2020 Vision: God has a plan
Intro: Good morning. Well, last week we started a new series that’s going to last for the rest of my duration here. In fact, to give credit where credit is due, I’m borrowing this from Steve Reynolds from our Living Waters Association who gave this series when he was retiring from the pulpit. Though, I don’t have his sermon notes or outlines, just the topic and verses that he used. So, I’m still composing the sermons on my own. And I’m using my own title.
This series is called “2020 Vision” and it’s to encourage the church to move forward and ask God for a fresh, new, even bold vision for this new year and this new decade. Those visions or plans should come from God, who sets things in our hearts, and they could be anything from projects like we’re doing with the upstairs to finding ways to engage with this community and how to engage with this next generation.
Today, I’m going to go to a familiar passage that I used before. I used this passage six months ago, almost to the day, for a sermon on encouragement. And I’d like to use it today in a similar fashion to talk about the fact that God does make plans; similar to the sermon I gave a couple of weeks ago on the promise of God doing a new thing. It can be scary to do a new thing, that’s why I’ve been talking about comfort zones and encouraging you to get out of your comfort zone a little, because when God calls us to do something, it’s going to be a little challenging at first, a little scary. It’s going to make us a little nervous. “Can I do it?”
That’s how I felt when I went back to school in my late 30s. I thought, “Man, do I even know how to study anymore? These kids are going to outdo me.” Turns out, I got straight A’s and this old man did even better than a lot of them did.
It’s like when we decided to be an Operation Christmas Child drop-off location. It might have seemed a little overwhelming at first. It was new, it was different, there were more responsibilities, we had never done this before. There were a lot of questions like, “what is it like?” “Are we going to have enough training?” “Are we going to have enough people?” “Are we going to have enough room?” And just plain and simple, “Are we competent enough?”
But once we got rolling, we found out that it wasn’t so bad afterall. In fact, it was a little too easy. And that’s how it goes with a lot of new things. We have to get over our fear and anxiety to boldly go where God calls us.
It’s easy sometimes to think about things from our end––how new things can seem uncomfortable and challenging. But have you ever thought about what it is like on God’s end of it? What is His heart and mind for us and this church?
Turn with me to Jeremiah 29:10-14.
As you’re turning there, let me read you something about D.L. Moody. I often quote him in my sermons.
While he was working his first job as a shoe clerk in Boston, he gathered eighteen ragged boys off the street to organize a Sunday school class. In two years the class had grown to fifteen hundred. In his lifetime Moody was to take two continents in his hands and shake them for God. As he died, he left this epitaph written on the flyleaf of his Bible, “If God be your partner, make your plans large.”
See, with God, you can never outdream or outplan God. You might just be amazed at where He takes a small church like this. It’s okay for a small church to have big dreams.
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 [Or will restore your fortunes]. 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.”
Central Truth: Now, this talks all about Babylon and captivity, it’s specific to God’s promise to Israel. But what does that have to do with us, and this church? It shows us God’s heart for His people. It shows us that God has plans for His people. It shows us He wants to not only bless His people in the here and now, but to also continue that blessing and give them a hope and a future. He wants to give this church a hope and a future. He has plans for it. But what are they? What are those plans? It’s up to us to seek God with our whole heart and find out what they are. Like I said, It’s okay for a small church to have big dreams.
Point 1: Seeking God with our whole heart. That’s an important point to this sermon. A lot of people take just verse 11 and build their whole sermon around that one verse. But it goes on. God wants us to seek Him with our whole heart and that’s the condition to his promise.
God is a gentleman. God doesn’t impose. God doesn’t barge in. God doesn’t act like a boss or a military general. He waits patiently to be invited into our lives, into our worship, into our church, into our planning process.
There’s an old painting called “Prince of Peace.” It’s of Jesus standing as tall as the United Nations Building, knocking on it, waiting to be invited in.
He waits to be invited. Why? Because He’s God.
What does that mean? It seems like God has the right to just barge in and take over. In a manner of speaking, he does have that right. But in another manner, he doesn’t. Why? Because in order for God to be God, we have to bow before Him. We have to humble ourselves before Him. We have to seek Him. We have to invite him to be part of our lives. That’s what it means for God to be God. If we want to do things on our own, without God, He’ll let us. He’ll let us be the god of our own church if that’s what we want. And there are churches out there like that.
I’m sure you’ve recently heard about the United Methodist denomination not being so ‘united’ anymore. They’ve proposed a new denomination called, “Traditional Methodist” that would hold to traditional Biblical values rather than the liberal values over same-sex marriage.
Now, I have to ask you, one of those views is correct. Not both of them. Either God supports gay marriage or he opposes it. Not both. Which view is more in line with God, and which one is more in line with man? God will allow this split. God doesn’t barge in and stop it and settle the argument before the split. He didn’t barge in and stop the church a thousand years ago when it became corrupt and brought about The Dark Ages, he let the church do whatever it wanted. He’s not Superman that swoops down and saves the day.
We have to seek God with our whole hearts. God is sovereign. God is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and he bows to no one. We have to humble ourselves and bow to Him and seek Him.
In Matthew Chapter 6, Jesus said, “33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” ‘These things’ meaning God’s provisions. The pagans run after these things, but Jesus said, if you seek first God and his kingdom and his righteousness, then you need not worry like the pagans do, or as the World does.
If we seek God first, He will bring His provision, and He will give us His blessing, and He will tell us His will, whether it’s for our lives or for this church.
In the following chapter of Matthew, Jesus also says, 7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Among those in the court of Alexander the Great was a philosopher of outstanding ability but little money. He asked Alexander for financial help and was told to draw whatever he needed from the imperial treasury. But when the man requested an amount equal to $50,000, he was refused—the treasurer needing to verify that such a large sum was authorized. When he asked Alexander, the ruler replied, “Pay the money at once. The philosopher has done me a singular honor. By the largeness of his request he shows that he has understood both my wealth and generosity.”
I think the same is true for God. Who knows what God would provide if we just seek, ask and knock? Jeremiah 29, verse 13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Point 2: Verse 14 goes on to say, “I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.” Some versions say, “I will restore your fortunes.”
God is in the business of restoration. I’ve gotten out my DVDs of Home Improvement, and you remember when Tim was restoring the old hot rod in his garage? God restores us. He takes his time to carefully restore us and make us like new. And he looks at us with a sense of pride––I restored you to make you shine like new.
Talking about restoration and building, I’m reminded of another set of verses in Matthew, where Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?”
And in Chapter 16, starting with verse 16, 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter (which means rock), and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
We often focus on Peter, when we read these verses. Peter was the disciple who got the answer right. And Jesus said, “You are Peter” because in the Greek, Peter means ‘rock.” He had a rock solid foundation of faith. And upon the confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah, The Church would be established and built on that rock from that time forward.
But who is building the church? Is it Peter? Well, he was one of the Church fathers. He was a mighty church planter and evangelist. And we read more about him in the Book of Acts, and we read his writings in 1 and 2 Peter. But was that what Jesus said?
Jesus said, “I will build my church.” In other words, what Jesus said was, upon true faith of true disciples, Jesus will build His church. Again, with us and through us. So how are we to partner with Jesus in building His church? This church might be 132 years old, but we want to see it revived, don’t we? We want to see it restored. How are we to partner with Jesus in building His church?
An elderly carpenter was ready to retire. He told his contractor of his plans to leave the house-building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife enjoying his extended family. The contractor was sorry to see his good worker go and asked if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter agreed, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end his career.
When the carpenter finished his work and the contractor came to inspect the house, he handed the front-door key to the carpenter. “This is your house,” he said, “my gift to you.”
What a shock! If he had only known that he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently. Now he had to live in the home he had built none too well.
Isn’t that the way we treat church sometimes? Kind of ho-hum? Our heart’s not always in it. “Oh, it’s only a fill in the blank church.”
- It’s just a small church.
- We’re just an old-fashioned church.
- We’re just a bunch of old folks.
You notice the common word there? Just. You’re short-changing yourself when you use the word, ‘just.’ Remember earlier when I said, it’s okay for a small church to have big dreams?
Don’t you know you are the shining light of Watkins Glen and the Finger Lakes, not ‘just’ the shining light of Watkins Glen and the Finger Lakes? It makes a big difference when you put that little word, ‘just’ in there, doesn’t it?
We are the shining light of Watkins Glen and the Finger Lakes. No matter how many people are here, or not here. No matter how old we are. No matter how much training we do or don’t have. Jesus calls us The Light of the World. A City on a Hill. Salt of the Earth. When you read the Bible, he doesn’t put the word ‘just’ in front of it.
How would those verses sound if Jesus said, “You’re only the salt of the earth?” Or “You’re just the light of the world?” “You’re only just a city on a hill.” Makes a big difference, doesn’t it? But He calls this church a shining city on a hill, the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He did not give exemptions. He did not say, “if you are a small, old-fashioned church with a pipe organ and piano that don’t work and you have less than 50 people, then your are exempt.” He called everyone who has his mighty Spirit within them The Light of the World.
That’s the call of God on this church. On any and all of His churches whether they’re big and contemporary and in the United States or small and underground in China or in a hut in the middle of Africa.
So now, what do we do about it? Ask, seek, knock.
Verse 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.”
We ask, seek and knock on the door of God’s heart for this church and we ask for what His plans are. We want to know, what are God’s plans for the future of this church? Where does He want to take this church into the new decade and 10 years from now?
Point 3: Remember earlier when I asked, “Have you ever wondered what it was like from God’s perspective?” When we talk about what Jesus said about us being a city on a hill, or the light of the world, that’s what God thinks of us. It isn’t something that we necessarily always think of ourselves, but it’s what God thinks of us.
In the King James Version, Verse 11 reads: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
I want to borrow from David Guzik and Enduring Word Bible Commentary.
He reminds us that In Psalm 40, David pondered the thoughts of God upon His people saying, “Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us.” And in Psalm 139 David says, “17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.”
Charles Spurgeon said, “The Lord not only thinks of you, but towards you. His thoughts are all drifting your way.”
Isn’t that encouraging? What does God think of us? When we look at these verses, we see that it’s love. It’s peace. It’s hope and a future. God thinks good things of us. He dreams good things. He plans good things. It brings him joy to think about what He wants to do with us, to us and through us. It should give us joy, too. It should give us an excitement.
And we’re not even Israelites living in exile. We were not punished by God. And look at what he promised them. David Guzik says that God has a future and a hope for His people even when they suffered in exile, even when they hurt under deserved discipline and judgment. It is the devil’s deception to rob God’s people of their sense of His future and a hope for them.
Just think, God knows every single thing about you and I. And yet, his thoughts toward us are still good. Isn’t that amazing? Every sinful thing we’ve done. Every thought we have, every goof-up we’ve ever made, our imperfections and his thoughts toward us are still good. His thoughts are still for peace and hope and a future. God is full of an amazing grace.
Conclusion: What kind of thoughts is God thinking over this church? What kind of thoughts is God thinking over you and your family right now? For this year, for the new decade, what is God thinking over you and your family and over this church?
Diana challenged me on Friday. She said, “you’ve given a sermon on challenging the church to develop a goal for the next year and next decade. What are your goals for five years from now?” I knew exactly what they were. And I asked her the same. She knew exactly what hers were, too. And she had more than I did. Quite a lot more, and I bet you’re not surprised.
Have you ever thought about it? Have you ever thought, “Gee, what is God thinking over this church? What is His plan? What is His desire?”
I want to encourage you now to start seeking, to start asking and to start knocking. God has good thoughts over this church. He has plans for this church. And he has a plan for your life. They are plans for good, for prosperity, for peace. They are plans that are hopeful for the future.
God is in the restoration business. He wants to restore you, if need be, and he wants to restore this church to being a more productive church for the next generation.
Prayer: Dear Lord, we come before you today asking for a new direction. Where do you want to see this church in three years or five years or ten years? What do you want us to do? I pray for a unified 2020 vision. I pray for a pastor who will see it, too and lead this church into the next decade with a fresh, bold vision that comes from you and I pray for a church body that is united in seeking and hearing exactly what you want to do here, in Watkins Glen and beyond.
In Jesus name, Amen.