Life’s Challenges, God’s Opportunity


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. – Jeremiah 29:11

Have you ever had moments in your life, where you needed to cling onto a specific Bible verse?  Maybe you were diagnosed with cancer and God led you to Psalm 23.  Maybe you were depressed and thought there was no way out, then God led you to John 3.

No matter where we may be in this life, I know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that God leads us to Bible verses which have permanent impact in our lives.  For me, it was Jeremiah 29:11.

I haven’t written in some time, so if you’ll allow, I’d like to explain why this verse has been so important in my life.

For the past few years I have been going to school, all the while working a full time job, raising a family and occasionally preaching.  Sounds like a lot, I know.  But so far, I’ve been able to handle it…mostly.

During this time, I have noticed that my attitude towards life (in general) has slowly declined.  Many times, I feel like King Solomon in Ecclesiastes when he writes, “Everything is meaningless.”  I have wondered time and time again, what am I doing and why am I doing it?

A few weeks ago, I heard a conference on RightNow Media.  In this conference, there was one Pastor who made a significant contribution to confirm certain views I recently held to.  His name is Dr. David Platt.

Dr. Platt had communicated how we need to have a desire to be completely enamored with Jesus Christ.  In everything we do, we must consider how it plays into what Jesus Christ is doing in and around our lives.  It is not the perspective of how I can get more out of Christ, but rather, how much more can I give to Christ.  It is about Jesus Christ and His mission.

He shared about his experience in South Korea, how large gatherings of believers came to pray before they began their day.  He explained that these Christians got up early every morning just to seek Christ for their day, so they could be obedient to Christ during their day.  This one message stirred in me a desire to re-evaluate all that I have been doing to ensure it is Christ-centered.

More recently, I am considering a very large life change for my family and I.  During our discussions, my wife reminded me that whatever we decide to do, we (more like I) must realize that not only is God in control, but it may be the very seed planted in someone’s life to bring them to the Gospel.

As we have been considering this, I have been praying asking for God to guide me.  In this Jeremiah 29:11 came into play, once again.  In this passage, God is telling Israel, that one day, they will reject Him.  They will go off on their own and suffer the consequences of their bad decisions.  However, God let them also know that one day, they would return to Him and He would then hear and answer their prayers.  In the midst of this God tells them, “I know the plans I have for you.”

I love how God uses the gentle reminders to bring us back into His path.  For me, He has used this passage over and over again to remind me that not only is He in control but He cares about us.

Many times, we read Jeremiah 29 and say to ourselves, “See Israel, there you go again..wandering…God’s judgement is just.”  But as I read this same passage, I think to myself how God must be vocalizing His love towards Israel.  It is as if I could hear Him proclaim, “Oh Israel, I know you are wandering, but I love you.  I love you so much, that I want you to know I have plans for you.”

The same holds true for us.  “Oh Joey, I know that you have wandered, but I still love you.  I love you so much, that I want you to know that I have plans for you.”  Jesus put it this way… “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Jesus lamented that Israel was not willing to allow His love for them to permeate into their lives.  Jesus used the gentle visual about a hen gathering her chicks.  Just as the hen wants to protect her young, so too Jesus wants to protect us.

Isn’t it good to know that no matter the life changing event, Jesus is there for us, desiring to protect us?  Isn’t it good to know that even as we go through the life changing events, Jesus has a plan for our lives?  But it isn’t just a plan.  It’s a plan to prosper us and give us a future!

So let’s think of it this way.  No matter what circumstances we may face.  No matter how our minds may be filled with every concern in this world.  No matter how physically inept we may be, Jesus has, not only a plan, but a plan to prosper us and give us a future!  How?  Well you might be surprised about what I am going to say next.

If our lives (our thoughts and actions in obedience) are enamored with Jesus Christ and we are focused on doing His will for our lives and we are actually obeying what He has called us to do, then our lives should and will reflect His desires.  Therefore, we can easily explain that our prospering future has to do with HIM, not us.

Does this mean we can become wealthy in this life?  Sure, but it can’t be our focus.  Does this mean we can be healthy in this life?  Sure, but if we aren’t healthy it doesn’t mean we are being disobedient.  Here is what Paul says about the rewards we should be seeking….

“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things.” – Philippians 3:13-15

Our prize is not in this world.  Our prize is in heaven.  Our goals should not be of this world or better yet, our goals should not be focused on this world.  Our goals should be that which Jesus Christ has placed in us for His Kingdom.

Facing life challenges is hard, but it is great to know that Jesus has my best interest in mind.  He is orchestrating our lives in such a way that He wants to prosper us and give us a future with Him.  He wants what is best for us.  He wants to protect us.  He wants us to have that relationship with Him.

I can’t wait until that day, when I finally meet Him, face to face.  I can’t wait until that day when I hear, “Well done” from my Lord.  I can’t wait until I can cry at His feet, allow Him to wipe every tear from my eyes and spend eternity praising Him, worshipping Him and talking and walking with Him.

But until that day comes, no matter what this life has to offer, no matter how many problems I face, I will say what Joshua said, “Choose this day, who you will serve!  But as for me and my house, we WILL serve the Lord!.”

What will you choose?

God bless and encourage someone today.

Time


I am struggling today.  This isn’t a physical battle.  It is however a battle for my mind.

Recently, a friend of mine decided it was time to move out of New York.  He made that decision after watching the financial and mental burden the New York City and Long Island area have placed on its residents.  He decided to make his family life better; leaving this area would be the best decision.  So far, he has been right.

For years, I have dreamed of leaving New York and going to other places that have not only been more affordable but less stressful, a place where I can raise my kids without the pressures of having to work infinite hours and spend more time with them.  I have dreamt of being able to sit outside at night and see the stars thinking about the wonders God has created in the heavens.  Being able to go outside in the early morning hours and sit and spend time with God in the quietness of the outdoors.  Listening to the calm breeze while pondering the greatness of the God I serve.

Unfortunately, this has not been my lot.  I live in an area where busyness is just a way of life.  Wake up, get dressed, get stuck in traffic, go to work for 9 to 10 hours per day, come home, help with the family, study then sleep and do it all over again the next day.  The non-stop pressure builds and builds only for my body and mind to stop properly functioning causing me to sit back for a day to wonder why I don’t feel so well.  This busyness causes less time with my family and more time going from one thing to the next.  So you would think that it is a no-brainer for me to pick up my family, quit my job and leave, right?

Getting up and leaving suddenly is not as easy or logical as you may be thinking.  Currently, I work at a job that I love.  My coworkers and supervisors are great and are like family.  What I do is interesting and never the same.  Each day is a new adventure.  It is a place that I have spent the last 15 years learning not just to love the work, but the people as well.  Regularly I remember them in my prayers and hope that all of them one day come into the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, repent of their sins and live for Him.

In addition to that, I have a church family that I love as well.  For most of my life, they have encouraged me, taught me, and disciplined me with love and care.  They have prayed for my family, shown me their love through actions and have allowed me the pleasure and opportunity to try out my skills as one who preaches the Word of God.  I have even had the pleasure to have a taste of heaven when my father and I served on the same Elder board at the same time.  The first and last time that had ever happened in the history of our church.  It has been a place that I can call not just home, but family.

More recently, I have begun to learn how to be a pastor at a local church on Long Island.  Their pastor has been sick for some time and they have graciously allowed me to teach them, council them and learn what and how a church works, from the pastoral viewpoint.  Over the past 7 months or so, they too have become an extended family for me.

So you may be asking, if your life is as good as you say it is, then what is the struggle?  Why not just go on with life doing what you are doing and forget about those things which you do not have?  These are great questions, but the complexity of life and the things of this life are not what I struggle with.  Whether the house I live in is large or small or new or old, makes no difference for me.  What matters to me is something that you and I lose every day…..time.

As I grow older and my kids become adults, I notice that time is fast-forwarding at light speed.  My once little boy who made believe he read the Bible, is now learning to survive as an adult.  The other little boy who wanted to help his daddy with everything, is now in a high school where he can try subjects out to discover what he loves and wants to do.  In just a few short years both of them will be mainly on their own, living the lives they chisel out of their own masterpiece from their portion of life’s marble.

I have been watching friends of mine retire and begin living their lives as “free men” allowing them to do things with their family that previously, they could not do.  They have gained time for their families, they have slowed down the clock a bit in order to focus on helping their children become adults.

Time is something we lose every second.  Even as you have been reading this, time has slipped away into the eternal void of past lives.  No more will those seconds or minutes be gained, but will become mostly forgotten and largely lost to the busyness of what this world has to offer.  As quickly as time enters is as swiftly as it leaves.

My struggle with time has been for some time.  How to make the best decisions with the limited time I have on this earth.  During my mind’s battle for time, I have also learned that I long for something that I am not promised either.  I contemplate and plan for a time not yet discovered, a time not promised nor experienced yet.  We make plans for retirement (which I cannot do any time soon), we plan vacations, we even our meals, but are we sure that our next breath, the next second are promised?

Even with all of that, I hold onto the promise of the Good Shepherd who walks in the ways of His Father.  My focus is not on what this life has to offer or the limited time I am here, but on the work that He has called me to.  A life to help others and teach them to rely on Him.  No matter if I work in the secular world, or inside a church, the gift of being able to teach others and help others learn about the love and completion of Jesus Christ is my calling.  He gives me the strength, wisdom and patience to deal with those things, most don’t understand or care about.  He allows me the ability to do time management and still allows me quality of time my family needs from me.

As I work this all out in my mind, I am praying for clarity and direction.  I have learned from Jonah, that running away from this calling will only lead me to times of extreme trials and tribulations.  I have learned from Peter and Paul that what we have here is only a fleeting memory and unimportant in the scheme of eternity.  I have learned from Ruth that spending time with family is extremely important, so long as our focus is on God.  I have learned from Job that all that I have here, including my children, are only things that are borrowed and can be taken away in the blinking of an eye.  I have learned from David that crying out to God in my moments of struggle is where He wants me to be.   I have learned from Jesus Christ that what I want is not what is best, but the direction of God is best even if the rest of the world thinks you’re crazy.

So pray for me and my family.  Pray that we will make decisions, not based on desires, time or logic, but will make decisions based on what God is telling us.  For those who know me and are reading this, I have not made any decisions and will not for some time, so don’t worry, I ain’t going anywhere.  But one day, I will have to make some hard decisions, so I ask that when that time comes, whether it comes quickly or slowly, that we make the decisions based on His will for His Kingdom and not what we want because of our earthly sinful desires.

We thank you in advance for traveling with us and allowing me to express my struggles with you.  God bless and encourage someone today.