So Good

There are times in a person’s life when memories from our childhood can come flooding back into the mind. Certain experiences or events can trigger those memories. Recently, some events in my life created one of those instances. I was reflecting upon how certain situations fell into place. I had a need for the Lord to intercede in my life and the lives of some individuals who I deeply love. Naturally, this prompted me to engage in a sustained period of frequent and diligent prayer. I turned to family and trusted prayer warriors in my life. While I firmly believe that the Lord always works faithfully in the lives of God’s children, I could have never foreseen the great show of faithfulness which I recently experienced. This led me to remember a song from my childhood.

Growing up in a small, rural community, I had the blessing of being nurtured into the Christian faith by loving people in a small church. Every Sunday morning, children, youth, teachers and the pastor would gather in a basement room for the Sunday School opening. We would sing songs, hear a passage from Scripture, and say a prayer before splitting into our classes by age. One song which we sang frequently is, God is So Good. I would also later sing this song at church camp.

As I considered the Lord’s recent guidance and blessings in my life, the words of this song flooded my mind.

God truly is good and has been extremely good to me. I love God so!

The Well

Read John 4:11-15

In our family there are stories of the many times my dad would run out of gas when driving the car. He seemed to like to wait until the last possible moment to put gas in the car. Probably he thought he could find it at a cheaper price at the next station. Mom enjoyed telling one particular story from when they had lived in California. They had decided to take my visiting grandparents up into the mountains to see the beauty. Before they went, grandpa told dad that he had better fill up the car with gas but dad said it was not necessary. As they passed gas stations along the way, grandpa would mention getting gas and dad would refuse. The car made the trip up the mountain but as they started the descent it ran out of gas. They had to coast down the mountain with the engine not running. Dad ran out of gas. The good news was there was a station at the bottom where they were able to fill the tank.

Like the car of my parents, we can run out of gas. Our spirits may be running on empty. We may be physically and emotionally exhausted. Jesus gave an invitation to the Samaritan woman which exists for us today — come to the well. The well of Jesus is full of living water which quenches the thirst of our souls. We can refill our dry lives with this water from the well. We can be renewed and restored. The well never runs empty. Just come to the well of Jesus.

A Legacy

Read 2 Timothy 4:6-8

When a person dies, one of the tasks which family members must complete is writing an obituary for the person. Occasionally, individuals will write their own obituaries prior to their death but it often falls upon the family to complete this. The writing of the obituary may actually require two to be written; one to be published in newspapers and one to be included in the service since newspapers are charging so much that a shorter version makes it more practical. The goal of the obituary is to highlight important facts about the individual’s life, encapsulating their legacy. If you were to write your own obituary, what would it say?

The writer of today’s passage is giving a brief obituary. The person acknowledges an impending death. Verse seven is the legacy that is being left behind, a life hallmarked by completing what was being asked in the context of faith. The writer then concluded that due to this legacy there is a reward awaiting which will be supplied by the Lord. In addition, the author states that this reward is available not only to the one speaking but to all who do the same in faith.

The passage causes many questions to surface for anyone who hears or reads it. Ask yourself these:

– What fight are you called to fight by your faith?

– How would you describe your race?

– In what ways are you keeping the faith? Where are you struggling to do this?

– What do you hope to have included in your legacy?

Temptation

Read Matthew 4:1-11

All types of temptations confront us in life. When a person is on a diet, there seems to be endless opportunities to eat foods which are packed with unhealthy calories. If you are trying to conserve or save money, advertisements on social media surface attempting to entice you to buy something you want badly. When in college, the availability of credit cards tempted me to spend money which I did not have. Temptation comes in a variety of forms from a variety of sources. How a person responds to temptation has a strong impact on one’s ability to overcome the temptation.

In today’s passage from Matthew’s version of the gospel, we witness Jesus going to the arid area near the Jordan River. Prior to this passage we hear of Jesus being baptized by John. This is the starting point of Jesus’s earthly ministry. The transition from growing up while working with Joseph and his mobile ministry of healing and teaching is marked with these two stories. While in this barren area without resources of food and water, Jesus is tempted by the tempter, or devil. The three mentioned temptations are taking care of the physical needs of food and water, testing if the Father’s protection is real, and obtaining controlling power by worshiping someone other than God. Jesus’s response is always to rely on his understanding and following of God’s directions. This response allowed Jesus to overcome the temptation.

Each of us encounter the same types of temptations as presented here. There are times when we are tempted to place our perceived needs ahead of everything else. We are tempted to take matters into our own hands to satisfy our need instead of trusting in God to provide.

The temptation to want to challenge God to see if the promises are real can surface occasionally. We may make reckless choices and say to ourselves, “if God truly loves me, I will be kept safe.” The expectation that God will get us out of perilous situations is best illustrated with the moral story of the man who drowned in a flood because he kept refusing the help God was sending.

A hunger for power and authority along with all the earthly benefits associated with them can easily creep into our everyday life. We place people and objects in the center of our lives to obtain that power, authority and benefits. These items take the place of God who deserves to always be in the center of our lives.

Jesus again provides a way to respond when these, and other temptations, confront us. Relying on the directions of the Lord is the way to overcome temptation. We can obtain this direction by understanding and applying Scripture. The fellow believers and faith leaders which God places in our lives can assist in providing God’s direction for us. Being in communication with the Lord through the Spirit also opens this direction to us. Temptation will always come our way but if we seek God’s direction as our response when it does, we will overcome it.

A Purpose

Read Jeremiah 17:7-8

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.”

– The Reverend Rich King quoting Mark Batterson

Identity

Read Philippians 3:7-9

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.

The Potter

Read Isaiah 64:8

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

Unfinished Work

Read Philippians 1:3-11

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.

Abide

Read Revelation 3:20 

One of my favorite older hymns is Abide With Me. I was not introduced to this hymn in church but instead in my high school marching band. Our band director chose an arrangement of this hymn to be one of the songs in our show one fall. The melody was always soothing to me. Later I would locate the hymn in my church’s hymnal and would gain a deeper love of it when I read the words of the lyrics.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide

The darkness deepens Lord, with me abide

When other helpers fail and comforts flee

Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day

Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away

Change and decay in all around I see

O Thou who changest not, abide with me

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless

Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness

Where is death’s sting?

Where, grave, thy victory?

I triumph still, if Thou abide with me

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies

Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee

In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me

Abide with me, abide with me

Abide With Me, Audrey Assad

The verse from Revelation listed above speaks of abiding with Christ. The verse comes in the midst of John’s vision at the point that letters are being shared with the seven churches. Toward the end of the letter to the Church in Laodicea we locate this verse. The invitation for us to abide, or spend time, with the Lord is put forward here. We are told that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, waiting for us to open the door so he can join us, break bread with us, and sit with us.

There is comfort and calm when one considers the possibility of abiding with Christ. The words of the hymn affirm this assurance and comfort. The promise shared in the verse from Revelation makes this a real possibility. Unlocking the possibility is in our hands. The Lord stands and waits after knocking on our heart’s door. We must hear his knock and voice. Then we must open the door and take the time to sit with the Lord.

Proper Focus

Read Philippians 2:3-4

Have you ever taken pictures with a manual 33mm camera? When I was in high school I was taught how to take and develop pictures using a manual 35mm camera. I was a member of the yearbook and student newspaper staffs which each needed all types of pictures taken for the publications. This became a very enjoyable assignment for me. I had to learn how and on what to focus for each shot as I turned the dial on the lense which I chose to attach to the camera. Often the subject in the center of the picture became the element which I would focus upon. The focus had to be  precise or the picture was worthless. I still own my own 35mm manual camera even though I have not used it in years since now my cellular phone’s camera is easier and readily at hand.

As we read from Paul’s letter, the conversation involves who is receiving the focus. These verses are part of a discussion Paul is having in regard to how to live together as Christ followers. He is telling the readers to not be arrogant and self-centered. After these verses, Paul will lift Jesus up as an example of how to be humble and take the interests of others to heart alongside our own interests.

The trap of focusing just on one’s self is an easy one to fall into for us. There are many demands and expectations placed upon our time, energy, and money. Temptations of wanting more and better surround us. Threats of losing what we have seem to be endless as we watch the news and hear the stories of neighbors, friends and family. A person can reach the point of accepting the idea that it is a “dog eat dog world” which demands us to focus solely on our wants, needs and desires.

Paul tells us that this is not the attitude to have as a follower of Christ. We are not to place ourselves ahead of others. Our wants, needs and desires must be placed alongside the interests of others. As Jesus was willing to humble himself to the point of sacrificing all, we must be willing to do the same. A self-centered Christian is not demonstrating the way to live as Christ.