With all the graduations happening in these weeks, it reminds me to take a closer look at what I have come to call “the graduation verse,” Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
It is a very meaningful and inspiring verse and one that gives comfort to many of us who are sending our children, nieces and nephews and other loved ones off on their adventure beyond particular school walls.
Several things jump out at me about this verse. First of all, God says he KNOWS the plans he has for each of us. He is not “thinking about it” or “undecided” or “exploring various options,” sentiments we may be hearing from our graduates here and there, perhaps. God KNOWS what he has in mind for each of our graduates.
And if it is God who has a plan for each person, then WE know that that plan is a good one, one for our welfare, our well-bring, our ultimate benefit.
And what does that plan look like? It has a future. Which means it is going somewhere. It will have direction, a goal, a mission. And it has a hope. The plan has the capacity to keep driving, keep moving, keep striving. Hope indicates there is meaning and purpose in what God has in store, and that God will be a part of that plan every step of the way. Because only he is our hope.
Congratulations to all those graduating from grade school, high school and college. Blessings on embarking on the plan God has for you.
Over the Christmas season a few months back a story ran on the national news about “blue” Christmas services that some parishes were offering for those who were feeling lonely or grieving the loss of loved ones during the holiday season. The service included lighting candles, listening to comforting words of Scripture and soothing music, surrounded by the presence of loving and caring people.
I found the story heart-warming and touching and something that we can consider doing all year-round in our churches at various times.
The church is designed to be a place of comfort, care and healing for those who are feeling blue. The funny thing about the color blue is that in modern-day vernacular in this turn of phrase blue means sad. But in the church blue is a color of hope, renewal and a future in the heavens above.
Therefore, let us do all we can to help those on their journey from sad to glad through the hope they are given in the love and salvation of Christ our Lord.
Probably one of the most rampant worldviews in conflict with the Church today is secular humanism. This is the belief that there is no God, no spiritual direction, no afterlife. This world and this life is all there is to the secular humanist. There is no room for or need for God. Secular humanists rely solely on human reason.
The prevalence of secular humanism leads to a kind of elevation of humanity and a quest to live life to satisfy your own personal needs to the fullest, since this is all there is.
What can the Church do in the midst of secular humanism? One way is to gently point people to the Bible’s statements of the involvement of God in the world.
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I am a planner, I will admit. I like to schedule my day and my week and know when I will be where. This is a natural tendency among humans, we can all acknowledge, I think.
But during my recent illness, all my plans went out the window and I realized that I am not as in control of my time and my life as I like to think I am.
When I was talking about this with a friend of mine, she reminded me of this verse from Scripture:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15
So I have taken up the practice of prefacing my plans with the disclaimer, “If the Lord wills … ” And I do not find that confining or pessimistic in any way. I am just relaying to others that my plans are not up to me ultimately; they are up to God.
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In Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive, Thom Rainer relates the sobering statistic that as many as 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death.
In his study of fourteen churches that actually shuttered their doors and disbanded, Rainer came to see some common denominators present in the parishes that closed. His findings serve as a wake-up call to all churches, struggling or not.
One of the common denominators was that in each of the failing churches the past was the hero. Members remembered fondly the “good old days” and generally desired to do things “the way we used to.” This is not to say that nostalgia in and of itself is a bad thing. It is a good thing to remember “where we came from,” but churches need to be willing to move on and adjust to the changing needs of the congregation and the community in order to survive.
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