When I was growing up, we didn't have very many TV channels. At best, we could usually get four or five through the over-the-air antenna. I have always been someone who struggled to fall asleep at a normal time, so growing up, I would often find myself watching TV while trying to doze off. I remember noticing a pattern with many of the shows that came on during those late hours. Many of the shows were paid infomercials by people who made some sort of promise that they could give you the kind of life you've always wanted.
Some shows focused on your finances. Others focused on your health. There were also programs that spoke of spiritual issues. Truthfully speaking, most of these shows were garbage. I'm grateful that I was able to see through that, even at a young age, but I knew people who fell for the pitches and promises of these late-night gurus because they were so desperate for help that they would listen to anyone who sounded at least moderately convincing.
But the promises we find in Scripture go deeper than the vain promises of men. In God's word, we learn that there is one leader who actually does have the power to make our lives flourish in every healthy way. That person is Jesus Christ and this chapter of Jeremiah's book speaks prophetically of Him while also cautioning us about the presence of contrasting leadership that seeks to steer us in ungodly directions.
A while back, I had a very strange experience. I was teaching an adult Sunday School class to a group of about twenty-five people. As I was speaking, I noticed that very abruptly, I lost the hearing in my right ear. I paused for a moment because it was a very strange sensation, told the class what was happening, tried to wiggle my ear to see if the problem would go away, and when it didn't correct itself, I just continued to teach the class.
I visited my doctor the next day. He explained to me the nature of the problem, and walked me through the process of correcting it. It took about a week, but by the end of the week, after one more visit to the doctor, my hearing was restored. I'll spare you the details of what was wrong, but I was quite relieved to have my hearing again after losing it for several days.
Ironically, sometimes when our hearing is in perfectly good order, we still struggle to listen. That's what this passage of Scripture is speaking about. The Lord's people were struggling to listen to the instructions, directions, and counsel He graciously offered them, and they were paying a price for their willful ignorance.
In our context, why is it so difficult for us to listen to what we really need to hear? This portion of Scripture helps us understand why.
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.
I think it's fair to say that most, if not all people, desire to experience good national leadership during the course of their lifetime. Jeremiah's life spanned the reign of multiple kings of Judah, but the events spoken of in Chapter 7 took place during the reign of a godly king. For a time, Josiah reigned as king in Judah. His reign began when he was eight, but when he was sixteen, he became a fully devoted follower of the Lord. In his 20's, he sought to eradicate idols from the land. He also ordered the remodeling of the temple. In the process of remodeling, the books of the Old Testament Law were rediscovered and Josiah encouraged the people to begin obeying the Lord's teaching again.
2 Chronicles 35 tells us about the completion of the work on the temple and the celebration of the Passover that took place at that time. The people were excited, and in a very celebratory mood. From all outside appearances, it would have seemed like a great revival was taking place among the people and that a renewed interest in walking with the Lord was taking place on a large scale. But the Lord knows people's hearts. He knows when we're faking. He knows when we're trying to craft an image that's the opposite of what's taking place in our hearts. It was into this context that the Lord spoke through Jeremiah to address the distant hearts of the people of Judah that were being disguised by their outward display.
When I was in my early 20's, I knew a couple that had been dating for several years. From all outside appearances, it seemed that their relationship was healthy and strong. They spent time together. They enjoyed each others personalities. Their spiritual beliefs seemed to mesh. Everything looked fine. Then, seemingly out of the blue, the woman left her boyfriend for another man. On top of that, she abruptly married the other man which puzzled us all.
At the time this was taking place, my wife and I were dating and getting near to the day when we were planning on marrying. I couldn't help but wonder how I would react if something so unexpected and painful happened to me.
Fast forward a few months, and we learned that the woman ended her abruptly established marriage. We were told that the man she married was abusive and engaged in additional forms of sin. Not long after that, we learned that her previous boyfriend had accepted her repentance, and taken her back. Again, I couldn't help but wonder what I would have done in a situation like that. I also found it difficult not to feel slightly judgmental at how flighty and foolish that woman was starting to seem to me.
Multiple times in Scripture, the Lord refers to his children as being his bride. The people of Israel and Judah are spoken of this way. Likewise, those who trust in Jesus Christ and are part of His church are spoken of as His bride. Historically, the people the Lord has called His own have struggled to remain faithful to Him. We've wandered from Him like a faithless spouse. We've been flighty and foolish. Yet amazingly, God still wants us back. This portion of Scripture illustrates some very interesting things about God's loving heart toward His bride.
What does it take to become good at something? By what standard might someone actually be considered great at something? Typically, our standard for measuring the skill, talent, or giftedness of a person is by the results they produce. And if that's the kind of standard we applied to the prophet Jeremiah, we might call him a failure, and we would be dead wrong.
Jeremiah was a prophet to the kingdom of Judah beginning in the year 627 B.C. He was faithful to the Lord's calling on his life. He was courageous in the midst of persecution. He was given a thankless task as he proclaimed the truth to a rebellious people that didn't want to hear what the Lord was saying through him. His message was mocked. He was called a liar. His life was threatened, and the people of Judah did not repent of their sins.
But God gave Jeremiah the task to speak the truth to a dying nation, and Jeremiah relied on the Lord to provide him the strength to accomplish this task. Later in his life, he was taken to Egypt and it's believe that he was stoned to death and buried in an unmarked grave because his message was so despised. Yet we can be confident that he received a rich welcome into the presence of God as one who trusted in Him and poured out his heart and his life trying to point others to the Lord.
Everyone walking on this planet sees their life from a particular lens. We all have a worldview that influences how we interpret our circumstances and surroundings. Our worldview impacts the way we value other people. Our worldview also influences the way we choose to make use of the time we've been blessed with.
At one time in our lives, we lived in ignorance. We were ignorant of some of the deepest realities that we're surrounded with all the time. It's likely that we lived in ignorance to who we were really created to be. We lived in ignorance about the purpose of our experiences. We lived in ignorance toward the suffering of others. In general, we lived in ignorance to the bigger picture of God's divine plan.
But our gracious Lord is kind enough to offer us the privilege to begin to see things in a new light. Through faith in Jesus Christ, our eyes are opened to things that we didn't have the capacity to gain a full understanding of through natural means. Jesus enables us to see things differently, and as He does so, the manner in which we choose to live our lives can't help but be impacted as well.
What does Christ enable us to see differently? What difference does that make?
The other day, I was reading an article about what's currently taking place in Venezuela. Their government and economy has been collapsing. There's a lot of unrest and disorder. People are very low on food. The article mentioned a man who had been a little over 300 lbs., but now, due to the scarce availability of food, his weight had dropped to around 130 lbs. As this crisis continues to drag on, people are fleeing the country. Neighboring nations have started to enact policies on how best to handle this large influx of immigrants who are trying to escape Venezuela while the country appears to be collapsing.
Throughout human history, you can see many examples of leaders and nations that rose to power, but later collapsed. Some nations managed to last a long time. Some didn't. During the 1930's and 1940's, Hitler himself used to promise the German people that he was forming a government that would last 1,000 years, but we all see how that worked out.
Deep down, I believe there's a longing within all of us to be part of something bigger. We want to be part of a strong kingdom with righteous leadership, but even the best historical examples can only give us a partial taste of what that looks like. We will only experience that in its fullness when Jesus rules and reigns on this earth in His righteousness. This Scripture tells us that He leads the kingdom that will never be destroyed.
Years ago, I used to be a news fanatic. I would watch 24-hour news channels every chance I got. I was up on everything that the news told me was taking place in our country and everything they said was taking place in the world. Then, after a season of realizing that my constant diet of the news cycle was becoming more of a downer than anything, I stopped watching it so much, and now I barely watch it at all. I had as much of the bad news as I could take.
Somewhere along the line I also noticed that, even though I don't watch the news very much, I still seem to be on the receiving end of an abnormal amount of bad news, and I've come to accept that reality. When you're a pastor, you're often asked to pray with and for people in times of dire need. Just the other day I was asked to pray for a family from a church I served at in college that tragically lost two children in a fire. It broke my heart and I have been thinking about it every day since.
There is no shortage of bad news in this world, and if we don't possess the capacity to see beyond this moment in time, we can easily become locked in a gloomy perspective. But by the grace of God, we're made capable of seeing what's up ahead. The counsel of His word tells us that there is hope for all who trust in Christ. He is the one who takes our gloom away.
There's a question that I started asking when I was a young man, that I continue to ask today. I wanted to know, "What makes a great leader?" When I was a child, my aunt had an almanac that contained a lot of interesting information, including profiles of every U.S. President. Every time I visited, I used to sit down and read that thing. Eventually, after years of pouring through it, she gave it to me and I still have it. I was fascinated by reading the stories of the leaders it spoke about.
Growing up, I worked in our family grocery store. As a child, I observed the leadership of my grandfather, father, and uncle as they ran the business. I watched them hire, fire, and interact with employees. I observed and participated in the strict and sometimes severe ways they treated shoplifters. It was a very helpful context in which to learn leadership principles.
In the years that followed, I worked in various contexts alongside different bosses. Some were excellent leaders and some were terrible. Some I admired and copied and others I appreciated in a different way because they helped me learn what it felt like to serve under a bad, unethical, or ineffective leader.
You may or may not consider yourself a leader, but if you have any form of influence in the life of someone else, you are, at least to them, a leader. And if the Lord has given you the privilege to influence others at home, in society, at work, online, or in the church, it's worth asking the question, "What makes a great leader?" Thankfully, we find some answers to that question in God's word.