I spent last week in Columbia, Maryland – a beautiful suburb nestled between Baltimore and Washington DC. I was attending a one week training conference helping better equip me in sharing my faith with others. Since I knew that my time in Maryland would be brief (only 5 days), I did not:
- Buy a house. (I stayed in a hotel instead.)
- Go to the grocery store (choosing instead to eat at restaurants).
- Change my phone number to a Maryland area code (still proudly representing the 405).
- Get a Maryland driver’s license (my Oklahoma license is still valid).
The reason I chose to live my life in Maryland last week as a visitor was because I knew my time there would be very brief.
Now, contrast my time in Columbia with my experience of moving to Norman 12 years ago. When we moved, we:
- Bought a house
- Found the nearest grocery stores
- Got an Norman area phone number
We did all these things even BEFORE we arrived. Why? Because we knew we would be here in God’s country for a while.
Now, as a theologian, I know that my stay in both Maryland AND Oklahoma is temporary and finite. Even if I live the rest of my days in Norman, my time here is still very short in comparison to eternity. How I live my life, however, varies greatly between the places I visit and the places I live.
I was thinking of this today as I read over again Jeremiah 29:1-14. In these verses Jeremiah the prophet is delivering a letter to the exiled people of Judah who had been deported to Babylon (people like Daniel, Rack, Shack, and Benny). God writes to them to let them know a blessed promise, “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 29:11)”
As people living today in 2013, we are probably quite familiar with Jeremiah’s good news from 29:11. In fact, we have probably been given this verse on a graduation card, birthday card, or other well wished moment of apparent uncertainty. It is quite appropriate for us to encourage each other with this verse. However, sometimes in our use of this verse, we strip it out of its immediate context and expect God to bring us the “future we hope for” now . . . or at least very soon.
The reality is that God gave this promise to a people who would not ever see (in this life) the future they hoped for. This promise was given to the people of Judah near the beginning of their 70 years in exile in Babylon. Most of them would die in Babylon. Most of their children would die in Babylon. Only their grandchildren would benefit (in this life) from the fruit of this promise if they turned and followed God.
Jeremiah’s words (that are encouraging to us) were probably somewhat discouraging to the exiles from Judah. A contemporary false prophet during Jeremiah’s day was a man named Hananiah. He had gained popularity by proclaiming that the exile to Babylon would only last 2 years. Based on divine revelation, Jeremiah 29 actually corrects the exiles understanding, letting them know that Hananiah was wrong and that they would be in Babylon for quite a while.
Under the wrongful influence of Hananiah, the exiles from Judah were living life in Babylon like they were in Maryland (on vacation), instead of like they were in Oklahoma (living their regular life.) Jeremiah writes to encourage them to buy houses, go to the grocery store, and get a new phone number.
We live our lives, many times, on Jeremiah’s clock not Hananiah’s. In light of eternity, all suffering is short term, but in our experience, life is longer than we think. To borrow a famous phrase from Francis Schaeffer, “How shall we now live?” in light of the length of this short life?
This will be the subject of this Sunday’s sermon at Wildwood taken from Jeremiah 29:1-14 entitled “This life . . .” If you are in the OKC area this Sunday, join us at Wildwood Community Church as we look into this great (and famous) passage together.