Are You Driven To Distraction?

“I am disturbed when I see the majority of so-called Christians having such little understanding of the real nature of the faith they profess. Faith is a subject of such importance that we should not ignore it because of the distractions or the hectic pace of our lives.” – William Wilberforce

When you are doing something important, whatever that is, it requires your full attention: It is important that you don’t get distracted because typically that is when things go wrong. That is why you don’t text while driving, or you don’t operate heavy machinery when your mind is somewhere else. As followers of Jesus, to be at our absolute best we must be focused, which means we must be focused on what matters most. For Christians, distractions can be a real threat to that focus. 

Jesus sets the standard that we should model on focus. In Luke 13:22-24 (MSG) we read: “He went on teaching from town to village, village to town, but keeping on a steady course toward Jerusalem. A bystander said, “Master, will only a few be saved?” He said, “Whether few or many is none of your business. Put your mind on your life with God. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires your total attention.”

Jesus was subject to all the pressures we are and yet remained completely disciplined, always giving His time to what was ultimately most important. He was constantly moving forward to the ultimate goal of Jerusalem. Jesus knew exactly what needed His attention. He knew what He was meant to be doing and where He was meant to be going. He obviously had little time for someone who appears to have come out of the sidelines raising an issue that on the surface may have seemed valid, but on closer examination wasn’t going to bring anyone any benefit. Jesus said to the bystander if He really wants to live the “God life” it’s a vigorous life that demands our total attention. Allowing distractions into our life means we can never give God the 100 percent He deserves.

What really matters most, no matter who we are or what calling we have in life, is our relationship with God. If we allow anything to distract us from our relationship with him we will never be able to be who He has called us to be, or do what He has called us to do. If there is one lesson we learn from watching Jesus it’s the fact He never allowed His schedule to crowd out His time alone with God. He knew no matter what else was going on His relationship with his father had to have top priority.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are some distractions that can impact our daily walk with God? 
  2. What can we do this week to keep from being distracted and completely focused on God?

In Me I Trust

“Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.” – Philippians 4:13 (MSG)

Is being self-sufficient a problem? Countries, cities and people long to be completely self-sufficient. No one wants to rely on others if they can help it. After all, depending on someone else is often painful. As Christians, self-sufficiency can detract us from pursuing the life that only God can give. The bottom line is I am only self-sufficient, when I don’t believe God is truly sufficient.

We also want that inner confidence that we need to achieve godliness in our lives. Then one day reality hits. The presence of God is like paint thinner, removing the layers of self-reliance that have built up over the years only to disappear when we find ourselves in a mess of our own making. Self-confidence and self-sufficiency is no longer the answer. Self-reliance is no longer the solution. When the layers are removed, all that remains is a broken vessel that cannot beat without the life-support of Jesus and His Spirit in us. It is at that time when you realize that God is sufficient.

At various points in my life I started down the road feeling like the self-reliant Pharisee who walked into the temple, stood by himself and prayed this prayer in Luke 18:11: “…’I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery…”  But somewhere along the journey, I end being the hopeless tax collector who stood at distance and said, “’O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13)

Before you start imagining that pastors spend their days as a unorganized mess surrounded by chaos (I do have those days now and then), let me shed a little light on the subject: I have structure, plans, goals, and purposes. They help me because aimlessness is never a good thing.

So yes, I take matters into my own hands. But my intelligence, talents, material possessions, is never a substitute for relying on God alone. In Colossians 2, Paul uses phrases “in Him” or “with Him” six times:  In Him we have been made complete (v. 10). With Him we are buried in baptism (v. 12). With Him we are made alive (v. 13). All I could ever need for the rest of our lives is found in the very person of Jesus Christ.

God is pruning away self-sufficiency and growing faith in Christ in it’s place. I’m learning at a deeper level that self-sufficiency doesn’t honor God. Doing something beyond what you can do through your own strength and willpower brings glory to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you draw the line between self-reliance and reliance on God?
  2. What can we do this week to place our trust and reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ?

In Love With Indifference

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:8-9. 

“Whatever” — pronounced “WHAT’-ehv-errr” is a slang term meaning “whatever you say” or “I don’t care what you say.” The term is used most often to dismiss something somebody said, signal apathy or express indifference during a conversation. It is also annoying as a poll found out. The poll found “whatever” to be consistently disliked by Americans regardless of their race, gender, age, income or where they live.

The question is do we ever find ourselves saying “whatever” to God? Every follower of Jesus Christ will go through a time of spiritual indifference. It is difficult to keep one’s excitement and enthusiasm at a really high level. We all hit a wall or get distracted, plateau, and temporarily lose our spiritual passion.

We cannot and should not expect that spiritual indifference is anything more than a short period of apathy. The shorter the better. If our goal in life is to bring glory to God, we cannot accomplish that by being indifferent, even though there will be times when we feel like our apathy and lethargy are justified. But if we spend a few moments thinking about it, we will come to the conclusion that there is no real justification for taking Jesus Christ for granted, for indifference.

Can we really say “whatever” when Christ redeemed us on the cross, when we have been given the Holy Spirit, when we have victory over sin, joy, a purpose in life, peace, to name a few. There are so many more privileges and/or benefits to being part of God’s family.  When we are “indifferent” we are saying that we are taking everything God has dome for us for granted. Jesus says this to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:4, “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!”

We should never lose sight of the overwhelming sacrifice that Jesus made on our behalf. In addition, God is a God who can be known, and the more we know of Him…and the more time we spend with Him…the less likely spiritual indifference will creep into our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you ever say “whatever” either intentionally or unintentionally to God?
  2. What can we do this week to find and eliminate any indifference in our lives?  

Worth The Wait

“I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint.” – Habakkuk 2:1

If you have been a Christian for a relatively short time you have probably never heard about the prophet Habakkuk. He is definitely not a household name, even for the church. Habakkuk, one of Israel’s minor, or lesser, prophets, steps into the scene at a time when God’s people were in serious decline. They had abandoned following God’s will. Habakkuk loved God, he loved God’s law, he loved God’s people and he wanted to see God’s people obey and glorify God.

Despite his prayers, Habakkuk sees things getting worse. Apparently, Habakkuk had repeatedly called upon God to act, to intervene, to set things right, to just do something. Yet there was silence. Finally, out of a deep sense of frustration and confusion, he cries out to God, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help?” (Habakkuk 1:1)

Remarkably, he takes God at his word, and commits himself to wait on God rather than taking matters into his own hands. Habakkuk trusts that God is already at work, even if he can’t see it. Habakkuk assumes a position of waiting with confident trust in God. So Habakkuk waits. Waiting is perhaps the hardest discipline of the Christian life. Most of us hate to wait. I know I do. Probably all of us are waiting for something at this very moment. We must remember that waiting may answer some of the “why “ questions. Questions such as “why doesn’t God answer our prayers?” Or “what does God want me to do?” 

We often view waiting as passive, but is it? In Scripture, to wait is to be active, to do something. That something is faith. And faith is is entrusting ourselves into God’s hands as God speaks and acts in all the circumstances of our lives, since God is already busily at work. To wait and to be patient is to trust that God is at work even if we can’t see or understand what God is doing at any given moment of time. 

God did answer Habakkuk but it was not the answer he expected. God’s solution to the sin of Judah was to have them invaded by the Babylonians. Habakkuk complains a second time to the Lord about the solution being drastic, but God assured Habakkuk that He would also deal with the Babylonians (Habakkuk 1:12–2:20). In the end, Habakkuk acknowledged that God is sovereign. He is good and whatever happens we can trust in Him:

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Even though Habakkuk couldn’t see it, God was working the whole time. He is doing the same in our lives as His followers. We simply need to watch and wait.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you argued with God? Is arguing with God ever a good idea?
  2. Do you think it is possible for God to be doing good without us even realizing it?  Why or why not?
  3. Do you think God ever does good, wise, and perfect things that are beyond our present circumstance or understanding to even see?

How Can God Use Me?

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:13-14.

If I asked the average Christian if they believed that God loved them, most, if not very single one, would respond “Yes.” Most if not all would probably add that knowing and understanding His great love for them is one of the greatest truths they have ever come to know. But if I asked that same group of believers if they believed God could use them or would even want to use them, I would probably get some hesitation and some shrugged shoulders rather than an exact yes or no. So why do we have this spiritual paradox? Why do we believe God loves us and can do anything, yet we have a hard time believing He can see past our short temper, our lack of discipline, our lack of motivation and any other flaw or insecurity? 

The Bible makes short work of that thinking. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (ESV) The word condemn has several meanings one of which is “to declare to be unfit for use.” (Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster Dictionary) That definition makes perfect sense and brings to mind old buildings that were no longer inhabitable, usable, needed, and were condemned.

Is that the way we feel, unwanted, unusable, unneeded? So we put out the yellow “keep out” tape that is found at demolition sites to both warn God and to keep Him back. Better stay clear of me Lord, I am flawed.

If that is you, I challenge you to go beyond your own limitations today. Give God your flaws. The flaws and insecurities you are worried about are the perfect message of His grace. He is able to use the mishmash of your life and turn it into a message of hope for other people.

You have unique talents and abilities to contribute to furthering the message of Jesus Christ. When you become transparent about God’s love and acceptance in spite of your flaws, it inspires others to believe. So go beyond your own limitations today, because someone is waiting on what you have to offer.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is your motive in deciding how to spend your time?
  2. What can we do this week to be available to God for His use? 

Great Expectations

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” – Colossians 3:17.

Sometimes it feels like God has great expectations for me. God wants so much from me. What do I need to give up? What should I do more? Do I need to read the Bible more, pray more, invest more of my time, money, and resources?  Do I need to volunteer at church more, lead a small group, or mentor others? Basically, I need to do more. But doing a lot more is a lot more. Serving God seems to come with some strings attached. I want to serve the Lord. I want to feel like I have made a contribution, even small, for all God has done for me. But how can I meet God’s expectations for my life? 

It is easy to think in those terms and equally easy to think that God expects and wants a lot from each of us: time, money, energy, focus, worship, passion, to name a few. Our life in Christ does cost us something – everything. God does want our best, but our best won’t ever be good enough. If you are wondering if you measure up to what God wants from us, pause and ask a simple question: what does God really want from me? 

The Bible gives a pretty clear indication that God doesn’t so much want things from us. God actually wants things for us. God doesn’t want much from me: God wants so much for me. There is a difference. God is for you, because He loves you. Jesus came so that you could live a full life empowered by His wisdom, principles and God’s Spirit. “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:10)

God is for us. Never against us. God wants you to know and understand Him, God doesn’t just want you to wonder about Him.  “But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken!” (Jeremiah 9:24) 

So the next time you think about expectations and having the skills needed to do what God is asking for you to do consider this: I’m not working for God. I’m working with God. We are working with a God that can do anything that wants to work through each one of us. Or as Oswald Chambers said, “work out” what God “works in” you.

God expects us to do His will, but He is in us to do it.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think God has unrealistic expectations for us?
  2. What do you think God wants to do through you?  What can you do this week to accomplish what God wants to do through you? 

Are You Everybody, Somebody, Anybody or Nobody?

“Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.

Who can God use? Who should God use? Whose job is it to be used by God, anyway? Everybody was sure that somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was everybody’s job. Everybody thought anybody could do it, but nobody realized that everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that everybody blamed somebody when nobody did what anybody could have done. Confusing, yes it is. And while this is obviously a story, it is a story that plays out often in churches and followers of Jesus all over the world. 

We are all everybody, somebody, who often thinks we are a nobody when God knocks on our door with something He wants done. Our response is often, “Lord anybody but me.” After all, we did not go to an Ivy League school like somebody we know; we can’t sing beautifully like everybody does in church; Anybody you point to has more skills and talents than I have. Nobody has less confidence, is less bold than I am. So…why me Lord? And the older I get, the more it seems like everybody has something going for them. Everybody has things figured out. Everyone but me that is.

I want to be close to God. I want to make a difference in the lives of somebody, anybody in fact. But how can I do that when I am a nobody? The fact is God made you exactly the way you were supposed to be. Flaws and all. Insecurities and all. No “special” abilities and all. And God can use anybody, everybody and nobody if they have a desire to be used by Him. Because that’s when God steps in.

I am continually amazed at the work God has done in people not because they are the most confident or talented, but because they were willing to fulfill God’s plan for their life. The “no, I can’t do that” changed to “Ok God, if that is what you want.” Things that were tough in the beginning now come easy to them. They look back and wonder why they were so afraid. No, they were not magically changed into somebody who had it all together. They were not somebody who learned how to preach or how to sing. They were not suddenly somebody without any doubts and insecurities about having the abilities they need to do what God wants them to do. Over time they learned that God can do amazing things when they surrender their desires, weaknesses, and abilities to Him.

They stopped pointing their fingers at everybody, somebody and anybody else, and asking “God, why isn’t that me?”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who are some unlikely people you’ve seen God use in big ways? What can you learn from the way God has used them?
  2. God can do anything so why is hard to believe that He can do things through us? 

Put To Good Use

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him…”  – 2 Chronicles 16:9.

The story of one of the many people who questioned why or how God could use them is also one of the greatest. When the angel Gabriel told Mary that she’d be pregnant and give birth to the Son of God, “Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” (Luke 1:34) The angel responded to her and said: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37, NASB) The Bible is full of other examples of God doing improbable things through improbable people. 

The question for each of us today is: Do you believe that God can do improbable things through you? The Apostle Paul did. He prayed: “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

If we take some of the people from the Bible off their pedestal for a few seconds, we can quickly see they were ordinary, regular people that God did extraordinary things through. We can read about God working through the lives of Joseph, Moses, David, Paul, Peter and many others. But that was then and this is now. Can I really expect God to do something like that through me? We live in a different time. God still does the extraordinary through ordinary people. 

God is looking to begin and finish His work through ordinary people who are completely committed to Him. He is looking for people whose belief turns into a willingness. God is looking for people who will step out and be His hands and feet to a lost world. There may be times when we step out of our comfort zone. There may be times when God asks us to do something that make us uncomfortable and unconfident. But God is not looking for us to be comfortable or our commitment to Him to become mundane. God wants us to step out into the unknown and let Him guide our steps.

God doesn’t need us to complete His mission. Yet, God lovingly engages us, often to deepen our devotion, dependence, and faith in Him. Our relationship with Him isn’t about achievements and goals, but it’s about love and obedience.

At this time of year, we are in the middle of the NBA playoffs. Every basketball player works to be in the starting lineup and to be the player that makes a difference in a big game. But even greater than the honor of being used at crunch time is to be used by God. To be in His starting line-up, you don’t have to have great talents. You have to have the courage and the faith to say to God, “I want to make a difference because you made a difference in my life and you have a use for me to further your kingdom.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do we uncover the uses God has for our lives?
  2. What can we do this week to be of better use for God? 

Remembering

“Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me.” – Isaiah 46:9.

Our day-to-day lives are mostly spent doing ordinary, routine activities such as working, sleeping, and eating. The few hours, if any, that remain are normally dedicated to family, friends, hobbies, entertainment, and pursuing a relationship with our Lord and Savior. We want to feel the presence of God every day in a deeper way, but often God does not feel present. In those times, I think it is important to pause and remind ourselves of who God is and all He has done. 

God knows our propensity to get involved in so many things that we push God to the background, yet the reality is He has never left our side. To a frightened Israel facing a formidable enemy, God said:

“Perhaps you will think to yourselves, ‘How can we ever conquer these nations that are so much more powerful than we are?’ But don’t be afraid of them! Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all the land of Egypt. Remember the great terrors the Lord your God sent against them. You saw it all with your own eyes! And remember the miraculous signs and wonders, and the strong hand and powerful arm with which he brought you out of Egypt. The Lord your God will use this same power against all the people you fear.”  (Deuteronomy 7:17-19)

Remembering how God delivered us should remind us of His presence. We haven’t fled Pharaoh, but we have stories of our own. Instead of chariots, we have an errand child. Instead of a ruthless ruler, we have faced finding a job where there does not seem to be any. Yet as we look back, we can see God’s presence in a friend who talked to our child, a company executive who hired you when it seemed hopeless. God is always present. 

We see examples of God’s presence and provision throughout the Bible. When David led God’s people in restoring the Ark of the Covenant to its rightful place, he taught them a song of thanks to the LORD, saying, “Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given,” (1 Chronicles 16:12)  David then listed some of those miracles and judgments, culminating in verse 36, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives from everlasting to everlasting! And all the people shouted “Amen!” and praised the Lord.” (1 Chronicles 16:36)

As a Pastor, my ability to lead effectively in worship and ministry depends upon being able to worship God regardless of present circumstances. But there have been times when I have awakened in the morning with, shall I say, a less than spirited heart toward God. But then I pause to remember the faithfulness of God. I pause to remember how His presence and His provision has sustained me through some tough times. The practice of remembering sends a bolt of energy through me and sets me on His path again. Take time today to remember all that God has done for you. Thank Him for His presence and praise Him for all the amazing things He has done for you.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can we daily remember who we are, and reverently keeping in mind who God is?
  2. Read 2 Samuel 6:5: King David danced in celebration and sang before the Lord with all his might. How do you celebrate before God?
  3. What has God done in your life recently that deserves remembrance and celebration?

Hide Or Seek

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.” – Jeremiah 29:13-14.

Hide and seek is a game that everyone has played. One person would count to ten, as the other players would scamper off into another part of the house to find a place in which to hide. The anticipation would build as the person who was counting reached 10 and then ran around opening every closet door and looking under every bed. Who doesn’t remember hiding in a hall closet while your heart pounded, hoping like mad that no one would find you? The search was exciting, but the real fun was finding those in hiding.

When parents played hide and seek with the kids, they typically chose a hiding spot where they would eventually be found. I think it is the same way in our relationship with God. When He calls us to search for Him, He never hides Himself so well that He cannot be found.

In Jeremiah 29:13, God doesn’t hide where He can’t be found, but invites us to look for Him and find Him when He says, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you.” There’s no wondering if you’ll find Him, doubting if you’ll be able to make your way to Him, or if you will be allowed to find Him. There’s no question, He will show Himself to you when you genuinely search for Him.

If you quietly seek Him, listen for His voice, and study His word, you will find Him. There are days when you may not feel His presence. But the fact is that God is always with you, even if you don’t sense His presence. And there will be times when you will feel His presence in a real and tangible way. In those moments, it will feel like finding one of your childhood friends in a hall closet, who jumped out with a shout of joy, “You found me!”

The key is not just to bask in God’s presence, but also to let that presence transform you. God’s presence isn’t simply for you to enjoy; it’s meant to inspire you to open yourself up in deeper ways to the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work of transforming you into the person God wants you to become.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you believe that God is always present even when we don’t feel his presence? Why or why not?
  2. What can we do this week to seek God?