My brother-in-law, Dan, is a church planting missionary in Japan. Living just outside of Tokyo, their lives have been shaken and stirred in recent days. Shaken through the earthquake and continuing aftershocks, and stirred through the sense of overwhelming grief and fears about the future. Do we go or do we stay? Do we set aside our current ministry and focus on relief, or do we try to continue with “life as usual”?
My wife, Dan’s sister, encouraged him to continue teaching his ESL classes, which is part of their ministry. Carol’s reasoning is that “returning to a rhythm of life (including ESL classes) is helpful for children to adjust to the crisis around them. It gives them something to focus on and it can be a safe place to express their fears and concerns (without stressing their Dads & Moms).” Dan wrote about that idea in his blog today and talked about normalcy.
Carol’s advice and Dan’s post reminded me of a sermon I preached several years ago on Jeremiah 29. It is God’s instruction to those who were in exile in Babylon. I’ve included the outline I used below. I also wrote a chapter on the subject in my book manuscript.
“When you’d rather be voted off the island” – Sermon outline on Jeremiah 29
In 597 BC, 10 years before the destruction of Jerusalem, 3,023 Jews were deported to Babylonia (see Jeremiah 52:28). They included the cream of Judah, the priests, the prophets, and the royal household. Forced to be where they did not want to be, with a people they did not like, this Jewish community was consumed with false hopes and perpetual discontent. So Jeremiah wrote to the exiles (Jeremiah 29) and challenged them to make the most of exile.
After reading this chapter and talking with people, it is my conviction that each of us either has, are, or will experience exile—a time when we don’t like where we are or what is happening to us. In chapter 29 of his book, Jeremiah provides some practical advice on how to survive such an experience. He suggests three ways in which we can endure and triumph in the midst of exile.
- Recognize that God is in Control (29:4)
- God sometimes allows difficult circumstances to come into our lives
- If God is behind it, our responsibility is to submit
- Go on Living (29:5-7)
- Settle into the rhythm of life (29:5-6a)
- Continue to grow and mature (29:6b)
- Minister to others (29:7)
- Base your Hope on God’s Promises (29:8-14)
- Beware of false hope (29:8-9)
- Exile is part of God’s plan to give us a hopeful end (29:10-11)
- God carries us into exile so that we can know him better (29:12-14)
C. S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, and shouts in our pain. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” May we learn the lessons of exile in order to better walk with God and serve our Savior.