A few weeks ago, I found myself in a conversation about ferrets. I don’t own a ferret; there’s a decent chance I won’t ever have a pet ferret. But one topic went to another, and soon we were discussing ferrets. Apparently they are excellent hunters, and for that reason some states have even made it illegal to use them for hunting! But they are also apparently excellent at stealing whatever random objects are around the house, taking them back to their lair, and hoarding them there. After a little bit of research, burrowing owls, hyenas, a bird called a skua, and even sperm whales are good at stealing. Not without reason, another bird has a stereotype for stealing shiny objects – a magpie.
These few verses in Jeremiah illustrate this same type of nature in people. We see something shiny, say a few exclamations, want it, and have to have it. Despite however much we think of ourselves, desire can easily turn into greed, lust, envy, and gluttony. It doesn’t always relate to wanting new shiny objects either, but also shiny new ideas.
Jeremiah shares that God sees and knows what is going on in Israel. People are prophesying and dreaming in God’s name, but God calls them out for who they are. They’re liars! They share shiny new ideas, dreams, and visions, but they are only shiny pieces of straw that will simply burn into nothing when compared with God’s truth. They do not have the nourishment of wheat.
Today the situation has not changed at all. Self-proclaimed leaders, gurus, and experts on Facebook and Twitter all shout different ideas at us, many of them wrapped in a thin veil of truth. Sometimes it’s just enough truth to pull us in and pull us away from the truth of God. Politics is often the same. Different world ideologies can pull people in many different contradicting directions. Even witchcraft, the occult, and the demonic can easily gain a foothold and manipulate by presenting themselves as something that is shiny, new, and good. It’s human nature to be captivated by supernatural visions and dreams that contain just enough truth that we ask if we should believe their message. Unfortunately, we have to be aware of all of these types of shiny pieces of straw within the Church itself. It happened in Israel; it can easily occur in the Church.
This doesn’t mean that every shiny new idea is bad simply because it is shiny and new. However, they must be tested and measured against the truth of God. Jeremiah prophesies, “Is not my word like fire, says the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?” Fire purifies metal to get rid of imperfections and cleanses a forest of everything that is dead so that life can start new. God’s truth breaks the rocks that hide veins of gold, silver, or diamonds. If an ideology, prophesy, dream, or vision doesn’t measure up, it must be cast aside. It will not stand the strength of God’s fire or power. Straw will not provide the nourishment for a true Christian life.
A person may end up picking up so many random pieces of straw in life that they may be carrying the burden of a large bale without even realizing how weighed down they are. While a piece of straw may work for a magpie to build its nest, or a ferret to take back to its den, Christians must have the nutrition that comes with God’s wheat.
As you preach this Sunday, remind your congregations of how to test for God’s truth amid the chorus of competing voices and influences in the world today. First, it starts with knowing Christ and his life. Christ is the benchmark. It involves spending time with Christ in prayer and spiritual formation. It involves practicing how to listen for the Spirit every day. Prayer, reading and knowing scripture, spending quiet time with God, and spending time with other believers are all essential. Remind your congregations of the fruit of the Spirit. True fruit of Christ will look like what Paul describes in Ephesians; if it is fruit that easily goes bad, patience and time will soon reveal it.
Many times, we simply need to prune the branches that get in the way of knowing God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. If we must get rid of some of those outside voices that are competing with God, don’t be afraid to delete a few apps from your phone, computer, or tv. Don’t be afraid to cut channel subscriptions or turn electronics off for several days or several weeks at a time.
For those that have been influenced by others besides God, God’s truth, power, and love can impact and change a person’s heart like no other person. Allow God’s fire to cleanse lives and his hammer to break hardened hearts. Be willing to pray with the people who share this with you, offer them forgiveness and love, be present with them, and patiently guide them in their journey as they discover or re-discover the truth of who God truly is.