Scripture Reading:Jer.29: 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.
Jer.29:11 I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (The Message)
Jer.12:5 The Lord said, “Jeremiah, if you get tired racing against people, how can you race against horses? If you can’t even stand up in open country, how will you manage in the jungle by the Jordan?
Jer.12:5 “So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses? And if you can’t keep your wits during times of calm, what’s going to happen when troubles break loose like the Jordan in flood?(The Message)
Jer.1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Jer.1:5 “Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you: A prophet to the nations— that’s what I had in mind for you.”(The Message)
Last week I shared with you a sobering word of warning concerning the culture of the last days. If we take that thought back to Jer.12:5 we can express it this way: The horses are coming, and the thick jungle undergrowth along the Jordan flood plain is getting thicker every day. In other words the horses and the thick jungle undergrowth represent the cultural dynamics we are going to face as we move deeper and deeper into the last days. This is not something we need to fear. But it is something we need to be prepared for, and that preparation begins with a growing understanding of our true identity – who we really are.
Think about it – at the core of this whole cultural conflict we are in is this question: Who or what is going to determine and define our identity? If I gain my identity from the culture around me then I am going to live out the values of that culture no matter how perverted they may be.
For instance – when, from the earliest stages of our education, we are told that we are simply the highest form of animal life in a long evolutionary process and that our nearest cousins in that process are still swinging from limb to limb in the jungles – what is the bottom-line value we take away from that? What we take away is that at the very best we are little more than an animal. And if I am an animal then I am no longer a moral being who must bear responsibility for my choices and accountability for the consequences of those choices. After all I am just following my built in animalistic instincts.
So this fight – not just to make it in the culture at the door – but to be salt and light within that culture and to bring real change; all of this begins with knowing who you really are – knowing your one and only true identity. So let’s see what Jeremiah can teach us about that.
The events and experiences referenced in the book of Jeremiah are not presented in the chronological order in which they actually took place. But according to the order in which they are presented in our English Bibles I want to ask this question: What was the very first word Jeremiah ever heard from God?
Here it is: Jer.1:5 “Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you: A prophet to the nations— that’s what I had in mind for you.”(The Message) Now, what was the very first word Jeremiah ever heard from God? The answer is ‘before.’
Here is the first thing we need to understand about understanding who we really are. There was something before the now, and without understanding the “before” there is little understanding of the “now”. Suppose I could take this present minute of my life and totally isolate it from both the ‘before’ and the ‘after’ of this one minute. And suppose I call this one minute the ‘now’ of my life. Question: What could you possibly know of my true identity by looking only at that one minute ‘now’ of my life?
Why do biographers search through family archives? Why do psychiatrists recover repressed memories and ask about childhood impressions? And what about lovers – especially young lovers – why do they rummage through the photograph albums of the one they love? What biographers, psychiatrists and lovers know is that there is always a hidden root system to the visible ‘now’ and that root system is called the ‘before’.
Jeremiah has been designated by Bible students and theologians as the ‘weeping prophet.’ I suppose that may be easy to figure out when a man writes an entire book called‘Lamentations.’ But let me tell you this about Jeremiah – he was one of the most complex personalities of all God’s Old Testament prophets. He lived about 6o years. He ministered through 40 of those years.
Now suppose you were assigned the responsibility of writing the biography of this intricate and complex person. And so you begin your research with the ‘before’ of his life. Then you make this horrific discovery – all you can find of the ‘before’ of his life are three facts. 1) His father’s name was Hiliah. 2) His father’s vocation was the priesthood. 3) The town he was born in was Anathoth. At that point the biographer would likely close out the project – concluding that there is insufficient information about Jeremiah’s ‘before’ to ever hope to understand his true identity.
But here is the Biblical scoop on the matter of Jeremiah. Everything we need to know about Jeremiah’s ‘before’ is right under our noses in the first words God spoke to him. “Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you: A prophet to the nations— that’s what I had in mind for you.”
Instead of being told about what Jeremiah’s parents were doing and what the town was like he was born into, instead of detailing the personal history of the man we are told about what God was doing. And right there we have touched the first key of understanding our true identity. Your ‘before’ and my ‘before’ reach way back beyond our parentage, beyond the town we grew up in, beyond any and all the details of our personal history to date. I am God’s thought, God’s idea made visible in this time/space dimension through a physical body that was conceived and formed in my mother’s womb 61 years ago.I did not evolve from anything – I was created in the very mind of the sovereign Lord God almighty.
Before you had a single thought of God, God was thinking of you. Before you had a single idea of God, you were God’s idea. Before you ever knew God, you were known by God. You cannot find yourself by beginning with yourself because you are not your beginning.
Your true beginning is in God – the very thought and idea of God. And this is where mere science misses the deeper reality of what it means to be truly human – it starts with us and ends with us while cutting God entirely out of the equation. How can we hope to truly understand a thing when we bypass the true origins or beginnings of that thing?
Jeremiah’s life did not begin with Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s salvation did not begin with Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s truth did not begin with Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s purpose did not begin with Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s destiny did not begin with Jeremiah. All these had their beginning in God and God alone. Jeremiah simply entered into what this sovereign God had establishedbefore he ever got here. And what was true for Jeremiah is true of each one of us in this house today.
The second key to understanding our true identity is found in these words God spoke to Jeremiah: Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you. This too is part of the‘before’ of Jeremiah’s life and it has to do with plans and purpose. And again, these plans begin with God. Jeremiah does not get to choose the plan for his life. What he gets to choose is whether or not he will participate in that plan by cooperating with the God who ordained it.
This means there is nothing random about us or our purpose in being here. God deliberately created us and there was specific intention in His doing so. No matter how you arrived in this time/space world you are not a biological accident. Furthermore you are not a purposeless piece of clutter on the surface of the earth. Here is the truth of you – you were created by God Himself on purpose, and you were created by God Himself unto and for purpose. And whatever else that may mean it certainly means that you are God’s deliberate choice for such a time as this.
This means that God never intended that we become mere spectators and consumers. But that is exactly what the culture around us is trying to reduce us to – spectators and consumers – with no purpose or identity beyond what we have watched and what we possess. I will share more about that next week.
When John the Baptist was asked regarding who he was – regarding his identity, he responded:“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness – Prepare ye the way of the Lord and make straight His paths.” With that declaration he was aligning his God created identity with the God created purpose for his being here.
Your purpose in being in the earth at this time is not the employment that supports you while you are in the earth; your purpose is to participate with God in whatever He is doing in the earth. And that participation involves every activity you are engaged in wherever you are on this planet. And by the way, if you want to know what it is that God is up to I can tell you this much; He is up to building a Kingdom right here in the face of a hostile and opposing culture.No matter what your occupation is your defining purpose in being in the earth at this time is to be a Kingdom builder with God.
Do not misunderstand what I am about to say, but my place in life does not depend on how well I do in the entrance examination. My place in life is not determined by what market there is for my type of personality.My place was set in and I was set into that place long before either I or that place existed in time. Both I and the place set in for me were determinations of the sovereign God.
The third key to understanding our true identity revealed in the first words of God to Jeremiah is found in these words: A prophet to the nations— that’s what I had in mind for you.” This is incredibly interesting because the words ‘had in mind’ are translated from aHebrew word which in its literal translation means ‘to give’ or ‘gave’ – “I gave you as a prophet to the nations.”
God is a giver because He is a lover, and you cannot truly love and not be a giver. And in this we discover why He created us and why He chose us and set us apart unto purpose. You’ve got it! His whole intention is to give each and every one of us away. Now doesn’t that just make you feel so special? We really are God’s gifts to the world. But before we become too inflated with such truth let me suggest that to be given away by the God who created us means we are not here to gather, and clutch, and accumulate, and hold on to; we are here to give away, to invest whatever makes up our lives – time, talents, gifts, energy, dreams, passions, and material things – to invest all of it in the lives of all those God calls us to. That is how the kingdom comes – in the sacrificial giving away of our lives.
How does that attitude fit with a spectator/consumer driven culture? Or how does it fit with what we read last week from Paul’s words to Timothy regarding the last days – i.e. that the core characteristic of that culture would be raw selfishness? The bottom line is this: Unless I understand my true identity and stand firm in it then this evolving culture is going to create a false identity and define me by it.
Jeremiah could have remained in the dead-end town of Anathoth. He could have settled into the relative security of his father’s ministry. But one day God told him who he really was – told him his true origin – and that revelation ruined him forever as a spectator and a consumer. If you want insight into what it cost him read the book of Lamentations. By the age of 60 there was nothing left to give; he had been totally spent and given away. But do not feel sorry for him. Feel sorry for those who chose to remain in Anathoth, holding on to their life.
Jesus put it this way: Matt.16:25 – If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find it.
Matt.16:25 – Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. (The Message)
Here is a different way of seeing yourself. First, God thought you up. Second, God signed you up. And third, you are God’s big giveaway. Live out of that and you will impact the culture around you.