God doesn’t have a plan for your life.
Give that a moment to sink in because I’m guessing more than one of you wants to push back on that notion right away. It probably runs counter to some of the very ideas you hold to be true. But God doesn’t have a plan for your life. At least not in the way we traditionally think of it. When bad things happen to us, in a very well-meaning way, Christians try to offer support by telling each other, “God has a plan.” But when you take that thread and follow it to its end, you come out with a very mean God. Because that means all the bad, horrible, nauseating things that happen to you are CAUSED by God. That somehow his PLAN includes treating you in an abusive and harsh way. With that kind of thinking we limit God and imagine our great God almighty wasn’t smart enough to think of a better way to teach you or equip you for life. But that’s not our God. Whenever I think about this idea that God has a plan that somehow includes pain and suffering, I think back to my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. McNally. Mr. McNally was one of the nicest teachers we had. Everyone loved him. He was well respected by both staff and students alike. So it came as a shock to find out he was killed by a drunk driver late one night while he was in the car with his son. They were coming home from a game or something when a guy broadsided his car, killing Mr. McNally. The drunk driver? He lived and walked away from the accident. But Mr. McNally was dead. Was that really God’s plan, to take him away from his family, his loved ones, and his students? Or did Mr. McNally have to die tragically just so this drunk driver could learn some kind of life-changing lesson? Or maybe this guy was just irresponsible, had too much to drink, and killed my high school chemistry teacher because he didn’t have enough sense not to drive. I think the last one is the most likely.
Our lives do not follow some script like a Hollywood movie.
There isn’t some plot twist that justifies the harmful things that happen to us. Our lives are not meant to go down a specific path that’s been charted out for us. God DOES have a plan for your life, but it’s the one that he shares with the prophet Jeremiah and through Jeremiah to all of us. God said in Jeremiah 29:11, “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.” So God does have a plan, but just not in the way we often think about it. God’s plan for us isn’t a map to follow but a hope for a brighter future. Your life is not pre-determined. You have free will. You have choices to make. And those choices can lead you down a path that brings you closer to God and makes this world more like the Kingdom that he imagines it could be, or we can choose to drift away from God and get swallowed up by what the world thinks is important.
Life is a journey.
This idea of life and faith being a journey is one that is stuck in my mind, because I believe God is working in us and through us to help us grow closer to God. None of us are born fully complete. None of us wake up one day with all the answers we need to live a perfect life or to have perfect faith. It’s like John Wesley said, we are moving toward perfection. But we aren’t there yet. At least not the vast majority of us. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone, would you please find 1 Corinthians 12 beginning with verse 1. God tells us he has a plan to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future. But we still have to choose to go down that path. We still have to choose to take that journey. Some of us willingly take that path, but others of us are more like Jonah, resisting the entire way. If you remember his story, when God asked him to go to Tarshish, he ran in the opposite direction until he got eaten by a fish. And even then he only went reluctantly. And when his mission to the people of Tarshish ended up a glorious success, Jonah got mad and moped about it. Sometimes that’s what we are like, resistant to God’s will. But if we ARE open to it, if we ARE willing, this journey is not one we have to make alone. I believe with all my heart that God places people in our lives to help us along this path. That if we are open to it, God will guide us and draw us closer to him. God will not only place people in our path but will equip us for the journey. He gives to each of us gifts for us to use and the beauty of it is that each of us are given different gifts so that we can contribute uniquely to the journey. As it says in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth this is what he writes.
Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Have you ever really thought about what your gifts are?
Sometimes they are obvious, but sometimes we need people in our lives to help point them out to us. You may think you know what your gifts are, but maybe you have even more gifts than you realize or you have talents that you never thought you could use in service to God. It’s as Paul writes to us, “I do not want you to be uniformed” but YOU have a gift. Some of us have many gifts. Some have more obvious gifts and some more subtle gifts, but whatever gift or gifts you have they all come from the same place, from God. And he has given you these gifts to make a difference in the lives of others. And if God has that much faith in you and God has that much faith in me, then I know we can do great things if we have even a mustard seed size amount of faith in God and in the gifts he has given us.
Everyone thinks of Rev. Mike Friedrich as “Deacon Mike.”
And even though he has been with us for many years before he became a deacon, how many of you really know who he is? I thought I knew who he was until I began preparing for this message. Turns out there is even more to Deacon Mike than he humbly lets on. My first encounter with Mike was at Annual Conference at the NJAUMC luncheon. He came representing our church and I was at the time serving in Dinuba. We got to talking and he told me that prior to serving the church he had worked in the comic book field. That interested me as I am a lifelong comic book nerd. He only hinted at the number of works he did, never mentioned the people he worked with, or what kind of contributions he made to the field. Only later did I find out that many of the stories I grew up with, many of the films I’ve seen in the theater, have been influenced either directly or indirectly by his work. You may have heard of a few of them. He worked on such titles as Iron Man, Batman, Justice League of America, and one of my personal favorites, The Flash. He created or influenced the character history significantly of characters like Thanos (the big bad guy from Avengers: Endgame), Drax (of Guardians of the Galaxy fame), Ant-Man and Adam Warlock who I’m sure we’ll see more of in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3. But as impressive as that is, Mike is known for more than that. You may have heard of a little gathering of comic book fans called San Diego Comic Con. Over the years, they grew further and further away from being a comic book convention and became a multi-media convention. So Mike and some of his companions decided to create a convention that went back to its roots called WonderCon. Based up in the Bay Area, that convention grew and grew and grew until it caught the notice of an organization – Comic-Con International. ComicCon bought out WonderCon and now runs it as its second biggest gathering of the year. What I didn’t know was that Mike was also responsible for one of the first successful forays into independent publishing. Before there was a thing such as Image Comics, there was Star*Reach. Star*Reach was the flagship title as well as the company name and they published a number of different titles featuring such noted authors and artists as Jim Starlin, Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Lee Marrs. For his work, he is being recognized this year at Comic-Con with the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing. I love the way Mike conceptualized his career. He said, he started out writing stories about men who put on costumes to bring justice into the world, now he puts on his own (religious) costume to bring justice into the world. But what I think is one of Mike’s great gifts is not that he was a comic book writer, not that he was a publisher, not that he was a union rep for research scientists and technicians at Cal, and not that he founded his own successful comic con. All of those are pretty amazing, but at least two of the gifts Mike brings to God’s table is a spirit of innovation and perseverance. He is willing to try new things and comes up with unique ideas. He’s the first to admit they don’t always work, but he doesn’t let that deter him from trying different ideas to achieve his goal. For most of us, that kind of commitment to change and challenge is troublesome, but for Deacon Mike he embraces it. And now that he is working directly for the church he is using those talents in new ways for Christ.
You don’t have to become a deacon or a minister to serve God.
You can serve God in so many different capacities. The best way you can serve God is naturally. Finding a way to use your own unique gifts and talents in a way that helps to show the love of Christ to a world that needs it. To be bold for God in proclaiming his love through the ways you feel God is calling upon you. I know for Deacon Mike social justice is high on his list and he is gifted in that. I imagine he will do some wonderful things for God’s kingdom by being an advocate for those who don’t have a voice and I believe he will use his gifts of innovation and perseverance to serve God in a way that will make a difference in a field he is passionate about. What are you passionate about? How does your passion fit into God’s kingdom? How can you use your gifts, your talents, and your passion to challenge yourself to grow in faith, to move closer to Christ, and to serve his kingdom?
Growing up one of my favorite comic books was called “What if?”
And they explored alternate timelines where our heroes made different choices that would lead to different outcomes and I was always fascinated by what I would find inside. Sometimes those choices would lead to a vision for a bright future and sometimes it would lead toward the spectre of lost potential. But it was always up to the author to decide what road to follow. You have a choice as you always have. Will you use the gifts God has given you to lead you to the life he has planned for you? Or will your life be one of lost potential? Pray this week for the Holy Spirit to open you up to his movement in your life. Pray about being open to where God is leading. And be ready to step through the doors God opens up for you, because if you’re willing God is waiting to give you the life he has promised.