I Have a Plan for You

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. ”   Jeremiah 29:11 MSG

This verse is often quoted when things are difficult or confusing.  It’s a comforting verse.  I’ve quoted it many times and have held tightly to it during rough periods of my life.  Today, I read the entire chapter.  It’s either the first time I’ve read the whole thing or the first time I’ve paid attention to it.  Either way, my eyes were opened.

This verse is in the middle of God sending a message to His children.  The children of Israel had been taken into captivity in Babylon.    Their only desire: to go home.  There were prophets that were assuring them they would be going home soon.  But, God had a different message:

“This is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God, to all the exiles I’ve taken from Jerusalem to Babylon:   “Build houses and make yourselves at home.  Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country.  Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away.  Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare.  Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.

” Yes. Believe it or not, this is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God: “Don’t let all those so-called preachers and know-it-alls who are all over the place there take you in with their lies. Don’t pay any attention to the fantasies they keep coming up with to please you. They’re a bunch of liars preaching lies—and claiming I sent them! I never sent them, believe me.” God’s Decree!

This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”   Jeremiah 29:4-11 MSG

God did promise to gather all of His children together and to bring them home.  After 70 years had passed in Babylon, that is.  I don’t think that was what the people wanted to hear.  God was telling them to make their homes there in Babylon.  They were to live their lives to the fullest.  In Babylon.  And, (I think this would be the hardest part for me), they were to PRAY for Babylon to do well!  Really!?!  They’ve carried me and my family away into captivity, and I’m supposed to pray for good things for them?

I don’t know about you, but when I pray for God to do something, I really want it done now.  Next week might work.  A month from now would be pushing things.  I’ve never requested or expected to wait 70 years.  Wow.  This changes the way I look at “plans to give you the future you hope for”. 

How many times have I kicked and complained with my lot in life?  How many times have I cried out to God and questioned His decisions?  How many times have I accused God of not listening or caring?  Truthfully, more than I would like to admit.

I’m currently living within some parameters that I don’t like.  There are rules and consequences that many times seem to take over my every moment.  My life is not always mine to do with as I please.  This will be my life for the foreseeable future.  When I read these scriptures, I knew God was reminding me to wait on Him.  I can live my life, captive to circumstances out of my control.  I can live fully and trust Him.  He doesn’t promise to remove the issues as I would prefer.  But, He does assure me that “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”   

The next few verses are actually when the comfort arrives:

 “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen.  When you come looking for me, you’ll find me.  Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”  Jeremiah 29:12-14a MSG

This doesn’t say, “Call out to me and I’ll give what you want.”  He does promise that I can always find Him.  He will always listen.  I will not be disappointed even in circumstances or trials that I just don’t like at all.  I need to make finding God my priority, not escaping from my “captors”.

So, I will always be glad that God has a plan for me.  But, my new goal is to this:

SERIOUSLY seek God and put Him above every circumstance in my life. 

Are you struggling with your own “70 year captivity”?

 

 

 

 

Service or Performance: Does it Matter

During the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we have all seen acts of service for others affected by the storm. Churches, organizations, businesses and first responders have all banded together to do what is needed to evacuate and to provide food and shelter to storm victims. Teams of people from schools, religious organizations, neighborhoods as well as out-of-state volunteers have come into the area to clear out debris and start the recovery process. The response has been immediate and awe-inspiring. The servant’s heart has had ample use this month.  The opportunities for selfless service have been endless as have the opportunities for those seeking the limelight of recognition.  Does the motive for serving matter?

Having a servant’s heart means to put other’s needs ahead of our own.  A person with a servant’s heart doesn’t look for rewards or recognition or even gratitude.  In our social media heavy world, we walk a fine line between giving information  and seeking recognition.  There were many, many groups posting on the various social sites about helping after the storm.  These posts were important because they  got information out to those that needed it in a rather efficient manner.  Volunteers were organized.  Needs were recognized.  It worked pretty well.  There were lots of photo ops with people working and helping both neighbors and strangers.  Our city came together to help.  As the days passed, I began to see more “LOOK AT ME” posts.  The transition was gradual, but the “where can I help” posts became selfies touting “look what I did today”.  The photo ops were still there, but the focus was changing to “ME”.  Needs were still being addressed.  So, I kept asking myself, “Does it matter why we serve?”

This is a question I ask myself, quite often for some very different reasons.  I have years of experience leading worship in churches.  I started singing in church when I was 5 years old and sang “Little Baby in a Manger” at the Christmas Program.  I’ve sung solos and in groups.  I’ve played the piano and the organ for several congregations.  I’ve even played my trombone on several occasions.  I know that I can sing.  When leading others in worship, I had to review my own motives every week.  Was I singing because I wanted God to be honored or was I really enjoying the spot-light?  To be honest, there was a little of both most of the time.  I love music and I love to sing.  During a season of my life, the only reason I had to be in a worship service was because “I” was on stage.  I did not participate in anything else.  I realized that I wanted (maybe even needed) the reward of recognition that came through performing on Sundays.  But, there were also times when the greatest worship time I received was in rehearsing to lead others in worship.  It was in those moments when I KNEW that God had given me a purpose.

In the 80’s, I heard a sermon that addressed the many people who had come to salvation through the work of some well-known and fallen evangelists.  Jim and Tammy Bakker & Jimmy Swaggart were known as ministers of God’s word.  They built their ministry serving others and reaching out to others in need.  The Bible was taught.  People were saved.  But supporting the ministry became the primary need.  People were no longer encouraged to be involved in their local church.  Once the performers became more important than the God they served, things came crashing down.   A lot of people were hurt and  turned their backs on God as a result.  I believe we have to look at our own motives for every act of service.

In most cases, I don’t know that it matters to anyone else why we choose to serve others.  As long as we are meeting the needs of those around us, we are fulfilling a purpose.  In the end, though, we have to stand before God and give an account of our lives.  I will have to own up to the times that I was more interested in the praise of others than I was in following Him as a servant.  I will have to admit the times I was fishing for a compliment.  I will have to confess the moments when I wanted my star to shine brighter than any other.  I will have to face the moments when performance and not service was my primary goal.

 

But, I Want to be Angry!

I am beginning to avoid reading anything from the news to social media these days.  Everywhere I turn, someone is tearing down someone else.  It’s bad enough when it’s people that I do not know, but when life long friends take to social media to bash other life long friends (either openly or passively), I cringe.  I’m not going to weigh in on the “controversy du jour”.  It really doesn’t matter what the issue is or is not.  The reason changes weekly if not daily, but the voices, the criticism, the anger never change.  I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that there are some who are just angry and need to have something or someone on which to focus that anger.

I believe in free speech.  I believe in candor and honesty.  I also believe that a little tact goes a long, long way to promote the unity of opposing sides.  I enjoy a healthy debate.  I think discussions are pivotal to a healthy community and world.  But, mud-slinging and name calling are not be part of it.  Social media does very little to foster productive discussions and usually just fans the flames of both sides.  My opinion may not matter to you, but it does to me.  I have been known to adjust my views when presented with a calm and rational argument.  Continuous bashing and belittling of others’ convictions or opinions (right or wrong) are perceived as anything but calm or rational.  I had a supervisor who mentored me in my younger days to pick my battles carefully.  I learned to take a deep breathe and step away for a bit to collect my thoughts BEFORE I bulldozed through the issue.  I discovered that I usually got much better acceptance and cooperation this way and the outcome was often what I wanted in the beginning.  The path to get there was just a little different.

So, take a breathe.  Calm down.  Anger is debilitating to the bearer and often counter-productive.  As many old grandpappies have said, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

Gray is not for Cakes

I have always loved the color PURPLE!  I’m drawn to the color in everything from clothes to décor.  I have my favorite purple sweatshirt with my name on the front.  My dad helped me paint my trombone case purple.  I had a purple furry coat.  I just loved the color.  And, I still do today.

When I was about 10 years old, my parents and younger sister took an October trip to the Ozark Mountains.  My brother and I stayed with my grandparents and my Aunt Ruth, who was just a few years older than me.  My birthday was very near this time, so Ruth and I decided we needed to make a birthday cake.  And of course, I wanted a purple cake.  We did not have access to the myriad of food coloring products that are available today.  We had the box of 4 basic food colors from the grocery store: red, green, yellow & blue.  My aunt was in Junior High, so we knew that we could mix the red and the blue to get a beautiful color of purple.  We mixed the cake (from scratch) and then added the food coloring.  The cake was more lavender than truly purple, but that was okay.  After transferring our batter to the pans, we decided that swirls of color would be even better.  So, we added drops of all of the colors to the cake in the pans and stirred it around.  We stirred a little too much we would discover later.  The  beautiful purple cake I had envisioned was more gray than purple.  There were flecks of color here and there, but over all, it was a gray cake.  It tasted great, but it was not very appealing to the eye.

I am going the Bible chronologically this year.  Recently, I’ve been in the books of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.  The various kings for both Israel and Judah are listed and their history is recorded.  I found it interesting that each account included one of these statements:  “as far as God was concerned, he lived a bad life” or “in God’s opinion he was a good king” or “… did what pleased God for as long as he lived (even so he did not . . .)”  There were several kings that were just bad.  They worshiped other gods and led the people to do the same.  There were a few kings that did what God decreed and destroyed the other temples and led the people to worship Jehovah only.  And then there were the kings that lived the way God decreed, but allowed the people to continue to live in sin by worshiping other gods.  These were the “grey” kings.  If you kept your eyes closed or didn’t look too closely, they were good kings.  But, they didn’t follow God completely.  They failed the people they were chosen to lead.

When I look at my own life, I wonder if my life is “gray” when God looks at it.  I don’t think I’m living a bad life where God is concerned.   But, do I live in a way that pleases God?  Am I a royal purple follower of Christ and His commandments? Or, do I slip into the “grey” area that encompasses too many things?  Have I become so desensitized to the sins around me that I just don’t realize it?  Is political correctness the center of my focus or is God’s word?  Do I show compassion to everyone or just to the people I “like” in that moment?

I think we all like to believe that we are on the side of right.  I don’t know anyone that deliberately takes a stand that they believe is wrong.  However, we can’t all be right about everything.  Just as the early kings of Judah and Israel condoned the sex-and-religion worship by allowing temples to be built to worship the gods of fertility, we condone everything that makes us uncomfortable by NOT speaking up.  It’s just easier to live our own lives and ignore those around us.  I’m not advocating throwing stones at others.  I do firmly believe that we are to be kind and compassionate to those around us.  But, do those around you know what you believe?  Do they see someone who God is blessing when they see you?  Do you take a stand on a daily basis or is the act of attending Sunday and/or Wednesday services enough of a witness?  Is your relationship with God based solely on the current crisis in your life or do you spend time with Him daily regardless of circumstances?

Too many additions and too little knowledge/experience, made my birthday cake grey.  I don’t want my life to be gray.  I want the knowledge that comes from reading the scriptures.  I want to experience everything that God has to offer.  I want to follow Him completely and to exclude anything that is outside of His will.  That’s doesn’t mean I wont make mistakes.  (I can promise you I will make plenty of them!)  It does mean that I will stay aware and correct any mistakes with God’s help.  It does mean that I may have to give up some things.  I may have to get up a little earlier to spend time with God.  I may not get to sleep in on Sundays because I NEED to be in church worshipping with others.  I may have to give up my reliance on “finger-crossing” and “quick prayers” to really spend time with God to learn what I need to know.  I may have to learn to be part of the crowd and not in the spot-light where others can see me and comment on how wonderful I am.

Gray is a popular color for walls.  But, I don’t recommend it for birthday cakes.  Or life.

 

 

Invisible

invisible

Do you ever feel invisible?

Are there times your voice is not heard?  Is it because you do not speak up?  Or are the other voices and sounds drowning you out?

Do you ever want to be, maybe even need to be,  invisible?

When I was newly widowed, there were many times I felt invisible.  I didn’t fit into any group.  I was no longer married, but wasn’t quite single, either.  My friends were still in the married group.  I moved from “part of the group” to “third wheel” status in the blink of an eye.  I didn’t know how to be seen.  Others seemed to look through me, not ever seeing the ME that stood there.  I didn’t know how to be seen, because I didn’t know how to see myself.   I watched as others buzzed around and wondered how I could be so lonely in a such a busy group of people.  I didn’t know how speak up,  it was easier to fade away than to endure the pain of living in the world in which I no longer belonged.

One can be invisible for lots of reasons.  When another’s need to be recognized  is louder and more aggressive than your own, their need pushes all others out-of-the-way.  I feel the shutters begin to close in around me.  My opinion doesn’t matter.  My voice in not important.  Even the facts and information that I know are dismissed and discounted if they are not in agreement.  I am forced to disappear within myself to avoid further conflict.  It is often that very need to avoid conflict that pushes me further onto the sidelines.  When I am helpless to change anything, when  I’m caught on the carousel of life and there’s no way to regain control, I disappear.

There are times when I try to blend into the background.   There are other times when I need desperately to be heard,  to be seen.  But, I’m  invisible.   It’s as if I’m speaking in an unknown language or wearing the cloak of invisibility.  No one is listening.  No one sees me.  Regardless of how hard I try, I cannot break through.  I begin to believe that I’m truly invisible, that I truly do not matter.  And, that is the real problem.  I accept the invisibility.  I stop trying.  I fade away.

We need to be aware of those invisible people that surround us.  The invisible person may be that homeless person that has become a part of the background.  The invisible person may be the senior citizen that tells the same stories over and over and over again.  The invisible person may be the widow that reminds you how fragile life is.  The invisible person may be a friend or family member that refuses to see things your way causing you to rethink your own ideas or decisions. Invisible people surround us.  They work in the deli’s in our offices.  They stand on the street corners.  They are our neighbors, our friends, our family.  We need to put on our “X-ray vision” and find those invisible people.  We need to see them.  Listen to them.  We need to care.

God, investigate my life;
    get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
    even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
    I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
    before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
    then up ahead and you’re there, too—
    your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
    I can’t take it all in!

 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
    At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
    night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

Psalm 139 :1-12  MSG

 

 

Me, Myself and I

We live in a fast-food world.  We have become accustomed to getting things quickly:  over-night shipping, text messages, microwave food, one-cup coffee makers, etc.  Waiting is not an option.  We want it all and we want it now!

I don’t like to wait any more than the next person.  I look for the shortest line in the grocery store.  I try to stay in the fastest lane of traffic.  I check shipping times and get irritated when I have to wait a few days for a package to arrive.  I no longer write letters, because email and text messages are so much faster.  I love the option to order my coffee and it’s ready when I arrive at the local Starbucks.  No waiting.  It’s great! At least, most of the time.

There are times that I want to wait.  I wait to pay bills.  I put off until the last possible moment blood tests and doctor’s appointments.  I hit the snooze button numerous times in the mornings.  I avoid confrontation.  These are all times when I want to wait.  But, what about the person on the other side.  Do they like to wait for me to act?  Do the people who I cut-off in traffic or in the check-out line understand?  Does the time to write a letter mean more than a quick email?  Do I care?  REALLY?

When the most important persons in my life are Me, Myself and I, the needs of others are of no concern to me.  I don’t care how my actions affect anyone else.  As long as I am happy, who cares?  In an egocentric  world, it’s all about ME.  I don’t wait to get what I want, regardless  of what that might be.  When it’s all about ME, I can cheat on my spouse or just replace them when I no longer “feel” for them.  After all,  MY pleasure and happiness is most important.  When it’s all about ME, I do my best to make others look bad since that’s the fastest way to make MYSELF stand out.  When it’s all about ME, I obsess on the next thing I want: a new car, a bigger house, the newest gadget, the next cruise or vacation so others can see how important/successful I am.  When it’s all about ME,  rumor and gossip are my favorite types of communication.  Talking about others’ misfortunes and bad choices, diverts attention from my own poor choices and discontent.   When it’s all about ME, there’s never enough to keep me happy.  I long for peace and contentment, but I don’t seem to be able to keep Myself happy for long.

Don’t misunderstand:  There’s nothing wrong with success or having a nice home or car or traveling.  There’s nothing wrong with them unless those are the things you center your life around.  Happiness is not found in things.  It’s not found in relationships or success.  Happiness is found when I decide to BE happy; when I decide to seek contentment where I am in this moment.  And, usually, I find happiness in the places where Me, Myself and I are not.  When I focus on others, when I realize that my family and friends are important, when I begin to reach outside of Myself, happiness finds me.  Momentary pleasure is not happiness.  It’s said that “happiness comes to those that wait.”  Maybe, we need to learn to be patient, slow down, invest in the world around us.  Maybe we need to learn to wait.  Maybe our focus needs to change from Me, Myself and I to You, Them and They.  Would that make a difference?

What do you think?

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.”  John 15:13-15 MSG