A question that presents a challenge to us at times is, “Why do you do (fill in the blank)?” There are times when our answer to the question is simple and fairly straightforward. However, other times we struggle to answer the question because we struggle to come up with an explanation which satisfies even ourselves. Having the ability to answer this question may prove beneficial to our growth and even to the growth of others. Some occasions lead to great introspection which can develop self awareness. Our answers may open doors to insights and opportunities.
As followers of Christ, we are to emulate the behaviors and actions of our Lord. In reading Scripture, we see Christ was always serving and teaching others. One would certainly describe Jesus’s words and actions as good. If we are working to be an example as our Lord has been, our words and actions should be labeled as good by others. When/if this occurs, it is quite possible that we will be asked why we are doing/saying these things.
In the midst of the discussion in 1 Peter, we encounter the author speaking about explaining ourselves. “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” This hope is clearly linked to the good being discussed here. The reminder is that the good we do stems from the hope which we have in Jesus Christ. This good is going to cause others to ask questions. We need to be prepared to explain in a gentle and respectful way. What a wonderful opportunity to open others to the love of our Lord.
There are concepts which in their complexity can be difficult to understand. When we are younger, teachers take complicated concepts and break them down so we might understand the parts before understanding the whole. Teachers also learn that a student may need a concept explained in a different way in order to gain understanding. As a wonderful teacher, Jesus understood this. Jesus used parables, or storytelling, to communicate complicated messages in an understandable way.
A parable which Jesus told was about a vineyard owner and the tenants who worked his vineyard. The owner sent some servants and his son at harvest time to collect some of the harvest. As each one was sent, the tenants beat them, put them back with nothing, and even killed some of them including his son. The owner came himself, killed the tenants, and recruited new tenants.
This story was Jesus’s attempt to explain God’s viewpoint of how the Hebrew people have behaved and the coming response. All the prophets, angels and messengers had come to the people to give God’s message and bring the people back in relationship with God. The people rejected and even killed these servants of the Lord. Not wanting to give up on the people, God sends the Son. At some point, after endless rejection, God will let the people go to their own destruction and welcome in those who have chosen a relationship with the Lord.
The proverbial ball is always in our court. God will never reject any one of us. We will be sent messenger after messenger who invites us to share in the final harvest. Jesus came so even if we choose to reject God’s servants, we are given the ultimate way back to God. However, it remains our choice whether to accept or reject those who God has sent.
From the mid-1960s through the early 1970s, a television series starring Peter Graves, Barbara Bain and Greg Morris entertained many Americans…Mission: Impossible. IMDb describes the show as, “An elite covert operations unit carries out highly sensitive missions subject to official denial in the event of failure, death or capture.” In 1996, Tom Cruise produced and starred in the first of six movies based on the television show. There are two more movies in the series scheduled to be released in the coming years. The reason for the title is the idea that what this covert unit is asked to do is seemingly impossible. Yet, the unit always accomplishes its objective, albeit with some significant hurdles and setbacks along the way.
Today we encounter “mission impossible” in our reading from Scripture. A rich man seeks to ensure he has done, and is doing, the correct things to spend eternity in the presence of God. Jesus tells him to do the obvious, follow God’s commandments. When the man assures Jesus that he has checked off that box since he was young, Jesus gives him his mission impossible–give up his wealth for charity. The man declined to accept the mission. Jesus then points out that to achieve eternity in the presence of God, one must surrender to the possibility of God.
Our reaction to Jesus’s teaching here is much like the reactions of the rich man and the disciples. We feel defeated and wonder why we should not just give up. The demand Jesus seems to be making goes beyond our capabilities. Even Jesus acknowledges this impossibility. So what are we left at this point?
The rich man and the disciples are missing what Jesus is trying to teach here. They feel defeated because they are relying on their own abilities. Jesus is saying we must surrender ourselves and our abilities to God. We are not the ones who are to complete the mission, in fact, we cannot. The mission is God’s mission and has already been completed in Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus says, “It is finished,” as he dies on the cross. He is actually declaring, “Mission accomplished.”
People come in and out of our lives regularly. There are some who make a significant impact while others quickly fade from our memory. Some individuals are a part of our lives for a long span of time, but some only interact with us briefly. There are the standouts and the unnoticed. We may view a person as having great value to us and another is seen as contributing little to our lives. The world teaches us how to value another human. We are also taught how we are, or are not, valued by others.
Unlike humans, the Lord places a high value on each one of us. Our value, and the value we have with others, is not dependent upon us. To the world we may look used up and have nothing to contribute. Yet it is the Lord who gives value to each person. By touching our lives, God makes us into the great masterpiece which we were created to be. The touch of the Lord transforms us from a broken, sinful person into a radiant child of the King. Whether our contribution to the world is brief or long, whether we are noticed or remain unnoticed, by God’s amazing power, we are a shining star of humanity.
Wayne Watson sings of this truth in a song, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” written by John Kramp based upon a poem by Myrna Brooks Welch. Enjoy listening to this song as you realize that you, and every person you encounter, are a masterpiece of great value when the Lord touches and beautifully plays your life.
For the next two weeks, I will not be posting new devotionals. We will be in the process of moving and I will not have the time to properly write. Expect to see the devotions returning on the week of February 14. Blessings to all of you faithful readers.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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.”