Friday, April 28, 2017

“One Nation Under God?”

Submitted by Jim Garner

11 Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. 12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, 13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. – Jeremiah 2:11-13

Do you remember saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school as you were growing up? It became a daily habit, a ritual if you will, reminding us of our history and commitment. 
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

What a statement! What a pledge! In 1954, under the encouragement of President Eisenhower, the US Congress added two simple, yet impactful words, “under God”. Knowing the priorities of our founding fathers, it’s crazy to think these two words were not originally in this all-important declaration. But in all reality, the words didn’t seem to matter too much as the people, for the most part, seemed to believe in God and live it out whether it was in their pledge at the time or not. America had built the reputation of being a “Christian nation”.
But here’s the irony, as the years have gone by since the U.S. added these two meaningful words to its pledge, their importance and impact has seemed to lose value in our culture. Now that we have “under God” in our pledge, it seems that for many Americans it’s only lip service and people really don’t mean it when they say it. 

That begs the question: “Where are we as a nation?” Are we really “under God”? Despite the fact that a high majority of Americans still consider themselves to be Christians, it sure doesn’t feel like a “Christian nation” when you look at our culture. 
The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed the Lord’s words in Jeremiah chapter two with an amazing question that not only challenged the people of Judah, but is still relevant for us to consider today. “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?” (2:11a)
Yikes! What a question of conviction! It sure fits our nation and is something we should all probably take seriously. Let’s stop for a minute and ponder this question originally asked by Jeremiah by addressing two more related questions:
* *What are ways that our nation has changed (or exchanged) its “gods”? 
* *What priorities do we weekly put before God? (Money, career, sports, pleasure, etc.)

Jeremiah even warned them that this “change” would not profit them. How often will we fall for that as God’s people? We know better and yet we still error regularly as a nation and as individuals. How does it happen? 

Jeremiah gives us a great clue to answer this question: “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (2:13)

We can understand how unbelievers might not grasp this concept, but for the Jews being challenged it was very clear (and it should be for us as God’s people as well). Honestly, we don’t have an excuse. So let’s hear Jeremiah loud and clear when he proclaims this message that spans the centuries – “my people have committed two evils” (v.13). Let’s see what they are:

1. “forsaken me (God), the fountain of living waters” (v.13)

*Why would people willingly give up pure, fresh water for that which is unclean or a substitute? (It doesn’t make sense, does it?) Yet they did it and we do too. 

*What things of God have you given up for things of this world? 

“Do not love the world or the things in this world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (I John 2:15-17)

“Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory for the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” 
(Romans 1:22-23)

Mankind has made it a habit of exchanging God for something else (“gods”, pleasures, etc.) It’s not just a “now” thing but something through all of time that all followers of God have dealt with and been chastised. Why? Because we can’t have it both ways. He is either Lord of all or not at all! 

2. “hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

The scarcity of springs in Palestine made it necessary to collect rain-water in reservoirs and cisterns. First and foremost, you would want pure, fresh water (remember Jesus is the “living water” of the Gospel). But a second thing to consider it this:

*Why would you build cisterns that can’t even hold water? 
The problem is that we have tried to build things on our own and have consistently failed. It doesn’t matter if it was in Jeremiah’s time or now, we fail when we try to play “god” or the “lord of our own lives”. The alternative water from our self-made cisterns is dirty and will never quench the spiritual thirst we have. 
Our country, “one nation under God”, will never return to be the land and people we used to be or long for if we don’t thirst for God instead of the world.

Back to Martha Again

But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." Luke 10:40-42
Distractions Distort Our Focus
Life is full of distractions that cause us to lose focus.  As Christians, when we allow ourselves to be distracted from fulfilling the desired intentions of God for our lives, we lose focus just as Martha did.
Distraction Focuses On the Project Instead Of the Person
Mary and Martha had invited Jesus to their home. Jesus had been in and out of villages preaching to multitudes, healing the sick, and dealing with the constant criticism of the religious leaders. Jesus was here for a break and to be ministered to.  Martha got caught up in the "Project of Hospitality" to the point that she forgot about who she was trying to be hospitable to. Martha's focus was to minister to Jesus. She had lost sight of Him because she was focusing on the project, not the person.
The projects of our lives are not more important than the people we are called to minister to. Our main focus as individual believers and as a church is Jesus.  If we're caught up in the project to the neglect of the person, then we're focusing on our own service rather than ministering to the needs of others.  If our Sunday School program is more important than Jesus, we are distracted.
Distraction Focuses On The Problem Instead Of the Privilege
The project of hospitality had become a distracting problem for Martha.  She had forgotten the privilege of who she was serving.  Problems are readily available when we focus on ourselves rather than the privilege of serving.  Bible study teachers complain about the students rather than seeing the privilege of serving Jesus in ministry to their classes.  Pastors complain about the problem of unfaithfulness to the point they become unfaithful to the privilege of serving Jesus. 
The point being that we can all become so distracted that the good we are supposed to be doing becomes a burden and problem.  Many become “weary in well-doing” because they only see the problem and not the privilege.  Remember the precious privilege of serving Jesus.
Distraction Focuses On The Pain Instead Of the Pleasure
Martha's joy soon became her pain. Listen to her words, "Why am I doing this all alone? Why isn't Mary helping me?"  She was not enjoying the moment.  The privilege and pleasure of serving Jesus had become painful.  Martha in the midst of her company felt all alone.  How many servants of God look around as Peter did at John and ask Lord, and what about this man?  Jesus’ answer to Peter was, “What is that to you? You follow Me!" (John 21:21-22)  When the pain of ministry steals our focus and places it on others, we have been distracted. 

Martha found herself in a bit of a pity party. Here she was running here and there and she looked around her and everyone else was sitting down! Martha's words of, "Lord, do you not care ..." ring ever so close to self-pity. Probably if we are honest, we have muttered the same words in the same self-pity.  Self-pity leads to criticizing others, and eventually criticizing God. We must stop and see where our focus is.
Focus on the person, privilege and pleasure of serving Jesus.
Scripture to Claim:
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.  Galatians 6:9-10

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