IntroductionLife is hectic. There are so many demands on our attention. Work demands our attention. Telephones ring. Kids need to be fed and shuttled to and from school and practice. The church and PTA need volunteers. We have appointments to make and deadlines to meet. All these distractions make it difficult to focus on what’s really important.
God knew our lives would be hectic. That’s why He gave us a special day to rest and worship—the Sabbath Day. In the beginning, the Sabbath was on the seventh day—Saturday—for on the seventh day of creation in Genesis, God rested. But Jesus rose from the grave on a Sunday, which came to be called “The Lord’s Day.” And it didn’t take long for almost all Christians to choose Sunday as their primary day for worship.
So we come here to the “Sanctuary,” a place that is safe and holy, a place designated to worship God. We seek to forget the cares and concerns of the world for a time and focus on Christ. And as we do, we hope to find some clarity about what’s really important in life so we go back out into the hectic world centered and balanced once more.
Many things distract us—things that aren’t really important, things that lead us astray, things that might be good, but just are not right for us at this time. Most of us don’t take time to examine our lives close enough to determine what our priorities are. So today I want to focus on getting rid of distractions in your life and focusing on the priorities God has set for you. Let’s go to the Bible and look at a time when Jesus got rid of the distractions in the Temple.
John 2:13-1613 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem. 14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money.
- Jews all over the world in Jesus day dreamed of going to the Passover celebration in the Jerusalem Temple. People came from all over the world. It was not uncommon to have over 2 million people in the holy city for the Passover. Throngs of people hoping to worship God on this sacred occasion. Yet when they arrived, they found a ruthless system designed to exploit them. Every man 20 years and older had to pay a Temple tax, which was about a day and a half’s wages for the average man (roughly $150 by today’s standards) [i]. The money was used for the upkeep of the Temple and ongoing construction projects. That’s not so bad. It did take money to maintain the Temple. But it got worse, because the tax couldn’t be paid in foreign money. The Roman, Greek, and Egyptian coins most people carried had to be converted to Temple money—the Shekel. There were money changers stationed all over the Temple for this purpose and each one charged for their services. What it all boiled down to is it could cost you an additional $100 just to change your money to the right currency! It angered Jesus that such a heavy burden was laid upon these already poor, working class people.
- As if the exorbitant fees of the money changers weren’t bad enough, it got even worse. You see, most people visiting the Temple would need to sacrifice an animal during worship. If you were poor, you could buy a pair of doves to sacrifice for about $100 if you bought them outside the Temple (or you could bring your own). But all animals had to be inspected by the Temple authorities to make sure there weren’t any blemishes (and it cost $25 to get the inspection). And (who would’ve guessed) almost all animals bought or brought from outside the Temple would inevitably fail inspection. Not to worry though. You could buy a replacement inside the Temple—at an additional cost. The same pair of doves that cost $100 outside the Temple cost $1,875 inside the Temple[ii]! (And you thought the markup on movie theater popcorn was bad!)
- And of course all this buying and selling and the inevitable arguments and angry people being ripped off was an unbearable distraction to worship. And it took place in the Temple in the court of the Gentiles—which was the only place Gentiles were allowed to worship God. Jewish people had other places to worship, but Gentiles only had this raucous outer courtyard in which to pray. Jesus was filled with righteous anger and he chased everyone out.
Our world is full of distractions and if we’re not careful, our lives can become consumed with things that have little or nothing to do with why God put us here. Like the noisy, busy money changers and livestock sellers in the Temple, these distractions rob us of our time and money—something of which we already have too little. Perhaps it’s time to purify our lives just as Jesus cleansed the Temple. You have to decide: Do you want to waste your precious resources on things that ultimately aren’t important or do you want to spend your time and money on things that really matter?
In 2002, Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in California, wrote an amazing book called The Purpose Driven Life that lays out the 5 main purposes for your life. If you aim for these, you will do things that matter and you will find great fulfillment as you live out God’s purposes for your life: [iii]
1. You were made to worship God. You weren’t put here for your own pleasure. You were How much of your time and money do you spend worshipping God? put here to glorify God, to love Him, and to be amazed by Him.
2. You weren’t meant to be alone. You were made to be part of God’s family, where you are loved, accepted, encouraged, and held accountable. You need good people in your life and they need you. How much of our resources are devoted to relationships with the family of God, the Church?
3. You were created to become like Christ. You are here to learn and improve your character. This life is an incredible training program to prepare your soul to be the image of God. Don’t pretend to be perfect. Be real about your shortcomings and be willing to work on them. How hard do you train to become more like Christ?
4. You are here to serve. Even Jesus said he came into the world to serve and not to be served. How much more true it is for you! It might seem counter-intuitive to find happiness by serving others, but you were designed to serve; and in doing so you will find great fulfillment. How much of your life is devoted to serving other?
5. You were made for a mission—to tell people what Jesus has done for you. Jesus commanded us to do this and promised to help. You don’t have to be a preacher or Sunday school teacher to do it. You just have to be honest and share your experience. If Jesus has changed your life, tell people. If he hasn’t changed your life (or if you don’t think he will), why are you even here?
Examine Your LifeI think Rick Warren nailed it with these five purposes. Maybe you don’t agree, but have you ever really examined your life to see what it’s all about? What on earth are you here for? You have a purpose. What is it? And are you doing things that move you closer to your goals or distract you from them?
Most people never take the time to consider these things. They just float along the river of life, going wherever the current leads. It’s sad to think of all that could be accomplished if people would just wake up from their slumber and start living out their purpose. If only people would come alive and choose to live for a higher purpose, the world would be forever changed.
The violence Jesus demonstrated as he cleansed the Temple often disturbs people. It upsets our image of Jesus as a meek, peaceful holy man. We like the Jesus who gently welcomed children and carried lambs in his arms. Who is this Jesus who angrily chased the money changers from the Temple while cracking a whip?When it comes to things that distract us from God and thus do damage to our soul, we need to be more like the Jesus carrying the whip than the Jesus carrying the lamb. The story conveys the seriousness of distractions. They need to be dealt with now. Chase away those things that rob your life of significance. Turn over the tables of anything that keeps you from God’s purposes. Drive away the animals that cannot help you fulfill God’s plan. Reject a fallen world that tells you to get in line with everyone else that’s wasting their life. Turn instead to the Lord who created you who wants to free you to live a life full of meaning. For if you don’t you will surely spend your whole life doing things that don’t really matter and will have no lasting value. You will come to your end full of regrets, wondering how time slipped away so fast, and lamenting that your life didn’t really matter much.
Thus far in this series, I have given you 2 challenges: 1) Start in the Gospel of Matthew and read one chapter every day and finish Matthew by Easter. 2) Last week, I challenged you to make a list of all the things you typically do and your motives.
Today, I give you a new challenge to help you purify your life. This week, I want you to prayerfully consider your priorities. What are you trying to accomplish in life? What’s your purpose? Write down the 5 most important purposes of your life. (A form is included at the bottom of the blog to help you.) And then for each one, write down things you can do that will help you fulfill those purposes. Then pray and ask God to help you make these top priorities in your life—the things to which you devote the majority of your time, money, and resources. Then zealously get rid of anythings that distract you so you will have enough time to do more important things.
InvitationThe most important thing you can do to start is ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. If you haven't done that already, why don't you do that today? Pray to Jesus and ask Him to forgive you for your sin and for trying to do things you won way. Ask Jesus to come be the Lord of your life--to be in charge. And ask Him to lead you and help you follow Him from this day forward.
I Challenge You!
Step One. List the 5 Most Important Purposes of Your Life:
Purpose 1 _____________________________________________________________________
Purpose 2 _____________________________________________________________________
Purpose 3 _____________________________________________________________________
Purpose 4 _____________________________________________________________________
Step 2. Now, go back and under each purpose list some things you can do to help you fulfill each purpose.
Step 3. Pray and ask God to help you make these top priorities in your life—the things to which you devote the majority of your time, money, and resources.
[i] William Barclay – The Daily Study Bible Series, the Gospel of John Colume 1 revised edition; page 109
[ii] William Barclay – The Daily Study Bible Series, the Gospel of John Colume 1 revised edition; page 109
[iii] Based on Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life