Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 56: Thriving in Exile
August 7, 2011
Scripture reading: Jer. 29:11-13 (Marilyn?)
We drove out to Lake Roosevelt last week, and that is a long, hot (no AC) and dull drive. Mile after mile of brush and wheat fields. Every once and a while there would be something to break the monotony – a town or even a dust devil was a welcome sight.
· That is how most of us feel about reading the Prophets, lots of dull stuff we don’t understand with a few famous verses.
That passage in Jeremiah 29 is one of those well known ones; how many of you have gotten some card with that printed on it?
The thing is there is a lot more to Eastern Washington that we miss as we fly by at 65+ MPH – the farmers who feed us, the people who live in the towns, who look down on us city slickers.
This passage is far more than a nice little verse to decorate graduation cards – behind it is a whole story of pain and disappointment.
Judah had become little more than a vassal of Babylon and Babylon had carried away about 2,000 of the elite people back to Babylon, including Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
· The prevailing wisdom among this group was that this exile would be short-lived – why even unpack?
After all they were God’s people and he wouldn’t abandon them, would he? Never mind they weren’t really following him. There were even false prophets promising God would bring them back.
In this context, Jeremiah (still in Jerusalem) sent a letter:
Jeremiah 29:1-14 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. 2 (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 3 He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said: 4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD.
10 ¶ This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 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. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”
Written to encourage
This passage is a lot more than a nice little passage for graduates, it is God’s encouragement that he hadn’t abandoned them: I’m not done with you, I haven’t forgotten, I have a plan.
· Call it snobbery, but I always cringe when I see it used so blithely.
That doesn’t mean this passage isn’t for us:
NIV Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
The goal of studying and preaching the Bible is to find the Biblical themes and find how they teach and encourage us.
The longer I spent in this passage, the more I saw that their world of exile and disappointment is also ours. You are either there right now, have been there, or will be there.
Q When was the last time you felt God left you high and dry?
Have you felt like you were exiled, stranded in the wasteland of Eastern Washington, and God had forgotten and didn’t care?
We can call it different names: A dry spot, a weird spot, a discouraging period, an uncomfortable time. It might be:
· A dead end job, or one you hate.
· Being out of work for too long.
· Just treading water between situations.
· Being single.
· Being married and wanting out.
· A midlife crisis.
· Restlessness, struggling to find meaning, even if everything seems to be fine.
The common thread is wanting out, wanting to move on to the next thing. Your attention is easily drawn from how to make the most out of the situation to wishing you were out.
So here is God’s message to the Jews in exile: You never should have been there, but this is your new reality.
Q What are you going to do now that you are here?
When you get into your personal exile, God is less concerned with why you are there as “what now?”: In Judah’s case, they were there because of sin, worshiping other gods.
You might be where you are because of sin: Your dead end job might be because you dropped out of high school, you might have married the wrong person because she was pregnant.
It might be someone else’s fault. It just might be that way, without much explanation. Maybe God put you there.
· EG: After my DTS
But you are now there, what are you going to do about it? If you are still sinning, stop sinning. You are digging yourself deeper, but now the question is what are you going to do now?
While Jeremiah is talking about very tangible acts, they seek to speak to five deeper principles:
1. Settle down
Jeremiah 29:5-8 “Build houses and settle down;
God wanted them to make the best use of the time and not just tread water, because it would be a tragic waste if they had nothing to show for the next 70 years.
Don’t waste your exile
· The tragedy is not being in exile, it is wasting it.
I don’t know how long you will be in exile, is might be weeks, months, or years, and the greatest tragedy would be wasting that time because you were so eager to get past it.
· It may feel like a barren land, but it is some the more fertile soil for our growth.
What Jeremiah warns us against is being so wrapped up in getting out of our exile that we fail to make full use out of it. And when we do that we cheat ourselves and others.
· Worse yet, we may do some very foolish, sinful things either to get out or to numb the dullness.
Settle down and focus on this season, what it can teach you.
Sin travels in pairs
Errors always come in pairs: overly strict/too lax, afraid of God/contemptuous of him. Listening to 770 FOX radio or 1090 Progressive Talk.
· In the same way, there is a pair of errors: complacency, being too comfortable and always waiting for the next horizon.
I am addressing the latter knowing that the former is also a problem – we need to be filled with a “Holy Discontent,” always seeking what God had for us. We need to know when it is time to pull ourselves out of exile, but that is a sermon unto itself.
plant gardens and eat what they produce.
Since they thought they would be leaving soon, the Jews did not plant gardens, perhaps they even thought that would be a “lack of faith to do so.” But that would be a decision they would regret in a couple of years.
· When you are in your exile, you need to continue to make provisions and prepare for the next stage.
Are you hoping to leave your job? Don’t let that stop you from learning and growing in your position. The funny thing is God has a way of taking those lessons and applying them elsewhere.
3. Look to the future
6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.
Don’t just think of yourself and your present situation, but look to the future. By growing their families, they could leave Babylon stronger than they came.
· Like Jacob bringing a big family into Egypt and leaving with a small nation.
By preparing for the future beyond the exile, even while we are in exile and not knowing how long it will last, we can enter the future stronger.
4. Be a blessing to those around you
7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
In your shortsightedness, you can be defrauding those in your work, neighborhood, or wherever you are. You are meant to be a blessing wherever you are.
Perhaps the best example is Joseph – sold by his brothers into slavery, but was a blessing to his master. Framed for a crime and sent to prison, yet he was a blessing to the warden.
· Joseph spent 13 years in exile, without a promised end date, other than the knowledge that God had promised him a future.
Q Who is God wanting to encourage or help through your exile?
5. Beware false encouragement
8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.
I am struck by the phrase “dreams you encourage them to have” – when we are in exile and want out, the tendency is to surround ourselves with people who tell us what we want to hear – this will be short, you don’t deserve this, this is so unfair.
When we are in these situations, we look for signs, little indicators of what God is up to, but it is better to focus on the task at hand.
My Personal Exile
Writing this has caused me to re-live a my personal exile:
You have heard me say that I left my previous church to become the lead pastor because I thought God was calling me here, which is completely true, but I have never told you about how that call happened. No, there is no scandal, only a personal exile.
After I had been at His Place for several years, I set my sights on becoming the associate pastor, the #2 guy. I told Bruce, the senior pastor, about it, and he expressed some concerns if it was in my strength areas, but encouraged me to work towards it.
I spent the next several years working towards that goal, taking leadership courses, reading books, trying new responsibilities. I say trying, because I wasn’t very good at them, which should have given me my clue that this wasn’t my gifting.
I started to sense that I wasn’t any closer than when I started, so I asked Bruce about it. There was a brief look of panic on his face that said, “I am not ready for this conversation.” While he didn’t really answer my question, that look was enough to tell me that I would never be the associate.
I am not being dramatic when I say that my world came crashing down – this is something I had poured all my effort into for the past five years. I went into depression, something I had never really experienced before. Marilyn was a wonderful support.
My gut reaction was to quit and get out of there, just find something to do, but the clear message from God was to wait, no hasty moves – he used a Cat Steven’s song of all things.
So I dedicated myself to doing my best where I was and learning what I could from the experience. Over the next several month, the fog started to clear and God gave me a new vision and passion: To be the pastor of this church.
Six month later, almost to the day, I became the Lead Pastor of The Gathering. Those were the longest, most difficult six months of my life, my personal exile. Yet I would not trade them, Looking at my journal entries, I see God’s plan through it all.
God’s promise is the same to us as it was to these Jews:
NIV Jeremiah 29:10 ¶ This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 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.
In all this, the most important message we can hear from God is “I have a plan for you and this is part of it; it may not make sense now, but I am working it out.”
This passage is paralleled in the NT:
Romans 8:28-30 28 ¶ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Like Jeremiah, this does not mean that all things are good – the exile was not a good thing, it happened because of their sin.
But also like Jeremiah, we can trust that God will work out all things for good because we know that he has a plan, “a plan to proper and not harm.”
That is what is meant by v. 29; “For” means because (GK: hoti), because we know that God has a plan for us that we are in the middle of, we can believe that then plan is a good thing, even if it gets pretty crappy in the middle.
· It is much easier to not just endure but thrive in exile if you know there is a purpose.
Just like the promise of a great camping trip by Lake Roosevelt is what got us through that drive!
But there is a warning:
NIV Jeremiah 29:12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity.
It sounds like this is unqualified promise, but that is the way the prophets speak, “this will happen,” when in fact it means if you do x then y will happen.
· Had they refused to follow God’s word and seek him, then these good things would not have happened.
How do I know? Because that is exactly what happened to the rest of Israel. The northern 10 tribes had been taken into captivity, like Judah, but they were not brought out again. They ceased to exist as a people.
While you are in these spots, you have a choice: Will you grow closer to God or drift from him, and the choice you make at that point will make all the difference.
· This doesn’t mean you are alone, in fact the decision to follow God means leaning more on him, not yourself.
If you are in a time of exile, knowing that God has a plan may not be that comforting. There are practically books written to say “don’t quote Romans 8:28 to a person in crisis.”
What should be more comforting is knowing that God has not abandoned you, that he is still with you in the midst of your desert. In the words the end of Romans 8:
Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is the sum of the matter: You are not alone in your exile, neither is it meaningless. God has a plan for it, don’t let it be wasted.
· Five years from now, what would make you proud to remember?
· PPT: Please text Janna; service is almost over: 333-4505
Q & A