Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
December 30, 2012
Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
-- Jeremiah 6:16, ESV
I do not think it is overly pessimistic to say we live in a modern world where much has gone wrong. As this year comes to a close, we mourn the loss of innocence and life in Newtown, Connecticut, read the horrible news of firefighters in New York being summoned and murdered by another madman, and (in a note a little closer to home) hear the story of one of my daughter’s boyfriend’s best friends who was shot and killed in the line of duty as an Atlanta policeman.
Maybe the government will come and help, but the signals are mixed. Prior to recent elections, opinion polls showed that a majority of voters were dissatisfied with our leadership and thought the country was headed in the wrong direction. Then, we re-elected mostly incumbents to the White House and houses of congress. A so-called fiscal cliff looms, while the President and the congressmen pass around blame like a scalding hot potato. Personally, I’m not counting on the government to do anything but make things worse.
Maybe the church will come to lift up our fallen world. But the church of today is sending out mixed messages, too. A shocking number of them offer nothing more than a Christ-less Christianity, where the Bible is not taught as the inspired word of God and the gospel of the literal life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is not preached. Another large segment of the church is trying to save the world by giving the world what the world wants, obscuring the message of the gospel with dizzying displays of “worship” that more resemble rock concerts, Hollywood productions, or professional sports. The scene is not hopeless, however, for the Apostle Paul admonished the Philippians that anytime anyone preaches the gospel, there is reason for rejoicing. So, praise the Lord for the liberals who at least read the Scriptures in worship and for spike-haired preachers who at least share the plan of salvation after the concert (that’s right, I’m jealous of the spike-haired or any kind of haired preachers?!).
Maybe, just maybe, there is a better way awaiting us. Perhaps there is a road to follow that will enable our church, or any church, to be in the world, but not of the world, in order to save the world. This is the way I want to go. This is the road I want to travel.
There is a road sign pointing the way in Jeremiah 6:16. It stands under a dark cloud with a silver lining. Those who saw it first did not heed the way. We can follow them off the spiritual cliff or we can learn from their mistakes. For the sign still stands, the prophet still preaches, and road is ready to be walked. Come on, Let’s walk this road together.
Consider what God said to Israel
God said to Israel, through the pessimistic prophet Jeremiah, “Stand …, look …, ask …, walk.”
“Stand.” Some translations take a stand at “crossroads,” but that reads too much into the text. Two roads or ways are present, but they are not crossing. They are parallel, like an interstate highway. One road leads to God, the other goes away from Him. Another translation captures the imperative, “Stop right where you are!” Israel was going very fast on the wrong road they were traveling. They were very busy in religious and economic affairs. They must have been too busy, for the Lord commanded them to stand still and consider the direction in which they were traveling, for they were going down the wrong road.
“Look.” Obviously the Jews of Jeremiah’s day were on the wrong road going the wrong way. The path traveled by Abraham, Moses, David, and Hezekiah had been forsaken for the easy, downhill slope of worldly kings Manasseh and Amon. Josiah had given them back their compass, the word of God, and Jeremiah preached to them with all his heart. But the people were ignoring those red “wrong way” signs and journeying farther and farther away from the Lord. On the road they were on there was no real worship, only idolatry. There was no discipleship, only disobedience. There was no love of neighbor, only selfishness. As in the days of the Judges, each Jew did what was right in his own eyes, eyes that could not see the awful wreck ahead. So God commanded them to stop, take a look, and ...
“Ask.” A lost person should stop and ask directions (though most people, especially males, seldom will). Israel’s eyes were shut, so God told them to look. Their mouths were closed, so God told them to ask. It was in the “ancient” road where they would find the “good”. But this was not the word that the Jews of Jeremiah’s day wanted to hear. To them, “ancient” meant obsolete; “old” meant old-fashioned. They had found new ways to worship, even new gods to worship. They had fashioned a new morality to suit their pleasures, and they didn’t want some old fogey preacher like Jeremiah spoiling their fun. But Jeremiah wasn’t the one pointing them back to the old road, God was. And to God “ancient” means “everlasting” (ref. Psalm 139:24), and this life is found on the old road with old road signs which read: truth, repentance, fear/reverence, obedience. “Ask”, God said, “Read the old signs on the old road”, and ...
“Walk.” God was angry yet full of compassion. The Lord was demanding yet patient. For His glory and their good He said, “Walk” – not run, jump, or dive, just “walk”. Like a father who finds his child playing with a deadly snake, “Put it down and walk back to me,” God said. Walk according to My word, not your whim. Walk according to biblical standards of worship, not worldly standards. Walk together in one way, not separately in your own ways.
A reward of spiritual safety and “rest for your souls” awaited them. Did they find it? No, they kept going on the wrong road. Soon, their government would collapse. Soon, their religious temple would be torn down. God had shown them the way, but they would not walk that road together with Him.
Consider what God is saying to the church.
Actually, God is saying the same thing to the New Testament church He said to Old Testament Israel. “Stand …, look …, ask …, walk.”
“Stand.” The church should never be less than what we should be, but neither should we be more. We should not be the government, with the elders’ senate and the deacons’ house and the poor pastor caught in the middle getting voted out every four years. We should not be the capitalistic enterprise, growing our business with various means of marketing strategies. We should not be the entertainment center, fiddling with people’s emotions while Rome is burning. We should stand up and be the church, the visible expression of the kingdom of God, the called out assembly of the children of God, bent on doing the things God designed the church to do. Sometimes it is time to reverse the motto, “Don’t do something, just stand there.”
“Look” at what we should be doing. Look not at other entities for sings of worldly success. Look not at other churches, necessarily, for bigger is not always better. Look for the “ancient paths,” the everlasting ways, the road that God’s church has walked on for two millennium, when we’re walking rightly. It is only in our generation that the church has engaged in games and gimmicks and strategies that cannot be seen in Scripture, and it’s in our generation that the church has seemed to lose her way. If Jesus, Peter, John, and Paul wouldn’t do it, neither should we. I think they would use electricity, good lighting and sound, and a modicum of present tense technology. But mainly they would use preaching and teaching, praying and singing, loving one another, and reaching out with the gospel and good works. Let’s look at what the church should be, from Holy Scripture, and ask God to help us be His church.
“Ask.” To ask is to risk. That’s why people don’t ask questions in class. They risk embarrassment. They risk getting the wrong answer. They risk getting the right answer but lacking the courage to implement it. We must ask God whether or not our church is biblical, then listen to His answers and make it right. We must ask God to draw people to Himself and to our church, but be prepared to make room, share leadership, and be changed. We must ask others to come to Christ and to His church, risking rejection and ridicule. We will have not, if we ask not.
“Walk.” Christianity and churchmanship is not a sprint, not even a marathon, but a cross-country walk. First we must take a stand on the gospel. Then we must look constantly to the word of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then we must ask, in prayer and study, the right questions and find God’s path, God’s answer, God’s way, God’s road for us. Then, let’s walk this road together. Our speed does not matter, as long as we are walking together with God. Our size does not matter, as long as we are two or more with God in the midst. Our success does not matter, as long as we are faithful, strong, and courageous. God will grant us success on His terms. Let’s walk this road together.
Consider what God is saying to this church.
For those reading this sermon who are not members of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church, please take what I am about to say with a grain of proverbial and biblical salt. Churches, like people, have different personalities and God is pleased to use different personalities to reach different peoples so that He will have more worshipers, because He is worthy. I think we should all have the same message, but the methods of communicating the message are subject to diversity within God’s regulative principles. But as a particular pastor trying to find God’s way for our church, and a way for our church to glorify Him and grow, here is how I suggest we should walk.
Worship will continue to be our private and public priority. I fully expect every member of our church to engage in daily or regular devotions of Bible study and prayer. If you only eat once a week, or get up out of bed once a week, you will be weak, period. I fully expect every member of our church to be present together on the Lord’s Day for public worship unless they are providentially hindered. I will not judge you but trust you to discern from God what a providential hindrance is and is not. I will not judge you when you are not here and I will trust you to be here and if this is not the way you feel about worship then either you or I are in the wrong church.
We will be disciples and make disciples through the biblical and time-honored method of small groups. Right now, we are a small group. I am your leader and I pray for you almost every day, preach and teach you the word of God every week, and am available to care for you 24/7. As our church grows, we will add a plurality of elders oversee a plurality of small groups that meet in classrooms or homes or wherever biblical discipleship can flourish and grow. The Bible will be our textbook, prayer will be our program, and personal invitations will be our publicity.
Members of our fellowship will understand that we do not wish to be a church were some give all, but a church where all give some. Every member should share in the financial demands of carrying out the work of God’s church. Every member should share the time required, generally only a few hours a week, to be an active and responsible church member. Every member should be willing to share money and material things with other members of the body who may fall on hard times in this hard time our world is living through. Christian fellowship is the sharing of our lives with one another, and this is the way we will walk.
Our ministry efforts need more organization and more participation. Therefore, we are going to set aside the second Saturday of every month for intentional ministry. I hope we will all, intentionally and daily, seek to personally minister or help anyone any way we can. But we need some strategy to invite people to Christ and church, continue our gifts of food and clothing to reach out to the least of these, and the perpetual upkeep of property and buildings that show God and others our love for Him. We will start with these three ministry teams on a monthly basis, and pray their number and frequency will increase as we walk this road together.
And, realizing that we live in a state that houses about 1% of the citizens of a country that boasts only 5% of the world’s population, we will not neglect our mission to pray, give, and go into all the world with the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have made a good start in days gone by with giving to missions and sending the Shepherds to Turkey. We will continue to go and grow in this area as God guides and leads this church.
Israel would not walk this road with God, now they are no more the spiritual people of God. Most churches will not walk this road with God, now they are empty halls or entertainment centers. Our church is small, now, living in a huge world of hurt. But we can make a difference. We can, as the great William Carey said, do great things for God if we expect great things from God. And God is great. Let’s take Him by the hand. Let’s walk this road together, with the Lord.