What To Pack?

Proverbs 16

16The plans of the mind belong to mortals,
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.
2All one’s ways may be pure in one’s own eyes,
but the Lord weighs the spirit.
3Commit your work to the Lord,
and your plans will be established. . .
9The human mind plans the way,
but the Lord directs the steps.

Matthew 10: 5-14

What To Pack?

          What to Pack? Hmmm . . . You’re headed out to door for a weekend get-away.  Are you carrying a duffle bag containing a bath suit and flip flops?  Or dragging a steamer trunk stuffed with clothes, shoes, cosmetics, and electronic devices?  People pack in such different ways.  My dad was fond of stuffing a few things in a paper grocery sack, cinching it with a piece of rope, and ta-da! Son Ben is a strategic packer.  He first determines the length of any trip, computing it underwear – Is it a 3 underwear trip or a five?  Then he lays everything out on his bed and packs it neatly in his bag — in reverse order:  putting the clothes he plans to wear last on the bottom, and ending with the first night’s pajamas on  top!  In contrast, I am a terrible packer!  Invariably, I pull from the closet some outfit I never wear at home but am suddenly convinced it will be the perfect thing for Paris!   My friend Ginger, a veteran world traveler, can pack for two weeks in a suitcase small enough to fit in the overhead compartment of the plane.

While I love the idea of traveling light, it takes nerve!  I am reminded of Erma Bombeck’s story about buying a 6-piece madras mix and match outfit for a bus trip.  Every day, she wore some exotic combination of those six pieces.  Sometimes, she would tie the scarf around her waist, sometimes drape it dramatically over her shoulders, and sometimes wrap it around her head, bohemian-style.  She was so proud of having a new and exotic look each day, but her fellow travelers were less enthusiastic.  “On day 5,” she wrote in her hilarioius memoire, “they voted the scarf off the bus!”

Well . . . what does this have to do with today’s text.  Jesus sends his twelve disciples out to evangelize the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  They are going to be traveling on foot for an indefinite period of time — curing the sick, cleansing lepers, casting out demons, and raising the dead.  A huge assignment . . .

And surely one of them thinks to ask, “Lord, how will we survive? Where will we stay?  Will someone pay us for this?  Should we pack for a week or a year?”

From my standpoint, these are very reasonable questions.  Someone gives me an assignment or sends me out on a mission, I need a plan!  Where do I go?  Where will I stay? What will I eat? How much money will I need?  And . . . what should I pack?  I need to get a handle on this!

But Christ is short on practical details.  He says only, “Don’t take any money with you, and don’t accept any payment.  Don’t take a suitcase.  Don’t take an extra pair of shoes or even a clean shirt. Don’t take a bologna sandwich. Wherever you are, find out who is a worthy person in that neighborhood and stay at their house. You deserve your room and board.” //

Sure, Jesus, we are just going to head out the door, penniless, and look for someone to take us in.

“Yep,” Christ says, “that’s the plan.”

Now if I am Peter or John, I am feeling very uneasy!  Like heading for the beach without visiting the bank machine, without packing a single thing, without making a reservation.  Poor planning!  Vacation on collision course for disaster!

Except there is an important distinction.  The disciples aren’t headed for a vacation at Myrtle Beach.  The opposite, in fact:  They have been commissioned to cure people and raise people from the dead.  This will be a working trip.  They will be laboring, and “laborers,” Christ says, “deserve their food.”  Even more importantly, Christ’s insistence that they take nothing with them renders them  totally reliant on God — for every roof over their head, for every bite they eat, for every drink of water.

Why does Christ insist on this kind of reliance? Especially when their mission is so important?  Let’s explore that.

Have you ever – even for one hour—been totally reliant on God?  Was there a time when you had no back-up plan?  No other escape route?  No way, at all, of providing for yourself except God’s grace?  Such times are usually life-and-death crises – dangling from a cliff by your fingertips, or clinging to life in a hospital bed, or trapped alone in a cave.

Honestly, most of the time, I have relied primarily on my own plans with God’s plan as the back-up.  I try to make plans that are in accordance with God’s will, but they are –nevertheless—basically, my plans.

It is a classic tension:  our will vs. God’s will.  Our purpose vs. God’s purpose.  Everything in our secular world encourages independence and planning – spacing out our children, applying early to college, purchasing warranties on our appliances, setting aside savings for retirement, making pre-arrangements for our funerals.  It gives us peace of mind to know we have thought of everything, planned well, and there will be no surprises.

The surprise is on us, however.  Proverbs 16: 9 says, “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.”  God has the last word.  He will steer us by his plans.  He, not us, is in control.  We may leave for Myrtle Beach and wind up in Kansas. //

When we were newly-weds, Randy and I had ambitious couple-friends. Steve and Rhea, while still in their twenties, had planned their lives – practically to the day.  They knew when they would move here, be promoted to there, when they would purchase a two-story Colonial in the suburbs, when their 2.5 children would be born, etc. . . .

We haven’t seen them in 40 years, but it would be fun to know how those plans played out!  I wouldn’t be surprised if they hadn’t been to Kansas a few times!

But we all have tendencies to make plans that, over time, harden into concrete.  Achieving those self-determined goals becomes an obsession that blinds us to other chances and possibilities.  We don’t ask God for direction, we don’t seek his input in our decisions, we grow deaf to his calling.  And that’s when we really get in trouble.  We miss the most exciting opportunities to serve God because we cannot let go of our own plans and be spontaneous with God.

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God says, “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live, for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” [Isaiah 55: 3, 8-9].  Through Jeremiah, God gave this assurance to the Hebrew exiles in Babylon:  “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: 11].

Though maybe a little short on practical details, Christ clearly gave his disciples God’s plan – which included their GPS coordinates:  “Don’t go to the Gentiles.  Begin with the lost sheep of Israel.  If a town will not welcome you, shake off the dust from your feet and move on.”   This would be their destination; to heal and raise to life, their assignment; and the imminent Kingdom of God, their message.  These were their marching orders; they were not to make to make their own plans.

 

 

“If you stick with my plan,” Christ says, “I will direct your steps and provide for your needs. But,  your power to heal and raise the dead depends on your being totally reliant on God.  The less you trust yourself, the more you will trust me.  The less you have, the more I will give.  Your spiritual wealth depends upon your obedience and material dependency. REPEAT

What about us?  If we seek God’s plan and God’s power, does it require selling everything we have and striking out with nothing in our pockets?  Short of that extreme, what is the take-away message?

There is something we can do – two things.   First, we may not be able to live empty-handed, but we can pack light as we travel through this life.  We can amass less stuff.  Less stuff we have to clean, polish, repair, and get rid of when we are sent on a mission for Christ.  And less stuff that we come to believe defines us!  Henry David Thoreau wrote, “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”  Sadly, most of us can’t seem to resist the things we should let alone!  They pile up around us, anchoring our feet and our loyalty to one place and one way of living.  We consult our bank accounts before we consult God.

As a consequence, we aren’t light on our feet.  We are like boxers who put on extra pounds.  // We can’t move fast enough; we’re sluggish and slow.  When God offers us an opportunity, we can’t move fast enough or think quickly enough to respond. We’re down for the count!

Secondly, we must let God direct our steps, praying, fasting, listening, searching God’s word for his direction.  Waiting when God says wait, and going when God says go.  It’s all about trusting God to provide the plan and the means of serving Him.

The past two years have thrust this church into a greater reliance on God’s plans.  We have trusted Him to provide the people, the offerings, the leadership, the direction.   I have trusted Him to enable me to do what I am doing.  And you have accepted my best efforts.  We – and especially our PNC – have learned to wait for God’s timing and to trust God to send his chosen servant here.  I think we have found spiritual strength through the process.  And God has, indeed, prospered us beyond what we might have expected.

So – trust God for the plan, pack light for the journey – and, whether you touch down in Kansas or Cairo, you’ll have a powerful ministry!   AMEN!