You may remember me saying several weeks ago – that God has a long track record of picking the most unlikely of people and allowing them to do great things:

Abraham, as we heard last week, was old.

The prophet Elijah was suicidal.

Joseph was abused by his brothers.

Job went bankrupt.

And Moses?

Moses had been given away at birth by his mother.  Raised in Pharaoh’s house. And was now on the lame for killing an Egyptian.

Moses, when given his call by God to release the Israelites from bondage — will object because he was slow of speech and tongue – and yet God was sending him to speak to one of the most powerful men in the world at the time.  “Send someone else” was Moses’ final objection and yet God sent Moses — because God picks the most unlikely of people allowing them to do great things.

Gideon was afraid.

Jeremiah was young.

Jacob was a cheater.

Jonah ran from God.

Rahab was a prostitute.

Why does God pick such unlikely people?  Because God never gives up on anyone – no matter what they do or how far they stray.  

The gardener in today’s Parable — is like God  — when everyone else is ready to cut someone down by their biting words of criticism or doubt – God will say –   NO—let me cultivate and fertilize – let me love and nurture. Instead of cutting down or throwing away – God wants to uplift and use —– and the funny thing is – God expects us to be like him. . . God expects us to uplift others by our words of encouragement – rather than cutting them down by our criticism. . .

We should learn and practice this lesson Howard Hendricks learned:

By fifth grade, I was bearing all the fruit of a kid who feels insecure, unloved, and pretty angry at life.  However, my teach Miss Simon apparently thought I was blind to all of these problems, because she often reminded me:  “Howard, you are the worst behaved child in this school.”

So tell me something I don’t already know! I thought to myself, as I proceeded to live up to (or down to) her opinion of me. . .

Needless to say, the 5th grade was probably the worst year of my life.  Finally, I moved on to 6th grade.  But I left with Miss Simon’s words ringing in my ears:  “Howard, you are the worst behaved child in this school!”

You can imagine what my expectations were upon entering 6th grade.  The first day of class, my new teacher, Miss Noe, went down the class list, and it wasn’t long before she came to my name.  “Howard Hendricks,” she called out, glancing from her list to where I was sitting with my arms folded. She looked me over for a moment, and then said, “I’ve heard a lot about you.”  Then she smiled and said: “But I don’t believe a word of it.”

I tell you, that moment was a fundamental turning point, not only in my education, but in my life.  Suddenly, unexpectedly – someone believed in me. For the first time in my life – someone saw potential in me.  Miss Noe put me on special assignments. She gave me little jobs to do. >>

She invited me to stay after school to work on my reading and math.  She challenged me to higher standards.

I had a hard time letting her down.  In fact, one time I got so involved in one of her homework assignments that I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning working on it!  Eventually my father came down the hall and said, “What’s the matter son? Are you sick or something?”

“No, I’m doing homework,” I replied.

He kind of blinked and rubbed his eyes, not quite sure whether he was awake or dreaming.  Because he’d never heard me say anything like that before. . .

What made the difference between 5th and 6th grade?  The fact that someone was willing to give me a chance.  Someone was willing to believe in me while challenging me with higher expectations.  That was risky, because there was no guarantee that I would honor Miss Noe’s trust.

Everyone likes the end product of nurturing and mentoring – especially when it yields a peak performer – the star athlete, the successful businessperson, the brilliant lawyer, the impressive communicator.  But how many of us want to deal with the person at the front end of the process??

The owner said:  “For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none.  So cut it down.”

But the gardener said:  “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it.”

God never gives us up – no matter what we do or how far we stray.  When everyone else is ready to cut someone down by their biting words or criticism or doubt – God will say – NO – let me cultivate and fertilize – let me love and nurture.  Instead of cutting down or throwing away – God wants to uplift and use – and the funny thing is — God expects us to be like him. . . >

God expects us to uplift others by our words of encouragement – rather than cutting them down by our criticism. . .

Let’s “come to our senses” and realize we do affect others by our words and actions – the only questions is – is this going to be in a positive or negative way????

Loving and merciful God – this week we find ourselves in the orchard – – surrounded by trees that are either producing fruit, or that are barren.

Help us “come to our senses” and realize that our words and actions do have the power to help change people.  May we be a little more like God: when other people are ready to cut someone down by their biting words of judgment or criticism – help us be those who respond with words of encouragement and mercy – lifting others up, rather than tearing them down.