Alan Briggs is on to something in his book, Staying is the New Going, not because the concepts are new or revolutionary, but because it strikes a chord within the reader that perhaps they didn’t realize they needed to hear. The reverberations resonated deeply within me as I read because what Alan writes about is something I’ve been working out in my own life for years. I am indebted to Alan who is teaching me a lot about what it means to be good news to the people around me, and the most insightful thing Alan has taught me in my current season of life and ministry is that in order to be the best news I can be to others I have to choose to love the places where God puts me.
I never imagined that when I preached a message last week based on my struggle to love the places God puts me just what the response would be from the congregation. I learned I’m not alone in my struggle and the feedback I received told me a lot of people I know want to be the best news they can be to their neighbors, but like me, they just didn’t know where to begin.
The best part for me was I got to talk not from a position of authority or as an expert as if to suggest I have this all figured out. Rather what I hoped to accomplish was to inspire the church to take the challenge to love the places God puts them seriously in their own contexts as a fellow learner. And so I shared some stories from my own life as well as others I’m learning from that reflect what it looks like to be good news.
I shared 3 shifts I’m experiencing that have helped me to better love the places where God puts me and I parallel these shifts with a page from the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, who wrote a letter to a group of people who found themselves living in a city where they were forced to move and settle in - they were pushed out of their homes and dropped in the middle of what they thought was a God-less and God-forsaken place.
Jeremiah lived when the political map of the ancient world was being redrawn. At this time in history the nation of Israel was a divided nation - the kingdom in the north (Israel) and Judah in the south. Now the northern kingdom is gone. And the people of the southern kingdom aren’t getting their lives right and over and over and over again Jeremiah says: “You saw what happened to the northern kingdom. Get right with God. If you don’t what happened to them will happen to us.” And do you know what their response was to Jeremiah, “Psssh, we have the temple!” We have the temple?!?! What’s that supposed to mean?
You see the people believed as long as they had the temple in Jerusalem then they had God. The temple was the place of God’s presence - the temple is where heaven and earth met. God was in the temple and if they had the temple then they had God and they believed everything was going to be just fine, they could continue to do whatever they wanted to do, but Jeremiah says, “Don’t be so sure about that.”
And sure enough in a decisive battle at Carchemish, a new superpower rises up and in 605 BCE Babylon under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar comes in to Jerusalem and takes over things. He takes the youngest and brightest and deports them to Babylon. You know these characters as Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And then you have another deportation in 597 and the priest Ezekiel gets deported and yet a 3rd deportation happened in 586 BCE when Nebuchadnezzar had enough of the Jews and their repeated rebellions, and he came in and burned the entire temple to the ground and they spend 70 years living as exiles in a foreign land.
Listen friends; don’t miss this. Even in the midst of this horrific tragedy Jeremiah never gave up hope. He never lost his own personal sense that God was always with him. And Jeremiah wanted more than anything to let the exiles know that God was with them in Babylon, so he wrote letters; he wrote to them even though they probably hated him. He was extremely unpopular and was branded a traitor for recommending that Judah wave the white flag and surrender to Babylon. He was often in danger for his life and later he would wind up in prison.
Stay tuned as I share the first shift that has helped me to better love the places God puts me.