Jeremiah 29:4-14 – “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.
10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Our family has been talking about going camping again this summer. We have been tenters for many years now but we haven’t gone tenting as a whole family for several years and we want to go back to our old campground and relax for a couple of weeks. No tent this time though. Age and other factors have taken us to renting a cottage. But we pretend that is camping. At least it is near our old camp site.
We love camping. The whole experience began for my wife and me and our children when my parents moved out of their spacious house into a much smaller one when Dad retired. We needed a tent to stay in when we visited them. Dad died the next summer and mom moved to Alberta and we were stuck with a ton of camping stuff. But we had gotten hooked and for ten years straight we packed a van full of more stuff than it could comfortably carry and headed to a wonderful camp site on the Northumberland Strait in New Brunswick. Sadly, it has eliminated all its tenting sites to allow more trailers. People in trailers are not camping, as far as our family is concerned. When I use the word “camp”, I am talking about pitching a tent and cooking with a camp stove or open fire and finding ways to keep the rains out and how to sleep when you’re not sure the place where you are in bed isn’t going to blow into the open sea before morning. Camping is about being outdoors. It is not, as so many in the part of the world where I live think it is, a matter of living in a less populated corner of the world with all the luxuries that one has at home.
The kind of camps we frequented are places where you pitch your tent and make things as comfortable as possible until the day comes when you can go home. Camps are gatherings of people pretending to be roughing it as they run off to the indoor plumbing and then buy pre-chopped firewood from the corner store provided by the camp. (The roughing it might be the various creatures that think it is OK to join in on your shower). Camping is knowing that the only time you won’t have to wait for a stall in the washroom is 2:30 in the morning. There is just the inconvenience of having to trudge outdoors to get to it – rain or shine. Camps are places where you have showers and chlorinated swimming pools as well as a beach. At camps there are security guards and gates that are locked after 11:00 p.m. The goal of the campsite is to make your stay as convenient as possible all the while letting you think that you are living like one of the founding pioneers of this country, which of course, you are not resembling in the least.
The trouble with camping is that once you get your tent pitched you don’t want to move it for anything. The trouble with camping is that people have their favourite camp sites and make sure that they get their favourite one every year. It grows on you and you become comfortable with it. Even if it could be proven to you that a better camp site existed down the road you wouldn’t take it. You have too much invested. Change would be too difficult. Camp sites are temporary by design and are not meant to be so comfortable that home becomes less desirable.
It is fun camping. It is exciting. It is adventurous. It is a real holiday. But it is not home. Camping makes home feel better. There is a great sadness when the tent comes down and the vehicle gets stuffed full again and everyone climbs aboard and heads back. But by the second day on the road everyone is ready to see the house again, sleep in a real bed again, pet the cat again and turn on the television again. (It’s a funny thing about camping. In all the years we did it not once did any of our children ever say they missed TV or the internet. Because they didn’t Camping is fun and there is no time or desire for those counterfeit producers of artificial joy.)
Christians live in camps. At least they should. They should see life as an adventure and make the best of it as long as God allows them to live in their camp site But they should never lose sight of home. Some do. The world does. It thinks that life in the camp site is home and that upgrading from tent to camper to RV to cottage to summer home, is what life is all about. And many believers in Jesus Christ fall for it. They drive their tent pegs far into the ground and make sure that nothing will make them move, no matter how much they should. They look for life with as many conveniences as possible for the lowest price and stake their claim as if their lives depended on it. They forget that they are not home. They forget that all the amenities are not for ever. They forget that no matter how comfortable they can make their camp site it is nothing compared to what is awaiting them. The adventure of camping becomes so much what they are all about that it becomes more important than getting home. It takes a lot of time and effort to maintain the tent, patch up leaks, gather firewood, plan out life in the camp. It takes much time and money to make the tent, the cottage, the summer home as much like home as possible. It takes so much time that they forget that God never meant for us to put all our eggs in such a flimsy basket (pardon the mixing of metaphors).
When the Jews of Jeremiah’s day were being sent into exile for their sins, the message from God to them was that they should work for the welfare of their new home so far away from their own city. They should build houses and plant gardens, get married, have children. They should pray to God on behalf of their new city. But they should never forget that they were not home. They should look forward to the day when the exile would be over and they could go back home. They should remember that God had good plans for them. He had plans to prosper them and do them good and guarantee them a glorious future and fill them with hope. And bring them back home.
Camping is an adventure. It is fun. And it would be a real misery if all we did while we were camping was grumble about how much better it would be once we got out of here. It would make the whole camping experience a miserable drudgery rather than the adventure it is designed to be. But the adventure would soon lose its lustre if there was no home to go back to. Camping works because it is temporary. It is fun because it helps prepare us for going home and getting back at real life again. So we should enjoy the camping, make the most of it, really enjoy it and then look forward to getting back home.
God has put us here in our camp sites and He tells us to make this camp site earth a better place than it would have been without us. He tells us that the welfare of our homes and cities is a priority for us. He tells us to settle down and enjoy life in Him while we are here. And He promises that He will bring us home.
God has got you here for the betterment of the corner of the world where you have pitched your tent. That tent should shine as a place of worship to our great God. It should be a place of deep joy and eternal purpose and people should want to have their tent near yours. And when we are done in our tents, God will take us home. And one day, when all those who tented here as His children have been brought in, He will bring a new city, an eternal one, a new one. And we will truly, finally and eternally, be home.