of Christ, the hope of glory. God is with us. Our world needs Jesus. May we connect others to Christ.

Prayer: Lord God, where there is division, may I bring peace and empathy. Where there is anger, may I bring compassion and understanding. Where there is brokenness, may I bring healing and wholeness. Lord, you fill me with your Spirit. Go with me today as I strive to bring others into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Amen.