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Dear Friends in Christ,
When Paul left Antioch on his second missionary journey he had a plan. They would revisit the churches that had been founded on his first journey, strengthen with the word, and deliver the decision of the church regarding the question of what would be required of Gentiles who were becoming Christians. The Bible doesn’t tell us what he planned to do after he finished visiting the churches in Iconium, Lystra, Derbe and Pisidian Antioch, but from what it does tell us it seems that he planned to go west to some of the larger cities on the coast, like Ephesus.
You have probably heard it said that “failing to plan is planning to fail.” It’s a general truth. Saying you would like to do something, but never getting specific about when you are going to do it, usually means it will never get done. It’s only a wish, or an intention, not a plan.
You have probably experienced this when it comes to reading the Bible or having devotions with your family. You have probably said that it is something you would like to do, but if you don’t get specific about when you are going to do it, you probably never will. If, on the other hand, you say, “I’m going to set aside 15 minutes every day, right away in the morning, or over lunch, or after supper”; if you set a specific time and even write it on the calendar or put it in your phone, then it’s no longer an intention, a nice idea, it’s a plan. And, even though you may not follow the plan perfectly, you will spend those 15 minutes in the Word or in devotions, more often than you would have without a specific plan.
You know what was very interesting to me as I was studying this week was how many times the Bible talks about God and his plans. Isn’t the most important thing in the whole Bible something we call God’s plan of salvation! We see evidence of God’s planning in nature, in the fact that we can figure out exactly when and where a solar eclipse is going to happen, years in advance! We can plot the path a space ship or satellite needs to take to land people on the moon, or to send back pictures from a faraway planet. The orbits of the planets follow a plan that we know God ordained for them. And, when God confronted Adam and Eve with their sin, he revealed his plan to save them. The seed of a woman would have his heal struck while he crushed the serpent’s head and destroyed his power. Over time he revealed more and more details about what this seed of the woman would be like and how he would win salvation. God wasn’t making it up as he went along. As we heard last week, Pilate, Herod and the Jewish leaders did what God planned from eternity. When Jesus was asked for a sign proving he was the promised Messiah, he could point to Jonah as a picture of his resurrection because his resurrection was a part of God’s eternal plan.
What a wonderful and comforting thing it is to read through the Old Testament being conscious of how God is carrying out his plan of salvation and preserving the line of the Savior! What a comforting thing it is to have God say to us, 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.” Just as he had a plan to bring his people back from captivity in Babylon, even specifically mentioning that it would happen in 70 years, so he has plans for us, plans to have us live with him forever. I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad that God has a plan for us, and that he has revealed his plan to you and me in his word.
Not only does God plan, but Jesus suggests that it is good for us to make plans. He indicates how foolish it is for someone to start a project without first having a good plan in place. If they don’t have a good plan it’s likely they won’t finish the project and they will look foolish. He indicates how foolish it is for someone to go to war without planning, without assessing the strength of the enemy or how strong his own forces are, and having a strategy that has a good chance of success. His application is, if we as his followers don’t plan for the fact that trouble is going to come into our lives because we follow Jesus, then that trouble will catch us by surprise and we may fall away. Trouble is going to come to you because you follow Jesus. Plan for it.
James, the brother of Jesus, assumes people will make plans for doing business, but he reminds us of another pitfall. Failing to plan might be planning to fail; but thinking that what you have planned will happen exactly as you planned it is also planning to fail. Not only is that foolish considering all the variables in life that you can’t control, you don’t even know if you will wake up tomorrow; it’s actually a form of idolatry. James reminds us that, although it’s good to make plans, whatever plans we make are to be submitted to the Lord. When we plan something, even if it’s just getting up and going to work tomorrow, we ought to say, or at least think, “If it is the Lord’s will.”
So, how did things work out for Paul? He planned to head West to some of the important coastal cities in what they called the province of Asia, like Ephesus. But, in some way, the Holy Spirit prevented them. So they headed north. But the Spirit of Jesus didn’t let them enter Bithynia. SO they headed west again and went to Troas. His plans weren’t working out, but he submitted himself to God’s will. When it became obvious that one plan wasn’t going to work, he tried another. Then, in Troas, it became clear to him why his previous plans didn’t work out. He had a vision of a man from Macedonia begging him to come there.
Paul and his companions realized that this must be what God wanted, so they made plans to go to Macedonia immediately. And when they arrived they took a few days to make some plans for how they might preach the gospel in Philippi. You see, it wasn’t like most of the places they had been before. It was a Roman colony. There was no Synagogue there. The way they usually did mission work, their usual plan, was to go to the Synagogue first and let those who knew God’s plan of salvation know that God had accomplished his plan in Jesus. Since there was no Synagogue they needed a new plan. It seems that they spent some time getting to know the community and found that there were a few women who met for prayer on the Jewish Sabbath, outside of the city, along the river. So they made plans to find them and speak with them on the Sabbath.
God blessed this plan. They found the women who were meeting for prayer. They told them the good news that God had kept his promise; that Jesus is the promised Messiah; that he lived and died and rose again, just as Scripture foretold. And the good news of the Gospel brought a woman named Lydia to faith in Jesus as her savior. She was baptized, and along with her everyone who was a part of her household. She was moved to show her faith and thankfulness by offering her home as a place for Paul and his companions to stay while they worked to tell others about Jesus.
We were reminded last week why we are here. We are on this earth and members of God’s church so that we can gather disciples for Jesus by baptizing and teaching his word, and by showing unselfish love to each other and all we meet. It’s not a plan to say, “we have a building, people know we are here, let them come if they want.” The reason that’s not a plan is that God tells us that no one who needs to come, no one who has only a sinful nature, who doesn’t know Jesus as their savior, will come. That’s why Jesus says, GO, go to them with the word. Paul says, How can they hear the good news unless someone goes to them and tells them?
Like Paul, we need a plan. We need to spell out some details about how we are going to Go with God’s word and gather disciples for Jesus, and how we are going to teach everyone who comes to faith. And, like Paul, before we make that plan, we need to consider where we are, what are the people like that we are trying to tell about Jesus, what talents and resources do we have among our members? There are lots of things we could plan to do, but if it’s something that turns the people we are trying to reach off even before they hear the message, or if it’s something we don’t have the talent or resources to do, we will be wasting a lot of the time and resources God has given us. It will be poor stewardship. That’s why, as we go through the planning process, we will try to gather information about our community and about the talents we have as a congregation. We will try to get everyone’s ideas and input. We will pray regularly for God’s guidance, and then choose two or three things that it seems might be best for us to try in this place at this time using God’s word to gather and teach disciples for Jesus. We will submit those plans to God and be ready either to see how wonderfully he blesses them, or how he might make it clear that we need to change our plans.
Planning has its pitfalls. It takes a lot of time and effort. Discussions sometimes get a little heated as people express different opinions. People who make plans for every other area of their lives sometimes think that planning God’s work is unnecessary, or even wrong. And sometimes those who want to make plans think that the plan they have made is the be all and end all and can never be changed. Sometimes we fail to be open to God’s guidance and to submit our plans to his will. But, if we are serious about doing God’s work, what God put us here to do, we will take the time and make the effort plan the best way to do it.
God had a plan for the creation of the universe; he had a plan that enabled him to offer eternal salvation to all for free; Paul planned where and how he would travel and proclaim the Gospel. Jesus and James indicate that planning in general is a good thing. Failing to plan is often planning to fail; but failing to submit your plans to the Lord is also planning to fail. As we begin the planning process as a congregation, I ask you to pray each day that God will lead us to discover the best way, with the talents and resources God has given us, that we can work together using the tools he has given us, to gather and teach as many disciples of Jesus as possible. Pray each day that, whatever we plan together, we submit those plans to the Lord, trusting that his will is always best and will be done.