Get Yourself Ready

by LA UBF   12/31/2008     0 reads


Get yourself ready�

 Get Yourself Ready

Jeremiah 1:1-19

Key Verse 1:17

“Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.”

Welcome to the 2009 New Year's conference. Tonight we would like to examine and reconfirm our position as the Lord's servants based on what the Lord had to say to his servant Jeremiah and get ourselves ready for the work the Lord has in mind in the year 2009.

I chose this passage for, like the day of Jeremiah, the challenges, particularly the environment for college campus evangelism, is becoming increasingly hostile to the Lord and his teachings. In such a tough time as ours how should we get ourselves ready for service? 

Look at vs. 1-3. This passage lists the three kings of Judah Jeremiah served. Of the three kings, King Zedekiah draws our special attention for he was the last king of Judah. After him there was no longer a temple, nor a king, nor even a kingdom. In Hebrew the name Zedekiah means "The Lord is my righteousness." Yet, it was during his rule that Jerusalem was plundered and reduced to ruins. The temple was razed to the ground and the people went into exile. Against Jeremiah's advice he and his followers attempted to escape, but they were captured on the plains of Jericho and were taken to Riblah in the land of Hamath. There, after seeing his own sons put to death, Zedekiah’s eyes were put out. Then he was bound with bronze shackles and taken to Babylon, where he remained a prisoner. This turn of events reminds us of the time in which we are called to serve the Lord. George Barna, a leader of a Christian research institution, says, "There does not seem to be revival taking place in America. Whether that is measured by church attendance, born again status, or theological purity, the statistics simply do not reflect a surge of noticeable proportions." Rather a majority of data indicate that America is shifting away from Christianity to other sets of belief very quickly. In the past, the U.S. used to be known as a Christian nation. But can we honestly say that she is still a Christian nation? We have heard the statement, "If God doesn't bring judgment upon America soon, He'll have to go back and apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!"

This statement, frequently attributed to Billy Graham, actually originated with his wife, Ruth, during a review of her husband's manuscript for his book, World Aflame, which was published in 1965. He had just finished a chapter vividly describing the sinful conditions in America and gave it to Ruth to read. She was very much sobered by the writing and returned the document to the study where he was writing and laid it on his desk, saying, "Billy, if God doesn't come soon and bring judgment upon the United States, He's going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah!"

Ruth's statement, particularly her use of the expression, "judgment upon the United States," raises another question: "Are the economic meltdown and other disasters that we see now hitting American homes a beginning of God's judgment?" 

These observations give rise to another question in our mind: "What is going to be the role of our position as shepherds for the people of this nation America?" We are gathered here having a new year's conference. Then with what kind of sense of urgency are we going to get ourselves ready for the year 2009?  

Let us read verses 4-5. “The word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘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.’ ” This passage indicates that God knows what he is doing. And he does not make any mistake. In order to help people out he makes a plan and according to the purpose of salvation he implements what he has in mind by coming up with specific measures designed to fulfill the purpose. And one of the first measures is to call his servants. We are gathered here to pray for the year 2009. The Lord God called us as shepherds. This call did not come at random. It all came according to God's pre-conceived plan. The fact that you and I are here to pray for the Lord's holy mission for this nation and world itself is the act of God.  

But not all shepherds or missionaries are one hundred percent sure of God's calling. Jeremiah was more or less the same; he was wishy-washy about God's call. So how did Jeremiah respond to the call? Look at v. 6. “ ‘Ah, sovereign LORD,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.’ ” We can identify ourselves with Jeremiah. I heard many of us saying, “My English is poor,” “I am a private person,” or “I don't have a pastor's license.”  

But what does the Lord say? Let us read vs. 7-10. “But the LORD said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am only a child.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the LORD. Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’ ” 

In this passage the Lord did not accept Jeremiah's excuse. Rather he equipped Jeremiah so he could live as the Lord's servant. 

Specifically, how did the Lord equip him? 

First, the Lord addressed Jeremiah's real problem, that is, the fear of man. The book of Jeremiah and Lamentations indicate that Jeremiah was a kind hearted person; he had a woman's gentleness. No wonder that he is called the Prophet of Tears. A person with Jeremiah’s personality finds it extremely difficult to confront people. They try to read people's minds and end up flattering people instead of confronting them truthfully. In their timidity they tend to please men rather than God. 

The Lord knew Jeremiah's problem. So the Lord said to him, "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you." The Lord's encouragement, particularly the Lord's promise saying, “I will rescue you,” further reveals the nature of the problem Jeremiah had: that is, he feared man because he feared the harm that might befall him. He feared more because of the harm (such as loss of peace of mind, loss of the companionship, loss of the number of people liking him) than the harm that might fall on others. Essentially, this fear is selfish. It is predicated on the instinct to protect oneself. This fear is no different than the fear a frog, for a small animal like a frog is no match for bigger animals like a snake. Have you seen a frog jumping in and out of a pond? As soon as it sees something bigger like you stooping over, perhaps with a stick, its eyeball rolls. Then as you move closer, it gets scared to death and jumps back into the pond. We see the same fear in the eyes of a rabbit or a squirrel running up and down a tree. Their bodies are small. They do not have strong weapons like strong teeth or claws or beaks. 

Jeremiah was more or less like a rabbit or a squirrel. Yet he had to deal with people with beastly character. He had to deal with people with strong mouths, people who were humanly superior to him, superior in position at work, abilities, achievements, or political or financial clouts. 

Again, knowing Jeremiah's problem the Lord said, "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you." The Lord's promise consists of two parts: 1) for I am with you; and 2) I will rescue you. The second part indicates that Jeremiah's fear was not unreasonable, for indeed the people he was sent to treated him violently. Once they threw him into a cistern where there was no water, only mud, so he sank deep into the mud. On one occasion they struck Jeremiah with gravel and broke his teeth, so Jeremiah says, "He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust" (Lam 3:16).

Yet the Lord says his servant is not to be afraid of men, for the Lord is going to be with him and will rescue him. In Jeremiah’s case, the Lord indeed rescued him. When the Lord does not rescue and therefore a servant suffers martyrdom then, as the Lord is with him, he will be at home with the Lord. The bottom line then is that by resurrection faith we must overcome the fear of men. Then we can serve the Lord without fear of men.

Next, the Lord put his words in Jeremiah's mouth. Look at v. 9 again. “Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now, I have put my words in your mouth.’ This passage enlightens our position as a God's servant, that is, the Lord's instrument. Literally, the Lord's servant is the Lord's mouth-piece. He is like a speaker-phone of an audio system. When a speaker speaks through a speaker-phone the speaker-phone transmits the voice so that the audience would hear the message exactly as the speaker speaks. John the Baptist is one example. He did not say his own words. He said what the Lord commanded him to say. So the Bible calls him “a voice of one calling in the desert.”

Living as the Lord's instrument i.e., a voice of the Lord, requires spiritual discipline, especially the discipline to rid oneself of all the impure elements, such as one's own ideas, feelings or opinions, for compared with the words of the Lord, what is built inside of a man causes a lot of static; they tend to smother God's word, so that as he speaks, instead of God's word, people end up hearing man's words. In order to live as a servant of God's word, we need to purify ourselves, so that no human components, especially sins--not even a hint of them, would hinder the word from going out of our mouths. 

How else did the Lord equip Jeremiah? Look at v. 10. “See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” This passage defines Jeremiah's mission. The scope of mission is universal in that it covers nations and kingdoms. In view of God's practices reflected in the Bible, we see that the mission given to a servant of God is always universal. One good example is Jesus' world mission command to his disciples: although the disciples were concerned only about Israel, the Risen Lord commanded them to make disciples of "all" nations. 

The same holds true of us. We live here in the U.S. But we are not just to concern ourselves with the affairs of our nation. Rather we need to be mindful of all peoples on earth. This practically means that we need to focus on the one to one ministry with world mission in mind. Msn. Andrew Kim of Sudan has set a good example. He fished Oyor Moses, taught him the Bible, and encouraged him to be a professor shepherd at the National University of Sudan at Khartoum. When Oyor became a professor, Andrew challenged Professor Oyor to pioneer one Muslim nation. Oyor Moses accepted the challenge. Now he is pioneering a kingdom in Egypt. While he was on campus inviting students to Bible studies the Egyptians made fun of him, calling him, "Bonga, bonga" (which means, “Money, monkey”). But he did not mind. Last year he joyfully invited many students to one to one bible studies at his apartment. Many students came. But he could not sing loudly for the landlord was a Muslim. Soon the apartment became crowded and it could no longer hold students for worship. Then he rented a space at a local church near campus. There he holds worship each Friday. 

"See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant." The six verbs in this verse narrow down the contents of the mission. When the Lord calls his servant he always has a specific goal to accomplish. God's purpose is first negative, then positive. The negative part is prefatory. It is like a man tearing down an old house and clearing the ground to build a new house. The positive part is to build what the Lord has in mind, not according to the plan of man but the plan God has. In the case of the nations and kingdoms of Isaiah's day, the people of each nation and kingdom pursued their own plans. Egypt had her own plan and agenda. Edom had her own, the Philistines their own, and Assyria her own. The Israelites were not supposed to build their own nation according to their own plans, for the Lord gave them the Lord's own plan. But since they were not faithful to the Lord's plan, and since they built their houses, schools, and nation according to their own wishes and wants, the Lord God had to step in and set aside their own buildup. And the Lord called Jeremiah to rid the nations and kingdoms of all the garbage and replace them with the kingdom that fits his original plan.

Speaking of this work the Lord says, "I appoint uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant." 

The mission for us to serve in the year 2009 and beyond should not be different. Practically, each of us must examine what kind of kingdom or kingdoms we have been working to build. After the African directors' conference Dr. John Jun and his company visited Cape Town UBF. During the visit I had an opportunity to have close fellowship with Shepherd Christian Cortés. Shepherd Andries Cortés is the director of UCT UBF. He brought his two brothers, Anton and Christian. Christian is 26 years old. During his young adulthood Christian lived a wild life. But a couple years ago Andries invited him to Pretoria UBF. Through Bible study he realized that he was building a house on sinking sand. So he repented of his worldly dreams. Belatedly, he got admission from the school of law in Pretoria. But while he was giving me a ride back to the airport, he confessed, "In the past I had my own dreams. But now I have thrown away all of my dreams except the dream of Jesus Christ, the dream to build God's kingdom. I study law not to make money or anything else, but to use it as a means of self-support and to teach the Bible to college students." 

"See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant." The first word that appears in this verse is "uproot" and the last word that defines the contents of the mission is "plant." The rest of the words talk about the process in-between the point of beginning and the point of finishing. So in order to get ourselves ready for the mission from the Lord let us think about the word "uproot" and the word "plant" a little more. 

The word uproot assumes the existence of a root. In the backyard of my house there is a tree (Chinese Juniper) that is 50 years old. Imagine the work involved to uproot this 50 year old tree. It is a huge task, for the root system is as broad and deep as the breadth and height of the tree developed above. 

The root system that must be uprooted takes on many different forms. In the parable of the good soil Jesus compared the roots that must be uprooted to "worries of this life, deceitfulness of wealth, and desires for other things." In other places Jesus calls the roots that must be uprooted "weeds" (or tares). Consider how difficult it is to uproot all the roots of every weed that is developed inside of a Bible student, for unlike the roots of grass, roots of weeds are a lot harder to uproot. 

Again, to uproot all the evil roots is not an easy task. For example, the Apostle Paul calls the root system we are to uproot as the love of the world. Is it easy to eradicate the love of the world out of our inner being? In fact, Paul was afraid that within the heart of his disciple Timothy the root of the love of money might soon develop, get entrenched, and take over his heart soil, so he warns him in 1 Timothy 6:10, saying, " For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." 

Characteristically, the root system that must be uprooted consists of every inclination, desire, hope, vision, dream, idea, or thought, character trait that is inconsistent and incompatible with the character of God. According to John Calvin these elements exist within a man in the form of potential even from birth. Then when the opportune time comes they are ready to sprout, grow, and develop. So as they become manifested in a physically visible form, they soon lock people in to be steered to the way of death and destruction. 

The expression, "tear down, destroy, or overthrow," may sound redundant. But they all refer to the thoroughness of the reformation we need to conduct in each person's life. In cultivating the backyard at the children center, those who worked there learned how hard it is to rid the yard of weeds completely. Before planting the grass we had to rotor-till the ground again and again. Shepherd Terry and I had to travel to Home Depot twice to rend the tiller. For fear that the weeds might come out again and take over the territory, Msn. David and Taylor made a sieve, so with the sieve they carefully singled out and threw away weeds, even a thread of them. Indeed the mission to uproot and tear down, the task to destroy and overthrow the weeds (i.e., man's sinful nature) is not an easy task. 

The mission to build and to plant consists of the hard work of going out for fishing and teaching the Bible. The work to build and plant consists of shepherding with long patience. And it requires a labor of love that must be put out with great endurance and tenacity in sowing the good seed (the word), in offering hidden prayers, in correcting, rebuking, and encouraging. 

Nowadays a lot of students want to enjoy the word just with their ears, but never accept and practice the word. When they come to worship service they listen to a sermon. After the sermon they say, "I was greatly moved by your message." Or, "I like your message." Then as soon as they walk out of the door they forget. Since God's word did not develop a solid root system in them, when challenges like temptations come they quickly fall apart. They end up committing the same sins again and again. And they have no power to resist evil and bear the fruit that lasts forever. 

Missionaries operating on African soil know this full well. They know that Christianity in Africa is a mile long but an inch deep. In order to help each student grow up they train their bible students to write a deep Bible testimony at least once a week and then share the testimony in public. They also pray to build common life among young disciple candidates. 

Notice that the word build or plant is doing more than just sowing. Building includes building the seed to grow until it sprouts, develops and bears fruit. The word "plant" reminds us of the work of a gardener for every garden must be planted with a good plan containing all of the good features necessary, such as a sprinkler system, fertilizer, pruning, watering, and much more.  

Yet this is what we are called to do, and we must do it until God’s word gains power within our Bible students so that they would go out and in turn make disciples and thereby bear fruit that lasts forever. And we must do this first within each of us, then in the hearts of our Bible students, and through them among those who are yet to be included in the family of God. 

When one does not bear fruit that is acceptable to God what will happen to him? Let us read verses 11-16 responsively. Here we see two visions: the vision of an almond tree and the vision of a boiling pot tilted to the place where unfruitful people reside. These two visions are not two but one, for both of them point to one thing, that is, the sureness of the judgment to come. God personally guarantees that for those who do not repent and turn to him, for those who persist in pursing their own dreams, sooner or later God will see to it that judgment would come down on them all of a sudden. 

In view of the impending judgment, what should we do? In order to save people from the judgment to come, what should we do? Look at verse 17. "Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them." This mission is scary. But we should not be afraid. Why not? Look at verses 18-19. “ ‘Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land--against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the LORD.”

In conclusion, let us read the key verse for tonight. 

One word: Get ready