BELIEVE - TEN KEY
by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
February 5, 2017
TEXT: Matthew 6:33; Matthew 14:22-33
They say that confession is good for the soul - so I need to do just that as I begin my sermon today. I am one who can easily be distracted. There are just things that can easily take my focus on the issue at hand and get my mind to wandering to other things. It really drove my kids crazy when they were younger particularly when it came to playing sports.
For example, we used to have a ping pong table in our basement. On occasion, I would go downstairs to play with our son Nathan. When the ball would fall off the table, which it often did on my side I would go to pick up the ball and then I'd see something else that I needed to pick up while I was there - like trash on the floor or a game that needed to be put back on the shelf. So, while I was down there, I might as well pick it up and put it away before playing ping pong again. My mind wasn't singularly focused on the game - but on everything else in the room.
I did the same thing when Nathan and I would play badminton outside. While he was going to retrieve the shuttlecock that I had batted way out of bounds, I would look around and see weeds I needed to pull!
Well, I really don't play sports any more. But I still get distracted. My cell phone causes all sorts of distractions - along with checking my email or Facebook.
But what is really bad I will put a cup of coffee in the microwave to heat it up - and while it is heating up, I will go up to my bedroom with the focused purpose to get my Bible, let's say. As I walk to the bedroom to get my Bible, I see some mail that needs to be put away or some laundry that I need to take to the bedroom, since I am headed that way anyway. And guess what - I get to the bedroom and I think, "Now what did I come in here for?" and I never get back to that coffee cup, sitting in the microwave.
Is it just me - or can any of you relate to being easily distracted? We lead such busy lives - with all sorts of things that vie for our attention - it is sometimes hard to focus singularly on anything. But in our walk of faith, that is just exactly what we need to do.
Today we continue our series on Believe and we are looking at the 10 Key Actions that help us think and act and be like Jesus. And truly singlemindedness it something that permeates all our key beliefs to help us think like Jesus. Jesus truly is our perfect example of living a focused, single-minded life. He lived to do the will of His Father and glorify Him. Because we believe that the center of our life is God and that the Bible is the inspired word of God that guides my thoughts and actions - we act on those beliefs by focusing on God and letting Him shape our priorities.
All throughout Scripture, we hear that God wants to be first. He wants us to love Him first and foremost, with ALL our hearts and ALL our minds, and ALL our souls. Again and again, we are told to seek God wholeheartedly - and that we will find Him - and will know His presence, His guidance, His power and mercy. (Deut. 4:29) We are to fix our eyes on Him and follow Him solely and not be distracted by the things of this world. (Colossians 3:1-2) And Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount to: "Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously and He will give you everything you need." (Matthew 6:33)
To be single minded, means to be focused on ONE thing: to completely focus on God's will, to live for God and to trust God to take care of our needs. It means keeping our eyes on God - no matter what - in all situations and circumstances - and seeking to live His will and not our own.
So, the key question for us today is - how can I be single-minded in the midst of life's many distractions? How can I make God my top priority? Where is my focus? It makes a big difference where our focus is!
It did for Peter. Let's read his story found in our text today from the book of Matthew - the first book of the New Testament. Turn to Matthew 14 and we'll look at verses 22 to 33.
22 Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. 23 After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. 24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o'clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, "It's a ghost!" 27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. "Don't be afraid," he said. "Take courage. I am here!" 28Then Peter called to him, "Lord, if it's really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water." 29 "Yes, come," Jesus said. So, Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. "Save me, Lord!" he shouted. 31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. "You have so little faith," Jesus said. "Why did you doubt me?" 32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped him. "You really are the Son of God!" they exclaimed.
I must admit this is one of my favorite stories in the gospels. And I think it is really because I identify so much with Peter. I really try to keep my focus on God - that really is my desire. And as long as I do that, I can feel His peace and His strength and courage to get through life. It is like Peter walking on water.
Think about this. When Peter got out of the boat, the storm was still raging. Jesus hadn't calmed the storm yet. But Peter was able to walk on the water. Why was that? Just minutes before he, along with the other disciples were crying out in fear. How was Peter able to even get out of the boat? I think it was because he had focus and trust - he was single-mindedly looking to Jesus. And he knew he would be safe because his eyes were on Jesus.
BUT - what happened when he got distracted by the wind and the waves that were howling around him? He took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink. He lost sight of his Savior - of Christ's presence and power and promise - and all he could see was danger and fear.
Oh, how easy it is for us to be like Peter. We are walking along - everything is going well and we are feeling good about our journey of faith - but then something throws us for a loop. We get a bad report from the doctor, we have a financial crisis, or a loved one dies. Or maybe there is stress at work, our marriage is strained or our child rebels. What happens? Our focus shifts to the struggle and problem we are dealing with. And all the sudden we are filled with sleepless nights and anxious days - we feel like a burden is weighing us down, so much so we feel like we are drowning.
Or there may be times when we are filled with worry and dread - thinking about something in the future that may not even happen at all. Our thoughts entangle us and trip us up - as we anticipate the worst that might not even happen. We hear those voices inside of us saying how impossible or hopeless a situation is and we start to sink in fear.
Peter was sinking as he lost focus on Jesus. But he could get his focus back as he shouted: "Save me Lord." Even though the winds were howling and it all looked impossible, he remembered that the Lord was with him. Even though he knew that there was nothing he could do, he still trusted that there was something that Jesus could do - He could save him. And when Peter called out - Jesus was right there to lift him up through the storm.
Single-minded focus on Jesus is vital to our faith. We must free ourselves from those distractions and all those things that pull us away from our focus on Jesus. Hebrews 12 tells us to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
As it says in the Life Application Bible: "The Christian life is hard work. It requires us to give up whatever endangers our relationship with God. To live effectively, we must keep our eyes on Jesus. We will stumble if we look away from him to stare at ourselves or at the circumstances surround us. We should be running for Christ, not ourselves, and we must always keep Him in sight."1
But practically how do we do that? How do we keep Jesus in sight? We have so much on our minds and schedules - how do we "always" make Him our top priority?
Well, let me share with a mixture of some ideas I have gleaned from a pastor named Bob Shannon and from a devotional written by Max Lucado ideas that I think will help us put "first things first".2
Just imagine for a moment that I was to drop by your house one day with a foil covered plate. I say, "You know, a few days ago, I made a fresh apple pie. Oh, it was so good. It came out of the oven just so warm and juicy and the crust was so flaky. It was wonderful. Well, today, I was eating the last piece and I thought of you. And just before I took the final bite I put my fork down and thought, I'm going to take these crumbs to my friend."
Now - how would you feel?
Now, what difference would it make if I were to go over to your home and when you opened the door, you would find me standing there, oven mitts on my hand, saying, "I just pulled this apple pie out of the oven. It still is hot - but I got here as fast I could. I wanted you to have the first piece. In fact, I'm giving you the whole pie!"
Which gift would you prefer? Which one made you feel better? Well, God has given us the whole pie - He didn't give us crumbs or leftovers. In fact, He gave us His very best in sending us His Son. And in response, we need to follow His lead - and give Him our best and to put Him first in our lives.3
One way we can remember to put God first can be listed on the five fingers of your hand. And I would really like you to write these down so you can remember them. I invite you to find your bulletin insert that has a hand print on it. You'll see it says, "Give God Your Firsts" at the top. Follow along with the screen before you and write down these "firsts" that you can do to help you be single-mindedly focused on God.
We need to give God the first moments of every day. Which means we wake up and give God our first thoughts. When we wake up, our first thoughts should be of God - say 'Good Morning' to God. Praise Him for the new day and ask for His direction and wisdom for the day. Being single-minded requires making a choice every morning how we are going to live that day. I can consciously decide to be focused on Jesus and try to live His way. I get my mind focused through prayer and reading Scriptures and devotions - and listen for what God wants me to do that day. If I don't get focused on Jesus, I end up having a mind full of clutter - going this way and that, thinking all about me and my concerns or worries for the day. And then I end up starting my day without the strength and power I need. We all need to begin our days being renewed and strengthened by our heavenly Father. Starting our days with God means leaning on HIS strength rather than OUR strength throughout the day.
Give God the first moments of every day. And then, secondly, give God the first day of every week. Set aside that first day for spiritual and physical rest - just as it says in the 10 commandments: "Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy". God wants us to worship with God's people - and I believe He will bless the other six days of your week, when you begin the first day of the week with God in worship.
Why do we do that? As Max Lucado says, "God has something to say to you. He may say it through a hymn, through a friend, through a prayer, a message or a Bible verse."
"And God has something to say through you. The story is told of a west Texas rancher who attended the same church for decades. Even in his later years, when he was half blind and hard of hearing, he sat on the front row. One day a young man asked him: 'You can hardly hear and scarcely see; why do you keep coming to church?" The old rancher replied, 'I don't come for me; I come for you." What if your church attendance is less about what you receive and more about who you can encourage?4
Give God the first moments of your day; the first day of your week. And thirdly, give God the first tenth of every dollar. We are to honor God with the first fruits of our labors - bringing in that ten percent tithe into God's house. And God says - He will pour out a great blessing on us! (Malachi 3:10 and Proverbs 3:9-10) Everything we have is from God! Out of love and gratitude for Him, we should want to give Him our best. We are so tempted to give God our leftovers. After we pay our bills, buy our food and have a little entertainment - then maybe we'll give if we happen to have anything left-over. But God wants us to put Him first. Giving to God first shows that God has first place in our life and that our resources belong to Him. And as we give, Jesus says, we will receive blessings upon blessings.
Next, we give God the first consideration of any decision. We are so in need God's wisdom and direction. All too often, we say, "Ok God, I've made a decision and now it is Your turn to bless it." When what we need to say it "God, I have a decision to make - what is Your will - how do you want me to act - where do you want me to go?" What a difference it would make in our lives if we stopped to ask God for help instead of running ahead of Him and going by our own faulty thoughts and ideas. Proverbs 3:5 & 6 tells us that we are to "Trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not into our own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him - and He will direct our paths."
Finally, we are called to give God first place in our hearts. Jesus said our heart cannot not be divided - we can't serve two masters. God must have first place in our heart as our Lord and Master. I John 5:21 says, "Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God's place in your hearts." Many things can take God's place in our lives - our family, our friendships, our favorite pastimes, even things like technology and social media or even politics. But Jesus Christ is to be central in every part of our lives - guiding our every thought, our every action and every relationship. He is to have the first place in everything - our sole focus in life.
You know what is amazing - when we give God all our firsts - God gives us incredible blessings - all that we need! C. S. Lewis put it this way: "Put first things first and second things are thrown in. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things."5
Remember you have a Father who knows what you need. Seek Him first and live righteously and He will give you everything you need.
1NLT Life Application Bible. Tyndale Publishers. 2013. Note found on page 2108 for Hebrews 12L1-4
2Oppenshaw, Mike. Believe - Singlemindedness. lightcc.org. Pastor Oppenshaw got the idea of the "5 Secrets to a Successful Christian Life" from a pastor named Bob Shannon. Pastor Oppenshaw put these 5 "Secrets" onto a sermon guide that had them spelled out on a hand-print, which is where I got the idea for my simplified bulletin insert.
3Lucado, Max. First Things First - January 1, 2017. maxlucado.com/first-things-first
The story of the apple pie was a re-write of a story that Max Lucado told about a
4Lucado, Max. First Things First - January 1, 2017. Maxlucado.com/first-things-first
5Livermore, Pastor Chris. Believe 14 - Single-Mindedness. January 25, 2015. First United Methodist Church, Murrysville, PA. CS Lewis quote found in this sermon.