Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to stop and reflect on life and purpose. With 2022 kicking off, we want to refocus ourselves as a church family and remember the vision God has called us to.
The brokenness of our world is not hard to miss. We experience it in our personal lives, and we experience it on a bigger level within the social and political spheres of our world. Even our children recite words that address brokenness:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again
This familiar nursery rhyme captures the idea of a brokenness that exists in our world which cannot be fixed.
But that is NOT the story of our faith. The story of the Bible tells of a powerful God who is able to make the broken unbroken. He alone is capable of taking what is broken and fixing it until it’s whole again.
This is good news! News that the world around us desperately needs to hear. Broward county has a population of 1.9 million people. A one-mile radius surrounding our church building holds 112,000 people. Our church property is located on the tip of 4 different cities that contain more brokenness than we could ever know how to fix. God wants us to see South Florida through his eyes and to love it. Yes— you read that right— love it! Everybody loves to hate South Florida— the heat, the traffic, the unfriendly people, the huge bugs and the pre-historic reptiles. But this is where we live, and if this is where we live, then this is where we’re called.
In the Old Testament, God’s people were in a similar situation but much worse off than we are. The Israelites were conquered by the Babylonians and taken away from their homeland to live in enemy territory. Imagine how hard it would be to love the place where you live in that situation. God intervenes by sending his people a letter through the prophet Jeremiah. If you were there, what would you hope to read in a letter from God? We would probably want to hear God say that he’s coming to rescue us, that we won’t be here long and that soon this messed up situation will be fixed and we could return home.
God says something very different, maybe even opposite of what the Israelites may have been expecting. He tells them to settle in. He tells them to build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat of their produce. He tells them to marry the people of the land, to have children and marry them off so they could have children. In other words, he’s telling them, “You’re gonna be here for a while.”
The language in this passage is vastly different from our Amazon Prime, same-day delivery culture. The language of this passage is agricultural, generational, long-form. God sees the future and knows what’s best. He calls his people to be at home in the place where he has sent them (verse 4). We believe that God is calling us to the same purpose. He is calling us to SHIFT, SEEK and SHALOM.
Our hearts are prone to wander from God. When a child is prone to running away from their parents, healthy boundaries and constraints are needed to keep them safe. We, too, are in need of God’s intervention. It’s tempting to resist painful situations, but what we see in this passage is a mindset shift. Verse 4 assures us that the Israelites were in Babylon because God had sent them there. That’s a perspective-shifting reality. It was not the devil that put them in this situation. It wasn’t even the Babylonians. It was God who sent them into exile. Are we willing to shift our own perspective?
Where we are is where we’re sent.
As believers, our perspective must shift. God has placed you in your neighborhood, job, marriage, church, etc. on purpose. Let that motivate you to plant deep roots and make a difference where you are!
Resist the temptation to withdraw. Fight the urge to seclude. In verse 7 we hear God calling his people to be proactive for the sake of their newfound community. We, like the Israelites, are to seek comprehensive peace. We pursue it, chase it so that we can be agents of wholeness for the world around us.
How do we seek wholeness? We obey God’s word, surrender our lives, and pray. We pray not only for our own benefit but for the good of the city around us.
We also seek wholeness by building and planting right where we are. We are called to be productive, to be contributors, in the place where we’ve been sent. What is God calling you personally to do to contribute to the world around you?
The word shalom is a special term in scripture. In this passage, it’s translated as “welfare,” which has a specific connotation for us in modern-day America. What it actually means is an all-encompassing, comprehensive peace, or wholeness. We are called to bring the shalom of God, his wholeness, to the world around us.
This can only be accomplished, however, if we have experienced peace with God ourselves. Our own personal brokenness must be dealt with before we can bring wholeness to others. Seek greater understanding of what Jesus has done to fix your broken relationship with God. Be made whole as you find forgiveness and purpose in him. Be changed. See your place in the bigger picture and be inspired to bring this knowledge of God’s love and life-changing power to others.