Life is filled with opportunities to make decisions. Some of the decisions which we make are not as life altering as others. Deciding what to eat for dinner, or what to wear for the day, or which television show to watch are generally not decisions which will impact the future direction of our lives. There are decisions which do shape and direct the future course of our lives. Choosing what institution of higher learning to attend, or who we might marry, or where we may live can impact the trajectory of our existence in profound ways. The process and steps which we use to make our decisions can influence the outcome.
The passage from Luke’s gospel account presents to us a time when Jesus is faced with an important decision. He is choosing which ones of all his disciples he will closely mentor and teach. The individuals chosen would represent Jesus and minister on his behalf when he is not physically present. They would later be entrusted with the responsibility of sharing the good news with people throughout the known areas of civilization. Some of their words and actions would be shared with generations to come, even to our present one.
The passage starts by giving us insight into an important part of Jesus’s decision making process. We hear that Jesus went away to be alone. While he was absent from the cities, crowds and disciples, he prayed for an extended period of time. Upon his return, he shared his decision in regard to which of the disciples would personally be mentored by the Lord and be given special authority on his behalf.
How do you go about making major decisions in your life? Are you a lone ranger who relies solely on yourself to make these types of decisions? Does praying to God enter into your process at all? Clearly the writer of Luke’s gospel included this brief passage to emphasize to us the great importance of prayer in the decision process. As followers of Christ, our daily pursuit is to follow the example which Jesus placed before us. One such example is this one. Jesus came to the Father to consult prior to making a vital ministry decision. Should we not do the same with all of our vital decisions?
Sometimes it takes a person to get out of his/her daily surroundings to appreciate the wonder of creation. Each part of the country has similarities and unique aspects with other parts. The wonder of how creation intermingles and stands out marvels a person with open eyes. When traveling, an individual is given the opportunity to experience creation and the magnificent work of the Lord afresh. This week I have been drawn to the lyrics of this hymn:
Make some deliberate time today to notice and experience the wonder of God’s creation wherever you are located.
Role models play a valuable role in life. By observing positive behaviors and attitudes in others, individuals can improve choices made in life. These role models may be teachers, mentors, neighbors, family members and/or community members. We might know them personally or only be able to observe them from a distance. Learning from their lives, we are able to be shaped and guided as we journey through our own lives. Choosing our role models is a very important decision because it can influence the direction our life takes into the future.
In the Bible, we observe a large variety of role models. One of the purposes of the Scriptures is to share stories of the people of God so that there is an availability of role models for us in our life and faith journeys. The passage from 1 Kings presents Solomon as a role model. Solomon has recently become the king of Israel, succeeding his father David. This story is a vision in which Solomon is asked by God what God may be able to give Solomon. The vision may create in our minds the image of a genie in a lamp giving the lamp’s new owner three wishes. Faced with the opportunity to request anything, Solomon begins by humbling himself before God and expressing gratitude to God. The one request which Solomon makes is for wisdom to rightly govern God’s people. Because of the attitude of and the request made by Solomon, God indicates that wisdom will be given and promises a long, wealthy and honored life for Solomon if Solomon follows God.
Whether you have been placed in a leadership role or are facing everyday decisions of life, what Solomon models in this story can serve you well. There is benefit to humbling one’s self in the face of opportunity. Realizing the great fortunes of life which has allowed the opportunity to be presented is a great starting point. Acknowledging the limitations of knowledge and skills reminds the person that no one achieves alone. Then seeking the wisdom to choose and act in a way which not only benefits self but others aligns a person to live in an beneficial manner. This follows the example of Christ as well as Solomon.
During a recent podcast from our city’s mayor, she was interviewing a chaplain who serves as a mentor and guide at one of our local universities. She was asking the gentleman about the advice he gives to his own children and the young adults with whom he works daily. One piece of advice he mentioned was to realize that wherever God has led someone, there is something which God intends for them to do there. This comment was a reminder for me of a charge which a friend of mine gave at the end of every worship experience. The image of God planting us somewhere to produce fruit came into my mind. This image raised the passage from Jeremiah in my thoughts.
What does it mean to be planted in a location to bear fruit? First, it raises the idea that wherever we land in life is not by chance nor is it solely based on decisions which we make. There is a partnership in action when it comes to the community we claim as home. God guides us in the process but does not dictate the decision. We may not always adhere to God’s guidance but whether we do or not, God will provide opportunities for us to bear fruit wherever we land. When we trust God’s guidance, the landing is a little softer and the opportunities a little clearer.
Second, we are made aware that wherever we are, we have the opportunity to bear fruit in the Lord’s name. This bearing of fruit looks different for each person. Just as there are different colors, tastes and benefits of the fruits we find in nature, the produce from our actions and lives are different. The fruit which the Lord desires us to produce is the type which builds up others, introduces to them the possibilities with God, and communicates the love and grace of the Lord.
Jeremiah reminds us that where we are planted, we will find the necessary items which will feed us and sustain us. As a tree needs a water source to sustain its leaves and bear fruit, we need a source which feeds us spiritually. The Lord provides us that living water source so we never have to fear, can endure challenges, and are able to bear fruit for the Lord.
Quoting my friend:
” You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. He (sic) has a purpose in you being there. Christ who dwells in you has something he wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in his (sic) grace and love and power.”
There is a famous English proverb which has an origin that is difficult to trace: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This proverb is an attempt to communicate the idea that an intention is meaningless unless it is acted upon. How many of us are guilty of saying something like “I will visit with my elderly aunt when my life slows down in a bit.” Often we make such a statement with some desire to act upon it but unfortunately something leads to the aunt dying and we never make the visit. Each of us can think of other examples of situations when we claim we are going to do something but we do not follow through and the opportunity is lost.
The writer of the letter of James is speaking about such a situation. Here it is pointed out that we can earnestly make future plans but there is no guarantee the future will come to be. The Lord is the only one who knows our future and where the next day will take us. The writer clearly communicates the finality and brevity of our existence. Anyone who proclaims the future plans which will occur is acting as if the future is in the individual’s control. This attitude is described here as arrogant.
The Lord does not have an issue with us making plans. Where we run into a problem is when we see those plans as guaranteed and under our control. This is why we are reminded here that we are not to put off to tomorrow the acts of love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. Each day we are given opportunities to show these expressions as we act upon them. The good which we can do for one another should be carried out at the time the opportunity is presented instead of planning to get around to it another day.
Today I was thinking about the inclusivity of the Lord’s love. From what we see in Jesus’s ministry and the ministry of the Apostle Paul, we learn that God’s love extends beyond all social and geographical boundaries. The limitations which we may have witnessed are human boundaries, not boundaries established by God. Over and over in the Gospel accounts, we observe Jesus shattering any and all boundaries to the love of God. A main component of Paul’s ministry as recorded in Acts and the letters is the message of God’s love to those outside the Hebrew people. This understanding reminded me of the song, Big House, by Audio Adrenaline. I share it with you now in hopes that you can imagine what God intends and that you might offer an invitation to others.
Life can be difficult and filled with challenges. There are times when one can easily feel like everyone and everything is against you. The thought of another day may invoke fear. A person may sense enemies around each turn. You feel beaten up and without hope.
The people of Israel were feeling this way during their time of exile. They had been removed from their homeland. It seemed they had been attacked from every side. God appeared to have abandoned them. Into this situation, God speaks to the people through the prophet Isaiah. Part of that message is what we have read for today. In this section, God reminds the Israelites that they have been chosen. The people are assured that God has not rejected them. Then God communicates hope and tells them not to fear. The hope is found in the promise that God will provide the strength which they need to endure the difficulties. God will deal with the enemies and those who stand in opposition to them. The promise is that God will be their help.
The promise which Isaiah shares on God’s behalf was not only for the Israelites of that day but for all of God’s children. This is the promise which belongs to each of us. When we are feeling overwhelmed and/or having periods in life as described above, the message Isaiah speaks can bring us assurance and hope. Our God declares that being our help in these situations is God’s intention. By trusting in this promise and turning to God, we can endure because we know God is present to provide us strength. We also know that the situation is not permanent because our helper is offering a time when we no longer have anything to fear. Turn to and trust God because God has promised to be our help, strength and hope of a different future.
What would you say gives you your identity? Some individuals might answer this question by describing their employment. Others may choose to answer by talking about their degrees or training or certifications. Another potential response may be linked to their name and/or ancestry. Where the person lives currently or lived previously might be the answer a person gives to this question. A list of accomplishments could be the way the person responds. There are a variety of answers the question night elicit and the one chosen provides insight into what the individual determines as important.
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul speaks about what is important to him and gives us a glimpse into how he wishes to be identified. Paul states that any previous accomplishments or skills are of no value to him any longer. He instead wishes to focus on his relationship with Christ which now has the highest value in his life. He desires to be identified through his faith as connected to Christ.
Reading Paul’s words can cause us to question the man’s sanity. We know that Paul was a very accomplished and respected Pharisee. He also was known to be a Roman citizen which gives him a respected level under the Roman occupation. Since experiencing Christ and changing his direction in his belief of God, he has been a highly effective evangelist, especially to the Gentiles. Why would he say this is garbage in light of his identity in Christ? This talk does not fit the social norms of Paul’s day or of our day.
The truth which Paul discovered is that his most important identifier is found in his relationship with Christ Jesus. Being identified as a follower, believer, and joint heir with Christ was Paul’s greatest accomplishment. This is an important discovery for us as well. Being identified in and with Christ becomes the unchanging determinate of who we are as individuals. The burden of achieving is lessened because we know that in Christ we have achieved the greatest reward. Having to prove ourselves to obtain value no longer is required. Our value is now found in being a child of God, loved by God, redeemed by Christ and identified as righteous.
Life can have moments of great discouragement. There can be times when a person perceives a great deal of effort is being exerted but little progress seems to be obtained. Some describe this as “beating my head against a wall.” The idea of giving up comes into the person’s mind. It may appear that there is no chance of success. The discouragement seems to take over a person’s thinking and will. Then a surprising and unexpected change occurs. A new energy emerges in the person. There is a renewed vigor to continue and move forward. A lot of effort may still be required yet a feeling of hope returns.
Elijah faced a great time of discouragement. He had been holding Ahab accountable as God instructed but Ahab was listening to the counsel of Jezebel, his wife, instead. Jezebel greatly disliked Elijah because he was a threat to her and her following of Baal. Elijah had defeated the prophets of Baal and they were killed in the process. This angered Jezebel and she vowed to kill Elijah. Elijah fled in fear to the wilderness outside Beersheba. He is extremely discouraged and ready to quit. He even asks God to end his life before falling asleep. When Elijah is awakened, he finds food and drink provided to renew his energy. After falling asleep and waking a second time, he was encouraged to eat and drink more because the journey ahead would be long. Elijah was renewed and re-energized enough to travel to Horeb where he found shelter and rest.
Our journey can be a long one. We can become weary and discouraged. The idea of giving up can dominate our thoughts. During such a period, we would do well to remember Elijah’s story. When Elijah reached the point that he thought it would be better to die instead of continue, God provided what would be necessary for the journey to continue. God will always do the same for us. A certain person, a specific resource, a special message will arrive to join us on the journey. We will be fed, renewed and encouraged so with a new vigor we can journey on. When God perceives we have completed our journey, then rest will come and we will find blessing.
Take a moment to look at this artwork created by Nicole Smith. As I gazed at this oil painting, the verse from Isaiah came into my mind. This verse acknowledges that God is the one who has created each of us. God’s hands have been on us and our lives since the day we were conceived. It is important to remember that God has not completed the work of molding us. Each day the molding and shaping of us continues and God’s hands remain on us.
We are not perfected pieces YET. There are times when we cave in on a side and need to be reshaped. We can collapse into a lump because of life’s pressures or our weaknesses. God does not give up on us when we appear to be ruined but gently works with us to begin our re-creation. When the world sees us as a useless lump of clay, God sees the masterpiece which we can become.
“You are the potter. I am the clay. Mold me and make me. This is what I pray.” – Change My Heart, Oh God– Eddie Espinosa