What do we do now?
Acts 2: Get out of this sick and stupid culture!
It’s the Day of Pentecost. Those in the Upper Room have received the Promise of the Father. The power of the Holy Spirit flows out of them and they proclaim the Good News of Jesus with authority they’ve never had before and in languages they’ve never spoken before. Thousands come running to see what’s happening and Peter preaches his Pentecost sermon. Good people hear this message and are alarmed that the Messiah has come, been executed, and has risen from the grave. Is it too late for them? Has the long awaited Messiah come and they missed the boat? Pleading, they ask, “So now what do we do?” Peter’s answer is this: “Change your life…turn to God…be baptized…receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” A corrupt, Christ-denying culture has brought them to the brink of disaster. Their only hope, Peter says with Spirit-filled confidence, is to “get out of this sick and stupid culture.” This message of both warning and hope is still the one people need to hear today. Our culture of self and materialism is destroying our souls. We’re on the brink of eternal disaster. Our hope is in the resurrected Savior of the world. The message of God to this generation is the same as the one Peter gave to his so long ago: “Repent, turn to God, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit.”
Take Away: There’s a way through to God and that Way is named Jesus
Walk like an Egyptian
Jeremiah 44: The good is gone.
The survivors of the destruction of Jerusalem not only flee to Egypt, they embrace the idol worshipping culture of their nation of refuge too. It isn’t that big a step. They were already toying with such things before, although before fleeing Jerusalem they had kept a dash of Jehovah worship mixed in with their religious practices. Now that Jerusalem’s destroyed and they’ve deserted that place they think they’re free from God Almighty too. They embrace all things Egyptian. The popular thing to do is “walk like an Egyptian.” Meanwhile, God’s anger toward them increases. Back in Judea when everyone else was either being killed off or carried off to live the rest of their lives in Babylonian exile these people had been spared. “Blest” is probably too strong a word, but it’s clear that they were treated less harshly than were their fellow Israelites. Their response: run the opposite direction, away from their homeland and away from their God. So, again, God’s fed up with them. If they like Egypt so well, they can have it along with the judgment that’s coming to that land. God says to them, “It’s all over; I have nothing good left for you.” I’m not a gloom and doom preacher but passages like this concern me. We Christians are so quick to embrace the current cultural fads. We’re entertained by the same things, buy into the same materialistic values, and, in general, fit into the broken culture of our day. The Lord tells those who fled to Egypt that, if they like Egypt so well, he’ll treat them as he’s going to treat the Egyptians. Maybe we Christians ought to think twice before we get too carried away with “walking like an Egyptian.”
Take Away: We’re in the world but we’re not to be of the world.
Jeremiah 10: No matter how fancy the sticks, they’re still sticks.
Jeremiah’s comparing handmade idols with God Almighty. He says they’re like scarecrows in cabbage patches, homemade and lifeless. He says some craftsman might fancy up the wood; carving and sanding and painting. When he’s finished though, a stick is still a stick and a stick is no God. I’ve heard that household idols are making a comeback among some groups even my country. By and large though, such things are considered weird. Of course, that doesn’t let us off the hook here. In the broadest sense an idol is that which comes between me and the Lord, especially that which demands my time and money and loyalty. As I read this passage with that more general definition in mind lots of things begin to fit in. Relationships, possessions, pleasures, and position all can make “god-like” demands on me. The old time prophet reminds me today that those things are also stick gods and mustn’t be allowed to rise above their actual worth in life. If a modern day “Jeremiah” followed me around today, what parts of my life might he condemn as “stick gods?”
Take Away: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Walking with God against the flow
Jeremiah 1: You’re a one-man defense system against this culture.
Several times in my journeys I’ve had the misfortune of driving along the highway, minding my own business, and coming up on fresh skunk road kill. The stench lingers in the car even after the site of the demise of the skunk is behind me. In commissioning Jeremiah to his life’s work, the Lord says that the culture of his nation stinks. God’s sick of it and is going to bring in enemies of theirs from the north to do a thorough cleaning. Jeremiah’s job is to prepare the way for that event by mounting an offense against that rotten culture. From the beginning it’s made clear to him that he’ll operate counter to the prevailing culture of that day. He’s going to be the focal point of some big explosions and his only hope of surviving them is that God’s going to make him rough and tough, as “solid as a concrete wall.” Jeremiah’s ministry is to be one of confrontation. Frankly, I doubt that the culture of my nation is any better than was that of Jeremiah’s. If God was sick of the stench of that culture then he must be pretty tired of that of our day too. Who knows? Right now God might be rising up a new Jeremiah. Whether or not that’s so, I do understand this: we believers have to do more than just go with the flow and feel pleased that we’re keeping our heads above water. We need to take a stand for righteousness in our homes and in other places where we have influence. Can God count on me to be a “one-man defense system” at least in those areas?
Take Away: Sometimes Christians have to take a stand for righteousness, even if that stand isn’t well accepted.
(Don’t) Make yourself at home
Judges 3: But the People of Israel made themselves at home among the Canaanites.
It’s their first test and they fail it. They’ve failed to remove the pagan people from the land and now their test is to live near them but not become one of them. They miserably fail. Before long their young people are getting married to Canaanites and the perverted worship practices of those people is being accepted by them. Simply put, they feel right at home with these heathen. In his anger, God turns his back on them and soon everything falls apart. How at home am I in my society? Jesus loved sinners. He ate with them and genuinely liked them. But he never became one of them. On one hand there’s the example of the Israelites who feel so at home with the Canaanites that they adopt their ways. On the other hand we have Jesus who loves people and fellowships with them, but in doing so, invites them to be the ones who are changed. God help me to love the lost without making myself “at home” with them in the manner of these Israelites.
Take Away: Is the Church changing the culture or is the culture changing the Church?
It’s your call
Judges 2: That’s why God let those nations remain.
The Book of Judges is the story of God’s patiently developing a people he can call his very own. There’s a cycle of failure, repentance, grace, and deliverance that’s repeated again and again. When they fail to completely drive out the people of the land the Lord leaves that pagan culture there and uses it to develop the Israelites into the people he wants them to be. The remaining Canaanites become the “alternative choice” for the Israelites. I see a parallel in my own culture. I believe the Lord intends that the Church be the dominant force in society. Sadly, in many cases it fails. The result is that there’s a thriving alternative secular culture in the land. This culture has no place for God (or at least wants God to mind his own business). Every day God’s people are exposed to the values of this self-oriented, market-driven, materialistic society. As it was for the Israelites of the Book of Judges the people of God must decide “who I will serve.”
Take Away: No doubt the popular culture is, well, popular – sometimes God’s people have to journey the less traveled road.