Jeremiah 29 (NKGCV)

(The following is my own modified translation from Jeremiah 29, following closely the NRSV. NKGCV => New Ken G Crawford Version)

This text, I believe, is both central to our understanding of God’s call upon the church, and terribly misunderstood by congregations and especially when applied to individual lives. I invite you to read the text, and then I’ll explain why I think this is true.

4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, says the Lord. 10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.

11 For surely I know the dreams I dream for you, says the Lord,
dreams for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Again, v 11 “For surely I know the dreams I dream for you, says the Lord,dreams for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Those familiar with this passage typically know it with the word “plans” where I have translated “dreams.” The Hebrew is “Machashabah”  (thought, device, plan, purpose,invention) from “Chashab” which can mean “to plan” but also means imagine, consider, think upon, recon, and esteem. “Plan” is an unfortunate and limiting translation because of it’s concrete and specific connotations in our modern culture. We think of building plans, schematics, of a plan for a trip or event, that has every detail clarified and managed. By implication, then, this would suggest that God’s intentions toward us are similarly concrete, specific and managed town to the last detail. Two problems with this, biblically speaking: 1) The text is about “The People of God”, not about an individual or individuals; and 2) the scripture simply does not support the notion that God has every detail thought out in advance. If that were true, then our task would be to discern and follow every micro step in our journey. At any point in time there would be one and only one right and perfect place and way to be in the world, everything else would put us outside of God’s perfect will and plan for us.

Certainly there are times when the Spirit does seem to have a concrete and specific intention in mind for us, individually and collectively. Those moments appear in scripture as well – and they are the exponential exception, not the rule. Take the story of David, for example. We have dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of days accounted for in his life. This leaves the vast majority of days unaccounted for. This does not mean God was absent (“Where can I flee from your presence?” Ps 139:7) but rather that God’s presence is more like the wind that blows, as Jesus suggests (John 3:8). Some will counter with “All our steps are ordered by the Lord” (Prov 20:24). I would submit that we hear Proverbs in light of Psalms “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a Light to my path” (Ps 119:105) and understand that God’s Word and Spirit are leading and guiding us in the way of righteousness, but not micromanaging our choices along that way. Each day may present us with multiple good and right options for living our lives. Righteousness comes in fidelity to God’s spirit i the choosing, and in our commitment to the choices we have made, recognizing that each “Yes” also brings multiple “No”s. My yes to my wife means my no to that kind of intimacy with all other people. My yes to my children means my no to pursuing my own interests (and even what call I think God may have placed on my life) at their expense.

What of these dream then? How and when do they come? The context gives us those answers. God says, “Bloom where you are planted. Bless those around you, even if you see them as your enemies. For your blessing hangs directly on your willingness and actions to bless others.” So, while I am waiting for God’s dream to be revealed and fulfilled in my own life, I am to be faithful to the call of this larger context from Jeremiah 29. I am to to as Micah 6:8 direccts “Do justice together with God. Love mercy together with God. Walk humbly together with God. This is the whole of what God requires of you.” (NKGCV)

“What did you come here for?” a reflection on Mark 1 vs29-39

In preparation for sermon on 02122012

It would have been easy for Jesus at this moment to be caught up in the cult of personality. Already Peter says, “Everyone is searching for you.” One might think, “Oh great! This ministry is really starting to take off here in Capernaum. We’ll establish our base here, and once it is good and solid then we will branch out to the surrounding country. That could have been a good ministry plan for someone. In fact, it is the plan that Paul followed in Corinth and Ephesus and other places.

This story illustrates the importance of discerning a vision for ministry. We need to answer the question, “What did you come here for?” And by that, I don’t mean, “What did you come here to get.” But rather, “What did you come here to do? What is God desiring to accomplish in the world through you?

Let’s remember some of what Paul says about his own ministry:

I planted, Apollos watered, and God gave the growth.” (1 Cor 3:6)

I am glad that I did not baptize,… for Christ did not send me to baptize, but to proclaim the gospel…” (1 Cor 1:14,17)

You see, it is not enough for us to simply say, “Our task as church is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.” Or even, “Our mission is to Make Disciples.” Or to list the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, from which Rick Warren derived the “5 Purposes of a Purpose Driven Church.” All of these are true, but only in the most general and vague ways. They still don’t tell me what I am supposed to do. They don’t tell us what we as a congregation are meant to do – are we to plant, or to water? Are we to baptize or to preach? Are we to stay in one spot and build a strong ministry or “go to other towns and proclaim the good news there as well, for that is what [God sent us] to do”?

If we are not clear about what God intends for Forest Grove, then we will do lots of good stuff, but miss the center of God’s will and blessing for us. There are a great many details and decisions in our lives that God leaves up to us. God may not have a preference on each person’s career, vocation, location, family relationships, etc.  There is no indication in scripture that every person or group should anticipate and search for a unique calling like that of David or Moses or Paul, much less that of Jesus. AND YET, we are unique individuals, with different experiences, personalities, talents and gifts, all of which God can and will use to further God’s glory and establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. God will work through our uniqueness if we offer it up in worship and prayer.

So, perhaps it is not so much that God has one and only one preferred dream for Forest Grove – only one right answer to our questions – so that if we fail to hear properly, we will miss the real blessing in our lives and fail to be the real blessing God calls us to be. But, how can we know unless we ask, seek, and knock? I think we dare not go through life assuming that God doesn’t care. Rather, let us “do everything for the glory of God.”1 Cor 10:31) Let us pray that God will guide us toward the fullest expression of the image of God in us. (Gen 1:26-27) Let us pray that we will “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Eph 4:15) If we release control of our own lives to God, then whatever God desires to do, however fully God desires to lead and guide, we will be open to follow. This does not mean that we release responsibility. We are still accountable to God, self and others for our life and its impact in the world. Rather, we live with a sense of hope, expectation and freedom that the Spirit is at work in the world in and through us, that the reign of God is being established in justice, righteousness and love with mercy and grace. God clearly has a will, or Jesus would be teaching us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The question is how we are to join in, how we are a part, or more specifically partners with God in answering that prayer. So when others around you say, “You need to do this,” or, “We need to do that,” you are able to let your yes be yes and your no be no, because with Jesus you are able to answer the question, “What did you come here for?”

God has a plan for you.

Synchronous Life Ministries Logo 3You may have heard this phrase before. “God has a plan for your life.” One of the most often used scriptures in this conversation is from Jeremiah 29:11 “I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD, “Plans to bless you, not to harm you.” What a great promise God made through Jeremiah to the people of Jerusalem and Judah, his chosen people. As a community, as a family of faith under God, God desired and intended to bless them in a time to come. We need to be clear that this promise is not spoken to an individual, or a collection of individuals, but to the nation as a whole. Individualization of the text is a departure from Jeremiah’s message.
We also need to look at the preceding versed from the beginning of the chapter.(In fact, I might argue that if we want to claim any promise that we believe God offers in scripture, we ought to at least do the work of reading and understanding the message of the entire book in which that promise is found.) Earlier in chapter 29, The God of Israel says that the divine plan for the people of Judah is that they will remain exiled in Babylon for 70 years – at least 2.5 generations! So the promise of deliverance that is made to one group of adults will find its fulfillment in their great grandchildren! And what does God direct in the meantime? Settle in, and be a blessing to those around you so that you also may be blessed (Jer 29:4-7).
So we do have an expression of God’s plan and will for individuals in that particular situation – live where you are (“bloom where you’re planted”) and bless the people around you. And if we then revisit vs 11ff, we can see that God’s plan is to bless us, but God’s plan for us is dependent on our faithfulness toward God. When we go all the way back to the Exodus, we see that God’s plan was to lead the people from Egypt into the promised land – but they refused to go. So, god had that generation wander and die in the wilderness and allow their children to enter the land. The God of Israel has a general plan to bless the peopel of Judah out of Babylon in the future. God has a very specific plan for how they are to live out their relationship with God in the present by being just and righteous and gracious and merciful and loving toward the people around them – who by the way might be considered captors and thus enemies!
Take a moment to read Jeremiah chapter 24. It speaks not of God’s plan for the people in captivity – but of God’s opinion about them, attitude toward them. God sees them as good fruit, worthy to be blessed. God loves them and wants them to return to worship Him. It was their leaders who failed to keep them near to God and the covenant who are like rotten fruit before God’s eyes – they will be punished and set aside, says God. How often might we think of our times in captivity as God’s punishment toward us? In this story, the prophet tells us that the time of captivity is God’s way of drawing the people back, not of punishing them.
If we jump way forward to the teaching of Jesus, we find sermon upon sermon and story upon story about how we are to live. Paul, Peter, James and John offer the same kind of teaching in their letters. God’s plan for us is to live righteous and holy lives wherever we are, withwhom ever we find ourselves. And when God does call someone specifically to a particular task or ministry, they were not beforehand wandering around asking, “What is God’s plan for my life?” as though God had a job and a house and a spouse picked out for each person. Rather, they were seeking to live faithful lives in the families and professions they had chosen or made. Peter was content to be a fisherman when Jesus called him. Paul was a tentmaker content to do battle against the church in the name of the Mosaic law and way of serving God. Moses (to go back again) was content to be a shepherd on the mountains working for his father-in-law.
God does have a plan for you, but it most likely is for you to live your life according to the teachings of Jesus, to share his love and gospel of salvation with others, however and wherever you find yourself. If God has something more specific for you, God will let you know. You do not need to expend great energy or anxiety trying to read God’s mind. Simply bless those around you and seek their welfare, for as they are blessed, so you will be blessed.