By Paul Koch –
Once a month I get together with the other pastors in our circuit for worship, study and conversation. We talk about challenges we are facing in the ministry, we brainstorm at times about possible solutions and the best path to take, and to be honest we have a lot of good laughs in a gathering where we safely speak our minds and ponder the future of the congregations. At our last meeting we had an interesting exchange where some of the more seasoned brothers were shocked that the younger pastors in the group didn’t regularly read the newspaper. After a few jokes about if they had heard about this newfangled thing called the internet, the conversation actually got interesting when we began to discuss the purpose of reading the paper. That is, what was it good for? What benefit was there? In fact our conversation moved from reading the paper to watching the news; whether it was Fox News or CNN or some other alphabet news source.
What emerged in this discussion was a pretty clear separation between those who had a steady diet of the news and those who didn’t. Along with that came a difference in one’s outlook and demeanor. What I mean is that those who feasted on the news seemed far more agitated and even fearful about our country, about their future, about the state of the church and the proclamation of the Gospel than those who didn’t consume so much news. Now I don’t think that this is simply a matter of some knowing more than the others. Rather if you step back and think about what your diet consists of, if it is mostly headlines in the news, you can easily see why one might be fearful. You will be feasting upon the threat of Isis, the selling of aborted body parts, the disaster of climate change, the socialist verses capitalist takeover of our country, the redefining of marriage, every economic indicator of woe in the country, and if that wasn’t enough for desert you can have a little GOP debate coverage.
If that’s your diet, if you read about all of that in the newspaper, if you catch up on what you missed on the nightly news, if you fill in the rest of the gaps with talk radio in your car, then there is only one conclusion that seems to make any sense: it has never been this bad! Our country has turned its back on our God. It has boldly walked away from the principles that made it great and we are on the brink of total disaster. The church is being pushed to the margins of society. We are becoming irrelevant in the public square. We are ridiculed and despised. So fear, fear is a reasonable response.
And then we come across a text like Jeremiah 11:18-20. There is an old Latin phrase that I happen to be fond of. It goes, Veritas Odium Parit and it means “The truth breeds hatred.” The truth, the shining light of God’s true and holy Word brings into the light things that people go to great lengths to keep in the darkness. The truth gives rise to enemies and it begets hatred. Long before the church fell out of favor in the modern political scene, we find Jeremiah facing fierce hatred because of the truth he spoke.
Jeremiah has been tasked to speak a Word of God that is not so easy task to speak. He is called upon to address God’s people who have turned from his ways. The God who delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians, the God who led them through the wilderness to the land flowing with milk and honey, this God has seen their appalling deeds. He has seen that they have turned from heeding his commands, they have stopped listening to his words, and they have sought instead to do things their own way to worship how they see fit. They have sought after gods of their own creation. Does any of this sound familiar? And so Jeremiah stands up to speak what he is called to speak. He says, “The Lord once called you a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit. But with the roar of a great tempest he will set fire to it, and its branches will be consumed. The Lord of hosts, who planted you, has decreed disaster against you, because of the evil that the house of Israel and the house of Judah have done.”
Whew… as you can imagine, a word like that, whether it is true or not, isn’t going to make you many friends. And the fact that it is true, that it comes from God himself, is going to increase the hatred even more. Because of this Word spoken a plot develops to destroy Jeremiah. He says that he is like a lamb led to the slaughter. They make plans to end him and not just take his life but to wipe away any memory of him, and to erase if they can all his work. The culture stands in direct opposition to the one who speaks the Word of God. They don’t just want to marginalize him or only laugh him out of town, they want to bring him to an end. Again I ask you, does any of this sound at all familiar?
So what do we do? What do we do when we eat our diet of daily news and when we see how bad society is getting? What do we do? Well, we are encouraged to get involved, and rightly so. But usually this isn’t getting out on a street corner and speaking that truth even louder. Usually what we mean by being involved is throwing our support behind the right candidate. Vote for the right party, give financial support to the best politician that aligns with our worldview and we will be on the course to correcting the problem. But I wonder if this might not be part of our problem, when we seek to use the means of the world to make a stand against the enemy of this world.
Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be politically active. Rather, I’m suggesting that there is more to be consumed than the news of this passing age. There are promises made by our Creator that endure beyond this world. There is a report given that will not be silenced by a corrupt and godless culture. If our diet includes not just our nightly news but the very Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ why then we might respond like Jeremiah himself. He turns his eyes from the plots to destroy him, from the enemies all around and fixes his gaze toward heaven. He declares, “O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.”
Jeremiah commits his cause to our Lord. He goes all in and trusts that God will be the righteous judge. He will exact judgement at His time. See, instead of turning to make friends and alliances and deals to smooth things over, Jeremiah is committed to the Word he proclaims and committed to the true light of God alone.
That, I think, is inspiring. That is the way to go. But it is hard to go all in like that. It is difficult for us to commit completely to our Lord’s cause. After all that newspaper beckons. It fills us with concern and worry and fear. We grow anxious and desire to do something. Oh sure we’ll trust in our Lord, but only when we’ve exhausted all of our own efforts. And so we hold on to little pieces of this life and say this part I won’t commit to my Lord. This part I will accomplish by myself. This part I want to get worked out. If we can only get the right person in office, if we can just stop Planned Parenthood, if we can only return to the Constitution of our great land, why then we will have accomplished something.
I like to think our Lord smiles at our attempts. He knows of our fear and worries, and He knows though it may seem bleak these days, even as Jeremiah will testify, there is truly nothing new under the sun. And so into our lives filled with the latest and most disturbing news, He continues to confidently speak His Good News.
And that Good News is this: your Lord did not wait for you to go all in for Him. He did not hold back until you committed. No, He has gone all in for you. He committed to you. He was the lamb led to the slaughter for you. He has not held back His mercy. He has called you brothers and sisters, and He has declared that this day you are forgiven all your sins – even your lack of commitment. So sure there is great cause for worry, but there is no reason to fear. For He who was dead now lives, and in Him you will endure to that glorious dawn of the new day.