You'll regret settling for a cheap substitute

Something that seems to entertain my children, when it comes up in conversation, is how many years I can get out of a pair of shoes. In fact, I have a pair of sneakers that I like to wear that still look reasonably new, even though I bought them several years ago.

But that wasn't the case when I was a kid. As a child, I would go through sneakers rather quickly. I was always outside doing something and I played several sports that involved a high degree of running, so if a pair of sneakers lasted me a few months, that was considered good.

Being one of three siblings, the rate at which I would burn through a pair of shoes during that season wasn't a minor expense for my parents. That being the case, on occasion, we would opt for buying some knock off brands from time to time. Unfortunately, even though it initially felt like we were saving money, those shoes didn't hold up very long. They were cheap substitutes and I can still remember the way they would crack and tear after very little use.

There are some areas where it doesn't pay to settle for a cheap substitute, the most obvious being in our spiritual lives. There is no substitute for a relationship with the true and living God. No idol or humanly invented deity can comfort the heart and give lasting hope to the soul. That's something the Lord makes clear to Jeremiah in this passage of Scripture.


1. Don't be allured by the spirit of the times

Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:

“Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them,
— Jeremiah 10:1-2, ESV

In every generation, there is what is often called, "the spirit of the times." There are ideas and beliefs that seem to take hold in the hearts of a large percentage of people. If we looked at our culture at present, there are certainly some ideas we could list. Many of these ideas are adorned with pleasant sounding labels, but when we take a look beyond the surface, we begin to see what's really going on.

Just a few days ago, I received a notice from my son's school stating that a particular class was preparing to teach the children to practice "mindfulness". Admittedly, being "mindful" sounds all well and good, but when you examine this concept through the light of Scripture, you quickly realize that the practice isn't rooted in the teaching of God's word, but in the beliefs of Buddhism. In fact, we were also informed that the teacher was organizing a weekend trip for the students to participate in a Buddhist worship service. I politely expressed my displeasure to the school.

As the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. During Jeremiah's time, the people of Judah and Israel were likewise being highly influenced by the false beliefs of their neighboring nations. Instead of developing a fidelity to the teaching of God's word, they had started to become enamored with the ways and the beliefs of the other nations. We're even told in these verses that the people had started to become "dismayed at the signs of the heavens" like their foreign neighbors were. The Babylonians are known to have developed astrology and the use of horoscopes, and you can see that these pagan practices were having an impact on the people of Judah. Interestingly, they continue to have an impact on people today.

But followers of Christ should be more discerning than that. At the moment we trust in Christ, the Holy Spirit took up residence within us. He marked us, sealed us, and continues to counsel us. He makes the Bible clear to us as we read it and helps us to see things as they really are so that we aren't taken captive by the spirit of the times or the deceptive philosophies that gain popularity during our generation. 

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
— Colossians 2:8, ESV

As a matter of practice, exercise caution when you begin to see new beliefs gaining a foothold in our culture. Hold all things up to the light of Scripture. At present, our generation seems enamored with humanism, atheism, redefining marriage, redefining gender, and adopting the practices of new age spiritism and eastern religions. Please notice these things as they're taking place and resist their infiltration into your thinking or your household.

When the God of the Bible is rejected, people choose a new god.
— Charles Colson & Harold Fickett, The Faith, 68.
Apart from a Christian mind we will either be taken captive by the myriad of worldviews contending for our attention, or we will fail to make the Christian voice heard and considered above the din.
— James Emery White, A Mind for God, 16.


2. Don't be afraid of something that has no power over you


for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.”
— Jeremiah 10:3-5, ESV

I'm guessing that even if you aren't from the Philadelphia region, you're probably familiar with the Rocky Balboa statue near the Art Museum. Apparently, the mayor of Philadelphia and the mayor of Brockton, Massachusetts have agreed to a small wager. In Brockton, there's a statue of undefeated boxer, Rocky Marciano. If Philadelphia wins the Super Bowl, Brockton's statue will be clad in Eagles gear. If New England wins, Philadelphia's Rocky will be dressed in Patriots attire. I learned about this the other day while listening to sports radio, and the fate of these statues became a rather heated debate among the show hosts because of the sentimental and emotional value that is placed on them.

Interestingly, several years ago I saw a video of a religious service that involved four men carrying a large religious icon to the front of a building. As they were adjusting their stances, they lost their balance and the ornate statue wobbled, fell to the ground, and smashed. Horrified by what they saw, some of the people screamed and several began to cry.

How does something like a statue gain such a high level of importance to us? How does the work of a craftsman become an object of worship or an object of dread? In some respects, it comes down to our resistance toward the expression of genuine faith. We have a tendency that prefers to walk by sight and a statue is something we can see. If we come to the belief that it has some level of power over us, it's not hard to imagine it becoming an object of worship.

The process of crafting and worshipping idols is described in this passage because it was common among the people of Judah. This passage tells us about trees being cut down, worked on by craftsmen, decorated with silver and gold, placed in a fixed position, then worshipped. But the Lord made it clear as He spoke through Jeremiah that such idols have no real power. A belief in their power is nothing but folly or superstition. We're told that they're like a scarecrow. They can't speak, walk, do evil or good. Worshipping the work of another man's hands is foolishness.

Who then deserves our worship? Our worship should be directed to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Like a tree, Jesus was also cut down when He was crucified and nailed to the beams of a cross. But unlike a tree, He didn't remain dead when He was cut down. He rose from death. He lives, and He offers the blessing of new life to anyone who will trust in Him.

Among Christ's disciples, one in particular struggled to believe that Jesus rose from death after being cut down and crucified.

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
— John 20:24-29, ESV

Yet after Thomas saw the risen Christ, He believed in Him and worshipped Him as Lord and God. In Jesus we find true power over life and death. We revere and worship Him because He truly does have power over us.


3. Give praise to God because His glory is beyond all comparison

There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might. Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For this is your due; for among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is none like you. They are both stupid and foolish; the instruction of idols is but wood! Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz. They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith; their clothing is violet and purple; they are all the work of skilled men. But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation.
— Jeremiah 10:6-10, ESV

When I was growing up, one of my favorite things to do was to walk through model homes. We moved twelve different times before I graduated high school, and some of the places we lived in weren't very nice, so I was frequently amazed and impressed with some of these buildings. I would stare at the architecture and imagine what it would be like to live in a place as nice as some of these buildings. They were beyond comparison when viewed side-by-side with the kind of homes I was used to.

Jeremiah made a comparison in this passage as well. He compared the Lord with the lesser things the people were choosing to worship. As Jeremiah dwelt on this dichotomy, he praised the Lord for His greatness. He acknowledged that there was no one like the Lord. The kings and the most prominent people on the earth didn't compare to the glory of the Lord. The idols fashioned out of wood, silver, or gold didn't compare. The most regal looking clothing colored with precious and expensive dyes didn't compare. The Lord alone is the true and living God.

As our faith in the Lord matures over time, this is the kind of perspective He begins to foster within us as well. We begin to appreciate His greatness. We begin to recognize that all the things that our hearts have ever desired, whether it be earthly riches, personal prestige, relationships, or anything this world might offer us, pales in comparison to the greatness of our God.

The Lord is worthy to be praised in the midst of our seasons of happiness. He is worthy to be praised in the midst of our seasons of sorrow and pain. When our hearts and minds are focused on giving Him the praise He deserves, He helps lift us up out of the muck of being overly focused on ourselves and our momentary concerns. He helps us to see beyond the moment we may feel stuck in and reminds us of the joy we possess as men and women who have experienced redemption and restoration through faith in Jesus Christ.

The Psalms are filled with praise toward God because of His greatness.

I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
    let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
    and let us exalt his name together!
I sought the Lord, and he answered me
    and delivered me from all my fears.
— Psalm 34:1-4, ESV
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
— Psalm 103:1-5, ESV


The truth is, we can never run out of reasons to give praise to God. He alone is worthy of it.

In your life and faith, don't settle for a cheap substitute for God. In Christ, we have been granted a living hope. We've been granted access to the throne of the Father. We've been granted joy that surpasses all earthly trials. This earth may offer us all kinds of alternatives to experiencing a vibrant relationship with the Lord, but these substitutions produce nothing but regret. Our hearts have been fashioned to only find satisfaction from the real thing.

© John Stange, 2018