Sometimes Plans Change …

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By Bill Naron

Building bigger barnsI was scrolling through my Facebook feed today and I saw a post from one of my favorite blogs. It was an article about things to consider before making New Year’s resolutions. It was an awesome article and the main point was that before making resolutions, we should be asking ourselves where our motivation is coming from. The question was, “Are you being motivated out of selfishness, or out of a heart that has been transformed by the Gospel?” I thought this presentation was very thought-provoking, and it reminded me of when Pastor Martin was preaching out of the book of James.

“Go to now, ye that say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what [shall be] on the morrow. For what [is] your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye [ought] to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin.” James 4:13-17, KJV

So, it got me to pondering: What is the correct posture for us as Christians and as passionate followers of Jesus Christ? What should our response be when it comes to New Year’s resolutions? I would argue that all plans we make long-term or short-term are subject to be changed.

The week of Christmas, I took an extended vacation from work. This vacation was much needed, as the last couple months in the Naron household have just been all kinds of crazy. I had some grand plans about how things were going to go. I had a list that seemed to be a mile long of all the different things I was going to get accomplished: change the oil on the cars, finish building the shed, finish all the laundry, fix some minor things on the cars—and the list went on and on. See, I was looking forward to this vacation, but my plan was to use this time to just get the things that it seems I never have the time for done. I figured I may not get to relax much, but my family will be so happy to have some things done around the house. Recently my in-laws moved in with us, and while it is a great situation for different reasons, it still requires the merging of two households and different schedules. It also means less storage in the house but more items to be stored. So, now the items one would normally store in a shed or in a garage were—and are currently—resting on my back porch. So, when I took vacation, I was determined that all this list was going to get accomplished and that would just be the way it was going to be.

This was all changed as my vacation continued. I spent most of my time hanging out with my wife and investing in my marriage, spending some much-needed time having fun with my children. I was even fortunate enough to get a makeover from my daughters, complete with a manicure and pedicure. It was great! Some things got done—the kids swapped rooms and the shed got finished. It was far less than I had set out to accomplish. So, as I read through the article, I began reflecting on the Scripture above and on my own example of changed plans for my vacation. I had an amazing epiphany: our plans are not set in concrete. See, I think this Scripture is not saying that we cannot make plans at all; I think the idea that James is presenting is that we should always be aware that we are called to serve our Creator, and our plans may not always be His.

What I mean by this is that everything we have been given is a gift from our Father, including our possessions and our time. The Bible says to rejoice, for this is the day that the Lord hath made. So, if all we have is a gift from the Father, it is only sensible that when we are setting goals and making plans, we should be holding to them loosely. They are subject to the “Lord-willing” clause. If the Lord wills, we will be going forward and doing this. This is a posture that is from a heart that has been transformed by the gospel, that understands life is a gift from God, and that recognizes that sometimes, for whatever reasons, God has different plans for us than we have for ourselves. In Jeremiah, it says that He knows the plans He has for us and they are plans to prosper, not to harm.

When I set out to my vacation, my plans were to simply accomplish things that would be for my own benefit. They were not bad things, but they were also things that, though I may not like it to, could wait. There were more important things to be accomplished that week I was off. It had been a crazy and busy two months, it seemed like my wife and I were not connecting, and the kids were feeling out of sorts, trying to adjust to the new way things were around the house. So, instead of organizing the physical items in the house, God’s plan for my vacation was that I would connect with my family.

While I think that it is in our nature to make plans and to work toward executing them, I think the real problem when it comes to things like New Year’s resolutions, or planning in general, is that we have to be striving toward the mindset that Jesus had in His ministry, the same mindset that was shown by the apostles. That is, we should seek what the Lord would have us do, and while things may get planned, we should not hold on to them so tightly that we are not able to be flexible if God decides to change them.

 

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How did this become the norm?

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By Brian Sharpe

My wife and I have norms in our marriage, parenting, and extended-family lives. We all have norms. These norms sometimes collide when we first get married or we take on roommates or even when dating someone.

Tomina and I started one norm early in our marriage because it was needed, but it hinders us now—our sleeping habits. When Tomina and I were first married, I was still in school. She worked full-time; I was a full-time student and worked part-time at a church. Tomina was as a waitress at Applebee’s. She would work from 3 p.m. until closing many nights of the week. I generally had classes in the morning and then worked at the church as needed.

When Tomina and I were first home from our honeymoon, she made the statement, “We will go to bed at the same time!” I didn’t question this statement. In her family, her parents went to bed at different times, and she wanted to change that norm. So, we agreed to go to bed at the same time. This was a great idea. The problem was, she would get home at midnight to 2:00 a.m. every night she worked. This meant that I was staying up until then to wait for her to come home. Then we would catch up on the day and go to bed. I would then get up a couple hours later and go to school. I would take naps, but it started a norm in our marriage. We were both naturally night people, but that was further solidified by our schedule. This is a norm that I have had a hard time breaking, even now that I am 40.

We all have norms. Every relationship has them. Unfortunately, they can be seen as ruts. Over the years, Tomina and I have had hard conversations about the norms in our marriage. We have talked a lot about how to love each other well. It is easy to settle into patterns and then coast on autopilot. The problem with this is that it can turn into complacency, and it can ultimately lead to a lack of intentionality. Now, this isn’t the intention of norms, but it is often the outcome.

This idea of norms affects even our relationship with God. A norm may be that when I am scared or in trouble, I run to God. That isn’t a bad norm, unless that’s the only time you run to God.

A norm could be that I go to church every week. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, as long as we understand why we go to church. We go to church to connect with God and other believers for mutual encouragement and growth. The book of Hebrews says we go to spur one another on to love and good deeds.

A norm may be that we read our Bible when we think about it or when we schedule it. This is a good norm, as long as it makes it on the schedule. A norm that we don’t want to talk about is the norm of not spending time with God in the studying his Word. That’s the downside of norms: we may create a norm in which God is only part of our lives when we are at church or when we are around people of faith, but not in our everyday life. This is a huge problem, because if we love God and are followers of God, we will spend time with God in some fashion or another in our everyday lives. We need to make sure that being with God and cultivating our relationship with Him is a norm in our life.

The other part of this is, if we have kids or are speaking into kids’ lives, we need to help them know the “why” of what we are doing to cultivate our relationship with God. First-generation Christians are excited to get to know God. Second-generation Christians get to hear the stories of what God has done with the first-generation Christian. But for third-generation Christians, being a Christian is normal to them, so they lose sight of why we do things, and in forgetting the reason, the practices become less important.

We need to stop and take inventory of the norms in our life. Our character qualities sometimes become the norm; for example, I am an angry or stubborn person. We need to evaluate these norms and make sure that we are reflecting Jesus in our marriages, parenting, friendships, and work. We need to make sure we are passing down reasoning for our norms for future generations to understand them.

What are the norms in your life? Are they what you want them to be? Are they a reflection of who Christ is calling us to be?

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The Right Question at the Right Time

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question-markBy Brian Sharpe

Have you ever been in a situation as a parent, boss, coworker, or friend where you didn’t know what to say or do when giving advice? You knew what the person should do, but you were sure they weren’t going to do what you thought they should. As a parent, as a friend, as a leader, and as a mentor, I have been in that situation so many times. My modus operandi is to just tell people what to do. The problem is, that usually ends up not going the way I think it should go.

I don’t know if you are like me, but I often think that if the world just did things the way I think they should be done, it would be a better, more functional place. I know that is arrogant, and most likely not true, but it is a thought I have.

I was recently in a situation where I was in conflict with someone that I respect. We both had different ideas of how something should be done. During this meeting, it was obvious that we weren’t seeing eye to eye. Martin was at this meeting, and he brought me and this man together to talk through and figure out what was going on. Before this meeting, I wanted to spend some time alone in prayer, seeking God and asking for understanding on why this other leader and I weren’t seeing eye to eye. As I prayed, I wasn’t getting any clarity to what was going on in this relationship. I could understand where I was coming from, and I thought I understood where the other man was coming from … but boy, was I wrong!!!

While praying, I called a mentor of mine, Jim. We usually meet once a month, but I needed his advice and his outside perspective. While on the phone with Jim, I explained the situation. I explained the reason for the meeting. Jim’s first response wasn’t to tell me what he thought I should do. His first response was to empathize, then to asking questions. He has a framework that he works though in situations like this, and the first thing is seeking to understand by asking questions. As he asked questions, he better understood the situation.

At this point, if I were Jim, I would have moved into telling me what to do. Instead, he started asking more questions about why I was responding the way I was. By the end of our conversation, it was clear to me all the ways I needed to own my improper leadership. I thought I knew what was going on, but I was blinded by my own biases. Jim was not; he was able to help me understand the blind spots in my life. He did this by asking questions, not by making statements.

I really am learning that this is the best way to help people. We need to become master question-askers. As a pastor, I see this. As a parent, I see this. As a husband, I see this. How often could an argument (I mean if Tomina and I argued . . . which of course we never do! JK) have been stopped if I would had asked a good question instead of making a statement? Asking good questions means you are seeking to understand, not make a point. This takes humility and intentionality. But in the end, I think it leads us down the path we want to go down, and that is to help others.

I have seen where someone asking good questions has helped me. I have seen where good questions have helped others. Leading through questions is hard, but worth the time it takes. In the future, when people are seeking your help or you are trying to help a family member or a friend, stop, think, and ask yourself what question needs to be asked, instead of what statement needs to be made.

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Gumballs and Other Gifts

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By Nate Champneys

Gift

As a father of three young children (ages 6, 4, and 2), God often teaches me and parents me through the experiences with my own children. I wanted to share a recent lesson with you.

I try to take my children on regular “daddy dates.” On daddy dates, I get alone time with each of my kids and get to focus on connecting with just them. Sometimes we go to the park and play on the playground; other times we go to a restaurant. One time we went down to the creek and made paper boats and sailed them down the creek.

But their favorite place is the dollar store. Once in a while I take them there and let them pick one item.

If you want to test your patience, try taking a 4-year-old little girl to the dollar store and tell her to pick just one thing! It generally takes about 20 minutes, and it usually ends with us standing in the checkout line … then her deciding that, after 20 minutes of going back and forth, she would rather have the item right there in the checkout line. It’s funny; I often have to coach her past certain items or even tell her “No” when she chooses an item, because I know that, even though it is what she wants at this moment, it will break quickly, or she will not enjoy it as much as another thing. Sometimes she might say, “But, Daddy, I really want a gumball from the machine!” So I’ll reply, “I know, honey, but look over here — instead of getting just one gumball, you could get a whole bag of gumballs!”

The last time this happened, it occurred to me: “I wonder if this is how God feels, as He listens to us pray?” We beg Him for something that He knows will not be good for us, or He has something better that He wants to give to us instead. We can get so upset because we are not getting the thing that we think that we want, when the reality is that our Father in heaven knows exactly what we need and is also a Father who loves to give His children good gifts.

Is there something that you keep asking God for that He has not yet given you? Perhaps you are asking for a gumball, when He knows that, at the back of the store, there is a whole bag of gumballs He would like to give you!

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

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Trust in the Lord with All Your Heart

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By Beau Leaman

As I think about the title of this Last Word, it strikes me as something so easy, yet so difficult. How could I possibly trust the Lord with everything? I’ve failed so many times before, and I wrestle future thoughts of potential failure. What if I fail again? What if I do not know what direction to take? What if I let down my greatest friends? What will my family think of me? What if I disappoint? What if I fail?

On February 11, my grandpa died. In fact, my grandpa died the same day as Helen Eash. Both loved, both missed, and both worshipping and praising Jesus now. The title of this Last Word is the title of Proverbs 3. I read it in the waking hours of the morning, thinking of my grandpa. My grandpa would handwrite me letters or small notes and would always end with mentioning Proverbs 3:5-6. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” The Greek definition of “acknowledge” in verse 6 means “to know thoroughly,” or simply “to recognize a thing to be what it really is.” What a concept this defines. In everything we do, whether we eat or drink or whatever, we recognize Jesus in who He really is as the foundation of that decision we make. If we do this, our paths will be straight. How do we accomplish this? We accomplish this and have success because of one main reason. We have a great High Priest that has done the work for us. My grandpa’s favorite verse that allowed him to live the life Christ wanted him to is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17. It says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” We can trust because we have an advocate, Christ Jesus, who bled so that we can walk with God and have an intimate relationship with Him.

Toward the end of my grandpa’s life there was a small, yellow card he always pulled out and read every day. He would put it back in the same place every day and repeat the process. Part of what he read on the card was, “You are deeply loved.” My grandpa was an extremely active and physical guy. Most folks would rely on this as part of an identity thing, and I’m sure he struggled with this as he began to lose all strength. When he could no longer move, he had a Savior to bridge the gap. At the most difficult time in his life he was deeply loved, and no one would take that from him.

When I read about Paul talking about passing the baton, it seems like an out-of-body experience that is a daily fight. When we think that hope is lost, we have brothers and sisters in Christ encouraging us along the way. I hope you have an experience like I’ve had in this journey we call life, to either be the encourager my grandpa was or be on the receiving end of it like I was. My grandpa means so much to me and I miss him every day. He learned to pass the baton and speak life into people. What a husband, what a father, what a grandpa, what a great-grandpa, what a friend, what a brother, and what a man he was. Thank you for your witness, Grandpa! You are greatly loved!

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Staying Connected

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By Jim DeAngelo

With the summer in full swing, kids out of school, and family vacations abounding, we set out on our annual 4th of July extended family vacation. This year we went to the lake rather than the beach and spent seven days in the sun. During these trips, we get the chance to connect with our adult children, their spouses, grandchildren, and the friends they bring along.

These times can be stressful with all the activity, changed environments, hard beds, sore muscles, late nights. Old conflicts can surface, and, if given a chance, they can damage our relationships rather than renew them. We have a choice on how we provide an environment for renewal. We need to ask ourselves if we remembered to bring Jesus on the trip.

I struggle with being who God designed me to be if I don’t spend my daily personal time with Him. Spending quality time first thing in the morning works best for me. When I make God the priority and put Jesus on the throne of my life, I find that I can be the patient, understanding, helpful, loving servant I am called to be. When I am who God designed me to be, being the leader, the whole family does better and we connect and share in a much deeper way. When I fail to lead, the connections become more about the activities instead of the relationships we have with each other. The enemy can get an opening and conflicts can surface.

Having fun and doing exciting activities is great. Most of us desire adventure and change from the routine. Yet what I remember most about these times together are the connections and time we spend in loving each other. These are what I think about when I recall my time spent on vacation. And it’s only through Christ that I’ve found it possible to do this in a meaningful way.

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