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David Hatcher rang me on New Year’s Eve as he frequently does. He doesn’t do cards, he rings us up instead, after Christmas, to chat. In the conversation that followed there was a passion for Jesus and the church in his town, Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex. I have known him for 40 years. All that time he has been waiting for change in his local churches – he used to play the organ at the Baptist, Methodist and URC churches. He is still waiting but his conviction that God will one day build his Kingdom in Walton remains undiminished. David’s hope in God was a challenge. 40 years – from young man to old man – he has prayed for revival and waits on God.
2014 is a year of HOPE. The church in this country is planning to make HOPE for our villages and towns.
In 586 BC, Judah disappeared in a cloud of smoke and dust. The few who survived were either exiled to Babylon or left in a broken land. The light had faded. Some thought that maybe this was only temporary but Jeremiah the prophet warned them that the exile would be 70 years long. – more than two generations. But in all the doom and gloom of the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and others there is always a thread of hope, a distant light on the horizon.
And it is one of those threads that I want to talk about this morning.
READ Jeremiah 29:4-14
Some of these verses are very familiar. They are nice words like “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.”
It is all too easy to quote them as if they are prophetic for out day and, somehow, this year will work out in some glorious way. But wrenching a verse like this out of context is poor Biblical studies and even worse prophetic ministry. The Word of the Lord is that the tough times have an end. That God has plans for good and not evil. But this prophecy is also about our response.
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,
These are not conditions of God being nice, they are definitions of what the good plans of God are intended to be. God is interested in people who call on him, who pray to him, who seek him with all their heart. To those he promises to listen and to be found.
The word of the Lord for 2014 is that God has plans but are you interested in being part of his plans? Is your hope in God or that God will give you a pleasant year free from the trials and troubles of life? If we are to be church in 2014, we must learn to hope for ourselves and then, by God’s grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can ignite it in others.
So what sort of plans have you for the year? What dreams? Ask the question, where is God in your dreams and your plans?
The church in this country is going through difficult times. The early flush of charismatic revival of the 1980s has faded. There are signs of growth but the church growth in London is mainly due to immigrants from the Caribbean and elsewhere. In the main churches in London are weighted in the direction of older people with few young people. There are exceptions to this of course but we as a church rejoice in one baptism last year and look forward to more this year. But the outlook is grim with the press dominated by anti-Christian sentiment that parades our failings and ignores the ground-swell of compassion that goes out from the churches and provides support where the secularists condemn the weak as scroungers.
There is a sense that we are in the position of the exiles. In the past we look back at a time when churches thrived. Now the struggle. In fact we have a word for it. Instead of looking for utopia we find dystopia – a brave New World which is anything but hopeful. We get excited over every new prophecy of revival and we make much of small things because we don’t believe God does big things any more. Into this negative mental environment, Jeremiah steps in with a message from God.
Point 1. This is a long game, not a short fix. This 70 years is so critical to the Jewish thinking of the day that it is what lead Daniel to prayer about the future. Was it a real 70 years or a description of a long time? The answer he got, blew his mind away. God had plans for not just 70 years but for the next 600 years and more! The Babylonian Empire, The Persian Empire, The Greek Empire and the Roman empire would come and go but then a baby would be born in Bethlehem that would transform God’s relationship with his people.
So the word for 2014 is not a prophecy that we will all live happily this year but that God has a plan, an eternal plan. A plan that takes into account your day-to-day living and the return of Jesus Christ! A plan that will confront the evil of our society with judgement but also grace will be poured out to those whom God shall call, those who turn to God.
Talking of God’s plan, we have a plan! We have made it a matter of prayer and we need to understand it is only God’s plan in so far as we know. If God has other ideas, our prayer should be that he takes us his way, not our way.
So what are our plans?
HOPE 2014 The churches in London and the rest of the Country have set out to make 2014 a special year of Hope. The objective is for us, working with other churches to get out into the community expressing the love of God in action and word. We are deeply into that with, Tuesday Focus, Teddy Bear Club, Antenatal courses, Craft clubs, Razzmatazz, The Safe and Job Seekers’ Club. It is good to see that we are playing our part in a bigger picture.
Ministry. We have plans to go through the process of appointing a new full time worker. But that is not all. We have, as always, an aging work-force and we will need to move on and allow people to pass on or put down the burdens of voluntary work that they have carried for years. That could be quite painful but it could also be invigorating, but if the Holy Spirit of God is not our guide then it will be frustrating and pointless. We need to pray “Your kingdom come, you will be done in SRCF”
Telling the Good News. Sign up for the Sharing Jesus Course that is coming to you, here, in February. Every Thursday in February 8pm to 9:30pm the course runs. So House Groups will not happen, Powerhouse will not happen, instead we will spend 4 evenings exploring together with other churches in Hillingdon and London how to move from small talk to sharing Jesus with family, friends and colleagues.
Understanding our destiny. In March and April we are asking you to read the Purpose Driven Life which is a 40 day reading plan to excite you about what God’s plans for you are. You see, God has long term plans for the whole world and he also has plans for you as an individual. It will form a sort of Lent course and Sundays leading up to Easter will be dedicated to exploring why you are here, today
Church life. In January, February May and June we will explore God’s word on the subject of a living breathing church, reading through 1 Corinthians. Antony Billington kicks this off next Sunday.
Manual for life We return to the Manual for life written by Matthew to hear what Jesus says about the Kingdom of God in July, October and November.
The Chosen Few. We examine three of the characters of the book of Judges – Deborah, Gideon and Samson in September.
Specials. We must not forget a number of specials throughout the year where we go out of our way to make this event inviting to families. Mothers Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Pentecost, Summer Specials, Harvest, and 4 Carol Celebrations.We must not forget the Summer Holiday Club planned for 11th to 17th August
As part of HOPE 2014, we plan to join the Pentecost Festival and have a street party to celebrate a key date in the church calendar, when the Holy Spirit first came down in power on the disciples.
What matters is that these plan of ours should come from God. 2014 is in his hands. So are they safe hands?
Point2. “plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
Yes, they are! The evidence is that God is not after you, he is for you. The cross declares God’s interest in people is to save them from their own folly and sins. So the future may be tough and full of evil but God is not there gloating over your misfortune but waging war over evil that his plans for your good will prevail. And God wins!
Point 3. to give you hope and a future
So you have a future and a hope. The future is not Orange, it is Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life. Not only follow him but walk with him. Walk the way in which he walks. Do the Jesus walk!
Your hope is not that things will turn out OK in the end but your hope is Jesus. To be with him your greatest desire and ambition. Jesus said that they who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. We have a sure and certain promise that one day we will be with Jesus for ever AND we have the promise that he will never leave us or forsake us NOW.
Point 4. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
This is where the hunger and thirst for righteousness is the dynamic of the Christian life. If you didn’t rise this morning with Jesus on your mind, you have still greater blessing to come. If you don’t start a panic with prayer to the Father then you have to live through the panic. The first step of the disciple of Jesus is to call on him and come and pray to him. This is not a monastic mind-set this is the real dynamic of discipleship. You talk to Jesus! All the time! And on special occasions. Look this is not how our mind works normally. Our thoughts plough through all sorts of anxiety and distress and depression and fear. But God does not want you to live that way. He wants you to want that close relationship where you talk, he listens. This is what spiritual disciplines are all about, developing that relationship with Jesus so that we will not fear though the earth be shaken and the mountains disappear into the sea. If you want a new year’s resolution, it must be to live in the presence of Jesus by practising that presence, waiting for the Holy Spirit to pour out blessing on you, not satisfied with the shallowness of your spiritual life and doing something about it. Set aside time in the day to converse with God, that is to pray and read your Bible and pray about what you read. Practice talking to God in every situation, as soon as you remember that is what you are meant to do. Face every crisis with a prayer of trust rather than anxiety.
The promise is that he will listen. Even if the heavens seen as brass and God appears to be far away or your mind will not stay on Jesus, He is listening.
Point 5. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
The objective of following Jesus is Jesus. To seek him and find him. The plans God has for you this year are to do with you walking with him, experiencing the blessing of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit in your life. Jesus is not a means to an end, he is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, The author and finisher of our faith. This is not the place for half-hearted New Year’s resolution, to be abandoned at the first, second or third failure. You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Point 6. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord,
God wants you to find him. His plan are for you to find him. His promise is that if you seek him with all your heart, you will find him.
This is a call to turning to God with renewed determination not to be satisfied with the blessedness I once knew but seeking the fullness of the Holy Spirit , today, tomorrow and every day of the year.
If our plans for this year have any meaning they are designed to encourage us to be here, but more importantly, in the presence of God, seeking him with our whole being and taking what we have found into the streets and the homes around us that the community around us may know for themselves. Find Jesus this year and you will discover life as God intended it.Return to top