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Forbidden Love

When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you!
    The wind will carry them all off,
    a breath will take them away.
But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land
    and shall inherit my holy mountain.  Isaiah 57:13

Throughout the Old Testament, one of the things God’s people are warned to avoid, over and over, is the sin of idolatry.  It comes in at number two on the top ten list (see Exodus 20).  It is the defining characteristic that determined whether the kings of the divided kingdom were good or bad.  It was the reason given for the exile of Israel to Assyria (2 Kings 17). 

Images of stone, wood, and metal are not the temptation for us in the post-modern world that they were for the ancients.  But our love for God still has ample competition. Measuring what you love by how your spend your time can reveal some important truths about us. 

  • How much time do you spend at your place of work?  If you are routinely there past when everyone else has left and look forward to how you will be appreciated for your diligence, you may have identified your idol.
  • How much time do you spend planning your meals?  If you schedule your weekends and vacations about what and where you hope to eat, you should consider whether that is your idol.
  • How much time do you like to be entertained?  If you would really prefer to be left alone with your television shows or favorite streaming service on a regular basis, you should probably think of that as an idol.
  • Some of us have more than one.  That was not unusual in ancient times either. 

So why does God continuously forbid His people to worship idols?  Should we be worried about this?

 One important characteristic of idols highlighted in our text for today is – they don’t love you back.  You can pour your time and devotion on them to the point of death but they will never return your affection. 

  • At your workplace, there is likely already someone who is eager to take your position after you are no longer able to work there. 
  • Those who sell us our daily bread will quickly lose interest in us if we fail to patronize them.  (By “quickly” I mean immediately.  Try showing up at your favorite restaurant without any money.) 
  • The entertainments that capture our attention know us as “downloads”, “eyeballs”, or at best “subscribers” and they have no interest in knowing more.   

The Lord, on the other hand, offers a completely different relationship.  We safely love Him because He loved us first.  He has plans for relating to us at levels we can’t imagine as we come to know Him better.  This week, set aside your idol and focus on the One that is already focused on you. 

The Value of Your Morality

And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.

Personal morality is sometimes held in low esteem in the working world.  Someone tells you how a co-worker drank to the point of passing out on a business trip and then laughs about how funny it was.  A client whose conversations are replete with blasphemy is described as having “colorful language”.  Even the boss who takes home his office supplies for his children to use at school is seen as “petty” and none of his subordinates would ever report him for it. 

We are used to living lives of sin.  At some level, we have accepted sin and rebranded it as unimportant.  We have all grown insensitive to it at some level.  Some of us have grown so insensitive that even the horrific stories on the news no longer trouble us. 

God does not feel that way about it.  Personal morality is of deadly importance to God.  Whether we act and think in accord with His requirements for us determines the course of our lives and our eternal destiny.  If you ever wondered how God feels about your personal morality, read our text for today. 

What would our lives look like if we took morality as seriously as God does?  It would change how we thought, talked, and acted.  It would change how we worked, spent our leisure time, and related to others.  Perhaps most important, it would change what we wanted.  We would study pious living.  We would celebrate the righteous acts of our friends and neighbors.  We would devote ourselves to living out the Heart of God. 

If you see the disconnect between your own moral life and the life the Lord called you to, there is no better time to change your trajectory.  Today is the day.  And it all starts by assigning the correct value to your moral walk with God.  Start by agreeing today that the Lord’s ways are right and that our traveling those ways is worth not only our lives but the very sacrifice of Christ. 

The Value and the Cost of Ministry

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.  And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  Romans 5:15-16

I appreciate it when I receive the ministry of others.  Everything I know I have been taught by dedicated followers of Christ who invested their time and talent to teach me the ways of the Lord.  People have prayed for me when I was deathly ill and the encouragement and comfort I received from that was immeasurable.  My family and I have been supported by the gifts of our fellow believers when we were in full time pastoral service.  They ministered to us so we could minister to them.

I have certainly been on that side, too.  I have spent hours studying, preparing, drafting, and practicing to deliver a 25-minute sermon.  I have spent years refining my own teaching so that I can deliver a lesson to maximum effect.  My wife has spent her entire life “practicing” ministering to children so that she can teach her current group of students how to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. 

Sometimes, the value of what a minister provides may not be appreciated in what the object of that ministry receives.  Many is the time I have devoted my time to preparing a sermon only to hear that, while it was “great”, it was not as “good” as last week, or the last pastor, or the parishioner’s last church.  I have certainly been guilty of it.  Some of those believers who supported our family made real sacrifices to give to our church.  They went without so that we could have more.  I am sure we can all agree that children have very little concept of what goes into providing them with the ministry they need.

If you are doing ministry so that you can be appreciated, you may be missing the whole point of ministry.  But the greater lesson for us is on the receiving end of ministry.  Our text for today describes the ministry of Christ.  He freely gave Himself – not some of His time, energy, or preparation – His whole self. 

He died to minister justification to us.  It cost Him everything.  How do we value that ministry?  If ever we felt tempted to be offended by the reaction we receive to our own ministry, we only need to remember how we ourselves have responded to all that Christ gave to us. 

It turns out, you are a bad investment.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  Matthew 6:19-21

One of the critical questions young professionals face is how to plan their career path.  Should they go straight for a graduate degree to get a leg up on the job market competition?  Is it more important to spend a few years in a  prestigious firm to get the best professional contacts and training?  Should they pay up for a highly rated career coach or image manager?  A lot of time, money, and energy is invested in these questions, along with a lot of hand wringing. 

It isn’t just the young who do it, either.  Mid-career professionals can be the worst about this.  I have known lawyers who spent more time working on landing their next position than they did working for their clients.  As they get older, the intensity can get worse,  especially if there are unfulfilled goals from those early years.  They can feel the end of their careers sneaking up on them and they can become absolutely desperate to get to the top of their particular ladder before time steps in and calls them to a halt. 

Sadly, virtually none of those questions, goals, or positions has any eternal significance.  They might as well have invested in becoming the world’s best at punching elevator buttons or blowing dandelions.  They just don’t matter. 

The saddest part of their story is the coin they invested – themselves.  All that God crafted in them, the unique gene pool that He concocted just for them, the long series of individual experiences, all invested in pushing elevator buttons and spreading weeds.  It strikes me as a terrible, terrible waste. 

I hope it does you, too.  Because the option to invest in more significant things is in your hands.  In our text for today, the Lord Jesus instructs us not to invest in earthly treasures.  We generally think of this as an admonition not to be focused on material wealth.  Bugs will eat your expensive clothes and your silver and gold will decay. 

You know what else is going to be eaten by bugs and decay – you and me!  Our text for today is a warning not to invest ourselves in ourselves.  We too are passing away, just like the rest of the material world.  What if we invested our time, energy, and resources in advancing the Kingdom of God, the world that will outlast ours?  Make it so, my friends, and receive an eternal return on all you invest. 

What Happens When You Refuse to Stop Crying?

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39

Last week my daughter and her new baby stayed over at our house.  I got to relearn firsthand how babies deal with adversity.  They cry.  It doesn’t matter what kind of adversity they face, or its source, their response is the same.  Always with the crying. 

But the correlation between the adversity and the crying is quite imperfect.  Sometimes the baby cried because she was hungry.  Fair enough.  But then continued to cry for a while as she was being fed.  Sometimes she cried because she wanted to be held.  Again, I get that.  But she would continue to cry for a period even after she was picked up. 

It struck me as I watched her that many of us also continue in our distress long after our needs have been met.  I have had colleagues who, once having been denied a position they wanted, were forever angry and defensive about it, even though they had long gone on to bigger and better opportunities.  I have personally struggled with resenting former bosses who refused to address my obvious needs.  Some of them later became clients of mine but I still bore a grudge. 

The picture makes even less sense when I complain about how the Lord has dealt with me.  I have cried out to God on many occasions.  Sometimes His rescue was already on the way.  Sometimes it had had already arrived.  Then for years after I would continue living as if God did not know where I was or what I needed.  Rude?  Maybe.  Foolish?  Absolutely. 

I have found in my life that many of the mistakes I have made, sins I have committed, and people I have injured can mark their genesis in my refusing to accept the love of God that was already available to me.  Because I kept crying, I lived defensively and angrily towards God and others.  

Is there anything less needful than the harm we all cause because we are unclear on whether God loves us?  Let’s not be infants anymore.  Let’s walk in the freedom of knowing the certainty of the love of God.