Outside the Ministry Zone – When God Leads You Down a Desert Road

Outside the ministry zoneHave you ever learned something new only to then read your own journal or notes and realize it isn’t actually the first time you’ve learned that very thing? You’ve learned this before, you just forgot!

Yeah, me too.

It happened to me again this week. I was doing my “homework” for BSF (Bible Study Fellowship). In this study, we go through one book of the Bible each year, chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse. I’ve been in BSF for about 9 years, and I enjoy the learning. The group discussions are so interesting. The lectures are illuminating. I even like the homework. (There’s almost never math involved, so that really helps!)

This week, we learned about Acts chapters 8 and 9. I read about Philip, who is a believer, and disciple of Jesus, going to Samaria and preaching and doing miraculous signs. Things go well. There’s a response. People hear and believe what he tells them about Jesus. The leaders of the early church, Peter and John, come and affirm his ministry there by praying for the Holy Spirit to come to these new converts.

Ministry is happening here.

And then I read further. Right after this ministry-rich time in Samaria, God asks Philip to

“Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Acts 8:26

Philip obeys. He travels down the desert road.

Wow, I thought, he’s going away from the perceived “ministry” spot, and going by himself on a desert road where there’s no ministry opportunities in sight.

And then I read what I’d written in ink in the margin of my Bible.

“Away from where the ‘ministry’ is happening.”

Oh. I’ve learned this before. Okay. Good thinking, Christy. Good thought.

Apparently, I need a refresher. I need to learn this anew. In this particular season of my life, this idea means something different to me than it must have years ago when I wrote with a pen in my Bible’s margin.

Let me be clear. God’s Word doesn’t change. It was true last time I read it too. And, I am not to take verses out of context, or make them mean only what I want them to mean. But, God’s Word is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) and it teaches me and impacts me in fresh ways as I apply it to different seasons and experiences in my life.

Such is the case with this passage.

This week, I was struck by the fact that Philip could have thought that his ministry opportunity for the day, or the week, was complete. Check that off the scroll, buddy! Good work.

But it turns out a man, an Ethiopian guy, was on this desert road, sitting in a chariot reading the Old Testament book of Isaiah, and needing someone to help him understand it.

The man was not in the perceived, “ministry zone,” but away from everyone else. He was in the desert. On the side of the road. Not waiting for Triple A, but waiting for someone to help him find The Way.

And Philip was God’s chosen instrument that day. God partnered with him to help this Ethiopian understand who Jesus is.

For me, in the season of life I’m in right now, I sometimes get into a rut of thinking that ministry is a “regularly scheduled program.” My husband is in full-time ministry. He has official ministry duties. I write and speak about faith and hope. Ministry does happen in these zones.

But, who is out the ministry zone waiting for me to help them know Jesus?

Is it the woman cutting my hair in the salon?

Is mom in line behind me at Starbucks?

Is it my own child who wants me to take time to listen and help them understand something they’ve been wondering through in their faith?

Philip was so obedient to travel down the desert road with no ministry plan or programming in place. He just climbed up into this guy’s chariot and started right where the Ethiopian was reading and told him about Jesus from there.

I like that.

What empty seat can I slide into? What searching heart can I help? Am I listening to God’s leading and allowing myself to partner with Him where He calls me?

I hope I can put this thought into practice. That’s what really helps me learn something for good – putting it into action.

Writing it in my margin was a good start. This time, I’m looking for the chariot on the side of the road.

How I define success. (Now THAT’S a great name!)

I held my phone in my hand and glanced down to see her message waiting for me. I sensed her desire for a solid answer she could grasp onto as well.

“I hate feeling like I’m running in the dark with this thing. Like what’s good, what’s not so good?”

She was wanting a definition for success for a particular project. I get it.

I want that too.

Success is such a slippery little noun. Hard to define. Hard to pin down.

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I’ve actually been thinking about it a lot this week, even before her message arrived in my inbox. Abraham brought it up. Well, not directly, but by reading about him as I studied for a class I was teaching.

I had just finished studying about the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament. Weird story. Basically, to summarize, a group of people “wanted to make a name for themselves,” (Genesis 11:4)  and so they tried to build a tower to Heaven. There are other indicators in the story that they were being disobedient to God’s commands, and so because of all this, they are punished. Their languages are mixed up and they can’t understand each other or work together.

“Simeon, hand me that brick, will ya?”

“Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”

“No Comprendo.”

Anyhow, their desire to build a name for themselves, without God, led them to confusion and disappointment.

I kept reading in Genesis. God enters into a deal with Abraham (then called Abram) and basically tells Abram that if he obeys and worships God, making known that God’s name is great and worthy to be followed, then God will make Abram’s name great in the eyes of men. There’s the same “making the name great” thing again. But this time, it’s approved by God. But the route to get there is different. 

The people of Babel wanted to make their own name great, without God, and it led to failure.

Abram wanted to make God’s name great, and it led to success.

Abram’s desire to make God’s name great even led him to his God-given purpose.

So here’s what I gather from all of these tower-building, deal-making, success-defining thoughts.

“I hate feeling like I’m running in the dark with this thing. Like what’s good, what’s not so good?”

What’s good: Obeying God and making His name great

What’s not so good: Making your own name great without God

The rest is just a pile of bricks.


This essay was written as part of the Five Minute Friday challenge where bloggers are asked to write for 5 minutes based on a one-word prompt. This week’s word: SUCCESS

 

What the Bible Taught Me About Writing

I’ve written two books. I blog. Occasionally, I summarize my thoughts into 280 characters and tweet them to everybody and nobody. I post updates on Facebook and “The Gram” (as I heard a cool twenty-something call it). I’ve even written a children’s Bible curriculum.

No, this isn’t my resume.

The point I’m trying to make is, in my forty-one years of existence (see why I rely on cool twenty-somethings now?), I’ve written about a variety of topics.

I’ve told emotional stories with my words, such as sharing about my mother’s death, my son’s cancer journey, and our struggle with miscarriages. I’ve used my words to teach children how the Bible fits together, and the fact that Moses lived after Abraham, and before David. I’ve written about the time my middle school son wore the same pair of socks for seven straight basketball games and how I almost died from the odor on the drive home. I offer a wide-range of topics.

And that’s just me.

When I scroll through my newsfeed, or browse the library shelves, I see articles and books on every topic known to man.

What could possibly be left to write? (I know that sentence could be improved grammatically, as in, ‘What could remain about which to write?’ but this is my essay, and I happen to like the ‘left to write’ thing.)

So when I sit down to work on my next book, or to pound out a blog post, I sometimes get discouraged. What could I possibly write about that hasn’t already been written? What wisdom, humor, information, or idea do I possess that has not already been released into cyberspace? Won’t my voice just be drowned out by the millions of others who have already sung this chorus and verse?

These doubts slow my creative process, and often bring it to a place where I sit and sulk with my friend, Low Self-Esteem.

Why tell my story? 

Why add my voice? 

Why write my words? 

And then one day, while I was doing my hair in front of my bathroom mirror, I looked at myself, and I thought, What about the Bible?

There are 66 books in the Bible, written by about 40 different authors. And, many of those authors write about topics in their books that are the same, or very similar, to the topics in other Bible books! They are humming the same tune. That’s quite the choir!

For example, take the guys in the Old Testament called “The Prophets.” There are 17 Prophecy books in our Bibles. Five of these are Major Prophets, and 12 are Minor. By the way, we call them “Major” and “Minor” because of the length of the books, not because Isaiah and Jeremiah had a weight problem. Just FYI.

Anyway, these 17 Prophecy books were written by 17 different men (actually, to be technical, 16, because Jeremiah wrote Lamentations. He’s always making things difficult), but these books all basically have the same message.

“Turn back to God or you will be punished.”

I’m summarizing, but that’s the main topic of each. Most of these men are even writing to the same audience; the divided nation of Israel. (Jonah, however, was called to Nineveh, and is an exception. If you remember him from Sunday School, you always knew there was something fishy about him!)

So, these 17 authors are all adding their voices, out of obedience to God, because they were called to share the message He gave them. Even though they aren’t the only ones sharing it.

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And then there’s the New Testament.

As I always tell my 5th grade students in my Bible class, the closer we get to Jesus in the Bible, the more information we have written. So in the account of creation, we only get about two chapters in Genesis, but by the time we get to the New Testament, we have four whole books dedicated to one man’s life. Jesus.

Four books. Four different authors. Four different versions. Four different voices.

But they all put their own flavor to it. And that’s what makes them so special.

Matthew was a Jew, and really connected with the Jewish reader. The Jews knew the Old Testament writings, and therefore Matthew shows them in his book how Jesus is the Messiah that fulfills the prophecies they’ve read so many times.

Mark wrote to a Roman audience. He tells of the same wonderful Jesus, but is writing to people who aren’t as familiar with the Old Testament prophecies, so he doesn’t explain how Jesus fulfills those. Rather, he tells of Jesus’ many miracles, and points them to the true God – who is greater than their many gods.

Luke was a physician, so one of my favorites little tidbits about him, is that in the story of Peter chopping off a guy’s ear when they came to arrest Jesus, (Peter was a not a subtle dude), is that Luke is the only writer that mentions that Jesus puts the ear back on! You can read about it in Luke 22:51. Of course a doctor would take note of such a “surgery!”

And John, he wrote to the world! He’s the one who wrote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John has gotten the most post-Bible era press for this verse with the invention of the football end zone.

So basically, if God designed the Bible to be a collection of voices, and styles, and flavors, and audiences, and personalities, then having a sea of voices sharing about the same topic must not be so bad after all.

I guess it’s time I stop second-guessing the messages and stories I feel led to share, and get to work.

Sharing my words, even if I’m not the first (or the best) to write about the topic, is an act of obedience to the loving God who is able to use them for His glory!

 

Fruit•it•ta•tion

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I turned my back to the class of fifth graders in order to write their responses on the marker board. The chatter continued behind me.

I had placed the students from my midweek church class into groups and had asked each to read from Genesis in their Bibles to discover what God made during each of the six days of creation.

“I have day 3! We know it!” one of the boys shouted.

“Go ahead. What did you find in Genesis chapter one?”

“On the third day, God made land and vegetation.”

I nodded and wrote with the smelly dry-erase marker again.

Day 3 – Land and Vegetation.

“That’s right.” I confirmed. “Now, can you tell me in your own words what vegetation is?”

“Oh sure! Vegetation is what vegetables grow on, and fruititation is what fruit grows on.”

I should have turned my back again, because I laughed out loud – right to his young, eager face. A technique surely not recommended in the teacher handbook.

“You’re right about the vegetation, but fruititation is not a word. Fruit grows on vegetation as well.” I said, bursting his bubble and maybe wounding his pride.

But, I’ve got to admit, I like the word.

Fruititation.

It’s really growing on me.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about fruit. The kind of fruit that we bear in our lives, and how it’s seasonal, just like the kind of fruit we pick, whether from trees or the produce department.

Recently, I walked through the hallway at church, on a Sunday morning, and was stopped by a friend. She told me she’s in a small group Bible study, and they are currently using my book, Brownie Crumbs and Other Life Morsels, as their study guide. I was shocked and humbled.

Really?

She went on to tell me that they’d been having such great conversations within the group and were learning so much. I thanked her and walked away in a daze.

My mind wandered back to the hours I sat in my home office with tight shoulders and an exhausted brain. It took me three years to write that book! I literally spent days in front of a blinking cursor pouring my heart onto the page. I devoted time, tears, and cash preparing for the book launch.

One specific night, I stayed up well past midnight adjusting margins and headers, section by section, in my manuscript. It was tedious, boring, and frustrating work. I did not enjoy it. I remember being tired and annoyed.

I came back to the present and walked up the stairwell in the church that leads to and from the childrens’ classrooms. I had just dropped my own children off, and was now heading back up the steps. I passed two kids carrying their Bibles and curriculum. I wrote the curriculum they carried. The kids had their arms wrapped around it as they walked past me on the steps.

Again, my mind flashed back to the season before that curriculum was finished. I spent months writing the content, years teaching it and fine-tuning it, a solid year giving it a “makeover” and learning graphic design tricks and tools to make that possible. I put a lot of sweat equity into that curriculum.

And now, preteens, whom I don’t even know, are carrying it with them to class on a Sunday morning and unknowingly passing the author on the steps on their way.

Could this be the culmination of fruititation?

Is this the wonderful cycle of bearing fruit?

Those tedious and seemingly wasteful hours of mundane and difficult work are important. In fact, they are more than important.

They are a vital part of the fruititation cycle.

Vital how? Vital because during those tedious tasks, the not-yet fruit was being tended. It wasn’t time for the fruit to be picked, but time for it to be watered, cultivated, lovingly pruned, and painstakingly nurtured.

The fruit wasn’t yet ripe. It was out of season. And being out of season usually means it can’t be seen. It’s not ready.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t growing.

David, the psalmist, wrote about this in Psalm 1.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.

David mentions the tree that is planted and prosperous. But, he also mentions that the tree yields its fruit in season.

In season.

Not always. Sometimes the tree does not have visible hanging fruit. But it’s still a fruit tree.

Sometimes my efforts are not publically visible either. They are margin moving, cursor crunching, photo editing, head gripping, tear rendering, heart stirring moments of cultivation.

And sometimes, the fruititation cycle in my life has nothing to do with writing, but with raising kids, cultivating my marriage, planting seeds of deep and meaningful friendships, and tending the soil of my own heart. It looks like difficult, honest conversations that would be easier to avoid, midnight touches of warm foreheads and beeps of the thermometer, tough love and deliberate discipline that wrings your heart into a knot, intentional time set aside for listening and truly seeing the needs of a friend, and daily surrender to selfish desires.

It’s a struggle. A daily toil.

But the cultivation leads to the culmination of fruititation.

The fruit becomes visible. But only for a time. It won’t last forever. It’s just ripe for a bit.

But oh, how fun it is to see others enjoy it!

I am thankful for the moments when the fruit of my life is juicy, and ripe, and ready. But I’m also thankful for the reminder to press on in my daily, mundane, unnoticed, and often frustrating cultivating efforts.

Because they are vital.

Without them, fruititation is just a made-up word.

Home Base.

When I was 10 years old, my dad took the position of pastor at Emmanuel Community Church. Six weeks later, my mom died suddenly in our kitchen while sitting at the table. She had been reading a book, and drinking a cup of coffee when she began to collapse.

Needless to say, it was a rough beginning of my tenure at Emmanuel Community Church. But our bond became strong, and we stayed together, and for the past 28 years, I’ve grown up at ECC. And come to think of it, the church has grown up with me too.

Last night I began the “speaking tour” for my book Brownie Crumbs and Other Life Morsels. I will be traveling and sharing the messages of the book at various churches and venues across the country over the next several months.  I hit the road on Friday to speak in Erie, PA, and Buffalo, NY.

Last night I was able to start by speaking at ECC.  Home. What a logical place to step into the batter’s box.

As I stood in front of that room of women, many of whom are close personal friends, I marveled at how God had brought me to that moment.

And even that very spot.

You see, the church has grown and changed over the past three decades. The place where I stood and spoke last night is now called “The Commons,” and it’s a large gathering room with round tables for discussion and a little kitchen window in the corner for snacks. But it used to be our sanctuary. And the very spot where I stood last night is where my dad stood for years when he would preach. Now we have a bigger sanctuary (they say it’s called the ‘Worship Center’…) and the building has been remodeled.

But before the room became “The Commons,” as it is now, it went through some other transitions.

While it was still the main sanctuary, my dad got remarried, to the woman I now call “Mom.” I was her maid of honor, and stood up in that wedding – exactly where I stood last night as I spoke.

That room, in its original form, was where I sat through sermons, performed in children’s musicals, attended VBS weeks, and where I learned to love those people who became my church family.

I attended Sunday school classes behind the sanctuary in a little room with ugly red carpet.

When the room was remodeled to include a second-story loft, I helped with middle school youth group up there and later taught kids about God’s word using my Grow in His Word for Kids curriculum.

At one point, the room was transformed into a hallway with three classrooms on each side. In that hallway, I first walked past a man name Kraig Cabe. I saw him, but he didn’t see me. We didn’t meet for a few month after that, but eventually, we started teaching a Sunday school class together in one of those rooms – just a few feet from where I stood last night – and we eventually fell in love and got married in that big new sanctuary, er… Worship Center.

That room, that very spot where I stood and spoke last evening, has great significance for me. And I was so blessed to begin my speaking tour right there. It was the perfect launching ground. And as I shared about these things with the ladies and told them some stories from my life (old news to many of them!) they laughed and cried along with me.

And they served brownies. What more could you ask for?

After I finished, these friends of mine lined up to get my autograph in their books. I laughed. “Really?” I said, “It’s just ME!” They hugged me and supported me and got their picture taken with me. And I laughed all the more.

Because who would have thought this dream would become a reality. That God would redeem my life – my story – and use it for His glory through a book with a brownie on the cover and an imperfect girl-turned-woman who is willing to share.

That room, that spot where I stood last night, has been repurposed, reshaped, and put to the best use for each season.

Sounds a lot like me.

And for this season of my life, God has given me the opportunity to share my story. I’m thrilled, and nervous, and excited, and hopeful.

Because God has proven faithful through every season thus far.

And I have no doubt He’ll direct me, around each stop along the way, until I get back home.

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For more about my speaking schedule, or to have me consider speaking at your venue, click on Speaking or Contact in the menu.

Podcast Interview Link

It’s been quite the day around here with the launch of my first book, Brownie Crumbs.

I’ll fill you in on more details later, but for now, I wanted to share this link with you.

This is a podcast interview I did with Nancy Carmichael of Logospost.com. I share about several messages from the book and I enjoyed our conversation.

I hope you will too!

https://www.logospost.com/home/2017/4/25/when-life-hands-you-crumbs-a-down-to-earth-but-not-earthly-chat-with-christy-cabe

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More to come later about the launch day itself!

Christy

It’s My Book’s Birthday!

Today, after three years of labor, my book has been born! (Phew!)

I’m so excited to announce that my first book, Brownie Crumbs and Other Life Morsels, is now available on Amazon in paperback, and for the Kindle.

You can find it here:

 

Also, I had a book trailer made to give everyone a short glimpse of what the book is about – much like you’d discover from reading the back cover. If you’d like to see it, it is here:

 

 

And finally, if you’d like to follow my writing page on Facebook, you can find it here:

https://www.facebook.com/christycabewriter/

Thanks for your support, reader!

Happy Birthday, Book!

Christy

The Visible Woman

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Her real name is Susan Storm Richards, but most know her better by her alias: The Invisible Woman.

According to Marvel Comic’s website, this member of the Fantastic Four has powers that allow her to “render herself wholly or partially invisible at will.”

This could be handy. There are moments when I’d enjoy being invisible. It would be interesting to hear what others say about me when I walk out of a room and perhaps more fun to reek havoc on friends and family members by appearing at will when they least expect me!

But if I’m being honest, I don’t really wish to be invisible. In fact, being invisible can be a disadvantage.

As a women, wife, mother, and human I can attest that there are times that I feel invisible… but it doesn’t strike me as a super power. Instead, it stings as a frustration.

There are times when my perspective vanishes and I allow my attitude to get out of line. When this happens, I feel like I’m the Invisible Woman. I work hard all day and yet it’s not noticed or recognized by anyone. The tasks I do need to be repeated again and again and my wheels spin in a thankless, exhausting rut. It feels like no one sees what I’m doing or cares about the mundane, but necessary tasks of life that I must accomplish… unless I don’t accomplish something that they want, and then suddenly I’m seen. I feel as if then I’m only seen as a failure.

Am I really invisible? Does no one care? Can anyone take the time to stop for a moment to see me and meet my needs, for once?

I’ve lost sight of the truth about God’s love.

I think a servant girl from the Old Testament can relate. In fact, she was the original Invisible Woman, although Marvel doesn’t acknowledge her on their website.

Hagar was the maidservant of Sarai. Sarai was the barren wife of Abraham who so desperately wanted a child she gave her maidservant to her husband hoping to produce a child through their union. Hagar was a means to an end. She was used. She was not seen as valuable for who she was, only for what she could produce. Once Hagar did, in fact, get pregnant with Abraham’s child she was mistreated by Sarai and despised. Then she ran away.

Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her. The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her. (Genesis 16:6-9)

The angel of Lord proceeded to give Hagar a prophecy about her unborn son. He spoke to this maidservant. He not only saw this seemingly invisible woman, He also knew her circumstances and spoke directly to her.

Hagar’s response?

She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me. (Genesis 16:13)

For the first recorded time in the Old Testament, God is addressed at El Roi; “The God who sees me.” Hagar finally felt as if someone cared for and saw her.

How great is God’s love for each and every one. While we become consumed with our lives, our selves, and our tasks, we lose sight of the truth about God’s powerful love.

But His love requires obedience on our end too. God told Hagar to go back to her mistress and submit to her. It may sound harsh, but by doing so God was giving her a way to be cared for and for his prophecy to be carried out to completion. I love how this command is worded in the Young’s Literal Translation.

Turn back unto thy mistress, and humble thyself under her hands;

God offered Hagar His great mercy and love. She just had to humble herself to receive it.

Lamentations 3:22-23 says:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;

Because of the Lord’s great love. Not because we’ve worked so hard. Not because we are superwomen. Not because of anything we have done. But because of the Lord’s great love.

We don’t have the super power. He does.

I’m not invisible. El Roi sees me. He knows me. He made me. He cares about me. He loves me.

I simply need to humble myself under His merciful and loving hands. By obeying God’s Word and trusting in His never failing compassions I regain my focus on the Truth.

I become The Visible Woman, with the power “to render myself wholly valuable and unconditionally loved by the God who see me.”

Take that, Susan Storm Richards!

Jeremiah 29:11- The Rest of the Story

FullSizeRenderPerched on the top bunk of my third story dorm room I had a good view of my fellow college students on the sidewalk below. I watched them pass as if staring at the second hand of a clock, absentmindedly watching the rhythm of the afternoon. I adjusted the pillow behind my back and leaned against the painted cinder block wall. My legs were folded under me, and my Bible lay open on my lap to Jeremiah chapter 29.

I wanted to know more about the plans God had for me.

As a Sophomore on a Christian college campus, I had heard the words of Jeremiah 29:11 many times in reference to God’s will for my future.

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.”

Those words robotically came from the mouths of professors, chapel speakers, and friends as if someone had pulled a string on their backs that triggered a preloaded response whenever a question about the future arose.

I did not doubt that God loved me or had good plans for me, but as I struggled through worry about the unknowns of my future;

What degree should I work toward?

Who will hire me after graduation?

What type of job do I want?

Who will I marry?

Where will we live?

What type of job will my husband have?

I was looking for more than a pat answer. I was looking for peace in the midst of uncertainty. And Jeremiah 29:11 seemed to be the go-to verse.

I wanted to know more about this apparent feel-good promise, so I read the context of the verse in its chapter, Jeremiah 29.

I felt confused.

The good feelings associated with plans for prosperity and hope were put aside. The verses leading up to verse 11 were not filled with smiles and sunshine. Jeremiah was speaking to Israelites who had been carried off, essentially as prisoners of war, to the country of Babylon.

The first verse of the chapter reads,

This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.”

The fact that the word “surviving” is in this sentence tips me off that this was sent during a difficult time of war and death.

Jeremiah goes on to tell the people that they will one day be brought back to their homeland, Israel. God does have good things in store for them. He has plans to rescue them… in 70 years. He knows His plans to help them.

Jeremiah 29:10-11 says;

“This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 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.”

I realized right then and there that verse 11 had been grossly taken out of context.

Not that God doesn’t have plans for us…. not that God isn’t a good God… but God doesn’t promise ME anything in this passage. He was talking to Israelite POWs in Babylon!

What does this mean for my future? Does God still have plans and hope for me?

I squirmed on my plaid comforter and readjusted both my physical and spiritual position.

If Jeremiah 29:11 wasn’t written to me, then why do we have it in our Bibles? Why read it at all? How can I know what is true for me and not just a message to its original audience?

To answer my complicated questions I go back to the simplest basics.

I believe God is who He says He is. I believe He is all-knowing and sovereign over all. I believe He never changes. Therefore, I can trust that any principle that I can glean about God from any passage of Scripture is still true today.

The specific promise of Jeremiah 29:11 wasn’t written for me, but the principle that God was teaching the Israelites in that passage has not changed.

So what was the principle God was teaching His people?

I assumed from the way Christians had been quoting Jeremiah 29:11 that God was telling His people He was ready to swoop in and drop good things on those who loved and obeyed Him. That He was basically our Santa Claus with prosperity and hope in his sleigh. But the truth was, God wasn’t going to deliver good things to His people the day that Jeremiah’s letter was read to them, or even once a year under the tree, for that matter.

He was not planning to rescue them for 70 years.

And what really struck me were God’s instructions for His people during those seven decades of waiting.

God told them to get on with life.

Jeremiah 29:4-8 reads:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

The principle I learn here is that God DOES know the plans He has for us. He DOES have good things in store for our future. But while we are waiting, we are to live life and seek peace and prosperity, even if we’re in enemy territory.

Wow.

The principles of Jeremiah 29 are jumping off the page. I now see how I can relate and what I can learn from God’s Word to His people. I’m not so different from the exiled Israelites after all.

I live in enemy territory because I live in this world. One day I know God will rescue me and will take me back to my homeland to dwell with Him. But the principle I learn from Jeremiah 29 is that while I’m here, I need to live. I need to seek the peace and prosperity of this place I call home for now.

I need to get to work because if the work of my hands prospers, God will prosper me too.

It sounds like this principle in Jeremiah 29 isn’t all about what God has in store for me, but also how I can live for Him.

Jeremiah 29:11 is still a great verse to read for encouragement and hope. God hasn’t changed since the days of Jeremiah. He knows the plans He has for me, and when they include bringing me home to be with Him, I know for a fact they are good.

But there’s more to the story. God asks me to seek prosperity and peace in this territory while I wait for His rescue.

It looks like I had better get to work.

A Little Help Here?

I dug my heals into the ground and gripped the sides of the piano until my knuckles were white and my face was red. I pulled and then twisted and squirmed until the beast of an instrument finally budged a few inches. I was going to move this thing across the room in order to rearrange the living room for the Christmas season. Never mind the fact that it had taken four grown men to put the piano where it was, I had my mind set on getting this done today and, I was going to do it.

But it sure would be nice to have some help.

The rest of my family was busy doing their own thing and apparently they weren’t feeling the urgency or passion I was feeling about this particular project.

But I figured they’d see me working and realize I needed them to help.

I figured wrong.

I pushed and pulled that piano for quite awhile, taking breaks only to move the other pieces of furniture that were in my way. I had determined that I was going to do this, and if there’s one thing I am, it’s determined (though my husband may have another word for it.)

Just ask those who were in my high school youth group back in the day when we spent some time together on a lake where I wanted to learn to water ski. I had set my mind on the fact that I was going to get up on those skis and I tried over several days… a mere 54 times… before I got it. (Come to think of it, don’t mention this to my old youth group friends; I think they’re still trying to block it out from their memories. They spent a lot of time turning circles in a boat.)

Anyway, when I’m determined, I’m determined. And nothing, not even a dinosaur of a piano, is going to stop me.

“Hello?”

“Do you guys not see that I’m doing this right now and could use a hand?!”

“A little help here?”

Of course, I didn’t actually say any of these things out loud because I figured that I didn’t need to. It was obvious by my groans and facial expressions that I needed help.

But turns out they weren’t paying attention. They didn’t notice what I was doing and they had no plans of joining me.

I had to swallow my pride (and try to stand up straight without wincing) and ask for their help.

Sure enough, they then joined me, and together we moved the furniture, piano included, with much more ease.

I’m not here to throw stones in regards to watching others work and not seeing a need and helping. In fact, I’m guilty of it too.

There have been times when I’ve stood leaning my arms on my mom’s kitchen counter chatting away about whatever is on my mind while she does an entire family gathering’s worth of dishes. I’m looking at her, but I’m not seeing the fact that I could easily grab a towel and help.

I’ve missed opportunities to join others in tasks more times than I could count.

But I’ve been thinking, how often do I miss joining in on what my Heavenly Father is doing?

I know from studying Scripture that God is working. He has a plan and purpose and He wishes to involve those who are willing.

It’s like He’s there waiting and thinking,

“Hello?”

“Do you guys not see that I’m doing this right now and would use you too?!

“A little help here?”

Philippians 1:6 says,

…that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

And later in the same book of the Bible, Paul continues with this idea by saying in Philippians 2:13:

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

I see reasons to believe that God is working toward making me more like Him and I believe that according to Romans 8:28 that ALL that He does will ultimately glorify Himself and His Kingdom. It says,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

God is at work in my life and all around me.

• Have I noticed Him lately?

• How can I join Him?

• Have I prayed about what God wants me to do today to honor Him?

• Am I living in a way pleasing to Him to make sure I am striving to BE who He wants me to BE?

These are questions that I hope to consider more often in the coming year. I don’t want to be caught leaning on the counter watching others work when I could be rolling up my sleeves and grabbing a towel.

It’s not because God needs me or that He couldn’t get it done without me. On the contrary, anything I do outside of Him is nothing.

Lord, may you open the eyes of my heart this year so that I may SEE you. Give me the WISDOM to know how and where you want to use me. Grant me the HUMILITY to OBEY. Make me into the woman YOU desire me to be. May I bear FRUIT, not for my own benefit, but for your Kingdom.  And to You be all GLORY now and forever. Amen.

Oh… and by the way, now that Christmas is over, who wants to come over and help me move the piano back?