Preparation: Making a Clear Plan

Heritage Presbyterian Church

March 17, 2019
Second Sunday of Lent
Scripture readings – Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18 & Luke 13: 31-35

Well, I certainly hope you were listening when the children and I discussed making a clear plan to go to Jerusalem.  Because this church has begun the very early discussions of just such a trip to the Holy Land in 2020.  I know of many Christians who have made the trip, and I know of many organizations and guides who can help us organize and make such a trip not only possible for us, but also an amazing experience for our church.

But we can’t just run for the parking lot shrieking, “God, guide us to Jerusalem!  We trust you!”  

That’s not how it works.  That’s not how most things work!

So, let’s slow down a little and look at the steps we will need in order to make any plan successful.

First, we need to make a plan.  We have all known folks in our midst, in our lives, who suddenly decide they are going to go and do some incredible, life-changing thing. About one time out of a hundred, such ideas are successfully and wonderfully completed.  What often happens is that the dreamer begins and become bogged down in the realities.  Often the phrase, “I guess I didn’t think things through” is uttered. That’s a painful reality.

So, a plan is needed.  Even if it is nothing more than a few ideas jotted down with no details included, at least the beginning of an organized idea is beginning to appear.

For our Scriptural comparison for today, think of when God told Abram that he would become the father of nations.  Abram didn’t understand, but he didn’t refuse…he asked questions.

The first step was done: the plan was made.

Second, the plan must be clear and easy to understand.  A trip to the Holy Land is something that will involve hundreds of details, especially if this trip is going to be offered to our entire church and possibly even our surrounding neighborhood of Towne Lake.  Even if we hire an experienced company to do this for us – which is definitely going to be one BIG detail in this plan – there will still be lots of details for all of us to attend to.

Imagine for a minute that we were told all the details, and we wanted to go – but we didn’t do anything to make it happen.  We just sat back and expected others to do it for us. Even worse, as we did this, we kept repeating, “The Lord will provide.  I have great faith!”  

Do you think that would work?  Do you think that type of attitude represents faith in God? Or is it something else?

The details of such a plan need to be discussed and decided and developed carefully over time.  Then those details need to be effectively communicated to everyone, including those who are not going.  After all, who will remain behind to pray for the travelers and to wait for the report of how the trip went?

For our Scriptural comparison for this part, think of what God did after Abram was told the major details of God’s plan and when Abram’s questions were answered by God.  Once Abram understood the basics of God’s plan to make him the father of nations, Abram acted.  He didn’t require proof…he just needed to understand.  Once he did, Abram was renamed Abraham, which means literally “ancestor of multitude.”  

The second part of the plan was done: the major details were clear and easy to understand.

Third part: edit the plan as it unfolds.  This is not for God…this is for us.  God knows the plan; we are the ones who get to figure it out and be faithful – especially when we figure it out incorrectly.

No plan ever made by any human being worked on the first trip. In fact, even a really good plan needs to adapt to new situations, new obstacles, and new challenges that arise along the way.  Any business person who is successful is one who can adapt to change before other competitors can.  When we read the Bible and follow what God is doing in the various books and stories, it seems that God adapts as history unfolds.  I am not certain this is accurate.  I think it is more that we adapt, sometimes even against our will, in order to serve what God already had going on.

For our Scriptural reference to this, think of just about ANY section of the Bible.  Here are some pretty clear examples:

  • Moses went from a newborn Hebrew baby in the basket floating in the Nile, to the Prince of Egypt, to an exiled leader who committed murder, to the spokesman for the Hebrew slaves, to the leader of the Hebrew slaves, to the man who forced Pharaoh to let them leave Egypt, to the man who talked to God and received the Ten Commandments, to the man who led them in the desert for 40 years, to the man who led them to the Promised Land – but couldn’t go in himself.
  • Jonah went from the man who refused to listen and follow God’s instructions to the man who went the opposite way, to the man who was thrown overboard during a storm by superstitious sailors, to the man who spent three days in the belly of a great fish, to the man who was vomited up on the beach, to the man who then followed God’s instructions, and then pouted when God spared the people his wrath.
  • Simon the fisherman took Jesus out on the water so Jesus could preach. Then Simon became the fisherman who didn’t believe Jesus when Simon was told to let his nets down to catch some fish, to the man who ran up to Jesus and fell at his feet and told Jesus to “Go away, I’m a sinful man!” to being renamed “Peter” to becoming the ONLY Apostle who could say Jesus was the Son of God, to the man who denied even knowing Jesus, to the one that Jesus built his church upon.

In each case, the plan of God is revealed, but human make it seem that God had to adapt to fit our needs and actions.  

Not sure that is accurate!

Fourth, begin implementing the plan with confidence in God’s blessing.  If you have a good idea, you think through the details, you begin working on it, you adapt as you go along, how could God NOT bless you?  

Of course, if you equate God’s blessing with your complete success, you may be doing it wrong.

We struggle – don’t we struggle! – to understand God’s plan for us, especially in those plans that involve more than just ourselves.  If it’s just ourselves, then we are usually the main person that is affect if things don’t go as planned. But when we involve our entire family or our entire work force or our entire church family…then things can become a little more complicated.

Still…a good plan is one in which multiple people can give input and multiple people can work to guarantee the best chance of success. For example, if we plan a church-wide trip to the Holy Land in 2020, if we choose the right tour company, if we have multiple meetings and work together to sweat the various details, a church-wide trip to the Holy Land could be a wonderful thing for all of us and for our church.

But are we afraid to even try?

Are we afraid that this gigantic idea full of all sorts of pitfalls just might not go as planned?  Are we afraid that even if we work every detail in every way it might not work?

Are we so afraid to try that we won’t even ask God for a blessing? If so, what does that say about our faith?

Nothing good, I’m afraid.  

No matter what we do as individuals, no matter what we do as a church, just because something doesn’t work does NOT mean we have not received God’s blessing.

When we work so very hard and nothing works, can we praise God anyway?

Anything that is planned with love and patience in mind, anything at all will serve the Lord.  Perhaps we should still proceed with confidence, but that confidence should only be in God’s blessing.  A trip to the Holy Land, a plan to build a new church, an idea to add a second worship idea…these are all human ideas.  Let’s not automatically assume God’s stamp of approval just because we pray.  Ask for God’s guidance and then look for it! That may be a better way to go.

And for our Scriptural reference, look at the life of King David.  He and God must have had something truly special in their love for one another. Yet David’s life was anything but an automatic stamp of approval from God.  Many times, David found himself in trouble – and mostly trouble of his own making. But each time David returned again and again to the Lord and asked for help and accepted the consequences for his own behavior.

David was confidence of God’s blessing at all times. We can claim the same blessing in all that we do…even if we mess up.

Finally, we should evaluate any plan only through a lens that accurately sees everything that occurs.

For our Scriptural reference, look no farther than Jesus’ comments to the Pharisees about Herod and Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem.  In both cases, Jesus looked at the situation before his eyes, but he evaluated based on a long history of events.  In the case of the Pharisees, whether they were actually trying to warn him or whether they were trying to keep him out of Jerusalem, by invoking the name of Herod, all they did was to raise Jesus’ confidence in his own actions.  The House of Herod had been involved violently in Jesus’ life since the time of the Wise Men, so Jesus would not be swayed by the warning of Herod’s threats. As for the lament before Jerusalem, Jesus not only knew how Jerusalem would be treating him, he also recognized that Jerusalem had always been hard on prophets, especially those who were confrontational with the authorities AND the people.  Jesus’ appearance there would be nothing new, in this respect.  

He would be rejected just as Jerusalem had rejected God’s prophets in the past.  

The lens of history was pretty clear on this point.

As for us, it is always easy and crystal clear for us to look back and evaluate how our plans worked – or how they didn’t; which ideas were good ones – and which ones weren’t; where things went wrong – and when they all came together in a wonderful way.

Any plan will most likely have the same look if we look back fairly.

So, we can make a plan to visit the Holy Land in 2020.

We can make a plan to build our new church on a new site in the coming years.

We can plan to hire an associate pastor who can help us go in new directions.

We can implement a second worship service that will be great.

We can do all sorts of things…but we can’t do much if we don’t even try.

Whatever we want to do, let’s do this:

  1. Let’s make a plan.
  2. Let’s make it clear and easy to understand.
  3. Let’s edit the plan as it unfolds.
  4. Let’s implement the plan with confidence in God’s blessing.
  5. Let’s evaluate any plan only through a lens that accurately sees everything that occurs.

And let’s serve our Lord…