Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
June 3, 2018
Text: Jer. 29:11, O.T.: Jer. 29:10-14, N.T.: Heb. 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Church planning is extremely challenging.
The challenge lies in separating your plans from God’s plans. Having the wisdom to know the difference is the key to church planning.
Henry Blackabee, the Baptist writer on spiritual leadership says, “See what God is doing, and come along side of it.” Rev. Blackabee believes that if Christians look for God’s work around them, His work will become evident. Blackabee wrote, “Give up doing what you’re doing and join what God is doing.”
The story of Moses is a prime example. God made it evident to Moses that his life in obscurity was over. Moses was to give up hiding from Pharaoh with his wife in Midian and join God’s work. God was working to free the Israelites from the Egyptians. The Israelites needed a prophet who would declare to them God’s plan and guide them into that plan.
Moses had to align his life with God’s plan, even if that plan meant leaving the provisions and housing the Israelites had in Egypt as slaves. God’s plan meant going into a wilderness for the next generation. Moses and the Israelites were to give up being slaves to Egyptian masters and follow God’s plan into the future.
It was not just any future. It was not Moses’ future that he was imagining for the Israelites. Neither was it Pharaoh’s plan for the future. It was God’s plan for the future. Everyone else had to align themselves with God’s plan.
God was the one who had brought the Israelites into Egypt. God was the one who had kept them in Egypt as slaves. God was the one who was now calling them out of Egypt for an unknown land the Israelites had requested in prayer.
The future was a promised land where the slaves of Egypt would be free.
The future was a promised land where the slaves of Egypt would prosper.
The future was a promised land where the covenant God had made with Abraham would continue to grow beyond Israel’s slavery in Egypt.
This plan existed long before Moses had been born and placed on the River Nile in a basket of bull rushes. God had been thinking about this plan, considering this plan, unfolding this plan for generations.
Israel’s people, their husbands, their wives, their children, simply had to give up their life of survival as slaves and follow God’s plan into the future God was giving them. The story of Moses and the Exodus is the story of Israel giving up their current lives and following God’s plan into the future.
If you want to experience God, then you need to abandon what you are presently doing and join God’s plan. “Find out what God is doing and join what He is doing.” It’s easier said than done. But it is the story of the Bible.
The Bible records ordinary people giving up what they are doing and joining God. Noah, Abraham, Moses, King David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Andrew, James, John, Peter, the Apostle Paul, the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius, Titus, Timothy, Esther, Ruth, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, the wives of every great figure of the Bible we’ve mentioned – each of these Biblical leaders had to give up what they were doing and join what God was doing!
It was all part of God’s plan.
Even Caiaphas, King Herod, and Pontius Pilate gave up their ordinary tasks to be part of God’s plan. Each had a role to play in God’s plan for the future. Most biblical characters joined God’s plan from their trust in God. Others, were adversaries to God’s plan, but had a role to play in His plan for the future.
From the centurions who mocked and crucified Jesus, to the crowd who condemned Jesus – all were part of God’s plan for the future. They represented the disbelieving critics of Christianity throughout history who have challenged Jesus’ people to defend their faith in Jesus. Their role in God’s plan for the future was to compel God’s people to trust in God.
Their criticism of Christianity poses to us a challenge to join God’s plan. Since you are one of God’s people, live like you really believe in God, live like you really expect the world to believe in God. They force us to see what God is doing and join Him. Defend your faith in God by showing critics your trust in God’s plan.
Defend your faith spiritually, lovingly, with integrity to God’s wisdom and Law, but defend the faith by trusting in God’s plan. Not when it is convenient or acceptable. Defend your faith in God when it is inconvenient and unacceptable.
Defend your faith in God by following God’s plan – the plan He has for you and your future!
The Hebrew word for plan is machashabah. It is used 56 times in the Old Testament. It does not mean to scheme for evil purposes. Machashabah describes God’s thoughts about what is good and righteous for His people. It can also describe His people’s thoughts, which are not identical to God’s thoughts.
Isaiah 55:6-9 makes clear that God’s people are to follow God’s thoughts. “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near: let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; Let them return to the Lord, that He may have mercy on them, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The challenge of God’s people is to elevate their thoughts, their plans, to the height of God’s thoughts, God’s plan for their future. Elevating your thoughts to that of God’s is part of God’s plan.
The unfortunate truth is that God’s people have difficulty living up to God’s thoughts for them. Time and again they have difficulty living up to God’s thoughts for them.
The story of the Bible is the story of God’s people not living up to God’s plan for them. God frees Israel from Egypt. But then the people complain in the wilderness and chase after a golden calf.
David is crowned king of Israel for his faithfulness to God. But David is tempted by Bathsheeba instead of remaining faithful to his wife. Solomon, in his wisdom, has 1,000 concubines. God condemns both of His chosen leaders for their failure to live up to God’s thoughts about faithfulness.
The Zealots are passionate about Jewish religious freedom to worship God. But they are looking for a Messiah to lead them in an insurrection against the Romans, not a Messiah who will eternally save them from death. They are quick to fight with the sword when the true Messiah dies for them on the Cross.
Ananias and Sapphira become followers of Jesus, giving up the safety of their own religious superstitions for baptism in Jesus’ name. But instead of whole heartedly supporting the community of faith Jesus Christ founded in God’s plan, they withhold their total support from the early Church.
The Jerusalem Council thinks Jesus is only the Messiah of the Jews and criticize Peter and Paul for converting the Gentiles. But God has a different plan than its thoughts about Jesus’ plan. Jesus is meant to save the whole world, not just a few who think they are chosen to be God’s people.
Time after time God’s people have trouble giving up their own thoughts and joining God’s plan for the future as God lays it out for them. When they resist God’s plan for the future for their own ideas, their own thoughts, their own plans, they fall away from God.
The author of Hebrews does not have much hope for those who know Jesus but who fall away from Him. He laments in 6:4-6, “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the Word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away.”
The author of Hebrews makes a statement out of personal experience with Christians who began to follow Jesus and His plan, only to consciously or unconsciously abandon it. They begin to shift their lives away from Jesus and back to their earlier thoughts and practices.
Once we fall back into thoughts and plans that are of our own making, it is hard for us to repent. We take what Christ offered us and reject what Jesus did for us on the Cross and through His resurrection. We don’t need to repent since the plan for the future God had given us through Jesus lacks merit for imitating Jesus thoughts and plans for us.
When we were baptized into God’s plan, we were to imitate Jesus Christ, His life, His wisdom, His commitment to save the world. Imitating Jesus Christ, remaining faithful to God’s plan for the world’s salvation despite the opposition that exists to it, is essential for us in God’s sight.
We are to stay consistent in imitating Christ. It’s the cost of discipleship.
The Church exists today because God’s plan has restored faith and conviction in men and women to believe in His plan to bring peace on earth.
There was no greater time than during the Babylonian Exile. Judah had received its reward for its lackluster endorsement of God’s covenant. God had given His people careful instructions about how to preserve the covenant.
God relentlessly taught Judah to follow his covenant. But popular support for God’s plan marriage, for the life of children, for integrity in business transactions, and fidelity in government leadership had waned. The Book of Judges 21:25 succinctly captures Israel’s abandonment of God’s plan, “In those days there was no king in Israel. All the people did what was right in their own eyes.”
Finally, God corrected His people. Jerusalem was captured, and the Temple destroyed, during the time of Jeremiah. Judah’s leaders were put in chains and led to Babylon, where they would stay under household arrest for 70 years.
It was there, in the middle of their miserable life, wondering where God was, lamenting the terrible condition of their life together, that Jeremiah offered a new vision to God’s people.
They were captives in a foreign land. Aliens to the people among whom they were living, questioning the future of their community of faith. They were surrounded by a culture that glorified fertility deities in sexual rites. They were mocked for their God and were encouraged to follow astrology. Babylonian magicians and sorcerers claimed to possess supernatural powers that Yahweh appeared not to possess. The Jews were questioning God’s sovereignty.
Jeremiah admonished them for their weak faith. Jeremiah called them to repentance. They repented. They accepted what they had done. They recognized what they were falling away from God.
But their situation had not changed. Babylon was not Jerusalem. The benefits of the life they once knew under God’s law were long in the past with no hope of change. They questioned their future as God’s people.
It was then, amid their loneliness and anxiety in Babylon that God gave Jeremiah a new directive. In chapter 29:7 Jeremiah encouraged them, “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.”
Then in verse 11, “Surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
God told His people their time in Babylon was part of His plan for them. But there would be a future time of restoration and revitalization.
Just as when humankind had degenerated into a chaotic world of sin, God had a plan for His people’s future to save us. As at the time of Moses when the people of Israel were captives in Egypt, God had a plan for His people’s future to save them.
Just as when Rome occupied Judea, and its soldiers were desecrating God’s holy Temple in Jerusalem, God had a plan for His people’s future to save them.
Just as when Christ’s churches are declining and closing, when Christians are feeling like aliens in a foreign culture in their own land, God has a plan for our future. This plan is for our welfare, not to harm us, but to give us a future with hope. That plan is not simply for eternal life, it is a plan that includes a vital, dynamic witness now to the power of God to transform the world.
This friends, is the context of our mission at Bellevue U.P. God has a plan for our future, to give us hope. That plan is unfolding. Let us join in what God is doing around us to give Him the glory through Jesus Christ! Amen.