Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Living in Babylon, Part One

How can a godly person survive when life feels unfamiliar?
When life is difficult, we can trust God where we are, seek God where we are, and bless the place where we are.  The prophet Jeremiah exhorts the exiles in Babylon with this message in chapter 29 of his book.
I am a Greenville, South Carolina, boy at heart.  No place feels like home quite like Greenville.  I grew up in her suburbs and lived and played on her streets.  Today, when I drive around the east side of Greenville and Taylors, memories flood my mind.  I see restaurants where my parents and I ate, stores where we shopped, and schools where I attended.  I can drive through those suburbs and tell me children, “So and so lived down that street.  I used to go this that house for thus and so.  I remember when we did such and such down that road.”
When I graduated from college, I moved to Louisville, Kentucky.  Suddenly, I left the familiar of upstate South Carolina and relocated.  The first morning there, I remember thinking, “I do not know one single person in this entire state.”  I had to learn new places to shop, eat, bank, play, and do business.  I was like an exile to a new land.
Life contains many exiles, small and large.  Change occurs in many forms.  Birth.  Growing up.  Leaving home.  Marriage.  Having children.  New jobs.  Relocating.  The empty nest.  Aging parents.  Deaths of loved ones.  Eugene Peterson writes, “We barely get used to one set of circumstances and faces when we are forced to deal with another.” 
Nebuchadnezzar brought many Jews into exile in Babylon in 587 B.C.  They traveled 700 miles across the desert and entered an unfamiliar land full of odd customs, language, and heritage.  Again, Peterson says, “All the familiar landmarks were gone.”
The Jews longed to go home and cried out to God for deliverance.  Three false prophets arose in their midst, promising them to not unpack their bags, because God was about to answer their prayers. 
One day a letter arrives from home.  Jeremiah, the same prophet who warned them for decades that their sin would result in their deportation, writes a letter to encourage and exhort the exiles.  The twenty-ninth chapter of Jeremiah’s book in the Bible contains that letter.
This letter can be applied in two ways.  First, he shares exhortations to anyone enduring change.  He tells us how to survive the exiles of life.  Second, he shares how godly people can live in an ungodly society.  Today the United States of America resembles Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon more than it does David’s Israel.
In 1977, church historian Rufus Spain wrote a book describing the role that Southern Baptists played in post-Civil War American culture from 1865-1900.  The book, At Ease in Zion, depicts how the value-system of America and that of Southern Baptists fit hand-in-hand.  The SBC was na├»ve to the movements that would, in the 20th-21st centuries, move the culture and country far from her Christian roots .  As a result, they were “at ease” in a time when they fit easily into American culture.
Years later Barry Hankins followed Spain’s work with a book describing the relationship of Southern Baptists and American culture during the last quarter of the 20th century.  Uneasy in Babylon describes a denomination learning, perhaps too late, that they must involve themselves in the cultural-political movements.  The SBC woke up to the fact that American culture reflected Babylon more than Zion.
Today the church in America continues to find herself living in a culture that embraces ungodly, pagan values.  We find ourselves like exiles living in Babylon.  More and more things feel unfamiliar.  The President of the United States goes around the world telling crowds that America has as much to thank Islam for as they do Christianity.  The Supreme Court debates the very definition of marriage.  The entertainment industry often resembles a cesspool.  It often seems that gone are the days when “One nation under God, God bless America, a Christian nation, and honoring the Bible” were our norm.
Jeremiah speaks to a people in exile in an ungodly culture.  His words can be summed up in the following:
Trust God where you are, seek God where we are, and bless the place where we are.
In short, Jeremiah tells the people how to live as a godly person in Babylon.

(end of part one)

Go to Living in Babylon part two here

Quotations of Eugene Peterson come from his book Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best

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