Grace & Faith

GFaith &Grace.pngrace is the overflowing and ever-flowing stream of God’s love, and faith is one of the things that enables us to experience that love more fully. Sometimes that experience comes at God’s initiation even without faith, as in moments of great crisis.

It’s important to distinguish between belief and faith –

  • I believe that a parachute can hold me and take me safely to the ground.
  • I don’t have faith enough in that belief to actually trust my life to it and jump out of the plane.

We can think similarly about belief and faith in relation to God –

  •  many people believe that God exists
  •  a different (smaller?) set of people act on that belief with their faith
  •  some people even have faith without much belief (content, doctrine) behind it
  •  If you have to choose between belief and faith, I think faith will take you further into peace and joy

Some people confuse faith & belief with fully understanding everything – “I won’t / can’t have faith because I don’t understand xyz about God, life, the universe” this often happens when people can’t reconcile ideas – such as the relationship between science and religion (which are compatible) or when bad things happen to good people, or when “believers” behave badly.

For Christians (and Jews and Muslims) faith is the active living of the relationship with the God in whom we have come to believe through our religious tradition (scripture, teaching, practices, etc). Followers of Jesus have the added blessing that our faith is rooted in Jesus, the Christ, who we believe to have been the full embodiment of God on earth, and also fully human. He is therefore at the same time (1) our object of faith, (2) our source of grace, and (3) our model for how humanity lives in faith and receives grace. One could say that Grace is God’s way of showing us love, and active faith is our way of showing our love to God. Yet even faith itself is a gift of God’s grace “so that no one can boast.” and we have received this gift of faith by grace because “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2)


A brief word study from the New Testament (using


One of the translation difficulties lies in the fact that the Greek word “pistis” is sometimes translated “faith” and other times translated “belief”. Either way, in the biblical usage it is always to be understood as an active verb – as something one acts upon, or upon which one stands. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  (Hebrews 1:1)

  • Galatians 2:20   20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.


Grace is the intentional and relational sharing of love that takes action and produces results in the recipient’s life. Divine Grace is God reaching out to us to bless us. Grace is sometimes defined as “unmerited favor – the giving of an undeserved gift” whereas mercy is “unmerited leniency – the withholding of a deserved punishment”.

Grace and Faith together

On the relationship between the two – Faith is one of the gifts that comes through God’s grace, and it only comes as a gift of grace.

  • Romans 1:5 NIV  5 Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.
  • Romans 4:16 NIV  16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
  • Romans 5:2 NIV  2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
  •  Romans 12:3 NIV  3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
  •  2 Corinthians 8:7 NIV  7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you —see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
  • Ephesians 2:8 NIV  8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—
  • 1 Timothy 1:14 NIV  14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Grace & Faith


The Invisible God Made Visible


Thesis: Christ is the fullness of God made visible. God-invisible-and-unknowable becomes concretized for humanity and creation in the Christ. Love, flourishing and wholeness are the marks of God’s true nature and will for us. As the church, the “Body of Christ”, “the continuation of the incarnation” (my phrase), we are called (and gifted!) to tell that story and bear witness in both our words and our embodied lives.


ALL THINGS exist in Christ - fb.pngPaul is unequivocal that in Jesus, the Christ, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Col 1:19). He makes no real attempt to explain the metaphysics. Whether he wasn’t interested, or just recognized the futility, who knows. The closest we get may be John’s prologue:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…  14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.  (John 1)

The LOGOS of GOD – the word, mind, thoughts, heart, wisdom of God. This has echoes of earlier writings:

Wisdom Speaks:

Proverbs 3:13 Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding, 14 for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold. 15 She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. 16 Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. 17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. 18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy. 19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; 20 by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.

Proverbs 8: 22 The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth— 26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. 27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

Solomon, in writing to his sons, seems to foreshadow the truth of the incarnation. And he recognizes that this Wisdom of God in and by which the worlds came to be is something which can also dwell within and among us. God’s imagining and creating wisdom is not reserved for the divine, but is intended for us to experience and embody.


All things are created in, by and through the Christ, the Logos of God. This Christ became flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus, who fully embodied the Godhead. Again, this is a mystery that must be taken on faith, for the human mind and languages cannot comprehend or explain it.

Created in God’s image, we humans are free to choose how we will use our power. And often we use it to serve ourselves at the exclusion and to the detriment of others. This is the origin of sin and the source of much human suffering. It is the reason we need redemption. We need to be not rescued from an angry God, but reconciled back to God because of the natural consequences of our own individual and collective selfishness.


All things are redeemed in, by and through the Christ, the Logos of God. This Christ was crucified in the flesh in Jesus, and thus the fullness of God entered into, took on, and traveled through the brokenness of humanity. And in so doing, God redeemed our sin and the suffering of all creation, reconciling us to God’s self – “…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…” (2 Cor 5). But the work is not yet done.


We are held, and “held together” in the abiding love of God made known in Jesus. We means not just Christians, but all humanity – those who know and believe the story, those who reject it because it has been misrepresented, and those who have never heard it. And not just humanity, but all of creation.

Julian of NorwichJulian of Norwich envisioned this aspect of God as if someone were holding a hazelnut in the palm of her hand, and that small thing represented all of the known universe and the history of humanity past, present and future. Mirabai Starr’s translation is a moving and accessible edition of this writing. Whether a hazelnut, acorn, or something more relevant to your context, the impact is the same – God holds, nurtures, and preserves creation, life, existence itself.


The Works of God are not just something that happened one time, long ago and far away. When Jesus said, “It is finished” he meant his work was done. Our work was just entering a new stage of development as God’s children on earth. Paul goes so far as to say that “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” Surely he does not intend to imply that anything was imperfect or lacking in God’s ability to redeem Christ’s death to accomplish our reconciliation. Rather, it is the continuing spreading of the message, and the living embodiment of that life, that Paul intends to illustrate here. What was “lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the church” is in fact that they were time bound – they happened. In the Roman Catholic Mass rite, and in some other traditions, this is addressed by proclaiming that Christ continues to be crucified in the flesh in the mass. For Paul, it was a matter of living sacrificially for the sake of others, so that they could encounter this creating, reconciling, sustaining love of God in Christ for themselves. This is “the continuation of the incarnation” – that we who desire and claim to be followers of Jesus are in point of fact the actual ongoing embodiment of the incarnate Word. This is why Paul offers such stern cautions:  “23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven….  28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Col 1) When we accept as true the hope offered in Christ, and then blaspheme it, we mount up obstacles that hinder others from encountering the living Christ still incarnate in the world. True, God will find a way to work around us to reach people, but 1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2 It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”  (Luke 17)

 Let’s say you decided to build a house for your family. You spent months looking at other homes to identify the very best features that will serve to create a wonderful environment for you to live your lives together, and to warmly welcome friends and strangers. You select only the best materials, and hire the most skilled artisans and craftspeople in every field. The lot you select is accessible and connected with neighbors, while providing a sense of peace and security and privacy, all with amazing views and just the right mix of sun and shade. You spare no expense in the construction and take all the time needed to complete every detail with excellence.

Unfortunately, you’re not done, are you? Designing and building the house is just the beginning. For it to become a home, you must occupy it. Eventually, after several years of waiting, you and your family finally move in and occupy a fully furnished home of your dreams that exceeds every expectation and hope you could imagine.

Now you’re finished, right? Well, not actually. You still need to heat and cool it. You need clean water coming in and waste being processed out effectively. And your family needs to eat, so you need some food coming in and being prepared regularly also.abandoned house ohio.JPG

OK, that’s it. Now you can rest. Nope. The home needs to be cleaned inside, and the yard maintained outside. Plus, occasional preventive maintenance will help protect your investment – keeping windows and doors sealed, and a good coat of paint on all the woodwork. We’ve all seen images, like this, of houses that were lovingly designed, constructed and occupied, but somewhere in time they got lost, forgotten, abandoned and neglected. The result is no surprise, but it is a sad outcome.

The same story could be told about our own personal physical bodies – they are given to us as a sacred trust to indwell, in and through which to experience the fullness of this life. But if we only treat them as a vessel, and do not care for them, then they will likely ultimately betray and fail us. This might happen anyway, for reasons beyond our control or influence (like when our home gets struck by lightning and burns down – not much we could have done). But it will most surely happen if we willfully neglect the very basics of self-care – healthy food, clean water, regular exercise and rest, safety from undue risk. These basic are like attending to the needs of the house to keep it strong and functioning well so that it can in turn serve us and meet our needs.

Now imagine we are talking about the church. This same narrative threat follows, but God is the designer and builder, and we are the occupants charged with its ongoing care, indwelling, usefulness and hospitality. Will we, like Paul, complete the work that is lacking? Will we work in our own lives, in our church, and support others toward “maturity in Christ.”

And this maturity, by the way, is not a destination or a stopping place either, but a way of being. It is a continual living embodiment of the incarnation, the indwelling of Christ in us as we indwell the world. It does no good for us to indwell the world if Christ is not in us, nor for Christ to indwell us if we are not in the world. God invites and asks both of us.

Paul enjoins the Colossians, and us, with the words of this ancient Hymn exalting Christ, and then immediately uses it as a platform from which to argue the importance of his own continuing ministry. Similarly does he call us to faithfully join him in the ongoing work of living and proclaiming the incarnate wisdom of God in Jesus Christ that Creates, Reconciles, and Preserves God’s great experiment of love that we know as this earthly, soulful life.


Text: Colossians 1:15-28; Also: Genesis 18:1-10a; Luke 10:38-42

#1 – Ken G Crawford (C) 2016



Synchronous Life – Honoring Occupation

(Sermon Study Notes for 032016 – Download PDF here)

We are meant for work, and for Good works. In the very beginning stories of human life meaningful work was seen as an essential element of our existence. Work can be a means by which we honor and glorify God, or it can distract us and destroy that which is good.

Sermon Study Notes – 032016 – Exodus 36:1-7

Occupation means not only what we do to earn income and thus purchase the things we need to live. The literal definition is “anything that occupies your time” – therefore watching TV, doing yard work, writing a poem or cooking a meal – these are all occupations. For the purposes of the Synchronous Life discussion, occupations are those things that are done external to oneself. Thus thinking a poem is an intellectual activity, while writing or reciting it to someone is an occupation.

The text for today (Exodus 36:1-7, see also Exodus 31:1-11) demonstrates how God has gifted and called particular individuals to occupations whereby they will do something or make something, and thus contribute positively to the community. They have been “blessed to be a blessing” (Genesis 12). As background for this, we have also Genesis 1:26-2:9, excerpts from the first and second creation stories that illustrate how God made human kind with occupation as integral to our created nature – to care for creation and one another, and thereby provide our livelihood and develop society.

In the texts from Exodus we see that some work serves the purpose of enabling or enhancing the worship life of the community. Not that we must have a structure within which to worship, or instruments and musicians to lead us, or vessels and other objects for our use in worship. These are not, strictly speaking, necessary. And yet they are helpful. They can aid in drawing us in and holding us together as a community and focusing our attention on God. (NOTE: They can also become obstacles, when they become the objects of worship rather than tools that facilitate worship – that is the definition of idolatry.)

Think about the place, the space, and the objects used in your experiences of worship. How are they helpful, and how might they become a hindrance? Which ones do you personally use, and which are used by others, though perhaps for your benefit – i.e. you use a hymnal and the communion trays, but do not personally play the organ. Give thanks for those who made all of these things, those who gave the money for them, and those who maintain and prepare themselves to make worshipful use of them – all of these are expressions of occupation. Now think about all of the rest of the church life – study, fellowship, service, evangelism, administration – and all of the items used, and by whom. Think over all of the various occupations that go into making a church function well. In which of these are you now or have you been involved? How have you helped make these things possible? When can you recall that these things became sources of struggle or conflict in the life of a congregation?

What about today and tomorrow? How are you currently involved? What is your occupation in the life of faith through the congregation or community where you are connected? What might you do differently? Various occupations suit us during the changing seasons of our lives. Yet there is always something we contribute to those around us and to the world. What is it for you?


Questions for Reflection:

Occupation is one of the Six Domains of a Synchronous Life:
Spiritual / Physical – Emotional / Relational – Intellectual / Occupational

  1. How is your occupational life important in your faith journey and relationship with God? How has that changed over time? Remember, this applies not only to what you do to earn income, but any activities – work, hobbies, etc.
  2. When might occupations cause problems for someone’s spiritual journey?
  3. Where in our community and culture do you see occupations to be vibrant and life-giving? Where are they being applied with wisdom, resulting in righteousness, justice and equity?
  4. Where in your own personal life does your occupational life get expressed? How do you keep it active and vibrant?
  5. What might a church, The Church, and our church, do to support people in their occupational lives – in the pursuit of meaningful work and activities that help them become better people and receive God’s blessings so that they can bless others?
  6. How do occupations impact the other areas of life – spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, intellectual? What might you do, and what might the church do, to help people better integrate, harmonize, and synchronize the energy and vitality in each of these other areas with their occupational lives?
  7. How have you, and how can you, share your occupations with others? Who have you apprenticed, taught, mentored in a skill or knowledge area of yours? Again, this can be a “work” or “hobby” or “volunteer” activity.
  8. When has God shown up in your occupational life? When have you been active in some task or another and become aware of God’s presence, or God working in, through or around you to bless others, yourself, and the world at large?


Worship Resources for 032016

CtW – Psalm 90 sv

Leader: Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

People: You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

Leader: Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

People: Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.

Unison: May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.

Prayer of Confession: UCC Book of Worship 36a

Text: Exodus 36:1-7
Title: Synchronous Life – Honoring Occupations
Also:  Genesis 1:26-2:9

We are meant for work, and for Good works. In the very beginning stories of human life meaningful work was seen as an essential element of our existence. Work can be a means by which we honor and glorify God, or it can distract us and destroy that which is good.







Exodus 36

1 So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the LORD has commanded.” 2 Then Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD had given ability and who was willing to come and do the work. 3 They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. 4 So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing 5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done.” 6 Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, 7 because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.


Exodus 31

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. 6 Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: 7 the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— 8 the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, 9 the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— 10 and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.”

The Question of Ministry

“If the question is ministry… the answer is ‘Yes.’” *

1) Proclaim the Gospel – God’s “Good News”
2) Make Disciples of Jesus among all peoples

These two central tasks of The Church are also responsibilities of every local congregation. At their core, they both necessitate regularly dreaming, developing and deploying new ministries.

If “Proclaim the Gospel” is our calling and our goal, then ministry is how we do that – whether preaching, teaching, planning and leading worship, or feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and those in prison. Through time we will need to develop new ways to do these ancient tasks – as we change and the community around us changes – to meet people’s need and ability to hear and respond.

We “Make Disciples” when we help people respond to the call Jesus places on their lives to follow Him (Matthew 4), and then help them grow toward maturity in him (Ephesians 4). As a result of their response to Jesus, they will engage in ministry, and some (many?) will be led to develop new ministries or expand existing ones in new ways.

So to accomplish these most basic goals of our purpose as a church – “Proclaim the Gospel” and “Make Disciples” – we will need to be developing new ministries.

How does this happen?

  • Sometimes we will be brought or become aware of a need, and we will want to respond to it.
  • Other times we will go out, explore and ask questions, thus identifying an opportunity for ministry.
  • And still other times someone will have an interest or passion, and feel prompted to imagine a new ministry emerging in that area.

Our responsibility as a congregation is to nurture and support these developments.

How do we do this?

  • We preach and teach, promote and encourage, that people imagine and explore new ministry opportunities. “Every follower of Christ is ordained to ministry at baptism.”
  • We invite people into conversation to think about what they need to be successful.

Some questions we ask early on:

  • How does it make stewardship use of our resources and assets?
  • How can it make a positive impact in some way?
  • How can we support people as they pursue this idea?
  • How might it impact our other ministries? Confer with those leaders early.
  • How will it help people connect with God, self, each other, their neighbors?
  • Who else might want to be a part of this project?

Some questions we hold till later:

  • Do we have enough people to make this work?
  • Do we have enough knowledge or skill? Do we know how to do it?
  • Do we have enough money or other resources to make this work?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Will everyone want to participate?
  • Will everyone be happy about this?
  • Will we be able to sustain it long term?
  • Did we try it before and it failed? If so, do we know why?
  • What are the obstacles that might prevent success?

Our responsibility is not to find obstacles and reasons why something can’t or shouldn’t happen. Our task is to look and listen for the new things that God desires to do among us (Isaiah 43:19).

Some of our ministries are simply “the things churches do” –worship, teach, pray, fellowship, serve others, study scripture and theology. In these areas there is always opportunity for exploring new expressions that will touch hearts, minds and lives in new ways, even while honoring our heritage and the things that have spoken most deeply to our souls through many decades.

Others may fall outside of what we think of as “traditional” ministries. Keep in mind that Sunday School, so central to 20th century church life, was a novel and disruptive innovation in the 19th century.

Let’s remember also that you and I needn’t have any interest or ability in a particular area in order for us to be encouraging and supportive of someone else’s efforts to start a new ministry. Paul’s teaching about the various parts of the Body of Christ is particularly helpful here (Romans 12 & 1 Corinthians 12).

We are surrounded by a culture of scarcity, of limited resources, of win/lose propositions. In contrast, the Bible tells us that “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24). There is no real lack of resources. There is more than enough to accomplish all that God desires. If we will do our part, make the contribution that is ours to give, then God promises to do the rest. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Malachi 3:10) We have no way of knowing how, when, from whom or where God will make provision. What we do have is this promise: God can do “immeasurably far more than all we can ask or imagine, according to his power that is [already] at work within us.” (Ephesians 3).

Church, as we approach the season of Giving Thanks, and await the Advent of God’s appearing, let us hope and pray that we may be faithful, and in turn that we may…

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

* Thanks to one of my mentors, Rev. Dr. Larry Ross, for the introductory quote. I have heard him say this repeatedly over the last 15 years, and I think it is such an important starting principle for congregations, judicatories, and other ministries.

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)