Here we are in December! We’re in the midst of preparing for and celebrating Christmas. But my mind is already going toward 2017 and at the same time, looking back and remembering 2016. This year gets a mixed review. A lot of good things – very good things – happened in 2016…and a few not so good things. God doesn’t promise that all will be easy. But He does promise to be with us and see us through every experience. In Jeremiah 29:11 God says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (ESV). Even when we go through tough things, even harmful things, God promises his children that He is with us, and nothing surprises Him!
Here at Marshfield First Baptist, we have had a year of growing stronger. “Stronger” has been our theme for the year. I pray that we have, in fact, grown stronger; stronger prayer lives, stronger faith, stronger families, stronger as disciples of Jesus. I believe that simply having an overarching theme like “Stronger” has given us some greater unity and cohesiveness. We saw several individuals choose to follow Jesus and be baptized! They joined in on this journey with us as we follow Jesus together – a journey where we have grown stronger. And we’re not finished growing stronger. It’s a lifelong endeavor!
Before the beginning of the year, our ministry staff prayed together as we planned to go on this “Stronger” journey. As we prayed, we realized that there would be some challenges to getting stronger. In fact, the very desire to be stronger means one has to face challenges and be pushed farther than before, even farther than you thought you could go, or farther than you wanted to go. We have experienced some of that. Early in the year, over a period of about nine weeks we walked with several families in our church as they experienced the death of loved ones. Many of those had followed Jesus for decades and lived a full life of honoring God. One in particular was in the prime of life, impacting many for Christ, and yet his days on earth were suddenly over. Chris Lorenz’ funeral was one of the most uplifting worship services I’ve ever been a part of! His testimony is still impacting people!
On a personal level, 2016 marked my third trip to Israel to be involved in a new love: archaeological digs with a group called Associates for Biblical Research. And in another week I’ll be back in Israel with them to finish out the year. I love being in the land of the Bible, learning more and seeing the archaeological evidence of what Scripture says. But ten days after returning from Israel, I had a new and not so welcomed experience – an unexpected and unexplained cardiac event in which my heart stopped for 48 seconds. God had me in the presence of a trained paramedic who saved my life! A few weeks of recovery and learning to deal with stress in some new and better ways and I feel stronger (speaking of stronger) than ever! God spoke to me through that episode and is still teaching me about the urgency of honoring and obeying Him with every part of life. And in June while I was recovering, my sister and her family moved in with us as she received more cancer treatment. They came back to the States from Canada where they had been serving the Lord. In September Deidre went to be with the Lord. It was a painful time, but through all of that, God has shown His great love and mercy, to my brother-in-law and the kids, and to my family through a very strong and caring church! It is gratifying and humbling to be on the receiving end of ministry. I am so very thankful for Marshfield First Baptist! In the midst of these challenges, two incredible blessings arrived in the form of our second and third grandchildren, Theo and Liberty, who add so much joy to our growing family!
Not only does God say “I know the plans I have for you…” but He also says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). Being stronger means being stretched, being challenged, and even being tired; but it also means God equips us to keep walking with Him. He gives us the strength to do what He has created us to do! God has an amazing way of turning weakness into strength. The Apostle Paul said it like this: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10, ESV).
2016 has been a year of growing stronger with our church family as we have worshipped together, studied the Word together, and served together. Growth has also come through things we would have never chosen, but that is really where the growth comes. We don’t get stronger without resistance and discipline and learning to trust God through all of it! How have you grown stronger this year?
(First published at www.MarshfieldFirst.org)