“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon,I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:10-11
Then the Lord said, “I have pardoned, according to your word.But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord,none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice,shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.When it comes to understanding the God of the Bible, context is everything…and perspective counts for something as well. Numbers 14:20-23
My brothers and sisters who preach a prosperity gospel (i.e., that God intends for you to have material wealth and to have it right now) claim Jeremiah 29:11 separate and apart from Jeremiah 29:10. In other words, they catch the good news of the promise of hope and a future but they gloss over the bad news that it would come only after a lifetime of exile and hardship (and for many who would die in exile, it would not come in this life at all).
By the same token, my brothers and sisters who favor a dark, judgmental, angry gospel point to Numbers 14 and God’s judgment on the people of Israel who rebelled against Him, but they tend to miss the unbelievable mercy He showed …
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Matthew 8:18-20
It seems to me that the scene has by now played out for me at least a hundred times. I am counseling with a pastor who has been put through the wringer by his congregation and has been maligned and injured and his family has been as well. He has fallen victim to the church at its very worst and he now has the scars to show for it. He expresses to me his utter dismay and surprise and talks about how seminary simply did not prepare him for this. His wife expresses shock that God’s own people could behave so badly and that this was NOT what she signed on for when she agreed to marry a pastor. I listen, and I weep with them, and I grieve for them…and then I think to myself, “Welcome to the ministry. This is it. Welcome.”
Jesus was always pretty clear about the downside to following Him…the cost would be great, the sacrifice extraordinary. He never sugar-coated that. He was completely unapologetic about it throughout his entire ministry. So, I suppose my thinking has always been, “If that is true for every follower of Jesus, how much more so for those called out to shepherd other followers of Jesus?” Vocational ministry, in short, is simply not about comfort. It is about ministering to a bunch of poorly-behaved, stinky sheep who bite and who hurt you and who get …