Spiritual ADHD

Have you ever told your kids to do some chore or another, but they get distracted along the way? Likewise, have you ever done this yourself, wondering what it was you meant to do before you got distracted? We sometimes joke that we may suffer from an attention deficit disorder, but, in our Christian lives, we might catch ourselves suffering from spiritual-ADHD. We may have the best of intentions, but the various cares, influences, and distractions of this world pull us away from our mission as Christians.

In Luke 2:49, Jesus asks His earthly parents if they are not aware of his focus – that He must be about His father’s business. His ministry is not something that is haphazard. It is one that is planned and purposeful. It is done with the help of others around Him, and His ministry is fulfilled with great inconvenience and pain to Jesus Himself.

Focused On Our Father’s Business

In Matthew 28:18, Jesus tells His disciples to go and make more disciples from other nations. This is not something that happens on accident, nor does it come easily. This is a mission that takes planning and purpose. Jesus says, in Luke 19:10, that His mission is to seek out and save the lost. This is in the context of Zacchaeus who needs to make corrections in his life, and Jesus is setting an example to those around Him who need to change their hearts. Nothing accidental or coincidental is involved here. Jesus is prepared to complete His mission, knowing where and how to look. I Timothy 2:2 encourages us to entrust the gospel with others who will continue the cycle. Passage after passage reminds us to be active in our ministry. We cannot be distracted.

God expects us to grow, both spiritually and in numbers. God’s mission to us, however, is not to recruit members from other congregations. It happens, but this is not true church growth. When we gain members in this way, our effort should be to let them feel at home and put them to work. Our main source of growth, though, should be converting the lost. For this to be accomplished, each Christian needs to be involved. We cannot remain inactive and expect those who need the gospel to accidentally appear in our midst. Jesus’ focus is on the lost, and we should be working to maintain the same focus, not being distracted by what we think we can’t do.

To keep our focus, we have to build one another up. Jude 20, Ephesians 4:12, I Thessalonians 5:11 and 14, and many other verses stress the importance of encouraging one another. God expects us to be evangelistic, but He also expects to build each other up. When we actively work to keep each other focused on our goal, then it becomes easier for each of us to stay on the road to Jesus.

Working With Purpose

Our work as Christians does not come easily, not will it happen on accident. I may meet with discouragement and frustration, but I should be putting planning and effort into my work to help me overcome these obstacles. Remember, Jesus faced discouragement. He wept over the lost. He wept over the sate of His people. Still, He pressed on because His focus was on the Lord and the work set before Him. He planned to work for the purpose set before Him.

He brought in others to help Him, reaching out to others for their cooperation and commitment. His followers came from various locations and backgrounds, but they all worked together with one focus set before them, each one inviting others to come and share in the Lord’s work. Acts 6 shows disciples pulling together to help needy widows. Acts 8 records Peter redirecting Simon as a stumbling new convert. Acts 15 has Christians meeting with the elders in Jerusalem to scripturally work out a doctrinal dispute. Growth can produce problems, but willing cooperation helps us through these.

The Christians of the first century brought services into their homes. They changed their personal budgets. Jesus said He had no home in which to lay His head. Countless examples gave up much or all to follow Christ, putting away worldly distractions to give themselves to the Lord. Our society spoils us with instant gratification, but we might be more satisfied if we nurture patience and persistence in our lives.

Conclusion

Our spiritual mission will have periods of success. It will have periods of difficulty. Jesus gives us an example of patience and focus, and we should be emulating that example. The world may be pulling at our attention, but our purpose should be centered on God, encouraging one another, and inviting others to join us.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Be the Change You Look For

Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus is not an individual many of you may be familiar with, but you are probably familiar with his assertion that “change is the only constant.” While there indeed may be “nothing new under the sun” in God’s eyes, we live in a culture that is ever-changing, that is always in motion.

The concept of change has been a prevalent topic this year due to one of our presidential candidates whose campaign platform is built upon the notion of change. Barack Obama uses the slogan: “Change You Can Believe In,” and on February 5, 2008, he made his now famous quote: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” In this statement, he’s combining and paraphrasing calls to action made by other influential leaders. I think Hopi spiritual elder Thomas Banyacya coined the phrase, “We are the one’s we’ve been waiting for,” and Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi said, “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Creating or Reacting to Change

Too often, we do not live the change we want to see around us. Like Heraclitus says, “Change is the only constant.” The world around us changes day by day whether we want it to or not. It changes in ways we may like or dislike. Albert Einstein, Amelia Earhart, FDR, Martin Luther King, Jr., Winston Churchill, Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Darwin, Socrates, Pablo Picasso, Herman Melville, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allen Poe, Gustav Mahler, Francis Crick, Jackson Pollack, Bob Dylan – these and more are the game changers. They are “the crazy ones” as an ad for Apple Computer once put it. Regardless of how you personally feel about any of these individuals, they are world changers. Rather than being shaped by change, they did the shaping.

Unfortunately, we often respond to the idea of change in one of two ways. We might be “tossed to and fro” as the Christians in Ephesians 4:14. In other words, we might be unable to discern between good changes and bad changes and we just go with the flow. Alternatively, we might be more like the children of Israel as Moses was leading them to the promised land – grumbling all the time but effectively doing nothing to help. We are the perpetual armchair quarterbacks, calling shots to people who do not hear us, who will not feel the consequences nor the benefits, but fooling ourselves into believing we’re helping.

One thing all of those individuals named earlier had in common was they didn’t get anything done by sitting around on their couches and griping. Every one of those people changed the landscapes of their specific disciplines and the world because they stood up to be noticed. They took risks. They suffered indignities, ridicule, and some died for their causes, but they made a difference. Can we say the same, or are we content being swept about by change or merely complaining about it to those who already agree with us?

Living Change In the Bible

The Bible, Old Testament and New, is filled with individuals and groups of individuals who stand out as heroes to us because they lived the change they wished to see. Where others shirked, they charged forward. In this lesson, we’re just going to take a look at three isolated examples and some results of their actions.

Joshua

We are familiar with the events of Numbers 13-14, even if we tend to forget the events belong to this book. This is the initial inspection of Canaan by the spies of Israel, and, in chapter 13:27-33, an overwhelming majority say the land is unconquerable. Caleb tries to persuade the people that they can overcome the odds, but he is quickly shouted down. In chapter 14:6-10, Joshua attempts to rally the people, reminding them the Lord is with them. As a result, he is very nearly stoned.

Joshua has already seen how the people reacted to Caleb. He could have just gone with popular opinion. He could have been caught up in the fear, uncertainty, and doubt all around him. He could have also just kept quiet but complained to Caleb and Moses later about the stubbornness of the people – if only they had faith in God. He could have done these things, but he doesn’t. He tries to make a difference, and he continues this pattern for his whole life. The result? Judges 2:7 records that the people serve the Lord under Joshua and under the elders who outlive him. He makes a difference that impacts a whole generation of God’s followers.

David

I Samuel 17 records David’s confrontation with the Philistine warrior Goliath, a man described in gigantic proportions and armed to the teeth. In verses 8-11, Goliath challenges Israel to send out a champion to challenge him, but King Saul and his soldiers cower in fear. Finally, the young shepherd David answers the call, but his brother ridicules him. The king tries to dissuade him, but David is adamant, and, in verse 37, he states confidently that he believes the Lord will deliver Goliath into his hands and change imminent defeat into victory.

We know David finds success with only the most humble of tools, but would it not have been easier for him to view Goliath as someone else’s problem. After, David is not a soldier. His place is in the fields. He could have just turned around and gone home, trusting that somebody would take care of the problem. Likewise, David could have sat around asking, “Why doesn’t someone do something?” “Why don’t we just throw all of our troops at him. That will end the problem quickly.” He could have done that, but he doesn’t. He put his faith in God and makes a difference. As a result, he is remembered as a man after God’s own heart, he is in the lineage and a shadow of Christ. He is a hero of the Old testament because he tried to live the change he wanted to see.

The Early Christians and Apostles

We wrap up with a group instead of an individual. These are the people who, in Acts 8:4, continue preaching and teaching even as they flee persecution. These are the people who, like Stephen in Acts 7, stand before the Pharisees and proclaim Christ, even unto their deaths. They are people like Peter in Acts 2, who stands and preaches Christ to the very people who had participated in His crucifixion – a mob that could have quickly turned on him as well. They are the ones praying by rivers, teaching in synagogues, enduring imprisonment, stonings, and torture while continuing their ministry. We know Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Silas, Aquila, Priscilla, Apollos, and others while many remain nameless. All of these, however, persisted in living the change the world needed and still needs.

Any of these could have dropped out at any time. I’m sure some did. I believe Paul and Peter both knew what fates awaited them should they continue to preach Christ. It would have been easier for Stephen to just give up and placate the Jews who accused him of blasphemy. Paul would have avoided many stonings had he just reentered Pharisaic practices. Peter and John could have avoided further imprisonments had they only followed the decree to stop preaching Christ in Acts 4:18. These individuals and more continued to work for change though, and the result is recorded in Acts 17:6 when the rioters cry out that these men “have turned the world upside down.”

Our Life of Change

Our goal should be nothing short of the accomplishment of those early Christians: turning the world upside down. We should be wanting to change the world, but it begins within ourselves. We cannot wait for change to sweep us off our feet, nor can we sit idly by griping about things we allow to be taken out of our hands. We need to take charge of our lives, and be the change we want to see. We can’t wait for others to do it. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Change is constant. We can either be victims of change, or we can be instruments of change.

 

Shamgar and an Imperfect Tool

Numbers 32 records the children of Israel beginning to occupy Canaan, but the tribes of Reuben and Gad  have found contentment in the land east of the Jordan River. Moses, though, rebukes them for thinking about abandoning their brethren in t heir efforts to move forward. Likewise, a lack of participation in God’s work can discourage or hold back our brothers and sisters. We convince ourselves that we are incapable of adding anything significant to God’s mission. However, in this lesson, we’re going to take a look at a relatively insignificant Bible figure who has a large impact.

From Joshua to Judges

Joshua 13:1 records that Joshua has grown old, and God acknowledges this while noting that much work remains to be done. From here, we read of the positive impact Joshua has on Israel, but, in Judges 1:21 begins recording how the people begin to fall short of God’s expectations for their conquest of the land, and some of them are even driven back by verse 34. Judges 2:1-3 then records a warning from God that these people whom they have not driven out will be problematic for Israel in the coming generations, and this begins to happen in verses 12-13 of that same chapter.

During these times, God raises up judges, and one of these is Shamgar who is mentioned in Judges 3:31. This is one of only two verses he’s mentioned in, and the other is Judges 5:6, when Deborah sings of his time in which it wasn’t even safe to travel. He is not a judge under easy circumstances.

Lessons from Shamgar

There are some lessons we can take from these brief verses about this judge. Shamgar uses those tools available to him, and he accomplishes much with insufficient equipment. An oxgoad is basically a sharpened stick with which to poke a beast of labor to keep it working. It is not a weapon. It is an imperfect tool for the job. With this in mind, look at Exodus 4 while God is telling Moses of his mission. In this, Moses is citing his imperfections and faults that make him unsuitable, and God responds by using Moses’ staff as a demonstration of His power. In God’s hands, imperfect tools and imperfect people become mare than what they believe they are.

He rises to the challenge before him rather than passing responsibility to someone else. He does not neglect his responsibility, and he demonstrates that great good can result from a single act. The very last part of Judges 3:31 states that he delivers, or saves, Israel in this act. Little is recorded about this man, but he saves Israel in one verse. He could have hidden from this responsibility because of feeling inadequate to the task, and it would have been up to someone else to keep Israel on the right path. He could have delegated this task to others he felt are more qualified, but he does not. He demonstrates that a single act of determination can have great results.

Our Application

God simply asks us to use what we have available to accomplish His will. We may consider ourselves or the tools available imperfect to the task. However, how often in the Bible do we see God’s will accomplished through imperfect people? David, Rahab, Peter, Paul – none of these are people who we might consider suitable to do God’s will. God uses us if we but decide to face the challenges individually. We are responsible for doing God’s will ourselves, and a single act on our parts can produce much good.

Matthew 25:34 is in the midst of Jesus speaking about the Judgment, and what does He cite as the works of His disciples? He speaks of the small acts of kindness they had performed toward their fellow man. Single acts accomplish great good. Ephesians 4:16 speaks of Christians being knit together, being united, in individually working toward building each other up. “With God, all things are possible.” The very nature of faith says I can do what I would be otherwise unable to do. We can use what we already have to do God’s will as Shamgar and so many other heroes of the Bible have done.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Small Things

Where do I fit into the work of the church? I might look at what others are contributing and think, “I can’t do that,” “I don’t have the resources of that person,” and I might talk myself out doing what I can after comparing myself to others. We might be unable to see where there is room for the individual contributions each of us can make.

In this lesson, we’re going to look at four individuals who might have been considered insignificant but had great impacts for God’s cause.

Small Examples of Significance

Luke 19 introduces us to Zacchaeus. He is a small man in stature and in the eyes of those around him. He is a tax collector – a profession despised in all times and all cultures. Still, this man desires to see Jesus, and Jesus agrees to come to his house, causing dissension among others around Him. Zacchaeus simply welcomed Jesus into his home – showing hospitality. The end result of these actions are repentance and salvation.

Mark 12:38 leads up to the introduction of a poor widow who has no recorded name in the Scriptures. We know nothing of her outside this one simple act of self-sacrifice. While the wealthy make great shows of their vast contribution, this widow makes the greatest sacrifice – giving out of her need. Her status and monetary contribution are small, but her spiritual sacrifice is great.

I Kings 19 records Elijah fleeing to Sinai after Jezebel places a bounty on his life. After forty days and nights on Sinai, feeling himself a little man, accomplishing nothing, God appears to Elijah. A strong wind rips rocks off the mountain. An earthquake shakes the land. A great fire appears, but God is in none of these. Instead, God appears as a whisper, greatness wrapped in smallness.

Finally, II Kings 5 introduces us to a Syrian commander named Naaman. He is described as a great man who is unfortunately beset with leprosy, and he has a humble maiden who serves his wife. She’s a nobody, but her advice leads to Naaman’s cure – a cure that requires him to humbly obey Elisha’s word. These small factors lead Naaman to proclaim his knowledge of God.

Our Own Greatness in Smallness

What does God expect of us? Does he expect us to move mountains with every act, or is He looking for the small contributions we can make? Matthew 25:31 begins depicting a scene of the judgment, and Christ lists small acts of service as what His followers have done for His cause. They have shown generosity, kindness, and mercy to those around them in the small things they could do.

We should not begrudge those who can accomplish more, but we should recognize that God smiles upon those small things we can do as well. Andrew, in John 1, simply goes and gets his brother Peter to see Jesus – a small act with great consequences. Paul frequently mentions those who encourage him in his letters. Barnabas is recognized for the encouragement he is to others.

There are a lot of little things we can do, and these can add up to something bigger. Elisha, the poor widow, Naaman’s servant, and Zacchaeus all serve as illustrations of how small actions can have big consequences in our work for the Lord.

lesson by Tim Smelser