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“Where is God Sending Me?”

Feb.3/13 Jer.1:4-12


Reading through our Annual Report in preparation for today’s Annual Congregational Meeting was, for me, a very encouraging experience. For a not-very-large congregation, we sure did a lot! Though it’s important to give honour to God who alone deserves the credit for any good things that happened – our best efforts would amount to nothing apart from His leading and spiritual work behind-the-scenes. We thank Him for granting us a wonderful year ministry-wise. I’m reminded of the title of a movie from years back, “The Mouse that Roared” - our fellowship with the Lord’s help was able to witness to Christ through concerts, movies, free breakfasts, Bible studies, youth ministry, good food boxes, Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, friendly visits, and more.
    While it’s good to pause and appreciate how the Lord used us last year, it’s important to take stock as we set a budget and elect leaders and plan for the coming year. There is still much need in our community and opportunity to share the Good News about Jesus here and around the world. Where should we start? There’s so much need that perhaps at times it seems our best efforts are only a “drop in the bucket”.
    As we look at the call of the prophet Jeremiah, we see not only the daunting opposition he faced in his setting, but also how the Lord promised to be His unrelenting backer in reaching out to others with His life-giving word.


Jeremiah prophesied over a period of some 40 years from halfway through the reign of King Josiah up till the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, then a few years after. He started out during the reign of a “good” king, but the ones after Josiah led the country downhill. Jeremiah is sometimes referred to as a “prophet of doom” because he foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, but his warnings fell on deaf ears. People didn’t like to hear his message of impending judgment. Consequently he faced a lot of opposition – not only from those in authority and the religious leaders, but even his own friends.
    First, there were SCARY ADVERSARIES. 1:8 God tells Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid of them...” V17 “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you.Do not be terrified by them...” Who? V18 “the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.” Quite a few groups – that includes just about everybody! V19 “They will fight against you but will not overcome you...”
    A few examples from elsewhere in the book to illustrate: in 20:10 Jeremiah reveals there’s enough animosity toward him around to make someone paranoid: “I hear many whispering, "Terror on every side! Report him! Let’s report him!" All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, "Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him."” Or, how about this as a response to a sermon: in 26:8, “But as soon as Jeremiah finished telling all the people everything the LORD had commanded him to say, the priests, the prophets and all the people seized him and said, ‘You must die!’” Then in chapter 38(6,13) officials persuade the king to allow them to throw Jeremiah down a cistern without water, where he sank down into the mud and would have been left to die except an African named Ebed-Melech rescued him.
    Still today there can be opposition to godly initiatives. This month’s ChristianWeek reports that River City Vineyard in Sarnia decided to launch a homeless shelter in the church’s basement. The city told them they had to apply for permanent rezoning. In 5 years they applied 3 times but were only granted temporary permits; contention arose over a potentially negative impact on the neighbours. The church eventually received advice that churches have a right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to offer shelter and are exempt from rezoning. The church notified the city of this, quoting expert views and giving examples of supportive court cases. The city threatened to take the church to Superior Court if it didn’t cease shelter operations by the end of July 2012. At this point, the shelter remains open and is accommodating 8-15 people per night. The church has retained lawyers and is waiting for the city to make its next move. As in Jeremiah’s day, officials can make trouble!
    Another factor is a SINFUL CULTURE. Why was God about to pour out disaster from northern nations on the land of Judah? V16 “I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me, in burning incense to other gods and in worshiping what their hands have made.” Let’s break that apart. “Wickedness in forsaking Me”: people have turned their backs on God; we call that a “secular” culture today. “Burning incense to other gods”: in pluralistic Canada there are many ‘other gods’ and spiritualities, including New Age, eastern religions, Islam, Wicca, Satanism, and the occult. “Worshiping what their hands have made”: today that could also refer to the materialism that drives our economy - the news reports the latest buzz about RIM’s (now Blackberry’s) latest smart device, we love the latest in fashion and going shopping - even if our closet’s already full.
    The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God...” (2Tim 3:1-4) Does that sound vaguely like today’s culture? Do we find our Christian values chafe against those presented in the media? Paul went on to say, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2Tim 3:12-13) From bad to worse: it’s disheartening to see people who’ve adopted deviant sexual behaviour get elected to top positions in mainline churches and government. And there’s a devilish price tag for worshiping pleasure: 40 years after the landmark pro-choice Roe v Wade decision, it’s estimated some 55 million abortions have taken place in the States. That’s many more people than in all of Canada! Culture’s opposition is daunting - and deadly.
    A third factor is SHRINKING INADEQUACY. When the Lord first informed Jeremiah about his mission, the young man (maybe around age 20?) shrank back, feeling inadequate for the task. 1:6 “"Ah, Sovereign LORD," I said, "I do not know how to speak; I am only a child."” One is reminded of God’s call to Moses in Exodus 4 and his protests: “Moses said to the LORD, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant.I am slow of speech and tongue." The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say."” (Ex 4:10-12)
    Any of us could resist the Lord’s invitation to be involved in mission on the ground of our personal lacks and imperfections. When Jesus revealed His miraculous power to the fishermen by filling their nets so full they began to break, Simon Peter fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Yet this was the very man Jesus eventually used to kick-start His church. Jeremiah hesitated because he was so young. Paul told Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1Tim 4:12) God is quite capable of working around and through our limitations, be it youth or age or physical hindrance.
    Last month on Lifeclass, Oprah Winfrey was interviewing Pastor Rick Warren (“Winning the Hand You’re Dealt”). At the end, up from the audience came Nick Vujicic who was born without arms or legs. One of the most memorable parts was watching him hop up the stairs to the top of the stage completely unassisted. Seeing how he has “triumphed against the odds” and turned around his disability to become a platform for exalting Jesus takes the wind out of our own pleas of inadequacy.


So, the cards certainly seem stacked against Jeremiah. At our Annual Meeting, it may seem we don’t have a whole lot in our favour: we’re no mega-church; some years we have to scramble to find members to fill the officers’ positions. But God encourages Jeremiah and reassures him that the Lord’s resources make him more than adequate for the task to which God’s calling him.
    First, in Yahweh Jeremiah has a STRONG BACKER. When Jeremiah protests “I’m only a child” God reassures him in v8, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you.” This is repeated at the end of the chapter; v19 “They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the LORD.” Because Jeremiah’s going to be “butting heads” with some pretty powerful officials, God tells the prophet in v18, “Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land...” Vivid imagery: fortified city (picture massive walls), iron pillar (see it standing there?), bronze wall (not merely stone but metal - bronze). And he did - he outlasted them all! When all those successive kings have been exiled, killed, blinded, the officials deported, and the city destroyed - who’s left standing? Jeremiah.
    In the New Testament, Paul suffered unceasing opposition from his enemies, not to mention constant danger from bandits and shipwreck on his travels. But God promised He’d be looking after him. One night when Paul was locked up in the barracks at Jerusalem, Jesus stood near him and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Ac 23:11) Paul found, like Jeremiah, he had a strong backer.
    Second, there’s a SACRED COMMISSIONING. Vv4-5 Jeremiah writes, “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."” Think and marvel about that: God knew Jeremiah BEFORE he was formed in the womb - he was a “person” to God even before he was what some just call a “fetus”. Before Jeremiah was born God had “set him apart”, designated him, “appointed him” as a prophet to the nations – not merely his own country of Judah.
    As individual believers in Christ, we are commissioned to serve Him with our whole being, as “living sacrifices” (Rom 12:1). As His church, we are commissioned collectively - He has a job for us to do TOGETHER not one of us can do alone. He is our strong backer, He has the authority; out of that flow our orders. Matthew 28:18-20, the “Great Commission”: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Therefore go and [WHAT?] make disciples of all nations, [HOW?] baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and [HOW?] teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.And surely I am with you always [BEING OUR BACKER], to the very end of the age.” Note there’s a certain informational content to what the church is expected to do here – “baptizing” implies invitation, explaining what following Jesus is all about, challenging people to evaluate His unique truth-claims and submit to His lordship; “teaching” implies deliberate meeting-together to explore and interpret Jesus’ commands for all aspects of our life today. So, an adequately prepared Christian should be well-schooled in Jesus’ sayings and New Testament doctrine. Are we?
    John’s gospel has a commissioning of sorts in chapter 20(21ff) - the risen Lord says, “As the Father has sent Me, I am sending you” - in context this mission has to do with receiving the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins. Are those keynotes in what the church stands for today? Modern culture leaves people burdened with isolation, loneliness, and guilt, whether they can identify it or not. Are we helping them find connection and relationship with God, forgiveness and cleansing, a clean conscience?
    Third, God blesses His prophet with a SUPERNATURAL MESSAGE. V7 “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.” V9 “Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now, I have put my words in your mouth.” Vv11-12 (there’s a play on words here) “The word of the LORD came to me: "What do you see, Jeremiah?" "I see the branch of an almond tree [shaw-kade’]," I replied. The LORD said to me, "You have seen correctly, for I am watching [shaw-kad’] to see that my word is fulfilled."” Get the point? God is watching, alert, wakeful to make sure His word is accomplished.
    God’s word is the key thing, the active ingredient here. When the Holy Spirit speaks, that word or expression of God’s being and will carries divine power. The prophet - and the church - are privileged to be the bearers of a supernatural message. In 25:11 Jeremiah predicts the Babylonian captivity will last 70 years. Long after Jeremiah was dead and gone, the prophecy he’d spoken came true (cf Dan 9:2). During his own lifetime, he saw his warnings about the destruction of Jerusalem fulfilled.
    God’s word is divinely powerful, more “real” than the material things we consider real. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mt 24:35) The message we have to share, the Good News about Jesus, has supernatural energy to affect people’s lives; Paul said things like, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes...” (Rom 1:16) To those who are being saved, the message of the cross “is the power of God.” (1Cor 1:18) Unlike the word of people, the word of God “is at work in you who believe”. (1Thess 2:13) And, in 2Cor 10(4f), “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
    I titled this section “Deciding Ordnance”: not ordinance, but ordnance. What’s the diff? “Ordinance” is defined in the dictionary as “an authoritative order; a decree.” Certainly we saw the Lord is our strong backer, His commands are authoritative. But there’s more than that. “Ordnance” is defined this way: “mounted guns; cannon.” (Those with military background are probably smiling, because when we talk about ordnance, it’s stuff that blows up!) What’s that got to do with God watching to see His word is fulfilled, the power of His word? Paul explained the weapons He fights with - ie the Gospel - has “divine power to demolish strongholds.” Blowing stuff up! The message about Jesus is like a cannon that demolishes arguments, pretensions, false fronts and theories, Satan’s lies about a person being too guilty to be forgiven, unloved by God, that this life is all there is. When we introduce people to Jesus, through repentance they find freedom in Him, release from the hurts, habits, and hang-ups that had held them captive in sin and shame.“Ka-boom!”
    On Thursday I attended an introductory workshop in Seaforth about an exciting initiative this fall from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association called “My Hope.” This has been running in other countries for some 10 years. Basically it involves a “Matthew” (like the tax collector also known as Levi) who meets Jesus and then throws a party to invite all his friends to meet Jesus, too. In the months leading up to November, people or “Matthews” are asked to list 11 non-believing acquaintances and pray for opportunities to build relationships with them. Then in November there is a special DVD including a message by and about Billy Graham which we invite these people to come watch with us in our home, in conjunction with a meal.
    In other countries, the BGEA reports that an average of 2.2 people have come to Christ per home viewing. When you multiply that by the thousands of homes that have taken part, the number dwarfs the over 6 million people that made a decision for Jesus through all of Billy’s preaching career.
    The message of Christ is simple. It is supernatural. It has power to demolish strongholds and help people experience God’s power and healing love.


Jonathan Butler is a combination jazz instrumentalist and rhythm and blues singer who has sold over 1.8 million albums and been nominated for a Grammy award twice. He started out in South Africa, touring in a 100-member children’s group, earning money to help support his family. He recalls there were times they  would live on potatoes for a week. His debut single in 1974 became the first by a black artist to be played on white South African radio stations, breaking racial barriers. But (as Living Light News tells) Butler’s early fame left him feeling empty and without direction. At 15 he was a drug addict. He recalls, “I just drank coffee, got high, and played my guitar for 10 hours a day.”
    But one day when he was 19 a fan named Anton called on the phone and said, “I’m your number one fan.Jesus loves you.He died for you.” Butler wasn’t interested, but the fan persisted; Butler and Anton became best friends. Anton showed Butler how to have a relationship with God. He remembers, “The moment I gave my heart to the Lord, my entire life changed.For the first time, I felt whole.”
    Butler lived in England for 17 years then moved to California, becoming a favourite of fans and critics alike. Now Butler says, “Having a relationship with God was the best thing that I’ve ever done. He is the light to my path. He’s blessed me with this amazing family.”
    There have been hardships in recent years. Butler’s mother died, then a close friend died, and his wife was diagnosed with cancer (though since then she has recovered and been pronounced cancer-free). Butler expressed his faith in God through all this in his recent album titled Grace and Mercy. He says, “Music has been my way to share my struggles and my testimony of what God has done in my life and for my family.These are hard times...I hope [the CD] gives people faith that God is an awesome God...If you trust in Him, He can do so much more than you could ever imagine.I am a testimony of that! When you have a relationship with Jesus, there’s hope, real love, grace, and mercy.” Let’s pray.