John was a wild man. His life didn't start out that way--he was a miracle baby, born to parents who were way too old to have a baby. His dad was a priest, which meant everyone would expect John to follow the same line of work.
But John was born to be a rabble-rouser. He was born to challenge the status quo and shake things up. He didn't follow in his father's footsteps and serve as a priest in the temple. Instead, he grew up in the wilderness. He wore clothing made of camel's hair. He ate locust and honey. What made him truly wild, though, was what he was saying.
John wasn't trying to sell some happy-go-lucky kind of belief. He wasn't worried about what people wanted him to say. I mean, he called them a brood of vipers. He told them that their religious habits were useless. He called them to the carpet on the idea that being children of Abraham was all they needed to be right with God, saying God could turn the rocks into children of Abraham if He wanted to. Still, people came from Jerusalem and all of Judea to listen to John.
Why in the world did they journey out into the wilderness to listen to a wild man dressed in camel hair? Whey did they listen to him insult them? Why not just stay in their cushy lives in Jerusalem? After all, some of these people were Pharisees and Sadducees. They were the cream of the crop in Jewish society, especially the Sadducees. They were fawned over and put up on pedestals. They had power and prestige--they didn't need this wild nobody telling them how to live their lives.
They traveled into the wilderness for one reason--spiritual hunger. That same hunger is why we have so many mega churches and so many people who say they believe in God, yet so many people have broken hearts and empty lives. They are hungry for truth, but they aren't being filled.
Instead, our preachers have become celebrities and our church buildings have become entertainment venues. You're more likely to see a light show and get a concert on Sunday morning in most church buildings than you are to hear the truth preached from the pulpit. Preachers stand in front of broken, hurting, lost people and tell them that God just wants them to be happy and that they are perfect just the way they are--no repentance or change required. Instead of pointing out how sin destroys lives, they ignore sin as some sort of old fashioned concept that doesn't really apply to today's enlightened people. They tell people that they can live like the world and find fulfillment in their earthly desires.
And yet, the emptiness is still there.
People are desperate for the truth, even when (especially when) they have no idea what the truth actually is. When Jesus stood before Pilate, He said, "For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the cosmos: to demonstrate the power of truth. Everyone who seeks truth hears My voice." (John 18:37, VOICE)
As followers of Christ, we should speak truth. Not some watered-down, twisted version of the truth. That would be like giving someone food laced with poison. The food would seem to satisfy their hunger, but it wouldn't give them life. When we take the truth of God's word and mix it with the world's views, we're mixing the poison in with the bread. When we tell someone that God is love and since He loves them He supports everything they do? The truth in that statement becomes useless because of the lie.
My mom used to tell me--and now tells my kids--"I love you too much to let you act like that." The same is true of God. Yes, He is love. His love for us is unfathomable and nothing we could ever explain. But that love means that He loves us too much to let us just do whatever we want.
His rules aren't arbitrary. They are perfectly designed to give us the best shot at life. When we go against them, we're sitting ourselves up for failure and heartbreak. Sexual immorality, lies, gossip, pride, disobedience-- all those things lead to broken families and broken people. They lead to empty lives. God tells us to turn away from those things--to "repent" to use the church word.
And when we insist on doing things our way? When we push so hard against His guidance, telling Him over and over that we know what's best for us, that we can do it ourselves without His help? That's when He gives us what we want.
When you look around and see that sins are being accepted by society--and not just accepted, but promoted and celebrated--it may seem like an indication that God has decided that we know what's best after all. It might seem like He has decided to move with the times and tell us that all those things He said were sins in the past really aren't so bad after all.
What's truly happening, though, is what Paul warned the church in Rome about: God has decided to give us what we think we want.
It's something we've seen examples of time and time again, yet for some reason we still don't get it. We have two choices in life--we can do things God's way or we can demand to have our own way.
Our problem is, we seem to think that our way is better. We see the limits God has placed on how we should live and we get it in our heads that He just wants to ruin our fun. We think that His thinking is outdated and doesn't really apply to us today--rules about how people in "Bible times" were to conduct themselves aren't things we need to listen to. Sexual purity has been brushed aside, traded instead for celebrating sexual immorality. Arrogance is promoted. Gossip has become a way of life, with whole facebook groups devoted to nothing else (all the "a little birdie told me..." groups ring a bell?). Fathers are the butt of jokes on almost every show on television--or at least that's the case for the shows that include a father. Families are distorted. Now, there are even "mating sites" for people who say they want to meet someone to have a baby with, but don't want the "complication" of a romantic relationship. Kids are being told that they get to choose whether they are a girl or a boy. "Love is love" is promoted as the answer to everything, and if you believe that God is love, and thereby His definition of love--one man, one woman, united with a vow to Him and each other, until death--defines it for the rest of us, you must be a hateful bigot. People are pushing the idea that we should judge everyone by the color of their skin instead of the content of their character. The media holds up criminals as heroes and ignores the deaths of innocent children.
All of this in the name of Progress.
When God lets us have our own way, it isn't because He has figured out that He was wrong and we are right. When He steps away, it is Him saying, "Okay, have it your way--and deal with the consequences."
...because there are always consequences. God loves us and His mercy is unending. He can and will forgive anything when we truly come to Him in repentance. His is also just, though, and His justice demands consequence for sin. The sins that are permeating our world today aren't any different. In fact, we've seen the consequences of exactly what is going on in the United States. Paul wrote about it in his letter to the Romans:
"18 For the wrath of God is breaking through from heaven, opposing all manifestations of ungodliness and wickedness by the people who do wrong to keep God’s truth in check. 19 These people are not ignorant about what can be known of God, because He has shown it to them with great clarity. 20 From the beginning, creation in its magnificence enlightens us to His nature. Creation itself makes His undying power and divine identity clear, even though they are invisible; and it voids the excuses and ignorant claims of these people 21 because, despite the fact that they knew the one true God, they have failed to show the love, honor, and appreciation due to the One who created them! Instead, their lives are consumed by vain thoughts that poison their foolish hearts. 22 They claim to be wise; but they have been exposed as fools, frauds, and con artists— 23 only a fool would trade the splendor and beauty of the immortal God to worship images of the common man or woman, bird or reptile, or the next beast that tromps along.
24 So God gave them just what their lustful hearts desired. As a result, they violated their bodies and invited shame into their lives. 25 How? By choosing a foolish lie over God’s truth. They gave their lives and devotion to the creature rather than to the Creator Himself, who is blessed forever and ever. Amen. 26-27 This is why God released them to their own vile pursuits, and this is what happened: they chose sexual counterfeits—women had sexual relations with other women and men committed unnatural, shameful acts because they burned with lust for other men. This sin was rife, and they suffered painful consequences.
28 Since they had no mind to recognize God, He turned them loose to follow the unseemly designs of their depraved minds and to do things that should not be done. 29 Their days are filled with all sorts of godless living, wicked schemes, greed, hatred, endless desire for more, murder, violence, deceit, and spitefulness. And, as if that were not enough, they are gossiping, 30 slanderous, God-hating, rude, egotistical, smug people who are always coming up with even more dreadful ways to treat one another. They don’t listen to their parents; 31 they lack understanding and character. They are simple-minded, covenant-breaking, heartless, and unmerciful; they are not to be trusted. 32 Despite the fact that they are fully aware that God’s law says this way of life deserves death, they fail to stop. And worse—they applaud others on this destructive path."
It can't be any more plain, can it?
In a time when God has turned us over to the desires of the flesh, the world is crying out for people to live out the wild faith that marked the life of John the Baptist. People are desperate for truth and meaning, though they are searching for it in all the wrong places. They are trying to fill the emptiness in their souls with the things of this world, which only leads to more emptiness.
As followers of Christ, we have the answer. We know He is the only way to the Father, the only hope for a fallen and depraved world, the only Savior for people drowning in sin.