Every so often, Janet and I receive a newsletter from a local non-profit organization that we like to support as part of our annual giving. Shepherd Community is based on the near east side of Indianapolis and has a singular mission – to eradicate poverty in the area they inhabit. They are trying to break the cycle of poverty and have been active in after school programs for kids – and a host of other programs too numerous to mention that all work together to give these marginalized children a chance at success – something most of their parents never had. Janet and I are touched by the magnitude of Shepherd’s commitment to these families and the community. We just can’t imagine not helping them.
Last week-end, we received a newsletter update from their Executive Director and in his column, he told a story about a book he read on building cathedrals. He went on to share that he learned that cathedrals take four generations to build. Each generation has its own responsibilities and the job of the first generation is to plant trees. That way, after the second and third generations build the stonework, the fourth generation will be able to harvest the timber and complete the roof of the cathedral. It would be an understatement to say that I found the article fascinating.
Although I know that the cathedrals in Europe took many, many years to complete, and intellectually I know that those who worked on the foundation probably didn’t live long enough to see the completed project, this article really drove the point home for me. I’m sure the point of the story’s inclusion in the newsletter is that we are planting trees as well – investing in kids who won’t be able to break the cycle of poverty in one generation, but that’s okay – we’re planting trees so that future generations can stand on our shoulders and complete the mission that we started.
It is true that sometimes it is discouraging to know that we won’t necessarily see the fruits of our labor. Most of us who try to disciple others and hope that they will eventually turn their lives over to Jesus as their Lord and Savior tend to get disappointed when we don’t see our “students” convert. But that’s not what Jesus wants from us. Our job is to spread the Good News, but it is up to the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of the people; urging them to enter the kingdom of God.
The verse for this evening is from an Old Testament writer, Ezekiel. We are told, in Ezek. 17:22-23, “ ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.”
Notice the things that will happen here – from the shoot will come branches and the tree will bear fruit – and it will become a splendid tree. Birds will inhabit it, finding shelter in its branches. That’s just a very special picture.
My encouragement this evening is that God wants all of us to plant trees – knowing that somewhere in the future, our efforts could very well provide people with the option to accept Christ and live eternally with Him. My prayer is that you will not lose yourself in today, but that you will consider how your actions and investment in others may well pay dividends years in the future because even if you aren’t around to see the transformation, God will know you had a hand in it. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…