This post is a (very slightly modified) duplicate of a post I wrote about a year ago. Since Brookside has recently read through Jeremiah 29 as part of the 365 Reading Plan, I figured it was fitting to update and re-post.
It doesn't take much for Christians to look around and observe that - in certain important, noticeable ways - our cultural landscape "looks" less Christian (from the standpoint of a traditional Judeo-Christian ethic) than it did even a few short decades ago.
As we notice these shifts, it's important that Christians NOT respond in panic or fear. Rather, we as Christians need to keep asking ourselves the sorts of questions we should ALWAYS be asking: What does faithful Christian living look like in our culture? What does faithful Christian living look like when we interact with others who hold different values - perhaps very different values? Or the specific question we'll be considering in this post: How can we as Christians keep our footing amidst the shifting soils of our larger culture?
Thankfully, we are not left to ourselves on how to answer this question. Back in the time of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, God's people spent some time exiled from their homeland. In this environment, they could look around and easily observe how much distance there was between their values as God's people (values given to them by God), and certain values of the dominant culture.
In Jeremiah 29, we see how the Lord counseled His people to keep their footing in the midst of this situation in Jeremiah 29. I read through this chapter again recently (I encourage you to read through the whole chapter as well), and see great wisdom in listening to five things we learn there:
1. CONSTRUCT, CULTIVATE, AND CREATE.
In this Letter to the Exiles that Jeremiah writes on behalf of the Lord, some of the first words are to "build houses," "settle in," "plant crops," and "marry and have kids" (Jeremiah 29:5-6). In other words, do the normal things that contribute to a stable, healthy, faithful, flourishing life. I think these words also force us to note what Jeremiah DIDN'T say: Don't retreat. Don't panic. Don't isolate. Stay engaged, and contribute
2. SEEK THE GOOD OF THE SURROUNDING CULTURE.
Beyond contributing to the normal rhythms of a stable and flourishing life, Jeremiah also says to seek the good of the place the Lord brought you (Jeremiah 29:7). Jeremiah was writing to people living in Babylon. Idolatrous, imperial, sinful Babylon. This wasn't Mayberry. And yet Jeremiah says to seek the good of that place. Pray for it. In the same way, we can seek the good (understood in the biblical, gospel-centric sense of "good") of the larger environment in which we find ourselves. This might be a long process that requires patience and perseverance. But it doesn't change the call to seek the good of the place in which we've been placed.
By the way: This is why I'm such a huge fan of Brookside's For the City Initiative - because of how it's an expression of this value we see promoted in Jeremiah 29, and elsewhere throughout Scripture. Find out more about For the City here.
3. REMEMBER THAT GOD IS STILL IN CONTROL.
The Babylonian exile doesn't mean God has abandoned His people, nor does it mean He's not in control. Jeremiah 29:10-11 remind us that God is still in perfect control of history regardless of external circumstances. These verses remind us that God is still planning ultimate good for His people.
4. CONDUCT A PERSONAL SPIRITUAL DIAGNOSTIC.
There are a couple of places in this chapter where God offers His people an indirect invitation. In Jeremiah 29:12-13, Jeremiah talks about God's people seeking God and finding Him when they call on Him with all their heart. A few verses does in Jeremiah 29:19, the Lord reminds His people that they have a history of not listening to His words. When we put these together, then, we see an implicit invitation to seek God with all our heart, and to listen carefully to His words (and obey them!). Let's not miss this opportunity for personal reflection, confession, and whole-hearted obedience.
5. BE DISCERNING ABOUT WHO YOU LISTEN TO.
Throughout this chapter, we discover that Jeremiah's Letter to the Exiles wasn't the only communication going around. In Jeremiah 29:8-9 we learn that others are prophesying lies. And in Jeremiah 29:24-32 we learn that a guy named Shemaiah is sending out other letters (letters not sanctioned by God). The people in Jeremiah's time needed to be discerning in who they listened to, as do we. (See my post on "Discernment 101" for a little more on discernment.)
These words from God to the exiles in Babylon helped them live faithfully in a dominant culture that had different values than the people of God. May these words guide followers of Jesus Christ, as we seek to keep our footing in the midst of changing cultural soils today.
Looking for a couple of other resources that can serve as guides for our times? Check out these recommended books:
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