Are Christian Leaders in Danger?
I’ve been studying the book of Jeremiah and landed on chapter five today, and it struck me how similar the times of today are to what Jeremiah and his people went through. For example, in this chapter’s opening, God tells him to go throughout Jerusalem's streets to look for an honest man, someone who speaks the truth and executes justice. If Jeremiah finds such a man, God will pardon the people. Like Sodom and Gomorrah during Abraham’s time, the people had once again descended into immorality. Their worship of God was forsaken in exchange for the lusts of the flesh. God was openly mocked, and even those in charge of the people's spiritual well-being had fallen away. They now worshipped false gods, and in this chapter, the Lord reveals to Jeremiah his plans for Israel. It would be their defining moment in history because God’s plans for Israel included the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem. He sent King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who would keep them captive in his land for seventy years.
"Baruch At Hashem, Eloheinu Melech Ha'Olam, Asher Kideshanu Bemitzvotav Vetzivanu La'asok B'divrei Torah."
"Blessed are you, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who has made us holy through His commandments, and commanded us to actively Study Torah."
The above is a blessing of the Torah that Jews pray every morning. I have been learning about Jewish prayers through Rabbi Gidon Ariel of Root Source. This morning the Rabbi said something in his lesson that really struck a chord with me. He explained that the Jewish people pray this prayer because they have a holy commandment (a task) to actively study the Torah. As a nation, the Jewish people should, therefore, actively be studying the Torah. The Rabbi then asked, "So, what happens if you don't actually learn anything? If it goes in one ear and out the other?" It then becomes, according to the Rabbi, a blessing that shouldn't have been said. For example, the prayer above is a commandment from God to the Jews to actively study the Torah. If the prayer/blessing is simply repeated without putting it into action, then you have said the whole blessing in vain.
Are You Allowing God to Shape You?
Read Jeremiah 18:1-11
Many times when we see the verse above we are drawn to the beauty of knowing that God is shaping us into the people He wants us to be. Philippians 1:6 affirms that "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ."
This is something that gives me great comfort, because despite all my flaws and my sins, my Heavenly Father has committed to making me into the person He knows I can be. He has designed each of us with a purpose in mind. In the picture above, the potter is designing a vessel that has a purpose. Whether it is to be a decoration or a jug to hold flowers and water, only the potter knows. When it is complete, the potter will make the necessary finishes that will decide how it is to be used.
We are much the same way. Our heavenly Father knows our purpose and He knows when we will be completed for that purpose. He also, like the potter, realizes when something needs to be fixed. We are either not learning, growing in our relationship with Him, obeying Him, or simply not hearing Him, and like the potter, He has to take drastic measures with us and start over again. Sometimes, the moulding and shaping is for our benefit. He sees the end result. He knows our future and we have to trust that whatever happens in our lives is ultimately according to His purposes.
This is what happened to Jeremiah's people. They had forgotten their purpose, that they were chosen by God to be an example to the nations of how a holy people are supposed to live. But instead, they exchanged God for the false idols of the nations that surrounded them and they forgot about God and fell into sin.
The following verses show us that God doesn't just deal with individuals but He deals with nations the same way.
"Oh, house of Israel can I not do with you as this potter?” says the Lord. Look, as the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it."
Notice that while these verses are concerning Israel and their coming judgment (they would go into captivity in Babylon for seventy years), God also addresses any nation or kingdom. The Bible tells us that it is God alone who puts people in positions of power (Romans 13:1-2; Daniel 2:21) and as the verse above suggests, because He is the potter, if a nation does not repent of its evil He will pluck it up, pull it down and destroy it - IF it is a nation He has spoken against to destroy. The key is that He will relent of any disasters He intends to bring upon them if only they will repent.
While the verses above resonate with many individuals in that we recognize God is our "Master Potter" and we are the clay, imagine what could happen to our great nation if our leaders recognized God's sovereignty as well. At least one very special and significant nation is currently doing that today. Israel's leaders are urging the Jewish people to read through the Bible, the whole Bible, verse by verse, chapter by chapter. They are returning to the Word of God and recognizing God's sovereignty over them as a nation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kicked off the new school year in Israel by encouraging children to rediscover the Word of God and Biblical roots of their Jewish heritage.
“First of all, the study of the Bible,” he said in August. “Knowledge is a critical word. We want to give it [knowledge of the Scriptures] to every child in Israel, Jews and non-Jews as one, religious and secular. This is the basis of the new world, and the basis of Israel as a strong nation in the world.”
Will the people of Israel listen to her leaders? I pray they do and as a nation submit themselves once again to the Master Potter. Imagine the blessings that God will pour out on them if they did so. Imagine how great our nation could be if our leaders humbled themselves before God as well and acknowledged God's sovereignty over them. One day every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. May it be so! Come Lord Jesus come!
Who Are You Putting Your Trust In?
Read Jeremiah 17:1-13
My mother in-law was a very wise woman. She would often remind us never to put our trust in man, but to put our trust in God, who always keeps His promises and will never let you down. In today's reading, Jeremiah says something similar and relays from the Lord this stern warning about those who put their trust in man:
Cursed is the man who trusts in man
As I read those words it made me think of "words" in general and who we listen to, because those whom we give an ear to tend to influence us the most. In particular, I'm thinking about those who call themselves preachers, speaking on behalf of God, and do so either through television, books, or from the pulpit in their churches on Sunday morning. Their words often times become our "words of wisdom" and we take them as gold. Yet many times we don't look at those "words" closely enough to see how they align with Scripture. We inadvertently trust in the man (or woman) who preaches them and end up making that man or woman our strength. Pithy sayings become our new mantra, such as this one from Joel Osteen, "We were old sinners - but when we came to Christ we are not sinners anymore." Nice words, that "sound" scriptural but aren't. Yet, our beliefs and convictions become aligned with each new book released by these celebrity preachers, and slowly but surely, without ever realizing it, our allegiance to God is replaced by trusting in man's word rather than God's Word. As the verse above suggests, "flesh" becomes our strength, because we are relying on what we can do or say to make change happen in our lives.
By now, many in the evangelical community recognize those who are false prophets/teachers/preachers. We know that the prosperity gospel is wrong, the grace doctrine is wrong and the name it and claim it doctrine also goes against scripture. We know and recognize the names of those celebrity. Preachers whom we need to stay clear of, people like - Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar and others, who preach false doctrines contrary to the Word of God. Most of us know by now that the Word of Faith community has strayed greatly from the Word of God. Unfortunately, many are still putting their trust in these celebrities to their own detriment. I have said it before, those who follow after false preachers will suffer the same fate God has in store for those who teach false doctrines (2 John 1:10-11). They are like the verses above suggest, cursed. They will never grow in their relationship with God, because they have never fully trusted in Him, instead preferring to lean on the "wisdom" of man. Relying on positive, upbeat messages that encourage people to use their words to speak into existence a better reality. Word of Faith preachers encourage people to put their trust in themselves (man) rather than in God and His Word. Unless they repent and turn back to God and trust in Him again, rather than false promises from false teachers, they will be like unsalted land - uninhabited - without God or His Holy Spirit.
But what does God say about those who trust in Him?
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
What happens when you trust in God and His Word, when your hope is in God alone and not in the false promises of man? You are like a tree planted by the waters, ever growing in the Lord, never ceasing to produce fruit in keeping with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. An intimate relationship develops through trusting in God and reading His Word. And when we place our hope and trust in Him, we are rewarded by His Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Jesus says we are to abide in Him as He abides in us in order that we might bear much fruit - just as the verse above suggests. To continually abide in the Lord, we must be reading His Words!
If you want to know God, His character, His likes and dislikes, what He expects from us, it is all laid out for us in the Bible. Our faith is built on the Word of God. When we abide in it daily we grow in our faith and our relationship with God. This is where our trust should be placed and where we can find truth for living. Abide in the Word of God for it is "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12)
What happens when you ignore God, turn against His gracious gifts to you and start doing “your own thing”? You fall. And you fall hard. Why? Because you have, whether you know it or not, said in your heart, “I can do whatever I want.” Pride goes before a fall and that is exactly what happened to the kings, priests and prophets (all who were mighty) in Jeremiah 13.
In Jeremiah 13:1-14 God tells Jeremiah to get a linen sash and put it around his waist, but not to put it in water. He then speaks to Jeremiah a second time and tells him to take the sash and put it in a hole near the Euphrates. After many days, the Lord tells Jeremiah to go retrieve the sash and Jeremiah discovers that it was ruined.
Jeremiah stated it was “profitable for nothing.”
The statement that it was “profitable for nothing” may seem confusing because in our view a sash’s only use is as an adornment. But the Hebrew word for sash is 'ezowr which in the KJV is translated as "girdle", which is more accurate, as the “sash” Jeremiah wore around his waist was a garment that went beneath his other garments and was next to his skin. The garment actually went from the waist to mid-thigh. So when Jeremiah says it is profitable for nothing, he means it could not protect his skin at all for it was ruined. So how does God turn this into a lesson? He tells Jeremiah that this would be how He (God) would ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.
But God wasn't done there. He went on to imply that every bottle in Israel would be filled with wine and that the people would say to Jeremiah, "Well, of course they will be!" Their pride was evident in this answer because they believed in their wealth and more importantly, their pride caused them to trust in it. But God followed that up with this, "Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will fill all the inhabitants of this land—even the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem—with drunkenness! And I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together,” says the Lord. “I will not pity nor spare nor have mercy, but will destroy them.”’”
Now, it wasn't Jeremiah who needed a lesson in how angry God was with His people. As far as Jeremiah was concerned his people deserved whatever they had coming to them. In fact, in Jeremiah 12, he prayed that God would lead them like sheep to the slaughter. So, he was not surprised at God's anger and was in fact, just as angry. So what was the tipping point? What lessons did God's people need to learn?
Three Reasons Why God Got Angry
The sash represented the house of Judah and the house of Israel and how the Lord wanted them to cling to Him. They were to be His people, for renown, for praise, and for glory. That was their special purpose.
As Christians we also have a special purpose. A mission to go into all the world, making disciples and baptizing them in the name of Jesus, sharing his message of salvation. So I wondered, if God got angry at His chosen people because they refused to listen to Him or His words, will He not do the same with us if forsake His Word and refuse to listen Him? It is alarming how many church leaders today are turning from the belief that the Bible is the unerring Word of God and encouraging their congregations to believe the same thing. Just as the priests in Jeremiah's time encouraged the people to turn from God and His Word, so are some church leaders today doing the same thing. Why are they turning from their once strongly held beliefs that the Bible is infallible and "God-breathed"? Because they don't want to be seen as intolerant to a certain sector of society. They have failed to realize that it is possible to love other people and associate with them without agreeing with them on everything. I have friends and family that I love who smoke - which I hate. But I'm not going to take up smoking to appease them and I'm not going to stop loving them because they smoke. On the contrary! It is possible for people to agree to disagree on any number of subjects. Not so with some mainstream and evangelical churches today. Many believe they owe apologies or need to repent because of what God's Word says about homosexuality in particular. They are actually apologizing for what God said in His Word! The audacity that takes boggles the mind. So they are refusing to acknowledge God's Word and following after the dictates of their own hearts. That's two things Christian leaders are doing that were the same as in Jeremiah's time. Will they start worshipping other gods as well? Sadly, some already have and I believe it will only continue to escalate as it did in Jeremiah's time, until Jesus comes again.
Pride goes before a fall. Jeremiah's people forsook God's Word and His ways so that they could follow their own hearts. They were, like today's Christians, proud of how forward thinking they were. If the lessons learned in Jeremiah are not heeded by the church, we may soon find ourselves in the same situation.