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It’s What’s Inside that Counts

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2008-07-27 (am) Lamentations 4 It’s What’s Inside that Counts

            There comes a time in life, often when tragedy strikes, or when there’s a close brush with death, where our priorities get rearranged.

          For the most part, though, life simply flows.  We work hard to put God first in our lives.  We try to be good Christians, good parents, good children, good spouses, good single people.

          We try to keep an even keel.

          We try to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  That is, having received the free gift of grace, the full, eternal righteousness of Jesus Christ, bought by his precious blood, his death on the cross which satisfied God’s justice, we work with the Holy Spirit to live godly lives.

          But as time goes on, we, often without even intending it, we can get distracted.

          Without really realising it, we can allow other things to creep up into our spheres of attention.  Instead of focussing all our heart, soul, mind and strength on God, we allow our minds and our lives to tune into other things.  We turn our eyes not to Jesus, but to stuff, or relationships, or desires of our sinful natures.

          Not all of what grabs our attention is evil.  Sinful things are not the only things that draw us away from God.  We can make idols out of anything that isn’t God.  We can turn work into an idol.  We can idolise our families.  We can idolise our spouses, our friends, our favourite hockey team or player, pop star, what have you.  This happens, if it were otherwise, they’d have come up with a different name for American Idol!  People idolise all kinds of things, and Christians are still susceptible to such temptations. 

          Now, lots of these things are not evil in of themselves.  Sure, they might be fallen, but even though I’m a Canucks fan, I don’t think the Oilers are inherently evil!

          But we can allow sports, and other things take top priority in our life, when we know that God is supposed to be the top priority in our lives.

          It is difficult, and at times, the lines get somewhat blurred.  Being a good parent can be something that is done for the glory of God, and so, God still remains the priority, though your focus is on parenting your children. 

          Similarly, you can still have God as your top priority, and still take pleasure in doing a good job at work.  You can serve, honour, and glorify God at work. 

          But the waters get murky when work shifts to become your top priority.  This is a very difficult area, particularly in our society, which recognises no holy days.  You have to ask yourself the following question.  Does working on Sunday take priority away from God?  What if you’re in the healthcare profession?  What if you work for a company that has shift work?  These are difficult questions, and we have to ask ourselves what our priorities are.  Because, like it or not, getting together with fellow believers is part and parcel of an indication of putting God first in your life.  Church is not simply a human obligation.  It is a part of placing God as first priority in your life.  He’s the real reason you come here.

          Another question relates to the job question.  We have to ask ourselves if we are really, truly trusting in God?  Do we trust God to provide for all our needs?  Or do we cover our bets?  Do we try to hedge God out of the equation altogether because we’ve decided to provide for ourselves.

          This is not an excuse for laziness.  God is not the great provider so that we can sit back and do nothing.  God created us designed us with the purpose of taking care of the earth and subduing it.  We are to work for food, housing, clothing, and rest.  Yes, we have to work well enough each week so that we can take at least one day off to rest.

          But the attitude in Israel was such that they were not confident enough in God’s provision, so they turned to other gods and worshipped them alongside God.  They tried to cover their bets.  They thought, “Well if God is sleeping, or not paying attention, or even more likely, if God is punishing us, and we aren’t likely to get what we want, then we’ll worship these other gods in order to get what we want from them.”

          Of course, they failed to realise that there are no gods beside God.  God is God; everything else is either creatures, or figments of imagination.

          So, for the sin of idolatry, and a whole host of other sins, God punished his people.

          And though the punishment was incredibly difficult and painful, it was done in perfect love.  The destruction of Jerusalem was painful for God as well.  He did not delight in inflicting such pain on his people.  But that’s what He had to do in order to make them turn back to Him.

          He longed for them to turn back to Him.  He desired them to desire Him.  He knew that they would be most happy, most satisfied, and most content, at peace, in harmony if they turned from their wicked ways and worshipped Him alone.

          And that’s precisely what we find happening at the beginning of chapter 4.  The people are starting to get their priorities in order.  “Gold has lost its lustre.”

          What’s the point of having all the gold in the world, if you can’t use it?  If you’re dying anyway?  What is gold in comparison to God?  What is stuff, what is family, even in comparison to God?  It is nothing!

          There’s a scene at the end of the movie Schindler’s List where Oskar Schindler realises that his actions saved the lives of many Jewish people.  But though he took great personal risk to do so, nevertheless he still afforded himself many luxuries during the war.  At the end of the war, those luxuries, those things that he’d considered important, became valueless.  Instead of seeing a Rolls Royce, he saw more lives that could have been bought and saved.  Instead of feeling good about the lives that he saved, his heart went out for the lives that were not saved.  He wished that he’d been more willing to part with more of his money, more of his luxuries.

          Now, we cannot go back in time.  We cannot lose ourselves in remorse.  Remorse seems so pious and good, it seems like repentance, but it is not even close.

          Judas felt remorse.  Peter repented.

          The difference?  Judas did not turn to Jesus for forgiveness, but gave up his life in despair.

          Peter, though bitterly sorrowful for betraying Jesus, did not wallow in what he’d done.  Instead, he owned up to it.  He confessed his failure.  And, he turned right around, turned right back to Jesus, and determined to make a fresh start.

          The destruction of Israel awakened the hearts of the people.  Their hearts had become hard.  They trusted in the Temple building.  They trusted in their fortifications.  They trusted in their allies.  But they did not trust in God, except as one might treat a talisman, a good luck charm.

          So, God took their precious treasures away.  God removed their idols from them.  They hit rock bottom, they hit reality hard. 

          In light of the extreme pain and suffering that God inflicted upon them, out his loving discipline, they were able to see the things they used to worship, for what they were.

          That gold is just a hunk of metal.  Gemstones are nothing more than gravel.

          When you’ve lost the stuff that really is most precious to you, you realise that the stuff you’ve been chasing after is worthless.

          It is crazy!  All day long, society, through commercials, product reviews, you name it, tells us to go after this.  Or that such and such a product will bring us great happiness.  Or, you’ll be happy if you’re married.  If you have kids, then you’ll be happy.  Once your kids are out of the house, you’ll be happy.  If you have all the toys, your kids will be happy.  If you do this, buy that, spend time here, go to the beach, go camping, spend time with the family, you’ll find your greatest satisfaction.  The world tells us to turn our eyes away from God, and turn inward.  Figure out your felt needs.  Figure out your desires.  Figure out what you’re missing.

          As Christians, we’re not missing anything!

          We have everything we need.  But it isn’t in stuff, family, or friends.  It is in God.

          That’s what the Israelites had!  The Israelites were set apart!  They were God’s anointed people.  They had everything they needed in God!  He was their king!  He was their God.  He is sovereign!  He is all powerful.  He could turn their misfortune into perfect happiness, joy and security.

          If only they realised what they had in Him.

          We too, can find the greatest satisfaction in life, if we trust only in God.

          The destruction of Jerusalem woke Israel up from their slumber.  It alerted them to the fact that their joy could be complete only in God.

          We would do well to learn from them.

          Are we any less susceptible to the temptations that came upon them?

          Are we any better at watching our spiritual life?  We should be, since we also have the benefit of having the Holy Spirit inside us.

          But let us examine our lives.  What grabs our attention?  What motivates us?  What is our focus?  Is it our families?  Is it ourselves?  Is it our work?  Is it the weekend?  Is it having fun, drinking, getting drunk? 

          Where does God fit in?

          Even that question is telling, isn’t it?

          We try to fit God into our life, as an afterthought rather than trying to mould our lives around God.

          Now, I’m speaking in generalities here.  Some of us are further along than others.

          But God is very deliberate.  In the Ten Commandments, he tells us, up front, that He is a jealous God.

          We cannot commit our lives to him, and then serve other gods, other things, or ourselves.  We will suffer the consequences.  Will they be as drastic as the destruction of Israel?  I hope not.

          But this is God’s plan.

          Seek first His kingdom, and then all these things will be added unto you.

          But make no mistake.  We do not have to go far to seek God’s kingdom.  It is not as though we have to be here, in church, in order to seek God’s kingdom.

          God’s kingdom is in our hearts.

          We seek God’s kingdom by searching our hearts.  We look for idols that we’ve built.  Perhaps we’ve exalted ourselves in one way or another.  Perhaps we’ve exalted our families.  Perhaps we’ve believed the lie that spending time with our families is more important than going to church.  That is a lie.  Time with God, with God’s people is of infinitely greater value than time spend with family: in fact, worshipping God at church is time spent with your family, not just your own family, but the church family.  It’s that maybe we’d rather spend our family time at the lake.  Hey I’m all for that, let’s have church at the lake!

          Seriously, though, we have to humble ourselves before God.

          And in doing that, in confessing and turning our hearts open to God, we’ll come to a wonderful realisation.

          That everything we truly long for, everything we truly desire, everything we ever need, or want, is already within us!

          Jesus Christ sent His Holy Spirit as a guarantee of everlasting life.  Inside you and me is the Holy Spirit, which puts in us the hope of true life!

          And it is that hope, placed especially within those suffering souls of Jerusalem, which helped them deal with the horrible, terrible, awful situation they were living in.  That hope blossomed and grew within them.  And it gave them the courage to face the bleakest of days.  More than that, it gave them the courage to return to God, to repent, to confess and to commit themselves to him again.

          And like the faithful Father that God is, he brought them home.  He restored their souls.  Even though the destruction lay all around, He restored their souls.

          And they found peace.

          And we too have found peace.

          So, let’s stop hanging onto the silly, truly unimportant things in life.  Let’s Cling to Christ.  Let’s take up our cross and follow him.  Amen.

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