“What on earth are you here for?” That is one the primary questions posed by the blockbuster best selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, written by the well known pastor of the Saddleback Church in Southern California. This important question is one that people of all ages should consider. Why are we here? What are we suppose to be and to do? Obviously, there are various ways of answering that vital question and Pastor Rick Warren has sought to offer a sound bibilical response to the inquiry.
Long ago, the prophet Jeremiah dealt with this essential question as he ministered to the people of God in his day. Jeremiah, at times may appear to be a negative person. In reality, his call was to challenge the people of God to an awakening. He was preaching to the people and teaching them about exemplifying faithfulness to God in times of difficulty.
These were tough times for the people of God during the ministry of Jeremiah. They felt threatened by their enemies, just as we do by terrorists in our day. They also were experiencing some economic hard times. Their way of life was being threatened, and this made them feel vulnerable. Politically, things were unstable and volatile. Does all of this sound familiar to you? Indeed, it does reflect where we are in the spirit of our times.
Therefore, Jeremiah, the OT prophet, has an applicable word of challenge for us today. In chapter 17 verses five through ten, Jeremiah offers a sobering commentary concerning the two different ways of life, or a contrast of lifestyles. This passage resembles Psalm 1 in so many ways, as the godly lifestyle is contrasted with the ungodly way of life.
The last two verses of this extraordinary passage is most poignant. “The heart is deceitful than anything else and desperately sick—who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). The human heart is so sinful that Jeremiah is forced to call it “desperately deceitful or wicked.” He further describes it in such unhealthy terms such as “sick”. We do not like being called “desperately deceitful and sick,” but that is our basic human condition. That is your diagnosis and mine. We all suffer from a terminal disease called “sin.” This sinful condition gives us heart trouble, and we become deathly sick. That is until we meet Christ. Through Christ, we find health, we are saved from our sins. Through Christ, we are made whole and complete. Without Christ, we are lost and condemned in our sins. In verse ten, the Lord is described as the doctor, who examines the heart and makes not only the diagnosis but brings to the patient the healing needed. Hope, health, healing and wholeness come because of the power of God to change our sinful condition into a saved condition. Only God in Christ can accomplish that feat. We can not do that by ourselves, and we are foolish to try to do so. Yet, so many often attempt to do it by themselves and that leads to destruction. Jeremiah calls this “the cursed life.” The life changed by the power of God is “the blessed life.”
I. The Cursed Life is not worth living.
Declaratively and decisively Jeremiah proclaims, “This is what the Lord says.” The prophet is not trying to mince words or massage his message. He knows that the prophetic statements he is making represent “the word of the Lord.” He also was certain the people needed to hear this message. They were starving for the truth of God in plain and understandable language.
1. “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind, and makes flesh his strength..” Here Jeremiah is describing the cursed life as one which trusts in himself or herself. You have to trust someone or something and the people who do not trust in the Lord find themselves trusting in themselves alone. This is the natural human tendency and tragic philosophy of life for those who make the Sinatra Doctrine their way of life. What is the Sinatra Doctrine? It is essentially reflected in the famous crooner’s song, “I did it my way.”
With the recent crisis in the financial markets, we have heard people say, “I trusted in Bernie Madoff and he turned out to be a crook.” Others have said, “I trusted in this financial firm or this bank only to be amazed at the meltdown of the whole system.” This kind of trust is futile and foolish. The end result is to be cursed by a misplaced trust. When you discover that you have trusted someone who became a traitor to you and to others, you realize just how devastating such an action can be. It destabilizes your life; it shakes your confidence in yourself and in the future, and it leaves you with a trust deficit and a faith void, which only can be filled by the presence of Christ.
2. Jeremiah further describes the cursed life as one which “…turns his heart from the Lord.” How tragic a situation!!! Turning your heart from the Lord is like a drowning person turning away from a life preserver or a life guard seeking to save a life. It is the picture of idiocy and stupidity. Yet, the cursed life is a life which has turned away from the very One who can save. Can you imagine how badly a life guard feels after seeking to reach a drowning person and the individual refused his help? That to me represents the folly of those misguided souls who just turn their backs on the Lord and walk away. The Rich Young Ruler in the NT Gospels is described as making that kind of decision. He was saddened at the words of Jesus and he turned heart away from the Lord.
3. The cursed life is one that trusts in self, turns away from the Lord and tumbles through life without direction. This is the essence of what Jeremiah is saying in verse six of our passage. The juniper bush could be best understood as a tumbling weed on a desert, just being blown in any and every direction with the winds of change. There is no set course, just a life blowing in the wind, existing on a parched desert, with no hope of meaningful living. This sad commentary is an apt description of so many people today. They are just like little tumble weeds blowing in this direction and then that direction, ultimately in the wrong direction, without the guidance of the Lord. One man recently confessed, “I have lived two ways in my life. One way I have lived has been out of the will of God; the other has been in the will of God. I can tell you,” he said, “living in the will of God is the only way to live. To live otherwise is to live in misery and pain.”
To be out of God’s will is to lived a cursed life. I know that is strong language, but it is a true statement. The blessed life is the life lived in the will of God. There is a world of difference between these lifestyles. No, to be more exact there is an eternal difference between these lifestyles. The cursed life, motivated by selfish ambitions and directionless goals, is just not worth living. It is an existence without an experience with God and His people.
II. The Blessed Life is the only life worth living.
Jeremiah paints a beautiful picture of the blessed life, the one lived in the will of God. He employs the image of a tree to help us see this magnificent picture. Growing up in Birmingham, we planted a little tree when we moved to a new community. At first, I was much taller than the tree, but in time, the tree grew way beyond my height, and its branches extended in all directions. As I grew older, I climbed the tree and claimed it as my quiet place for reading and reflection. The tree was healthy and strong, and it demonstrated the purpose of a tree in society. It is created to grow strong, and that is the goal of every believer as well.
1. The Blessed Life is one which is planted in the Lord. In several places, including Psalm 1, the well lived or godly life is compared to a tree planted deeply in the ground near a river bank. That is the case here as Jeremiah describes the Blessed Life as planted firmly in the Lord. There is no better ground in which to find your roots than in the Lord. If you are rooted in this present life, you will not experience the Blessed Life. Proverbs 11:28 says, “A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump; a God shaped life is a flourishing tree.” All of us want to have “a God shaped life” which flourishes for the Lord. You surely do not want to be dead stumps, which get in the way of progress, and they have to be cut down. No, we want to experience the blessed life which flourishes for the Lord.
2. The Blessed Life is one which is protected by the Lord. Jeremiah is so instructive at this point. Trees planted deeply at the riverbank are like lives planted firmly in the Lord. Such trees or lives are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Into each life, come storms and struggles, but for the believers and followers of Christ, we cannot be separated from His love. That is the message of the latter part of Romans 8. Currently, we are deluged with negative news which produces anxiety in the lives of all people, including Christians. The promise of this verse is that no matter what happens we can depend upon the sufficient grace of Christ to meet our need for protection.
3. The Blessed Life is one which is productive for the Lord. The text is so picturesque at this point. The blessed life is trees planted in the rich fertile ground near the flowing river and protected from the destructive elements in life. Therefore, “their leaves stay green and they go right on producing delicious fruit.” Nothing is more delightful than to see a fruitbearing tree blessed with its bountiful produce. Does the Lord see us as bountiful fruitbearing people sharing the good news with others and helping our churches to grow and to stay on mission with the Great Commission? That question is synonymous with the Rick Warren question “What on earth are we here for?”
The old hymn, is really a prayer. “Lord, Make Me a Blessing.” We are blessed by God to be a blessing for God! Now that makes life a meaningful one indeed. There is an eternal difference between these two lifestyles. One is blessed by God and one receives the curse of life itself because it is a wasted life. These descriptive words sound so contrasting and foreboding in one sense. However, thinking people who understand human nature know that we do this wasted life or cursed lifestyle to ourselves. The blessed life is what the Lord can do for us and through us.
The Marines once advertised that they needed “a few good men.” Now they speak of “the few, the proud, the Marines.” That last statement is more politically correct for the gender inclusive make up of the corps. The new Marine Corps remains a tight knit organization and a tough regime to endure. They are still looking for good and exceptional people who will serve sacrificially for the country.
Recently, I conducted the funerals of two good men who lived the blessed life to the fullest. Sam McGee was a veteran of WWII, serving in the 82nd Airborne and fighting in North Africa, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Germany. He was wounded in action at the brutal battle of Anzio and he almost froze to death during the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of ’44. Sam was a First Sergeant, a high enlisted man, who was charged with the responsibilities of taking care of the enlisted men and he also played a role in helping the field officers with their combat assignments. He was excellent at doing this, and he earned medals for his wise leadership.
After the war, Sam came home and married his sweetheart, Johnye, and together they raised four beautiful daughters, and they worked in business as partners. Sam was a self made man of enormous wisdom. He was the spiritual mentor of his university professor Sunday School teacher. At his funeral this professor sunday school teacher paid him a high tribute by saying, “I learned a lot from Sam. He taught me about people and how to teach the Bible to the class members.”
Oftentimes, Sam and I chatted at length about spiritual things and some family issues. I found him to be a source of great encouragement and support. The last time I talked with him, he said “come to see me sometime.” He and his wife had the gift of hospitality and our families celebrated birthdays together for years. He lived a blessed life! He had little or no regrets because he served his country formidably, he loved the Lord fully and he loved his family faithfully. That truly describes a blessed life!!!
The second man, Coach Pete Pierson, had the most vivacious and contagious smile I have ever seen on a grown man. You don’t find many smiling coaches, but Pete was the epitome of just that. He used that smile for the Lord. At First Baptist Tuscaloosa, Pete was our main greeter. He always made people feel at home at our church. We heard numerous reports from his greeter ministry.
Pete was also a consummate visitor. He and his side kick, Grady Friday, were the mainstays of our visitation effort. Every outreach night, Pete and Grady were there to go out visiting for the Lord. Grady Friday lost an arm in an accident and Pete had a bright smile. What a visiting team they were and what a difference they made for the kingdom and the church.
On one occasion, a family joined our church and the lady of the home told me something about their reasons for becoming a part of our church family. She said, “Now, preacher, I do not want to hurt your feelings but you are not the reason we became members of FBC. The music and sunday school classes are good, but those were not the deciding factors either. There were two men who came to our home several times. One of the gentlemen was a one armed man and the other had the biggest smile I have ever seen. After they visited us. We said FBC is the place for us.” Smiling Coach Pete and his one armed side kick made the difference in their lives and in the lives of countless others. What a legacy! What a testimony!
These two good men represented the blessed life. There are numerous examples of the cursed life, but I want you to be blessed, not cursed, so I shared their stories with you. You can live the blessed life and you can begin it today by acknowledging your sins and trusting in Christ, not yourself. You can begin following His direction in life, not your own. You can be come a blessing to others and not a curse. Choose the blessed life and it will make an eternal difference in your life. That is what you are here on earth to do– to live the blessed life. The next time you ponder that Purpose Driven question, What you can say is: “I am here to experience a blessed life and to help others to do the same. In that way, we are blessed to be a blessing.