Use a Pencil

Sometimes we feel so certain about where we are headed and what we need to do when suddenly, things completely change. Are we okay with change, or uncomfortable? What if the change is God’s doing? Does that somehow make us less uncomfortable?

Use a Pencil ~ June 30, 2019 ~ 2 Corinthians 1:15-20

We are in 2 Corinthians 1 this morning. Let me say something pretty obvious here: Following Christ is not easy, not in a fallen world, surrounded by fallen people, all telling you to follow your own desires. Doing the right thing is hard. It was hard in first century Corinth, and it’s hard in 21st century Hartford. Though the believers in the Corinthian church were being renewed by the Holy Spirit, no differently than us, they still struggled against the immoral influences of the culture that surrounds them. Through personal visits, and through writing letters, the apostle Paul instructed the Corinthian believers in the faith. Most of the members of the church received this instruction well; however, there were a few false teachers worming their way into the congregation, slandering Paul, denying his authority, and they were having an effect. 2 Corinthians, this letter that Paul writes, he wrote to defend his authority and to denounce those who were twisting the truth. please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God. Would you pray with me?

Lord, upon the pages of this book is Your story. It is also our story.
Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand,
and our hearts that they may be transformed.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Since I was so sure of your understanding and trust, I wanted to give you a double blessing by visiting you twice – first on my way to Macedonia and again when I returned from Macedonia. Then you could send me on my way to Judea.

You may be asking why I changed my plan. Do you think I make my plans carelessly? Do you think I am like people of the world who say “Yes” when they really mean “No”? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” For Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not waver between “Yes” and “No.” He is the one whom Silas, Timothy, and I preached to you, and as God’s ultimate “Yes,” he always does what he says. For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.
(2 Corinthians 1:15-20)

I wanted to give you a double blessing by visiting you twice – first on my way to Macedonia and again when I returned from Macedonia. But he didn’t go. Why the change of plans?

Well, Paul had recently made a brief, unscheduled visit to Corinth, and it was very painful for him and for the church. He confronted head on those people who were denying his authority, and who were teaching false doctrine. It wasn’t a pretty picture. Why would people begin to teach false doctrine? Well, what often happens, and still happens even today, sometimes when people come across some things in the Scriptures that they don’t like, or that are difficult, or they have a tough time understanding, they will twist it. They will change it into something more palatable to them, change the meaning so that they can get on board with what it says now.

After that visit, Paul said, as you heard, that he was going to visit the church again. He told them when he would return – on his way back from Macedonia. However, Paul changed his original travel plans and wrote them another letter instead. This letter, 2 Corinthians.

Now, because he did not follow through with his visit, there were those in the congregation who were accusing Paul of not being trustworthy, of not being a man of his word – any opportunity they could take to undermine Paul, his stature, his authority, his reputation. But Paul knew that another visit, at that time, would most likely have only made matters worse, so he changed his mind and he stayed away. Paul had planned to go, and Corinth had planned to welcome him. But things changed.

Sometimes things change. Sometimes we feel so certain about where we are headed, about what we are supposed to do in life, when suddenly, things change completely. Are we okay with change? Or does it make us uncomfortable?

You know, when I was but a wee lad, living in a town called Kent, Ohio, I played Little League Baseball! Can you guess which one is me? I’m the guy in the middle, back row, tallest one. Of course, in Ohio, that’s what we all did, Little League Baseball, because there was literally nothing else to do. Ohio was one of the most boring states in the late sixties, early seventies. It’s just flat and cows. You know, here in Connecticut, you’ve got an hour away, we’ve got the ocean. An hour and a half we’re in New York, an hour and a half we’re in Boston, an hour north, we’re in the mountains in New Hampshire. In Ohio, you spend all summer playing baseball.

Now, I have to say, I was pretty good. As you can see, I got most of my height and my size and my strength when I was young, so I powered and towered over most of my friends! The other thing I had I didn’t know I had. I was a pitcher. I threw a natural curve ball. I didn’t know how I did it, I didn’t do it intentionally; but my release was such that when it got the plate, it dropped away. I was devastating! It was awesome! I was an All Star every year! I thought for sure I was going to be a major league ball player – until that man, my coach, one year recognized, “You know what? You are a young boy, and if you continue to throw that ball the way you’re doing, you’re going to ruin your arm at such a young age.” So, he taught me how NOT to throw a curve ball, and I quickly became very average. By the time I got to high school, I was just barely good enough to make the team, and my dreams of being a major league player were long gone.

You see, hitting the curve ball is hard. Lots of people cannot do it, not just at the Little League levels. One of the things that is keeping my buddy Tim Tebow on the Minor League roster of the Syracuse Mets is the inability to consistently hit a curve ball. It’s not easy. Can you?

When things are going just as you planned, or just as you hoped, and then life throws you a curve ball, how do you do? I mean, occasionally there’s time to prepare for change. For instance, when you have a loved one who may be in the last season of their life – you have an elderly parent, or grandparent, or relative – and you know their time is short, it gives you a chance to prepare for the ultimate reality that one day they will pass. That’s a change that you have time to get ready for. When you’re about to have a child, you have nine months to get ready, to prepare, for that change that’s going to happen in your life. When your teenager leaves for college, you’ve had a whole senior year to prepare, to get ready, for change. But sometimes, change comes at you fast. Often, change comes during a time of stress, unexpectedly, and we don’t have time to call a time out. When you’re standing in the batter’s box, and that curve ball is coming at you at 75 mph, you have to react! Swing, or don’t swing. Those are the only choices. There’s no, “Wait! I’m not ready!” as the ball is halfway to the plate.

Those who learn to hit the curve ball succeed in baseball, and those who learn to handle change succeed in life. God uses them powerfully. Think of Noah, right? Noah is minding his own business, being faithful, when all of a sudden, the Lord says, “Noah, build me an ark in the middle of a desert, when it has never rained before in all of human history!” That’s a curve ball! Noah hit that one. He built an ark, and he saved humankind. God used him powerfully.

Abraham. Abraham was a successful shepherd, farmer. He was wealthy, had lots of servants, and camels, and a large extended family. He was settled. The Lord came along and said, “Abraham, I want you to leave your country, and go to the place where I am sending you.” “Where’s that, Lord?” “Ill let you know when you get there.” That’s a curve ball. Abraham hit it out of the park, and he followed the Lord’s command, and he became the father of the Jews.

What about Mary? Mary was minding her own business, getting ready for a wedding, when Gabriel appears and says, “Greetings, favored woman. The Lord is with you!” and everything changed for Mary. All of her plans, right out the window. I’m sure she didn’t plan what was going to come ahead for her.

But what if God is doing the change? Does that somehow make it less uncomfortable? I don’t think Joseph and Mary would say that. They were anticipating a wedding, surely Joseph was building them a home. There was no way – looking into their future, one day to have children and building a life in Nazareth – next thing you know, they’re being visited by shepherds, and by kings, and then have to flee to Egypt to save their lives. “But God was doing the change,” we say, “that was His plan!” Does that make it any easier? It is true, that was God’s plan. It is also true that God is sovereign. He is in control of all things and all people at all times. Psalm 147:5:

How great is our Lord! His power is absolute! His understanding is beyond comprehension!
(Psalm 147:5)

If God’s power is absolute, if God is sovereign, that means all change, all curve balls, are His doing. The expected and unexpected changes in your life are a part of His plan. Will we accept or reject God’s plan? Can we? Can we refuse to obey God’s will and still expect to be called faithful?

My plan, as you know, was to become a world-famous rock and roll drummer. How did that work out? Then, when I gave up on that dream, my plan was to retire October 2, 2018, from the United States Postal Service after 37 and a half years. How did that work out? Then, my plan was to spend my whole pastoral career serving the East Orrington Congregational Church in Orrington, Maine. I was absolutely sure that’s where God wanted me. I am absolutely certain that everything in your life has not gone as planned either. Someone once said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans for the future.” The Bible says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.” I say, go ahead and make plans – that’s important, it’s important to have a plan – but when you do, use a pencil, because things change.

Now, I am not saying change is easy. It’s not. Lots of professional ball players still cannot hit the curve. Sometimes change is really hard. My brother, on the day before his wedding – he was to get married on a Saturday – on Friday, he had to call everyone on his list and tell them the wedding was off. He did not get married. Change is not easy. But in that case, he hit the curve ball right out of the park, because the woman that was a part of God’s plan for him, he married a few years later, and she is awesome. He wasn’t meant to be coupled with that first woman. He had the wherewithal and the faith and the courage to swing and hit that curve ball the day before he was to be married.

No, life does not always go as planned. In fact, it rarely goes as planned. Well, at least as we planned. But it is all a part of God’s plan. Even the curve balls! So, work on hitting the curve balls in your life. If you do, God will use you powerfully. My prayer is that we would respond like Mary did, when she was told in Luke 1:38 to hit the curve ball. She said,

“I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”
(Luke 1:38)

I pray that’s how we would respond to our curve balls. Or Isaiah. Isaiah said to the Lord, when God asked him:

“Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?”

Isaiah responds:

“Here I am. Send me.”
(Isaiah 6:8)

So, go ahead and make plans. It’s good to have plans. Use a pencil. There may be – no, there will be some curve balls coming your way. It’s okay. Trust Him. Just wait and see what God has in store for you, curve balls and all. It’s going to be awesome. Would we come to the Lord, and join together in the spirit of prayer?