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Hope for the future

Today’s verses is one of those popular poster/greeting card/meme verses:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  (Jeremiah 29:11).

…which is taken out of context.

10 “For 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. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 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” (Jeremiah 29:10-14).

The entire book of Jeremiah is warning Judah about impending judgement. Jeremiah preaches for about 50 years, and no one believes him. Even when the Babylonian army has Jerusalem under siege, people are saying, “No way that God is going to let His chosen city and His chosen people collapse!” Even after the city has fallen and the remaining people ask Jeremiah what they should do, they kidnap him and do just the opposite.

Jeremiah’s entire message is that they have been chosen, but they are not living in obedience. They had been warned, and warned, and warned, but refused to turn back to God. Judgement was happening.

Jeremiah 29 is a sermon of hope for the people of Judah. After a terrible siege, Jerusalem is going to fall into the hands of Babylon. The people are going to be taken captive. But after 70 years of captivity, the Israelites will finally call upon God. They will finally cry out for His help – and He will deliver them.

God is punishing His chosen people, but they still remain His chosen people. He still has a plan for them. Their rebellion, which had been going on for generations, would not thwart God’s plans, would not cause God to break His promises.

Often the middle verses of this paragraph are sent to encourage someone who is going through a hard time. Sickness, unemployment, death, and discouragement can all be times when we need encouragement.

But the total context of this passage, which tells us the meaning, reveals that the trials are because of ongoing rebellion against God. Unless you’re a prophet with direct revelation from God like Jeremiah, you don’t know that this is the cause of your friend’s trials.

And you don’t know that God is going to restore their health, give them a better job, or remove the issues that are causing discouragement.

Pick a different verse.

It’s better than being a false prophet. They got stoned in the Old Testament.

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You reap what you sow.

If you plant corn, you’re going to harvest corn.

If you plant potatoes, you’re going to harvest potatoes.

If you plant an apple tree, you’re going to harvest apples.

That’s just how it works.

If you sow anger, you’ll get anger in return.

If you sow bitterness, you’ll find plenty to be bitter about.

If you sow discontentment, you’ll be surrounded by discontented people.

Do they not go astray who devise evil? Those who devise good meet steadfast love and faithfulness.

Proverbs 14:22ESV

If you sow good, you’ll get good in return.

If you sow good, you’ll harvest love.

If you sow good, you’ll be surrounded by faithful friends.

The bottom line: you get what you sow. Take a look at what you’re getting. Do you have a lot of people around you who are complaining, arguing, and bitter? Are you joining them? If that’s the case, it’s never going to get any better.

If you start doing good, making godly choices, you’ll start to benefit from that. Some of your grumpy friends may not want to hang out with you. But you’ll find yourself surrounded by others who wanted to do good things.

It’s not really rocket science. If you start volunteering at a homeless shelter, you’ll soon meet other people who are volunteering, doing good for their community. If you start sharing a laugh with your co-workers over lunch, they’ll want you to join them for more great times.

You reap what you sow.

Are you afraid of God?

So many people have a picture of an angry God, sitting on the judge’s bench, waiting to dole out the punishment.

That picture is only half correct. God is a judge. God is just. God hates sin. God will judge sinners. We are all born under His wrath, because we are all guilty.

Being afraid of God is a good thing. God is going to punish you, because you deserve it. You are a dirty-rotten sinner, who can do nothing of your own effort to remove God’s wrath from you.

But the judge can. He can choose not to punish you. He can choose to erase the words, thoughts, and actions that reveal your crime. He can make the court record disappear. He can mark the debt “paid.”

All at once the fear of standing before the righteous judge is eliminated. The debt, the penalty, and the wrath are all removed at once and the reason for fear is removed.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

1 John 4:18ESV

Perfect love casts out fear. When the judge decides to remove the penalty, not because of your efforts, but at His expense, that’s love.

And that’s what God did. He sent His Son to die on the cross to pay the price that you couldn’t pay.

When your trust is placed in that work of Christ, you have no reason to fear God.

Bury it deep.

People are going to hurt you.  It’s just a fact of life in this sin-cursed world. Someone is going to let you down. Someone will say something that offends you. Someone will walk out the door and never come back. Someone will break a promise.

If you haven’t experienced that, you probably haven’t let yourself get close enough to anyone. And you’re probably not being real honest with yourself. You’ve probably been the one to cause pain in someone else’s life at least once or twice.

Fortunately, through the gospel, there is hope for forgiveness and reconciliation. The broken relationship can be restored. After all, the greatest broken relationship – the one between you and God – has been restored. No offense that you have done to someone else, or someone has done to you, is greater than that.

The Bible is so practical that it give us instructions on how to deal with offenses:

Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.

Proverbs 17:9ESV

Obviously, in relation to other passages, this is not teaching us to ignore sin (Galatians 6:1-4; Matthew 18:15-20).

The key is in the word “repeats.” The instruction is to keep the offense between you and the offended. Don’t gossip about it. Don’t ask for prayer about it. Don’t bring it up over and over again to the one who offended you.

Think of the snowball effect of your repeating an offense. It’s not going to solve any problems. It will create more.

Dig a hole. Cover it up. Bury it. Bury it deep.

Not even super powers.

Super hero movies are big-ticket items. They’re expensive to make and draw a big crowd. Even though the story line is essentially the same in every one of them, we are drawn to them. From the mythology of ancient times to the newest blockbuster, we are intrigued by those who have powers that normal people don’t.

They come in with their super-human skills and save the world, usually from someone else who has super-human skills, but is using them for evil. The newer the movie, the more spectacular the effects and the greater the battles.

One might even leave the movie wondering if there are super-heroes among us. Or maybe contemplating if someone really could build a suit, a car, or a weapon like the hero had.

While it is not a major them, the Bible talks about super-heroes, unseen forces that are in a different realm, fighting battles that have an effect on the visible world.

Paul refers to those powers in the midst of a list of other uncontrollable events:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39ESV

None of those things, no matter how strong, how unpredictable, or how big, can separate us from God’s love. It’s like Paul pushes all the energy and imagination that we might be able to muster and says, “Nope. Not even that.”

That reminds us that God is bigger, faster, stronger – and more loving – than anything we could imagine. He’s not just a super-power out there in space somewhere. His power is used to demonstrate His love. His power keeps us in His love.

And if His power does that, why do we think that there’s anything we can do to make God not love us? Why do we fear not passing the test? Why do we think that if we forget to check a box, God will stop loving us?

“Nope. Not even that.”

Dependable love

Love is unpredictable.

Life just has too many variables in it. Best friends move away and fall out of touch. A career becomes more important than a marriage. One partner isn’t giving their best. The other feels that they aren’t getting what they deserve. Accidents, disease, and death take their toll on love.

Sometimes the fault is completely one-sided. Sometimes both parties are at fault. Sometimes it’s life just keeps moving on. The result is that the relationship fades and disappears.

But that doesn’t happen with the love of Christ toward us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8:35,37ESV

Isn’t that amazing? Nothing in this world. All the bad things that could happen to a person. No matter what the cause.

None of it will separate us from the love of Christ.

When you think of it, that is perfectly logical. He is the one who initiated the relationship. He loved us before we loved Him. He chose to love us before the foundation of the world. He made love possible, through His death on the cross.

Add to that: He is God. He never changes. He is all-powerful. He is all-knowing. He is in control. He is love.

It makes complete sense that His love never changes, never fades, never gets weaker, and never gets tired. He isn’t going to stop loving us because we aren’t as pretty as we used to be. He won’t stop loving us because we have stopped talking to Him. He’s not going to turn His back on us because we forgot His favorite color. He’s not even going to stop loving us when we offend Him with our sin.

His love is what satisfies. His love is far superior to any other love.

Ain’t nothin’ new

John, the author of the Gospel and three letters, was one of the Twelve. Not only that, he was one of the inner circle and is often referred to in the Gospels as “the one that Jesus loved.” He had been with Jesus from the beginning, and from the cross Jesus charged John with caring for Mary, His mother.

He had heard a lot of teaching from Jesus and witnessed a lot of miracles. By the time he wrote first John, he had done a lot of teaching of his own. And so he says,

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

1 John 3:11ESV

It’s nothing new. It’s the same lesson over and over. He said it before and he’s saying it again: Love one another.

And the message is still the same, 2000 years later. Love one another.

A lot has changed since John the Apostle was on earth.

But the message remains: Love one another.