The passage from Hosea 11:1-10 is a story of God mourning over his people. He loved Israel like a parent loves a child, but Israel spurned him. Even though he was rejected, God still loved Israel and could not renounce his chosen people. It is a metaphor for what Jesus did. Jesus was rejected by some of the people, but he still loved them even to the point of dying on the cross. Christ’s death and resurrection are symbols of God’s never-ending love for us.
God’s lonely heart is also a metaphor for all broken relationships-divorce, estrangement, separation or death, for example. The loneliness really hurts when others are in trouble or on a collision course. We want to step in and help, but our efforts are sometimes rejected. When this frustrates us, we can sympathize with God’s anguish over his people. We remember the time when we have rejected him. We remember the times when we have tried to run our own lives. Sometimes we edge him out of our lives until life’s problems and pressures become so severe that we become homesick for God. We can feel God’s heart beating and yearning for his people. When we repent, we begin our Christian life and unlock the secret to receiving daily strength and courage.
All of us want to be praised, including God. God wants us to praise him so much that he made it the turning point in our deepest, darkest problems and anxieties. When we praise God, we acknowledge that he can use even the most painful events in our lives. He takes us just the way we are. He doesn’t care if we are rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, how intelligent we are or how powerful we are. He only cares that we will “let go and let God”.
Even though God loves his people, he can’t ignore their sins just like a parent can’t ignore it when a child misbehaves. God’s righteous nature demands that sin be punished. Because he loves his people and because he demands that sin be punished, he provided a substitute in Jesus. Jesus paid our sin debt on the cross so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. This fulfilled God’s purpose and plan to reconcile his people to him. This also gives us hope and a future. God’s love will always outweigh his punishment.
Each of us has two natures that are constantly at war with each other-a worldly nature and a spiritual nature. We have to choose which one we will feed. One will win and the other one will lose. We have a free will and we can decide which nature will win. We can decide if we will follow the flesh or the Spirit. Whether or not we live a Spirit-filled life will be determined by how often we say “yes” to the leading of the Spirit and “no” to the temptations of the flesh. If we do not deal properly with our old sinful nature, it will hinder our ability to live a Spirit-filled life. Worldliness will make us more miserable than non-believers.
We all long for things to fill the emptiness in our lives. Most of us try to fill that emptiness with material goods. Some even go so far as to fill this emptiness with drugs, alcohol or sex. These things will not fill the emptiness in our lives. In fact, they will only make things worse. We only have to look at the recent death of Canadian actor Corey Monteith to see the painful truth. He seemed to have it all: fame, a starring role in the hit TV Series “Glee” and a relationship with one of his co-stars. These signs of success hid a painful secret-an addiction to drugs. This addiction combined with alcohol to cause his death in a Vancouver hotel room a couple of weeks ago.
Jesus told the frustrated brother in Luke 12:13-21 that possessions and the work required to get them are not important. While we do have to work to provide food, clothing and shelter for ourselves, the only real possession we must strive for is a right relationship with God. As Christians, one of the most important things we can do is focus on what really matters-God. The problem is that very often we allow our daily lives to take our focus off of the ultimate prize. We become distracted and lose ground in our walk of faith, but if we keep our eyes on Jesus we will keep our heaven-focused perspective on life’s challenges when they happen. In the words of a famous saying, we must not “sweat the small stuff”.
When we become followers of Christ we have to follow certain rules or guidelines. These are not meant to put us into a religious straightjacket. They are designed to change our nature from a wicked human nature to a spotless spirit-filled nature. Paul tells us in Colossians 3:1-11 that we have to put off our old sinful nature with its reality, ravages, power to delude us and ability to draw us away from our new lives in Christ. Some people might think that this demand is old-fashioned, but we have modern sins such as sexual immorality, dirty-mindedness and envy. We have to cut these out of our lives just like a surgeon sometimes has to perform radical surgery to save a patient’s life.
Jesus is our surgeon. He will cut out the diseased parts of our lives. If we do not allow Jesus to operate on our sinful nature, we will face final judgment. We must set our minds on heaven because our life is now in Christ. Our true life is now in the spiritual world. Just like Jesus died for us, we have to die to sin. We can’t fight spiritual battles unless and until we die to our old ways of life. (Pause)
One sin we have to put aside is gossip. I realize that this is asking the impossible, especially here in Queens County. Gossip attacks instead of unites, damages instead of heals, and tears people down instead of building them up. I’m sure some of you might remember the time when our local newspaper ran ads placed by people who were the victims of gossip. These victims used the ads to deny the rumours and threaten legal action if the rumours persisted. The victims’ reputations were hurt and they were trying to have the damage repaired. Gossip is not pleasing to God.
Paul also calls on us to give up our concern for the things of this world. In other words, he calls on us to give up our concern for material goods. Jesus says the same thing in the parable of the rich fool, which is found in Luke 12:13-21. We are to forget about greed, possessiveness and covetousness. Greed amounts to idolatry. We must focus on what we have instead on what we do not have. Envy is a sin that we as Christians have to get rid of. Envy is a battle with God. We resent his decisions and accuse him of being unfair. Envy pulls us down. It curses us with misinformation, lies deceit and fraud.
Jesus did not condemn the man for his success or his wealth. What he did condemn was the man’s concern for himself and the lack of concern for the people around him or for the things of God. The man showed no gratitude to God for the gifts he was given. He showed no concern for widows, orphans, the starving or the helpless. His wealth could not save him from the fate that awaits all of us-death. We must balance our personal needs with the needs of others and the needs of the world around us.
Many of you, especially those of you who are of older years, might remember the hippie movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was an era where disillusioned, long-haired youth rebelled against the Vietnam War, institutions and society’s emphasis on material goods. Strange as it might seem, many of these hippies were converted and baptized thanks to the ministries that were started as a response to the hippies’ countercultural values. The hippies identified with Jesus and the disciples. Jesus was unconventional just like the hippies were. Jesus and his disciples defied the establishment in their time just like the hippies defied the establishment. Jesus, the disciples and the hippies had simple lifestyles and simple ways of expressing their faith. They wore robes and sandals and preached a message of peace and love. Both groups lived communally and preached a simple lifestyle, including a de-emphasis on material wealth.
Treasures that really count can’t be measured in gold or silver or any material goods. True treasures can only be found in a life dedicated to God. To do this, our minds must be on heaven, which is the ultimate treasure. Greed for material goods imprisons us. Greed for God sets us free. The material world is superficial. God looks beyond it to see where our hearts really are. If we really love God, we have to periodically undergo a spiritual house cleaning, just like most of us give our homes an annual spring cleaning. We have to get rid of everything that hinders our relationship with God. Just like spring house cleaning is hard work, spiritual house cleaning is hard work, but just like a house smells nice and fresh and clean when spring cleaning is finished, our spiritual house cleaning gives us a new look and the new feel of a life with Christ.
Jesus tells us that our life with God makes us realize that most of our fears are unfounded. That is because the only real world we live in is the kingdom of God. What makes us as Christians different from everyone else is not that we have savings accounts, but that the true saving in our lives is the saving we have when we believe in Jesus and what he did for us on the cross. Our lives consist of something more than what we can have here on earth. Our true life is still being revealed to us every day.
Our real value as Christians is when we are rich towards God. That involves loving God and loving one another above all, forgiveness, generosity, gentleness and hospitality. It involves more than believing in these things. It involves incorporating them into our daily lives. This is the way that we truly discover the dream that God has for us as well as the kingdom of God that is here for us now, and our true lives and their value.
Each one of us has the faith that the things of God will get done regardless of circumstance or the daily routine of life. That faith gives us hope. It sees us through long days and nights, trials and troubles. It encourages us to wait, watch and anticipate. It gives us the assurance that God is not finished yet.
God wants us to have hearts that burn with a passion for a future with him. Our focus on God will help us face life’s victories and defeats. Whenever we do what we feel like whenever we feel like it, it is not pleasing to God. On the other hand, God is pleased when we praise him. When we call upon God and seek his will for our lives he will give us wisdom and perspective. He will direct our steps and calm our fears.
If we are to be like Christ, we must think like he does, see the world as he does, and discern human needs like he does. We are to think like Christ, act like Christ and be like Christ. We must find ways to use our broad Christ-like minds to serve others in God’s glory. We need to be humble.
We are all adopted children of God. We are indebted to him for his favour, but we do not have to repay him because he has everything. All he wants is for us to live in a way that will benefit us. We need to surrender our lives and our wills to him. If we love God, we will love His truth, His Word, His presence and glory, His power at work within us to will and do of His good pleasure, His fruit and gifts borne in and exercised through us, His Church, His salvation, and His kingdom of righteousness, joy and peace. If we love God, we will truly love the things we ought to love and we’ll find some other way of expressing our appreciation for the material things we have.