Friday, January 28, 2011

Longing for a Better Country

“Beware of your friends; do not trust your brothers. For every brother is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer.5 Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning. 6 You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge Me,” declares the LORD (Jeremiah 9:4-5).

What an image. When you read a passage like that, you cannot help but wonder what kind of evil, monstrous people these must be that God would say this concerning them. A majority of Christians who read this would say - I'm sure - that they have never witnessed such a people.

Don't be so sure. Perhaps they are closer than you think.

First, in reading this text, one cannot assume malice. One person tells a deliberate lie, intending to mislead you ... another passes along false information, although they did not realize what they were saying was untrue. In either case, deception has taken place ... whether intended or not.

I do not believe that these people were all monsters. I'm sure there were many nice folks, just like our neighbors, co-workers or family members. ... But that doesn't mean they were not sinners.

According to the text, these people were "friends" and "brothers." The problem though was that not one of them was speaking truth. They had grown accustomed to living apart from the word of the Lord. You don't have to be a murderer or a rapist to offend God ... just ignore His word ... the end result is the same.

I wonder what the Lord sees when He looks at our "civilized" society? I wonder what He thinks of our "friendly" congregations? Actually, I don't have to wonder ... I've already been told what He thinks of anyone - be they friend or brother - who lives apart from His will. Friendliness and civility are not the measures by which God has chosen to judge us. The Holy Spirit was sent to "convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8). Are we disregarding the word of the Lord? Then we are sinners, though perhaps the friendliest sinner on the planet. Do we do what God says is right? If not, we are unrighteous ... and no amount of your "brothers" who stand shoulder to shoulder with you and tell you how wonderful you are will sway the decision of an impartial and just God who was given us His word as a standard to be upheld.

Satan has already been judged (John 16:11). Now, the father of lies is doing everything he can to convince people that being good is good enough. He loves it when people are friends and brothers ... and not one of them knows enough of the word of God to speak truth.

I empathize with Jeremiah. I can relate to the prophet. As you immerse yourself in God's word ... when you submit yourself to His leadership ... truth will be revealed (John 8:32). But the more the truth is revealed, the more the falsehoods are also revealed. No wonder Jeremiah wept. He saw good people ... friends and brothers ... who had all been deceived by Satan. They had grown so accustomed to the "truths" they had created, that they no longer cared what God really said. "That's the way it is" became more important than "that's what God said."

And the prophet's reaction? Jeremiah 9:2, "Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travelers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people."
"I wish I could get away from them all!"
But Jeremiah, these are your friends and brothers!
"They're all adulterers, cheating on God by sleeping with the world."
Jeremiah, I understand. So did Jesus. Here's what He said about the good people of His day. "O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?" (Matthew 17:17).

How hard it is to live by faith. How difficult to live "without fault in a crooked and depraved generation" (Philippians 2:15). Sin so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1).

Friends and brothers? Civilized people? Then why have God's people been "tortured," "faced jeers and flogging," been "chained and put in prison," "were stoned," "sawed in two," "put to death by the sword," and "went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated" (Hebrews 11:35-38)?

God has declared, "the world was not worthy of them."
"They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground"
See, Jeremiah? There were others who just wanted to get away from it all. No wonder "they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one" (Hebrews 11:16).

I do, too, Jeremiah. I do, too.

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