Serious question for you: how do you keep your house clean? Are you able to afford a cleaning service? If you have kids, do they help? (Ha Ha Ha). Do you split the chores with your spouse or do you find yourself basically doing most of it? Heck, maybe you enjoy it; it’s less expensive than retail therapy!
Anyway, a recent, one-man attempt by me to clean out the garage has me thinking. Not just about what belongs to who in our family and what we can get rid of, but what value, if any, does our family’s stuff really have? For example, when the bulk-pickup day arrived in our neighborhood last week I put out something to be thrown away—but it was gone before the municipal truck arrived. Clearly someone felt differently about my trash than I did.
Or think about garage-sale season as it wraps up this fall. If you’re looking for a good deal, it’s your last chance to peruse the neighborhoods and sift through all the offerings, asking yourself, trash or treasure?
In the Bible there is story we can call “Trash or Treasure.” It concerns the Apostle Paul and his ministry partner, Barnabas. It’s found in Acts 14. Paul and Barnabas go garage-saleing, visiting different neighborhoods, sifting through all that the people have to offer. But they’re not searching garages, they’re searching gods. They’re eager to help clean out the house or garage of anyone willing to listen.
Now, this story takes place around the year 46AD and Paul and Barnabas are more tactful than I’m giving them credit for, especially when they enter a town called Lystra, in modern-day Turkey. Long story short, they simply tell the neighborhood that their so-called valuable collection of gods is worthless.
Zilch, Zippo, nada. All that time, money, and prayers you people have invested in your gods is for naught. You’ve been dumpster diving and you didn’t even know it. Time to clean house.
Now, Paul’s point wasn’t to be rude, but it was a point for effect. He wants to share with them for their gain—so he let’s them know that what they think is valuable, has no value at all.
Perhaps a modern way of understanding the concept is illustrated by the appraisers on the PBS’s Antique’s Road Show telling someone that what they paid $600 for is really worth $60. Uh-oh. You’ve been had.
And, just like an appraiser, Paul has criteria to rate the value, three ratings to be exact. And, if their gods can meet these criteria, then they’ve got treasure; if they can’t, they’ve got trash.
Alright, so how can you tell treasure from trash, at least in terms of gods? Paul’s criteria number one: God, in order to be valuable, must be a living God.
As Paul says to the Lyconians, “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.
Right off the bat, Paul is telling them that the only place their gods live is in their imaginations. Their gods are nothing but ancient myths, Greek or Roman; made up stories. Forgeries of the living God–
Not quite perfect representations, but more like men and women with god-like characteristics, crafted by men and women with godless intentions. Their names ring hollow now: Zeus, Artemis, Hermes, Poseidon, etc. They’re names memorized by high school students this fall as they read through a list of required reading.
But Paul’s point is that the Living God tells us that we shall have no other gods but Him.
The God who created the Heavens and the earth and all things.
The living God, that unlike all the other gods He is the only one not made by humankind—we were made by Him.
The living God who comes down to dwell with His people; to live, teach, preach, and heal and to sacrifice, not animals, but Himself—more on that in a minute.
Paul’s criteria number two for discerning between trash and treasure: God, in order to be valuable, must be a giving God.
A giving God, not one who demands you appease in order to please, but one who lives to give, even Himself.
Not one of many gods who spread out the responsibilities of the universe, but one God who is alive and active in the lives of his people with all circumstances in His hand.
Verse 15, “showing you kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
Recall the opening line of the Apostle’s Creed:
I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
Martin Luther best summed up it’s meaning by saying….
I believe that God created me, along with all creatures. He gave to me: body and soul, eyes, ears and all other parts of my body, my mind and all my senses and preserves them as well. He gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and land, family, fields, animals and all I own. Everyday He abundantly provides everything I need to nourish this body and life. He protects me against all danger, shields and defends me from all evil. He does this because of His pure, fatherly and divine goodness and His mercy, not because I’ve earned it or deserved it. For all this, I must thank Him, praise Him, serve Him, and Obey Him.
The Living and the Giving God. That’s some God to have—not one that is found in the dumpster, a rummage sale, or overvalued by any means. Not one that requires we first give before we get. Instead, one that gives so that we know He is different than all the other gods, and one who continues to give as He sees fit.
As Paul asks in his letter to the Romans…If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Paul’s criteria number three for discerning between trash and treasure: God, in order to be valuable must be forgiving God.
There once a Greek myth about two gods who had visited a certain village; the villagers, not knowing the two were gods and wary of strangers, were not good hosts to their uninvited guests.
And, as the myth goes, the gods in their anger destroyed the town because of its lack of hospitality.
Now, what you need to know is that the citizen’s of this neighborhood that Paul and Barnabas visited wanted to sacrifice to them! Earlier, upon their arrival, Paul and Barnabas performed some miracles of healing. So, seeing the healing take place among their neighbors, the Lyconians believe the men gods—much like the vindictive gods of the myth.
And, regardless of Paul’s act of healing, all they could see was the possibility of destruction, not blessing. So they thought if they could appease them, they would please them.
We thank God that He has been appeased; that he has withheld eternal destruction from us not because of any sacrifices we make, but because of the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ. As He gives His life for us, He gives life to us—forgiveness and eternity but also an ever-present power of the resurrection in our lives today.
God is a living god; God is a giving God; most of all he is a forgiving God. But the Lyconians turned their backs on that message before Paul was even finished.
As the story goes, they stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.
The crowd goes from trying to sacrifice to them to trying to kill them, from trying to worship them, to trying to bury them.
To killing the messenger because of the message—a message about a living God, a giving God and a forgiving God.
Yet, even today we still have worthless things/gods in our lives. The usual suspects are there: pursuit of riches, pursuit of power, pursuit of… and here is where we each have to take personal inventory and ask ourselves what some of those worthless things are. What are those things or pursuits in our life that we once thought were treasure but are truly revealed as trash?
What things fill our homes, garages, calendars, and minds? Do they meet any of Paul’s three criteria? Are we willing to get rid of them if they do not?
Consider this last anecdote: one of the best known forgers of the 20th century was a Dutch painter named Hans van Meegeren (1889 -1947).
At the end of WWII an allied art commission discovered a previously unknown work by Vermeer, the Dutch painter—it was found in the collection of Nazi leader Hermann Goering.
The sale of the painting was traced to van Meegeren, who was charged in May of 1945 with selling a Dutch national treasure and collaborating with the enemy.
Van Meegeren confessed to having forged the painting and to prove it, he painted another Vermeer in his prison cell.
And that’s like the worthless things of this age, the gods of this age; they try to tell us that they are just as good as the real God is and sometimes even the “experts” can’t tell the difference.
But, in the end, they are just fakes, forgeries, with no value whatsoever—just trash—nobody’s treasure.
A living God, a giving God, a forgiving God, that’s the only God who has value.
In the Immeasurable Wealth of Jesus,