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.
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.
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
There is a very old adage which has a much disputed origin. The adage is: “Give a man fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” The concept of alleviating poverty by providing a means of self-sufficiency is found throughout history. Chinese philosophers, novelists, newspapers and charity workers have all been credited with some aspects of this adage. According to quoteinvestigator.com, Anne Isabella Thackery Ritchie deserves to be credited with the origin. Trying to be of service to someone in need is admirable. Choosing the best way to meet that need can be the biggest challenge. This adage causes us to evaluate the greatest action to choose with the opportunity to have longevity.
In the passage from Acts, we see Peter and John called upon to meet the needs of a man who was unable to walk so he sat at the temple gate begging every day. The man needed money in order to purchase necessities on which he could survive. Peter saw an opportunity to provide something which would be life changing, not merely life sustaining. Peter showed the man how to walk and stand.
We, like Peter, can provide a long-term change for people. The easy route when we are called upon to assist someone is to provide for the immediate need. This can be accomplished in the quickest amount of time and create the least amount of cost to us. However, we truly can make a meaningful difference if we invest our time in gaining an understanding of the source of the need. With this understanding, we then are able to provide whatever is necessary to reduce or eliminate the source of the immediate need. This will create a stronger possibility of the need not occurring again.
Let us follow Ritchie’s adage and Peter’s example.
Many parents and spouses often make comments about hearing deficits in regard to their children and/or spouse. These individuals usually do not have a hearing issue but instead they are not responding to what their parent and/or spouse deems as appropriate. This creates frustration within the relationship. The frustration is expressed often by using such a question as, “Do you have a hearing problem because I just told you (fill in the blank) and yet you (fill in the blank)?” The person has heard but chose not to act upon whatever was said to them.
In his letter, James cautions the followers of Christ not to just receive the Word but to act upon what they have received. James provides imagery which shows the pointlessness of listening to what the Word says but not putting it into action within one’s life. Instead, James tells the reader to find in the Word the freedom which is given and to live within the Word. Acting upon what is learned from the Word will provide blessings in life.
How often are we like children who are given guidance and direction but ignore this? We have been given the Word of God, and seen it demonstrated in the life of Christ, as a pattern and guide for the way in which we live. This gift can only be a true gift if we act upon what we learn. The value of the Word is not found in the writings but in how we apply these writings daily in our lives. When we grasp the life application of God’s Word, we discover blessings which would allude us otherwise.
Spend time in studying God’s Word but do not stop there, apply what you have discovered in your daily life.
Are you more of an optimist or a pessimist? When given a challenge, do you see it as a problem or an opportunity to learn? For many of us, it often depends on the specifics of the situation as to where we fall along the line between these options. During times of challenge and struggle, the temptation to look back and view our previous circumstances in a grandiose way is real.
This passage regarding the Israelites occurs in the midst of their journey from Egypt to the Promise Land. God had appointed Moses to be their liberator and guide. The people had suffered under the current Pharaoh which led them to cry out to God for help. God sends Moses to negotiate the release of the Israelites and when that fails God allows Pharaoh and all of Egypt to suffer until Pharoah relents. Then God protects and saves the Israelites when Pharoah pursues them. Now they are in a location where food is scarce, the weather is uncomfortable and they are becoming weary of the journey. As people are prone to do, the Israelites begin complaining. They blame Moses for all of their woes. They view their time in Egypt to have been much better than their current circumstances. They forget the suffering which they had experienced while in Egypt.
We can often fall into the same trap which the Israelites did in the story of their exodus. Our memories can be altered by our current circumstances. The “good old days” in our memories often remove the negatives of our situation in those times. Instead of being grateful for what God has done to bring us where we are, we complain about the challenges which we now face. Our memories fail us about how we begged God for help and now we ridicule the help which we have received.
Each step of our journey contains positives and negatives. We have an opportunity to grow with each challenge facing us. Our God is with us on the journey, ready to assist whenever needed. Let us be grateful for each step of our journey. Let us remember how the Lord has taken us from where we were to where we are now. Trust that the Lord is already preparing us for the next step. May complaining be transformed into rejoicing.
Today as I was looking at some Christian artwork, I came across a picture created by Yongsung Kim (click here to learn about the artist.) As I viewed the picture, the story of Peter attempting to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-33) came into my mind. Then I began to consider the many times I have needed Jesus to reach into the water and pull me up in life. View this picture and share your thoughts.
1. What do you notice about Jesus?
2. When you see Jesus’s hand, what thoughts come to mind?
3. When have you needed Jesus to reach into the water for you?
My mother was one who taught her children that once you begin something you stick with it until it is completed. There might be times when I wanted to quit because it became too difficult or I did not like it for some reason but neither were reasons enough for mom. This lesson of carrying something through to completion has served me well in my personal and professional lives. The satisfaction when you finish something is very rewarding.
At the beginning of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we read of his gratitude for the support and sense of satisfaction which he has experienced through the people. He also tells them that he has been praying for them and the joy they bring him. His prayers include the desire for their continued growth in the Lord. In the midst of all of this, Paul declares, “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:6)
The declaration which Paul makes to the Philippians applies to us. God is definitely not one to quit or give up. This is evidenced in the continual times God made a covenant with the Hebrew people only to have them break it and a new one have to be started. The Lord began in each of us a work which the Lord declared to be good. From the beginning of our lives, God has continued to shape and guide us toward the person we were intended to be. Each day, the Lord works with us as we learn, grow and struggle. Never will God give up on a single one of us or walk away, leaving us unfinished and incomplete.
What a true comfort to have the knowledge of God’s continued work in us. We never have to fear abandonment. We also do not have to be seen as perfect because we are the Lord’s work in progress. Our failures and mistakes are to be viewed as part of the process not as the point of ruin. God is faithful to the work begun in each of us. God is not a quitter.