He Knows the Plans

Jeremiah 29:11

Rest assured that God’s purpose for you is promised.

You know that verse cited above. Even if you don’t recognize the reference, even if you didn’t look it up like you should when reading this sort of thing, you know it. I could start speaking the words, “I know the plans . . .” and you’d have the rest come into your mind. Maybe you wouldn’t know it word for word, but I’m fairly confident that you know this verse.

I’ve had this verse rattling around in my mind a lot recently. I’ve heard two pastors whose teaching I respect share completely different views on it. A couple of friends and I have also discussed it. Our question, and the crux of the difference between those pastors, was whether that verse applied to us or just to the people of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s day.

On one level, that verse does just apply to those residents of Jerusalem, but do we really believe that God only knew the plans that He had for that crowd? Do we really believe that God had plans for good and for hope for them but that He has instead a bag full of poisonous snakes for us?

God’s purpose for us is promised. He had a plan for Abraham and a plan for Saul. He actually had plans for both Sauls, but one of them ran his plan off a cliff, Thelma and Louise style.

What is my destiny? I don’t know. Does God have one for me? Absolutely and without a doubt.

  • In what ways has God revealed His plan for your life along the way? What questions remain mysterious?
  • To what extent do you trust that God has plans to prosper you, even if He doesn’t fully reveal them right now?
  • Pray that God will grant you the confidence to trust that He has plans for you and they are good ones.


My Rebuilder of Broken Things

Acts 15:36-40

Be an encourager by rebuilding relationships.

I’ve written children’s curriculum for LifeWay for something like fifteen years now, but that’s not entirely true. I’ve written steadily for them for fifteen years, but there was a hiatus of a few years on bible study materials.

For some reason, my first editor and I didn’t see eye to eye. Was it his lack of vision or my lack of skill? Probably it was a combination of those, but after two years, he cut me loose, which would have been the end of the story, except for my Barnabas.

Cheryl was editing Bible Express, a devotional magazine for kids, back then. She gave me assignments almost every month, eventually telling me that she was trying to let me build up my credibility. After a couple of years, a new bible study editor came on and she persuaded him to give me a try. I’ve written constantly for them now for–honestly I don’t know how long. I’ve moved from rookie to old man of the team.

Now Cheryl is editing that material, and she keeps me busy, which I guess means that I’m pretty good at the job. You have to know that I will always be loyal to her, helping in whatever way I can. After that restoration, I’ve been able to write for other products and otherwise use the gift that God gave me.

Thank you, Cheryl–friend, sister in Christ, encourager, rebuilder of relationships.

  • Who has helped you to rebuild relationships in the past? What has that opened up in your life?
  • For what relationships have you served as a Barnabas? Are there some that you should?
  • Give thanks for Jesus rebuilding your relationship with God. Ask God for opportunities to do similar work.

Washington Scandal: 1829

Acts 9:26-27

Be an encourager by extending friendship.

When Andrew Jackson was president, a huge kerfuffle arose when Peggy Eaton, the wife of Jackson’s Secretary of War, was accused of some long-ago (and unverifiable) moral failing. Much of Washington, D.C. society lined up to ostracize this woman, while others, notably the people closest to the president, lined up to defend her. Some of the husbands who would have gone along with the president’s wishes found themselves stuck between the claims of bosses and wives.

I don’t pretend to know which, if any, of the accusations against Peggy Eaton were well founded. Did she actually have a relationship with Mr. Eaton before her first husband–a scoundrel by all accounts–died? I don’t know.

However, I’d like to think that I could overlook the possibilities and take her or anyone for what they are today–or even what they might be tomorrow. Sometimes it is easier to shun people, to exclude them for whatever reason, but it is better by far to forget those reasons and be a friend.

Barnabas didn’t know what Paul would become. He couldn’t even be 100% certain that Paul was genuinely a believer. Still Barnabas–that son of encouragement–stuck out his neck as a friend. In doing that he changed the world.

  • Think of a time when someone has encouraged you by the simple act of friendship. How did it affect you?
  • What barriers prevent you from showing yourself friendly? What can you do to remove them?
  • Ask God to give you opportunities to show encouragement through friendship and thus connect people to each other and to Christ.

Hoops Generosity

Acts 4:36-37

Be an encourager by being generous.

It was just a couple of days past that I returned home from children’s camp, so my mind is still caught up in a swirl of songs, messy games, and chaotic mealtimes. This morning, though, as I think about this idea of generosity, something completely different pops into my head: basketball.

I think it was Wednesday afternoon during “hang time” (aka free time) that I went looking for the boys charged to me. Somebody suggested that they had headed to the gym. When I arrived, that’s where we found most of them, playing a game or shooting individually.

“Hey Mr. Mark,” some kid yelled. “You want to play us? Adults versus kids!”

Did I want to play? I’m not much of a basketball player when I’m in shape and I’m certainly not in shape right now. Did I want to play? I wanted to get some rack time, plus I had writing that was overdue. Did I want to play? In a word, no!

But I stepped in and I played–badly–for about twenty minutes. For twenty minutes I shared that court with Antonio and Cliff and Josiah and Alex and a shifting cast of others. And having given that time, I feel richer for it. I could see a difference in those kids also.

A person does not have to give at the level that gets your name on a building at a university in order to be encouraging. We just need to keep an open hand.

  • In what ways do you find it difficult to be generous? In what ways is it easy?
  • Have you ever been encouraged by the generosity of another? Reflect on it for a moment.
  • Pray that God will give you opportunities to encourage through a generous spirit and make you aware of them as they come.


When the Best Tool is a He or She

Mark 2:3-5

Work with others to connect people to Christ.

During the years that I lived in the hinterlands, I accumulated a pretty good array of tools, some of which I kept when I moved back to town and some of which I sold. There is a twenty-foot extension ladder that makes me really tall. There’s a chainsaw that makes me a wood-cutting animal. There’s a half-inch drive socket set (with a breaker bar) that lets me grab hold of just about any nut or bolt and give it a powerful turn.

My personal favorite, and one that did not make the move to the ‘burbs, was a forty-year-old Kubota tractor. That single piece of equipment allowed me to mow pretty much anything less than an inch in diameter. It made me really strong, able to lift and carry all manner of heavy stuff. I liked that tractor.

Sometimes, however, the best tool for a job, the essential tool that cannot be replaced, is another person. As powerful as that tractor was, I never did figure out how to use it to pull a car out of a ditch while also steering the car. I certainly couldn’t use it to do tasks I didn’t know how to do.

Look at the story of the friends in Mark 2. In the verses listed above, the word “they” appears five times. When we throw in “their” and the mention of “four men,” we see that this group effort was definitely recognized.

Within the church and beyond its boundaries, we need to work together in order to help others connect with Christ. In that way, we can be a tool in God’s hand.

  • Are you a naturally introverted or extroverted person? How does that show up in your missions efforts?
  • When was the last time that you worked with one or more others to help someone create or strengthen their connection to Jesus? How did that cooperative effort help?
  • Pray that God will show you the fruitful teamwork that He has in mind for you.

…and my lungs and limbs and all the rest of me.