In the Christmas spirit, Alaska-style! (with apologies for the crummy picture).
Last night at the prayer meeting we sang one of my favorite hymns, “Thou Who Wast Rich beyond All Splendor”:
Thou who was rich beyond all splendor,
all for love’s sake becamest poor;
thrones for a manger didst surrender,
sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who was rich beyond all splendor,
all for love’s sake becamest poor.
Funny how we look forward to being “enriched” with Christmas presents, and hope for a prosperous New Year, when the Son of God impoverished himself by being born a man. We are most true to the “Christmas spirit” when, out of love for our neighbor, we make ourselves poorer by giving our resources, time, and attention to others for their enrichment. But this is only possible by the grace of God – may God help us give ourselves to others as Christ gave himself to us!
The birth of Christ will be the subject of my sermon this Lord’s Day morning. I’ll preach from Matthew 1:18-25, focusing on the salvation from sin Jesus came to accomplish for us.
At the evening service, I’ll preach from Psalm 146. You could say Psalms 146-150 are the original “Hallelujah Chorus,” each beginning and ending with the phrase “Hallelujah,” or in English, “Praise the Lord!”
We’ll observe the Lord’s Supper at the evening service.
I’m excited about a new adult Sunday School class Elder Rob Renner and I will be teaching beginning this Sunday. It’s based on the book Jesus on Every Page, by Dr. David Murray. The book’s purpose is to help us see how the entire Old Testament reveals to us the person and work of Jesus Christ. I hope this class will encourage us to read the Old Testament, and even more so, help us to know Jesus better. Here’s the website for the book.
Dates are set for next year’s Family Camp/Conference. At this point, I don’t know if it will be a camp, or a conference, or what exactly, but we do have a speaker! His name is Dr. Rev. Chad Van Dixhoorn (that’s him above). And we have dates: Friday, August 15th – Sunday, August, 17th. For more information on Dr. Van Dixhoorn, click here.
In the course of the week I read/scan several online articles and blog posts. I’d like to share a few you might find interesting or helpful.
First, Kevin DeYoung challenges a lackadaisical attitude toward church attendance in The Scandal of the Semi-Churched. I’m glad he wrote this post because the casual attitude of many Christians towards being at church on Sunday is a real problem.
Second, here’s a World magazine interview with one of my favorite Christian authors, J. I. Packer. Packer’s books Knowing God and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God made a deep impression on my thinking as a brand-new Christian. I first learned from him that God’s greatest purpose is not my salvation, but his own glory. For those of you who met Carl Trueman at our Family Camp a few years ago, you’ll be interested to know J.I. Packer considers him a candidate for something like “today’s J. I. Packer”! Also, Packer, an Anglican, makes a friendly critique of Presbyterianism (I’ll let you decide whether he’s right or not on that one).
Third, Al Mohler writes a very thoughtful reflection on the ambiguities of a great historical figures like Nelson Mandela.
Finally, here’s an useful article that should help if your blood boils at the sight of “X-mas” as a substitute for “Christmas.” Bottom line: “Xmas” is not what you think!
Sometimes I pray that God will re-ignite a passion in my heart for the simple truths of the gospel – the realities of sin, salvation, judgment, heaven, and hell. I still believe them and haven’t forgotten them, but I’m not gripped by the sheer urgency of the gospel as I ought to be.
Maybe your experience is similar to mine? When I first believed in Christ, it was like I had stumbled out into a burst of brilliant sunshine after walking for hours in a dark tunnel. In the light of God’s Word and Spirit I saw – maybe “felt” is better, since it was not mere understanding but deep conviction – truths I had never seen before, truths that were both awful and glorious.
The true nature of my sin, that it is wicked and damnable in God’s sight, was heavy on my heart. And the hopelessness of unbelievers was grievous to me. The sheer horror of the reality of hell made me shudder.
But I marveled at God’s grace to me. What ineffable love that he chose me - me! - for salvation! What wonder that Jesus Christ really and truly was God incarnate, and that he really and truly died on the cross - for me! What joy and freedom that my sins were forgiven!
Like a young man obsessed with thoughts of his bride-to-be, these gospel realities consumed me. I pondered them, read about them, talked to others about them.
But time passed and my initial zeal cooled off; I became even-keeled. I didn’t lose my love for Christ, but the sheer urgency of the gospel weighed less on my heart. When I light the charcoals in my Weber grill, after a healthy dousing of lighter fluid, at first they send up flames but later they smolder. In the same way the flames of my convert zeal died down to a calm smolder.
And then I got busy. Busy with work and school, busy with kids, busy in the ministry. I still believe in Christ as much as ever, but the pressing nature of gospel realities doesn’t burden me like I wish it would. The Bible says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). But I say to myself, “Now is the day the Visa bill is due, now is the day I must write my sermon, now is the day I must get the oil changed in the Camry.” I don’t like it, but the ordinary demands of life feel more urgent to me than the gospel.
Is it just me, or do others feel the same way? I suspect many other believers also struggle not to lose sight of the urgency of the gospel. Here are a couple of reasons for this challenge:
We are wholly satisfied with life in this world. It’s hard to look above and beyond this life to the life to come, when we are filled with so many good things in this world. The Lord warned the Israelites about this problem before he led them into the Promised Land. Once they had eaten and were full, and grew wealthy and prospered, they would soon forget the Lord their God who delivered them from their bondage in Egypt (Deuteronomy 8:11-14). When we are prosperous and full, we tend to do the same: forget all that Christ has done for us. And we lose a sense of the urgency of the gospel.
Death is distant. At least it is for most of us, most of the time. I’ve been a pastor for ten years and in that time I’ve only conducted one memorial service! But when I read of great spiritual awakenings among people who become gripped with the truth of the gospel, it’s often in an environment enshrouded by the pall of death. I think of Corrie Ten Boom’s experience in Nazi concentration camps (The Hiding Place) and or Ernest Gordon’s time as a Japanese POW in Burma (To End All Wars). Both tell of amazing revivals in the most nightmarish of circumstances. When death is near and can strike at any moment, by God’s grace the truths of the gospel hit home with intense power.
Now I don’t want to suffer poverty and hunger, or the fear of sudden death, but I do want to have a heart aflame for Christ and burdened with the spiritual realities of the gospel. I pray that instead of the affairs of everyday life or trivial distractions taking up all my thoughts, I might be experience the deep conviction of the truths I believe. O Lord, may I grieve my sin, weep over the lost, rejoice in salvation, and hope in heaven.
Your life is so short. Have you given thought today to life beyond this life? “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
bogenfreund via Compfight cc
The sun is shy these days in Alaska. Reluctantly he peers above the mountain peaks for just a few hours during the day, before hastily exiting the northern firmament to find some other place where he may linger long in the sky. There his cheery visage sends out warm and radiant beams on the favored land below, having bid us good night – a long and dark night!
But soon enough the sun will make Alaska his home again. And we’ll savor his company each day then, for as long as we miss him each day now. In the meantime, at least we can enjoy some nice sunrises and sunsets. I took the picture above from the church a few mornings ago.
And, our near-lightless days afford the perfect backdrop for considering the spiritual darkness that enshrouded the earth before the coming of the Sun of Righteousness. When we lived in our sin, what blackness enveloped us! But with the coming of Christ, light from heaven has dawned on earth, radiating the glory of God everyplace where Jesus is proclaimed. “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
At the morning service this Lord’s Day I’ll begin a three-part sermon series on the birth of Christ from Matthew’s Gospel. This Sunday we’ll consider Matthew 1:18-25. And at the evening service we’ll continue our study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. This week the subject will be the 4th Commandment (Q & A 57 – 62).
This blog post on evangelism both challenged and encouraged me. Are we afraid to tell others about Christ because we think all unbelievers are snarling atheists ready to take our heads off, forgetting that most people are simply lost and confused? Maybe so.
And this post on family worship is outstanding. It’s a bit long, but I guarantee you – and this is in writing! – if you take to heart what he writes, and begin (or continue) family worship at home, God will bless your family for it. It’s well worth reading, especially if you are the head of your household. Fathers, are you leading your family in worship? Read this and start.
Greetings from a wintry Wasilla! This morning freezing rain left a nice quarter-inch thick coat of solid ice on our little corner of the far north. The roads were as slick as a bobsled track (without, alas, the sidewalls to keep the cars on the street). However, this afternoon’s half-foot of snow should cover all that up very nicely! But enough of the weather….
Sunday services. This Sunday morning I’ll preach from John 19:1-16, in which the Jewish leadership compels a reluctant Pilate to condemn Jesus and sentence him to die by crucifixion. Pilate may have been reluctant, but his pusillanimous caving under pressure earned him special infamy forever enshrined in the creed: “crucified under Pontius Pilate.” But Pilate was only God’s instrument – what a mystery! – to bring eternal salvation to sinners through the death of Christ.
At the evening service we’ll consider the 2nd Commandment: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image” (Exodus 20:4). As with all the commandments, there is more here than meets the eye. These words have much teach us about how we are to worship the Lord.
Courage in the Ordinary. Robyn and I were blessed by this White Horse Inn interview with blogger Tish Harrison Warren. The subject is how God is active and working even in the mundane and ordinary, which is where most of us live. Listen to it, you’ll be encouraged. You’ll also like this very well-written blog post Warren wrote that led to the interview.
Courage in the Extraordinary. This is a superb article about a man of God you’ve probably never heard of, Paul Robert Schneider. His unwavering faithfulness to Christ as a Reformed pastor in Hitler’s Germany cost him his freedom and ultimately his life. It’s not a long article, but you’ll be inspired and encouraged by his example. May we have men like him in our day – preaching Christ at all costs and calling evil, evil! (I also liked the fact his last sermon was on Psalm 145, which I happened to preach from last week).
Family Camp/Conference Speaker. Rev. Dr. Chad Van Dixhoorn will be our speaker for next summer’s Family Camp/Conference (we need to work out the details of the format). Rev. Van Dixhoorn is Associate Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia, and teaches Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. He is an expert on the Westminster Assembly (the men who wrote our Westminster Standards), having edited a five-volume set of the minutes and papers of the Assembly.
We’re looking forward to having Chad, his wife Emily, and (hopefully) his five kids visit us next summer!
Jesus blasted the scribes and Pharisees for their rank hypocrisy: “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (Matt. 23:24). They punctiliously tithed mint, dill, and cumin, but “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23).
And they unwittingly demonstrated the truth of this charge when, after having condemned Jesus for blasphemy and having led him to Pilate to be crucified, they “did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover” (John 18:28). What pious and devout men, so conscientious to avoid uncleanness! Yet John doesn’t need to state the obvious: they were at that very same time defiling themselves with the blood of the innocent Son of God.
Last week I came across this article with an horrific example of how those who claim to be Christians can also strain out gnats while swallowing camels. It’s about a 13-year Washington girl who died in 2011 after suffering brutal (and truly sadistic) abuse at the hands of her adoptive parents. She was from Ethiopia and adopted in 2008 by a family that, according to the article, led a “lifestyle of devout, fundamentalist Christianity.” They homeschooled their children and lived in relative isolation, socializing with just one or two families besides their relatives (the article mentions their church but says very little about it). They prohibited most TV and access to the internet, the mother wore only skirts or dresses (no pants), and the father preached sermons to his family in the backyard.
Any story involving the abuse of children is heart-wrenching and morally revolting. But what makes this story all the more grievous is the religiosity of the parents. They claimed to be Christians yet at the same time abused a young girl until she died. Here was a home where television, the internet, and immodest dress were carefully avoided, yet unspeakable evil had free reign. Straining at gnats and swallowing a camel.
Though what took place with this family is an aberration (the article says, fairly, “It should go without saying that most devoutly religious adoptive parents, or conservative Christians parents generally, are not abusive”), it’s a tragic and very extreme example of a tendency we Christians must guard against. And that is, seeing sin and evil as something fundamentally extrinsic to ourselves, and not something that comes from within our hearts.
Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness, All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:22). Sin is not just something “out there”, but it’s also “in here”, in the heart. As one minister put it: The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.
I found this story of the abused girl hard to read, not only because it described a sickening evil, but because the parents had adopted (but made a grotesque caricature of) concerns common to Bible-believing Christians like myself. We do need to shelter our children, to some degree, from worldly influences prevalent in the surrounding culture. We also do need to provide Christian training for our children (homeschooling is one valid way to do that). Children do need to learn obey their parents. And godly modesty is important.
But how easily we begin to think we have properly dealt with sin if we have shielded ourselves from outside evil influences, or if we have embraced strict standards of dress and conduct. We deceive ourselves that way, and in the process we become increasingly blind to the sin that comes from within us. And before long we are straining out gnats and swallowing camels. An isolated, sheltered home is no safe haven from evil if those in it are not, by the grace of God, putting to death the sin in their own hearts. Where sin is unchecked, any home, no matter how sheltered or outwardly “Christian”, can become a house of horrors.
I believe the author of the article tried to be fair in not simply pinning the blame for the girl’s death on her parents’ Christianity. However, the slant of the article certainly suggests that aspects of conservative Christianity itself are partly to blame. And of course, for many secular readers, the easy take-away point from the story is simply: see how evil religion is (just read the reader comments for proof of this!).
What’s ironic about that response, however, is that it commits the same fundamental error I’ve described above. It locates evil not in the human heart, but in something external to it, in this case religion. More broadly, a worldview that denies the fall blames everything but man for evil: it’s the result of bad government, or poverty, or society, or a lack of education, and so on. So both those who commit such great evil, and those who condemn their religion for it, fail to reckon with the truth: the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.
The solution to the problem is the cross of Jesus Christ. He died to purify us from within, to give us a new heart. Let’s not turn the Christian faith into a religion obsessed with avoiding evil in the world, or with upholding standards of external appearance or conduct. Rather, focus on this: humbling yourself before Christ and tending first and foremost to your own heart.
Winter has arrived to Wasilla… finally! These are the trees behind our house. Notice how the snow is still on the branches? That won’t last long as soon as our annual, hurricane-force wind shows up – any day now, I’m sure.
Sunday Services. At the evening service I’ll preach from Psalm 145. Interestingly, there is a verse from this Psalm engraved on a doorway in the wall of one of the holiest sites in Islam, the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria. When they built the mosque, they used materials left over from a Christian church on the same site. So ironically (especially so given the horrible persecution Christians are now suffering in that nation), the Muslim worshipers who file out of prayers pass by these words (in Greek): “Thy Kingdom, O Christ, is an everlasting Kingdom, and Thy dominion endureth throughout all generations” (Psalm 145:13). What a testimony to the eternal reign of Jesus even in the very heart of a nation where so many oppose him!
At the morning service I’ll preach on John 18:28-40. Here Jesus – the judge of all! – is put on trial before Pilate.
Kevin De Young on Gay Marriage. Here’s a more optimistic, sort of, Christian take on our society’s rush to normalize gay marriage.
Calvin’s “Wonderful Exchange”. Lastly, a passage I read the other day from John Calvin’s Institutes. It’s one of his best!:
This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness. (from Battles’ translation, pg. 1362)
I don’t mean to pick on Peter but something I read in one of my commentaries on John’s Gospel (namely, that by Herman Ridderbos – dense but wonderfully insightful) helped me see Peter’s denial of Jesus in a brand new light.
We typically chalk up Peter’s dismal failure to confess Christ before his questioners to the fear of man. And I believe there’s no question that was a primary factor for Peter’s three-fold denial. Peter had courage in spades but he clearly lost his nerve when to affirm he followed Jesus meant risking his safety or even his life (of course the Peter in Acts is a different man – an utterly fearless preacher of Christ).
But was there a contributing factor to Peter’s denial? Ridderbos makes the point that Peter still hadn’t accepted the true nature of the way in which Christ would establish his Kingdom. Though Jesus had repeatedly taught his disciples he must suffer and die (and was once foolishly rebuked by Peter for such talk), to the very end Peter failed to grasp that the Christ could not enter his glory unless he first humbled himself, even to death. This is why, when Jesus dressed himself like a slave and began to wash the feet of his disciples, Peter would have none of it: “You shall never wash my feet!” (John 13:8). This was no way for God’s Messiah to act! And later that night in the garden, Peter literally violently refused to see Jesus taken away by the Roman soldiers and armed officers sent by the Jewish leaders. No way was he going to allow such a disgrace! Nobody binds God’s chosen King! A certain Malchus lost his ear to Peter’s sword before Jesus put a stop to his folly.
Peter’s problem was his faulty theology. His idea of Christ and the reign of Christ included only glory and triumph. Notions of a humble, servant-like Messiah, or a suffering Messiah, were as scandalous as they were virtually incomprehensible. And a Christ who would die the cursed death of crucifixion? Utterly offensive.
For this reason, perhaps, Peter had no more bravery left in him as he stood in the high-priest’s courtyard warming himself at the charcoal fire. He was fiercely loyal to Jesus, but could it be that then all his dreams of the glory and reign of Christ vanished like the smoke of the fire disappearing into the cold night? Was he more than merely afraid of his questioners – but also disillusioned, dispirited, and disabused of his Christ fantasies?
At heart, Peter failed to believe all that Jesus had taught him concerning his Kingdom – that the Scriptures and the will of his Father constrained him to humble himself, and to suffer and die. Peter denied Jesus that night because of this unbelief. The greater story, of course, is the love and mercy of Jesus who later restored him to himself.
But if Peter’s denial of Jesus stemmed from his bad theology – really, his unbelief – we can learn from his failure far more than the need to fear God over man. We need to know that, although the Christian life is one of joy and blessing, following Christ means walking in the path of humility, suffering, and dying to self. We should expect in this life disappointment, sorrow, frustrations, and inexplicable turns of events in God’s providence. Lest like Peter, we become so disillusioned when our Christian fantasies disintegrate, we fail to own Jesus as our Lord.
Will you confess Christ when there is no earthly gain from it? Will you own him even at times when it seems God has given you nothing but grief and pain? Confess him now in this sad world, in the midst of defeat and suffering, and he will confess you before his Father in heaven when he returns – this time in triumph and glory.
Jesus is sometimes called the Great I Am. This is because several times in John’s Gospel Jesus says the phrase “I am”, either by itself or as part of a longer statement. At least one time when Jesus says “I am”, he clearly alludes to the words that God spoke to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus: “Say this to the people of Israel, I AM has sent me to you” (Ex. 3:14). In other words, Jesus used God’s own self-identifying words to refer to himself. That was blasphemy to the ears of the Jews who heard this, and they picked up stones to put Jesus to death (John 8:58, 59). But since Jesus truly was and is the incarnate God, he could rightly refer to himself as the divine “I am”. And thus he is sometimes called today the Great I Am.
I suggest Jesus is the Great I Am in another sense. Also in John’s Gospel, when the arresting party arrives to take Jesus away to what would be his crucifixion, twice he identifies himself as the Jesus of Nazareth whom they are seeking. He does so with the same two words: “I am” (John 18: 5, 6). Here Jesus does not so much allude to his deity as the divine ”I am”, but rather with this terse self-identification he expresses his complete willingness to give himself up as a sacrifice for sinners. In this sense, too, he is the Great I Am: the obedient Son who voluntarily laid down his life to save sinners.
But then there is Peter. As John tells it, right after Jesus is led away to be questioned by the high priest, Peter is asked point-blank by others if he is one of his disciples. His answer? Not “I am,” but “I am not” (John 18:17, 25). Bold Peter, who intended to lay down his life for Jesus, fails to confess him as his master! Three times he denies Christ before the cock crows (did Satan crow, too?). At this point, Peter in his unfaithfulness is the Great I Am…Not.
We know all too well what Peter did, or rather failed to do. How many times have you, Christian, by your words or deeds, failed to acknowledge Christ as your Lord and Savior? Imagine an accuser asking you these questions, and the answers you would have to give:
Are you a disciple who is always faithful to Jesus? I am not.
Are you a disciple who never fails to speak out for Christ? I am not.
Are you a disciple who is always ready to die to self for the sake of Christ? I am not.
Far too often, our words must be the same as Peter’s… “I am not.”
But thankfully Jesus is the Great I Am. Now imagine God the Father putting these questions to his beloved Son, with his answers:
Are you willing to receive from my hand my people, whom I have chosen and loved from all eternity? I am.
Are you wiling to set aside your outward glory as the Son of God, and humble yourself by putting on human flesh? I am.
Are you prepared to suffer ridicule, shame, and abuse for the sake of saving my people? I am.
Are you prepared even to drink to the dregs the cup of my wrath for sinners, by dying on a cross? I am.
And because Jesus said, “I am,” by your faith in Christ here’s how you answer these questions:
Are you, in Christ, forgiven? I am!
Are you, in Christ, clothed with his perfect righteousness? I am!
Are you in Christ, free from all condemnation despite your failures and sin? I am!
Are you, in Christ, a son of God? I am! I am! Praise God – I am!
A beautiful morning in Wasilla, Alaska! I took this picture of Wasilla Lake on the way to the church this morning. You’ll notice the surface is starting to freeze. Like it or not, winter is coming our way!
Today I will try something new and see how it goes – a weekly roundup of church and family news, interesting links, and anything else that strikes me as worth putting on the blog. I’ll try to keep it short and sweet!
Men’s Prayer Breakfast – Saturday, 11/9. One Saturday a month some men from the church meet for fellowship and prayer. We’ll meet tomorrow morning and discuss this book: The Shepherd Leader at Home by Timothy Witmer.
Duncan family leaving Alaska. Ben and Kay Duncan and their five kids have been up here for about a year and a half. Ben is an Army chaplain and a minister in the PCA (Presbyterian Church of America). We’ve enjoyed having their family in the church but, alas, like all military folks who are stationed in Alaska, they have to move on. Ben filled the pulpit for me several times and his preaching was a blessing to the church.
Sunday services. At the morning service I’ll be preaching on Peter’s denial of Christ from John 18. In our own striving to be faithful to Jesus, we are not so unlike Peter. In the evening I’ll speak on the 1st Commandment as explained by the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
It’s never too late to memorize it! Speaking of the Shorter Catechism, I loved this notice in the latest New Horizons (the OPC’s monthly magazine): “The Shorter Catechism has been recited by: Roy Reid, age 92.” 92! What? Is that a typo?! Just amazing – congratulations to Mr. Reid for his good work.
When I’ve preached on the Parable of the Sower, I’ve thought that the thorn-infested soil best describes the spiritual danger that threatens faith in Christ in our particular day and age. In the parable, the seed sown in that soil fails to result in any fruit because the thorns choke the life out of the plant after it sprouts. Jesus explains that the thorns represent the “cares and riches and pleasures of life” that suffocate the incipient faith in the heart of the hearer, so that the Word of God sown there fails to produce any spiritual fruit (Luke 8:4-15).
Put another way, “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” are the distractions that can so easily turn us out of the way of following Christ. As Christians living in America in 2013, distraction poses a greater threat to the growth and vitality of our faith than outright persecution. The challenge is to remain steadfast in walking after Christ, resolutely and single-mindedly devoting our hearts to growing in grace and obedience, when the world offers a million other things to vie for our attention.
One way we get distracted is by overloading our lives with responsibilities and activities. “Busyness” plagues many of us: living harried, frenetic lives, we anxiously multitask and scurry from one thing to the next. This kind of incessant activity results in – and to our minds even justifies – no time left over to give to those things that nourish and strengthen our faith in Christ: worship, Scripture reading, prayer, and maintaining deep Christian relationships.
Even if we aren’t naturally prone to busyness, we live in a complex world in which mere survival means giving our attention to a hundred different little tasks and responsibilities. The wealth and prosperity we enjoy is a mixed blessing. Our homes, cars, boats and other “toys”, appliances, computers, electronic gadgets, etc., all require upkeep and maintenance. And, we always have bills to pay, phone calls to make, and e-mails to write. Life in a modern, prosperous, and technologically-advanced society makes enormous demands on our time. And we get distracted from what is most important – cultivating the life we have in Christ.
Another major distraction is our digital technology and social media. There’s always something new online to keep us interested and amused – unlike a book or movie, the internet and social media never “end”: a fresh facebook post, or Tweet, or Youtube video, or friend’s comment, or text, or news story, etc, constantly beckons. Smartphones – with their unceasing notifications – can be so powerfully habit-forming that smartphone addiction is a genuine problem for some. Perhaps that isn’t you, but if the thought of losing your phone strikes fear in your heart, then you have what has been coined “nomophobia” (no mobile-phone phobia)! If we cannot isolate ourselves from the constant flow of distraction and interruption these technologies provide, then how can we ever spend time in prayer or meditation, spiritual disciplines vital to our growth in grace (Psalm 1:1, 2; 119:1-16)?
Another way these screen technologies can distract us from our devotion to Christ is by so changing the way we read and receive information (skimming instead of careful reading) that we can no longer read the Scriptures in the slow, careful, meditative way we must if we are to profit from God’s Word. For more thoughts on this, see this post I wrote last week.
So distraction is a serious threat to our faith in Christ. But God gives us grace to meet this challenge in the form of two divine gifts:
1. The Sabbath. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27; cf. Exodus 20:8). The Sabbath – for Christians, the Lord’s Day (Sunday) – is a gift from God for our good: a day of rest from our usual work and activity, that we might devote ourselves to the worship of God and fellowship of other believers. If you seek to keep the Lord’s Day holy by taking a break from work and even from your usual recreation, if you will make going to church and fellowship a priority for Sunday, if you are willing to say “no” to every unnecessary demand on your time that day, then you will find that the Lord’s Day is a welcome respite from all the things that distract you throughout the week. It’s a day God gives you to focus on Christ – why shouldn’t you be blessed by it?
2. Wisdom. Part of the problem of distraction is that we often keep ourselves from the “best” by doing the “good”. In other words, many times the activities and demands that take our attention away from Christ are in themselves worthy things. When Martha was “distracted by much serving” and complained that her sister Mary left her all the work while she sat at Jesus’ feet and heard his teaching, Jesus said to her: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Mark 10:38-41). Martha’s serving was good in itself. But Jesus gently rebuked her because she failed to realize that, at least at that moment, Mary was pursuing something even better – sitting at the feet of Christ. You need wisdom to discern the best from the merely good, that you might not be distracted from spending time with the Lord. And God will give you this gift of wisdom if you ask: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).
The danger of distraction is that it keeps you from beholding “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Is there anything in your life that is drawing your attention away from looking into the face of Christ by faith? Is there something that prevents you from a wholehearted devotion to Jesus? Don’t allow the thorns of distraction to choke the life from your faith. Pray for a clearer vision of Christ and a greater steadfastness in following him. God is good, and he’ll answer your prayer of faith.
Photo by Nina Matthews Photography.