Thursday, November 10, 2016

10 November 2016

This is what the Lord says: “You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NLT)

Good afternoon, welcome. Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of pulling a verse or two out of context, particularly Old Testament verses and especially verses from the Prophets, to make a point, although I have done it from time to time. There are several technical terms for this, and they basically have to do with things like taking selective portions out of context and giving them personal or modern applications they were never meant to have.[1] 2 Chronicles 7:14 is a classic example: “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land”. This promise was given to a specific person-Solomon-at a specific time-the dedication of the Temple-for a specific nation-Israel-in response to a specific condition-“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people…” (v.13). Does this mean it is bad to pray for your nation? Of course not. But the fact remains-the promise was given to Solomon for Israel sometime between 971-931 BCE, not to the United States in 2016.

That being said, since some of us may be feeling like we have just been sent into exile (and others of us, as if we have just been returned), I think our Jeremiah passage does have something to say to us today. First, let’s take a quick look at what it said to the original hearers.

Some false prophets had been telling the exiles in Babylon their situation was temporary and they would soon be returning home to Israel. God’s word to them-as we discussed yesterday-spoken through Jeremiah was something like this: “Don’t listen to them. I have not abandoned you but you won’t be returning any time soon either. Get comfortable, settle in, you’re in it for the long haul”. And then He promises restoration and blessing, words of comfort. We can, I think, without stretching things too far, infer from this that God had the Israelites best interests at heart. After all, our redemption-the ultimate in future hope and blessing-would come from them. While God may not have had a specific, individual plan for each specific individual Israelite, He did have specific plans for the exiles (and the nation) as a group, and He gave the group instructions for what He expected from individual members.

Fast forward to today. A very popular buzz phrase in evangelical circles for a while now has been ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’; taken, I think, from 29:11. Well, God does indeed have a wonderful plan for all of us: our redemption-accomplished once for all on the cross, and our restoration-the continuing process of developing Christ-like character in us. Plans to do us good, plans for a future and a hope; a here and now hope as well as a future hope. The other part of that plan-which I have emphasized here, over and over and over-is simply to be Christ’s presence wherever we are. Which is why forming Christ-like character is so important in the first place. As far as specific, individual plans go, well, that is something a little different.

Which leads me to calling. Briefly put, some of us are called to something specific-some ministry, for example, or the medical field, or teaching. In this case a specific calling leads to a career, more or less. For others of us, things aren’t so clear. There may be any number of things we could do which would be perfectly acceptable to God and which would also make us happy (and possibly lead to a career as well). We can do these things and still function within our primary calling-to be Christ’s presence.

And that leads, in a roundabout sort of way, back to my main point. Being the presence of Christ means being called to be a blessing to those around us. We can be a blessing regardless of what our career (or job, if you prefer) is. We can be a blessing regardless of who we are around (including being around those we consider to be enemies, or consider us their enemies). God’s “…plans for good and not for disaster, to give…a future and a hope” may well involve us in the giving. They may, in a sense, depend upon us for the giving.
So, here’s the assignment for the days and weeks ahead. Spend some time with God discussing how you might be able to recognize those times when you can be a blessing to someone (as opposed to being a curse, which has been going on far too long). Remember, He also promised the exiles”If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you…” (Vs.13-14; cf. Matthew 7:7-8). And that is a promise for all the ages.
May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG

[1] For a list of these terms, with definitions, along with guidelines for interpreting the Old Testament, see Fee & Stuart; How to Read The Bible for All Its Worth, third edition (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2003) p. 103-105

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