Friday, January 27, 2017

Good Plans

Jeremiah 29:11 says, 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.”
We Christians love to quote that verse because of its encouragement.  

I recently heard that scripture read at a funeral….for a man who had not yet reached 69.  Jim was cross country skiing with his wife, Sue, on a Sunday afternoon outing, when a sudden heart attack took him straight into the arms of Jesus. 
Jim brought many souls to Christ, mentoring and challenging them to grow in their faith.  He was a published author with unfinished books awaiting their conclusions.  He had served as a Hospice Chaplain, pastored a number of churches and ministered (with Sue) to our local Native American community.

As I walked into the funeral that day a friend expressed her feelings when she said, “This is so hard to believe and to understand.”  I had to agree on both points.

“Plans to prosper you?”  “Plans to give you hope and a future?”

My husband and I first met Jim and Sue over twelve years ago through a seemingly unimportant encounter.  You see, God brings very special people into our lives in very mundane ways.  I had moved back to my home town per my marriage and was going to the dentist.  My hubby had been there earlier that morning and called to tell me Sue (the dental hygienist) was looking forward to meeting me.  Charlie had determined we were much alike in personality and he knew how desperately I needed Christian women friends here in our community!  My husband was right on!  Sue and I began our friendship over coffee two days later.   It wasn’t much longer before Charlie and I met Jim and began a relationship as couples.

Over the years I watched Jim and Sue deeply love people.  They faced major challenges, some of them breathtaking.  They moved away from our area for a time and eventually returned.  As I wrote earlier, they loved on the nearby Native American community and there is no doubt in my mind that lives have been touched for eternity.  One of the young women from that community spoke eloquently at Jim’s service about his amazing capacity to love and how it flowed out from his very heart.

I have fond memories of occasional meals together, times of studying God’s Word together, Super Bowl watching and Sunday morning worship.  It was a relationship that had its spaces and absences, but because Jim and Sue were so relational, it ebbed and flowed and stayed intact.

I remember being part of a small group Jim and Sue brought together to enjoy Biblical discussion.  One night, as we finished up, we were making plans for the next week.  I offered our home, even though Charlie had to be away that night.  Very casually Jim suggested I plan a little discussion for that evening.  That night I realized there were three pastors sitting in our living room; what in the world was I doing, thinking I could lead them in discussion?!  God was very present in the details of that conversation…Jim always knew God was in charge!

Jim’s funeral was incredibly sad but even more, it was incredibly uplifting.  Jim left behind an amazing legacy including a wonderful family and many who were grateful at how God had used Jim in their lives.  I came away with a renewed determination to make my life count for Jesus even more and to love people lavishly.

Jim and Sue were a strong ministry team but because Jim left this earth suddenly, there was no time of preparation for Sue.  She is now faced with huge questions about “what next?”  Her “pastor, mentor and best friend” (Sue’s description) is gone.    

Yes, God did have amazing plans for Jim.  Yes, God’s plan always is for good – Jim would certainly attest to that from where he is right now! And through all of the sadness and grief, Sue also knows God still has a plan for her life.  I am so thankful for how Jim lived his life demonstrating the gospel.  No doubt, that Sunday afternoon, Jim heard the words I long to hear one day, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Thursday, January 5, 2017

What Lies Ahead?

I have to admit, as much as I love the holidays, I breathe a sigh of relief when they are over. Don’t get me wrong, I love gathering with family and friends to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus through special meals and gift exchanges. There is always a sense of awe and wonder at the Christmas Eve worship service.

And then there is New Years’ Eve.  It’s been many years since I went "out on the town” so to speak; at my stage of life, I am happy with a “quieter” New Years’ Eve observation.  This year my husband and I enjoyed an “at home”  evening but did include a short walk down the street to our municipal dock (three blocks) where there were 10-15 minutes of fireworks!  It was a beautiful brisk, winter evening. We were then happy to head back to our home and the warmth of the fireplace.

Now that it is all over and our home has been “un-decorated”, I have a need to establish some sort of routine.  Of course, “routine” is often overrated but there is a certain sort of comfort in getting back into a rhythm of life.

I am not much for making resolutions simply because the calendar says we are entering a year with a new number.  As a Christian, I want to always be open to shifts and changes as the Holy Spirit moves me, according to His plan.  But, like so many others, all the talk and hype about a new year coming does, in fact, get me thinking.

What is ahead?  Would I want to know even if I could?  During the holidays, Charlie and I went out to his deer camp deep in the woods of the Upper Peninsula and we were overwhelmed by the beauty around us.  The photo on the top of this blog post is one I took that day.  If you look closely, you can tell we are on a 2-track, driving through the woods and you can see a bend in the road.  Anything beyond that bend is “hidden” from our view.
Because I have driven this road many times, I have a sense of what is next. But there are often surprises….like the beautiful mama deer we encountered who stood in the road, staring at us for the longest time.  Or there could be a tree fallen across the road. 

Isn’t it a bit like that as we look toward the future, as we travel down the road of 2017?  We don’t know what is ahead, do we?  Is that a scary thought?  Are you facing a health challenge?  Is your job in jeopardy?  Are you in a personal struggle of some sort?

Maybe you have exciting plans to look forward to and that road is bright and beautiful.  Are you planning your wedding?  Looking forward to a baby/grand baby coming?  It could be a special vacation that will take you to a wonderful destination.

No matter what lies ahead, God tells us in His Word that we can trust Him! One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 3: 5 and 6, “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 straight your paths.”  

I have a huge tendency to overthink just about every challenging situation that comes up – and nothing good comes from doing that!  In the middle of the night, when I cannot sleep for all the busyness going on in my brain, I come back to this verse.  Guess what?  When I actually do trust in God’s providence, I sleep better, am much less anxious and my joy returns.  Go figure!

There are many examples throughout the Bible that give us a picture of how perfectly God can be trusted.  In the Old Testament we read about Rahab, a woman of poor reputation, who helped God’s people because she trusted in their God.  And God brought her out of danger.  Or there was that time Peter jumped out of the boat, literally walking on water to get to Jesus.  He took his eyes off Jesus and he started sinking.  When his trust/focus was back on Jesus, all was well!

We have a choice before us, each and every day.  Will we head into 2017 with fear and anxiety about what is ahead, or will we cast our burdens on the Lord (Psalm 55:22) and look to Him in full trust?  Since God is outside of time and space, He is already in the future!   If I have a New Years’ resolution, it is to dig deeper into my relationship with Jesus and offer Him a deeper trust than ever before.  Will you travel down that road with me?