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Reverend Dr. William H. Curtis

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Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

“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.” 

Did you know that Jeremiah 29:11 consistently ranks as the second most popular Bible verse in apps and websites that keep track of such statistics?

It’s interesting because this verse is part of a letter written to the Israelites who were in the beginning of a seventy-year exile in Babylon. If you don’t have that context, you can easily misunderstand the intention of this verse.

The central message is that while God’s plan for you is not immediate, He still has big plans for your life. Jeremiah is telling God’s people to get ready for a long time of waiting. But Jeremiah is bringing them some good news. Despite the exile, God wants good for them.

In the verses preceding the famous 29:11, Jeremiah points out what God wants them to do–keep living!

Here’s a brief overview of the plan for the Babylonian exile and what you can do while waiting on the Lord:

• Build houses and settle down. Plant roots and live your life.
Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take care of yourselves and enjoy the fruits of the land.
• Marry and have sons and daughters. Keep doing the work God called His people to do. Go forth and have children.
• Do not decrease. Keep the line alive. Keep living your life–marry, have kids, build friendships.
• Seek peace and prosperity in Babylon. Wallowing in despair brings you nothing. Making the most of your situation brings you peace.
Pray to the Lord. Keep your faith strong. Despite your circumstances, you are still a child of the Living God. He wants a relationship with you. And he wants good for you.
• Don’t let the prophets and diviners deceive you. Don’t fall for the lies that promise a quick escape. This exile time is a time to build faith and families.

Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet because he was often discouraged. He was often mistreated. He was often not believed. But he held on to hope. He held on to the promises of God. He continued to share the good news that God has a plan and you are part of it. That’s what he’s telling us in this encouraging, yet peculiar letter.

Here are five takeaways from the “plans for you” promise. 

1. We may not understand God’s timing, but we do know that God is trustworthy. He had plans for the Babylonian captivity and has plans for your life.
2. You are part of God’s master plan. He is redeeming you for an everlasting life with Him and all His children.
3. God thinks about YOU every day. The word “plans” actually translates better as “thoughts.” God thinks about you. He wired you with unique gifting and specific plans for you. He has a purpose in mind for your life. He opens specific doors, allows certain circumstances, and gives you many blessings.
4. Impatience is not the way out of exile. In times of waiting, we get frustrated and impatient. God is calling us to live and love where we are. He’s got this!
5. If God is for you, who can be against you? Romans 8:31 reflects Jeremiah’s statement of hope and purpose. We may have to wait for it, but the plans and hope of God are so worth it!

It’s the beginning of the year. We’re posting our Bible reading plans on social media. We’re keeping track of what we eat, what we read, and what we do to better ourselves. But come February, an embarrassingly miniscule percentage of us will still be “resolving.” 

Here’s a resolution worth keeping. Make a commitment to let Jesus be the majority partner in your life. It will change everything. Let’s look at how that happens. 

1 John 1:3-4 (MSG)

We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!

John’s speaking as a pastor to his flock in this passage. He’s concerned about some disruptive behavior he’s seeing in his congregation. Some of them didn’t want to be pinned down to the God that Jesus reveals or to the love Jesus extends. They wanted God and love to be their idea. 

John knows that before we can correct the behavior, you have to establish right thinking, or doctrine. He tells them, “God wants a relationship with you. Jesus wants a relationship with you. Jesus and God are ONE. You don’t see one without the other. I want to see you find your place in this relationship.” 

He continues, “We saw it. We heard it. We witnessed this relationship, and when you experience it, you’ll double your joy.” 

When we get our thinking right, we can live the Truth. Basically, John is telling us that how we relate to other people lets them know how we feel about God. Everything we do is a reflection of that relationship. 

And we work on our relationship with God through devotions—prayer, worship, study, and fellowship with other believers. That’s Christianity 101. But there’s a piece missing for many of us. That’s what John is telling us. 

He’s not the majority partner in the business of your life. Many of us make Him a minority partner. We want Him to step in when we need help. We’ve got this until it gets bad. That’s when we need Him. He wants and deserves more. 

Here’s how to correct your thinking: 

  1. Realize what God did for you. We all know that the wages of sin are death. But do you realize God broke His own rule for you? He loves you so much. He wants a relationship with you so much that He forgave you. He sent His Son to restore you to Him. That relationship is the most important thing to Him. Let that really sink in this year. 
  2. The life of faith is not based on mountaintop experiences. You’re not going to walk on water every day. You’re not going to see a basket of bread and fish feed 5,000 people every day. 
  3. Give up your majority ownership. If you give Jesus the majority ownership of your life, you’re going to find a joy that doesn’t go away. He wants to be there when things are rough. When things are good. When things are okay. Your reward? Love that always has your back. 
  4. Stop treating church like a private affair. Church is not for you to practice a private faith. Church is for you to be impacted by congregational life. Get in there and love Him and love the people He’s put in your home and church. Do life together. 
  5. Reflect His love. When you are in right relationship with God, your life exudes His love in the words you speak and the way you treat others. That’s been His plan all along. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, NIV).

 

John 8:2-6 (NIV)

At dawn he [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

The Pharisees had the master plan. They were going to take down this Jesus who ate with sinners and healed on the Sabbath. They had caught a woman in the act of adultery. Surely, Jesus would throw the first stone. He must because the law required it. 

The same law they said she’d broken required them to testify against her. 

However, Jesus knows that the woman is just ammunition. The teachers and Pharisees don’t care about her act of infidelity. They care about taking down their foe—the radical who sought to upend their way of life. 

You can feel the tension of the moment—the condemned woman standing in the temple court with men surrounding her. An audience beyond them. Jesus writing in the sand. The crowd of accusers was growing frustrated with the man they sought to trap.

At their persistence, Jesus replies, “You who is without ANY sin, cast the first stone.”

It’s a mic drop moment in the temple court. The men fall away silently one by one. When they all leave, Jesus turns to the woman. 

He could bring condemnation to her, but instead He gives her a way out.

Jesus said words that ought to strike triumphant chords for each of us, “If none of your accusers remain to condemn you, condemnation is not what I want to give you either. The gift I am giving you today is compassion. Go and sin no more.” 

The message here is that no one who is in Christ has to live condemned. Jesus knew then and knows now that you need divine compassion, not condemnation.

Jesus knows something about this woman and you. He sees the you on the other side of this season of turmoil. His why is: “If I can just give her a chance to live on the other side of these bad choices, she will prove to creation that she can honor God with a better life.”

The reason you are not condemned is because God sees that same chance in you. 

You are not who you should be—yet—but you are not condemned. 

Compassion will always cure more sins than condemnation. Jesus knew this woman didn’t need to die. She needed a chance to change. That’s why He didn’t join the guys trying to condemn her. He knew her capacity for change. 

Do you know how much Jesus wants you to have a better second half? Do you know why He won’t let you withdraw from life? Do you know why He snatches you up when your emotions get too low? 

The only explanation you need is that God saw something in you that you couldn’t see in yourself. 

God knows you don’t need to die, you need time to change. Go and embrace His compassion. 

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death,”  Romans 8:1 (NIV).

 

Matthew 17:19-20 (NIV)

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Have you ever questioned an act of faith that didn’t seem to work? That’s what happens in today’s passage with the disciples who failed to heal a demon-possessed boy. Let’s explore why this happens. 

Here’s the backstory:

Jesus and Peter, James, and John went up the Mountain of Transfiguration, while the other disciples were ministering in the community around the mountain. Keep in mind that Jesus had equipped His disciples with power, position, and purpose. 

We don’t know how long Jesus and the three were up on the mountain, but we know that a father brought a boy to the other disciples asking for him to be healed. The boy had been convulsing and foaming at the mouth for years. He was possessed by a demon and suffering greatly. 

The disciples appeared to be somewhat startled by the father’s request (possibly because this is where their faith starts to weaken). Jesus prepared His men to do this type of work—the power to fix the broken, the wherewithal to deliver the captive, and the capacity to heal the hurting. And they tried. 

One would think that they would regroup and try something else, but Mark’s gospel tells us that they get tangled up with the scribes on whether they really have the power to do this. They become preoccupied with fighting the enemies of Jesus.

As this event comes to a head, Jesus returns to a crowd in an uproar over this boy. The father calls out to Jesus about His disciples’ failure to drive out the demon. You can imagine that this scene was tense and the crowd was at its full height of emotion. 

Jesus has to come in and rescue the situation and the boy, but He’s frustrated. He says to the crowd, “‘O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!’” (Mark 9:19, NIV)

He heals the boy and God is praised for what He has done. The church fight ceases. The disturbance in the community is over. The father is satisfied. Jesus is being celebrated. What a wonderful worship experience. 

Everyone appears to be good, except for the disciples. They are disturbed. They approach Jesus privately because they have a few questions. Their minds are still back in that worship experience where they realized their faith wasn’t working. 

They were honest with themselves. They said, “My faith isn’t working.” They were happy that Jesus saved them, but they weren’t satisfied that they didn’t perform in that moment. 

The Application: 

Sometimes, we, like the disciples, want to say, “Lord, why isn’t this faith thing working for me?”

“I sang the song. I read the scripture. It doesn’t seem to be working for me. Maybe there’s something wrong with my faith.” 

We cry out to God, “You said we have power. When I went to use it, I came up powerless. You said I had peace, but if I told the truth, Lord, I can’t find peace. You said I had joy unspeakable, but it’s hard for me to find joy sometimes. You said I was blessed and highly favored, and I can’t find that.” 

Have you ever found yourself in a place where these disciples found themselves? Have you ever found yourself unable to access the power of faith? 

Although it might feel like that sometimes, your faith still works. Here’s why.

  1. Faith works, but you have to work it. In response to the disciples’ question of “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” Jesus says, “Kind cannot come out by anything but prayer," (Mark 9:29, NIV). The point Jesus is making is that overcoming struggles, demons, relationships require our participation in the act of faith. And the act of faith is different depending on the “kind.” In other words, God doesn’t want an autopilot, formulaic approach to faith struggles. He wants a dynamic relationship with you that doesn’t move in straight lines.
  2. Faith won’t leave you alone. The disciples had something gnawing at the inside of them. They couldn’t rest. Jesus showed up and gave them a victory for their team. That guilty feeling is simply God’s grace. It’s the “I’ve got better in me.” 
  3. He still has faith in you. Jesus gave a rebuke and a remedy. Right there in the remedy is a gentle reminder that there will be a rematch. This kind comes out this way. When you failed, you failed in front of everybody. They all gave up on you. You probably gave up on you. I provided a remedy because I didn’t give up on you. This problem can be solved. This issue can be beaten. 

Will you put your faith to work?

Job 2:2-8 (AMP)

The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Then Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming around on the earth and from walking around on it.” 

The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered and reflected on My servant Job? For there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God [with reverence] and abstains from and turns away from evil [because he honors God]. And still he maintains and holds tightly to his integrity, although you incited Me against him to destroy him without cause.” 

Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! Yes, a man will give all he has for his life. But put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh [and severely afflict him]; and he will curse You to Your face.” So the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand, only spare his life.”

So Satan departed from the presence of the Lord and struck Job with loathsome boils and agonizingly painful sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And Job took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself, and he sat [down] among the ashes (rubbish heaps).

Have you ever been the victim of circumstances out of your control? Anger that comes from nowhere against you. A crime. A breach of trust. That’s what happened to Job. He did not know he would be a sacrifice to show the goodness and power of his God. 

Satan is on a mission to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). He wants to steal your life, kill your spirit, and destroy your faith. He’s convinced that if a righteous man like Job is hit hard enough, he would curse God to his face. 

But God called Satan’s bluff. He knew Job trusted Him and that His love can’t be manipulated.

So, Satan kills off all of Job’s children, all of his livestock perishes, and his entire body is covered with boils and sores. 

Our main character goes to sit on a rubbish heap (a pile of ashes and dung) and begins to scrape his sores with a broken piece of pottery. He’s trying to absorb it all. An important point here is that Job is not thinking about next steps. He’s not cursing God.

Stuck at the Top of the Ash Heap

He’s in a place many of us get stuck—pain and unforgiveness. He is the portrait of spiritual unforgiveness. He’s stuck trying to decide to not feel the pain or to move forward. This may be the hardest decision you’ll ever have to make. 

But there’s a secret you need to know about Job and about you. If you are one of God’s special treasures, one of His children, you can’t sit on that ash heap. You can’t decide not to feel. Job hasn’t done that. He’s still scraping. He’s still got some fight in him. 

How to Get Off the Ash Heap

The key to getting up from the ash heap is forgiveness. You have to make the choice to forgive. Forgiveness is not a spiritual gift. It’s the ultimate gift and it was given to you when Jesus died on that cross. God wants you to wake up in the morning and exercise forgiveness. We live with His undeserved forgiveness.

That’s the truth that brings all Christians together - we all carry the revelation that the only reason you’re alive today is because a good God forgave you of your sins. 

Did you hear that? You’re alive. Satan attacked Job. Satan attacked you. But he didn’t take you out. You’re still alive.

That’s why I’m inching up next to you on that ash heap, to share some good news. You have no business on this heap. You’re allowing your unforgiveness to steal precious time from an otherwise blessed life. You’ve got too much to live for. 

Practical Truths About Forgiveness

1. Decide that forgiveness is worth more than pain. He calls you to forgive. 

2. Know that progress is worth more than living with unforgiveness even if you hurt in the process. 

3. Realize that unforgiveness is a betrayal of God’s mercy. It’s also a betrayal of you. 

4. Accept that pain accompanies progress, but God gives you help along the way. 

5. Honor God’s goodness more than you feel the pain. 

6. Know that you may never be the person you were before the hurt. You may even be better than you were before. 

The Grace of the Ash Heap

Pain is real. Job’s pain is real. We have to acknowledge that. The grace on the ash heap is Job scraping his sores. He still wants to feel. That’s the grace. He decides not to check out. And if you’re there—angry and stuck—know that you can come back. Own the grace that you still have fight in you. If you have passion enough to be angry, you can make the choice to forgive. And remember, pain is a season. You will not be here forever. God wins.