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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The Day I Said, “Prove It” to Jesus

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By Nate Champneys

moneyLately, I have had an “epiphany” of sorts that I would like to share with you. As I have been reading the words of Jesus, the thought has continued to occur to me, “What if Jesus actually meant these things He is saying?” I wrote about one of those moments in my last blog about loving others, but I had another one of these moments as I was reading the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. I think the Sermon on the Mount is one of the most important statements Jesus ever made as to how we are supposed to live our lives. But I think sometimes we read it like it is poetry, as opposed to hearing it as literal instructions in how we should live. There is so much there, and sometimes we almost seem to think, “Those words sound nice and fluffy and I’m not sure I get it, but I’m just going to keep on reading.”

About every week I take an hour or so and I go to my secret place in the woods at Clark’s Creek Park in Puyallup. It’s just a log up on the mountainside where I spend time sitting, hanging out with Jesus. I ask Him questions. I listen for answers. I write songs. I read the Bible. He always shows up. Every time I go, it’s different, but it’s always good. I was reading in Matthew 6 because I am working on a set of songs based on “The Lord’s Prayer.” So I began to read the Lord’s Prayer, but then continued to the end of the chapter.

Beginning in verse 19, Jesus begins to address the topic of money and possessions. Now, as people who live in the wealthiest nation to ever exist on the face of planet earth, if anyone ever needed to hear what the Son of God has to say about money and possessions, it’s probably us. If I am honest with you, money is probably the thing that my wife and I have had the most conflict over in our marriage. And on this particular morning as I read this passage I felt frustrated. It seemed like lately, money talk had dominated our recent conversations. Jesus talks about the idea of not storing up treasures here on earth and that whatever our treasure is, that this is where our heart will be. Our hearts are tied to what we most value, and because of this inseparable connection between what we treasure and our heart, Jesus says: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money” (Matthew 6:24). I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Is this me? Is money more important to me and my wife than You, Jesus?”

Now one of the chief reasons I think that we become enslaved to money is that we worry about life and whether there will be enough to take care of our needs. In fear, we want to control our situation. This is why Jesus follows up His words about money enslaving us by talking about worry, and He literally says, “THAT IS WHY I TELL YOU, not to worry about everyday life- whether you have enough food and drink or enough clothes to wear.” “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly father feeds them. And aren’t you more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (vv. 25-27)

We have all heard this verse about the birds. I just don’t know if we really believe it. I tend to think, “Well, birds don’t eat as much as the family of six in my house!” 🙂 But Jesus draws this message to a close with this statement: “Your heavenly Father ALREADY knows all your needs. Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Wait a minute: What if Jesus actually meant this? He already knows everything we need and we don’t need to worry?! Our job is to seek our Father first, “above all else,” and He has promised that He will give us what we need.

So sitting there on that log I said, “Jesus, will You prove it? Will You prove this to me?” Now I am not recommending we put God to the test, but honestly, this is where I was at that day. So then I continued to sit on the log and enjoy my time there.

After a few minutes, a little bird came and landed a few feet in front of me, and sat there, looking at me. It then hopped up on the log next to me, picked at something, then flew off. I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s cool. That bird got really close.” I continued to sit and read.

Now in the park there are lots of people around, and so you hear interesting sounds from time to time. I started to hear a sound up in the woods behind me, like somebody striking rocks together. I continued to read, but after a few minutes of listening to this, I stopped and said to myself, “What the heck are they doing up there?!”

Curiosity finally got the better of me and I started to walk up the trail toward the sound. As I approached the sound I realized it was actually up above me, and I looked up to see a beautiful woodpecker with bright red feathers on his head! He was clinging to the side of an old tree and picking at it.

Every time I see wildlife when I am at my spot in the woods I always feel like Jesus put it there for me to enjoy, so I said, “Thanks for this, Jesus! This is really cool!”  I stood there and enjoyed it for a few minutes. As I looked up into the tree, the thought occurred to me, “Man, it is amazing that the woodpecker knows where to find bugs in the trees. How do they know that …” and I stopped short. A light went on in my head: “Look at the birds of the air … they do not store food in barns …” I prayed, “Jesus, are you proving it to me right now?” And He said, “Yep.” So I replied, with a smile, “Well, it’s not exactly what I had in mind, but it’s pretty cool.”

How do you view your money? Do you find yourself constantly worrying about whether or not you will have enough? God accepts you in the middle of your worry, but He loves you too much to let you stay there. Even in my worry and distrust, He is so gentle and so full of grace, while still teaching me as I listen to Him.

As I walked down the mountainside to my car, I came across another bird that stood in the middle of the trail, then flew off. Then another. And another. As I approached my car, I couldn’t help but smile and feel completely loved and taken care of by my Father.

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Thank God for Your Crummy Car

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By Jason Comerford

Recently my wife and I finally waved goodbye to our 2000 Pontiac Grand Am.

As it drove off securely fastened to the back of a tow truck, the Lord reminded me of what an immense blessing the car had been.

Which is an interesting thought for such a crummy car.

I purchased the car about four and a half years ago from a past college roommate’s wife’s parents. Kind of an interesting connection, but I needed a car and they were selling. Almost immediately, the car started needing constant repairs. You plugged one leak, and a new one formed. Cheap parts kept breaking. I won’t go into all the details, but it was a constant drain on my already very limited resources. One of my clients, a mechanic, laughingly informed me of how legendarily bad my car’s particular engine was among mechanics.

His advice was to sell it as fast as Craigslist would take it.

Despite that, we hung onto it. Between trying to build a business and being a relatively new married couple, we never seemed to quite find time to really get rid of it.

One day, I found myself checking the oil and coolant levels (as had become by twice weekly habit), and, in all the exasperation of caring for this dying hunk-of-junk car, gospel reality hit me like a much-needed ton of joyful bricks.

Jesus doesn’t break down. He doesn’t need parts changed. Oil doesn’t leak. Coolant doesn’t overheat. Fuel doesn’t run low. There are no cheap, plastic parts.

Instead, Jesus is eternal (Hebrews 13:8), mighty (Isaiah 9:6), and reliable (Psalm 18:2). He does not ever wear out (Isaiah 40:28) or cease working right when you need Him (John 5:17). Jesus will never fail or forsake me. He will not grow tired or weary. He won’t leave. And, faced with a car that was on its last legs and hardly having the funds to replace it, this was a deeply joyful reminder. I kid you not, I laughed like a giddy child with the reminder that Jesus Christ is nothing like my junker of a car.

But here’s something else we shouldn’t miss.

Did you notice what that reminder came through? What had a hand in helping me see such a joyful, delightful revelation?

That very same car.

The car that had caused so much frustration and so much heartache and so much worry was now the very conduit through which joy and God’s praise had come. And it hadn’t come through a brand new car or any kind of financial solution — it had come through my car being a frustrating pain.

May we all, with God’s help, remember this the next time we’re tempted to turn to anger or self-pity because of many of life’s inconveniences, frustrations, and expenses. It doesn’t matter one bit if we don’t have the time, the patience, or the money to deal with it. Trust in God, for He is working both your good and His glory!

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Important Lessons from Esther

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By Larry Short

Elim’s young adult group, Pulse, is nearing the completion of a study of Esther. In case you’re unfamiliar with the story, it takes place in postexile Persia (formerly Babylon). Freed from captivity, about 60,000 Jews have emigrated back to the Jerusalem area to rebuild the Temple and pick their lives back up as God’s people living in their Land.

Esther Denouncing Haman, by British painter Ernest Normand

“Esther Denouncing Haman,” by British painter Ernest Normand.

But what many people don’t realize is that at least 10 times that many Jews willingly chose to stay behind in Persia. Why? After 70 years, it was home. They were used to it. They were rebuilding comfortable lives and businesses. Almost everything was going well.

Almost. There was a strong anti-Jewish sentiment among many of the Persians. The Jews’ “strange” ways, coupled with their business acumen, caused many to look down upon them in envy and disapproval. (Sound familiar?)

One man in particular bore a grudge. His name was Haman, and he was descended from a group of pagans who were almost wiped out more than a century earlier (at God’s command) by Saul. The fact that Saul compromised and didn’t completely obey God resulted in Haman later rising to power as prime minister to the king of Persia, Xerxes (or Ahaseurus), and harboring a secret hatred of the Jewish people who had almost wiped out his forefathers.

In ancient Persia, much as it is today, money translated to political power, and Haman had lots of it. And he used his capital to trick the king into signing a death warrant against all Jews remaining in Persia.

Mordecai and his cousin Esther were two of those Jews. And it just so happened that King Xerxes, after banishing a queen who had disrespected him, fell in love with the beautiful Esther and chose her to be his queen. Xerxes didn’t realize, of course, when he signed Haman’s paperwork, that he was giving Haman permission to put his own wife to death!

The book of Esther never even once mentions God, but it is a book full of “coincidences” that clearly show God’s power to order circumstances (even very difficult circumstances) to bring about His will. And His will was (and is) the protection and salvation of His people.

One such “coincidence” was the elevation of Mordecai to favor with the king, even as his death was being plotted by Haman, because of his role revealing a plot against the king by his bodyguards. Mordecai also revealed the plot against the Jews to Esther, and urged her to plead their case before the king. She knew that to do so was to risk death, for anyone approaching the king without being called would be summarily executed if he didn’t intervene. Mordecai challenges Esther with these famous words: “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for just such a time as this?” And Esther’s classic, courageous response: “Tell everyone to fast for me for three days, and on the third day I will approach the king. And if I perish, I perish.”

The king spares Esther’s life, and she definitely gets his attention. Even so, she doesn’t immediately reveal her request; she waits. Why?

God’s timing is perfect! In waiting, Mordecai is elevated to power, and Haman is shown for the schemer he is. Once Esther finally reveals her request (that the king spare her life and the lives of her people), Haman’s plot is undone. He finds himself instead skewered upon the pole which he had planned for Mordecai’s demise. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

There are so many lessons in this book, it’s hard to choose one, but let me list three favorites:

  • When life’s circumstances become difficult, we can trust that God is behind the scenes, working, even if we can’t see Him. He is for us, and Paul’s words in Romans 8:28 are true: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
  • There is tremendous power in waiting upon the Lord. Esther waited until the moment was right and God said, “Go.” His power is seen in the perfection of His timing.
  • Like the Jews in Persia, in many ways we Christians have become a little too comfortable living in a land that is not our home. In the process, we have in some ways become a stench in the nostrils of the people of this land. There are Hamans here who seek our destruction, but God knows their hearts and will ultimately skewer them upon their own devices.

I am so grateful we have an all-powerful God who is for us, and who is working behind the scenes to secure our salvation from the plots of the enemy! May God help us to learn to wait on Him!

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Good Sufferings

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By Nate Champneys

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). If you spend any time around the Church, you will hear this verse often quoted. Honestly, it has always been one of my personal favorites; however, I often think we take it and make it into something that it’s not.

As human beings, our emphasis is almost always on doing. One of the first things we ask someone when we meet them is, “What do you do for a living?” We evaluate others by what they do. We tend to find our worth as a person by what we ourselves do or don’t do. So with a verse like Romans 8:28, we hear it and we immediately want to go apply this to our “doings.” We want to say, This means that whatever I am doing in my life, God is for me and is going to help me accomplish it. God will make all my “doings” prosper.

Then the trials come. We fail at the project we are working on. Our car breaks down. We lose our house. A loved one falls deathly ill. How do we reconcile the trials in our lives with Romans 8:28? “I thought God was for me. He must not care. He must not even be there. He must not exist.” Yet Romans 8:28 was spoken by the apostle Paul, a man who was very familiar with suffering. How is suffering good?

When you look at chapter 8 as a whole, though, this verse starts to become clear. In chapter 8 the focus is on our identity as God’s children, and as His children we have been given right standing with God. We have a Daddy who loves us. Let’s read one verse further, into verse 29. “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Ahhhh! That is the good. Here Paul clarifies what he means. The “good” that he speaks about is not that everything in our lives is going to go perfectly. The good is that through it all we can trust that it is part of the process of Him conforming us into the image of Christ.

So God may not make all your “doings” prosper. Your project may fail. Your car may break down. You may lose your house. Your loved one may die. But in all these things and more, you can take the promise to the bank that your Father in Heaven is using those very difficult things to conform you into the image of His Son.

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Purpose in Paper Boats

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By Nate Champneys

My five-year-old and I went down to the creek with some paper to make paper boats. In my mind I could just picture how awesome it would be to let those things go sailing down the creek. So we get down there and I fold the first one and I let it go down the creek. Kaelen was thrilled. But his excitement quickly faded into distress as the boat moved away. He waded after the boat and grabbed it.

“Kaelen, you have to let it go down the creek.” I said.

“No, I want it,” he said.

“Trust me, Kaelen. Let’s just see what happens.”

Frustrated, he slowly let it go. It went about 20 feet and got caught on a log. I waded over to it and Kaelen asked me for it. But I said, “No, dude, you have to let it go.” And I let it go and it sailed down the creek. By this point Kaelen is almost in tears and says, “But Daddy, I really want to keep the boats.”

I head back up the creek to where the stack of paper is sitting, frustrated because my beautiful plan of sailing boats down the creek with my son is not playing out the way I intended it to. But I suddenly think to myself, “Why am I so bothered by this? Who really cares if the boats go all the way down the creek or not? Isn’t the point of being here to have some quality time with my son? Instead I am driving him to tears.” Here I am, focused so hard on the end result of the boats, that I’ve forgotten that the goal of this outing was to have a date with my son. So I told Kaelen, “Okay buddy, I’m sorry. You can keep the boats.” The rest of the afternoon, I would make a boat and he would let it go ten feet or so, pick it up, and add it to his collection on the beach. (With the exception of a couple he let me send down the creek for my own enjoyment. 🙂 ) We came home with an armful of soggy paper boats, and my son was never more thrilled.

As I think about that day, I understand my mistake. I was focusing on what I viewed to be the end result: floating boats. I forgot about the process. I got focused on the “doing” and lost track of the “being,” the “doing” of sailing boats instead of the “being” of being a father to my son. This way of thinking is visible throughout my life and is something I fight daily. In another blog post I wrote about how God’s purposes are wrapped up inside the process of life. We tend to view things as “the end justifies the means” and focus on doing whatever we have to in order to accomplish a specific project. But from God’s perspective, I think that often the means ARE the end.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Sometimes we hear this verse and we think, “See, God is going to make everything I do prosper.” But that is not what this verse says, nor is it what the surrounding verses are trying to communicate. God is about His purposes. Not ours. In verse 35 Paul asks the question, “Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” This question implies that we will face these things. We may face trouble. We may face hunger or destitution. We may face persecution. How is that things working together for good? Well, according to my purposes, it isn’t. But it is good because all those bad things work together to accomplish the good thing: His purpose.

God is at work in us, with purposes all throughout the process of life, with the ultimate destination being greater than our immediate happiness, but more so, our holiness. Our job is not focus on the fact that we haven’t arrived at this destination but to be with him in the process, and trust him with it, knowing that we are deeply loved and leave the results up to Him.

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