568) Too Many Distractions (part two)

 

     (…continued)  During a major league baseball game a few years back, a dog somehow got out onto the field and began wandering around, casually sniffing here and there as dogs do.  The game was stopped so that the dog could be taken off the field.  The umpires chased it, and called for it, trying to move it toward an exit.  Players were trying to grab it.  From the stands the fans were shouting a variety of things.  Some were saying angrily, “Get out of here you stupid dog,” others were saying kindly, “Here puppy, nice puppy, come here puppy,” and so on.  The dog became thoroughly confused, running here and there, not knowing what to do.  Finally, he just laid down on third base and refused to move.  A sports commentator summed up the scene well when he said, “The problem was that the dog could not hear any dominant voice.”

     Our world is filled with such conflicting voices, all clamoring for our attention, and all saying such different things about what is true and what is important.  What the Bible says can, in many places, look as foolish as it did to Paul’s Corinthian congregation where he had to argue for God’s Word saying, “the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).  That Greek and Roman wisdom so respected in Paul’s day is largely forgotten, but Paul’s words, this ‘foolishness of God,’ goes on in all its truth and power.  But it still has to compete with so many other voices, now more than ever, and we can be left confused.  But for those who will listen for it, that voice of the Good Shepherd still speaks, and can rise above all other voices.  But we do have to stop and listen for it.  The word of Jesus can be our ‘dominant voice,’ and we can put our trust in him and follow him.  “My sheep listen to my voice,” Jesus said adding, “I know them and they follow me.”  And then he finished by saying to those who do hear him, “I will give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”

     William Pitt was only 24 years old in 1783 when he became the Prime Minister of England and leader of the British Empire, making him at that time one of the most powerful men on earth.  Pitt died at the age of 46, after 23 years of leadership in parliament, 19 of those as prime minister.  He was a political genius and a natural leader.  Pitt’s best friend was William Wilberforce, another political genius who dedicated his whole life to ending the slave trade in Great Britain.  Both men were deeply involved in politics.  Wilberforce left time to listen to the voice of Jesus, whereas William Pitt did not.  Wilberforce shocked Pitt when he told him he had become a Christian.  William Pitt thought it was a foolish decision, and argued with Wilberforce about it.  Wilberforce, talking about this later in his life, said, “William Pitt tried to reason me out of my faith, but his weak arguments showed that his deep involvement in politics had left him little time for religious reflection.”  Pitt lived a life of incredible accomplishment, but left little time for the voice of the Good Shepherd.

     Many people are like William Pitt having one great distraction, others may have a hundred little distractions, but distracted we are, and for many, there remains little time for any thoughts of God or eternity.  Most folks do not choose to become atheists, but in practice they become atheists all the same, living as though God did not exist.  Our constant concentration on the here and now soon renders any thought of eternity irrelevant and unimportant.  There is only so much room in our head and so much time in our day, and if we fill our time and our heads with the things of this world, there will be no time or room left for any thought of the next world, or of the Lord who calls us to life in that heavenly kingdom.

     Puritan minister Richard Baxter advised his people with these words:

You must be sure that you know what is most important and most necessary, and you must let some of the rest go.  Know Christ, and you will know enough.  Know how to get to heaven, and you will have knowledge enough.  Remember the one thing needed.  Other things may be desirable and interesting to understand, but this you must understand, or you are undone forever.  If you had enough time, it might be interesting to learn everything in the whole Encyclopedia, but life is short, and we are dull; eternal things are necessary, and your souls are precious.  Hear, then, the word of the Lord, that voice of the good shepherd, and he will give you eternal life.

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CONNECTING, BUT ONLY BY GETTING DISCONNECTED:

We had a power outage at my place this morning and my PC, laptop, TV, DVD, iPad, iPod, and my new surround sound music system were all shut down.
Then I discovered that my iPhone battery was flat, and to top it off it was raining outside, so I couldn’t play golf.
I went into the kitchen to make coffee and then I remembered that this also needs power, so I talked with my wife for a few hours.
She seems like a nice person.

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I Corinthians 1:25  —  The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Luke 10:41-42  —  “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Hebrews 12:12a  —  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…

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St. Bernard was traveling with a poor, uneducated farmer, who boasted, “I’m never distracted when I pray.”  Bernard objected, “I don’t believe it.  Now let me make a bargain with you.  If you can say the Our Father without one distraction, I’ll give you this mule I’m riding.  But if you don’t succeed, you must come with me and be a monk.”  The farmer agreed and began praying aloud confidently, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name . . .”   Then, after pausing for a moment, he asked St. Bernard, “Does that include the saddle and the bridle, too?”

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Almighty God, you pour out your spirit and grace on all who desire it.  Deliver us, when we draw near unto you, from cold hearts and wandering thoughts, so that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

567) Too Many Distractions (part one)

          Tom Wolfe is a best-selling American author.  As a young man he worked for a newspaper.  Then he wrote ten non-fiction books.  He then wrote four novels, all which were very successful and made him famous.  He has also written hundreds of essays and articles.  He is now well into his 80’s and most would consider his life one of great accomplishment.

     But Tom Wolfe is not impressed with himself.  He thinks he could have done better.  He said he was not as focused on his work as he could have been.  Rather, he says, he has allowed himself far too many distractions.  What has been the cause of these distractions?  He blames much of it on the many conveniences of modern life that are supposed to save time and labor, but he doubts if they do that.  Cars do get us from point A to point B faster, but now we are on the go more, and much of our life is wasted, he would say, behind the wheel.  Think of the millions of hours spent in traffic every morning and evening rush hour.  The telephone makes communication so much quicker, but it can also interrupt one’s life and work with endless drivel– think telemarketing and political calls and surveys.  Computers speed things up a bit, but studies show astounding amounts of work time spent on computer games, social networking, and surfing the internet.  This is not to even mention the television, which could have been so useful in making education more efficient, but without a doubt has had a profoundly negative impact on the whole learning process.  He says we diddle around here and there with all these time and labor saving devices, and then at the end of the week we wonder where all our time went.  Tom Wolfe exaggerates and overstates his case, but you get the idea.  I am not about to get rid of my car, telephone, television and computer, but he has a point.

      To further explain why he is not impressed with his own literary output, Tom Wolfe refers to a French writer, Honore de Balzac (1799-1850).  Wolfe writes, “In light of my own meager output after 55 years of writing, I have become interested in this French writer Balzac, who published 60 books between the ages of 30 and 51.  I am convinced,” Wolfe goes on, “that the reason this genius was so productive was that he had NO time or labor saving devices whatsoever, not even a typewriter.  And so he dropped nothing and went nowhere to see anyone on a moment’s notice.  He did not stop to call anyone in Paris or London, and the phone never interrupted him.  He either wrote a note by hand, or said ‘the heck with it,’ and kept working.”

     The endless opportunities we have these days to do so many different things so quickly, has become also the means for endless distraction and diversion.  Of course, we need to do something with all that extra time that we save, and watching TV or surfing the net is more appealing than cutting and hauling the wood to heat the house, or pumping and carrying every bit of water that we need.  But does anyone think that our lives are more relaxed and calm today than 100 years ago when people did have to do everything by hand?

     None of this is new to you, but I want to point a few things this means for our spiritual life.  The Bible says that we need faith and Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes by hearing.  And in order to hear anything, we have to take the time to listen.  In John 10:27 Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.”  Christians are big on the hearing of God’s Word.  That is how we find out about God– about what God has done for us, about what God will do for us, and about what God expects of us.  In Jeremiah 23:16 God tells the people who they should be listening to.  “Don’t listen,” God says, “to the false prophets who are filling you with false hopes.”  But, he implies, that is indeed who everyone is listening to. “Who,” Jeremiah asks, “listens and hears the word of the Lord anymore?”

     “My sheep,” Jesus said, “ listen to my voice, and they follow me.”  The challenge to anyone who wants to follow Jesus today is that there are so many other competing voices.  We are nearing the end of another political campaign, with all sorts of competing voices, competing with each other and competing for our attention, while crowding out other important matters.  And politics is just one of many distractions.  There is all the other news, along with sports, and entertainment, to name a few things; along with the necessary voices concerning job and career; and also all the opportunities for pursuing personal interests, be it history, reading, travel, cooking, decorating, and so forth; with magazines and television channels and books and websites and experts in every area, all there for you to listen to and learn from.  And, we must listen for and keep up with all the information about health care options and insurance, financial management and investments; and of course, hearing from and keeping in touch with family and friends, in person, on the phone, by letter or by email.  There are a lot of voices out there competing for our attention.

     Therefore, it becomes difficult to sit still for even a 15 minute sermon without the mind wandering about, thinking about all the many other things going on in life; much less, sitting still for 10 minutes of personal devotional time each day.  And yet, where else can the Lord God Almighty get a word in edgewise?  As Jeremiah says, “Who has listened and heard God’s Word?”  (continued…)

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Romans 10:17  —  Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

John 10:27-28  —  (Jesus said), “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Jeremiah 23:16…18  —  This is what the Lord Almighty says:  “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes.  They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord… Which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word?  Who has listened and heard his word?”

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O God of Peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, that in quiet and confidence shall be our strength; by the might of Thy Spirit lift us, we pray, to Thy presence, where we may be still and know that Thou art God; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer