Category Archives: Beliefs

James MacDonald: Lean and Mean in 2017

This message was preached by Pastor James MacDonald at Harvest Bible Chapel on December 31, 2016.

Lean and Mean in 2017

Lean and mean = free from foolish and futile distractions

  • Foolish — things that I know better than to give my time and attention to
  • Futile — things that have been proven to yield no benefit

Jeremiah 29:11-14 (ESV)
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will hear you. You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

These verses are about God’s will for you. These verses are declaring, without equivocation, that God has a plan for your life.

“For” is the Greek translation in the Septuagint for “gar,” meaning “because” — because the children of Israel are currently living captivity in Babylon. The children of Israel are questioning God’s plan for their lives and His control of their lives. Sound familiar?

God’s Plan for Me

It’s a reasoned plan

For [gar, because] I know the plans I have for you…”

It’s because of something that He controls, not me.

Jeremiah 29:8-10 (ESV) — For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in My name; I did not send them, declares the Lord. For [gar] thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you My promise and bring you back to this place.

God is saying, “In the darkest of nights, I was always working.”

It’s a divine plan

“For I know the plans I have for you…”

It’s God’s plan, and no one else’s

It’s a specific plan

“For I know the plans I have for you…”

God has a specific plan for you. We can take comfort from this.

Nothing is happening in my life that He hasn’t allowed. Everything that happens in my life had to pass over God’s approval desk.

God’s plan has little or nothing to do with the areas we generally focus on:

  • Geography — where I live; which house I buy
  • Work — where I’m supposed to work; which job offer to accept
  • Marriage — who I should marry

Ephesians 5:17 (ESV) — Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 (ESV) — We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 (ESV) — For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.

The will of God is the Word of God. If God wanted to tell me, He would have put it in His Word.

God’s will for me is about the kind of person He’s trying to make me into.

It’s a personal plan

“For I know the plans I have for you…”

Just because it isn’t specific doesn’t mean it isn’t personal. Personal = God knows where I’m weak, where I’m deficient, where my character is strong and where it’s coming up short, where I will be tested and challenged in the coming days. God’s plan includes my preparation for victory on those points!

God is trying to change me so that He can prepare me for the specific things I will face in the year to come. That’s what the will of the Lord is.

It’s a settled plan

“…declares the LORD…”

When God speaks, everyone listens.

God is not making suggestions or offering things for consideration — “I know the plans I have for you!”

Someone’s in charge; it’s not me. Have I resigned as chairman of the board of my life yet?

It’s a beautiful plan

“…plans for your welfare…”

Welfare here means wellbeing, or peace.

It’s not a plan for evil. James 1:13 (ESV) — Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one.

God’s plans for me are not evil.

This doesn’t mean that His plans for me are not hard or frustrating at times, or will require waiting in faith.

God’s plan is to give me a future and a hope, because my commitment to God’s plan in my life will be tested.

It’s a plan that produces praise

“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will hear you.”

This is a statement of praise!

It’s a plan that produces surrender

“You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart.”

In 2017, God has a plan to get you further down the road of total surrender to Him.

Things that you think are over, are not over. Things that you think are done, are not done.

Ezekiel 37:1-6 (ESV) — The hand of the LORD was upon me, and He brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And He led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

Eagle Soaring

Those who trust in the LORD will find new strength

O Jacob, how can you say the LORD does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?

Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of His understanding.

He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.

Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion.

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31 (NLT)

The Glorious Unfolding

Take Another Step

A little over a year ago, two good friends introduced me to Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, “Take Another Step.” I was even privileged to be part of a group that performed this song as a special for my church. This song has meant a lot to me in the past few weeks and months as I’ve tried to follow God’s leading for me and my family.

Listen as Steven explains the meaning and significance behind the song:

Here are the lyrics and the song:

Well the band was playing, the flags were waving,
And there you were
In the middle of a sunny day parade.
The crowds were cheering, the sky was clear,
Not a worry in the world,
Marching on, sure and steady, strong and straight.
Take another step and another step and another step.

Then the lightning flashed, the thunder crashed,
And suddenly it began to rain
And everybody ran.
Then the sky went black as midnight
And you couldn’t see,
Paralyzed by what you just can’t understand.
And now here you are, you’re afraid to move,
You don’t know where to go, you don’t know what to do.

Take another step, take another step.
When the road ahead is dark,
And you don’t know where to go,
Take another step, take another step,
Trust God and take another step,
And another step, and another step,
Take another step, and another step, and another step.

“We walk by faith and not by sight,”
We know it’s true.
We say it and sing it and love the way it sounds.
But none of us can even begin to truly understand
What it really means ’til all the lights go out.
And there we are, nothing to hold on to
But the promises God’s made to me and you.

Take another step, take another step.
When the road ahead is dark,
And you don’t know where to go,
Take another step, take another step,
Trust God and take another step.

If there’s an ocean in front of you,
You know what you’ve gotta do:
Take another step, and another step.
Maybe He’ll turn the water into land,
And maybe He’ll take your hand and say,
“Let’s take a walk on the waves.
Will you trust Me either way?”
And take another step.
Take another step.

Take another step, take another step.
Trust God and take another step.
Take another step,
When the road ahead is dark,
And you don’t know where to go,
Take another step, take another step,
Trust God and take another step,
And another step, and another step, and another step.
Take another step, and another step, and another step.
Take another step, and another step, and another step.
Take another step, and another step, and another step.


Strength for today and Bright Hope for tomorrow

I woke up this morning with this phrase on my mind…

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow

It’s from the hymn, Great Is Thy Faithfulness.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not,
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided —
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace the endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!


You are not home yet!

The story is told of an old missionary named Samuel Morrison who, after twenty-five years in Africa, was returning to the United States to die. As it so happened, he traveled home on the same ocean liner that brought President Teddy Roosevelt back from a hunting expedition. When the great ship pulled into the New York harbor, the dock where it was to tie up was jammed with what looked like the entire population of New York City! Bands were playing, banners were waving, choirs of children were singing, multicolored balloons were floating in the air, flashbulbs were popping, and newsreel cameras were poised to record the return of the president.

Mr. Roosevelt stepped down the gangplank to thunderous cheers and applause, showered with confetti and ticker tape. If the crowd had not been restrained by ropes and police, he would have been mobbed!

At the same time, Samuel Morrison quietly walked off the boat. No one was there to greet him. He slipped alone through the crowd. Because of the crush of people there to welcome the president, he couldn’t even find a cab. Inside his heart, he began to complain, “Lord, the president has been in Africa for three weeks, killing animals, and the whole world turns out to welcome him home! I’ve given twenty-five years of my life in Africa, serving You, and no one has greeted me or even knows I’m here!”

In the quietness of his heart, a gentle, loving voice whispered, “But My dear child, you are not home yet!”

From The Vision of His Glory by Ann Graham Lotz


Thanks to social media and the Internet, we can be so much more aware of what is going on around us, but when the news is so often troubling, it can almost be overwhelming. I’ve been thinking about this section from Ephesians, praying it for myself and for friends and loved ones, that we would be strengthened through the Holy Spirit, that we would be rooted and grounded in love, that we would know and comprehend Christ’s love, and that we would be filled with God’s fullness.

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He is building a palace

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house.

At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.

Presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to?

The explanation: He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — a new wing, an extra floor, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a little cottage, but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

C.S. Lewis