Wednesday, February 26, 2014

God Makes Us Beautiful

Jeremiah 29:11-13
'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord. 'plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope. 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 search  for me with Me with all your heart.'

To fully understand any verse of the Bible, you have to take it in context. When reading Jeremiah 29, we learn that these words were written in a letter. In verses 1-3, Jeremiah has a messenger send this letter to all the Jewish leaders that are in exile in Babylon. Jeremiah being a prophet, he is repeating to Israel what God has told him. So the words in verses 4-20 are from God to the Israelites. 

Let me try to set up the scene as if it were happening to us today.
Imagine that, for some reason, we were all exiled to China. By exiled I mean completely cut off from home. You are surrounded by foreigners who live a COMPLETELY different lifestyle than you. There's a chance that everyone you know is conspiring on how to get back home. You long for home, recalling so many cherishing memories. You even listen to stories that your parents and grandparents tell of back home. Stuff that could never happen while living in China. 

And then, just like God told the Israelites in verses 4-7, you get a message that God wants you to...SETTLE there! He says that He wants you to buy a house there and to get married if you're not already. He wants you to raise your kids there. And it gets even worse...He wants you to "seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile." The very place God has condemned you to, he wants you to try to BLESS it! In a place completely foreign, surrounded by a people that have never cared about you, God wants you to invest your life into it. Then God states that your own welfare is dependent upon the welfare of the city you're in. 

So imagine having that mindset of living in a completely foreign place as you listen to the rest of what God told the Israelites. In verses 8 and 9, he warns them to watch out for false prophets that will try to deceive them. They are not from God. So while settling into a completely foreign place you have to also be on the watch out for your own people lying to you!

And then, as said in verse 10, after 70 years will God fulfill his promise in rescuing you from exile...seventy years...can you imagine spending 70 years in China? I'll bet it was a similar feeling for the Israelites in Babylon. 

THEN God spells out his promise in verses 11-13. Yes, God promises a future (even when all seems hopeless) and hope. But his promise includes action that needs to be taken by the Israelites: to pray to Him and to seek Him with all their hearts. Verse 14 concludes, "I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your[i]fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile."

But that's not the end of the story. Verses 21-31 talk about God's punishment on all false prophets in Babylon, and then two specific ones: Ahab and Shemaiah. What God says about these people is not too pretty, but you can read it for yourself. 

To sum it up, Israel was exiled by God to Babylon because of their rebellion of him. After serving their punishment, they had the promise from God that He would take care of them as long as they sought after Him. He also warned them to stop listening to leaders that taught them to continue in rebellion against God.

Jeremiah 29:11 seems so much richer with the following two verses, because it is about relationship with God, not about getting wealthy. In light of the chapter and even the entire book, this verse has a solemn light on it. In the following chapters of Jeremiah, the nation of Israel faces numerous more trials. 

No matter the hardships, whether they are just life being hard or even God's discipline, keep Jeremiah 29:11-13 in mind. Christ is our hope and future. We get to seek him while on this earth, and spend eternity living out His promises to us.  

How awesome is that? God makes beautiful things out of us! As people, we can be absolutely horrible! To ourselves, to each other, and especially towards God. Yet He makes us new. He makes us beautiful!

Just a couple side notes: I am not bashing China when using it in my example earlier. If you call China home, then imagine yourself in another foreign country. I just chose to use China because I believe for Americans it is more foreign than any European country or even Australia. 
Also, check out this article on how Jeremiah 29:11 is often taken out of context.

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