LET’S GROW OLD TOGETHER
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 disingenuous to suggest we live in a new world where many of us miss the old one. In the old world, “You knew who you were then, girls were girls and men were men,” according to the infamous Archie Bunker (if you are much younger or more progressive than me, I know that world included levels of racism, chauvinism, homophobia, and many other wrongs we wouldn’t want back). It was a world where we were born without the threat of abortion, went to school without the sound of gunfire, got jobs and worked without welfare, got married to someone of the opposite sex, had children and stayed married to raise them, and did all of this pretty much in that order. It was not a perfect world, perhaps it was an overly white world, but there was something right about it too, slower, saner, safer, even more spiritual.
Typically in that old world people attended church services on Sunday, whether they believed or not. It was a way of at least paying homage to the God who had so blessed America. Those who came to believe did so because the churches of all stripes revered the Bible as the authoritative word of God and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. Worship was a joyful and serious experience marked by the regulative principles of the five “S”’s, singing, supplications (prayers and offerings), scripture readings, sermons, and sacraments. Therefore, every week began with people gathered, then going out, in the presence of the Lord.
My how times have changed, in the world and in the church. Perhaps they’ve changed in the world because they changed in the church. This is an old problem of which I speak, even older than the old world I’m longing for. As a matter of fact, running on the wrong road goes all the way back to the Old Testament.
If you lived in the land of Israel during the days of the prophet Jeremiah, you knew your world had turned. Gone were the days of freedom, prosperity, and spiritual fidelity under the reigns of David, Solomon, and good kings like Josiah. Bad kings had ushered in bad times, and an ominous mushroom cloud was forming northeast called Babylon. The number one song played on radio stations was “Highway to …” the place the nation seemed to be sliding into, unless things changed. God, through His servant Jeremiah, gave them one more chance.
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 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, 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 chose to run with the devil rather than walking with the Lord. 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 old road together with Him.
Consider what God is saying to the church.
We know what God saw when he looked at Israel. What does He see when He looks at His church in America today? He sees mainline denominations ordaining gay, lesbian, and transgender pastors. He sees false pastors fleecing the sheep with the prosperity gospel. He sees megachurches with worship services that are almost indistinguishable from late night discos with laser light shows. He sees a Southern Baptist Convention where, up to now, predators and plagiarizers were allowed to preach. Perhaps worst of all, He sees churches in the majority where the Bible is not taught and the gospel is not preach. We need to listen to Jeremiah.
“Stand.” The church should never be less than what we should be, but neither should we be more. We should not be the social justice warriors, worrying about everyone and everything else except getting people the gospel and the word of God. 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. As Al Mohler once said, “Don’t just do something, 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 long walk down an old, narrow, road. 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 with God.
Consider what God is saying to this church.
I brought this text to our attention ten years ago when I became the Pastor. I bring it again to day, not because there is a problem, but by way of reminder. So let me, and Jeremiah, remind us of a few things.
“Stand.” There is no reason for us to be standing here today. This building should be as much rubble as the old parsonage. But God ordained a sustained and renewed church reborn to do things the old way.
“Look.” We are still a small church, but size does not matter to God. We are not one of the fastest growing churches in the SBC, but speed does not matter to God. I’ll never get invited to speak at one of those conferences that feature the most successful Pastors in the land, but success does not matter to God. What matters to God? Ask Him.
“Ask.” These are the things God asks us to do. Repent and believe the gospel. Be baptized and unite with His church. Worship regularly, according to His principles. Be and make disciples. Fellowship, share, love one another. Minister to those around you, begin with your inner circle and spiral outwards. Help missionaries around the world reach the world for Christ, even if and especially because the world is spinning the wrong way.
“Walk.” Trust in the Lord. Obey His commandments. Love one another.
I am not saying we can make the new world in which we live like the old world again. I am not saying we should castigate people whose beliefs and morals, or lack thereof, are the new vogue, simply call attention, kindly, lovingly, as to how those beliefs and morals betray the clear commandments and ideals of true Christianity. I am not saying this church will still be standing here in ten years, for that is up to God. I am just saying what Jeremiah said. Stand, look, ask, and let’s grow old together.