The late Chadwick Boseman provides words of inspiration to college graduates about finding purpose in life.
“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.” Jeremiah 29:11, NIV
Although the above words were initially intended to reassure those that had been carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon that they’d be brought back from captivity, they also provide comfort and encouragement in the present day for anyone that worries about what the future holds for them. And, thanks to all of the recent news stories about the state of the economy, not to mention all the reports of shocking acts of violence and natural disasters, many people are probably not only wondering—but worrying—about the future.
I usually think of myself as an optimistic person, however, I must admit that on more than a few occasions, I’ve worried about how I’d handle a particular situation or how it might turn out. Fortunately, it was during some of those times that I felt as though God was reaching out to me in a special way through the words found in Jeremiah 29:11. This is why it’s become one of my favorite scriptures.
The first time I felt God was speaking to me through this verse was right before I was scheduled to take a trip on an airplane. For some reason, I’d become terrified of doing something I had been doing since I was about six years old. I’d never had any bad experiences while flying, so I’m not sure why I was so scared that particular time. I just was. That’s why I was so happy that I came across Jeremiah 29:11 in the days leading up to that trip. I felt as if God was trying to tell me to go ahead and take the trip and trust that I’d be safe. I did go on that trip, and it was a safe and enjoyable one.
This verse also ministered to me was when I was sitting in a breast surgeon’s office trying to figure out if I should have a biopsy done. As my husband, Vince, and I sat in this Christian doctor’s office listening to her explain how routine it would be and how quickly it could be completed, I couldn’t help but fear she might find something bad or, worse yet, that I might not make it through the procedure. But, before I could tell her I needed to think about it more, she stopped talking and turned around the nameplate resting on her desk and asked me to read the Scripture verse that was taped to the back of it. Can you guess what it was? Yes, Jeremiah 29:11. I had no idea that we shared a fondness for this scripture, but when I read it, I knew everything would be fine. The procedure was uneventful and results of the biopsy were normal.
That same scripture spoke to me again a few years later on the day that my husband and I moved back to Illinois—along with our then-infant daughter—after residing on the East Coast for several years. I was extremely happy about the fact that I’d again be living near my parents and my sister and her growing family. But, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I’d be leaving behind the church family that had showered us with love during the four years we lived in New Jersey.
Since my husband was one of the staff ministers at the church, the other ministers and their wives threw a special farewell luncheon for us. Near the end of the luncheon, they presented gifts to each of us. My husband’s gift—a personalized black briefcase—was a very nice one and came in handy when he started teaching undergrads several weeks later. However, the decorative little plaque that contained a Bible verse that I received was priceless. And, you may be able to figure out why. Yes, the scripture inscribed on the plaque was my favorite one. The gift served as the perfect reminder that, even as I left the amazing church family that I had come to love and made the switch from career woman to stay-at-home-mom, God would be with me. And, since I’d never told any of them about my fondness for that scripture, I saw it as a true gift from above.
So, if you’re going through an unsettling situation or circumstance, don’t despair. Instead, reflect on the words of Jeremiah 29:11 and think about how they might apply in your life right now.
And remember this: God has unique plans for all of our lives. They may not always line up with the pictures we’ve sketched in our own minds or the life plans we’ve drafted for ourselves, but they are special because He created them just for us. And, because of this, He will enable us and empower us to handle any situation and accomplish any task that He places in our lives.
I also hope you’ll remember that we serve a merciful, gracious, trustworthy, and loving God. Sometimes we spend far too much time thinking about all the ways God is going to punish our sin and nearly not enough time thinking about — and giving thanks for — all the ways He has blessed us.
Sometimes God will speak to us by repeatedly placing in front of our faces a particular scripture, and sometimes He’ll use other people to get a particular message to us. But, regardless of how He chooses to speak to you, I pray you’ll never stop desiring to hear from Him. So, don’t spend a lot of time worrying or fretting over how you’ll handle something that you’re currently — or soon may be — going through; God is already handling it for you, His unique and precious child.
There is a widespread myth in many churches that God sends generational curses on people for the sins of their parents. The myth argues that I am being punished by God because my father or mother sinned against God, didn’t repent for a sin, or did something wrong. The belief in this myth is often rooted more in experience than in the truth of God’s Word. Sometimes people feel like their difficulties must be a punishment from God, and yet the blame for that punishment rests on their parents who should have done something differently. However, Ezekiel 18:1-4 (NLT) says:
“Then another message came to me from the LORD:
“Why do you quote this proverb concerning the land of Israel: ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste’?
As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, you will not quote this proverb anymore in Israel.
For all people are mine to judge—both parents and children alike. And this is my rule: The person who sins is the one who will die.”
As we read through the rest of the chapter, it is abundantly clear that the Lord does not hold the sins of parents against their children or the sins of children against their parents. In its context, this scripture was particularly important because the prophets made it clear that the judgment of God on Israel was not because of the sins of past generations.
Ezekiel and Jeremiah’s audiences in Israel were going into Babylonian captivity because of their sins against God, not because God was punishing them for the sins of every generation of Israelites up to that point (Ezekiel 18:4, Jeremiah 31:29-30). The Lord judges each person according to their own actions, not the actions of anyone else. Each person in Israel had the ability and responsibility to choose a right relationship with the Lord and to follow His commandments; it was not based on the decision of their parents.
The myth continued even in Jesus’ time. In John 9, Jesus is questioned about why a young man was born blind. The crowd thought it was because of his parents’ sins or his sins. Jesus responds that the answer is neither. He explains that it was an opportunity for God to be glorified when the man was healed (John 9:3). The sins of the man’s parents did not cause the blindness. There was no curse from God for sin.
It is important to note that the sins or wrongdoing of a parent can absolutely impact a child.The characteristics of a parent can also be passed on to his children. We do not have to look far to see how the favoritism of Isaac can be seen in Jacob, or how the infidelity of David hurts his entire family. There are a plethora of statistics that identify significant correlation between adversity and surviving a childhood with a parent who abused drugs or was incarcerated, for example.
But statistics, family history, or precedent cannot define a person, even though they may impact the individual greatly. A person who learns not to trust because of an untrustworthy parent must deal with their trust issues. But they are not punished by God for their parent’s poor choices to lie and abuse trust. In fact, in scripture we see story after story of God empowering individuals to overcome their circumstances and family trauma. Moses went from adopted orphan to prince of Egypt to deliverer from Egypt. David was rejected by his father but became king of Israel. Jonathan stood up to his father Saul in order to save David. Esther was raised by her uncle and was an outcast before she became the queen of Persia and delivered her people.
There is no generational curse for those who follow the Lord. We are free from any curse because of the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus has freed us from the power of sin, death, hell, and the grave. We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us. We can choose to love God and receive His love. We can receive peace, joy, and freedom through Christ, regardless of what our parents may have done.
We must reject the myth of generational curses as believers. Ezekiel and Jeremiah make that clear. Jesus breaks every curse. We can put our faith in God knowing we are not being punished for the sins of our parents. We can confront our unhealthy family histories and embrace our life-giving family traditions. We can walk in freedom from the myth of generational curses through the power of Jesus Christ our Savior!
QUIET STRENGTH: President Barack Obama, Ruby Bridges, and representatives of the Norman Rockwell Museum view Rockwell’s "The Problem We All Live With,” hanging in a West Wing hallway near the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
With President Barack Obama’s approval rating sinking to new lows, it appears that many of his supporters may soon go from singing “The Thrill is Gone” to “Hey, hey, hey goodbye” in 2012 given, among other woes, general dissatisfaction with economic recovery efforts.
Calls exist from all sides for the president to do something — something that will finally lead to more jobs at the very least and anything at all to put Republicans, Tea Partiers, and other vocal critics in their places.
He’s obviously working, but what he’s done hasn’t been enough to quell criticisms even from his supporters. And I get it. It’s not that I want to take away my own approval rating points from the president. As much as I can identify the reasons behind why progress in some areas is slow, I just wish he’d take on his loudest detractors toe to toe.
People, figuratively out for blood, want to see muscle, the presidential version of WWE-style flexing. They want to scream “Yeah!” behind their guy as he threatens his rivals. Because there’s one president against many entities of everybody else, it seems like it would be easy beef to toss around. After all, Obama is the president, the big cheese, the one with the power to say a few words to shut everyone up.
Alas, that is not Obama’s approach.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, though, considering that in his inaugural address, he reminded us then that “power grows through its prudent use,” and he has continued to demonstrate such usage every step of the way.
He could’ve taken the path of “shock and awe” to go after Osama bin Laden. A massive airstrike, for example, would’ve made an impressive statement, though others could’ve died as a result. Instead, the president sanctioned a more restrained Navy SEAL mission that happened to be successful.
In response to more recent grievances about the economy, the president launched a bus tour in which he listened — not exactly a nuclear-war move. And amid talk of creating new jobs to no evidence of such, Obama plans to address a joint session of Congress Thursday. It would’ve been Wednesday but plans changed presumably to avoid a conflict with a previously scheduled Republican presidential debate. This occurred as yet another example of Obama accommodating the very people leading the charge against him.
Seriously? With all due respect, Mr. President, what’s really going on?
More than trying to accomplish a country with a growing economy offering jobs to everyone who wants to work, Obama seems to be grasping at something even greater — a more perfect union between Democrats and Republicans. Yeah, I’m rolling my eyes too. But that’s why we elected him: That approach is one of those changes we yearned to believe in.
It’s less noisy, less flashy, and a lot more frustrating to watch. But, if a comparison had to be made, well, it’s probably pretty close to what Jesus would do. That’s not to elevate Obama to deity status; it’s just acknowledging how a follower of Christ would act in trying to be like Him.
Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that Norman Rockwell’s classic painting “The Problem We All Live With” now hangs outside the Oval Office. The painting — which shows U.S. marshals escorting a 6-year-old black girl named Ruby Bridges into a New Orleans elementary school in 1960 as an angry white crowd registers its protest — represents one of our nation’s most powerful moments of racial desegregation. In little Ruby’s simple act of going to school, we see a striking example of quiet strength.
Can we also learn something from President Obama’s repeated gestures of civility and restraint in the face of nasty opposition?
Credit must be given to the president for maintaining a commitment to peace and reconciliation while dodging mud that if one decided to “raise up” would go away so easily. How often have we heard among casual conversations that all Obama needs to do is curse out the GOP one good time to get things done? Not that that would be the holiest approach. We’re called to live holy because Christ is holy. We’re also challenged to hold one another accountable for actions; that’s one of our responsibilities to one another.
Another, as laid out by the prophet Jeremiah, is to avoid boasting in whatever power we have. As president, Obama is a card-carrying member of the bully pulpit, and membership has its privileges. Only, with it comes a certain level of responsibility particularly with the practices of being a Christian.
Nothing represents a firm execution of Christian values more than not exercising the extreme power you might have in a situation in an effort to maintain civility. If it’s a preference on the table, do we want a Christian president who just talks the talk or one who inconveniently walks the walk through hell and high water?
Not only is that change we can believe in; it’s change we already trust as we follow Christ’s example and as we hope our leaders do the same.