Change of Plans

Big plans, fun plans – three years in the making plans. Ever have those kind of plans – only to have them dissolve before your very eyes?

Happens all the time: broken down RV on the side of the road, missed flight, sick for the whole trip, something bad happens back home and have to leave when you just got there. Hard to sigh and look up, let go, and with opens hands say, “Jesus, what is Your plan?”

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9 NLT)

Whether it’s trips or life – we plan, but God determines. It’s easy when all goes according to plan – but when everything goes awry? We question and try to come up with ‘plan b’ – we blame – we pout.

But we miss the Planner when we’re the leader. Setbacks or botched plans aren’t the point – they can put our focus on all the wrong things, but can they be used, instead, to see beyond ourselves and our disappointments?

“We can make our own plans, but the LORD gives the right answer.” (Proverbs 16:1 NLT)

I know what you’re thinking – but I’m not advocating lack of planning. I’m thinking we often neglect to ask the Master Planner to direct us, to give us the right answers. We go head-long into what we want to do, and then ask ‘what happened’ when it all falls apart.

I think the lesson I just learned from a trip that seemed miserable in every possible way is this: before we get carried away with all the details, maybe a humble question or two is in order along the way. The Holy Spirit is with us in all things, so why not our plans? How about stopping long enough to listen with an open heart and ask: “What do you think, Jesus, how about these ideas?”

And, still, in this fallen world things won’t always go right. Will we linger long enough to see the Planner has something in mind regardless how bad things might look? Change of plans – life lessons unfolding before us. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:12-13 BSB)

Must Listen

I’m not particularly athletic. At times I can be clumsy. But one thing I love, and wish I had started when I was much younger, is hiking in the mountains. I can’t do the strenuous trails. But I can walk long and slow and hear the wind rustle and the brook bubble and the quiet of it all.

Backtrack sixteen years ago. A sweet couple took us hiking – on several occasions. Then one time, as we came near the end of a trail, we were on a level path that ran along a shallow river. To get to the water was just a few stumbling feet down some rock. Down went everyone…except me.

I stood there hesitating. I could hear a voice saying: ‘don’t go down’. However, feeling foolish waiting behind won over and so I went. The end of the story is – I broke my arm – on the easiest part of the trail. The lesson is: listen.

That was the day I began to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit really does indwell us. Ever speaking to us. Yet we rarely listen. Or we write it off as self-talk. But once we accept Jesus, truth is, the Holy Spirit is in us.

And there is purpose in that indwelling – our protection, guidance so we can live and act for the Lord, and so we can learn the deep things of God’s Word and become wise (but not with worldly wisdom). “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed it to us by the Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” (1Corinthians 2:9b-10 BSB)

During the years since that fall, I’ve been on a journey: one leading to listening while also learning to seek out His voice.

It’s such a hard concept to grasp. We can grasp God, a Savior. But we easily write off the Holy Spirit. Too undefinable, too hard to explain – we think. But oh what wonder in discovering that Jesus’ words about sending a Counselor to be with us were not idle words. They were a promise. “When the Counselor comes, the One I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father—He will testify about Me.” (John 15:26 HCSB)

Like most things in this walk with Jesus, it does not come easy. Yes, the Spirit is with us always and forever, but He is not pushy. We must learn all about this aspect of God, this treasure given us in this mortal body. In order to hear Him, we must listen.

Can’t See

A little guy in my life is learning the joys of swimming. He’s gotten brave and put his head down in the water – kicked those legs and made it to momma – and now he’s trying to trust that he can make it back from momma to the side of the pool.

It’s kinda that way with us. We take a step of faith and ask Jesus to be our Savior. We test the water and see if He will catch us. But then we find ourselves (so we think) having to make it back to the side all on our own – we…doubt.

Doubt that if we can’t – He will. So often I think as long as I can do what’s needed to make a situation right, then God is good. But when I can’t cure the illness, soothe the hurt, help them find work – I begin to fret and get anxious and impatiently ask: “Jesus, will You fix it – please?”

We lose sight of the fact that God is way beyond today, done with the past, and has tomorrow all figured out.

In our broken world not all things will be ‘fixed’ like we think they should be. But the promise is not this world, the promise is eternity. It’s not about easy street here, it’s about no bumpy roads in forever.

“And this is the promise that He Himself made to us: eternal life.” (1John 2:25 BSB)

Jesus asked the ultimate question of a crowd one time: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Luke 12:25 BSB) No one raised their hand.

His follow-up question was this : “If you can’t do such a small thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (Luke 12:26 BSB)

Good question. We get worked up and fret, lose sleep, worry, and doubt. And all the time we are forgetting to look up from our problem and take hold of the Problem Solver. He said adding a single hour to our lives is a ‘small thing’! All things ARE possible with God and all our worrying changes nothing. Think you’re gonna sink? That’s just because we can’t see with eternal eyes.

“He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11b NLT)

Never Fall

Playing the memory card game with a four-year-old is different: when he picks up a card, he wants to keep looking til he finds the match. If I pick a card he really likes, he wants me to surrender it to him so he can find the match. He also likes to win or we both win – no other options.

Someday soon I will have to start ‘winning’ some of the games I play with him. He will probably cry. But what service would I be doing him if I didn’t allow him to experience loss and failure with me in preparation for what is to come?

About 2,000 years ago a brash young man had to learn some hard lessons. He probably thought he had already had his fair share. He was a fisherman for a living and that wasn’t always easy. Living under Roman oppression was no picnic either. Then came Jesus.

Peter believed with all his heart that Jesus was God’s Son, Messiah. So, he followed Him through thick and thin for three years. Then one night Jesus was arrested and when they asked Peter if he was one of Jesus’ followers, he quickly replied: ‘no way’. Then his eyes met those of Jesus and heartbreak, like no other, overcame him. He wept bitterly thinking there was no chance of a do-over.

But that’s not how things are with the Savior. Peter is the one God used to start the Christian church after Jesus was crucified. The one the Holy Spirit spoke through in Peter’s first sermon – and more than 3,000 were brought to salvation.

Peter teaches us in his second letter to Christians that there are a few things we need to add to our faith: “…make every effort to add to your faith goodness…knowledge…self-control…perseverance…godliness…brotherly kindness…love.” (2Peter 1:5b-7 NIV) He also tells us why we need to be adding these things: “For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2Peter 1:10b-11 NIV)

Peter learned a lot from that bitter night. And now he shows us how we can never fall – have a rich welcome – and have eternity! There will be no more hard lessons someday – only a forever of discovery. Searching out the depths of the Creator and His creation await all who accept Him.

Transplant

This is a hurting world. Broken, lost, trying to breathe. All around the effect of centuries of sin – and its relentless pursuit – swirl. As I write, a friend’s adult son fights for his life – a fall at work left him with a broken skull and his mother clings to God. Babies in the hospital unexpectedly, more moms (dads, grandparents, friends) on their knees.

“I think of You through the watches of the night…My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.” (Psalm 63:6b & 8 NIV)

What of those in similar circumstances, or worse, who don’t know God? How do they keep their sanity? What is their hope?

We speak of ‘heart’ for all manner of emotions. Over and over God refers to our hearts in the Bible.

Here’s an amazing thing: when He takes hold of us (and we let Him), He actually gives us a new heart. Throughout the Old Testament and into the New, He speaks of taking our hearts of stone and replacing them with hearts that are fresh and clean and usable by Him.

“For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.” (Romans 10:10 NLT)

Honestly, I don’t know how one navigates all that life holds without truly knowing God and knowing the Hope He has given us. “We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing. We heap up wealth, not knowing who will spend it. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in You.” (Psalm 39:6-7 NLT)

So, a transplant is what this weary world needs. Hearts transplanted and replaced with ones that beat for Jesus and rely on His power and strength. Ones that can weather the tragedies and still say: ‘it is well with my soul’.

For someday these bodies will fail, but those with transplanted hearts from God will again walk and never grow weary, and there will be no more tears (or moms whose pain is not fathomable). “My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever.” (Psalm 73:26 NLT)

Available

Too easy – to be all about self. Pretense that all we’re doing currently prevents us from being able to put ourselves out to add another thing to our schedule. So we drive on by the homeless man, impatiently walk behind the elderly woman, don’t look up from our conversation at the waiter.

And I’m pointing these fingers back at myself. Life is full and chaotic and uncertain. And it’s just so much easier to not invite any more in. To just hope I get the next few hours right. To close off any mention of more.

There was a little boy, his name was Samuel. His mother had tried for years to have a baby. Finally she bore a son. Because he was an answer to a prayer of surrender of herself, she, in turn, surrendered him in service to God. One night as he slept in the temple, a voice called: “Samuel”.

At first the boy thought it was the old priest he was serving with, and he ran responding: “Here I am”. But the priest had not called. After the third time, Samuel was told it was God’s voice and to go back and when the Lord called to say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1Samuel 3:9b NIV)

You and I may not get called on in the middle of the night (or we might) – but we are called. It’s the very nature of being a servant of God. He calls on us daily to be ready, at a moment’s notice, to respond: ‘I’m listening’.

Question is, will we listen, do we want to hear? The things purposed for us as we walk this life aren’t always easy. Called to be a mom, grammy – got it. Called to intervene when I see a stranger needing to hear Jesus loves you, um, gulp – that’s a little inconvenient, embarrassing, not my ‘gift’.

It wasn’t always easy for Samuel to speak up for God either. And yet he spent the rest of his life delivering messages that often weren’t welcome. He was available and God used his ‘here I am’ to anoint kings and to chastise them as well.

Our call may not be as lofty, but our ‘here I am’ needs to be just as ready. If I want my grandsons to see Jesus, I need to walk in His footsteps. If I want my grown children to see why and how to serve, I must trust. If I want to hear ‘well done’ at the end, I need to say: “Pick me, I’m available.”

Honor

A foreign word these days – honor. And yet when used, it’s misused. We give honor to worthless things. We call people heroes flippantly. In this culture of constant affirmation, words become watered down.

We are so consumed with being entertained, that scoring baskets or goals is heroic. That doing the job we’re being paid for somehow makes us deserve high honor. Maybe it started back when we began giving every child on the team a trophy. Actually I think it started in that garden called Eden: when you eat it, you will be like God.

In that taste, by both the woman and the man, in a mere few seconds, honor became something to be grasped for self. Jealousies, hatreds, divisions – over skin colors, weight, money, status, etc. – start when honor is given to any other than God the Creator. “Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.” (Luke 4:8b CEV)

Certainly those things we do like run into a burning building to save another, donate a kidney to one whose kidneys are failing, and even the kind act of helping an elderly person who stumbles are noble. These are what we are created for.

The very ability to do any of those things and others, is a gift from the Creator. “I have strength for all things in the One strengthening me.” (Philippians 4:13 BLB)

And there’s where we forget. Forget that any ‘good’ we do is a manifestation of the One we are created in the image of.

This is where we lost track. Created in the image of God to do good works: “For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 HCSB)

So all our efforts are not for our glory, our honor. They are to honor the One who gives us each breath. Who knows the number of our hairs, numbered our days before our first breath. “All glory to Him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are His before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” (Jude 1:25 NLT)

Unbelief

So easy to live like we believe when all is well. Right now I’m in the all is well – no major crisis, heartache, or fear. But where will my belief be when…

When things aren’t so easy. A friend is walking through ALS with her husband. Prayer request came through, he was struggling. Another friend took care of a father-in-law in his last months doing things for him she had never imagined she would find herself doing.

I’ve seen these and others walk hard life things – like friends, much too young to die, lose their battle to cancer. And I wonder, how will I walk through the next hard life thing?

You know the story of the father whose son was possessed by a demon. Constantly hurting himself. A father worn out from the daily struggle, worn out from the worry. Then Jesus is near. Last hope, last resort – he asks: “if you can do anything, have compassion”.

If – such a big word looms. In the seconds between the father’s plea and Jesus’ proclamation, hung all of mankind’s questions. Can you Jesus? Will you?

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23 NIV)

I’m that father, so are you: ‘If you can Lord, please do.’ And what we don’t get is this: He has. Doesn’t always look like what we asked. But someday we will see how perfect the answer was. Know how I know?

Because He’s told us.: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24 BSB)

Even our unbelief He can fix that too. Maybe we can’t see the answer yet, maybe in this life we won’t see it at all. But someday we will see clearly. For in eternity more than all we could ever ask or imagine is Yes as we proclaim Amen – “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through Him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.”. (2Corinthians 1:20 NIV) He is for us all the time!

No more pits

Everything has a disclaimer and warning these days. The raisin container says, ‘may contain stems’; the olive jar says, ‘occasional pits’; entertainment has ratings, websites warn of ‘cookies’.

Life seemingly doesn’t come with disclaimers or warnings. Nothing comes with a newborn telling parents this will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. No tag to tuck away for when that child becomes an adult that says, ‘childhood was hard but you haven’t seen anything yet’.

Then again, there is something that talks about these things. A lengthy list telling the results of our actions – for better or for worse. Written to be timeless and handed down through the ages. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.(2Timothy 3:16 NLT)

In that case, familiarity and constant intake of the Bible are necessities to navigate this life. And even so, we will still stumble, hearts will still break, fear and sadness and despair will still visit us.

But in the soul of every believer there is a constant companion, the Holy Spirt. He’s a deposit given us ensuring us that we will make it through all this world hurls our way. “When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory.(Ephesians 1:13b-14 NIV)

Personally, I hate biting down on an olive and feeling the crunch of the pit. I haven’t been too fond of the pitfalls in life either. Yet as I’ve gotten to know Jesus and become familiar with God through prayer and His Word, I’ve learned to listen for the Holy Spirit and wait on the calm that is promised me.

Peace in the midst of the storms – joy in times of deep sorrow. Those are opposites, right? Yet they are ours. They come from the knowledge that this isn’t all there is.

When we walk our days knowing that someday all sorrow, fear, even death itself will be no more – we are confident that in eternity there will be no more pits. “So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2Corinthians 4:18 NLT)

Endurance

My mother had lots of sayings. When I would be sassy, she’d remind me: You get a lot more with honey than vinegar. When things weren’t going so well for herself or others she would say: Into each life a little rain must fall.

Some lives must feel like it’s a monsoon. I think of war-torn areas and wonder how they endure. I think of moms holding little ones who are skin and bones because of famine. So much heartbreak and trials.

These are the result of things gone awry from way back in the beginning of time. What was perfection quickly became toil, despair, and decay. But all past sins and trials detailed in Bible pages have purposes: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4 NIV)

Not only what was written but what you and I walk through even now. I often wonder: how do those who don’t know Jesus make it through each day? If this is all there is, if we are all just the result of some big bang, some advanced blob on the evolutionary scale – why do any of us keep going?

Though it may be true there are sweet moments in life, far more are the trying moments. Those who love God know this and still struggle. But they have hope. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23 NIV)

When I was a girl, my parents divorced and each summer I flew back to see my dad. On those flights I came up with a saying of my own: Above the clouds the sky is blue – and the sun still shines. We can’t see beyond the grey cover at times – so we must endure the storms.

Trusting God gives us the endurance we think we don’t have: “All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all His glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to His people, who live in the Light.” (Colossians 1:10b-12 NLT) The Son still shines.

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