Friday, August 10, 2012
“Listen, earth! I am about to bring disaster on these people, the fruit of their own plotting, for they have paid no attention to My word. They have rejected My instruction.” (Jeremiah 6:19 HCSB
We don’t need more religion—not of the sort we have. Our world is full of religion.
Of course, there are so-called atheists, but their denial of a deity does in fact establish one of their own making. They bow at the altar of science. Their intellect has become the supreme intelligence. Man is judge over all—arbitrary standards they set. Naturalism and secularism are their creed. All the elements of religion are present as they practice the very thing they brand as folly.
Professing atheists have become more strident and militant—a bit more numerous. Yet, despite their aggressive hate of that which they say doesn’t exist, most of mankind rejects their claims.
Man is still inherently religious.
Everywhere you go in this world, you will find church buildings, mosques, shrines and synagogues. Billions of religious people engage in religious ritual on a regular basis. They attend mass, bow toward Mecca, burn incense and keep sacred festivals. The world is full of religion.
Despite this, we teeter on the brink of judgment. It isn’t a lack of religion which is the problem—it is what is lacking in the religion men and women practice. It isn’t that we need more of the religion we have, but that we need the right kind of religion—which isn’t about religious activity, theological discussion and ritual. It is about a real relationship with God where we have experienced His grace by faith, evidenced by our repentance from sin. This brings a transformation—the New Testament calls it regeneration.
Jesus said that without this, we will never see the Kingdom of Heaven. We cannot enter it, for we do not have eternal life. Only condemnation awaits—and it will be mostly the religious who are rejected, because most people are religious. They have rejected God’s Word and established their own way.
This isn’t without precedent. The Jews that Jeremiah confronted were such religious rejects.
They practiced WASTED WORSHIP.
“[This is] the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Stand in the gate of the house of the Lord and there call out this word: Hear the word of the Lord, all [you people] of Judah who enter through these gates to worship the Lord.
This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: Correct your ways and your deeds, and I will allow you to live in this place. Do not trust deceitful words, chanting: This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord. Instead, if you really change your ways and your actions, if you act justly toward one another, if you no longer oppress the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow and no longer shed innocent blood in this place or follow other gods, bringing harm on yourselves, I will allow you to live in this place, the land I gave to your ancestors long ago and forever.
[But] look, you keep trusting in deceitful words that cannot help. "Do you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and follow other gods that you have not known? Then do you come and stand before Me in this house called by My name and say, 'We are delivered, so we can continue doing all these detestable acts'?
Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your view? Yes, I too have seen [it].’”’ [This is] the Lord's declaration.” (Jeremiah 7:1-11 HCSB)
They engaged in religious ritual, thinking that attending religious places would put them in right standing with God. But, they entered as unrepentant sinners and departed the same way. You can live in a garage and that doesn’t turn you into an automobile. They professed the right things publicly, but lived the wrong way privately. They were hypocrites. God rejected them because they rejected Him.
We may utter POINTLESS PRAYERS.
“’As for you, do not pray for these people. Do not offer a cry or a prayer on their behalf, and do not beg Me, for I will not listen to you. Don't you see how they behave in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The sons gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven, and they pour out drink offerings to other gods so that they provoke Me to anger.
But are they really provoking Me?’ [This is] the Lord's declaration. ‘Isn't it they themselves [being provoked] to disgrace?’
Therefore, this is what the Lord God says: ‘Look, My anger-My burning wrath-is about to be poured out on this place, on man and beast, on the tree of the field, and on the produce of the land. My wrath will burn and not be quenched.’" (Jeremiah 7:16-20 HCSB)
God speaks shocking words to His prophet. Don’t bother to pray for them—it’s pointless. Only one prayer would have been heard—the sincere prayer of repentance from the lips of people broken over their sin. Yet, they were not praying like that.
They were praying, but it was pointless. It was meaningless religious clichés which rose no higher than the ceiling. They wondered why God didn’t answer their prayers. They asked for blessings and heaven was silent.
“But these people have stubborn and rebellious hearts. They have turned aside and have gone away. They have not said to themselves, 'Let's fear the Lord our God, who gives the rain, both early and late, in its season, who guarantees to us the fixed weeks of the harvest.' Your guilty acts have diverted these things [from you]. Your sins have withheld [My] bounty from you…” (Jeremiah 5:23-25 HCSB)
We can offer SENSELESS SACRIFICE.
“This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: ‘Add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices, and eat the meat yourselves, for when I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak with them or command them concerning burnt offering and sacrifice. However, I did give them this command: Obey Me, and then I will be your God, and you will be My people. You must follow every way I command you so that it may go well with you. Yet they didn't listen or pay attention but followed their own advice and according to their own stubborn, evil heart. They went backward and not forward. Since the day your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent all My servants the prophets to you time and time again.
However, they wouldn't listen to Me or pay attention but became obstinate; they did more evil than their ancestors.’” (Jeremiah 7:21-26 HCSB)
They would have been better served eating the meat themselves, rather than sacrificing it to God—for He rejected it. Because their hearts were evil, their hands were dirty—and this defiled their offering. God didn’t need to be fed. What He wanted was their love. If what we offer to God is given as a grudging obligation, an attempt to bribe God and earn His favor, while our heart is far from Him, we might as well keep the money in our pocket. Spend it on yourself or your family—God doesn’t want it.
He wants your heart! “Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor.9:7)
We can listen to POWERLESS PREACHING.
“They have contradicted the Lord and insisted, ‘It won't happen. Harm won't come to us; we won't see sword or famine.’
The prophets become [only] wind, for the [Lord's] word is not in them. This will in fact happen to them.” (Jeremiah 5:12-13 HCSB)
The preachers were just wind-bags, the sermons just hot air. They were preaching a “prosperity” gospel. No one wanted to hear a message of judgment, so they told them what they wanted to hear.
“The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule by their own authority. My people love it like this. But what will you do at the end of it?” (Jeremiah 5:31 HCSB)
The congregation came to have their ears tickled and not their conscience bothered. They loved to flock to church to hear this. People still do.
“For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is making profit dishonestly. From prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have treated My people's brokenness superficially, claiming, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:13-14 HCSB) These were not shepherds, but hirelings.
Sadly, even Jeremiah’s preaching,though true to the Word, would be ineffectual. His words called them to repent, but because they stopped their ears to it, it had no power to change them. The problem in that case wasn’t the preacher but the people.
“’When you speak all these things to them, they will not listen to you. When you call to them, they will not answer you. You must therefore declare to them: This is the nation that would not listen to the voice of the Lord their God and would not accept discipline. Truth has perished—it has disappeared from their mouths.’” (Jeremiah 7:27-28 HCSB)
Jeremiah was faithful, but he did wonder, “What’s the use?”
“My joy has flown away; grief has settled on me. My heart is sick. Listen—the cry of my dear people from a far away land, ‘Is the Lord no longer in Zion, her King not within her?’ Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved images, with their worthless foreign idols? Harvest has passed, summer has ended, but we have not been saved. I am broken by the brokenness of my dear people. I mourn; horror has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? So why has the healing of my dear people not come about?” (Jeremiah 8:18-22 HCSB)
Many a man of God has wept in his study on Monday morning after pouring out his soul on Sunday morning—and it falling on deaf ears. No medicine has power to heal, unless it is taken. Listening to a doctor’s advice never cured any one. You have to apply what they say.
Do you know what congregations do after a while, when they don’t want to hear the truth? They reject the messenger and drive him away—something Jeremiah would experience. Others just drift away themselves and go down the road to have their ego stroked and to be given a sermonic placebo by some smiling psycho-babbler.
More religion of the same kind is useless. Give me that old, time religion!
“This is what the Lord says: Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths: Which is the way to what is good? Then take it and find rest for yourselves. But they protested, ‘We won't!’” (Jeremiah 6:16 HCSB)
This is the only way back to God, back from the brink of judgment.
“Roam through the streets of Jerusalem. Look and take note; search in her squares. If you find one person, any who acts justly, who seeks to be faithful, then I will forgive her.” (Jeremiah 5:1 HCSB)
Is anybody listening?