I was inspired to write this 8 weeks ago, but because of work and sick kids and bed rest and my complete inability to spit out rational thoughts, writing anything serious had been put on the back burner–until now. So forgive me if I butcher everything I throw at you today:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
That’s some Jeremiah 29:11 right there. I’ve always loved this verse, even before I knew the story behind it. I used to read it and be so inspired and pumped: “God is totally looking out for me! Nothing bad will ever happen! Later Satan! Don’t forget to screw yourself on your way out!”
Um, and then someone told me that Jeremiah was given this message from God right before Jerusalem was sacked and the people of Judah were taken as slaves to Babylon for 70-something years. I quickly became un-pumped.
Quick back story: Israel split into 2 kingdoms after Solomon, who, after years of being awesome, decided to throw in the towel on good kingmanship. (You had one job, Solomon!) The Northern section was ruled by a series of bad kings who didn’t care about God. It wasn’t long before other countries came and kicked their butt.
The southern kingdom (Judah) held on a little longer with a few good kings, but they eventually started to ignore God as well, even though He sent prophet after prophet to deliver message after message to king after king. Despite all God’s miracles, despite all God’s specific instructions, despite His constant warnings, Israel would not quit being so. Stinking. Evil. Finally God had enough. He put the hammer down on Judah’s sin, and allowed Jerusalem to be absolutely ranked by Babylon.
Here’s God: “Enough with murdering and stealing. Boo to your sexual immorality. You guys better get your crap together or something bad is going to happen–just giving you a heads up. Actually, I’ve given you a thousand heads up, and this is getting ridiculous.”
And here’s His people: “Ain’t nobody got time for dat! We got sins to commit and evil kings to obey! We’re slaves to our culture! Besides, I sacrifice doves and stuff–what more do you want?”
My 3-year-old Sunday school class and I have been learning about the prophets and the bad kings for the past 6 freaking months. It’s a little old; I read these stories and I think “Surely I would’ve gotten the message by that point!” But I have to remember how quickly…I forget. These stories happened over the course of hundreds of years. People get cocky, kings get greedy. New powers emerge and new threats rise up. Advances in science, medicine, and technology keep re-setting the scene. Attitudes shift, and pop culture changes its mind overnight.
But God never changes.
The book of Jeremiah is kind of sad–but it’s also hopeful. Jeremiah couldn’t escape from badness in his world. The king was straight crazy–so crazy that he burned God’s message as it was read to him, piece by piece, when he didn’t like what he heard. Jeremiah knew a judgement was coming. He knew it was gonna get ugly. He had to have been afraid.
But God comforted him.
He knows the plans He has for us, plans to prosper us and not harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future.
Could God have been talking about Jesus when He said that? Because that’s some serious hope and a future. Verses 12-13 deliver more of God’s message:
“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart.”
Sure, captivity sucked, but some of God’s most awesome servants rose up out of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Queen Esther. Daniel. All of them remained faithful to the Lord. They brought mad glory and honor to God even in the most trying circumstances. Today, they are our heroes and our examples.
So here’s what I’ve gotten from these past 6 months and I just have to share since, you know, I have a blog and all:
- Sin goes against everything God is, and He cannot be allowing that kind of mess. He is so holy, y’all. No matter how lightly our culture takes it, God does punish sin because he must punish sin.
- God loves us and gives us second chances out the yin-yang when it comes to sin, even if we don’t realize it. He doesn’t love punishing us. Everyday is an opportunity to soften our hearts and to change our life’s direction. God urges us to run–not walk–to Him.
- There are forces in our lives that aren’t doing us any favors–but ultimately we are responsible for making the right choices. We may have corrupt leaders or ridiculous laws. We may have “friends” who subtly encourage us to keep wallowing in a bad habit, whatever that might be. What “bad kings” are there in your life right now?
- God never said things would be easy. Does “to prosper” automatically equal a life of luxury? Or is our treasure something we can’t see with our eyes? Can you agree that a treasure you will keep for all eternity is more important than any man-made thing we could possess during our short lives on earth?
- God’s promise of a hope and a future–in spite of our sinful pasts–should fill us with enough courage to endure any hardship. Our joy and thankfulness should produce a light that will brighten even the darkest corner. And our hearts should be filled with a love that reflects God’s undeniable presence in the world around us.
I’m totally grateful to be teaching the 3-year-olds, because I don’t know that I would have ever heard these stories of the bible in such (easily grasp-able) detail.
The United States is not so very different from the Judah of Jeremiah’s day. I get caught up with clothes and shoes and music and tv and house-building and ball games, and sadly if someone offered me a plate of fried green tomatoes or a 45-minute bible sesh with the pope right now, I’d probably take the fried green tomatoes. Sometimes it really is hard to seek God with my whole heart–but this minute is a new chance to do God proud. You guys pray for me, and I’ll pray for you.