Plans and Promises
The wisdom writer penned these words: “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” Proverbs 16:3 (NIV). And while I believe that this is true, there have been times when it seems that our plans “go up in smoke.”
We can all relate to this because of the way that Covid-19 has impacted our lives and ministries. No doubt, many have planned on being gathered together for Pentecost Sunday. And even then, we await reports each day to find out if that too might not be possible. All of this uncertainly is disconcerting!
But wait… it may appear that our plans will not succeed, but we have some promises that remind us: Obstacles become opportunities for God to work for our good and His glory, when we hold fast to our faith and wait on the Lord.
This past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday. What happened on that day in Jerusalem, was the fulfillment of a long-awaited promise that God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh. When Jesus died, it looked as if God’s redemptive plan had gone up in smoke. But, no… the resurrection said… His promise is true, what He said He will do… and soon the Church was born out of Resurrection Power and Pentecostal Fire!
The same God who kept all the promises of a Messiah who would baptize us with fire, is the same God who will help our plans to succeed today.
While thinking about this, I could not help but remember my first senior pastorate. It was an inner-city church in Long Beach CA. Much to my surprise I found myself pastoring a church comprised of 1/3 Anglo, 1/3 African American, and 1/3 Islander congregants. I was truly in a multi-cultural church! I could barely spell multi-cultural much less know what I was going to do. But I knew how to do three things: Pray, Preach and Love People.
Like many inner-city churches, this church had declined from 250 to 60 people. On Monday, prior to my first Sunday, Dr. Nick Hull, the District Superintendent of Southern CA met me in the parking lot of the church and said, “I believe God wants you here, and He is going to do something great! The Advisory Board was considering closing the church, but I told them, “No, God is going to do a great work in that church. So, let’s trust God and watch what happens.” He hugged me, shook my hand, and said, “I believe in you.” That was the extent of my pastoral installment service!
I immediately went to the altar and prayed, “Lord, what have I gotten myself into? HELP!” Long story short, in less than two years we grew from 60 to 160 and had over 200 people in church on our second Easter. We were so excited about what God was doing. Then on the Tuesday following that Easter Service someone broke into the church and set it on fire. Nothing could be salvaged. My college notes, library, and personal belongings in my office were in ashes. But, for some reason, everything in the sanctuary was burned to a crisp except for the communion table, and the large KJV Bible that sat upon it. Believe it or not, the Bible was open to Isaiah 61, and with burnt pages all around it, this one portion of the passage stood out in that big, KJV Bible: “ … to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” Isaiah 61:3.
Our rebuilding theme became “Beauty for Ashes.” We built a beautiful new, multipurpose building and continued on with our ministry.
With that in mind, I turn your attention to Isaiah 61 in the New International Version. We will walk through the passage and apply it to our lives and ministry plans. I think this Messianic promise should bolster our hope today.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”
May God anoint our churches with Pentecostal Fire and Power so that we will boldly proclaim the message of Holiness to a fallen and sinful world.
“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God,”
May we all be set free from any kind of bondage that would hinder our belief in a bright future for the Church. We have the message that sets people free from the bondage of sin. Broken people can be made brand new!
“to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”
May God comfort any and all who have experienced loss during this time. We still face some unique challenges, but let us not lose hope. Instead, let us believe that God will give us beauty for ashes – our hopes and plans need not vanish in smoke!
“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”
May the righteousness of God be revealed through the lives of sanctified followers of Christ who live victoriously in Pentecostal Power. May restoration take place in the family of God and spill over to renew and refresh the nations now, and in generations to come.
“Aliens will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches, you will boast.”
May our ministries bear much fruit in God’s vineyard. May the Holy Spirit empower and enable us to live, love, and serve like Jesus, as we seek to make disciples at home and abroad.
And our boasting will be… God was faithful and gave us “beauty for ashes.”
Yes, it is still true: “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed” Proverbs 16:3; because He is the God who gives beauty where once there were only ashes. Like the Day of Pentecost, it will all happen in God’s timing - All in His good time, and His time is always the right time.
Dr. James R. Russom, NBC Faculty and Director of Pastoral Leadership and Pastoral Ministries Programs.
Filed Under: Communicator Published: 06/01/2020