THIS PASTOR’S VIEWPOINT
Last week I got caught in a heavy shower going from the car to the house. The distance isn’t that great but the rain came down “with a vengeance,” like you’d have thought it hadn’t rained all week. None the less, I was glad to get in the house. “Ah,” I sighed, “dry shelter.”
I can also remember the last summer day I spent at the beach, when I was glad to get in out of the sun (I was beginning to get that cooked lobster look), before I did some real damage to my body.
Out of the rain, out of the sun, out of the cold and out of the heat. We have a lot of reasons to get out of the weather and into the shelter of our homes, don’t we, a place where we can always, at least hopefully, control the climate and find comfort.
It’s not always the getting “in” some place that makes us feel good, however. Sometimes it’s what we put in us that does the trick. Here again we find extremes can satisfy, such as a hot cup of coffee on a cold day or a cold iced tea on a hot day. Perhaps it’s a simple snack, just something to munch on that we want inside us while, at other times a really big meal and a full stomach is all that will accomplish satisfaction.
I thought of these “ins” when I read John 14:20 (NLT) in this week. ”When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” The more I thought about that verse the less important all those other “ins” seemed. The comforts they afford are only temporal in nature. You have to keep making adjustments. The food you ate for supper, no matter how filling, no longer satisfies the next morning, and you can’t stay within the shelter of a building all the time, you have to go out into the elements.
But with Christ the “in” is permanent. He is always in his Father, while at the same time, we are always in him and he is always in us. We never need to wake up with an empty feeling, and, we are always in the shelter of our Lord.
What a wonderful thought to start the week with. Isn’t God great! You might just want to take a moment and thank him. Go ahead and do it now while we’re thinking about it.
Sermon for Sunday, May 22, 2011
THE POWER OF A FOCUSED LIFE
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 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 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, 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, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Staying focused is one of the secrets of a successful life.
Just the other I went into a McDonald’s and said, “I’d like a senior coffee please…black, no cream or sugar.” The girl at the counter asked, “Would you like cream with that?” Focus!
Doctors hear some pretty strange stories in their line of work. Audiologist David Levy recalls a frantic client who lost her hearing aid. She had been eating a bowl of cashews while talking on the phone. --- Her tiny hearing aid was sitting on the table next to her. --- In the midst of her conversation, she mistook the hearing aid for a cashew and ate it. Focus!
Actor James Cagney recalls that in his day, acting was not as glamorous a profession as it is now. Actors were paid only slightly more than the average American. There were no labor laws to protect actors from long hours or hazardous working conditions. Cagney remembers that in one of his early movies, The Public Enemy, his character had to run away from an enemy who was shooting at him with a machine gun.
There were few special effects back then, so the actor used a real machine gun with real bullets. Because Cagney often played characters that were on the wrong side of the law, he was often in movies where he was shot at with real guns and real bullets. ---- One wrong move, and he would have been dead. I doubt that Cagney had much difficulty staying focused when he did these scenes.
One of the secrets of a successful life is: stay focused.St. Paul was one of the most effective persons who ever lived. Today, two thousand years after his death, his writings are being studied by millions of people all over this globe. We’re doing so this morning.
Has there ever been --- except for Jesus Christ --- a man whose thoughts have influenced more people over the generations than this tentmaker from Tarsus? One of Paul’s secrets was the power of focus. Religiously, Paul already had all the essential credentials to impress his peers. He didn’t need persecutions, shipwrecks or imprisonment to validate his standing in the religious community. He was a circumcised Jew, a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews.
More than that he was a Pharisee. He not only knew the Law, he practiced it fastidiously.In fact, he was so committed to his faith that he persecuted the early Christian church.
And yet, one day, he came to see that none of these things mattered in the least to him compared to his new-found faith in Jesus Christ. And thus he focused his life on this one endeavor: to know Christ.
He writes: “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
A few verses later he writes: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death . . .” Then he sums up his intent with these words: “But this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus
That’s focus. Paul concentrated his life on this one thing--knowing Christ--and Paul affected the lives of millions of people.
Focus gives our lives power. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar has used a marvelous image: He asks us to consider whether we are “wandering generalities” or “meaningful specifics.” In other words, are our lives focused on a few important things or do we spread our lives far too thinly?
A good analogy is that of light. Light is a marvelous thing, and it comes in many forms. But light’s focus and intensity determines its power. For instance, light bulbs generally have a low level of focus and intensity. The light rays scatter out of the bulb, creating what we call incoherent light. But take those same scattered light rays and focus them in one direction at one target, and you have a laser, which is infinitely more powerful.
St. Paul’s life had the power of a laser. Successful people have a clear understanding of what their life is about. They know where they are headed and they have made a significant commitment to finishing the journey. When comedian Jim Carrey was a struggling young actor, he wrote himself a check for ten million dollars and postdated it seven years in the future. That check kept him focused. Even more impressive is the fact that, when it came due, he was able to cover it. By staying focused on his goal, he achieved great fame and success.
A picture appeared in a news magazine several years ago. In the picture a woman was grinning from ear to ear. At age 72, she had something amazing to grin about. A few years earlier she had decided to become a mountain climber. She had never climbed a mountain before. --- “Mountain climbing is not a realistic goal,” her friends warned, but she decided to do it anyway. She was now in the news because she had climbed Mt. Everest!
There she was in all her glory, backpack and all, holding her victory flag up toward the clear blue sky. She had done it! She had climbed one of the world’s highest mountains.
Not every 72-year-old needs to set his or her sights on climbing a mountain.
For that matter, not every 22-year-old needs to climb mountains, but it is amazing what we can do when we set our minds to it.
A golf instructor once advised, “Take dead aim! Instead of worrying about making a fool of yourself in front of a crowd of 4 or 40,000, forget about how your swing may look and concentrate instead on where you want the ball to go, and you will be surprised at how often the mind will make the muscles hit the ball to the target, even with a far less than perfect swing .”
Personally, I discovered years ago, that in golf, either my mind was weak or my muscles didn’t listen.
Focus. What is it you really hope to achieve in your work life, your family life, your spiritual life? How you would like for your body to look? How you would like your resume to look? --- What are those hobbies you hope to master? Successful people have a picture in their mind of what they would like to achieve with their lives and they focus their energies on that picture. Focus is power.Of course, there are many examples of people who have focused their lives too narrowly.
There are choices to be made in life. In the same way that not everyone is wise to climb mountains, not everyone is cut out to be St. Paul.
For example, we have no record of Paul enjoying the love of a family. His passion for the Gospel was all encompassing. There was too much travel in spreading the Good News to the Gentiles --- and too much time spent in jail.
Not everyone can make that kind of commitment. Not everyone is called to change the world in the same way as Paul did. Whereas focus is critical to a successful life, it is possible to focus your life too narrowly.
They have no time nor inclination to allow room for the needs of others. If you want to pay that kind of price…you can have it. They are successful by the world’s measure, but not by God’s. And, they are not happy people.
They are successful by the world’s measure, but not by God’s. And they are not happy people, Beware of too narrow a focus. Our focus needs to be large enough to accommodate a lifetime of growth.
I mentioned actor James Cagney. Cagney grew up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood where desperate men would do just about anything to make a few bucks. Some of the tougher men in Cagney’s neighborhood turned to boxing as a way out. Cagney once painted a picture of an old boxer, a man whose body is scarred and whose mind is destroyed by repeated beatings. He titled the painting “The Victor: Chronic Progressive Fibrotic Encephalopathy,” which is the term for brain damage caused by repeated blows to the head. Cagney said, it is a picture of “the winner who loses everything.”
How’s that for graphic? The winner who loses everything. Many of us are squandering the precious time God has given us on this earth by not focusing on a few important things and doing them extremely well.
Others of us are losing eternity because we have focused our lives on the wrong things or we have focused our lives so narrowly that we have excluded those we love and God. Finding the proper focus is critical in life just as in photography.
What good is a photograph that is taken out of focus? I know, I’ve deleted many. What good is a life that is not focused on God, on those we love, on our calling as followers of Jesus Christ?
St. Paul was focused on a goal that was narrow enough that he never was distracted, but large enough so that he never became bored.
In his commitment to Christ he found that perfect balance that made his life laser-like in its intensity.
And here is the good news: IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO FOCUS YOUR LIFE.
A piano teacher taught many students over a lifetime career, When she got them ready for recitals, she would encourage them to perfect their endings. She insisted they practice the endings over and over again.
When her students grumbled that it was boring going over and over these last few measures, she would answer: “You can make a mistake in the beginning or in the middle or in some other place along the way. But all will be forgotten when you manage to make the ending glorious.”
We know very little about Paul’s last days on earth. But we do know his ending was glorious. The power of a focused life: “But this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”