Jeremiah 29:1-14 – Bloom Where You Are Planted

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. (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) 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:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 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. 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.” 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. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 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. Then you will call on 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 all your heart. 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.” (NIV)

Whenever I am in a conversation with a Christian, I often ask them what their favorite Bible verse or passage of Scripture is. Hands down, the most often cited verse is Jeremiah 29:11 –

“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.” (NIV)

It certainly is a wonderful verse. Yet, there is a distinct situation and context surrounding that verse about the future, which is very much rooted in the present. The nation of Judah had been invaded and taken into captivity to Babylon. Understandably, the people were longing to go back home. They did not want to be in Babylon. So, Jeremiah (who remained in Judah) sent them a letter, warning them not to listen to false prophets who would give them an easy answer about getting out of Babylon quickly. Instead, he instructed them to make a good life for themselves in their captive land.  He essentially told them to “bloom where you are planted.”

If you don’t like something, change it.

If you can’t change it, change your attitude about it.

maya angelou

The people, although in a place and in a situation which they neither wanted nor expected, needed to be present to their surroundings and settle down. They were to pray for peace, both for themselves and for their captors, because their own success in life was inextricably tied to their geographical place in Babylonia. The sooner the people listened to Jeremiah on this, the better off they would be.           

Plans to give us a hope and future only have meaning for us today when we:

  • Understand that we are to work hard, right where we are, in a place we do not want to be.
  • Pray for that place, its people, and their welfare.
  • Thrive in our present hard circumstance. 
  • Only then, can we look to the bright future of hope.

Our present sufferings are incomparable to the coming glory yet to be revealed. That future hope only occurs if we persevere and find ways of flourishing in the place and situation where we are today. 

So, how will you thrive in the place God has you right now? We always have the choice to practice resilience and make the absolute best of unwanted circumstances – or sit and stew over our misfortune to the point of becoming bitter and hard. It is important to choose wisely.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day.  Preserve with your mighty power so that I might not just wish for a different today and are not able to see what you have for me in this place.  May I not be overcome by adversity, but in all things direct me to the fulfilling of your purposes, through Jesus Christ, my Lord in the strength of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jeremiah 20:14-18 – Overwhelmed with Grief

By Unknown artist

Cursed be the day I was born!
    May the day my mother bore me not be blessed!
Cursed be the man who brought my father the news,
    who made him very glad, saying,
    “A child is born to you—a son!”
May that man be like the towns
    the Lord overthrew without pity.
May he hear wailing in the morning,
    a battle cry at noon.
For he did not kill me in the womb,
    with my mother as my grave,
    her womb enlarged forever.
Why did I ever come out of the womb
    to see trouble and sorrow
    and to end my days in shame? (NIV)

Perhaps you feel as though you must put on a good face, a decent front for others to see. You don’t like other people seeing you upset or cry because it can be embarrassing. Maybe you believe others don’t need to be burdened with your sadness. The last thing you want is to be a killjoy.

Sometimes you might even put up a front with God.  Maybe you think God wants everyone to be perpetually happy and always sing with the birds in blissful joy and gladness, or whistle while you work. However, that would not be an accurate view of God.

One of the most faithful people in Holy Scripture, Jeremiah, freely and unabashedly lamented before God – to the point of wishing he were dead. Jeremiah, the incredible prophet of God, closer to the Lord than anyone of his generation, was so despondent and ashamed that he wished he were never even born. The suffering and the shame were just too overwhelming.

To say that Jeremiah had a difficult ministry is a gross understatement. He literally had the ministry from hell, prophesying to people who neither liked him, nor his message to them. In the middle of it all, Jeremiah threw up his hands and let out his complaint to God. Jeremiah was in such ministerial misery that he wished he had been a stillborn baby.

Lest you think Jeremiah was sinfully depressed or just cuckoo, he is far from alone in the Bible. King David had no scruples about letting God know how he felt about his dire circumstances. Job, likely the most famous sufferer of all, spent time doing nothing but lamenting his terrible losses for months. What all three of them have in common is that they openly grieved with great tears, yet neither cursed God nor forsook the Lord.

Lamentation is the sacred space between intense grieving to God without blaming the Lord for our significant changes and losses in life. I would even argue that lamenting and grieving before God is a necessary spiritual practice which needs full recognition in the Body of Christ. Please sit with that last statement for a bit and consider how it might become a reality in your own life and context.

Grief can and does attach itself to any change or loss. It is the normal emotional, spiritual, physical, and relational reaction to that injury of the heart. There is only one way through grief. We must tell our story to another. It is both biblical and quite necessary.

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”

galatians 6:2, NLT

We need our spirituality to support us in such times – not drive us away through a misguided theology of believing you must keep a stiff upper lip. It is critical to have safe and supportive people in our lives when going through overwhelming circumstances.

“Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion.”

Brené Brown

Our tears are holy. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. The prophet Jeremiah was doing a very godly thing in expressing his grief. And Jeremiah’s lament is what helped steel him for the several attempts on his life that he faced.

Let the tears do their intended work in your life.

God of all, you feel deeply about a great many things.  As your people, we also feel a great depth of emotion when our lives go horribly awry from our dreams and expectations.  Hear our lament as we pour out our grief before you, through Jesus, our Savior, with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jeremiah 20:7-13 – Let It Out!

The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo, c.1545

You tricked me, Lord,
    and I was really fooled.
You are stronger than I am,
    and you have defeated me.
People never stop sneering
    and insulting me.
You have let me announce
    only destruction and death.
Your message has brought me
nothing but insults
    and trouble.
Sometimes I tell myself
not to think about you, Lord,
    or even mention your name.
But your message burns
in my heart and bones,
    and I cannot keep silent.

I heard the crowds whisper,
    “Everyone is afraid.
Now’s our chance
    to accuse Jeremiah!”
All of my so-called friends
are just waiting
    for me to make a mistake.
They say, “Maybe Jeremiah
    can be tricked.
Then we can overpower him
    and get even at last.”

But you, Lord,
are a mighty soldier,
    standing at my side.
Those troublemakers
will fall down and fail—
    terribly embarrassed,
    forever ashamed.

Lord All-Powerful,
    you test those who do right,
and you know every heart
    and mind.
I have told you my complaints,
so let me watch you
    take revenge on my enemies.
I sing praises to you, Lord.
You rescue the oppressed
    from the wicked. (CEV)

The prophet Jeremiah had a tough gig. The Lord God almighty didn’t give him much choice about his life’s work. Jeremiah was commissioned by God with a message of doom and destruction. If that weren’t enough, God promised him that no one would respond, nobody would repent, and not one person would listen to what he had to say. Sheesh, talk about a tough ministry!

But Jeremiah was compelled to speak. He just could not hold it in. His calling, his life’s work, bubbled up and out of him, no matter what he did to try and keep a lid on it. Whenever Jeremiah would try and walk away and say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” then the words from God burned like a fire in his belly. Jeremiah got worn out trying to keep the message domesticated within him.

Maybe you can relate in some small way.  It isn’t always easy talking about God to others, let alone talking about some subject other people really don’t want to hear.  Yet, as the people of God, we discover it is much more painful to keep it inside than it is letting it out and taking the consequences as they may come.

Or it could be that you resonate with Jeremiah’s trying to distance himself from God.  You were hurt, wounded in some way, and no matter how hard you run from God, your inner sacred space will not leave you alone – it relentlessly tracks you down and hounds you, barking to be heard and expressed.

What then, should we do? How, then, shall we live? Don’t keep silent. Speak! Let your voice out. Say what is important to you. Because ignoring it, wishing it would go away, or thinking God will eventually give-up isn’t going to happen, my friend.  Let the Word have its way.

God Almighty, you have your ways in this world, and they don’t always make sense to me.  Sticking my fingers in my ears trying to pretend you are not there isn’t working – my heart burns within me.  So, help me to speak with all the confidence of the message I have, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit.  Amen.

Matthew 2:13-18 – Flight into Egypt

The Flight into Egypt by Marc Chagall, 1980

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So, he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.” (NIV)

It can be easy to be diverted either by all the shiny things about the holiday season, or by all the sorrows which are stirred up for us in this time of year. I invite you to the very mundane and simple manger; the dull and unattractive place where God is found. Because it is here, we find the hope of the nations, and the true desire of our hearts.

Almighty God preserved and protected the child Jesus. Christ’s early life retraced the life of ancient Israel. Like the Jewish patriarchs, Jesus went down to Egypt (and would eventually go down and face hell for us in his crucifixion); and, like the ancient Israelites, Jesus was brought up out of Egypt (and would rise from the dead bringing freedom from sin and death once for all) in a New Exodus. By these Old Testament references, Matthew’s Gospel means to say: “Look, here is the Messiah, the coming King, the promised One of Israel and of all the nations. Jesus is our salvation, the fulfillment of all that we hope for.”

Jesus is the New Exodus

In the second of three dreams, Joseph is told to take Jesus to Egypt. Joseph obeyed the Lord and took the role of protecting Jesus, as contrasted with Herod’s role in attempting to murder Jesus.Yet, there is more to this story than Christ’s protection; this is the fulfillment of a biblical pattern, an identification of Jesus with the people of God. Matthew pulled forward the prophet Hosea to say that just as God brought the Israelites out of Egypt through a great deliverance, God brought up Jesus, the Great Deliverer, out of Egypt as the unique Son of God.  Jesus is God’s divine Son, and so is the rightful Ruler in God’s kingdom.

Just as God preserved Israel from Pharaoh’s wrath, the Lord protected Jesus from Herod’s wrath. God’s kindness and loyalty extends to us as covenant people and preserves us from the wrath of the devil who seeks to keep as many people as possible in the realm of darkness. Our hope is in the Lord Jesus who has conquered the devil by establishing a beachhead on this earth through incarnation as the Son of God.

Flight into Egypt by He Qi

Jesus Brought Us Out of Exile

The scoundrel King Herod massacred innocent toddlers to ensure the destruction of Jesus. Behind his atrocity was the devil himself who knew Jesus was the coming King who would one day bring salvation. Reflecting on a vision of Christ’s birth, the Apostle John identified the sinister plan and the divine deliverance:

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth so that when she gave birth, he might devour her child. She gave birth to a son, a male child who is to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was snatched up to God and his throne. (Revelation 12:4-5, CEB)

Satan wars against God’s Son and God’s people, whose roots go all the way back to the first prophecy of Christ after the Fall of humanity. God declared to Satan:

“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, NLT)

There has been continual enmity ever since the Fall between the serpent and the seed of the woman, with the Israelites constantly being threatened with extermination and tempted to conform to pagan ways. King Herod was just another in a long line of demonically animated men trying to perpetuate the kingdom of darkness. We must take this threat seriously because the devil knows that his time is short. A second Advent is coming which will be the final judgment.

Satan’s most powerful weapon, death, has lost its sting because of Jesus. Christmas is a hard time of year for many people, filled with depression instead of joy, grieving over lost loved ones for whom we will not spend another Christmas with. Yet there is a reunion coming, the hope of a bodily resurrection in which we will be with Jesus and God’s people forever.  Be encouraged that there is no time in heaven; it will be only a moment and the people who have gone before us will turn around and see us; we will one day join them.

Matthew also used the prophet Jeremiah to communicate hope. Jeremiah’s prophecy dealt with children who were lost in war to the invading Babylonians.  The prophecy is a lament with the hope that captivity will not be forever. Matthew wanted us to see that the exile is over for us; Jesus has arrived, and the tears which were shed will shortly dry up. There may be a time of suffering which we must endure, yet there will be glory. Jesus is the Great Deliverer who brings us out of sin’s captivity and into the promises of God. He is our hope.

Jesus is the promised One who will deliver us from the tyranny of the devil. Christ is the hope of the nations, the Savior of the world. So, let us come back to the first Christmas which was the beginning of the end for evil on the earth. Believers in Jesus are part of God’s victory and overcome the evil one by the blood of the lamb, acknowledging that Christ’s incarnation was essential for us. 

Just as Jesus made a radical break with his former life in heaven through the incarnation, we, too, must break with our old way of life. God will save his people through this child Jesus. The greatest gift we can give in this season and throughout the year is the gift of grace, the presentation of the Christ child.

Loving God help us remember the birth of Jesus so that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the wisdom of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love across the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil through the blessing of the Christ child. Teach us to be happy with pure hearts. Grant us grateful thoughts, devoted hearts, and gracious hands, through Jesus our Savior in the might of the Holy Spirit. Amen.