Making Plans

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into this city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit,” whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? It is just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you are rejoicing in your boastings. All such rejoicing is evil. Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, it is sin – James 4:13-16

How many of us make plans way ahead in the future? And how many of those plans end up going nowhere? Why does the Bible liken making plans to boasting? It could be because we are doing so without consulting God. We act as if we are in control of our destiny when He is the One who is. As Christians, we should make our plans based on what God wants or think is best not what we want. He may have much better plans for us. Take the prophet Jeremiah. What would have happened if he had made plans for a career, travel or marriage? Those plans would have come to nothing because God already had plans for his life.

Remember the Tower of Babel? The people had the bright idea of building a tower so high that it would reach heaven. What were their reasons for building the tower? “…let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). They wanted to stay put instead of going abroad and populating the earth. In other words, they were making their own plans which were outside of God’s will. They were boastful in thinking that they could do things their way instead of God’s way.

Nothing is wrong with having plans but they must never be contrary to God’s will. To them, it seemed reasonable to stay where they were and build up a city instead of going out into the world to start new lives. There are times when we want to stay put but God wants us to step out in faith as He did with Abraham. And there are times when we want to go places but He wants us to stay put like Jeremiah. We have to be attuned to what God wants for us so that our plans will line up nicely with His perfect will for us.

It is always best to say, “if the Lord wills…” when it comes to making plans. Wouldn’t you feel better knowing that God approves of your plans and will bless them?

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God’s Way

As Larissa Scott sat on the beach, watching the tide roll away she thought about how far she had allowed herself to drift from God’s will for her life.  She hadn’t meant for it to happen.  It did when she met and fell in love with Steven.   About a year ago, she moved to Seattle because of a job opportunity which she could not pass up.  It was tough leaving her family, friends and church but she had prayed about it and knew that it was God leading her to a new life in a new city.

Nervous and excited at the same time, she packed up and left. After settling into a new apartment and the new job, she looked for a church to join and found one not far from where she lived. From the moment she walked in, she knew that was the church for her. She felt completely at home among people who loved the Lord and were active in the community and was blessed by the moving and inspiring sermons and uplifting worship music. She attended every week and quickly developed friendships. It wasn’t long before she transferred her membership to the church and got involved in their women’s ministry.

The first time she met Steven was at the weekly prayer meeting.  He was the elder in charge of the meeting that week.  She had noticed him before but they hadn’t actually met.  As he spoke, she studied him.  He looked to be in his late forties and was very attractive.  She wondered if he were married and hoped that he wasn’t.

When it was time to split up into twos to pray, he left the podium and walked over to her.  “Hello,” he said, holding out his hand.  “I’m Elder Steven Johnson.  I have seen you before but just didn’t have the opportunity to meet you until now.  You recently joined our church.  I don’t believe I was here when you were introduced to the congregation.”

She smiled and shook his hand.  “Larissa Scott,” she said.  “Yes, I moved to Seattle and I visited this church the week after I arrived.  It reminded me so much of my old church in New York.  There the people were warm and zealous for the Lord.”

“Well, I’m delighted that you are a member of our church family.  Now, we can pray for each other.”

They knelt down side by side, heads bowed and hands clasped before them.  He prayed first and when he was done, she prayed.  “Thank you,” she said when she was finished and they got up.

He smiled and went back up to the podium to wrap up the meeting.  She sat down in the chair before standing for the closing song and prayer.  While everyone was filing out, she lingered.  He took up the papers and his Bible and left the podium.  “Do you have a ride home?” he asked.  It was dark outside.

“I took the bus.”

“I can give you a ride home, if you like.”

She suddenly felt very shy and a few moments passed before she said, “Thank you.”

They left the back way which led to the parking lot.  He set the alarm and closed the door before taking her to where his car was parked.  He held the door open for her.  After she got in, he closed the door before walking quickly round to the driver’s side.  “It has gotten very cold,” he remarked as he started the engine.  “The temperature must have dropped.”  He turned on the heat before pulling out of the parking lot.  “Do you live far from here?”

She shook her head.  “No, I live about twenty minutes from away.”  She told him where she lived.  She could have easily taken the bus because they ran frequently but she was grateful for the ride because it was cold.

“Where did you live before you moved to Seattle?”

“I lived in Manhattan, New York.”

“What made you decide to move here?”

“The job of a lifetime and the conviction that this was where God wanted me to be.”

“What about your family?  How did they react to your move?”

“They were very supportive.  They said that if it were God’s will, then His will be done.  I’m in touch with them every day.  Have you always been at this church?”

“Yes.  I attended it since I was a child.  It’s my second home.  The members are my extended family.  It is where my parents met and got married.”

“How long have you been a church elder?”

“For about five years.”

“Do you like it?”

“Yes, I do.”

“What do you like best about being an elder?”

“I like visiting members in their homes to pray with them and give them encouragement.  I like to assist in giving Bible studies to prospective members.  I enjoy leading out in worship service and being a spiritual mentor.”

“My father is an elder too and his favorite thing is the visitation.”

They reached her building and he pulled up in front of the entrance.   He got out of the car to hold the door open for her.  “Have a good evening,” he said as she stepped out.  “I’ll see you on Saturday morning.”

“Thank you for the ride home, Elder Johnson,” she said.  “Have a good evening.”  She watched as he got into the car and waved as he drove away.  As she ran up the short flight of steps to the revolving doors, she found herself looking forward to seeing him on Saturday.  She still had no idea if he was married or not.  She had never observed him with a particular woman so, hopefully, that meant that he didn’t have a wife.  He wouldn’t be the first unmarried elder.

For the rest of the week she thought about him and really looked forward to seeing him again.  When Saturday came, she got up bright and early in the morning and got ready for church.  As soon as she entered the sanctuary, her eyes scanned the rows of seats in search of him but he wasn’t there.  Maybe, I will see him after the service, she thought as she went and sat down.  Fifteen minutes later the Sabbath School program began and she immersed herself in it.  When it was over there was the ten minutes before the worship service was to begin, he came out to address family matters which family matters and make the announcements.  She was so happy to see him.  Her heart began to beat fast.

After he left the podium, she took the bulletin from out of her Bible and read it.  It was then that she saw that his name was on it.  He was slated to do the Intercessory prayer and the Benediction which meant that he was going to be on the podium for the entire service.   So, she wouldn’t get to speak to him until after the service.

As usual, the worship service was uplifting and she was blessed.  As the pastor and Elder Johnson came down for the podium, she stared at him, hoping that he would see her when he passed the row where she was.  He did.  He smiled and said “Happy Sabbath,” before continuing down the aisle toward the double doors leading out to the entrance hall.  When they were gone and the music stopped playing everyone got seated again.

She picked up her handbag and Bible and waited for the usher to motion for her and the people in her row to leave.  When he did, she immediately got up and left.  Her eager eyes espied him standing by the door beside the pastor and talking to the members as they filed past him.  First she shook the pastor’s hand and told him how blessed she was by his sermon before she moved toward Elder Johnson who turned to greet her warmly and shake her hand.  “It is good to see you, Miss Scott.  Did you have a good week?”

She nodded.  “Yes, I did, thank you.”

“Will you be coming to prayer meeting on Wednesday?” he asked.

“Yes, I will be there.”

“Good.  I will see you then.  Enjoy the rest of the day and have a good week.”

“Thank you, Elder Johnson.  You too.”  She moved away as another member joined them.  She wished she had more time to talk to him but he was busy at the moment.  She went downstairs to get her coat and after chatting with a few of the women she left and went straight home.  At least she was going to see him during the week but right now, Wednesday seemed like a very long way off.

Wednesday finally arrived and thankfully, the day flew by and as soon as she got home, she had dinner and then showered.  When she got to the church, there were a few people in the sanctuary but he wasn’t one of them.  After she said hello and chatted with them for a while, she found a seat.  A few minutes passed and then he sat down next to her.  Heart racing, she smiled at him and she felt butterflies in her stomach when he smiled back.  “Good evening,” he greeted her.  “I trust you’re having a good week so far.”

“Yes.  I can’t complain.  What about your week?”

“It has been a busy one so far but God has helped me to get through it.  I’m sorry that we didn’t get a chance to talk more the last time we saw each other.  I wanted to tell you about a spring concert at the Green Lake Church on Saturday at 4:30pm and ask you if you would be interested in going to it with me.”

He wanted to take her to a concert.  This confirmed that he wasn’t married.  “Yes, I would like go,” she told him.  “Thank you for inviting me.”

“Don’t mention it,” he replied.  “Excuse me.  I’ll be right back.”  He got up and went across the aisle to talk to another church member for a few minutes before rejoining her.  This time, it was the pastor’s wife who led the prayer meeting and it was very engaging.  When it was time to split up in twos to pray, Elder Johnson prayed with the member he had been talking to earlier while she prayed with the pastor’s wife.  When it was over Elder Johnson took her home.

The concert was a real treat and she couldn’t stop raving about it as they went to a vegetarian café afterward.  Over Moroccan Tagine and Spring Nettle Pappardell, they talked about the concert, the worship service and other things.  It was a very pleasant evening and she was sorry when it was over.  Outside of her building, she turned to him and said, “Thank you, Elder Johnson for a wonderful evening.”

“Please call me Steven,” he said quietly.  “Are you busy tomorrow?”

She shook her head.

“How would you go on the Harbor Cruise and then have lunch afterwards at the Space Needle?”

“I would like that very much,” she said, her eyes dancing with delight.  He was asking her out on a date.

He smiled.  “Good.  I will pick you tomorrow morning at eleven.  Goodnight, Larissa.”

“Goodnight, Steven.” She watched him drive away before she went inside the building.

After their cruise and lunch at the Space Needle, they began dating exclusively.  They went all over Seattle, giving her a real taste and appreciation for the city.  They visited museums, the zoo, art galleries, parks, the Aquarium and their excursion to Tillicum Village on Blake Island was an experience she would never forget.  They went for scenic drives to Snoqualmie Falls and Seward Park to the Washington Park Arboretum where one was treated to with an incredible view of Mount Rainier in the distance.

At church, they were circumspect around each other not wanting anyone to know that they were seeing each other.  For the time being, they wanted to keep their relationship on the quiet.  They never went to each other’s place but went out instead.  They did not kiss for the first few months they were dating but held hands when in public.

Then one afternoon when he went by her place to pick her up to take her to see the iconic brick wall covered with chewed up gum in an alley under Pike Place Market and the Giant Ferris Wheel, it began to rain cats and dogs.  It was a real bummer because she had been looking forward to going out.  It had been overcast all morning but she had been hoping that it would clear up but now rain was coming down in buckets and it didn’t look like it was going to let up any time soon.  She turned away from the window, bitterly disappointed.  “Oh, well,” she said.  “I guess we will have to take a rain check.”

“I’m sorry about the weather,” he said.  “I know how much you were looking forward to going out.”

“It’s okay,” she said, shrugging.  “I’m sure we can find something to occupy ourselves with until the rain ends.”

“Do you have anything in mind?”

“Yes.  I have a few board games we can play.  We have Bibleopoly which is the Biblical alternative to Monopoly, Bible Scrabble and Bible or Not.”

“They all sound very interesting and it has been a while since I played board games.”

“Good.  We’ll on the carpet in front of the sofa.”  She left and brought out the games, setting them on the coffee table.  “Which one do you want to play first?”

He looked at each of them for a moment and then, he took up Bible Scrabble.  “I’ve always enjoyed Scrabble,” he said.  They set things up and sat down, cross legged on the carpet and began playing.  They played all three games.  The time went by very quickly and it was time to have something to eat.  They packed up the games and she put them away before going into the kitchen to get dinner ready.

Dinner was Spicy Kale and Coconut Stir Fry, one of her favorite recipes to make.  For dessert, they had Vegan Strawberry Cheesecake Bites.  Then they relaxed on the sofa and watched The War Room.

It was still raining outside when she checked a couple of hours later, though not heavily as before. Steven joined her at the window.  “It seems to be easing up,” she remarked turning to face him.  “Would you like anything to drink—maybe a hot chocolate?”

He shook his head.  “No, thank you.  I should be leaving now.  I have an early day tomorrow at work.”

“All right.  I have an umbrella. Would you like to borrow it?”

He smiled.  “I’ll be fine,” he said.  Then, taking her hands, he added, “I’m happy that it rained because I really enjoyed the time we spent here together.  And thanks for the delectable dinner and dessert.”

She smiled, feeling very pleased. “I had a wonderful time too and I’m glad you enjoyed my cooking.”

His expression got serious as they stood there in front of the window, holding hands.  Then, without saying anything, he bent his head and kissed her.  It was tentative at first but it deepened when he felt her response.  He let go of her hands to cup her face as he kissed her passionately.  She put her arms around his waist.  For several minutes they kissed and then, he broke off the kiss to unbutton his shirt, his face flushed as his eyes met her wide ones.   Their heavy breathing mingled as she helped him with the buttons.  When his shirt was discarded, she removed her top.

Then, they were kissing again, wildly now.  Her fingers dug into the flesh on his back and groaning, he picked her up and carried her over to the rug in front of the fireplace.  After putting her down, he stood up to remove the rest of his clothes before kneeling down to remove hers.  There in front of the fireplace, they made love while outside the rain continued to fall.

Several hours later, he got dressed and left, after a lengthy goodbye at the door.  That night was the first of many such trysts between them.  They both knew it was wrong to have sexual relations outside of marriage but they allowed their passion for one another to override the instructions God brought to their minds.  This continued for weeks.  They hardly went out.  Instead they stayed in inside either at his place or hers and spent a good chunk of their time in bed, ravaging each other before surfacing to engage in other activities.

Then, one Sabbath, the pastor preached a sermon which Larissa felt was directed to her.  It was Youth Day and the message was about youth abstinence.  The words that struck her like a blow were, “True love waits” which was the title of the sermon.  The challenge was for young people to abstain from having sex until marriage and using the Bible, he shared the benefits of abstinence.

As she listened, Larissa felt convicted.  She recalled how she had always planned to save herself for the husband that God was going to bless her with.  When she met and fell in love with Steven, that vow was broken.  Love and desire took precedence and now she was being reminded of that promise she had made to herself.  Tears came to her eyes and she quickly blinked them back.  She didn’t want to lose it right then in front of everybody, especially Steven.  She sat through the sermon and by the time it was over, she had come to the painful conclusion that she had to stop seeing Steven.

As soon as the service was finished, she hurried out of the sanctuary and left the church through the back entrance.  All the way home on the bus, she thought about how hard it was going to be to break up with Steven but they couldn’t continue sleeping together.  In her mind, she heard the apostle Paul’s admonition, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19).  She had given her body to Steven because she loved him but he wasn’t her husband. She wanted to do things God’s way and if it meant ending her relationship with Steven, then she had no choice but to end it.

Tears rolled down her cheeks and she brushed them away.  Lord, I love Steven so much.  I can’t imagine my life without him in it.  It will be hard going to church and seeing him.  My only other option is to transfer to another church but I love this church and the people.  Lord, I want to do things Your way but this is so painful. When she got home, she changed and then headed straight to the beach to think things through.

And here she was now, staring out at the sea and thinking about how far she had drifted from God.   She stood there for a long time, wishing that her life wasn’t in such a turmoil.  It wasn’t so long ago when she was so happy.  Things were going so well for Steven and her until they became sexually involved.  She closed her eyes as images of their intense lovemaking flashed across her mind and she felt her body react strongly.  Her eyes flew open as guilt filled her and she scrambled to her feet.  She ran all the way to the bus stop and got there just as the bus pulled up.  

She was heading toward the entrance of her building when she heard her name.  Her heart skipped a beat when she turned and found herself staring up at Steven.  His eyes were restless on her face and his expression was serious. “You’ve been crying.”

She didn’t answer.

“I need to talk to you,” he said quietly.  “My car is parked over there.”

She didn’t say anything but followed him to his car.  When they were seated, she looked down at her hands clasped in her lap.  “I-I was going to call you later,” she said.

He reached out and covered her hands with his.  “Larissa, I know that the sermon today was difficult to hear because of our relationship.  We crossed a line we shouldn’t have and I’m sorry.  I was the one who made the first move but I couldn’t help myself.  I wanted you so much.”

“I wanted you too,” she admitted, still not looking at him.

“I looked for you after the service but you were gone.  I went home and called you from there but there was not answer.  I decided to come over and see if you were here.  I was just on my way up to your place when I saw you.  I have something I want to say to you.  I was going to wait until your birthday but I realize that now is the best time.”  He released her hands to reach into the breast pocket of his shirt.  “This morning before I came to church, God told me that we had drifted outside of His will for our lives and that in order for us to get His blessing and anointing on our relationship, we have to do it His way.  True love waits.”

She looked at him, wondering what he was talking about when she saw the black box in his hand.  Her heart began to pound and her eyes flew up to his face.

He opened it and took out a beautiful diamond cross engagement ring.  “Larissa, the first time I saw you, my heart stopped.  And every moment I spent with you was heaven on earth.  I love you with an everlasting love and it would make my heart glad with unspeakable joy if you would spend the rest of your life with me.  Larissa, will you marry me?”

By now the tears were just flowing and it took a few moments for her to whisper, “Yes.”

He blinked back his own tears as he slid the ringer on her finger.  “I love you,” he murmured before leaning over to kiss her.

“I love you too,” she murmured against his lips.  Her heart was singing.  God didn’t want her to end her relationship with Steven, He just wanted it to be done His way.  She was going to wait until she and Steven were married to experience sexual intimacy the way God intended.  No, she didn’t mind waiting at all.  Waiting is a sign of true love and patience. Anyone can say ‘I love you,’ but not everyone can wait and prove it’s true.

Sources:  Emerald City Community Church; Cicero SDA Church; First SDA Church; Ministry Magazine; Cafe Flora; Seattle Tours; Argosy Cruises; Christian Cafe; CBS Seattle; Christianity Today; Cookie and Kate; The Food Network; Box Cast; Sermon Central; Apples of Gold; Married and Young; Ask Ideas

A Changed Life

Christ [redeemed] me, and He will [redeem] you also!

These words rang out loud in the marketplaces.  Myo Zaw made the impassioned plea to the crowd.  He was like Wisdom crying out in the marketplaces and pleading with the people to come her.  Myo’s message was one that the people needed to hear. He was on fire for Christ and he couldn’t hold it in.  It wasn’t always like this.

Before Myo Zaw encountered Christ he was the village drunk who got into fights with people and beat his wife and children.  The people who knew him thought he had gone insane, however, it was not madness that drove Myo to proclaim the message of redemption but the love of God which consumed him like a fire, refusing to be quelled.  He traveled throughout his region, sharing the Word of God, telling people, “how a sinner like me was found by God.”

“The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” – Luke 18:27

Within three years, he had visited 100 communities, encouraged by his wife’s letters. In them, she wrote, “If your life can change by Christ, there is no one who cannot be changed by Christ.  So wherever you are going and sharing the Word of God, we are here to pray for you. I believe people will be changed by the love of Christ.”  And she was right about the people.  350 heard the message about Christ’s love, saw how it manifested in Myo’s life and they were changed.

Myo believed that his mission was the share the love of Christ which had transformed his life and that it was God’s will for him to go to a missionary in an area where people were unfamiliar with the Lamb of God.  He and his wife prayed about it and ten years later God sent them to the southern region of their country as Gospel for Asia supported missionaries.

At first when the people in the community learned that Myo and his family were Christians, they wanted nothing to do with them.  They forced the family out of the community.  They threw stones at their home, threatening to penalize anyone who spoke to the Christians and the children faced discrimination because of their faith. Myo and his family were  seen as enemies but in the midst of it all, they saw God’s grace working in their lives, getting them through these trials.  They trusted Christ during their hardships and through the ministering of the Holy Spirit, they learned how to love the people in their new community.

They reached out to the people by showing them movies that they liked to watch, teaching the children songs and caring for them.  When the parents saw the love of the couple for the community, they were amazed and they began to talk to them at the market.  This gave Myo and his wife the opportunity to share Christ’s love with them.  They cared for the sick and took people to the hospital as needed.  When flood waters destroyed homes and livelihoods, the couple and other GFA supported workers helped to provide relief.

Myo visited people and encouraged them by offering words of hope and life in Christ.  Through his actions, he proved that he was a redeemed man.  The love of Christ had transformed him from a drunk and abusive husband and father to a missionary of God.  The same love that had Christ had shown him he wanted to show to others.  Like the apostle Paul, he was filled with a zeal for the Lord who “who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Myo realized that greatest weapon is love.  It can transform hearts and lives.  It can destroy the strongholds which beset people who have no knowledge of Christ and kept them in spiritual darkness.  Once the love of Christ is revealed it lives are changed–despair gives way to hope and darkness to light.

Like Myo, ask God to use you to share the love of Christ with others.  Be a light in the world.  Shine for Jesus and let those around you or wherever God sends you know that no matter what state they are in, “He will redeem you also!”

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Source:  Gospel for Asia Canada