Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Jeremiah 4: Which Message?

Recently, our church had Dr. Christopher Yuan come and speak, along with his mother and father.  I read his book, Out of a Far Country, many years ago, and was very moved by it.  Having been molested by a neighbor, Christopher would later tell his mother that he was gay.  His mother, whose marriage was on the rocks, decided to take her own life in the face of such overwhelming news.  Christopher had been on the fast track to receive his doctorate; three months shy of completing it, he dropped out of school.

Travelling to her destination, where she would take her life, his mother had a tract in her purse, and she pulled it out and read it.  It was about hope.  Forgiveness.  Life.  Jesus Christ and His gift of salvation.  Then and there she received Jesus.  She did not take her life but was given new life.  

She then started on an eight year campaign to pray for her son.

Meanwhile, her son started using and then dealing drugs.  One day, DEA showed up and Christopher was arrested and was given many years in a federal prison.

He found a Bible in prison and started reading.  He admitted that he was intrigued by the Bible's message, but he desperately wanted to find a biblical justification for his homosexuality.  He read and read, and was dismayed that the Bible did not compromise or alter its message that homosexuality is a sin.  He went to the prison chaplain, who offered him another book that did say being gay was not a sin.

He struggled and struggled with these two incompatible messages.  In the end, he accepted the Biblical message.  He went on to tell us that the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality; it is God's holiness.  His identity is not to be based upon his sexual orientation but on his being a child of God.  

He spoke powerfully.  He spoke with conviction.  He spoke the biblical message of salvation in Jesus Christ and how He wants us to be holy, as He is holy.

Wow.  Please read Christopher's article on the subject:  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-is-the-opposite-of-homosexuality

Sitting in that prison cell, not so many years ago, Christopher had two books, two messages.  One message fit his desire to remain as he was; another message was calling him to new life.  One message was replacing biblical morality with a man-made, softer version of how to live.  The other message was a call to radically walk away from where he was, to a place of peace, reconciled and born anew in Christ. 

Christopher was given two choices.  He could only pick one.

Judah was given the same opportunity.  It was given two choices.  It could only pick one. 

God said, 

"If you, Israel, will return,
    then return to me,”
declares the Lord.
“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
    and no longer go astray,  

and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
    you swear, ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
    and in him they will boast.”

This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem:

“Break up your unplowed ground
    and do not sow among thorns.

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
    circumcise your hearts,
    you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
    because of the evil you have done—
    burn with no one to quench it." (4:1-4)

Later in the chapter God says, 

 “My people are fools;
    they do not know me.
They are senseless children;
    they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil;
    they know not how to do good.” (4:22)

Whoa.  Pretty harsh to our modern, tolerant, culturally relevant ears, huh?

What if Jeremiah had come with the same soft man-made version of God's message that was in the book the chaplain gave Christopher in prison?  It might have gone something like this:

Judah:  I get it.  It is hard to ignore how green and abundant Canaan is, compared to the deserts of Egypt.  It is a land, after all, that flows with milk and honey.  So, could all those Baal worshippers be wrong?  They pray to him, and look what happens!  Abundant crops!  Large herds!  Lots of baby everything!  So, let's not get too hard-line on this idolatry thing.  Yes, God has made it clear He does not tolerate being worshipped alongside other gods--He is God alone.  BUT:  Let's be real, here.  God doesn't want you to ignore how you really feel--you feel that there is a truth behind this Baal worship.  

Fair enough.  But let's lighten up on the child sacrifice thing.  That's extreme, and no self-respecting Yahweh follower would be caught dead (no pun intended!) at a child sacrifice.  Stay home that day.  You're outnumbered by the Canaanites--just tell them that you can't afford to throw in your own kids, but you certainly appreciate how they do and how their devotion benefits the whole society. 

The temple prostitute thing?  Well, don't overdo it.  Go only a few times a year.  Yes, it violates God's rules for marriage, but a few times a year can't hurt. Again:  Could all those Canaanites be wrong?

Finally, stay positive.  Negative vibes from God's prophets just make you feel sad.  Just listen to the ones who encourage your need to be happy, healthy and prosperous.  Ignore the ones calling you to holiness, dependence on God and a life lived that reflects His presence within you.  

Oh yeah, I guess that means me, huh?  I better get online and download some better messages from those people who know how to grow a church.  The Word of God can be a real bummer to those seeking peace with who they are.  God wants better for us; but could all those Canaanites be wrong?  Can't argue with success, can we?   

Pragmatism, majority views and seeking your truth never saved anyone.  In fact, the culture in a fallen world is by definition, going to mislead, lie and misdirect away from God's Word.  It all comes down to that lie whispered millennia ago:  "Did God really say..."

A compromised truth isn't.  We do no one a favor by redefining sin as something else.  Sin is meant, just like its author, to "kill, steal and destroy."  

Jeremiah knew this.

Do we?














Thursday, October 15, 2020

Jeremiah 3: When Worldviews Collide

We are exploring Jeremiah, and how his words from God as are relevant today as they were back in his time.  Let's look at some interesting verses from chapter 3:

During the reign of King Josiah, the Lord said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,” declares the Lord. (3:6-10)

I begin with these verses, but walk with me for awhile.  We shall land on them again.

With human beings, you really have only two choices:  We are inherently either good or bad.  

If we are good, then all we need is a the kind of society that brings out the full potential in everyone.  If we are not engaged in the good, then we must improve the society, or remove it altogether, for it clearly it is hindering us more than it is helping us.  

The problem, then, is out THERE, for in our hearts, we believe are good.

It's the HEART that needs reformation, in God's economy. 

If we are fundamentally bad, then the society will reflect that.  It will confirm on the outside the bad we possess on the inside.  We will arrange, change or destroy what we build, always hoping for improvement, finding that, given enough time, even the most well thought-out societies will fall prey to our base nature.     

It is either an inside problem (we are bad) or it's an outside problem (society is bad and is impeding our good).

So, how do we create a profile of human behavior?  What have been the consequences of what we think, believe and then go out and do?

It's in the verses right here.  Judah had to only look at what Israel had done and how God reacted to the Israel's idolatry.  Israel fell prey to the same world view that we can control our world through human action and thus we are in charge of the outcome.  It's a pride-centered, humans-are-basically-good way of living.

How so?  Israel's mindset was, If we want to keep our Promised Land fertile, flush with crops, abundant water and weather that we can plant and harvest crops around, we will sacrifice to the gods, have sex with their prostitutes and then live the way we please, having gotten the gods to do our bidding with our obedience.  All those Canaanites can't be all wrong.  Compared to the desert our ancestors were in, this is a paradise.  The locals must have gotten something right!

 Israel allowed the world view of the Canaanites to permeate their God-centered-people-need-to-be-obedient-to-His-Word-if-they-are-to-live-in-a-moral-society.  Israel compromised.  Generation after generation, the compromises worked their poison and the inherently bad nature of human beings was allowed a freer and freer rein.

Israel was corrupted by what she believed and then by what she did.  

God reminded the people through Jeremiah that Israel was judged and destroyed by doing the very things that Judah was doing now. 

Judah, despite what had happened in and to Israel, decided that idolatry fit her best.  It catered to the base nature in human beings.  It's funny how the rituals idolatry demands amplifies what is already in human beings.  No one has to be coaxed to go up and unite with a temple prostitute.  Yes, sacrificing a child would have been painful, but the gods will give that mother more children and the whole society will be happier.  So, a woman would overcome her mothering instinct and sacrifice her child.  The whole society would  become the very one that Jeremiah is denouncing as he warns Judah.

Learn from history, Judah!

Jeremiah is warning everyone that human beings need God, otherwise the weak and the infirm are cast aside, justice is served to keep the rich, rich and the poor, poor.  Human beings have no value--they are to be used, abused and exploited by those who have the wealth and power to do so.  Greed permeates every area of human interaction:  Do undo others and then split.  Compassion, mercy and grace sound really nice until they interfere with worldly pursuits of those who feel entitled to do what they want.  The "I Want" list is endless, so is the abuse and wickedness human being will use to fulfill it.

But does Judah learn from history?

Are we?

A society will no restraints on human nature will allow for that very nature to rule supreme, because human being without a changed heart will not have it any other way.  Look at what Ezekiel says, 

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (36:26)

Jesus is very clear what human-nature infused heart believes and what actions result from it:

But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. (Matt. 15:18-19)

Judah would come under God's heavy hand if they ignored the warning of His prophet.  And sadly, we know from history, they did.

We also know from history that human societies where the corrupted human heart reigns will result in collapse, with devastating and long-lasting results.

But we have to know history.

We have to know His Word.

And we have to know God and receive the new heart He promises us by receiving His Son into our corrupted hearts.  

Society is only as good as the hearts that inhabit it.

America:  We are in trouble. 

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