Christianity 201

March 4, 2016

“For I Know the Plans” Reconsidered in Light of Other Texts

Today we want to introduce you to a new online resource, Start2Finish.org which includes various blogs, podcasts and Bible study materials materials available on everything from a phone app to print. Click the title below to read today’s article at its source, and then use the navigation bar to check out the rest of the website.

Jeremiah 29:11 is Not About You!

by Chris McCurley

We see it on bumper stickers, inspirational posters, and graduation cards. We see it embroidered on pillows or tattooed on a person’s body. It’s the words of the Lord as spoken through the prophet Jeremiah and it reads, “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).’” Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland and other “prosperity preachers” use this verse to cater to our culture’s selfish and individualistic mindset. IT’S ALL ABOUT YOU! YOUR BEST LIFE NOW! GOD JUST WANTS YOU TO BE HAPPY! HE WANTS YOU TO HAVE IT ALL! Even in the realm of religion, I am still the focal point. And many have bought in to this sentiment. As a result, Jeremiah 29:11 becomes a signature verse for the “Name It and Claim It” theologians. But Jeremiah 29:11 is not about you. The dead give away is found in the heading of this chapter. It reads: “MESSAGE TO THE EXILES”

It’s easy to read a verse like this and individualize it. Here’s what we would like it to say, “I know the plans I have for you, Chris McCurley.” But not even the original hearers of this message could have individualized these words. Jeremiah’s message was meant for the elders, the priests, the prophets, and the people, many of which would not be around in 70 years to see this promise come to fruition. This was a promise of future welfare for the nation at large, not a promise of prosperity for any one particular person. I feel quite certain that the people hearing this message for the first time would not have responded as we often do today. We read this verse and we zero in on the prosper part. We focus in on how God is going to bless us in amazing ways. However, the message to God’s people is that everything’s going to be alright…eventually. After years and years of suffering they’re going to come back home and be restored; not them, per se, but their kinfolk. The grim reality surrounding Jeremiah 29:11 is that hard times were in store for God’s people. Someday there would be restoration. There was hope on the horizon, but only after decades of harshness.

So, is there a take away from this verse for us? Can we still claim Jeremiah 29:11 even though it has nothing to do with God personally prospering us? The answer is, “Of course.” All scripture is beneficial to us, and all scripture can be claimed by us, just not always in the way we would like to claim it. Does God have a plan for you and me? Absolutely! Does He plan for our welfare and not our calamity? Certainly! Does He give us a future and a hope? Without question! But we are dead wrong to assume that the plan involves a long life of comfort and convenience with perfect health and mountains of money.

What about the gentleman whose mother, wife, and three children are all killed in a car accident? What about the young mother of four small kids who is diagnosed with Stage Four cancer? What about the man who works hard but gets laid off from his job and his wife leaves him for another man? What about the family who must deal with the horror of having their child abducted and murdered? Is this God’s plan? Do you see the danger in grabbing hold of certain “Life Verses” and assuming that they represent the totality of God and Christianity? What happens when the miracle you prayed for doesn’t come? What happens when God doesn’t heal your loved one? What happens when the man of your dreams finds someone else? Is God not good? Does He not care?

The apostle Paul stated, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18). Thousands of years from now, it won’t matter how much wealth and status you had. It won’t matter how much pain and suffering you had to endure. This is not about how good one can have it while alive here on planet earth. This world is not our home. This is our temporary residence. We don’t belong here. We are exiles in a foreign land (1 Pet. 2:11). Therefore, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if I am healthy and wealthy in a physical sense. It doesn’t matter how good I have it in the here and now. All that truly matters is that I have the hope found in the abundant life Jesus Christ came to give (Jn. 10:10).

My friends, God has been honest enough to tell us that there will be trouble in this life. This life is hard, but God has also made us a promise. There is hope on the horizon. There is a glorious future awaiting us. Though we are exiles on this planet, some day we get to go home. Let’s not get things twisted. This life is all about kingdom living, not earthly pursuits. If we don’t have a penny to our name, we are among the wealthiest to have ever lived because of WHO we belong to. A life lived in Christ is the most prosperous life of all. So let’s get busy living it!

June 17, 2014

Familiar Verse in Context: This is the Day

It’s been six months since we borrowed something from Mike Leake at the blog Borrowed Light. This is the second in what promises to be a series of “most shared verses.”  To read this at source, click here. To continue to follow the series as new entries are added, save this link.

At the end of last year, YouVersion highlighted the top 10 Bible verses that were shared the most. I found the list interesting and thought that it could be helpful to understand them in their original context. Today we are looking at Psalm 118:24—which according to YouVersion was the most shared verse in 2013.

The Verse:

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24 ESV)

The Context:

Psalm 113-118 are known as the Egyptian Hallel. These psalms were typical sang during Passover and other festivals. It is quite likely that Psalm 118 would have been the last song that Jesus sang with his disciples before going to the Garden of Gethsemane.

This Psalm is a call to worship God for his steadfast love and faithfulness. And his steadfast love and faithfulness is shown through his establishing of a king. Note that right before Psalm 118:24 is a verse that is oft-quoted in the NT.

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.”

Also note that 118:26 was shouted by the people during the triumphal entry of Jesus. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD!”

Clearly, then, Psalm 118:24 ought to be read in light of the exaltation of God’s King. We see this ultimately fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Meaning:

The key question of this text is, “what is ‘the day’ in which the Lord has made”. Surely it is theologically correct to say that the Lord creates every day and that every day ought to move us to worship. But is this text actually pointing to another ‘day’?

Some interpreters have this pointing to the Sabbath. (Spuregon was one of them). Personally, I believe that in the immediate context this is pointing to the day of the particular festival as a reminder of the goodness of the Lord in establishing his king. But this too is pointing to something even greater; namely, the establishment of Jesus Christ as the Eternal Davidic King.

So, what does it mean for us when we say, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”? I don’t know that one is wrong in celebrating each day as from the hand of the Lord. But I believe even more profoundly that this verse ought to draw us to thanksgiving to God for Christ being the established King. It is because of this event that we can truly rejoice in every day that the Lord has made.

As Christ left the upper room, singing with his disciples, “This is the day that the Lord has made let us rejoice and be glad in it” he knew everything that ‘this day’ would include. And yet it was for the joy set before him that he endured the Cross. And it is because of this same joy set before us that we can rejoice every day.

His King is in Zion. Today and Forever. Let us rejoice and be glad!

January 4, 2014

Clarifying a Popular Scripture Verse

Dr. Ric Walston is the founder and president of the distance-education school at Columbia Evangelical Seminary.  You are encouraged to read this at his blog, Coffee Talk.

“I can do all [THESE] things
through Christ who strengthens me.”

A short lesson in context.

Philippians 4:13

The Claim
We’ve all heard people claim: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

But, was this verse written as a claim-it verse? And, what is this “all things” that Paul speaks of?

The “all things” – The Circumstances
The “all things” are the very things Paul was talking about in Philippians chapter 4 verses 10 through 12.

Paul said: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I’m in” 11b.

What circumstances are those Paul?

He goes on:
1. I know how to get along with humble means, i.e., like a poor person with very little material goods.
2. I also know how to live in prosperity. (Some people don’t ya know! They tend to forget Christ when they have all of the physical comforts of life).
3. In any and every circumstance [i.e., poor or rich], I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.

Oh! What is that secret Paul?

Answer: Through Christ! “I can do all [THESE] things through Christ who strengthens me.” The NIV says it this way, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Note the “all this.” The “all this” is the “all things” that he was talking about, i.e., all these things.

And, then note what he says in verse 14:

“Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.”

Paul was afflicted with needs and wants.

So, he ends this point by saying that even though he can live for Christ in needs (poverty) or in plenty (rich), it was still good that they helped him during his time of poverty.

Backing up to verse 10, he says to them that he rejoiced in the Lord that they (the Philippian Christians) had once again revived their concern for him; he says that they were concerned before, but they lacked opportunity—that is they lacked the opportunity to help him in his time of poverty, probably because they themselves didn’t have much to give.

It is in the face of this that Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He’s talking about having nothing and living in poverty or being rich and having plenty; in either case or in both cases, he can do it through Christ who strengthened him.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” is not a “catch-all phrase” that refers to throwing a football, or starting a business, or walking a tightrope, or on and on and on. It’s about Paul living in contentment in Jesus whether he was in poverty or in wealth, when he had a full tummy or when he was hungry, both when he had abundance and when he had needs.

Not a “Claim-it verse”
People attempt to “claim” this verse by making it about them. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

But, guess what. This is not a “claim-it verse.”

This verse is not even about you!

Paul’s Report
This is Paul’s personal report and testimony of his own maturity in Christ.

The “I” in this verse is about Paul himself, not you.

In the same chapter, Paul says, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” v. 2. But, no one seems to be confused about who the “I” is in this verse. It’s Paul, not you. It’s not you in verse 2 and it’s not you in verse 13.

What’s Our Report?
Most of us cannot live content lives while living in poverty. Most of us can hardly be content when we have all the material things that we need.

Again, this is not a claim-it verse; this is a report by a fellow Christian who tells us that he has found the secret on how to be content whether he is poor or rich: the secret is through Christ!

If you are not content in your station in life, Paul’s example is there for us to follow.

Once you can be content in poverty or in riches by the power of Christ living in you, then you can say, as Paul did, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” v. 11.

It is in this way that Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (NIV).

How about us?
Have we actually reached a point in our maturity in Christ where we too can say with Paul, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances . . . I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m still not there yet.