I’ve been a pastor for 35 years. As a pastor I’m often present for the happiest moments of people’s lives – when they get married, when they have a baby and want to have that baby blessed, when they give their life to Jesus Christ and are baptized, and when they celebrate great milestones like graduations, 50th wedding anniversaries and other joys. I am privileged to “rejoice with those who rejoice.”
At the same time, I am also there during some of life’s most painful moments- when a loved one has died after a long illness, or suddenly in a tragic accident, when someone has just been told by their spouse that they want a divorce, or when their child has been arrested for possession of illegal narcotics. I am there to weep with those who weep.
When people are going through the most painful or difficult challenges of their lives- when they are waiting for a loved one in major surgery, or for the test results to come back, I try to help them and provide a voice of calm assurance. “It’s going to be okay.” And of course, I want it to be okay. But to be honest, sometimes it’s NOT okay. Sometimes people don’t make it through surgery. Sometimes couples don’t reconcile and marriages aren’t saved. Sometimes test results come back and it’s bad. Sometimes prodigal children don’t come back home, or back to Church or back to God.
Let’s be honest, 2020 sucks! Covid-19 has killed a lot of people and has a lot of people scared. A lot of people are out of work and the economy has tanked because of it. A lot of people are scared to go anywhere including church. For a time many states told people they weren’t allowed to go to church – what’s up with that? And in the midst of that we’ve also had racial protests (or sometimes riots), murder hornets, great white shark attacks and now for more fun – its hurricane season. Some people joke about, “What’s this month’s plague going to be?” but it’s getting to the point where it’s no joke. Something’s going on.
The caring pastor part of me wants to take you by the hand and say “it’s going to be alright. We’ll get through this.” But can I be honest for a minute? I don’t know that for sure. For all I know Covid-19 could get a lot worse. Or the vaccine they make to cure it could turn us all into vampires. (Just kidding, I just watched the movie I Am Legend where the cure for cancer turned almost everyone into vampires.) You get my point, I can’t guarantee that in a few weeks or months it’s all going to get better… it might not.
Can I be more honest? God may be really angry right now. “Oh, now Pastor Jeff we don’t believe in an angry God anymore- that Angry God of the 18th and 19th century has been replaced by a much more liberal and chill God, haven’t you heard?” Well, I hate to break it to you but there’s only one God. The God we worship today is the same God who was around in 600 BC when Jeremiah was walking around on the earth. It’s the same God who got so angry with Israel for years of unfaithfulness that he sent a drought. Yep, no water. He’s the same God who said I’m going to call your neighbors to come and go fishing and hunting… for you, Judah. It’s the same God who told Jeremiah that all the prophets who were out there telling everyone “It’s all going to be all right, we’re gonna get through this together” were spreading “fake news.” They were false prophets telling people it was all going to be okay, when clearly God was not done smiting His very disobedient nation.
Make no mistake about it. America has changed a LOT in the last 50 years. It’s changed a lot in the last 10 years… or even 5 years. Things that for a long time everyone agreed were bad, wrong, sinful have been declared ok. Things that God used to say were important, like getting married BEFORE you have sex, and being faithful to your spouse after you get married, those kinds of things aren’t so important now. Protecting the lives of the unborn, those aren’t so important either. In Psalm 139 David says that God is the one who, “knit me together in my mother’s womb” but now it’s okay if the woman chooses to murder that unborn baby. (“Pastor, you don’t sound very nice anymore, I don’t think I like where this is going?”)
I’m telling you the truth because I love you. Don’t just listen to me, go back and read the actual verses in Jeremiah 14-17. God was angry. God told Jeremiah to tell the people “don’t even bother to pray to me for help right now, because I’m not helping you.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. I believe that God is love and that everything God does is because of His great love for us. That’s why he sent His Son to rescue us from our sinful ways. God wants to rescue us from our sinful ways. What we are doing collectively is WRONG. It is hurting us.
I read an interesting article recently. So called progressive elites, those liberal professors who say that traditional morality is bad or outdated, those who say that people should be free to do whatever they want. Yeah, those people, the highly educated, the elites, the 1%. They aren’t the ones having babies out of wedlock and whose children are being shot by gangs or dying from opioid addiction. Those people who are “successful liberal elites” actually get married, then have children, work hard, live in good neighborhoods and do the kinds of things that actually lead to successful lives. The people who suffer from living in a society that has tried to do away with God and with Biblical morality are actually the poor, the uneducated, those without power and privilege. What we need to be telling people is the truth. If you want to thrive and live a flourishing life you should do things the way God says to do it. Adopt God’s values and live by them. Turn away from evil. That’s how you thrive.
Now, after telling Jeremiah that he won’t answer their prayers and things are about to get really bad for them, God does offer this hope. After all the punishment is over, after the exile has passed, after you have repented and you’ve changed and are willing to start doing things the right way, I will take you back home and restore you and everything will eventually be okay.
So yes, ultimately, everything will be okay. Someday God will restore this earth to its original state of perfection. But first, God’s got to do some major housecleaning. God loves you just the way you are, but he loves you too much to leave you that way. God wants to make you to be like Jesus. Follow Him. Turn away from your sinful ways – do not follow this world into judgment, follow Jesus into the Kingdom of God.
Pastor Jeff Fletcher
Today’s Bible passage, Jeremiah 14-17, can be read or listened to at https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+14-17&version=NIV
Tomorrow’s reading will be Jeremiah 18-22 as we continue seeking God and His Ways on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan