“Clinging to the Lord, our Treasure”
John 4:23-24; Jeremiah 13:1-11
May 24, 2009
First Baptist Church, Beamsville, Ontario
At a recent conference for new pastors for those within the CBOQ, which was held in Beaverton, we were introduced to many things that new pastors should be acquainted with. One speaker, Dr. Joyce Bellous did a spiritual styles test with us. We had to answer 36 questions, add up four different columns in order to determine which one of the four spiritual types we were. The four spiritual styles were WORD, ACTION, EMOTION, AND SYMBOL. As I went through the test, I thought for sure that I would have fallen into the word category, which did turn out to be my second highest score – but I was surprised at first that my category was symbolic. I didn’t believe it at first, but then quickly realized that I am highly symbolic. I like making the connections between things, whether things found in the scriptures, or in life experiences and seeing patterns, or whatever that links people together.
This is what Dr. Bellous was trying to accomplish in her test to us as pastors, that we all are different and have different ways of learning, listening, operating. It was also a way for us to understand that when we preach, we’re speaking to different types of people who learn in various ways as well. Not only do individuals have unique styles, but different church denominations do as well. If I was to ask what the Salvation Army was, what would you say is there style? Pentecostal? Do you know what the number one category for Baptists is? (Word) But again, we should not peg people into the groups major style, but allow them to have their uniqueness within the group. Otherwise, it would be quite boring and dangerous. When we realize that we all are different, we can understand others without offending, or being offended when we don’t always see things in the same way. Unity - amidst diversity.
So I’m symbolic, and I like it. I have always enjoyed it, especially when it comes to Scriptures - I am fascinated by symbology in the Bible, which is abundant, especially numbers in the Bible. Think of it: 40 is a frequent number used in the Bible: 40 years of wandering in the desert, Moses was 40 days on top of the mountain, for 40 days the rain fell on the ark. 12 disciples, 12 tribes of Israel. One of those is found in the last chapter of the book of John, in John 21:11. Jesus had just instructed the disciples to throw their nets into the water as they fished on the Sea of Galilee. And when they had done that, they caught, the Scriptures tell us, 153 large fish. Of what importance is the 153? It must have been important so that John recorded it - precisely. Some theologians have come up with their own conclusions, the one being the most interesting for me is that throughout the book of John, Christ touched 153 lives, and each one was being represented through a fish. Has Christ touched you? If so, then you’re not only a sheep in his flock, but also a fish brought into his net. But today, I want to share a number with you, a number that does have real significance in our Christian journey, even though the number is not recorded within the scriptures at all – yet it is referred to directly throughout the entire Bible . And that number is 168. A great number, but what does it mean? Think about it as I share these words with you today. But please, don’t get too caught up in that, as I want you to hear the message that I’m preaching today.
Well, let’s begin by examining the Scripture text for today, John 4:23-24. It reads, “The time is coming when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, and that time is already here. You see, the Father too is actively seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
These verses focus primarily upon worship. How we are to understand worship, how we are to experience worship. And the question is: How can we, and how often should we offer God substantial worship?
We live the world, and in our earthbound daily schedules, we tend to neglect one of the most powerful gifts God has given us as our heavenly Father. Worship! The Bible speaks numerous times about worship. In fact, the word worship and praise appears thousands of times in the Bible. It is done purposely, and for a reason. God desires our praise and worship towards him. The Psalms in particular, are filled with chapters that instruct us about praising our God. Psalm 96; is just one. It tells us,
“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord and praise his name; every day tell how he saves us, because the Lord is great; he should be praised at all times.” And it goes on, that even the skies rejoice, the seas shout towards him, the trees of the forest sing for joy, because even these things, which we do not associate with the ability to formulate thought, do worship God. And they do it at all times, perfectly – unlike many Christians. Yet we’re told that the Lord desires our worship towards him – He desperately desires us to be in relationship with him at all times, but sometimes things get in the way, and we fall away from Him and things change.
Ten years ago, when my four children were rather young, we decided to put in a fence along the front of our property. As I dug holes with my auger, I suggested to the children that we should create a time capsule and put it underneath one of the fence posts. We found an old tin container, and the kids all gathered up “treasures” and put them into the box. They found photographs, a few coins, drawings that they had made, and a host of other little items. We sealed up the tin with tape, and then put it into freezer zip lock bags in order to keep the moisture out. When we just about to place it into the hole, we had a conversation as to how long we would let it sit in the hole before we would retrieve it. My youngest, thought that one week would be sufficient time. In the end, we decided to wait five years.
So there it sat, under the fence post in the earth – our treasures. We forgot about it until one day seven years later, we were looking through our photo album, and we saw the picture that Mom had taken of us while we all worked on the capsule. I reminded the kids, and off to work we went to dig it up. We took apart the fence and retrieved the box. We took it to the backyard to the picnic table and opened it. Well, I should say, we looked at what was left. Even though we had tried to “waterproof” our time capsule, water had found its way in. Everything that was paper was gone, or an ooze. Anything metal was rusted beyond recognition. Even the penny was terribly corroded. We were terribly disappointed.
I recently read the book of Jeremiah, and I was reminded of this incident in my life when I read through chapter 13 and, being the symbolic type, I read about Jeremiah and his dirty underwear incident. You know, as we heard read this morning, that the Lord tells Jeremiah to do three things. 1. go and buy a linen loincloth and put it on, but do not wash it.” (It almost sounds like a teenager.) So he does this, and then the Lord gave him another message: “Take the linen loincloth you are wearing, and go to the Euphrates River. Hide it there in a hole in the rocks.” And then thirdly - after a long time, and we don’t know how long, the Lord told him to go back and retrieve the loincloth. When he does this, he found that it was rotting and falling apart. The loincloth was good for nothing.
The symbolism that is used in this story is interesting. Even the naming of the river where Jeremiah was to hide this dirty underwear is probably symbolic, as Jeremiah was in Anathoth, which is not close to the Euphrates River at all. It would have been a trip of about 800 miles if it was. Scholars believe that it was the Parah River, which was very close to him. But why the Euphrates? It was one of the four rivers that flowed from the river than ran out of the Garden of Eden. Perhaps there is a connection being made here to the closeness of God that was experienced there. A flowing of living water.
So, what does this mean? Jeremiah received the answer as he continued saying what the Lord told him. “This shows how I will rot away the pride of Judah and Jerusalem. These wicked people refuse to listen to me. They stubbornly follow their own desires and worship other gods. Therefore, they will become like this loincloth—good for nothing! As a loincloth clings to a man’s waist, so I created Judah and Israel to cling to me, says the Lord. They were to be my people, my pride, my glory—an honor to my name. But they would not listen to me.” And the thought of the symbology involved with the article of clothing here. It wasn’t an outer garment, but rather something that was touching the skin, at the loins – again symbolic of life – creation. There’s a message in that itself.
The constant wearing of the loincloth symbolizes the Lord’s continual care of the people. As long as they clung to the Lord and listened to Him, they prospered, but when they abandoned him, they were spoiled. The hiding of the loincloth symbolizes the turning away from the Lord; rotting in their sin.
When I read this, it reminded me of my time capsule experience, and how everything was rotted, even though we had considered it treasure – at one time. Some things they had placed in there were treasures to them, but not to me. It’s subjective to the individual. “One man’s treasure is another man’s junk.” I reflected about the treasures that I have in my life right now that are not “God-focused” and would also fall into the same categories as those things that would be considered ruined and completely useless before the Lord. I took an inventory of things that take my focus away from God, rather than towards him. Am I always listening to God and worshipping him like we’re called to do?
Living in this time, and place is not easy. We are easily snared and led away from God-focused things. We have many distractions – yet one of the many attributes of God is that he is a very jealous God and wants our attention, and only on things about him. Yet, we have our things that take us away, just as the people in Judah and Jerusalem had as well. In Jeremiah 10, we heard that God told Jeremiah that the people’s ways are futile and foolish. They cut down a tree, and a craftsman carves an idol. They decorate it with gold and silver and then fasten it securely with hammer and nails so it won’t fall over. Their gods are like helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field! They cannot speak, and they need to be carried because they cannot walk.” Basically, he is saying they’re dead – and so are you when you follow anyone, or anything other than me – like rotting underwear that was stuck in the rocks far away from me. Do you get the symbology?
God is very direct in what he wants to speak to Israel – in what he wants to speak to us. I wonder as I read this, if the people of that time were much different that we are today. Are their gods much different than our “gods”, even within Christian circles? I wonder what our dirty underwear is. So, we are forced to think: what can we do in our lives to become more God focused? Even the “smallest of steps” towards God is a move in the right direction. We need to trust in God, and not trust in our own strength. We need to turn our hearts towards God and turn from things that turn our hearts away from God. Jeremiah 17: 5-8 tells us:
This is what the Lord says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water.” Water! Life giving! Sounds simple and serene, doesn’t it? Why do we have a hard time believing it though?
It’s when we think about worship and the human condition that we see that there are failings when it comes to worshipping God. God has a capacity for receiving worship, which is always greater than our ability to deliver it. [Repeat this phrase once again] Yet, in our immaturity, we are content to reluctantly enter our Father’s presence for the briefest moment to deliver a quick peck on the cheek, a flash of raised hands, if we are brave enough, in momentary praise, and a few songs in a church service. Then we say, “There, that ought to do You. See You in church next week.”
Meanwhile, God feels a love deficit. I can almost imagine Him thinking to himself, “How can I maximize the amount of time My children spend with me?” How can I draw them to Me, and away from their activities, possessions and distractions, long enough to give Me more than that quick peck on the cheek? As humans, we understand this – we want people to love us and to be with us. We expect the amount of love that we pour out to others to be returned to us in equal doses. Is this selfish, or wrong? I don’t believe so. Does it always happen? No – it doesn’t.
It’s the same with God. He too desires our attention. We don’t understand that our Heavenly father has no problem supplying our needs. In fact, He owns all of the resources of the universe. But He cannot, or will not create praise and worship for Himself. He has chosen to rely on us, and the rest of the redeemed, for this rarest of commodities. He wants it to be a freewill offering on our part. So worship needs to be a voluntary action as an active expression of our love towards our provider. It is a movement of our hearts, our thoughts, and our desires towards God’s heart, thought and his desires.
We read in Revelation 5 about John’s vision into the realm of heaven. The Lamb was standing in the centre of the throne, and we are told that they sang a new song to the Lamb. John looked and heard the voices of many angels around the throne, along with the four living creatures and the elders. In fact, there were thousands and thousands of angels, saying in a loud voice: “The Lamb who was killed is worthy to receive power, wealth, wisdom, and strength, honour, glory, and praise!” Then he heard all creatures in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea saying: “To the One who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honour and glory and power forever and ever.” The four living creatures said, “Amen.” And the elders bowed down and worshiped.
We are told about this future event, because this is how God wants us to worship and praise him now. Worship is something that can happen outsides of these walls on a Sunday morning as well. It is all the time spent alone with God during the week as well. Not just one hour or so on Sunday. It’s about the time throughout the week we share Christ and God with others. God desires that we worship and praise him throughout the week. And this is possible. We can see God in many aspects of our weekly lives – we just need to open our eyes and hearts in order to see Him.
So, let’s return and reflect upon the number 168. What does it represent? Anyone know? The answer is that there are 168 hours in the period of one week. That’s a lot of hours; yet many only spend one hour out of 168 in a foggy form of worship with God. Can you imagine if your child only saw you for one hour a week? God desires our worship more than just one hour. He desires gift-filled worship that is given joyfully – yet at the same time worship that involves sacrifice on our part that is focused entirely upon him. We may need, perhaps, to step back and make choices that may look quite different from what we experience now when we think of worship. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to enter into us, to enter into our times of worship, be it individual or corporate worship, to allow that to happen.
I want to conclude with words from the Apostle Paul. Paul states it well, in the book of Romans, where in chapter 12, verse one, he states, “So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him. Your offering must be only for God and pleasing to him, which is the spiritual way for you to worship.”
So our challenge is this, that we leave this building today, that we would allow ourselves to walk with God as we leave this room, and allow ourselves to enter into relationship, into worship with our God throughout the week - at all times. Really, as we draw closer in our relationship with God, we will come to the realization that God wants all 168 of our weekly hours – and one day it will happen!