Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 29
Jeremiah 29 was actually a letter. Although it was a letter from Jeremiah, the author of the letter was God. So you could actually say that it was a letter from God. This letter is considered one of the most important documents of the Old Testament.
Jeremiah wrote and arranged for the letter to be delivered to the Hebrews in Babylon, eight hundred miles away from Jerusalem. The letter is a comfort to those broken with homesicknesses and confusion.
This letter was written with the knowledge why they were in such situation and why they were exiled in the first place. It was for chastisement, purification and discipline. Also it was for perfecting and maturing them. It was also to show God’s glory one day. Finally it was to unite God’s people and to expand the Kingdom of God.
1 Bloom Where They Are Planted
- Daniel came from a small town in Mississippi. After college, he moved to what his family calls, ‘the big city of Chattanooga’. Daniel grew up on a farm and spent a lot of his time working outside and he was in a pretty good physical condition. Now that he has been in Chattanooga working at an office and getting older, his wonderful wife encouraged him to visit the gym with her. Daniel went to the gym for the very first time and got ready to work out when he noticed that everyone around him had towels. Daniel, not wanting to be left out, decided to take a large bath towel with him to do his exercises. Thankfully his wife helped him find the correct size towels. Daniel then proceeded to the elliptical machine where he got on and began his workout. About ten minutes into the workout, his wife noticed that he was moving backwards. Then, she looked down at the machine and realized that nothing was lit up. Daniel spent ten minutes running backwards on the elliptical machine while it was turned off. It was quite obvious that Daniel was a man in unfamiliar territory. He was going backward.
- The children of Israel were obviously in unfamiliar territory. But God doesn’t want us to go backward like Daniel. God wants us to bloom where we are planted.
In the book of Jeremiah, the Hebrew people were undergoing a very difficult transition and are out of place. In order to help those in exile, Jeremiah sends them a letter from Jerusalem in which he says,
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 (for the city), 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 they encourage you to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the LORD. (They were trying to tell them to go back to Jerusalem and God has told them to go to Jerusalem).
They were to settle down and plan for the future.
That is exactly what God wants for us. To thrive where we are planted; to bloom where we are planted. They are told to build houses. An evidence that you have really settled down is when you build a house. One of my greatest personal satisfaction working for JECPP is to help several church planters build churches physically and parsonages where they are living. It has the implication of one’s intention to remain where they are. I would like to encourage all of you to build house. You are fulfilling Jeremiah 29 and actually obeying God and fulfilling prophecy. He will give you a special blessing when you do that. Of course for this church, we are going to build a physical church. It was a personal revelation to me when God told me to remain in Iloilo City and to bloom where I am. How about you? If God has told you in no uncertain term that your lot in life is Iloilo, then thrive where you are. Many today are always looking for escape. If you are always looking for escape, you will never bloom where you are now because your mind is always somewhere else and you are double minded.
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. Many people here in this city sulk, and sit down in sullen despondency because they cannot get away from Iloilo. We are inclined to nurse our sorrow with melancholy and in aggravating pain and grief. But it is wrong and foolish. It is like dashing your head against prison walls. Life cannot grind to a halt during troubled times. In an unpleasant or distressing situation, we must adjust and keep moving. We should instead seek the brightest course under the darkest circumstances. If Iloilo is where God has exiled you, which I think He has exiled Pastor Lily and I, then if you run away, you can die prematurely or meet disaster. The first part of the Jeremiah’s advice is that the exiles should carry on with everyday life as if they were still in Jerusalem. They should plant gardens, build houses, get married, and have children.
A garden is a great metaphor. It has everything: dirt, sunshine, weeds, surprises, disappointments, manure, fertility, hard labor, beauty, serpents, bugs, nourishment. When you carry on with everyday life, you encounter dirt, disappointment, weeds, manure, hard labor and the serpent (the devil). But you will also see beauty, nourishment and you shall thrive. Planting a garden is an expression of hope in life, an expectation of a future. That is what God is driving at today for you and for me. God intends for us to bear much fruit and in doing so glorify Him.
When we are living everyday life, building our home and our future, providing for our families, we are actually taking steps of faith in life. It takes faith to live everyday life, build home, and provide for our families. Settling down are activities that take time, resources and purposeful activity. Jeremiah goes on to tell them why he is giving them this advice. The truth is that God is not limited by where you live. If you think Iloilo is too small for anything wonderful to happen, please remember that Jesus came from Nazareth. We always ask, ‘Can anything good come out of Iloilo?’
I always remember all those years – missionaries from America, Korea, Singapore, Australia and Sweden coming to Iloilo City. But then they all left halfway. Because they don’t believe that anything good can come out of Iloilo City. But Pastor Lily and I have stayed here for 24 years because we believe God has planted us here and something good will come out of our ‘Nazareth’. The most important thing is God wants you to seek him no matter where you are. God is bigger than any city, any where. God can turn a city to become the most prosperous city. Jeremiah is telling them that they are going to be Babylon for a long while. But that doesn’t mean that God has forsaken them. They can still trust God because God has plans to prosper them and to give them a hope and a future. Although things seem grim now and it appears that all has been lost with the destruction of the temple and their wonderful city, God still has plans for them.
This is great news! Jeremiah adds that then they will be able to call on God and he will listen, they will be able to seek him and they will find him. God told me that I have to be just as active, as fruitful, and as industrious as if I am not in captivity. And it is always God’s desire that I increase and not diminish. The greatest consolation that I receive from God recently is that I am going to prosper even in captivity. God told me that my exile is not the end of my existence as God’s people, but the beginning of a new phase of relating to God. I have believed a lie for a long time. That because of my foolishness my exile has doomed my life. Joseph bloomed in prison. Moses and the children of Israel grew stronger in the wilderness. David wrote the book of Psalms in caves. Daniel became the Prime Minister of three Kings in succession and received and wrote the book of Daniel while in captivity. Our lot in life will be very much of what we make it for ourselves. If we treat it as a waste, a wilderness, then it will be that to us.
2 Pray for Babylon
Babylon represents the people whom God used to put us in captivity. They are actually our captors. Babylon comes from the Greek word ‘Babel’ meaning the ‘gate of God’. It also means confusion. It is a mixture of strength and weakness. It is Babylon that brings much confusion to our lives. We thought that they are the ‘Gates of God’ but they are not. Babylon rules over us. We are under their rule and they are our oppressor. The most powerful leader of Babylon is none other than Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar means the ‘tears and groans of judgment’. It implies the tears and groans of judgment in our lives. As a people we are not to rebel against the authority of Babylon because in effect, they are the authority of God over us for a prescribed time. More positively, we are to seek the prosperity of Babylon because it will affect us as well. Most important, we are to pray for our captors. Of course we are to seek the welfare and pray for the city we are now living in because in doing this, we are seeking our own welfare.
It is for your interest, your peace and your welfare that you pray for your captor and your city you are in. Because your well being is inseparable from the well being of Babylon or your captor. When you see the peace of your leader and the city, in the peace thereof you shall have peace. Though we may be under an unrighteous ruler, our act of loyalty and faithful discharge of our duty, will definitely bring blessedness and fruits of peace. When we submit to Babylon, we are submitting to God. Jesus teaches us to pray for our enemies. We are to pray for people that enslave us, hurt us and do us much harm. I know it is easier said than done…
But from experience, I realize that if I pray for my enemies and have no evil intension towards them or always hope for their downfall, I realize that God somehow knows how to deal with them. But I also realize that the more I long for their downfall, the more resistant God is towards their downfall. I also realize that God cannot perform goods towards me, or hasten his blessings for me if I cannot have a right spirit towards my enemies. I am speaking from experience. You may find it difficult to pray for those in authority if they are evil but that is when your prayers are most needed. 2 Timothy 2:1 says ‘I exhort therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.’
Prayer is not for the benefits of God but for our personal benefits. In a radical way God has bound the fortunes (our blessings and curses) of his people with their enemy. There is something profound at work in such circumstances. Through prayer one can look at opponents as more than someone or something to be overcome. They can become also a means of education and sanctification, the agents through whom one finds growth in relationship with God. How many tensions would be alleviated, how many problems set on the road to solutions if Christians would just pray for the welfare of their opponents. It is important for Christians to remember that judgment is God’s affair. Jeremiah does not take judgment into his own hands, nor does he urge others to do so. He simply takes notes of the work of our opponents or enemies that is opposed to the purposes of God and that God will deal with them.
Also we are to seriously pray for the city. Our city is none other than Iloilo City. Verse 7 urges us to pray for the welfare of our Babylon and do good towards ministering to families in our city.
3 Don’t Believe the Lies of the False Prophets
The prophecy was not meant for 1994 but for 2010. This certain politician will certainly become the next President of the Philippines in the coming election.” How do you tell whether a certain prophet is of God or not? Simple. The prophecy has to come to pass. If the prophecy does not come to pass, the word of God says you are a false prophet. And if the people still continue to believe this same prophet that a certain politician will become President of the Philippines, you actually believe a lie.
God says don’t believe the lies of false prophets. We must not listen to false prophets that tell us the exile will be short. We must also not believe the lies of prophet who tells us we are cursed of God and will never rise. Actually those who went away from Babylon suffered greatly for their persistence in going out of the will of God. The false leaders themselves would be killed because they lived in adultery and falsely representing God’s word. People have morbid desires to allow their own dream, which is not the dream of God, to cause them to go out of the will of God. Whatever aspiration you may have, it must be based on the Word of God. If God tells you that your place is in Iloilo, stay in Iloilo. Do not allow your own strong desires to make it the dream of God. If it is your dream, don’t say it is the dream of God. If it is the dream of God, the end results will be peace and blessings and great fulfillment. If it is your own dream the end result will be emptiness, thorn and thistles and even destruction.Jeremiah 29:8 talks about your own dream and not to hearken unto your own dream.
4 Dawn Will Finally Break
He says, “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.”
Back in Singapore, my mum got saved. They bought a very big executive flat that my mum constantly invited relatives to her house to show off the house. Today that flat is still there. Also in 1986 (7 years after I was born again), we started Evangel family Church in Amigo Terrace Hotel with just five people. Wow those were difficult years. We bloomed where we planted. We worked very hard. I remember Pastor Lily would bring her organ to Baluarte or Punta Duran to conduct cell group. We took taxi carrying the overhead projector, the organ and sound system to Amigo every Sunday. The deacons we chose rebelled against us. The church split and we were in great discouragement. I remembered there was one time, I felt that we had worked and worked and nothing was coming out. But I hanged on to God’s call.
Strategic timing is often involved in the fulfillment of God’s promises. Galatians 4:4 says ‘But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth’.
God fulfills his word and promises both in relation to the fullness of his redemptive purpose and in response to his faithful people’s earnest prayers. Jeremiah prophesied that at the end of the seventy year of captivity, a new fullness of time would occur. God would then move within a holy remnant so that they would seek him in prayer with all their hearts. Thereupon God would listen, answer from heaven and fulfill his promises of restoration. Note two principles. When God desires to do great things for his people, he moves his people to great praying and secondly the timing of God’s answers to their prayers is often linked to God’s purposes for his people as a whole.
- Whatever captivity you may find yourself in, remember to bloom where you are planted. God has allowed a Babylon to be part of your life for manifold divine purpose. Our part is not to grumble and be bitter and doubtful but to trust that in the fullness of God’s time, after we have been purified, God will dawn upon us again with His blessing. But at the mean time, we must carry on our everyday living with God’s grace and bloom where we are planted. Pray for those who oppress or persecute us. Pray for the place that we find ourselves “trapped” in and God in His time will send His deliverance and blessing.
End of Sermon