September 10, 2000
The first sermon I preached as the pastor of the church I still serve.
(Tell the story of my conversion.)
“I knew why I was there!”
“I have not always lived out that commitment to Christ faithfully, I have failed many times. But I thank god for his saving grace and power and transforming touch on my life down through the years.”
The challenge to live faithfully, live steadily for god is a central challenge as followers of Jesus Christ. Our human nature being what it is, continued obedience and faithfulness is hard to maintain. Furthermore, the ups and downs of life in a fallen and distorted world do not provide us with the tools and support we need to consistently live for god.
Our vision, our hearing needs regular examination. Last month I went to the eye doctor for my 2-year exams. He used the ‘b’ word – bifocals. I resisted. but, I know the time is coming when I will need them.
But, we also need to have our spiritual vision and spiritual hearing checked on a regular basis.
I have been accused by my mother, who is here today, of having ‘selective hearing’, as a child and teenager on Sunday afternoons. She has always claimed, and I have always denied, that as soon as the dishwater was drained, I would be up from my nap that seemed to have lasted the length of the dishwashing session and off to whatever was next on my agenda.
The same holds true for me spiritually. It holds true for all of us.
For the next 9 Sundays I am going to offer 9 ways of helping us improve our vision and hearing so that we can be more mature and effective followers of Jesus Christ.
The Israelites were discouraged. They were far away from their homeland. They were shamed filled. They felt hopeless. They felt sad and lonely.
They had taken their focus off of god and as a result, they had lost their homeland – Israel. They had been banished to another country – Babylonia where they were surrounded by a foreign culture whose way of living was totally foreign to them.
Their minds were full of questions. ‘How could we have done this awful thing?’ ‘Doesn’t god care about us anymore?’ ‘Will God ever rescue us?’ ‘What are we supposed to do now?’
Into this picture, steps the prophet Jeremiah. He sends a letter from Jerusalem to the exiled Israelites. We read it in chapter 29.
(Read the chapter beginning with verse 4 and going through verse 14)
Wow! What a letter!
I am reminded of the story told by the pastor of the church I attended all throughout college, dr h frank van valin, of how, during those long summer vacations during his college days, he would read and reread and reread the letters he would get from his then girlfriend, now wife, joyce. What a boost they were to his spirit. How he longed to hear from her.
My late father was a Korean war veteran and I am sure, as any of you who have served this great country in uniform, that letters and care packages from home were eagerly sought and looked for.
I think that we can safely imagine that this letter from Jeremiah was a breath of fresh air to a group of people whose world had been turned upside down.
God, through Jeremiah, reminds the Israelites that he is still in control and in charge of life.
He tells them to do several important things.
1. Bloom where you are planted. In verses 5 – 7 God tells them to settle in and live their lives and not give up. Take care of their family responsibilities. Be responsible citizens. Seek to make a difference.
2. Listen to me! While God says to thrive and grow in Babylon, he does not say to live like the Babylonians and listen to their statements.
3. Don’t give up! I still have plans, good plans for you! God reminds them that he has not forgotten them or abandon them. He still loves them and wants them back. He has not given up on them.
4. Look for me! As God concludes this portion of the letter to the Israelite exiles, he urges them to look for himself because he wants to be found.
What God was telling the Israelites to do was what he had wanted them to do all along – look for me, find me, and walk with me. Have a right relationship with me.
God desires the same for us.
So, if we want to be renewed in our relationship with god, we must look for, and find, him. And he wants to be found!
How much do you want god in your life?
God wants all of us – our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our plans, us
As I said at the beginning, on a crisp, cold, clear snowy Sunday morning, I knew the reason why there was a place, a group, a family called the church – because god wanted me to have my very own personal relationship with himself. Not my dad’s or mom’s or anybody else’s – mine.
Look for him. And you will find him. Walk with him and you will never regret it. I haven’t.