Wednesday, November 09, 2022

Focus on the Team - Part 3 - Distractions

This month we are wrapping up "Focus on the Team" with part 3, Distractions. We're going to be talking about distractions that occur in the Christian life. If you missed part 1 and part 2, you can read those on my blog, Writer's Block

Just a little recap before we just into this month's topic. Using a baseball comparison, Christians make up a team which is the church. Our coach is Jesus Christ and He is our focus. If we stay focused on the coach, taking signals from him, and listening to His voice, He will be pleased with us. We do our best to "play" or live as a team. But what happens when we take our eyes off our coach? Or if we decide we don't like our team and decide to skip a practice or just not play in the game at all? The world is full of distractions tempting us to do exactly that. Let's throw it up to the booth and look at that. 

Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 13:1-9 commonly called, "The parable of the sower." The Message reads this way: 

“What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams." 

In danger of mixing my metaphors, let's try to make sense of this parable and the distractions Christians face today. When Jesus explains the parable to his disciples he tells them that the seed is the message about the kingdom of God. For our purposes, let's just say the seed is living a Christian life. 

The farmer and the seed are constant in this parable. The grounds are the heart of the individual hearing the message. What we will focus on are the stealers, or the distractors of the seed. 

In the first case, the birds come and eat the seed that was sown. If we don't use what is given to us, there is a danger that it will be taken away. The parable of the talents illustrates this (Matthew 25:14-30). James exhorts us to not just listen to the word, but put it into practice (James 1:22). The distraction then is complacency. We fail to retain what we have. That is the knowledge of how to live a Christian life. We aren't clear on what God wants of us. We read the Bible, but don't understand it. And on top of that, we lack the desire to figure it out. We fail to seek to understand it. We are complacent. This complacency gives the enemy the opportunity to snatch what little we did know away from us. 

In the second illustration, the seed falls on the gravel, but has no roots and is withered by the sun. The distraction is the sun. The sun is a good thing giving light and warmth to our planet. But it can also be dangerous. Don't look into the sun; It will blind you. Don't get too close to the sun; it will burn you up. In this case, a good thing becomes bad. Be careful to not allow "good" things in life to eclipse the "best" thing in life. Sports, hobbies, relaxation, and the like are all good, but be careful they do not consume your life so much that you don't have time for feeding your faith and growing spiritually. 

Finally, our seed falls and sprouts among the weeds only to be choked out by them. Weeds are external distractions or temptations all around us. They are outside of us and they desire to master us. In the parable, Jesus says that the weeds are the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth. Galatians 5:19-21 lists of several acts of the flesh including hatred, discord, jealousy, and fits of rage. The list goes on, but the distraction is clear: worldly temptations. 

In summary, then, seek scripture and the understanding of it. How to apply it to your life. Prioritize the good things in your life with the best things. Keep Jesus and His church at the top of your list. Your calendar and credit card should reflect that. Then keep from sinful temptations that would choke out a fruitful Christian life. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Focus on the Team - Part 2 - Who is our "Team?"

I wrote last month about Aaron Judge and his New York Yankees. Aaron was laser-focused on his role on the team and their goal to win baseball games. (Update: The Yankees made the post-season playoffs and are currently leading their best-of-seven series against the Cleveland Guardians by 1 game to none.) 

The New York Yankees, aka Bronx Bombers, are arguably one of the most successful sports teams in the United States. They have won 40 American League pennants, and 27 World Series championships, both MLB records. What a great history. What a great team.

If you are a Christian, you are part of a team as well. Our team consists of other Christians all around the world. Our team is the church. Let's take a look at what scripture says about our "team."

Matthew 16:18 states that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church. It may not appear that way today, but the church will not be defeated. Not by hell. Not by Satan. Not by anyone. 

Ephesians 1:21 says that Jesus Christ is the head of the church. In modern terms, Jesus is the coach, owner, and GM. He's called the head because often in the Bible the church is called a Body. Christian believers all play a part like a body, with Jesus serving as the head. 

Acts 20:28 tells us that Jesus bought the church with his blood. His sacrifice ushered the church into existence. This speaks to the value the church has. It is priceless. The cost of Christ dying on the cross was enormous. 

You are part of a victorious, priceless team lead by none other  than Jesus Christ himself!

What is so sad is when you hear people say, "I love Jesus, but I don't care for the church." It is akin to saying, "I am rooting for Aaron Judge, but I don't like the Yankees." The Yankees are his team. You can't cheer for one and not the other. The church is Jesus' team. You can't just love Jesus and throw His church to the curb. 

Probably the biggest problem people have is that Jesus is perfect and the church is far from it. Why? Well, the church is full of sinful people like you and me. We have not yet been perfected. That will come one day through Jesus. Until then, the church is full of imperfect people. The future of the church is bright and victorious. 

Next month let's look at the distractions we face as we strive to focus on Jesus and live as the church.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Focus on the Team - Part 1

On Monday, August 29, Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees hit his 50th home run of the season. He leads the MLB in home runs this year as the Yankees pursue the World Series pennant.

The post-game interview went like this, "It's just another number,'' said Judge, who was intentionally walked twice Monday before going deep. "It's great, but I'm kind of upset we lost. It's a close game we could've won.''

Aaron Judge Homers
Aaron Judge homers against Boston

"I'm not downplaying it. I just don't like talking numbers," Judge said. "We can talk about numbers and all that kind of stuff when the season's over with, we can review it, but for right now most important thing for me is getting some wins."

Aaron's focus was not on his individual accomplishment, but on winning baseball games. His focus was not on himself, but on his team. 

Undistracted vision on a goal. Individual achievement downplayed for the sake of a greater goal. 

Does the Bible talk about having focus? Who is our "team" anyway? Can a Christian be distracted by individual accomplishments? 

Those are all great questions. Let's just take the first one in this article and then focus on the next two in upcoming e-news articles. 

Where should the Christian focus? Is it on the church? Is it on a Pastor? Is it on the Bible? Probably none of those. 

The Hebrew author writes in chapter 12, "...let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."

Focus your life on Jesus

Our focus should not be on a doctrine, a mission, or a program, but on a person - Jesus
. Jesus holds the pass into heaven. Jesus can hook us up with the Father. Jesus is the booster shot we all need. Jesus is the best investment you will ever make. 

 Keeping our focus on Jesus...doesn't that bring to your mind another New Testament story where someone failed to keep their eyes on Jesus?

When Peter and the other apostles saw a figure walking on the water in the middle of the night, they responded as you would expect by screaming, "It's a ghost!" Jesus identified himself, and Peter, the 'leap-before-you-look-disciple', said, "Oh yeah? If it's really you, tell me to come to you on the water." 

Peter successfully walked on the water until he took his eyes off Jesus and looked around at the wind and waves. He began to sink. When his focus was lost, so was his foundation. 

Paul said it this way in Philippians 3:13,14, "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do; Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

Just last night, Aaron Judge hit home runs numbers 55 and 56 against their rival Boston Red Sox to lead his team to a 7-6 win in 10 innings. 

"I'm sure, deep down, he's aware of what's going on. But when your priorities are right, and around team, and around leading this team and being the guy, he keeps it simple," Yankee's Manager Aaron Boone said of Judge's focus always being team-first.

Judge's focus is on his team: May our focus be on Jesus! 

Next month: Focus on the Team - Part 2 - Who is our "team?"

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Loss to Life

Tears were shed. Suppressed sobs echoed throughout the room. The minister spoke words of comfort as family members and friends sat quietly ruminating on their loved one. A faithful father or mother, loving brother or sister, exiting this life into the next. The loss is palpable and long-lasting for those left behind. No amount of condolences nor homemade meals will take away the pain. It must be endured for months, even years to come. 

Angels await in Heavenly Maternity Ward
You may have endured the loss of a loved one recently. One never feels as helpless except in the face of death. We have no control. No say as to where, where, or how. It's never expected. It catches us off guard. The hole in our lives is huge and cannot be refilled by any other.

However, for those who have committed their lives to Jesus Christ, this is only one side of the story. Because on the other side of our earthly, physical death there is a heavenly, spiritual resurrection! At the same time, we mourn and bid farewell to our loved one, the angels are rejoicing with the arrival of another faithful saint. It's like a heavenly maternity ward decorated with balloons and flowers celebrating a new family member arriving in their eternal home. 

Scripture rings true when it says: 

"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 1 Corinthians 15:55

Our loss is heaven's gain. And what our loved one has gained, we, too, will one day have as well! 

The author of Romans writes:

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons neither the present nor the future, no any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all cration, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38,39 

While the pain of losing someone seems endless, it is not forever. For one day we will be reunited with them. What a day that will be. Imagine an airport concourse when your sweetheart returns from an extended time away. Embracing. Kissing. Tears of joy flowing. Add to that scene where we will have arrived (our heavenly home) and who else will be waiting for us there (Our Heavenly Father)! 

Celebrate the departure knowing full well that for the one voyaging it is beyond what they have ever seen, heard, nor even conceived (1 Corinthians 2:9). The things God has prepared for those who love Him are beyond what our human minds can even imagine!

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

I like chocolate! And you?

In 1983, Christian singer, Steve Tayor, asked "Whatever happened to sin?" Seems people were doing whatever they wanted without any concern as to what God wanted. Not that this is anything new. Since the beginning of time, we have seen a steady erosion of the concept of sin. 

The word "sin" in today's modern world has become a word either relegated to the church or used only as a joke. Sin is seen as old-fashioned and outdated. It's not really relevant to life today, is it? Haven't we moved on and become more open-minded, curious, and accepting of all lifestyles and people's personal choices? Let's look a little deeper.

So first, what is sin, really? Where did it come from?

The first man, Adam, and his wife Eve were made with free will to obey or disobey God's word. God clearly said, "Do not eat from the tree in the middle of the garden." For in doing so, they wou
ld be offending their maker. Of course, with the serpent, or Satan's, tempting they both gave in and ate the fruit.  

It would be an act of disobedience that cascaded down through the hallways of history. The Bible calls offending God sin. 

Whatever happened to sin? Since it involves offending our creator God, it seems He should be in the conversation. The problem is that God is hard to find now which brings up the question, "Whatever happened to God?" If we do away with God, then sin is not a problem because there is no one to offend! Seems many have tried to do away with God altogether. 

Atheists deny His existence; They write books, debate on YouTube, post on blogs, and infiltrate social media with their "no-god doctrine." Agnostics just say they don't know. And many people today say whatever you believe is just fine. You like vanilla. I like chocolate. It's just a spiritual preference. 

People have acted this way before. When Moses went up Mount Sinia to meet with God, do you recall what the people said to Aaron when they tired of waiting for him to come down? "Come, make us gods who will go before us. as for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." Basically, if God and Moses are gone, let's just do our own thing!

So today, if we throw out God and God's laws (Moses), we too, can do what we want. And this is exactly what we see man doing in our culture today. Sin is no longer an issue. It has been declawed. What next? Well, Satan had an idea.

It was the first temptation Satan suggested to Eve in the garden. Paraphrased "if you eat of this fruit, you will become like God!" Wait! What? Man or woman can be like God!? We can make our own choices? Do what we want? Well, sign me up!!

Our culture has eroded so much that sin has become a laugh and offending man is now taboo. Why? Because man has taken the place of God! We're now politically correct, tolerant, sensitive, and open-minded in order to not offend...MAN! 

Las Vegas is called "Sin City." A Facebook post had a picture of a man on an airplane landing in Las Vegas with the caption, "Let the sin begin!" Ha. ha. Funny, right? Sin is allowed in Vegas. Sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, selfish ambition, drunkenness, orgies, and the like (That's actually most of Galatians 5:19-21) are all okay. Why? Because those are offenses against God or sins. 

It's intriguing, and I always find it fascinating that in "Sin City" they have a police force, a courthouse, and a jail. They have local, state, and federal laws that define what a person can and cannot do. You would think in "Sin City," one could do whatever they want, right? Not so fast. 

In "Sin City" you can't bring your own drink to our pool. You can't wear a swimsuit to our buffet. You can't enter our nightclub without an invitation. You can't gamble unless you are 21. What!? I thought in "Sin City," I could do anything I wanted to do!? Nope. Because now you are disobeying man's rules. And remember, now, man is GOD! 

Here's the truth. God is still God. We are not. Sin is still sin. It offends a righteous, holy God and unless we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior (from our sins) we will face judgment without mercy. Jeff Badgero said it well a few weeks ago at KCC, when he said, "just because it's legal, doesn't mean it's moral." Let's seek to live a life pleasing to God. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Is God calling you?

Has God called you? Maybe you think, "No, God hasn't called me. God hasn't called me to become a missionary. Or to give away all my money. Or to move across the country and start a new church." Does God always call us to do "big" things? Or does he sometimes call us to simple, mundane acts of service? Like visiting a lonely shut-in. Or inviting someone over for dinner? Or attending church every Sunday? 

There are several examples in the Bible of times when Jesus called people. Let's take a look and see what we can learn from them.

80-year-old Moses - This story is found in Exodus 3:1-4:17. Moses was called by God through a burning bush to deliver the Egyptian people from slavery under Pharaoh. Moses made one excuse after another as to why he wasn't the guy. "Who am I?" "What if they don't listen to me?" "I don't speak well." 

Do you make excuses to God? Sometimes? Occasionally? Never? If you are a parent, do you make it a practice to ask your children to do things they cannot do? Probably not. Even more, our heavenly Father will only ask us to do things we are capable of doing. Or God will go with us and give us the strength to do what He asks. Did you teach your child to ride a bicycle? Remember how you held on to the back of the seat while they were learning? God supports and guides us as long as we need it. Once we know what we are doing, He lets us go on our own.

The boy Samuel - This story is found in 1 Samuel 3:1-19. God called Samuel in a dream to speak for him. Initially, Samuel didn't recognize God's voice. He thought it was Eli, the priest, speaking to him. Three times in a row, God called out, "Samuel!" and finally, Samuel responded, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." 

Are we listening for God's voice? Do we ever take the time to turn off the world just to let God speak? Do we recognize his voice? Are we in tune with his promptings? God may be trying to get your attention, but the noise around you is so loud, that you can't hear Him.

Jonah, the Prophet - This story is found in the book of Jonah. God called Jonah to go to the city of Ninevah to tell residents there to repent from their evil ways. Jonah flat-out refused to go. In fact, Jonah went on vacation by jumping a ship headed in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Talk about thumbing your nose up to God! The story does have a happy ending with the people repenting, but not before some slimy, aquatic consequences. 

After hearing God's call, wading through excuses, be careful to not just flat out tell God, "No." Jonah tried that and he ended up doing what God wanted in the end anyway. God may not deal with you the same way. Pray that He does! But He may choose not to and leave you to your disobedience. God is a good Father and wants what is best for His children. Check out Matthew 7:11 and remember:

  • He may not call you to comfort, but He'll call you to contentment. 
  • He may not call you to success, but He'll call you to sufficiently. 
  • He may not call you pleasure, but He'll call you to peace. 
  • He may not call you riches, but He'll call you to righteousness. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Apps for Spiritual Growth

  1. Bible app - Without a doubt, my go-to Bible app is the Bible by Life.Church. Bobby Gruenewald and his team had the brilliant idea of putting the Bible out free of charge in a digital format in July 2008. Today the app features 2,062 Bible versions in 1,372 languages including audio Bibles and over 800 Bible plans to encourage daily Bible reading. The Kalkaska Church of Christ uses Events in the Bible app each week to share sermon notes, announcements, and much more. Get the Bible app for iPhone or Android or online
  2. Church Center - My choice for connecting with my home church is the Church Center app from Planning Center Online. Church Center connects me with everything my church does from events, giving, pictorial directory, calendar, and children's check-in. Get Church Center for iPhone or Android or online
  3. Praying App - While you can keep track or prayer requests and even share them in the Bible app, I still enjoy using Echo to keep track of people I am praying for. Echo reminds me to pray, keeps track of my prayer requests, and allows me to share requests with other people Get Echo for iPhone or Android
  4. Sermons - Feed yourself spiritually by listening to messages online from various pastors. You can use a Podcasting app like Podcasts from Apple, Spotify, or Overcast, but I prefer to just listen directly from the preacher's home church app. 

Here are some of my favorite speakers and their churches. 

Focus on the Team - Part 3 - Distractions

This month we are wrapping up "Focus on the Team" with part 3, Distractions. We're going to be talking about distractions that...