Necklace, Neck, and God
Psalm 103: 1-5
Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefitsˇX who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The passage in Psalm 103 mentions four things that I believe to be most worrying and most disturbing for many people. That is, "sin", "diseases", "death" and "desires". The Following discusses ˇ§desiresˇ¨.
Psalm 103 verse 5 says:" The Lord satisfies our desires with good things."
A similar promise is proclaimed in Psalm 107 verses 8 and 9:"Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for men, for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things."
According to these two passages in Psalm 103 and 107, our Lord is a God who can fulfill our desires with "good things". In this aspect, the action of our Lord is similar to that of a father to his child. A good father does not fulfill every desire of his child, nor does he deliberately ignore his child's desires. Instead, a good father will give "good things" to his child, so that the child's desires are fulfilled through those "good things".
But what are the good things given by God to satisfy our desires? In the Garden of Eden, "the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the groundˇX trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food." (Genesis 2: 9). According to modern science, the main functions of trees are to supply oxygen, provide food and shelter to creatures such as birds, and store water in order to adjust the water cycle on the earth. However, these functions, which modern people think are important, are not mentioned at all in the Bible. Rather, the Bible emphasizes that trees are there to please human eyes, a function that modern science tends to neglect.
During the process of Creation, every time God finished something, the Bible says that "God saw that it was good". The Bible doesn't say: God used it, and thought that it was good. Nor does it say: God knew that it would be good when used by humans. Rather, the Bible says: God "saw" that it was good. Here, we can see that the Bible does not focus merely on the functional side of nature or creature, but also the sensation or sensory perception that is triggered.
The visually and mentally pleasant feeling generated is felt most strongly by humans, and we also mark it a great significance. This is a huge difference between humans and animals. In fact, only humans will risk their limbs and even their lives to climb a mountain thousands of feet in order to watch a ten-minute sunrise or enjoy the beauty of nature. We wouldn't find apes or goats risking their lives to climb a mountain just for watching a sunrise.
Why? Why would intelligent humans do such stupid things simply to enjoy nature? One of the main reasons is that when we enjoy something in nature ˇ§delightful to our eyes and mindsˇ¨, some kind of desire deeply within us, in our souls, is being strongly satisfied. This fulfillment is so greatˇX greater than that satisfied by any other material in the worldˇX that we are willing to risk our lives to get that fulfillment. In order to extend the feeling of this satisfaction, we even take photos of nature scenery, so that we can remember and relive those pleasant experiences afterwards. Truly, our desires of eyes, minds, and souls can be satisfied by nature, which is given by God, and which is seen by God as ˇ§good things.ˇ¨
Indeed, when Christians encounter the beauty of the nature, many Christians will be awed by the greatness of our Creator and praise Him from the deepest of their hearts. In fact, there are many who develop a desire to know more about the Creator because they are touched by what they see in nature. In this regard, we perceive that when some creature can lead a human being to meet God or help a human being to respond to Godˇ¦s calling, that creature, which are originally finite and mortal, has made a great contribution to the eternal and heavenly affairs. At the moment when that creature makes the contribution, it is living its maximum value, and displaying the highest value of its life.
However, let us not forget, God not only creates nature, but humans and animals as well. Our family and friends, other Christians around usˇX they are all God's Creation. God will also satisfy our eyes, minds, and souls through them. We all have this kind of experience. We work very hard during the week. When the weekend comes, we would love to take our families or friends to go hiking, enjoy the seaside, or even just walk around in the park. Not only are our eyes, minds, and souls fulfilled by the nature around us, but we are also satisfied through the gathering and interaction with our families or friends. Who doesn't want to go home at the end of a long day work and to spend time with our family? This gives us a great fulfillment. Many people are even motivated by this to continue to work hard during the week. This satisfaction is a gift from God, an arrangement of His creation.
Indeed, through the good things that God has createdˇX the things that are pleasing to usˇX God can completely satisfy our desires. The effect of this kind of satisfaction is real and lasting. Only the satisfaction, which is in accordance to Godˇ¦s design or is given by God, can comfort our weary hearts, renew our strength and let us spread our wings and soar like an eagle.
However, we have also observed something else: old people seem to be more able to appreciate and enjoy the good things in God's Creation than younger generations. Why? Why can't young people nowadays feel the satisfaction from nature? Why can't people nowadays feel enjoy spending time with their families and friends? Why do many young people prefer spending time with TV, computers and other artificial products?
This is an era tainted by sin; an era that glorifies artificial culture but belittles the teachings of the Bible. An era that is full of arrogance, self-centeredness, elevation of humanity, and neglect of God. The culture of this era is humanism or the culture of human-as-the-center, a culture that is rebuilding the Tower of Babel. Under this influence, modern people, including many Christians, no longer admire the good things created by God, but instead longs after the things manufactured by humans.
This is not to say that all manufactured articles are bad. It is only when we over-value them that they may become harmful. Many people have already replaced God with money or work, and Godˇ¦s creatures with human products. Alcohol, drugs and entertainment are being used by many people to satisfy the hunger in their minds and souls, instead of using the things that God has already prepared for satisfying our minds and souls. This paradigmatic shift in our values and in how we judge beauty or goodness has distorted many aspects of our lives, driving us away from God.
For instance, the focus of a wedding ceremony should be on the groom, the bride, and God, who establishes marriage. However, influenced by modern secular culture, the focus has shifted to the rings, the wedding dress and honeymoon trips. For many people, the aim of a wedding is not the joy of marriage, but the experience of being dressed up.
Some Christians even do not care who the presiding minister is, or what Scriptures should be read during the ceremony, but instead focus on the things which non-Christians value. Because of the secular influence on weddings, people only see the happiness floating the surface of a wedding, but do not meet the God behind the scene of a successful marriage.
Therefore, we Christians should regularly examine whether our aesthetic and cultural values have been influenced by the secular culture. No longer should we focus on the rings, the dress or the venue of the reception, but let our focus be on the groom, the bride and the Lord of marriage.
Similarly, let us appreciate and praise not only the necklace made of gold, diamonds or gems, but also the neck, crafted beautifully by God. The neck without a necklace has already beautiful in its nature. The neck itself is already beautiful enough to be a great visual and mental feast for all who see it.
The original purpose of a necklace's should be to draw attention to the neck, and to seeing its nature beauty and finally to thinking of its Creator. If a necklace does not fulfill this purpose, then to Paul the Apostle, it means nothing. Paul says in Philippians chapter 3 verses 7 and 8: "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ". In other translations, the last sentence is, ˇ§I consider them dungˇ¨, which is the excrement or waste of animals.
Therefore, to Paul, even the most expensive necklace in the world can be like a piece of dry excrement if it does not bring people closer to God or glorify the name of Christ. Nobody would go to the toilet to collect every piece of excrement and then dry them under the sun. After they becomes solid, string them up, make them a necklace, and then wear it on the neck. Would we do so?
On the other hand, if one day the necklace finally inspires others to see not only itself but the neck; and sparks interest not only about the gold, pearls and gems on it, but about God who created these them in the Garden of Eden, and will place them in the new Jerusalem.
If one day other people not only praise the necklace, but also praise God the Creator, at that moment, this necklace reflects its highest purpose and value, because in that moment, it builds a link between humans and God and plays a part in heavenly affairs or something that lasts forever.
Likewise, no matter what we humans try to create ˇX music, art, media, literature, or anything else ˇX if what we produce are only attractive on a secular or humanist level, then neither the work nor the maker is maximizing their highest creative value.
On the other hand, if our work is able to help others come to God, the value of its existence reaches its highest.
Christians should work hard to create this kind of work, so that people can meet God. However, the tower of Babel is seductive. People always want themselves well known and become famous, but forget that God should be the one to be glorified. Hence, as Christians, we not only let others see ourselves, but we should make every effort to become a witness for God in this age and this city, so that through our work others may encounter God. More so, we should not become a stumbling block for people to meet our Lord.
I know accepting this biblical value is not easy. It is difficult for us to praise the neck and more difficult to praise God when we see the neck. Even those wearing necklace might have spent a lot more time admiring the necklace then to even noticing their own beautiful necks. Their hearts are closer to the necklace than to the neck itself. And thus their necklaces please their hearts more than their necks do. Matthew chapter 6 verse 21 reminds us, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
The behavior of who excessively focus on necklace may make others think that the main function of our necks is to wear necklaces! I remember a long time ago I have asked a student, "What is the mouth for?" He replies "for eating." Then I asked, "and what is the nose for?" He answered "for picking!" You may think only idiots would think the nose exists so that we can pick something from it. However, in reality, many people who are rich may think that their neck only exist so that a necklace can be worn! At the moment when they look in the mirror and see their neck, what they think is nothing but what to wear on it. To a certain extent, those rich people are living and thinking in the same level of my student who answered about picking the nose! This is a serious tragedy that arises from the distortion of modern values.
The Bible does encourage us to wear necklace, but a necklace which is different from we have talked about. Proverbs chapter 1 verse 8 to 9 say "Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck." Our Lord wants us to carry around what our parents teach us, living it out most obviously like a necklace that stands out. So let us never forget to wear this kind of necklace rather than the secular necklace.
In Proverbs Chapter 3 verse 3-4 it also says: Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. "
Further in verse 21 and 22 it also mentions: "My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck."
God wants to remind us from these two passages: wearing a necklace full of love and faithfulness, so that we are blessed in front of God and people. And, let wisdom be beautiful accessories on our neck.
Moreover, 1 Peter chapter 3 verse 3-4 also reminds us: "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. "
From the passages we have just read, we see that there is a big difference between our modern aesthetic view compared to God's and the Bible's view. It may be the case that we have never worn or never have the necklace that God wanted us to wear. Yet we probably have plenty of necklaces that God is not content with. What God sees as precious, we ignored; What Paul sees as excrement, we see as gems.
I am not saying that we should not wear diamond necklaces, but I want to remind, whether we are wearing the necklace that God wants us to wear? God wants to fulfill our desires with "good things", but are we willing to let these good things satisfy us? Or do we prefer, or are we used to, using other things or human ways to meet our needs? ... May our Lord shine His light upon us, and may our Lord have mercy on us...
Some people here may think this sermon targets only to sisters, as the content mainly discuss about necklaces. Some brother may even be sniggering because only recently his wife has asked him for a new diamond necklace. This brother may say loudly in his heart: ˇ§What a good sermon coming at the right moment!ˇ¨ As if this sermon has not only helped him save lot of money but also given him a powerful sword to fight with his wife.
My brother, be careful as this is neither the purpose nor the use of the sermon! If you insist to use this sermon in this way, you may be the one losing out and ending up buying not one but two diamond necklaces in order to calm a storm provoked by you and raised by your wife soon.
In fact, necklace is only an example in this sermon, how about the car, house, computer, Internet, knowledge, achievement, or other things that also applied to our brothers? Brothers should also wear the necklace which God wanted us to wear, consisting of "Love, honesty, wisdom, gentleness, and quietness".
Therefore, the message of this sermon is for every Christian, so that we can examine our own values and become in accordance to the biblical teachings. Are other people able to meet God through us or through the things we have? Are we contributing to the eternal or heavenly affairs? We should also inspect whether we are willing to let the "good things" God is giving us satisfy our desires. And whether we are always giving thanks and praising God who has satisfied our desires through "good things."
In conclusion, let us praise not the necklace, but to praise God who creates the neck that is "pleasing to our eyes and minds". Let us praise not a big beautiful house, but the people living in it and the surrounding garden. Let us praise not the dyed hairs, but praise the naturally grey hairs and falling hairs.
When we Christians begin to change our way of praising, we will indirectly delivery our belief and values. Our values can then be gathered to change the culture that are distorted by the Tower of Babel, by humanism and by utilitarianism.
People live with many aspirations and try to fulfill them by chasing after materialistic satisfaction. However, these man-made materials will only make us emptier and generate more desires that can never be satisfied. In the end, we will be only more disappointed with our lives. This is because materialism can lead us only to noticing the beauty of the necklace, but block us from seeing the beauty of the neck, and stop us from encountering the Creator of the neck.
Let us set our values in line with the Bible. Instead of man-made things that seem attractive but cannot fulfill what our souls needs, let our desires be fulfilled by "good things" that our Lord provides. More importantly, let us count God's blessings to us, and never forget what He has given us. He is our Lord, the Creator, who loves us and yearns to fulfill our desires with good things.
Let us bow our heads and have a silent moment before our God...
If we had been pursuing materialistic things to fulfill our desire, let today be an opportunity for us to return from the world of distorted values to our God. Let our God be the Lord of our life, and let Him fulfill our needs.
Our Lord God knows our needs, which is why He creates and gives us many "good things" that are pleasing to our eyes, minds, and souls, so that our spiritual hunger and thirst are satisfied.
In Psalm (19:1) it says, ˇ§The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands."
"(8:3-4) When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" It also mentioned in 1 Peter (5:7) "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you."
In front of our Lord the Creator, the human race is nothing. Yet He still cares for us. Our Lord God is worthy of our praise and thanks, because not only does He give us commands, but He is also a God who loves and cares for us. He truly knows our needs, and so He will give us "good things" to satisfy both our body and our soul.
After the Fall, "the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and Eve and clothed them." (Gen 3:21). In Revelation (21:4), God says that "He will wipe every tear from their eyes" in the new world. From the beginning to the end, our Lord has continued His never changing love for us. This God is the Lord of Lords. But this God is willing to become a humble God that cares for our needs and satisfies our desires. In times of suffering, He comforts us, and wipes our tears. Blessed are those who truly trust in Him, because they will not lack anything, but instead they will receive from God peace, comfort, and satisfaction.
Dear Lord! Help us to never forget Your grace. We give thanks and we praise You because you pardon all our sins, and heal us from diseases. Your salvation brings our lives away from death, and crowns us with love and compassion. You fulfill our desires with good things, so that we may be content as a child. Lord, we praise You and honor You. In Jesus' name we pray, amen.
(Chi kin Lee)