Topical Scripture: Jeremiah 29:4-14
I was recently given this list of important, essential facts: there are more chickens than people in the world; a cat has thirty two muscles in each ear; an ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain; when the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers play football at home, the stadium becomes the state’s third largest city; a dragonfly has a life span of 24 hours; a goldfish has a memory span of three seconds; and the microwave was invented after a researcher walked by a radar tube and a chocolate bar in his pocket melted.
Useless facts, all.
So with the circumstances of our text today, it would seem.
The Jewish king Jehoiakim rebelled against the vastly superior forces of the Babylonians, and was deposed and deported in December 598 B.C. His successor, Jeconiah, withstood the Babylonians all of three months before surrendering the city. Then he was exiled to Babylon, along with the temple treasures and the best of his citizens, on March 16, 597 B.C.
Now, Jeremiah the prophet, living in occupied Jerusalem, writes a letter to the enslaved captives in the far-off pagan nation of Babylon. To us, this is ancient history, of no relevance to the problems we face today. But, is it really?
Here we find answered the question every one of us wonders: Does God have a plan for us? For your life? Your future? Your marriage? Children? Career? Finances? And if he does, are we free to choose? Or is all of life dictated by God?
Today we’ll learn how to resolve an age-old theological dilemma, celebrate God’s providence in our church, and trust God’s plan for our personal lives. All from “useless facts.”
Does God have a plan for us?
Our first question is: Does God have a plan at all? Some evolutionists say that life began as a chance coincidence, with no particular plan or purpose at all. Existentialists say that this life is all there is, and life is chaos. Martin Heidegger, for instance, wrote that we are actors on a stage, with no script, director or audience, and courage is to face life as it is. Postmodernists say that truth is relative and there is no overriding purpose to life. So, does God have a plan for us, or is life a random coincidence? In the words of Shakespeare, are we “sound and fury, signifying nothing”?
In Jeremiah’s letter God claims, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (v 11). How detailed is this plan?
He has a plan for where and how they should live: “Build houses and settle down, plant gardens and eat what they produce” (v. 5). He has a plan for the families they should have: “Marry and have sons and daughters” (v. 6).
He even has a plan for the country which has enslaved them: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (v. 7).
A plan for where and how we lived, the families we raise, and the country we inhabit—what is left out? God has a plan for every part of our lives, according to our text.
Did not God have a plan for Adam and Eve—where and what to live? A plan for Noah—how to build his ark, right down to the exact specifications and building materials he should use? A plan for Abraham, including where he should live, how old he would be when he had his son, and even that son’s name? A plan for Joseph, using his slavery and imprisonment to save the entire nation? A plan for Moses, encompassing the very words he should say to Pharaoh? A plan for Joshua, showing him where and how to take the land? A plan for David and Solomon, for their kingdom and the temple they would build for him? A plan for Daniel, even in the lion’s den?
Jesus had plans for his first disciples—plans they could not have begun to understand. He had a plan for Saul of Tarsus as he left to persecute the Christians in Damascus. He had a plan for John on Patmos.
God had a plan for George Washington Truett, when he led his father and family westward from the mountains of North Carolina in 1888. A plan for him in 1890 when B.H. Carroll asked him to head the fund-raising drive to save Baylor University, when Truett was 23 years old. A plan for him when he enrolled as a freshman at Baylor after saving the school; a plan for him when First Baptist Church of Dallas called him as their pastor at the age of 30, before he could go to seminary. A plan for him in that great ministry of some 46 years.
God had a plan for him and for us when, in 1939, he led George Truett to make the statement, “There ought to be a church” in the Park Cities.
And God fulfilled that plan.
God had a plan for the four men who stopped to talk on the steps of the Gaston Avenue Baptist Church in Dallas following a morning worship service in early May of 1939. Their conversation turned to the need for a new Baptist church in the far north suburbs of University Park and Highland Park. God had a plan for their new church when they had no sponsoring congregation, no money, no building, no pastoral leadership, not even a name, as three dozen people met on Thursday evening, October 26, 1939, in the auditorium of University Park City Hall and constituted this church. God had a plan.
God still has a plan for this church. A plan to reach more nonbelievers than ever before through Saturday night worship, media outreach, local missions, and global strategies; a plan to train every member for ministry through LIFEtime, Sunday school and the Internet; a plan to start ministries all across this community and beyond, helping people follow Jesus wherever we can.
I have long admired the builders of the cathedral in Seville, Spain, for they put over their doorway, “Let us build here a church so great that those who come after us will think us mad ever to have dreamed it.” That’s God’s plan for us.
And, God has a plan for your life. For your home, your family, your country, your future. This is the promise of his Word.
Are we free to choose?
If God has such a plan for our lives, then are our lives already determined, our future set? Some theologians and churches say that it’s so—that God has already determined who will be saved and who will be lost, and his grace is irresistible for the chosen ones. Some believe that God’s sovereignty precludes our freedom. Is this true?
Did these exiles still have choices to make, whether or not they would build their homes, raise their families, and pray for their captors? (vs. 5-7) They could still listen to the false prophets and reject the truth of God (vs. 8-9). They must choose whether or not they will call upon God and come and pray to him (v. 12); whether or not they will seek him with all their hearts (v. 13). The choice was theirs.
God created us to worship and love him, and love requires a choice. And so God has given us free wills, and the freedom to abuse our freedom. Adam and Eve made a tragic choice in the Garden; Noah, Abraham, Moses and Joseph made right choices. Peter made a cowardly decision when he denied Jesus and a courageous decision later when he preached his gospel at Pentecost. Paul chose to follow Jesus on that Damascus Road, and John on Patmos. Each time, the choice was theirs.
75 people chose to follow God when they met together for the first morning worship service in the new Park Cities Baptist Church, and gave a combined offering of $36.35. The next Wednesday in a prayer meeting, they adopted our church’s name and gave the first dollar to the building fund (the church was less than a week old!). This was their choice.
God has a plan, and we have freedom to choose. This is indeed a paradox, but so is most of orthodox Christian doctrine. God is three and one; Jesus is God and man; the Bible is Spirit-breathed and humanly written. In the very same way, God knows the future and yet we are free to choose. I don’t understand the paradox, but I don’t have to. God’s ways are not confined to my finite, fallen mind and understanding.
Why choose God’s plan
Here’s the practical question of the morning: If God has a plan, but we are free to choose, then why choose his plan for your life? Here are some facts to consider.
First fact: You don’t know the future. These exiles had no idea that God would use Cyrus and the Persians to defeat the Babylonians and return them to their homeland. They didn’t know the future. Neither do we.
Several months ago the model Cindy Crawford was on an airplane which went through terrible turbulence. She was very frightened until she turned around and saw John F. Kennedy Jr. sitting a few rows behind her. “Everything’s all right,” she said to herself, “JFK Jr. isn’t going to die in a plane crash.”
We don’t know the future.
Second fact: God’s plan is better than ours. He always gives the best to those who leave the choice with him.
These exiles had no idea that God would use their Babylonian captivity to produce the books of Daniel and Esther, and to prepare them spiritually for the coming of the Messiah. His plan is always best.
I didn’t know that God would use my father’s heart condition to keep us near his doctors in Houston, in part, so that I could hear the gospel at College Park Baptist Church and meet Janet at Houston Baptist University. When First Baptist Church of Midland, Texas asked me to become their interim pastor in 1988, Janet and I had no idea God was leading us from the seminary faculty into the pastorate. But God did.
Not one major decision in my life, marriage, or family has been the result of my plans or strategies. But every turn in the road has led to something better than I would have planned for myself.
Those who dreamed of our church could not see this sanctuary, these ministries, this $8.3 million budget, and the millions given to missions around our city and the world. We cannot see our future, either. But God can, and his plan is better than ours.
Last fact: You can know God’s plan for your life, today. We’ll say much more next week on finding the will of God, but know today that you can know God’s plan for your life. In Jeremiah 33:3, he says, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
You can call on him, and he will hear you and answer you. If you will seek to know him personally, intimately, deeply, you will. And as you know him, day by day you will know his plan for that day and for your life. The better you know him, the better you know his will for your life. If you want to know him, you can. He wants us to know his plan for us, more than we want to know it. And his will never leads where his grace cannot sustain.
Where do circumstances find you today? Are things good, or hard? Does it seem that God’s in control, or that life has no purpose? Unless you’ve lost your home and country and find yourself enslaved in a foreign land, you’re no worse off than these exiles. And God invited them, as he invites us, to believe that he’s still on the throne of the universe. And to put on him the throne of our lives as well. He is on his throne—is he on your throne?
Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuits, and made this prayer theirs:
Teach us, Lord, to serve you as you deserve,To give and not to count the cost,To fight and not to heed the wounds,To toil and not to seek for rest,To labor and not to ask any reward,Save that of knowing that we do your will. Amen.