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.
Brothers and sisters, we are blessed. God has showered incredible blessings upon us – and quite honestly, sometimes we do not recognize our blessings. Personally, I have been blessed with an incredible wife – a woman who stands behind me and supports me. We have an amazing daughter who we never envisioned – yet God knew the plans he had for us. We sometimes face a tight budget but we never want for food. And even in the younger days of my life, when I did face want – when at home we did not have enough, or the bills were long overdue, I was blessed. There were always family members who provided some care. But blessings are not just about physical things. I am blessed by God and so are you. God has seen me through all sorts of bad times, and He has given me an abundance of good times. When I turned to Him, He provided a path for me, a path filled with blessings and hope. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
But if we are so blessed by God, why do we put so many limits on ourselves? Why can’t we “be all that we can be” or better put, why can’t we be all that God wants us to be? After all, God has plans for us. He has plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future.
In the 29th chaper of Jeremiah, the prophet is telling the people in captivity to live a life of blessings – to get married, to purchase homes, to live fully and see God’s blessings. Imagine that – Jeremiah is declaring God’s blessings on a people who are in exile – but it is true. God will fulfill the promise of returning them to their homes – but in the mean time, God has plans for them, plans for a bright future filled with hope. And he has those same plans for us. Even if you are in the middle of a crisis, or a tragedy, or great pain, or a bad situation, you are blessed because God loves you, God knows about your suffering, and God will provide. He has great plans for you.
Yet we sometimes shortchange ourselves – we limit ourselves. And in doing so, we shortchange God. We shortchange God because we say “it’s not in the budget”, even though we have proven time and again we could afford it. If everyone who attends church on a regular basis found a way to give just five dollars more a week, across every church in this nation, imagine how much more ministry churches could do? Just $5.00 – about the cost of two cups of convenience store coffee – or the price of a bag of cookies. $5.00 could mean the difference in the lives of someone without food, or clothing, or shelter. It could mean the difference between churches offering no outreach and offering great outreach and sharing God’s love. It could mean life to someone who is currently dead in the spirit. It could be a blessing to others, which would become a blessing to us.
But money is not the only way we shortchange our blessings and God. We shortchange God when we make all kinds of excuses why something cannot work, instead of looking for ways to do it. We squelch ideas out of a sense of loyalty to the past or an attitude that neglects to use the magnificent brain God gave us. While on vacation, we went to the Kennedy Space Center. It is a fascinating place, one that just truly floored me. I love space exploration – I can remember sitting in front of the TV at my grandmothers house watching moon launches. And in High School, I wrote a research paper on the space shuttle. So we jumped at an opportunity to see a display on the shuttle which started with a movie. In 1969 A NASA leader called together a team of engineers. They were wondering why they were called together when all of a sudden a small model glider floated down and made a perfect landing. The team leader stated how the moon landing was child’s play compared to their task – creating a reusable space launch vehicle – the space shuttle. All of the engineers were excited for the challenge, and after lots and lots of hard work we saw Columbia, the first shuttle launch into orbit in 1981. And this happened because a small, dedicated team worked together to create something. They faced challenges. They faced adversity. They faced difficulties, but they believed in their goal and they worked together towards that goal.
And here is the great part. When an idea was presented, nobody shot it down as “impossible” or “not our way of doing things.” When an obstacle was encountered, they didn’t give up, rather someone threw out an idea and they worked with it. Can’t land the shuttle in Florida? Okay, land at Andrews Air Force Base in California and transport the unit back to Florida. Can’t keep weight down with current technology? Create something new! At the end of the movie, I got to see the Space Shuttle Discovery – one of the most complex vehicles ever imagined and created.
During our long ride home, we talked about this, about how the scientists and engineers worked together to create something previously inconceivable. And we related it to the church. Quite honestly, we hear too often why we cannot do things. We hear that things are impossible, or should not be tried. Why? Because “That is not the way we have done things in the past”. How many times has that phrase been said, uttered, whispered or thought of in our churches? Let’s be honest, we all say it whenever some crazy pastor tries to change things up. “That’s not how we have done it.” No matter how constitutional or biblical or God ordained it is; if the idea goes against our traditions, or our desires we say shoot it down. And truth be told, we crazy pastors say it as well when we go to our regional meetings with other churches. We sit in Presbytery meetings hearing about something new and we shout “that’s not how we have done it.” But we are not looking at blessings when we thwart ministry that way. We are trying to protect and control the status quo. Imagine if we just let go and allowed ministry to happen. Imagine if we let the new person do the new thing without negative comment, or better, if we blessed and supported them as much as we were blessed with our new thing so long ago. Imagine the blessings we would both give and receive! Imagine the blessings when we turn back to God and follow His will for us.
In John’s gospel, Jesus says these words: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. Jesus’ vision for abundant life is not about material goods – but a life lived out in service to God. A life of incredible blessings as we follow God’s will for our lives. Imagine if we lived life as God calls us, knowing that he has a plan for us, a plan not to do us harm but plans to prosper us, to give us hope and a future. Imagine life if we actually lived up to God’s expectations for us. Imagine, or better yet…instead of imagining this, let’s just do it. Let’s recognize all the blessings God has bestowed upon us, let us give Him all the thanks and praise, let’s live every step of our lives with him and share our blessings with the world. Let’s go forward knowing that when we do God’s work, we can achieve far more than we can imagine.
Grace and Peace,
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen