Hope for the New Year - Jeremiah 29:10-14, preached at Sunset Canyon Baptist Church on
Dec. 31, 2017
Hope for the New Year
Dec. 31, 2017
Hope for the New Year – We have gone through the Advent Season and Christ’s birth, a wonderful time of thanksgiving and a blessing – not just for our families, but the world! Families, friends, and the body of Christ as one – celebrating the author of our faith, Jesus Christ and the God who would give a part of himself to us for love and connection to us.
We are almost at the New Year, and it may bring us joy, sadness, bitterness, hope, or some other emotion. Have you been thinking about New Year’s resolutions? Are you hoping that next year is not the same as this year; that somehow you and your family will push through whatever is your kind of chaos and come out the other side of it?
By the way, chaos was in the beginning as told in Genesis and at Christ’s birth. But God brings order through chaos just as He did in Jesus’ life, suffering, and death – chaos, but God brought about Jesus’ resurrection, not death, and eternal life for those who believe in Him!
I hope that this sermon will give you hope in whatever place or circumstance you find yourselves today. That the God of Hope, who offers joy and peace (or the Hebrew word שלםshalom (completeness)) to the world by believing in His Son, may make it come true – whether you are in chaos or bliss, this day!
Of the events of 2017, Hurricane Harvey was – for this state, its citizens, its friends, and the country – a nightmare. It first hit the Texas coast on August 24, 2017, and made landfall three times. The storm lasted until September 3, 2017. Harvey caused at least 91 confirmed deaths, and total damage from the hurricane is estimated at $198.63 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster ever in the United States. It hit Texas with a wrath that dumped four feet of rain in four days, then it veered off toward Louisiana and wreaked its havoc there.
Perhaps the most devastated path was Harris County, which includes Houston. By mid-week of the deluge, 30 percent of the county – more than 450 square miles – was under water! Houston was in – pardon the pun – over its head. There were homes, families, dogs, cats, cattle, and a way of life that were changed – some permanently. It happened so fast, that one man who dove out of his truck as it was swamped by the rising water, said “"I thought it was just a couple of feet, you know? I didn't think it was that deep until it was too late.” But too late it was, and his story fit what seemed to be a million or more people.
The city mayor put it bluntly in deciding not to evacuate: “You cannot evacuate 6.5 million people with two days,” he said. “That would be chaotic.” But, in one of America’s most flood-prone major cities, there were neighborhoods and highways that were impassable. This dangerous water world trapped tens of thousands of residents. Life-and-death 911 calls scaled beyond the capacity of first responders. What do you do in situations like that? What do fellow citizens do when nature rears its ugly head and takes over?
Bible Segway – OT – exiled Jews in Babylon
Was there ever a time in the Bible where the people of God had a future that looked as though it would be without hope? Unfortunately, all too often God’s people looked to be without hope. One example is where God’s chosen people, Israel, got too distant from God – through idols and worship of other gods, not caring for aliens, the downtrodden, and widows/orphans amongst them – that God had enough. The LORD’s people were actually taken away from the Promised Land and exiled to Babylon from 587-6 to about 538 B.C., or about 48 years. Let’s look at the Book of Jeremiah, and then specifically Chapter 29:10-14.
Jeremiah book – The book of Jeremiah covers among the most tumultuous times in the Old Testament, from 626 – after his call to ministry until 586 B.C. There are at least six kings of Judah, starting from Josiah – who was a good king – and then the evil kings, ending with Zedekiah and the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah’s life included the rise of the Babylonian empire, and the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Solomonic Temple (586 B.C.).
Jeremiah – person
Jeremiah was perhaps the prophet closest to God in the Old Testament. He has been compared by scholars to Jesus Christ, and – according to one scholar - sixteen similarities between the two exist (although Jesus was the Son of God and that trumps Jeremiah in the end). Still, he was maybe the closest human to God in the Bible – and that’s saying a lot. He was from a priestly family, a prophet, the son of Hilkiah, born at Anathoth in 646 B.C., called to the prophetic office probably at 20, and lived until 586, a total of 60 years. Jeremiah died in Egypt...
His whole life has been a called a martyrdom. He was a priest by birth, by grace a prophet, by the trials of life a bulwark for God’s truth, by daily spiritual experience one of the greatest prophets to come along, and by natural desire one seeking love – of a wife, his family, friends, and Israelites – all of which were denied him! He was the most Christlike of all the prophets, and certain disciples saw in Jesus of Nazareth the prophet Jeremiah returned to life (Matt 16:14).
Chapter 29 begins with a letter sent by two messengers from Jerusalem to Babylon prophesying to the exiles in their captivity. The letter was supposed to speak to the Israelites, both encouraging them and bringing them back to wholeness in the Lord in a strange land by the God that put them there as a result of disobedience!
And now the scripture for today:
Jeremiah 29:10-14 New International Version (NIV)
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 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. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.[a] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
Jeremiah 29:14 Or will restore your fortunes
The Word of the Lord...Thanks be to God.
10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.
Jeremiah now presents a beautiful prophecy of encouragement to the exiles, for the LORD’s ultimate purpose calls for blessing. The seventy years – which verse 10 says - are probably the end of the exile which equates to the fall of Babylon; but a long time, nonetheless. The bottom line is that not many of the exiled Jews returned to their homeland. Still, He declares that He has not forgotten His people (the community), and He ultimately will return them to the Promised Land.
11 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.
Verse 11 is one of the most heralded verses of the Old Testament, a promise of hope that rings true even today. My Hebrew translation goes “For I know the thoughts I think of you, the Lord utters, Thoughts of shalom (or peace), not evil, to give you an end and a hope.”
God has thoughts of shalom – completeness, wholeness - for them (not evil), even though He exiled them for disobedience, for hope. The words “a hope and a future” are literally in Hebrew “an end and a hope,” meaning “a hopeful end.” This was a heartening word from the LORD to the exiles, and hopefully to you here today. The LORD has not forgotten you, even though (maybe) chaos is around you, no – He has plans for you and your family!
12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
The LORD called on them to pray in Verse 12. He is still there (and here), and in communion with the exiled Israelites, in fact He will listen to their call. This is a turn from earlier, before the exile, when Yahweh or the LORD told Jeremiah not to pray, for He would not listen.
13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
In verse 13, God says if the Israelites come to Him, they must come to Him pure. Heart in the Old Testament meant the inner core of their being – the mind, the will – the promise would come with a price – Yahweh was #1 in their life! Is God #1 in yours? I think He was saying adapt to the situation, learn to endure it, and then the Israelites would be ready to seek God with their heart. This was a time of discipline. Verse 13 is one of the most evangelical verses of the Old Testament – when we seek God, He will be there when we need Him!
14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.[a] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
This last verse – verse 14 - is comforting. If they come to Him in love, and repent – or in the New Testament “ask forgiveness,” then He will listen to them, and bring the Israelites back to the Promised Land – Israel - where the LORD made His covenant with the Israelites, and brought Himself down to this earth. Do you think the LORD listens to you?
Illustration – Admiral McRaven
Retired Admiral William McRaven is now a Chancellor at the UT System, but he was and is a global thinker and a military expert. He has advised President’s Bush and Obama on a number of issues, and his book SPEC OPS – which was his dissertation in graduate school, has sold more than 60,000 copies and has been published in several languages. He has a new book – that my Son Sam got for Christmas – that comes from his commencement speech at UT’s graduation in 2014. He is a Navy SEAL – or Sea Air and Land – and operates at a high efficiency in whatever he does.
At the UT graduation in 2014, while still an active duty admiral, he talked about the ten things he learned in his Basic SEAL Training – a SEAL class which has a bell that sounds when sailors and Marines quit – which they often do. It is six months of being cold, wet and miserable and constantly being harassed by professional warriors – according to the Admiral. If they make it through, they’re a SEAL! It’s kind of like The Basic School that I went through in the Marines, only tougher!
There are ten lessons that he used to make the point – in my opinion - that leaders are built from the ground up, and it’s every day that makes a leader. I’m going to start with the first thing that SEAL Warriors had to do (and it the first thing Marine Officer Candidates have to do when they wake up in the morning): make your bed. A seemingly mundane little thing, but the point is this according to the Admiral: the wisdom of the simple act is that you go from making the bed to other acts that are bigger and better. You take comfort in making your bed, whether you have a good day or not. It reinforces that you have to do the little things right to get the big things right, and making the bed gives you hope for tomorrow – especially when the day doesn’t turn out like you had planned.
There’s a Bible lesson in that, somewhere. In the verses right before our verses for the day, God said some similar thangs to the exiled Israelites. In Jeremiah 29:4-9, God said (and I’ll paraphrase) build houses and settle down; plant gardens; marry; have kids; seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile; and don’t listen to the prophets that tell you to dream of this being a short time...
That’s the kind of story I get when I talk to my brother Bobby, who turned his life around from an alcoholic, marriage falling apart, DUI car accident having character to the Christian, loving husband and father, sober for nearly 10 years, roofing business owner that I know today: he took it one step at a time. Getting up, praying in the morning for God to help him, following the twelve steps, and being the best that he could be that day.
Bring it to the congregation
I guess what I’m trying to say is Do something! The Hurricane Harvey story that I started this sermon with has an unexpected ending. Yes, lives and animals were lost, families mourned, and homes and businesses destroyed or damaged. Yet something wonderful came out, as hope filled the state, the country, and our lives as people helped. It came from all over – even here, with Brad Wells, Miles Matthews, Drew Harden, Booby Sadler, and others who answered the call or gave donations to help with necessities in areas where necessities were washed away or under water.
It came with what has been called “the civilian Navy.” When first responders were overwhelmed, the Texas civilian Navy and folks from Louisiana - who organized after Hurricane Katrina - came and rescued people and saved lives. County Judge Ed Emmett asked for volunteers to come forward with boats and high-water vehicles, and a civilian navy responded. Neighbor rescued neighbor, and Hurricane Harvey became an all-hands-on-deck moment.
One volunteer said, "If this was my family, I hope somebody would come for them."
It astounded whomever heard of it – this rescue in chaos. So much so that Professors at Sam Houston State University are studying the phenomenon to make sense of it... but we know the source – it is God’s hope that prevails!
Houston's convention center became its major shelter. Nearly 10,000 people poured in, doubling its original capacity. And two Gallery Furniture stores, owned by “Mattress Mack,” became temporary housing for people with no place else to go. One woman said, "We thank Mr. Mack for opening up his doors to us, because we didn't know where our next meal was going to come from, or clothes on our back."
Jim McIngvale, known as "Mattress Mack," and owner of the Gallery Furniture stores in Houston said, "We're going to keep these folks here as long as they need to be here. They may be here three days, they may need to be here seven. We're here to help. That's what we do. That's who we are." Mr. McIngvale, by the way, is a Christian, giving love in a chaotic situation!
Mayor Turner said, "If you lost one life, that's one life you didn't want to lose. But considering the enormity of the storm and the amount of rainfall that occurred, the number of lives that have been lost is much lower than what it could have been."
With the damages estimated at almost $200 billion dollars, the Hurricane path – which includes Houston - will be affected for the next decade.
But listen to the Mayor’s words: "We have always faced challenges. That's who we are. But this is a city of hope and opportunity. And this is a city that will come back stronger than it has ever been. Of that I have no doubts."
I am not sure where you are this New Year’s Eve, but God is – whether you are in chaos or complete shalom, or somewhere in between, there’s a God of Hope walking next to you. He knows where you are and more, because part of Him is Jesus, who suffered and died.
Are persons who loved you and cared for you ill? Are they distant? Have they passed on?
Are the bills too high, or things that you need and have no money for?
Is there too much weight on your shoulders, every day, and tomorrow brings more, not less?
Is there too much chaos in the world?
Pray; get in God’s Word – the Bible; go to church where the Body of Christ can love on you and help you – this is a body of believers that can be a part of your life, in good and bad times... and Do something. Be like the civilian Texas Navy, doing what they do every day – drive boats - to help people in chaos. Or like Mattress Mack, opening up his stores. Or like the exiled Israelites, who were in chaos, and God told them to plant gardens, marry, have children, and seek belonging where you are! Or finally, like Admiral McRaven – just make your bed in the morning!
Hope for the New Year thoughts in light of Scripture
Remember Gabriel – who Dr. Poe read about last Sunday – the angel who said to Mary, mother of Jesus, pregnant and unmarried, “with God, nothing is impossible!” You have hope, because you have a God of hope, who will be with you always. Rest in that, take hope in that, and in the end – when all around you looks like chaos, make your bed and get started with the day’s work...
I will close with Romans 15:13:
Romans 15:13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray.
 Luke 1:37-39 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.