For I Know The Plans…

I’ve known my best friend, Aaron, since I was 3 years old.  God has spoken to me through Aaron in countless ways over the last 25 years.

conversations.

grace he has shown me when I have been far less than the best friend he deserves.

encouragement he has given me when I have been far less than the man I’ve wanted to be.

loyalty in his actions towards me when he could have left me in the dust.

inspiration in watching his life up close and personal as he has sought to not only be a “good” person/friend, but also to chase after God’s plans for his life.

reading his blogs/letters/writings and being amazed at how influential he is in my life.

And on 2 occasions, I have had the privilege of hearing him stand up in front of groups of people and teach about Jesus.  And both of those times it was as if Jesus was talking directly to my heart…and I nearly forgot that it was my lifelong friend speaking.  I still remember both of those messages and cling to his words on a weekly basis.  It wasn’t simply that I remember what he said because I’ve known him forever, but rather that Aaron had said yes to what God had laid on his heart to say…and I was lucky enough to be in the room to hear it.

One of those 2 messages I heard from Aaron was maybe 8 years ago.  It was summer time and our campus ministry at the University of Central Florida met weekly in a much smaller setting than during the regular semester.  There were maybe 30 of us seated in a lecture auditorium fit for a few hundred.  And to this day I still remember exactly what he taught on.

And that is the inspiration for this blog.  If it is helpful in any way to you, I deserve absolutely zero credit for it.  If it isn’t helpful whatsoever, then I take the full blame…for when it was spoken into my heart 8 years ago, it drastically affected the rest of my life:

“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.” (Jeremiah 29:11NIV)

No doubt, if you have been around the church in any fashion in your life, you have heard this verse.  Maybe your parents had it hanging on the wall of your house growing up.  If you google “top 5 bible verses of 2011” this verse ranks as number 1.  I know, nobody googles that kind of stuff.  But occasionally a weirdo like me does.

I heard this verse a lot my senior year of high school.  I also heard it a lot during college.  Those prime years where you had no idea what the rest of your life was going to look like.  You were a little intimidated.  You thought “settling down” was for people over the age of 50.

Also, I heard this verse a lot as a sort of rebuttal to my real life painful experiences.  I was being emotionally harmed, but people in the church would quote this verse and I felt like they were trying to stop the bleeding.  But the reality was that a simple bible verse was not going to hide or cover up the brokenness that I felt.

the brokenness that I felt was unfair.

the brokenness that I knew would at some point scar and would affect the lives of people closest to me.

the brokenness that was so much bigger than the cute hand painted craft with this single verse painted on it that hung in our living room growing up.

If God didn’t have “plans” to harm me, then why was my life such a train wreck at such a young age?  How was my parents divorce at my birth, my mom and stepdad’s divorce in high school after 15 years of marriage, my mom’s death of cancer at her age of 49 a part of any “plan” for me?

I benefited a lot from Christianity as I grew older.  I consistently was paid to work in ministry starting at the age of 18.  And on the outside I could probably impress other church people with my church resume.  Although financially you could say I was “prospering” b/c God was allowing me to do these things, inside I felt “stuck” in so many ways.

Was this really all there was to God “giving me hope and a future?”

And then around 8 years ago Aaron stood up in front of a group of maybe 30 of us and shared Jeremiah 29 verse 11.  But more importantly, he shared verse 10 before he got to that famous 11th verse.

Jeremiah 29:10 reads:

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.”

Jeremiah 29 is a letter written from Jeremiah to the Israelites in Babylon.  They were in exile.  Their lives weren’t everything they probably hoped that they would be.  They probably didn’t feel very prosperous.  Not extremely hopeful.  And I’m sure there were many of them who did indeed feel emotionally damaged/harmed by all that had taken place.

And Jeremiah told them that God said it was going to be a total of 70 years of this.  It wasn’t a quick fix.  Most likely it was probably going to get worse for them.

And God was speaking right into all of that.

And all of that is where I lived many years of my life.  And it is probably where you live a lot of years in your own.

frustrated.

discouraged.

impatient.

wish life was better.

wounded.

scarred.

scared.

wondering about that whole “God has a plan…” thing.

And right in the middle of all of that, God gently whispers verse 11.

Bringing verse 10 into the mix makes verse 11 much more believable.  Much more realistic.  Much more hopeful.  Much more inspiring.

For the Israelites it was going to be 70 years…

but after 70 years God was going to “fulfill his good promise”.

And why was God going to do this and not simply let His people rot away and waste away internally and emotionally be ruined and die with broken hearts and doubt and unbelief…

“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.” (Jeremiah 29:11NIV)

Because God knew the plans he had for the Israelites.  No, the plans weren’t as cute as the hand painted craft version of this verse would have you believe.

But God knew the plans he had for them.

And because of the reality of verse 10, I began to believe 8 years ago that God knew the plans that he had for me.  Although many times along the way I felt my heart/soul was being harmed…that wasn’t the end of what God was wanting to do in my heart.

All of this to say, last weekend I began to really see for the first time in years, the hopeful future side of God’s plan for my life.

And although along the way there has been incredible pain and frustration and discouragement…that wasn’t where God was leading me to.  It was simply necessary for God to lead me through.

So that now I can look back on my version of “70 years” and say, yeah…I actually do believe that God knows what he’s doing.

Incredibly thankful that Aaron shared this several years ago…

Advertisements

Adam (Part 2: Gettin’ Right)

Jealous.

That’s probably the last emotion that I would have expected to feel today.

Today I saw my cousin Adam for the first time since I dropped him off at No Longer Bound (men’s rehabilitation/regeneration program http://www.nolongerbound.com).  Prior to today he was not able to have communication of any type from any of his family.  He could not even have pictures of anyone with him.  He was to only focus on himself for the first 2 months of this intense 10 month program.  We spent about 6 hours together.  4 hours of just free time to talk with him, including dinner.  2 hours of an amazing group therapy session.

Jealous? Are you sure?

I thought I’d feel happiness, or heartache, or even a wave of self-righteousness before I’d be jealous.

Adam became eligible for visits on Friday.  The only time visits are allowed are on Saturdays.  So this Saturday morning Adam woke up and was dressed and bed made by 6am just like every other day.  Before breakfast he was told by his superiors that he would be working all day at the Thrift Store.  He said he was a little bummed out mainly because he didn’t want to work all Saturday.  He knew he was able to get a visitor, but didn’t expect one with only 1 days notice.

After breakfast was over there were a few more announcements and then the leader said, “Does anyone have anything else before we get going?…Ok…1 more thing, does anyone know a Jason Avera? (Adam raised his hand) Good, cause he is coming to see you today.” That was followed by all of the guys in the cafeteria doing what they do for every guy in the program who gets his first visit. They all pounded on the tables with their fists for almost a full minute as a celebration for Adam reaching his first goal and being able to have visitors.

Jealous.  Yep, that is exactly what I feel.

Adam and I and Brittany talked about a ton of stuff in our visit.  We mostly listened while he explained his daily schedule.  He walked us around the property and gave us the full tour.  We met guys that Adam told us he had become incredibly vulnerable to in his short time there.

One of the things we heard from him is that at NLB they forced the men to live in the light, in truth.  One of the things that as a community they do is called “Gettin’ right”.  In the shortest version, this is genuine confession.

Adam said that it is natural at NLB to confess everything.  Because for so long they have all lived in darkness and lied about everything.  At this place they make a conscious effort to expose everything not simply to God, but to each other.

For instance, Adam told us that he had to “get right” with one of the guys a couple weeks earlier by telling him that he thought that one of the other men in the program (we’ll call him John) was a phony and a fake.  He talked privately with this person and said that it might not be true, but Adam’s perspective on John was that he wasn’t genuine.  And since he thought that it caused him to not take the things that John said as literal or sincere.

Instead of simply tucking that away and not thinking much of it, he sat John down and told him exactly how he felt.  He told John that he knew it might not be true, but that was the impression that he got from him.  And because he got that impression, he didn’t really trust or even like him.

If you smoked a cigarette (which is forbidden at NLB) you were supposed to “get right” with the group by telling them.  Nobody was going to tell on you.  You first needed to feel convicted for something you had done.  And if you felt convicted, then it was your responsibility, your duty, to get right with the guys and confess to them what you had done.  Knowing full well the consequences were not going to be good.

More mind blowing to me was that it wasn’t simply if you had acted on a behavior that was against the rules (smoking), but it was everything in the depths of your heart that needed to be exposed.  Even though John may not have done anything against Adam, Adam still needed to tell John that he felt the way he did.  And this confession wasn’t just to be “ok” with God.  It wasn’t just to be “ok” with John.

The point of Adam confessing to John what he felt about him (warranted or not) was for the purpose of exposing what was in the depths of Adam’s heart.

And this happens every single day at NLB.  And it is known as “gettin’ right”.

A few weeks ago at our church the pastor speaking that day challenged us to ask 3 people that were incredibly close to us, “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?”  In essence, I don’t know what it is like to be married to Jason.  I don’t know what it is like to be friends/family with Jason.  I don’t know what it is like to work with Jason.  I only have my perspective.  Jeff (pastor speaking at church that day) told us we would be 1. encouraged 2. surprised 3  feelings hurt after receiving the answers.  We weren’t supposed to justify/explain/rationalize any of the other’s perspective, but to simply thank those people for their insight and bring the hurtful things we heard to God and ask him to help us change.

I did that.  And my ego took a huge punch in the teeth.  And surprisingly, I craved more of it.  So I decided to ask some more people very close to me what Jason Avera was like from their perspective.  What kind of atmosphere did I bring into the family, into my marriage, into my workplace?

I was encouraged.  And even though I didn’t think so, I was surprised at what I heard.  And even more so, my feelings were hurt.  I would say ego more than feelings.  Either way, it wasn’t the most fun thing I’ve ever done.

But at the end of that experiment, I have begun to long for honesty more than I ever have before.  I have started to look at my own life and my own heart and realize that they healthy thing would be for me to confess to someone at work that “they hurt my feelings” even if they were only joking around.  And be honest with them instead of being afraid that they will think I am weak and frail.

The reality is that when I pretend that I am amazing and not vulnerable in any way, I am simply showing how scared and weak I really am of what is actually true.

The experiment I had hurt my feelings.  And I needed that.  And I was able to take responsibility for some things I did that I had no idea that I had done.  That I had no idea I had hurt people that I genuinely love and care about.

I had a gettin’ right moment.  And I invited it on myself.  And it hurt my ego more than you will know.  And through that difficult evaluation of Jason Avera, I saw a lot of truth that I had completely ignored for years.  And most importantly…

I was able to bring things to God about myself that needed serious help, that I never thought about until then.

And it hurt so good.

And here my cousin Adam is living in a place that this kind of openness and confession and sincerity is considered “normal”.  And I am on the outside wishing that I could be as honest with myself as Adam currently is.  That I could hear honesty about myself in a way that Adam currently is.

John 11:39 Jesus is about raise Lazarus from the dead.  But he first says, “Take away the stone”.  Today Jim said, we have to take away the stone in our own lives and reveal the stench of our darkness and deadness before Jesus can do miracles.

Adam is in a place where gettin right is a normal thing.  I had to hear a sermon on it and then muster enough “courage” (really?!) to ask 3 people to be honest with me.  And after the 3 people I needed/wanted more.  And it’s like pulling teeth to get that type of honesty!

As I go to bed tonight, I am a little scared of being even more honest about what is in my heart as it relates to those around me.  And then I think about Adam.  And I see the freedom in his eyes.  And I see his brothers around him loving him.

And I go to bed a little jealous.

Tomorrow calls for a little more honesty.