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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Plans for Good (Jeremiah 29.10-14)

June 6, 2010
Sermon by: Will Dolinger - graduating high school senior on senior youth Sunday
(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

I first began thinking about doing this sermon early this year. As many of you know, the middle of your senior year of high school isn’t exactly the most stress-free part of your life. I had no idea what I wanted to preach about. And then I remembered a subject we discussed on our mission trip last summer to West Virginia: control. I’m a huge control freak. I like things to be a certain way. So I looked for a passage that would best assist me in giving up control of my life, and I found it in Jeremiah 29.

For 40 years Jeremiah served as God’s spokesman to Judah. As a result of the Jewish people worshipping idols and listening to false teachings, Jeremiah’s prophecies and basic theme was to repent and turn to God or He will send destruction. No one listened. People rejected his warning. Babylon was one of the largest reigning world powers at the time and conquered Jerusalem, destroying the city and the Temple. Because of sin, Jerusalem was destroyed, the Temple was ruined, and the people were captured and carried off to Babylon. The Jewish people were responsible for their destruction and captivity because they refused to listen to God’s message to them.

Jeremiah then wrote to the captives in Babylon a message from God that said “after a period of waiting, if you change, I will come”. God is telling the people in exile that they will be there for a long time and that after a period of waiting, God will visit and fulfill his word to return the exiles home. Jeremiah warns them not to be fooled by false teachers and prophets living among them. “Remember who I am,” says God. God says to them “when you call out and pray, I will listen. When you seek me, I will be found. God promises, “I will be found by you, I will end your slavery, I will restore your fortune, I will gather you out of the nations that I sent you, and I will bring you back home again to your native land.” God was preparing his people for a new plan, a new beginning.

Now what does that have to do with us? Most of us have heard the phrase “we fear what we do not know” and that pertains especially to our thoughts regarding our future. We want control over our future and other things in life, as did the Jews. They wanted control over their own lives so they turned to idols and false prophets. And they were punished for it.

Throughout the Bible, God exiles his people to correct their mindsets, lifestyles, and thoughts. And he always brings them out of exile when they are ready. And he is the one to decide when they are ready. Because He is the one with the answers.

When God answers a prayer, his three main responses are “yes”, “no”, and “wait”. For those of you that are math people, that’s 2/3 of the time when we will not get what we want. Verse 11 of the passage says “‘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.’” Notice it does not say “plans to please you and give you comfort.” We will not always be comfortable with His decisions. But they are intended to make our lives better. He has plans to give us a hope and a future. He has a plan to always be with us. But sometimes, the concept of a plan we won’t always agree with is difficult to grasp.

This past year, I’ve heard his plans for me in a more direct form. Colleges respond to applications with letters with the same answers as God. “Mr. Dolinger, we are pleased to inform you that you have been offered admission at our university.” Or “Mr. Dolinger, we regret to inform you that we cannot offer you admission at our university.” Or even “Mr. Dolinger, as a result of the competition for admission at our university, we will be informing you of our decision at a later date.” Since I set foot on campus, my college of choice was Clemson University. I knew the exact date on which I could begin the application, it was the first application I submitted, and I was aware of the exact date on which I would be notified of my decision. The day came and I opened my letter to find “Mr. Dolinger, due to the strength and competition of our applicant pool, we are unable to offer you admission at this time.” It was, of course, discouraging and it took time to get over it, but I soon realized that it was not part of God’s plan for me to be a Tiger. Time passed and I am now more excited than ever about attending Appalachian State in the Fall. My life was rocked because the plans that I had set were not going to be met. There’s a saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” We will never have full control over our plans and if we try, we will never be truly happy.

As we grow both physically and in our relationship with God, the amount of obstacles we face does not decrease. As life goes on, we’re faced with yes’s, no’s and wait’s in other aspects of our lives. When I’m out of college, I’m going to have to find a job. I’m going to have to find a place to live. And I’m going to have to find someone that I want to spend the rest of my life with. And the list goes on and on. And there will be many yes’s, no’s and a lot of wait’s.

Even in the beginning, in the Garden, God forbade Adam and Eve from eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. There have always been things that we as God’s creations weren’t meant to know, like what our future holds.

Every week we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your will be done.” Every week we give God the control to make the correct decisions for us. But when the time comes, some of us find it more difficult to accept His decision. Why are we afraid to give God control of our lives when He wants what’s best for us and He wants us to find happiness and fulfillment in life? When we say the Lord’s Prayer, let’s ask for the peace of mind to be confident in His will being done. But we are in a covenant with God. It’s a two way street and that requires something of us. We need to seek God out because we will only find Him if we seek Him. When we seek God, we will find him through prayer and the Bible. We should not only rely on ourselves but keep our part of the covenant. The Jews didn’t keep their part. They were not seeking out God. But God gave them a second chance. He sent Jeremiah to remind them of what God had previously told them. He also sent him to remind the Jews that there was still hope. And there is always hope. Jeremiah says in the book of Lamentations, “Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.”

God always fulfills his promises. What He says He will do, He will do. He has a specific plan for each of us. It’s not up to us to know what that plan is. There will be roadblocks and detours in the way. Some things are stops along the way instead of the destination we’re trying to find. But God will take us where he needs us, no questions asked. Amen.

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