Over the last several years I've had a lot of various journeys and experiences that I can look back on and learn a lot from. An interesting thing though, is as I get to know new people and we learn about each other or as current friends ask about how various things are going or if I regret certain life decisions or directions, they often seem to be thinking I would have regrets or negative feelings about different things. Sure we can all often wish certain things went differently, but good or bad there's so much to be learned from hindsight, as well as just being flexible enough to not think that something was a failure if it didn't end up the way you expected on the outset. To think every unexpected change points to failure is rather negative and I would think limiting from what you could actually learn a lot from looking back and seeing not only how things can turn out better than expected, but that a surprising change of direction could actually be a good thing (no I'm not saying failure isn't a thing, because it is; but I am saying everything is an opportunity). In all the various changes, struggles, and surprises in our journeys as Christians, we should especially be able to look back and see God's hand and sovereignty in all things, whether good or bad, easy or difficult. God has consistently surprised Keeva and I in our journey with unexpected new paths and even deep Gospel lessons from unexpected changes, hard situations and suffering, such as years of infertility and an early miscarriage.
The reason I'm thinking about productively analyzing our journeys in hindsight is we recently had a fun weekend in NOLA where I taught at a youth retreat and we were able to spend a couple days with our friends/NOLA family from our community group, neighborhood coffee community, and of course Vintage Church. Several times we were both asked, for instance, if our time in Omaha just "didn't work out" or we if we thought it was a failure. First off the answer is a resounding "no". Yeah we had a different concept when we left NOLA for Omaha, but even after 13 months there we still accomplished most of what we set out to do, even if in the end it looked different in how it played out. We were able to learn a lot from Coram Deo about church and Midwestern culture, which supplemented and filled in some gaps for the foundation we set up through seminary and Vintage. We were lucky enough to be asked to start a new Gospel Community in the Little Italy neighborhood of Omaha, which helped us hone our small group skills, which we already knew were some of our top skills and passions, but as we were hoping, the different culture of people who were mainly from there or other Midwestern areas prepared us by teaching us more about the heart and religious culture of Midwestern cities, which was notably different than NOLA and even our Bible Belt Oklahoma roots. We also had a great relationship with all the pastors and staff at Coram Deo and were able to learn a lot from meetings and one on one time with each one. I also had the opportunity to have several meetings with Pastor Bob Thune and several other leaders in the church that were interested in church planting, and spend time twice a month digging into what it means to be a pastor and church planter both scripturally and practically. And I would say just as formative, and always one of our favorites, was our jobs and all that we learned about people and culture through our industries of fashion and coffee/specialty local cuisine, not to mention regular and often encouraging conversations with customers and coworkers both inside and outside the Faith.
I think a lot of what has formed this type of personal attitude and ethic is a growing foundational understanding of the Gospel and our identities in Christ through a Gospel lens, as well as a realistic expectation of ideas and plans. My mind first goes to James 4:13-17, because "you do not know what tomorrow will bring" so why foolishly set yourself up for disappointment and confusion to say with certainty what is yet to come when you have no way of knowing with certainty? Of course we should have goals and a direction, but as we move forward in faith we don't have to have every little detail ironed out or be crushed when things inevitably shift and change. Also, to Paul's personal words on what ultimately matters in life is to know Christ and to make Him known and that all else is rubbish in comparison, whether that be our resume or 10 year plan. To get to that point of concern only for the things of God we have to first deal with the false belief that we have control over tomorrow, only then does our plans, possessions, status, comfort, relationships and the like, pale in comparison to Jesus and His Good News, thus enabling us to look back on any journey of life and praise His name.
We are called to follow God and his call on our lives in all things, and trust that He not only will lead us and give us clarity, but that the calling and direction will be fulfilling to us personally on a deeper level than what we would come up with on our own. Too often Christians formulate their goal and direction and attempt to sprinkle God in to attain blessing in their efforts. That is obviously not the life Christ calls us too. We are to follow Him and trust that He will insert our passions and preferences into His plan for us. What I'm saying is that God gives us our individual personalities and preferences for a reason, and they are ultimately for His reasons of worshiping and glorifying Him and using them in the ministry of reconciliation. Our overly independent western society thinks that religion takes away our individuality for some detached greater good, so we selfishly and pridefully try to keep God in a box that we are comfortable with, to ensure we get to do what we like and will stick to it whether or not it lines up with a greater Gospel purpose. This is a lot of what it means to trust God with our careers and direction, trusting that the person He made us to be will not be lost but even better realized in His greater plan, and not our mere good ideas.
To conclude, lets briefly look to Scripture, specifically the Scripture so many like to mistakenly claim as some God-given material blessing promise. Without writing out an entire commentary or sermon on it, let's just get a better picture of the context and actual general lesson found in Jeremiah 29:11, which can be found plastered on every genre of trinket and decor at your local Christian book store today.
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare [or peace] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
For starters, the Israelites were in exile in Babylon, which God sent them into as a part of His plan to get their attention and because of their sin. In the previous verses in chapter 29, He is telling them to stop moping around and to grow, even in their unfavorable situation, and He assures them of His plans for peace and restoration that are to come, though even at that moment they are not outside of God's plan due to their exile, but in it. Honoring God even in hard times brings Him glory, I'd say even more so. Their exile and current moping are not surprising Him, He's God. He's sovereign, omniscient, and omnipotent, and nothing in their situation is outside of his control and He wants them to recognize that. Also God goes on to warn them about listening to false prophets who were saying God wouldn't let Jerusalem fall to Babylon, which was not from God and He did in fact destroy Jerusalem by their hands. The false prophets were preaching a false comfort, in contrast to God's promise of temporary suffering before future blessing (whether in the present life or the one that is to come). So even on first pass, this is not a verse of immediate blessing or even inevitable abundance, but a promise of hope for peace and a God centered plan and purpose.
Yeah this was a long post and thought discourse, but it's been something stuck in my craw for a while. It's something I've been pondering personally, as well as through discipling people either in their own hard times, or asking about others or even my own. So what about you? How has God made His sovereignty evident in your life, either through situations or through His Word? How has Jesus revealed Himself as the only true source of unwaivering Hope? Or what makes you struggle to find fulfillment in Jesus? I pray that you will find your identity and sense of hope in Christ, pray for us to not take our eyes off of Him in that same way as well.