Expressing Gratitude

This month every year in the United States, people are encouraged to pause in order to express thanks for blessings which have occurred in their lives over the year. A specific day has been set aside to do exactly this. The roots of Thanksgiving Day are found in the story of English settlers experiencing their first harvest in the new world.

Prayers of thanks and special thanksgiving ceremonies are common among almost all religions after harvests and at other times.The Thanksgiving holiday’s history in North America is rooted in English traditions dating from the Protestant Reformation. It also has aspects of a harvest festival, even though the harvest in New England occurs well before the late-November date on which the modern Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated.

Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated from England in the 1620s and 1630s carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. The modern Thanksgiving holiday tradition is traced to a well-recorded 1619 event in Virginia and a sparsely documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts. The 1619 arrival of 38 English settlers at Berkeley Hundred in Charles City County, Virginia, concluded with a religious celebration as dictated by the group’s charter from the London Company, which specifically required “that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned … in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God.” The 1621 Plymouth feast and thanksgiving was prompted by a good harvest, which the Pilgrims celebrated with native Americans, who helped them pass the last winter by giving them food in the time of scarcity.

Wikipedia

Thinking about the upcoming celebration of Thanksgiving once again in three weeks prompted me to consider what it means to be thankful and show gratitude. To be a bit more specific, I have been thinking about gratitude in the light of my faith. Especially since the above words found in Wikipedia make mention of prayers and ceremonies among almost all religions.

There exist a variety of ways to express gratitude. Most often we think of using words to express gratitude. This may be as simple as saying, thank you, or may be longer by expressing exactly what prompts us to be thankful and how our life has been impacted. At other times, actions we take may be an expression of our gratitude.

So how do we go about expressing gratitude to God?

As a Christian, I believe that all I have and all that I am are gifts from God. God has chosen to bestow material items, means to purchase material items, talents I use, and knowledge which I have obtained upon me. God gives to me even the breath which I take and the food which sustains me. Nothing in my life exists except through the giving of it to me by God. So how do I express gratitude for my very life and everything within it?

Scripture contains suggestions which might be helpful:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micha 6:8

Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:34-40

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

John 4:11

Many other passages can be found which prompt us to give thanks to God. I lift these passages up to you because they talk not about words, or even worship, but about attitude and action. God warns the people that they can do all forms of worship and abide by the sacrificial laws which existed for ancient Israel but that without the correct actions and attitude, their expressions are hollow. (See Isaiah 1:10-18) This warning leads me to think that the best way to express gratitude to God is through our actions and attitude. I think God finds this most pleasing.

So as you pause this month to consider those aspects of your life which generate gratitude in your heart towards God, I encourage you not to just express your gratitude in words but more importantly in actions and attitude.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

When you look into a mirror, what is it that you see? This question easily haunts me. Over time there have been many different references to looking into a mirror. In the classic story of Snow White (or the more modern version entitled The Huntsman), the wicked witch looks to the mirror to assure her that she is the best looking in the land. Michael Jackson wrote and sang a song, Man in the Mirror, which was intended to spur people to act for the betterment of the world. Christian author, Patrick Morely, wrote a book about men’s issues also entitled Man in the Mirror. All these references leads one on a journey of self-esteem, action, and introspection.

I mentioned that my opening question haunts me. The reason for this is that I do not always like what I see when I look in the mirror. Purely looking at my physical image, I can see all my flaws and imperfections. Quickly it becomes an exercise in identifying all the aspects of my face and body which I would like to be different. When I take an introspective look at myself in the mirror, I am again reminded of all my failures, imperfections, and ways I could live my life differently (or should have). Others are able to identify positive traits in both my physical and internal self but these elude me when gazing in the mirror.

This conflicting image between what I see and what others see also exists between the Lord and myself. Unlike the writer of Psalm 139, I do not want the Lord to see inside me. The writer says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” I know that there is an offensive way in me. I try hard to keep this hidden from God and from others. Yet, what is amazing about the Lord is even though my heart is truly known by the Lord, I do not receive condemnation or punishment, instead the Lord expresses only love for me.

When I look in the mirror through the Lord’s eyes, these are the words generated by the image:

So, when you look into a mirror the next time, pray first that the Lord will give you eyes to see what the Lord sees. You may be surprised with the results.

The Bridge

One of my mom’s favorite songs was a Simon & Garfunkel song, Bridge Over Troubled Water. Here are the lyrics from that song if you do not recall it or have never heard it:

When you’re weary, feeling small

When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all (all)

I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough

And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

When you’re down and out

When you’re on the street

When evening falls so hard

I will comfort you (ooo)

I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes

And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will lay me down

Sail on silver girl

Sail on by

Your time has come to shine

All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine

Oh, if you need a friend

I’m sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will ease your mind

Like a bridge over troubled water

I will ease your mind

Source: LyricFind

Songwriter: Paul Simon

Bridge over Troubled Water lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

This song was originally written to convey the support of one lover or friend to another. However, I have come to see it also as a song in which I envision God singing these words to me, and all God’s children.

Life is definitely not easy. Throughout life, we face times when there are very troubled waters which we are trying to navigate. Jesus made it abundantly clear that during the stormy times in our lives, God does not abandon us and encourages us to not worry:

As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

Luke 8:23-25

I find so much comfort in the words expressed in this song. I think this is exactly what my mom experienced when she heard these words sung as well. The comfort becomes even greater to me when I think of God singing these words rather than a friend or lover. God is always faithful and trustworthy so as much as a friend or lover might try very hard to live out these words, I know that God always does.

The next time you hear this song, I encourage you to listen to it with the idea of God singing these to you. God’s love truly does create that bridge over troubled water.

No Mistakes

A person’s junior high school years can be some of the most difficult years in their young life. The ages of twelve through fourteen are the time in your life when you are trying to figure out a lot about yourself. Add to this the reality that you are physically experiencing many changes and a whole new set of hormones are flooding your body. At this point in my life I had an amazing English teacher, Miss Becky Schmelling. One of my greatest memories of Miss Schmelling was that she had a poster hanging on the wall of her classroom by the door. It was a cartoon image of a boy surrounded by old cans, books, and a variety of other items which appeared like they might be junk. The caption in big, bold letters said, “I am okay because God does not make junk.” I read that caption every single day I was in her classroom since I was feeling like junk trying to maneuver through my early adolescent years.

When I became an adult, I ran across a quote which carried the theme of Miss Schmelling’s poster a little farther. I honestly cannot tell you the originator of this quote or even where I first read the quote. If you do a Google search, you will find these words, or similar words, echoed all over the internet. The quote is this — “I am okay because God does not make mistakes.” I do not think I am the only one who needs to hear these words, and hear them often. There are many in our world who feel like maybe God made some mistakes, or a big one, when God created them. There is no one who can honestly say that they feel everything about them is perfect.

According to figures released by the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2017 (the most recent set of data) there were 47,173 deaths listed as suicide among all ages in the United States. This made suicide the tenth leading cause of death in the United States that year. If you look at the age groups of 10 to 34, there were 14, 717 suicide deaths which makes it the second leading cause of death in those age groups only behind unintentional accidents. What these startling and sad statistics tell me is that there are a lot of people who feel their life is a mistake, and they have no hope. These statistics do not share the number of individuals who attempted suicide that year but the attempt did not result in death.

I share all this with you to impress upon you two important points. The first is that each of you need to remember that God does not make mistakes. There is not one of you who is a mistake. God created you with a purpose and exactly the correct combinations of physical, mental, spiritual, and creative traits. You are unique, there is not now or ever any duplicate of you. You fit into all God’s creation in a way which no other being could ever fit. Your role in this world is very special. God loves you exactly the way you are right now.

The second point is that each of you must share this truth with others. Whether you have a poster hanging for others to see, or you share the message in words and actions, you must communicate to others that they are not a mistake because God does not make mistakes. By sharing this message, you may have an impact that you will never be aware of but an impact nonetheless. This may be the message that prevents someone from choosing to attempt suicide. Sharing of this may also be just the words that gives a person renewed purpose, meaning, or a sense of value. When you communicate this message, you demonstrate the love of God which went into the original creation of a person.

Let me tell you this one more time, you are okay because God does not make mistakes!

Need Patience

I struggle with being patient most of the time. If I decide to buy an item, I do my research, I spend some time going back and forth, I work through the financial aspects, and then I head to the store to make the purchase. Once I have gone through these steps, I expect to walk out of the store with the item I have chosen. If for some reason I do not have the opportunity to get the product or I have to wait for some reason, then I become extremely frustrated. My patience does not hold out well for me at this point.

Recently, I was reading a passage from Habakkuk. In this passage, the prophet complains against God because he feels that God is not listening. He has made request after request for life changes but the changes are not coming. He is losing his patience with God. The prophet is speaking for the nation of Israel but I could relate to the complaints on a personal level. Like my shopping routine, if I take a request to God, I have the expectation that the request will be fulfilled in the time frame of my choosing.

Following Habbukuk’s complaints, God responds. In God’s response, God reminds the people that relief will come but it will be according the correct timing. The people are told that they are to await this right time. God tells them that the source of their agony has not escaped notice. If the people will wait and remain faithful, the relief will arrive.

The words recorded in Habakkuk often convict me. I am reminded that I need to have patience. The message of God’s faithfulness and listening to my requests comes through these words clearly. I need to remember to wait on the Lord and I will not be disappointed.

This is not a new message to me. While I can understand the message and I believe the words to be true, putting them into practice in my life is not easy in any way. As I stated at the start of this post, I struggle with patience most of the time. I am convinced that this will be a lifetime struggle for me. Reading this passage often will be a valuable reminder to me. Being reminded that God’s time is much better than my time will assist me in my efforts to be patient.

How do you do with waiting on the Lord? What do you use as reminders of God’s faithfulness?  

Integrating Faith

Having spent most of my life in Iowa, moving to Texas at the end of last year has given me the opportunity to experience some different ways in which people live. I truly have enjoyed these new experiences and you can read more about them on my other blog. One of these experiences has been the openness about the sharing of faith. I realize that Texas is considered part of the Bible belt but I really did not fully understand what that meant. There is seldom a visit to a nearby Starbucks when I do not overhear a conversation regarding personal faith or a specific congregation. Many people come into the Starbucks carrying a Bible.

As I sat in Starbucks doing some research last week, two people were sitting at a table next to me. They were discussing which version of the Bible was their favorite. Then a man carrying two Bibles walked in the door, searching for the person he was supposed to meet. I began thinking about this openness and how I felt about it. Having grown up in Iowa, my experience with faith is that it was not something people shared publicly often. I seldom encountered people carrying Bibles into Starbucks and rarely heard conversations of faith.

Whenever I have had the opportunity to learn about another person’s faith, whether the person is a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or even someone who states they have no faith, I have enjoyed listening and learning from them. One result of this is that it makes me very mindful that not everyone believes what I believe. I have also learned that there are different understandings and practices in relation to the manner in which someone lives out what they believe. I was thinking a lot about these things when I was sitting in the Starbucks last week.

I admit that I had a reaction to the conversation which I heard and the man walking in with two Bibles under his arm. My reaction took me a little by surprise since it was a negative reaction. I thought to myself how it appeared that these individuals were forcing their faith on to me. Even though none of these individuals said a word to me, I had this immediate reaction. My question then was why I would react in such a way since I am a Christian and am not ashamed of my faith. The conclusion to which I came was this amount of openness was an experience which I had not had while growing up.

Another thought that entered my mind is how a non-Christian feels when she or he experiences a similar situation. Are they offended by such an outward demonstration of the Christian faith? Does the person feel uncomfortable? What I described here is definitely not an aggressive action taken by anyone. There was no attempt at proselytizing anyone. No one made derogatory comments to me, in fact, none of the people who I mentioned even said a word to me. Yet, I still wonder how I would feel if I were not Christian and I experienced this regularly.

As I have thought more about all this throughout the week, I realized that at one level it is refreshing to be in an area where people have no concern regarding speaking to one another about their faith. I do not believe any of these people were trying to flaunt their faith but instead were making it a normal part of their everyday life, even in Starbucks. I also determined that I would want a Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, or anyone else to feel comfortable to do the same. Everyone should have the freedom to integrate their faith into as much of their day in a manner they choose.

My first negative reaction to this new experience came out of a sense that someone was trying to shove their faith into my face. I was concerned about how it might also offend others who may not be Christians. Now I realize that not only was that not the intent of the people who I encountered but instead that I might actually have learned something from them on this day. I need to be more willing to integrate my faith even into trips to Starbucks. I will continue to be sensitive to those around me but I need to do a better job of not compartmentalizing my faith. While I may not carry a Bible around with me everywhere I go, I can still demonstrate my faith in my actions and words.

Pastor Crush

Why would someone choose to go into full-time ministry? This is a question that many people ask especially today. There used to be a time when full-time ministry, or becoming a pastor, was considered a noble aspiration. During the Middle Ages, it was considered an academic pursuit that was reserved for the wealthy who could afford to get a formalized education. The culture of today seems much different and many factors contribute to the less than lofty stature full-time ministry now occupies. So, why would someone choose to go into full-time ministry?

For me, I consider it to have been a limited choice. Why I state it in such a manner is because long before I would “choose” to enter full-time ministry, a sense of call was placed upon me. I come from a denomination which emphasizes the understanding of a call. The church culture in which I grew up, and would eventually seek ordination from, felt that every person has a call placed upon her or his life by God. Some are called to be teachers, some business leaders, some lawyers, some medical professionals, and the list goes on through every form of employment and volunteer opportunity that comes to mind. I was taught that each person has a call, or often multiple calls, placed on them by God. Just because God places a call upon a person, the person is not required to fulfill the call. In fact, many individuals pursue other courses in their lives. However, after years of resisting the call into full-time ministry, I chose to respond reluctantly in the affirmative.

General themes of why a person answers the call to full-time ministry exist. One of the reasons some give is a desire to help others on a daily basis experience the love of God. Another reason is to assist others in developing answers to their questions regarding their faith. Other responses might include a fulfillment in walking through life’s challenges with another person. For me, it was a strong desire to open for others the wonder of what a relationship with the Lord might mean in their life.

Whatever the answer to the question of why a person has gone into full-time ministry, a sad reality exists…the church is crushing pastors at a very alarming rate. What I mean by this is that in too many conversations with colleagues and those who have exited from full-time ministry, I have heard too often that the demands of the congregation and the denominational hierarchy crushed their passion and desire to continue in full-time ministry. Too often these demands distract the pastor from their role as a shepherd, teacher, companion, and spiritual leader. I would say that the demands actually prohibit the pastor from fulfilling these other roles. Yet, these are usually the roles which lead the person to enter full-time ministry.

Let me share a few examples of these demands. The first one which quickly comes to mind is the demand of being the referee. What does refereeing have to do with being a pastor? Well, it really should not have anything to do with it but often the pastor is the one expected to enter conflicts within the church and reduce or eliminate the conflict. Imagine being a parent who has over one hundred kids who have a tendency to enter squabbles over toys, control of the television, or who gets to play the Xbox next. This is often what a pastor feels like when trying to maneuver through all the he-said, she-said arguments which arise out of situations such as who decides what to serve at the Fall Festival Dinner.

Another example of the demands which crush a pastor is the endless amount of discussion and input from a variety of individuals in order to make a decision. Churches love to have committees to discuss and plan everything from what coffee to serve during fellowship time to what songs to sing during the Christmas season. While there is indeed value in seeking input from various voices and creating an atmosphere of participation among the members, these groups often get bogged down in details and personal opinions. These details and personal opinions frequently lead to the squabbles I mentioned in the above paragraph. The other issue which arises is that little progress is made in making a decision and it all is very time-consuming.

A third example which is too frequent is the financial stress the pastor absorbs. When it comes to church finances, the same story exists in some level in every church, there never seems to be enough money for anything. This leads to many different burdens placed on a pastor. One is the idea that a pastor should be the chief fundraiser of the church. Some members view it to be the pastor’s responsibility to find creative ways to bring money into the congregation and then lead those fundraising efforts as spokesperson and arm twister but do these things in a very unintimidating manner. The other side of the coin is that the pastor is often charged with the responsibility to reduce and maintain spending at the lowest level possible. The pastor is left to rely on volunteers and donated monies to accomplish all that needs to be accomplished from repairing the leaky flat roof to having weekly activities for youth from age 0 to 35. Of course the use of volunteer labor will also require being flexible and understanding that they have real lives so cannot accomplish what they commit to doing for four to sixteen weeks. Yet the pastor gets the blame when things are not done correctly and in a timely manner.

The list of examples can grow with each exhausted pastor with who you have the chance to speak. Horror stories and tears are in abundance as pastors tell of the demands placed upon them and the way in which they are often treated. Besides the personal anguish and abuse, yes, I will call it abuse, the issue that tears most pastors hearts the most is that they do not have the time or the energy to live out the passion which called them to full-time ministry in the first place. Every once in a while they are fortunate to see a glimmer of their call fulfilled in the life of another person but these occur like shooting stars at night which are fleeting and way too infrequent.

The congregations and denominations of the church are crushing the pastors who feel God calling them to full-time ministry. It is the congregations and denominations who are losing out on women and men who would love to shepherd, teach, walk alongside, encourage, and spiritually lead in the example of Jesus. Until the church wakes up to this reality and does something meaningful about it, you will continue to see pastors step out of full-time ministry, pulpits remain empty, and seminaries have fewer and fewer students.

Where Is Hope

For me, a benefit of believing in Jesus Christ is that I have hope. Hope is truly an interesting word. Much like the word love, hope has such a varied number of meanings depending on the context in which it is used. I can hope that the Hawkeyes will win their football game. Right now, rain is something I hope for in the area in which I live. I have hope that I will stay healthy and active for many years into the future. I am confident in the hope of Jesus’ promises. Each example is a different understanding of hope since the focus of that hope changes.

Having hope does not mean there are not times of discouragement, disappointment, and a level of despair. A person who has hope does not experience any fewer hardships in life than one who lacks hope. The difference is that a person who leans upon hope responds to the hardships much differently.

I recall a situation during my ministry when I was called to the emergency room of a hospital. A person in the community had been found hanging by a belt in his garage. Upon arriving at a local hospital, the medical staff attempted to revive the man but were not successful and pronounced him dead. The partner refused to leave the body so the staff requested I talk with him and convince him to leave in order for them to finish preparing the body to be transported. After much conversation, I was able to get the partner to leave the room. In talking with him and the family of the victim, I quickly realized that the issue which was causing problems was they lacked hope. This became clear again after the funeral service which they asked me to officiate. They would not leave the room where we had the service because they were convinced that this would be the last time any of them would ever see the dead man again. They had no hope in Jesus Christ, no hope in the resurrection, and no hope in life beyond death.

Hope is not always an easy thing to maintain. There are times in which I need others to remind me of the reason to hope. I need to hear words of reassurance. I need prompted by the Spirit to read passages of Scripture which speaks of the hope found in Jesus Christ. Rereading the promises which Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles set before us is a great way for me to replenish hope in my life.

Faith and hope are strongly linked. Being able to hope in the promises of God requires having faith in God. A person must believe that what we read in Scripture regarding the love and the sustaining presence of the Lord is true. This requires us to have faith in not a physical reality but in a spiritual truth. This faith is the source of our hope.

Looking around the events in our world today, or even specific times in our own lives, it can become easy to lose touch with hope. Life can have some very depressing realities. Difficulties can mount and appear insurmountable. Messages which we often hear can lead a person to despair, grief, and a sense of abandonment. For some, this all piles upon each other to lead the individual in believing that there is no hope. Yet, let me declare to you that there is always hope. This hope is not sustainable in trusting of any human or human institution. This unfailing hope can only be found in Jesus, the Christ.

Hope in the Lord. It has never failed me yet.

Bumper Sticker Christians

When I was growing up, my dad always refused to let us put bumper stickers on the car. His reason for this was that they are difficult to get off and always leave a mark. He said that when he was ready to sell the car he did not want to get less for it because of the bumper stickers. I am really not sure why he used that as his reasoning since I never recall dad selling any of our cars. He always seemed to drive them until they would not run anymore. Whatever his true reason may have been, the truth is that I was never allowed to put any type of bumper sticker on the car.

As I became an adult, I also followed dad’s rule with most of the vehicles which I owned. My reason for not putting a bumper sticker on the car was much different from my dad’s. I did not want bumper stickers on my car because then I felt everyone would know something about me and that I would have to be representative of whatever the bumper sticker was about. If I placed a bumper sticker for a political candidate on my car, I thought my actions while driving would then represent that candidate. This was a pressure I did not want to place on myself since sometimes my driving habits are not always the best.

I have been observing a lot of vehicles with bumper stickers which have faith statements or the name of a church or a reference to God upon them. Seeing the various bumper stickers, or more accurately today there are as many window decals as bumper stickers, has caused me to ponder two questions. The first is, why have they chosen to attach that to their vehicle? The second is, do their actions stand as a fair representation of what is on their sticker or decal?

Why the first question is important to me is because the motivation behind placing a sticker or decal on the vehicle may say a lot about the type of person who attached it might be. What I mean by this statement is that if the motivation was to encourage others to investigate the thought, church, or God statement, then it serves a purpose of invitation. However, if the motivation is linked to a desire to let the world know what a good Christian the person is, then there is a major issue.

A passage from Scripture addresses this when Jesus is teaching about giving to the needy and prayer:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:1-6

Here Jesus clearly states what type of attitude is expected of his followers. We are not to seek reward for our actions which we do in faith. We are to do whatever we do as a response to our faith. If placing a sticker or decal on a vehicle is intended to get people to think better of us, then it definitely goes counter to what Jesus says above.

The other concern which I have is that some drivers which have faith stickers or decals attached to their vehicles are not always demonstrating the teachings of the Lord. Through gestures, driving behaviors, and other actions, they choose to not represent a loving attitude. I know that I am sometimes guilty of these things, so I do not place faith stickers and decals on my car. I am afraid that I will misrepresent God through my actions and will be unable to seek forgiveness from those whom I might offend.

Let me throw some caution out to those who might be what I am terming, bumper sticker Christians. Be aware that by placing that sticker or decal on your vehicle, you are representing your faith and your God in a very public way. Know your motivation behind doing so. Make sure your actions truly are representative of a loving God who offers forgiveness to all people.

Making Plans

Personally, I am a planner. I have calendars and to-do lists. Daily routines are important in my life. I feel more secure when I have a plan and then a backup plan to handle situations if my first plan gets disrupted. There have been many conversations between God and myself about plans. I often request that God helps me to follow through on my plans. The man who I married is also a planner who used to plan activities out months in advance and in great detail. Planning is a key part of my life.

I had a close friend who used to remind people that they can go ahead and put together a timeline but not to be surprised if God decides to chuckle and rearrange those plans. He was specifically talking about a process which was used to find a new pastor for a congregation. However, I think his words of wisdom apply to much more than that specific life event.

Over the years I have been placed in positions where planning was important but more important was being able to adapt at a moments notice. Having spent time working with youth required me to plan but know that at any time the Holy Spirit (or sometimes human intervention) could show up and quickly alter the plans. I have learned that making room for the Holy Spirit is more important than having a well-thought-out plan and sticking to it no more what.

God has told us in the words of Jeremiah:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord

Jeremiah 29:11-14a

An important observation to make here is that the plans are not spelled out or in detail. We are just given the assurance that God has a plan which will benefit us in the most important ways.

I strongly believe that God desires us to plan. We are reminded of the importance of planning and being prepared in the story which Jesus told of the ten virgins:

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Matthew 25:1-13

For me, the key regarding planning is to realize that while planning is important and must be done, the Holy Spirit may lead us in a much different direction. Every time that I have allowed my plans to be altered by the guidance of the Spirit, I have discovered that the end result is much better than anything I could have imagined in my planning.

Go ahead and plan. Then listen for God’s chuckle and the feel of the Spirit showing you a change or a whole new plan.