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Legions of the unjazzed

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Jeremiah 1:4-10

The number of text messages sent and received today will exceed the population of the planet. If MySpace were a country, it would be the eighth-largest in the world. 2.7 billion searches are performed on Google every month. More than 3,000 new books are published every day. China will soon become the number one English speaking country in the world. One hundred percent of the college graduates in India can speak English.

One out of every eight couples married in the US last year met online. By 2013 a supercomputer will be built which exceeds the computing power of the human brain. By 2023, it will cost less than $1,000. By 2049, that $1,000 computer will exceed the computational capacities of the entire human race.

No one knows where the future is going. I read Alan Greenspan’s new book this week, and was fascinated. As you know, he was the chairman of the Federal Reserve for nearly 20 years, working with four presidents. I had no idea that economists had so many tools at their disposal to use in predicting future financial trends.

But despite the greatest sophistication in human history, we still don’t know what the future will bring. Will there be a recession? Will the subprime mortgage crisis affect us all? Will the dollar hold its value against foreign currencies? No one knows.

There’s only one Chairman who can see tomorrow today. He is God Almighty, the awesome and holy Lord of the universe. But he is also intimately interested in you. Today we’ll learn how to return the favor–why you and I should pay the price to know this God more intimately than ever before. And we’ll see what happens when we do.

What God has done for us

God “knew” Jeremiah. The Hebrew word is a completed action: he knew all about him. Everything. Everything he would ever do, and say, and think, and feel. Before he made him at conception and brought him into the world. He knew the good–the achievements, the success, the faithfulness to God. He knew the bad–Jeremiah’s times of depression, of despair, of feeling rejected by God and his people. Jesus says that even the hairs on our heads are numbered by God. He knew him.

He formed him: “Before I formed you.” The same word is used in Jeremiah 18:4 for a potter making clay. It is used in Genesis 2:7 for God making of man from the earth. It means that he made him as he wished him to be. As a potter can make anything from clay, so God made Jeremiah. He formed him as he was and is.

He sanctified him: “before you were born I set you apart.” The word means to separate something for a job, a task, a purpose. The New Testament speaks of God’s people as “saints”–the “separated ones.” God made us for himself. We are a means to his end. We exist for his glory. He made us for his purposes.

And he called him: “I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Appointed” means to set apart for a task. For Jeremiah, it was to be a prophet to the nations. To speak and record the word of God for the people and for posterity. God clearly brought his plan to pass, as we are reading the words of that prophet today.

Why is this episode in Holy Scripture? Jeremiah obviously knew all of this. The Holy Spirit led him to record this for your sake and mine. So we could know that what God did for Jeremiah, he has done for every one of us as well. He “knew” you–everything you would ever do, before he “formed” you. He made you, then set you apart for himself. And he has called you to a purpose in his Kingdom. He has a plan for your life–a plan to prosper you and not harm you, a plan to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). His plan is good, pleasing, and perfect (Romans 12:2).

All of this is what God has done for us. And he’s not done yet.

What God will do for us

Here’s what God will do for us. First, he plans our lives (v. 7). Jeremiah thinks that he cannot speak, that he is too inexperienced. God says: I have a plan, and you’re in it. I will send you, and I will tell you what to do. If you know where to go and what to do, you know all you need to know.

He protects us (v. 8): “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” When you don’t want to follow his plan, to go where he sends and say what he says, remember that he will protect you when you are in his will. But only then–he cannot protect those who will not follow him, any more than a shepherd can protect a sheep which wanders from his care. The safest place in all the world to be is the center of the will of God.

He provides for us (v. 9): “Now, I have put my words in your mouth.” Why words? Because this is what a prophet would need. Jeremiah would need to say, “Thus says the Lord.” Whatever you need, God will give you as well. He equips the called–he does not call the equipped.

And he uses us (v. 10). God has a global purpose for our lives. Jeremiah could not imagine a use this great, but God could. He couldn’t imagine affecting nations and kingdoms–to uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow, build and plant.

But this is what God did with Jeremiah. He used him to call his people to repentance. When they refused, he used him to call them to judgment and exile. Eventually they would return from their slavery in Babylon and never be the same again. No more idolatry–they would worship the one true God. And through their nation would come the Messiah for all the world.

What was true for Jeremiah is true for every one of us. He plans for us, protects us, provides for us, and uses us. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Abraham lied about his wife and slept with her maid. Jacob was named “deceiver” for a reason, as his cheated brother could attest. Judah fathered two sons by his daughter-in-law, but became the forefather of the Messiah. Moses murdered an Egyptian before becoming a fugitive for 40 years. On we could go: David and Bathsheba, Solomon with his 700 wives and 300 concubines, Peter’s three denials of Jesus, Saul of Tarsus and the persecution of Christians.

It’s been the same through Christian history. Augustine fathered a son with his girlfriend and prayed, “God, make me chaste but not yet.” Thomas Aquinas was nicknamed “the dumb ox” at school. Martin Luther suffered serious bouts with depression, as did Charles Spurgeon. Dwight Moody was nearly illiterate when he began preaching. Billy Graham grew up on a farm and never went to seminary. And these are just the names you know.

What we must do for God

What you don’t know is that every person used greatly by God has the same story. We all have sins we don’t want you to know about, mistakes and failures and guilt in our past. Anyone who has met God has been awed by him and felt like a child in his presence.

You see, such humility is a prerequisite to usefulness. God cannot do for us what we try to do for ourselves. Jesus’ first beatitude was clear: “Blessed are the poor in spirit”–those who know how desperately they need God.

Mother Teresa called herself a “little pencil in the hand of God,” and closed every one of her recently published letters with the request: “Pray for me.”

Billy Graham admitted in his autobiography: “I have often said that the first thing I am going to do when I get to Heaven is to ask, ‘Why me, Lord? Why did You choose a farmboy from North Carolina to preach to so many people, to have such a wonderful team of associates, and to have a part in what You were doing in the latter half of the twentieth century?’ I have thought about that question a great deal, but I know also that only God knows the answer.”

Self-sufficiency is the enemy of spiritual power. Working for God–doing what we can do to serve him–deciding what we want to do and asking him to bless our decisions–marshalling our experience and wisdom and using it to lead or serve the church–these are the ways to human success but not spiritual victory. These may be ways to build a bigger church, but not a bigger Kingdom.

Bill Hybels is the founder of Willow Creek Community Church, the largest church in America. He is also the founder and leader of the Willow Creek Association, a global network of Kingdom-building churches. When he encounters business leaders who think they can run their church just like their run their business, he always says, “It’s not the same, and it’s not that simple.” He’s right.

Andrew Murray says that the key to the spiritual life is admitting that it is impossible, that we cannot know God, please him, or serve him in our ability. Jesus was explicit: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, emphasis mine).

If we don’t seek the face of God, admitting that we don’t know what to do and cannot do anything spiritual or eternal, we will never have his word and will. We will never see souls saved and lives changed, families healed and homes blessed. We will never see the Kingdom grow so long as we are running the Kingdom.

Only when we humble ourselves as Jeremiah humbled himself can we be used as Jeremiah was used. But when we do, we are.

Conclusion

Today is the day to know that God knows you, and formed you, and sanctified you, and called you. He wants to plan your life, and protect you, and provide for you, and use you. But you must admit that you need what he can do. You must admit that you need his plan, and protection, and provision, and purpose. When last did you do that?

When we’re in charge, life grows stale and frustrating. When God is in charge, life is significant and exciting. We’re being used for something global. God is doing more with us than we could ever do with ourselves. If Jeremiah had refused to yield his life to the purpose of God, we would never have heard of him. Because he did, the world is not the same.

The late Bruce Thielemann, a Presbyterian minister, was one of my favorite preachers. He said that we live in a dull day, that we are “legions of the unjazzed.” I think he’s right. I think we settle for the easy, the routine, the complacent. I don’t think the church of Jesus Christ in America has a vision of what God wants to do with us, of what he can do with us. We’re legions of the unjazzed. Are you in that number?

Thielemann says there are a lot of folks who have their lives planned out very carefully. Nice little job. Nice little marriage. Two nice little kids. Nice little retirement plan. Nice little house with a nice little two-car garage with two nice little cars. You know what the end of that story is? It’s a nice little hill with a nice little mound upon it and a nice little stone at the top of the mound with your nice little name on it and a few nice little dates underneath. Mediocrity. The legions of the unjazzed.

Seek the dream of God for your life. Know that the God of the universe can use you in ways you cannot possibly comprehend. Surrender the day when it begins. Pray first, all through the day. Ask God to use your life to do more than you can imagine. And believe that he will.

Catholic cardinal John Henry Newman was right: “Fear not that you may try and fail, but rather that you may fail to try. Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning.”

It begins where it began for Jeremiah. If you are “only a child” before God Almighty, you are the child of the God of the universe. What has your Father planned for you today?