Sunday, July 15, 2018

Focused on the Work of God -2 Chronicles 24:1-4, 13-19

2 Chronicles 24:1-4, 13-19

Joash was seven years old when he began to reign; he reigned forty years in Jerusalem; his mother’s name was Zibiah of Beer-sheba. Joash did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days of the priest Jehoiada. Jehoiada got two wives for him, and he became the father of sons and daughters.
Some time afterward Joash decided to restore the house of the Lord.

13 So those who were engaged in the work labored, and the repairing went forward at their hands, and they restored the house of God to its proper condition and strengthened it. 14 When they had finished, they brought the rest of the money to the king and Jehoiada, and with it were made utensils for the house of the Lord, utensils for the service and for the burnt offerings, and ladles, and vessels of gold and silver. They offered burnt offerings in the house of the Lord regularly all the days of Jehoiada.
15 But Jehoiada grew old and full of days, and died; he was one hundred thirty years old at his death. 16 And they buried him in the city of David among the kings, because he had done good in Israel, and for God and his house.
17 Now after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and did obeisance to the king; then the king listened to them. 18 They abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the sacred poles[a] and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. 19 Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the Lord; they testified against them, but they would not listen.

 Spiritual Truth #1 – Be focused on God’s work.

        In a recent basketball game the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers were playing in the NBA Finals, game 1.  And the odds makers were all betting on the Warriors to win.

        But during the game, the Cleveland team played an exceptional game.  Well, one of their players did.  Lebron James scored 51 points and as the game was coming to a close it looked like Cleveland would win! 

        The game was tied when in the final seconds of the game.  J. R. Smith grabbed the ball all he had to do was to make what appeared to be an easy lay-up. 

        But he must have thought his team was up one point and Smith let the clock run out.  The game went into overtime, and the Cleveland team lost the game.

        After the game, Smith shared with everyone that he had a plan.  But everyone knew, he just lost his focus at a critical moment in the game.

        The Second Book of Chronicles gives a history of a series of leaders of the nation of Judah.  Some of these kings are good, and some are bad, much like our nation or any nation.  By reading the history of these leaders, we can learn from their successes, and from their failures.

        And many times what defines failure for these kings is a loss of focus.

        In our Old Testament lesson we read about the life of King Joash, and the first spiritual lesson his life teaches us is – Be Focused on God’s Work.

        J. R. Smith’s basketball story teaches us about the importance of staying focused.  It is a common theme in sports and in life. 

        The story is told of Jack Nicholson who was about to make an easy putt when he noticed a friend among the spectators.  He took just a moment to speak to him, but that was enough to lose his focus and miss the putt.

        The importance of being focused cannot be overestimated.

        In the Old Testament lesson, we see that Joash was focused from an early age.  He became king when he was 8 years old, and he was under the care of a priest, named Jehoiada.  As long as the priest lived, he was a good counselor and advisor to the king and the king stayed focused on the work of God.

        We live in a world in which many, many things are always trying to grab our attention, and it is hard to stay focused.  We are interrupted with emails and text messages and phone calls.  We are targeted by advertising that pulls us away from the things we need to attend to.

        Parents – you are trying to raise your kids.  You know how important it is to stay focused on your family.  But life intrudes on life. 

        We have heard all too often the story of parents who leave a child in the backseat, asleep in a car seat.  The heat of the summer kills the child.  These are usually good parents.  They are devoted.  They are loving.  But for a brief moment, they lose their focus.

        Staying focused, is always a challenge.  For King Joash, that meant staying focused on rebuilding the Temple of God, which had suffered from years of neglect.

To accomplish this goal, Joash turned to the Word of God for guidance.  Exodus stipulates that a regular contribution was to be received from the people for the support of the worship center (30:12-16 and 38:25-26).  Joash ordered that these funds be collected, and they were.  Joash is focused on the work of God.

        Now understand, being focused does not mean being closed minded.  In fact, if you are focused on anything, you need to be open to new ideas. 

        The world is constantly changing. 

Parents – you know how this is.  You have a young child, and you finally master the skill of managing a 1 year old.  Then all of a sudden, you no longer have a one year old.  You have a two year old.  Every time you master one stage, they go to the next stage, and you have to constantly adapt.

The same is true with marriage, or work, or just life in general. 

Staying focused on your values requires being open minded and flexible.

This is Spiritual Truth #2 – stay focused, but be flexible.

Joash learned that the old, traditional way that Moses used to raise money for the worship center for God no longer worked.  Joash depended on the priests and Levites to collect the tax, but that did not work any longer.  The king learned that these people had grown accustomed to the neglected state of the temple lacked the passion for this project. Gathering of funds and the restoration project went unreasonably slowly. 

He had to try something new.

        So instead of demanding that the Levites go out and gather the money in a format that is essentially a tax, the people are invited to give directly.  A box is placed outside the temple gate.

        Joash’s new idea catches on.  The people give freely and willingly and they give in abundance.  The people catch on to Joash’s focus on the Work of God.

        In fact, they give so generously that the people not only pay for the necessary repairs, but for more beyond.  Instruments of gold and silver are given for use in the temple where simpler items had once been used. 

        And that is Spiritual Truth #2 – stay focused, but be flexible.

Spiritual Truth #3 – If you are focused on God’s work, Satan will be focused on you.

        Anytime you are focused on the work of God, the world will drag you down.  You may be passionate about helping the poor, or about evangelism, or about mentoring youth and children.  But the rest of the world will drag you down and rob you of your enthusiasm.

        People will say, often with sincere honest and with absolute accuracy, “I’m too busy.  Between my job and other concerns, I have no time or energy left for the church.  I have no time for family.  I have to do these other things.” 
        Perhaps the real issue is not that we are busy – we are.

        But maybe we are busy with the wrong sorts of things.

        Everyone knows the Charles Dickens story of A Christmas Carol.  In the book, the ghost of Jacob Marley grieves deeply about his wasted life.

        Ebenezer Scrooge tries to reassure Marley by saying, “But you were always a good man of business.”

        “Business!”  cried the Ghost, wringing his hands again.  “Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity; mercy, forebearance and benevolence were, all my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in a comprehensive ocean of my real business.”  (Dickens 1976, 21)

        In the Old Testament, King Joash stayed focused on the Work of God. 

        Well, for a while at least.

        But when his spiritual mentor, Jehoiada died at the age of 130, Joash began to lose his way.

        Once more the temple began to be neglected.  More than that, the temple was abandoned so that the worship of false gods could flourish.

        No matter how focused you are on the Work of God, the world will always try to change your focus.

        The story in 2 Chronicles does not end well.  After the death of the King’s mentor, Jehoida, a group of officials came from Judah to flatter the king, and Joash listened to them and was swayed.  As we have observed, when you are focused on the work of God, the world will always try to change your focus.  Such was the case of Joash, and sadly, in the end, he never got it back.
        But that does not have to be how we end.
        We can end well.
        We may have a strong focus, and then be swayed by some other voices that move us off center from God’s way, but we can get back on track.
        In a sense, how you finish is as important as how you start.  It is the finish line that makes the difference.
        In the 2004 American Lague Champonship Series, the Boston Red Sox were down three games to zero.  In the history of baseball, no team ever came back from that kind of deficit to win a League Championship. 
        But they did.  And the Boston Red Sox won the American League Championship that year, and then they went onto win the Word Series for the first time in 80 years!
        Or in the Bible, Samson starts off as a man of God, but along the way comes a distraction, and he leaves behind the instructions of God.  At the end of his story he is old and weak and blind.  But then he turns once more to God, and his strength is returned for a dramatic and glorious ending to his life.
        Solomon, the wise man from the Bible, said in Ecclesiastes 7, “The end of the matter is better than the beginning.”
        After all, in the Kentucky  Derby, who remembers who was first out of the gate?  Who remembers who was in the lead as they came near the clubhouse turn?
        It is who finished first that we remember.
        In our spiritual lives, we can loose our focus, and even our faith, but it is grace that can lead us home so that we finish well, with our focus back on God.
          And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2018. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.