The Plans God Has for Us – Part III

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him. 

I


n the previous two blog posts on The Plans God Has for Us, we considered the fact that the often-quoted verse about the plans God us for us – plans to prosper us and to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)[1] – should be viewed in historical context. (Part I) That historical context was the 900-year history of disbelief and disobedience of God’s people ending in 40 years of warning of impending judgment that culminated in the judgment coming to pass with the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem and exile. (Part II) In this post, I will try to draw some conclusions in the application of this verse and relevance to our modern lives.

This letter was the message of God through the prophet, Jeremiah, to God’s people that He gave them at the very beginning of their exile. In this letter, God tells them that they will remain in exile for 70 year![2] In fact, this shocking statement – you will be here 70 years – is the statement that immediately precedes the famous verse we all know:

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

In a sense, God is telling them, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that I have imposed my judgment on you, and it will last 70 years. But the good news is that I have plans for you, good plans to prosper you and to give you hope and a future.

70 years! In an age in which the average life expectancy was about 35 years, that’s two generations! For the vast majority of the exiled people, this meant their lives would end in captivity. What kind of hope and future is that?!

The exile was the judgment God warned them about. God’s people had been so disbelieving and disobedient that God virtually banished them from the very land He promised them about a millennium before.  But even in the midst of this judgment, we need to look carefully at what God is saying. Just before announcing that this judgment thing is going to last 70 years, God gives them instructions:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, 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.’”[3]

Imagine the 40 years of warning and the weight of that impending doom on those who actually took it seriously. As with most things we fear, the fear is worse than the reality.

During this time of judgment in exile in Babylon, God says to them, basically, “Don’t despair! Go about your lives. Embrace the circumstances into which I have brought you. Live life. Make plans. Bless those around you, seek to better the those around you, and I will bless you.”

Even in the midst of the very Judgment of God, God desires to bless us! He is every appealing to us to listen to Him and respond to Him.

Continue reading “The Plans God Has for Us – Part III”

Judging the Church and Reconciling the World

God’s heart is to have the Gospel (Good News) preached to all the world, but the Church is preaching judgment instead.

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Paul writes to the Corinthians “not to associate with sexually immoral people”, but he qualifies that statement to say that he is “not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters since you would need to go out of the world”. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10) What is Paul talking about here?

Paul goes on to clarify that he is writing to the Corinthians “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one.”

He is obviously talking about people within the church, and this is a point that I think we have generally gotten wrong in the modern church today, but maybe not in the way that one might suppose.

It seems to me that we have got these instructions from Paul to the Corinthians exactly backwards.

I think of the Moral Majority when I say this. I think of the efforts of Christians to try to impose “Christian values” on our world. I realize that I am departing from many Christian leaders to say something like this, but please hear me out.

Continue reading “Judging the Church and Reconciling the World”

God’s Purpose is Accomplished – Even When People Reject Him

depositphotos Image ID: 1739451 Copyright: tockasso

Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my father.”  (John 15:22-24)

These words convey a stark reality that is not pleasant to consider. We might assume that Jesus was speaking of the Jews when He spoke these words, but we would be wrong. Jesus was speaking of the “world”. Just before Jesus spoke the words quoted above, He said:

“If the world[1] hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)

These are curious things coming from Jesus. The import of what Jesus says here is that the world is ordered in opposition to Jesus and God the Father. And even when people reject Jesus, God’s purpose is fulfilled.

In other places, we see Jesus saying very different things. For instance, Jesus said elsewhere, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17) So, we might be confused when we see Jesus implying that he came to hold people accountable for their sins.

Continue reading “God’s Purpose is Accomplished – Even When People Reject Him”

Appearances and Realities

God judges the heart, and God alone. He weighs our motives

Depositphoto Image ID: 141475556 Copyright: SIphotography

My son posted an article written by a young woman who was chastised by an older woman for wearing holy jeans in church. She was accused of being disrespectful to God. I am reminded of the charge Jesus made against the Pharisees about being whitewashed tombs.[1] They looked good and clean on the outside, but they were empty on the inside.

We are good at making ourselves look good on the outside, but that isn’t what counts.

Jesus was pretty clear when he told us that we should stop judging by appearances.[2] How did this elderly woman know that the young church attendee was disrespecting God? God judges the heart,[3] and God alone.[4] He weighs our motives.[5] The people who look good to us, may be anything but good[6], and the opposite is certainly true as well.

It’s no wonder that millennials are leaving the church in big numbers. If this older woman represents what is important to the average churchgoer today, the Pharisees are still leading the way in religious circles.

The thing is that human nature in the 1st Century is the same as human nature in the 21st Century.

We live with an illusion that we are somehow more enlightened, less barbaric and more advanced than our ancient counterparts. We want to believe that we have made progress over time and are getting better. We don’t stone people to death for moral crimes anymore (at least in many countries). Activists parade in the public square today to support human rights rather than gathering in the public square to watch executions (in many countries anyway). But we shouldn’t ignore the signs that suggest a different narrative.

More people were killed by genocidal rulers in the 20th Century than in all the previous centuries combined. Look at the awful number of people killed in Chicago alone by handguns every week, month and year. We don’t burn babies on the outstretched arms of Molech anymore; we tear them limb from limb in the womb. In many countries around the world, we still stone people to death, cut off their limbs, burn their faces and even through homosexuals off of roofs with the sanction of social and governmental blessing.

Appearances are deceiving.

Continue reading “Appearances and Realities”

How Can God Judge Good People: Postscript

 (c) Can Stock Photo

(c) Can Stock Photo

I have attempted to explore the issue of God’s judgment in three previous articles, not from the viewpoint of a theologian, but from my own limited perspective. Much of what I write is simply exploring the boundaries of issues. I may or may not have it right, but I am striving for understanding and greater clarity.

The title of the series is loaded. “Good” can be a relative term. When it comes to ultimate things, there is only one standard of goodness, and that standard is God. We do not measure up; therefore the question, itself, is flawed. We need to understand the problem so that we can begin to understand the solution.

The typical objections and issues people have with the notion of judgment and hell comes from not understanding the nature of God and nature of people.

God is good and God is love and God can be trusted. Challenges to God’s judgment misapprehend who He is. Everything flows from that.

Continue reading “How Can God Judge Good People: Postscript”

How Can God Judge Good People: the Problem

Is goodness the key to getting into heaven?

 (c) Can Stock Photo

(c) Can Stock Photo

If good people do not believe in God, how can a good God send them to Hell? If God is good, as Christians claim, how can a good God judge good people? This is a perplexing question to many people.

Some of the difficulty comes from the question itself. The question assumes, as frankly most of us do, that goodness is the standard to “get into Heaven”. There certainly is good reason for that assumption. Christians are always talking about sin and morality. So, let’s take a deeper look at. Is that really what is going on?

Continue reading “How Can God Judge Good People: the Problem”

The Sun Shines Now on Saints and Sinners

Our lives in this world will end. Then, we will have nothing between us and eternity.

 (c) Can Stock Photo

(c) Can Stock Photo

This is he fifth segment of a series on Putting the Wrath of God in Perspective. I have previously written on the subject of the wrath of God several times. In my last blog, I considered how God is perceived through the filter of human experience: if a person sets his self against God, he experiences what feels like condemnation, anger and rejection; while the person who attempts to draw near to God experiences love, grace and acceptance.

God does not change in this exercise. We do. Where we stand in relation to God determines how we experience Him. If God is the source and giver of life, and if God is love, we should experience life and love when we draw near to Him; conversely, we experience something opposite the opposite of life and love when we reject God or withdraw from Him. We call experiences love or wrath, depending on where we stand.

Taking this a step further, if we love what God loves, we find fellowship with Him, but if we love what God does not love, we find that we are separated from Him by our love of things God does not love.

We don’t naturally love what God loves, so we naturally feel some tension with God. In order to know and understand God we need to get beyond this tension. There is no tension on God’s part; the tension is with us.

Continue reading “The Sun Shines Now on Saints and Sinners”