Just before this chapter, God declares punishment on the people: “the tallest trees will be cut down and the lofty will be brought low.” The trees, the people -- both will be clean cut off. And then God provides this visionary promise through the prophet:
1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
Who could imagine anything growing as they sat on the stump of utter despair? It was the leftover of God’s punishment. There was no life in this place. I’ve sat there myself, perhaps you have, too. You may be there now -- at that place where hope is hard to find, where loss and despair have desensitized your heart.
But God’s word comes to sit with us. This word will not ask us to spring up and celebrate. The prophet’s vision is surprising, but small. The nation would never rise again as it was. The shoot would not become a mighty cedar. The shoot that was growing would be different from what the people expected.
Faith doesn’t look only at what has been, wishing to return things to the past glory of something that is long past. Faith strains to see the “fragile sign” in the present that points us to the future. A future full of hope is what awaits for those who develop the eyes of faith. Yet, whether our eyes struggle to see what God is doing with the old stump or whether we are fully in tune with God’s work, God’s word sits with us at the place where it finds us. We can sit on the stump counting the rings, remembering the past…God’s word sits with us. So, today—right now—God’s word is with you in mourning and in joy, in pain and in celebration, and the work of God surrounds us as God continues to LOVE you, us, this world—the handiwork of creation.
I will not be posting my usual blogs on Tuesday or Thursday this week. I will be traveling and spending time with family, which is equally important to anything I might share or think about. Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone, don't hurt yourself on Black Friday and make sure to support local shops and non-profit organizations. Give richly to the church, for she is the bride of Christ. Until next time...may the word of Christ dwell in you richly!
I know, I know…if you clicked on this link then you are a brave soul! It has been one week since our presidential election, and I have seen a plethora of articles, blogs, and everything else trying to explain what happened, object to what happened, and correct all of this. That is not my intention, I simply want to plant a thought in your noggin for the next time you vote, especially if you are a Christian.
I know that Jesus said nothing about voting; and Peter, Paul, or any other Christians from our Bibles ever participated in voting. So, our ability to vote for leaders is not just foreign to the First Century Church, but they lived in a situation in which the leaders were powerful and most assuredly presented some opposition to the church. We could argue that the church stood as a treat to the government and a way to transcend the systems set up by government. But I have wondered through this election season, what if they could vote like we do? What would be the guiding principles that would guide their vote? This line of thought not only guided my vote, but changed the way I view voting.
You will hear tips on how a Christian should vote…I’ll leave that to those Christian celebrities who are able to throw their weight around and actually influence people. I have no desire to merge government with the Church. I think Jesus would agree with me, as would John who wrote Revelation…there is power of the government, and then there is the power of God and his son Jesus who reigns supreme over all governments.
So, anyway…back to our vote. So often I hear Christian people say that they voted a certain way because of two important reasons. First, they claim that a particular candidate or platform is more of what God wants for our world. I hear this from all sides, all parties, and the truth is…both have a point and both should search their blind-spots. Second, they claim that they vote for what’s best for them and their family. I get it—I want lower taxes, better benefits, and some more time to do what I want to do with my life (which is usually filling it with a bunch of busy work and social media and…ok, I’ll stop!)
So, let’s look at the two greatest commands that are from the mouth of our King Jesus. Jesus says everything is wrapped up in these commands. When asked what are most important, Jesus replied in Matthew 22: “37 ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
My question in the middle of this crazy election season was this: how do we vote in a way that fulfills these commandments?
What does it mean to Love God with everything (heart, soul, and mind) and does God take offense to us compromising our values and arguing our “yah buts” when we hear something from the other side that we know God would support? Most all of us know the fatal flaws of candidates…because they are people like us. So, we must love God through the church first, and through the government second and we can’t get them confused…one is from God and for God and the other is government.
What does it mean to love my neighbor with my vote? What if we all voted for what was best for each other instead of what was best for me and mine? What if I paid higher taxes so my neighbor with a terminal disease could enjoy his retirement healthcare? What if I fought for the rights of veterans in this country like I do my kid’s grades at school? What if helping police have a safe day on the streets most definitely matters and helping build the societal value of black brothers and sisters most definitely matters as well?
We will all vote again, and our vote is not a weapon to use against some created enemy, nor is it a valued possession to keep to ourselves; it is an opportunity to do what Christians are supposed to do with everything God has blessed us with…we are to love God and love our neighbor. So, yes, my vote is an opportunity to show love both to God and to my neighbors. How about yours?
Today I simply give you something to think about from 1 Chronicles 16, a psalm of thanksgiving:
8 Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
Let the whole world know what he has done.
9 Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
10 Exult in his holy name;
rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
11 Search for the Lord and for his strength;
continually seek him.
12 Remember the wonders he has performed,
his miracles, and the rulings he has given,
13 you children of his servant Israel,
you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.
14 He is the Lord our God.
His justice is seen throughout the land.
15 Remember his covenant forever--
the commitment he made to a thousand generations.
16 This is the covenant he made with Abraham
and the oath he swore to Isaac.
17 He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
and to the people of Israel as a never-ending covenant:
18 “I will give you the land of Canaan
as your special possession.”
19 He said this when you were few in number,
a tiny group of strangers in Canaan.
20 They wandered from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another.
21 Yet he did not let anyone oppress them.
He warned kings on their behalf:
22 “Do not touch my chosen people,
and do not hurt my prophets.”
23 Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!
Each day proclaim the good news that he saves.
24 Publish his glorious deeds among the nations.
Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.
25 Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
He is to be feared above all gods.
26 The gods of other nations are mere idols,
but the Lord made the heavens!
27 Honor and majesty surround him;
strength and joy fill his dwelling.
28 O nations of the world, recognize the Lord,
recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong.
29 Give to the Lord the glory he deserves!
Bring your offering and come into his presence.
Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor.
30 Let all the earth tremble before him.
The world stands firm and cannot be shaken.
31 Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice!
Tell all the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
32 Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
33 Let the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
34 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
35 Cry out, “Save us, O God of our salvation!
Gather and rescue us from among the nations,
so we can thank your holy name
and rejoice and praise you.”
36 Praise the Lord, the God of Israel,
who lives from everlasting to everlasting!
And all the people shouted “Amen!” and praised the Lord.
No matter what day it is, may we who are God's people always proclaim "The Lord Reigns!" and that His faithful love endures forever!
In Hebrews 6, the letter’s writers show a deep concern for the recipients. Let’s start reading at verse 9b:
We are confident that you are meant for better things, things that come with salvation. 10 For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do. 11 Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. 12 Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance.
I can see myself having this conversation with several persons who I want to encourage and inspire to continue in their faith and in their growth. The idea expressed is one that we all try to live…keep on! We keep on in faith so that we will make certain that for which we hope. It is also a safe guard because the text says that when we keep on then we don’t become “dull and indifferent.” Instead of being like that we “follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises.” Ok, this sounds like what I want to be, and how I want to inspire others…but Hebrews also provides the negative side of this…the dull and indifferent side. Let’s read in Hebrews 6:4
4 For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come— 6 and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.
Wait…impossible! I thought nothing was impossible for God? Imagine if you would for a moment that by chance there is someone who has been enlightened, who has experienced the good things of heaven, who has shared in the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and who has even tasted the goodness of God…that person should be growing and loving and hoping and GOING!
But then we get the kick to the stomach… “who then turns away from God.” So, despite all those things listed above, this person chooses to turn away! And then the Hebrew writer repeats it, “It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance…” How can this be, are we just to despair and morn our loss?
The Hebrew letter gives us an example, let’s read from chapter 6:7
7 When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. 8 But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.
When that which comes from heaven is “soaked up” then it produces good crops, and when the things from heaven are not soaked up, then the crops don’t grow and all that is left is thorns and thistles…and so the farmer condemns and burns the field. OUCH!
Now, it is important to be reminded what the basis of this conversation is, which is the opening verses of Hebrews 6:
1 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds[a] and placing our faith in God.
So, this is more a call to grow in maturity and less a guide on how to respond to those who turn away from God. However, there are two very clear lessons to be learned. First, we all want to be gardens that produce something good for our farmer God. To do that we need to soak in the gifts of heaven and grow into something God can USE! Second, there are those who grow in a different way in that they grow dull and indifferent and become USELESS to the farmer because their gardens are simply full of thorns and thistles. Thus, given the same opportunities to experience, taste, and grow…they reject God.
This text is clearly urging us to not grow dull and indifferent, but to grow mature and wise. No one wants to plant a useless garden…including God.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.