People of God's Presence

Part 1

Monday, May 10, 2021

I am hoping that this week’s study will be a message that will call us to be People of the Presence, understanding the significance of living more and more so in God’s presence.

 

There is a difference between having the indwelling Holy Spirit, which we get when we are born-again, and purposely putting ourselves in God’s presence. It is easy to involve ourselves in activities that are not necessarily bad, but that do nothing to generate an awareness of God. On the flipside of that, it’s just as simple to involve ourselves in activities that do generate a greater awareness of God.   

Maybe one of the problems we have is that of not differentiating between joy and entertainment. I do a number of things for entertainment: I like to watch sports and I like to fish. Many of you even like Nascar  (though, truthfully, I could live without it.)  Sometimes, I watch TV – particularly the history channel and the discovery channel. I don't think there is anything inherently evil with any of those things. The problem is thinking that these things bring joy.

 

In Psalm 16:11, the Psalmist wrote, “In Thy presence is fullness of joy.” Depending on what a person does for entertainment, the only time it could be considered evil is when it replaces our pursuit of God. We justify so many things, all in the Name of God wanting us to be happy - which really removes us away from a living sense of his presence. We will even sometimes use God’s desire to bless us as His children as the justification to give ourselves to entertainment. Leonard Ravenhill once said, “Entertainment is the Christian’s substitute for joy.”

 

Allow me to reiterate: there are specific things I do things for entertainment. I’m not saying we should not have some element in our lives which allows us some relaxation. But what I’m seeing amongst Christians today is a fetish with entertainment. If they aren’t being entertained, they simply won’t participate, attend, or even watch. However, with that being said, entertainment is not really the issue – the issue is that of being content with entertainment versus a real, serious, determined, pursuit of God’s presence in our lives.

Recently the Assemblies of God hosted a conference in Springfield, MO called the Recalibrate Conference (I would have loved to attend). During that conference, George Wood (former National A/G leader) said, “There is a linkage between the small rules we violate and the lack of the big gains we need spiritually.” Our nation is in desperate need, our families are in desperate need, and yet we can’t be found in the prayer meeting – but we can however be found in every form of entertainment there is.

 

My goodness, what is the matter with us?! We have need of some major spiritual gains in our nation and our personal lives, but we willing choose to NOT make the connection between the small spiritual rules we violate and the lack of the big spiritual gains we need!

In God’s presence is the fullness of joy. Therefore, if a Christian does not have a pursuit of God (i.e. a consistent prayer life), he/she seeks fulfillment outside of the Christian realm. The problem with that is that fullness of joy is only found in God’s presence.  

Entertainment is no viable substitute for joy. Entertainment is usually a diversion we resort to in hopes of distracting our attention away from our jobs, or school, or even family. At its most basic level, it’s escapism. There may be little or no joy associated with it at all. Often entertainment’s only redeeming quality is that it takes us out of the mundane.

 

But when we experience the fullness of joy, we are not living in the mundane. That fullness of joy comes only from HIS presence.

 

Continued Tomorrow  

Six Scriptures

for when You lose Your Focus

Part 1

Monday, MAy 3, 2021

Have you ever had one of those moments when you’re trying to get, and stay, focused on a task when suddenly, out of nowhere… Squirrel! And your mind starts chasing what it cannot catch? This week it happened to me again. Last week, even as I was trying my dead level best to stay focused and get “caught up” from being in Ukraine for a month, one thing after another stole my attention – Squirrel! I allowed unwanted distraction to disrupt my days, fretting over situations that were simply out of my control. Distractions turned to frustrations, and soon I found that I was slipping into survival mode,  instead of living with peace and confidence.

Distraction, I’ve come to realize, is a key tactic of the enemy, who loves to interfere with the lives of faith-filled people. Keeping us busy and focused on other things, and even - more often than not - good things, so we lose focus on what matters most.

We have responsibilities that demand our time and energy. Those responsibilities can overwhelm us and lead to exhaustion if we forget to keep our focus on Jesus, “the author and perfecter of our faith” Hebrews 12:2. When we’re buried under the weight of life’s difficulties, distraction seems to come at us from every direction. In those times we need to refocus our hearts and minds on Christ.

We know God called us to love and care for our people. Our families, friends, co-workers, classmates, and neighbors. We also want to keep connected to Him through prayer and worship. So, how do we stay focused, as people of God, with all the things going on in our lives and in the world around us? God’s Word offers comfort and encouragement to bring Him back into focus and bring us out of survival mode.

 

This week we will be looking at Six Scriptures for When We Lose Focus. I am confident that, like me, you will find that each of these verses will strengthen you and provide renewed peace in the midst of all of life’s business and demands.

1. For Focusing Our Daily Thoughts

Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things” 

My wife loves making lists – I often see her lists on the kitchen table or in various places throughout the house. I wish I was more disciplined at that art. Because the truth is, when I take the time to write the lists out, it helps me prioritize what needs to be done and to remember those things I might forget. (which happens more often than I’d like to admit - for now, I am blaming that on covid-brain and not the fact that I’m aging).

 

Continued tomorrow  

Six Scriptures

For When You Lose Your Focus

Part 2

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

I will say, however, list-making is a growing part of my routine. For instance, my list taped on the bathroom mirror for this morning, looks, in part, like this: Brush teeth, Take a shower (use deodorant), get dressed, make coffee, drink Coffee, read Bible (and listen to devotional), drink more coffee, send P&M....  

 

That’s why I appreciate the Apostle Paul’s Holy Spirit–inspired advice to the Philippians. He knew the struggles they would face and that they would need this list of words to help them stay focused. Philippians 4:8 can serve as a guide for focusing our daily thoughts. The Contemporary English Bible version puts it this way: “…focus your thoughts on these things…” Then the Apostle Paul gives a menu of eight attributes in this one sentence.  A perfect list of good things to keep our thoughts in the right place. Things that are: true… noble… right… pure… lovely… admirable… excellent… and praiseworthy.

Let’s apply the ideas Paul shared and see what a difference this verse will make:

 

When my teen rebels? Focus on what is true.

When family members can’t get along? Focus on what is praiseworthy.

When I’m feeling discouraged about the future? Focus on what is lovely.

You see, thinking on the right things will usher us into a new place of contentment. A change that begins in our own daily thoughts and overflows to our homes and the people we love.

2. For Focusing Our Perspective –

Hebrews 12:2 “...fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” 

It’s hard to keep an eternal perspective with all the struggles we face today. In the middle of family stress or raising kids through challenging stages, helping our family maneuver through a pandemic, we tend to place a burden on ourselves to solve problems that pop up without warning. We may question our abilities when we don’t have all the answers, or we may even feel like we’re failing our families.

But God never intended for us to carry that burden. In our weakness, He is strong. Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” 2 Corinthians 12:9. So we can rely on Him to be present in our current circumstances and know He is working… all things together… for our good, according to Romans 8:28.

When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we reset our perspective on God’s greater plan. Daily struggles lose their power when we know (remember) the ultimate goal: that we will one day be together with Jesus, in our heavenly home. What an awesome promise that is!

 

Continued tomorrow

Six Scriptures

for When You Lose Your Focus

part 3

WEdnesday, May 5, 2021

If the trials you woke up facing this morning have drawn your focus away from God’s promise of eternal life with Him, remember to fix your eyes on Jesus! HE is our Rock and Savior. He’s the One that will perfect your faith. Our perspective can reach beyond this world!

3. For Focusing Our Hearts in Prayer

Psalm 19:14 is a good place to start, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

I’ve been known to get quiet when things happen to which I ‘m unsure of how to respond.  My wife may even mistake my silence for irritation. She will ask, “What’s wrong? Are you okay?” But the truth is, I just need time to process - especially when situations arise that leave me completely dumbfounded.

It seems that women throughout history have been good processors - and men would do well to learn from that. In Luke 2:19, after the shepherds came to witness the baby Jesus, we are told, Mary “…kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” .  Mary stored precious memories that would bring comfort through the most difficult moments of her life.

We invite things into our hearts for different reasons. Maybe, like Mary, we have a moment we want to cherish. But there are also trials and circumstances that can bring us to tears, things we need to process before we know what to do next.

Processing is good. It gives us time to seek God and decide the best response. But we also need to be very careful about giving frustration or discouragement a place in our hearts. When we treasure something, we give it a temporary home. That’s why the meditations of our hearts need to be pleasing to God. When we keep Jesus at the center of our hearts, peace and gratitude take up residence there. I love Colossians 3:15 where we are told, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” 

 

Whether we’re meditating on the precious moments of our life or the heartbreaking situations we have faced or are facing, praying the words of Psalm 19:14 will help us keep our hearts filled with the good things of God.  

4. For Focusing Our Minds

Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” 

No one understands the draw of temptation like a mom or dad making their way through the grocery checkout line with toddler in tow. Why must they place all those irresistible treats right where little hands can reach them? And once a child locks on to something they want, the battle begins.

 

Continued tomorrow

Six Scriptures

for When You Lose Your Focus

part 4

Thursday, May 6, 2021

I can be a lot like a toddler in a checkout line when it comes to all the shiny things I see in media! Ads for "must-have” items flash before me on social media, TV, and any and everywhere else - and they can sure manage to grab my attention! They promise things that will make my life easier, things that will take away hurt and offer comfort, things that will make me feel good or feel better. But what they don’t tell me, or any of us for that matter, is this: those “must-have” items only provide a temporary fix. 

2 Corinthians 4:18 confirms the back and forth battle with earthly things. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” The best weapon against thinking we can’t live without that tempting treat is to focus on things above. Colossians 3:2 will help us - “set our minds on things above, not on earthly things” as we maneuver through life’s temptations. Refocusing our minds can begin with the remarkable power of this verse.

When we keep our eyes on what is eternal, we can snap back to the reality of what is actually most important as we go through our days.

5. For Focusing to Regain Hope

“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” Jonah 2:7

The familiar story of Jonah has astounded kids for generations. A man surviving being swallowed by a giant fish? What a miracle! Many of us remember reading a book or listening to a Sunday school teacher share Jonah’s story. But Jonah’s prayer from inside the whale can inspire us with renewed hope as adults, too.

We’re hard-pressed to find any good news lately; all we hear about is disease, grief, loss and turmoil. We try our best to do good, love others, and walk humbly. But the reality is that if all we’re listening to is what’s happening in our world, it can quickly send us into a sense of despair and hopelessness.

Jonah’s prayer shows us that hope is ours, even in our most desperate times. In Jonah 2:1 he prays, “In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me.” Deep waters threatened to engulf him, but then he remembered God.

 

Continued tomorrow

Six Scriptures

for When You Lose Your Focus

part 5

Friday, May 7, 2021

Look with me again at Jonah 2:7… “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.” Let’s allow Jonah’s prayer to inspire us toward new hope.

 

Do you feel your hope slipping away? Do current circumstances leave you wondering if your efforts are worth it? Jesus Christ is hope, and with Him we have reason to never give up. Look at these encouraging words from 1 Peter 1:3… “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

6. For Focusing on Our Purpose

Jeremiah 29:13 “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Losing my focus makes me feel like God is far away. Like I can’t hear His voice or sense His presence. Staying in a constant attitude of prayer puts blinders of protection around our focus, keeping distraction out and God’s promises in.

So how do we keep those blinders in place? The best thing we can do when we lose focus is to pause and seek Him, all through the day, every day. Jeremiah wrote this in his letter to the exiles so they would stay encouraged as they waited for the day they would return to what God promised. God encouraged them through the prophet, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” His promise would inspire them to focus on their purpose.

We have a great purpose right where we are. In the dishes we put in the dishwasher this morning, we have purpose. In the kids arguing in the other room – during distance learning time, we have purpose. In our family gatherings, meetings at work or school, and all the things that pull us in different directions; we have purpose. God will fulfill His promises in our lives. We can count on it, and while we wait, we can trust His plan in every step.

Learning to focus on the goodness and promises of our Heavenly Father will ensure we leave survival mode behind, and walk in victory instead. May we all fix our eyes… seek Him and never lose hope. May we move forward with purpose, refreshed and refocused on God.    END