We all know what is right. But do we know what is important?
When I was little, I often struggled with priorities. Truth be told, I still do and I am guessing most of us find ourselves setting out with great intentions to accomplish something specifically only to find that we get distracted by other things that keep us from properly managing our lives as we’d like or probably should and we feel totally exhausted by the process. Just yesterday I had plans to clean and reorganize my office which had been a bit ignored for a while. So I got up earlier than I would normally have on Saturday, showered and, after making coffee and having some prayer time, I realized that I hadn’t finished a couple of things around the house from Friday. So I spent the next hour completing them and my wife, Paula woke up and I remembered that we had talked about hanging out together and I really wanted to do that and since the car needed gas and Saturday was the farmers market. And we wanted to stop by and see the grandkids…and on and on and on. My original project didn’t get completed as planned and that lack of organization will probably cost me a lot of time next week and I will likely miss opportunities to spread the gospel because of it.
Everything I did was right. But I didn’t do what was most important.
Scripture tells us that others have also been distracted. We find Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “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.”
Both of the women knew who Jesus was and set out to please him. But as he says is verse 40, Martha was distracted. Was she doing what was right? Of course. But it was not what was important.
Distractions are a form of temptation. Paul tells in the Philippians 4:8
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
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.
The church at Philippi was going great…they were doing the work of the Lord and giving willingly. But Paul knew how the enemy works and he was cautioning them to keep their hearts and minds covered in things that keep them on track.
He tells the Corinthians in his 1st letter to them in how difficult it is to stay focused on the Lord. 1Corinthians 7:32-35
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
Are the men in women doing what is right in this passage? Sure! But they have to determine what is important if they are going to be devoted followers of the Lord.
My wife and I keep a fairly neat and organized home. In the past, we have had expensive furniture and rare collectible items. We always said we decorated and lived with the stuff. My son and his wife and their 2 children live in their home and decorate around their life. Are both ways right? Sure. But like Martha, it was easy for my wife and I to miss the more important part of enjoying the presence of our grandchildren.
Through the writings of the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Solomon, the wisest man ever to live, explains that even he can’t keep from being distracted. He talks about seeing and trying “everything under the sun” and finds it all meaningless. His conclusion in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments (emphasis mine),
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.
Did Solomon do a lot of things right? Absolutely! And God blessed him with wisdom and wealth beyond compare. But he took his eyes off of what was really important and his kingdom collapsed. In 1 Kings 11: 9 and following
The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.” Then the Lord raised up against Solomon an adversary…
We could go on and on and talk about Ananias and Sapphira and the good they did by giving so much to the early church but missed the important point. Or Peter being corrected by Paul at the council in Jerusalem. We could spend hours talking through the book of James who explains to us what it means to have real faith but tells us that faith without works is dead.
Today, most Americans, especially men, are fathers are in a lot of trouble and are struggling with what is important.
Tonight, about ¼ of the boys in America under 18 will be home without their biological dad. We shake our heads in disbelief but the statistics are really not good.
• 40% divorce rate in America
• 88% of all men here in Indiana not in church on Sunday
• 64,000 kids in Northeast Indiana living in fatherless homes
And we think this stuff isn’t our responsibility.
Here’s the thing. Men don’t intentionally fail. They do a lot of things right. But they get wrapped up with a society that says it’s important to be happy so leaving an unhappy family and marriage is okay. They do the right thing according to what they have learned growing up, by what the news media says and by what other men…even Christians are doing. But they are not doing what is important to God.
I grew up on an old fashioned Catholic family. My mom was 1 of 5 children and my dad was 1 of 7. All but 2 were married and only 1 divorce. Their offspring yielded 10 divorces that I’m aware of and very likely more. And our children will undoubtedly divorced at a higher rate that our generation. And the pattern continues. Do these men and women plan to fail? Did they start out doing the right thing? Maybe? But the importance of love, honor and respect for each other and for God the creator has been replaced with the importance of self-fulfillment.
There is a lack of fruit growing today…fruit that comes from life by the Spirit. In Galatians 5: 16 and following
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
I have done a lot of research about the early church and thought a lot about why we churches today seem to struggle in the area of discipleship. If any of you followed the Bible AD series last year on TV, you were made aware of the violence that was a part of normal life in the first century. Rome was not afraid to punish and persecute the Jewish nation. The Jews who heard the Good News of Jesus salvation were delighted to have an alternative to the tyranny from the Romans that Christianity offered. When Jesus promised his followers that they would suffer because of Him, they were willing. Many were just excited to get away from the oppression from the Roman emperors and the Christian movement was a great escape. When 4000 joined and were baptized, there was a certain percentage that just followed the crowd. But Jesus was willing to use all who joined in and used those who were committed to disciple those who were unsure. That process caused a revolution and many of our churches today were a result of that discipleship effort. Just because someone comes to church doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t need some discipleship.
Why don’t we do what the early Christians did? Why have we built church buildings and our congregations have dwindled? With all of the communication tools we have today…cell phones, internet, mail delivery, UPS… Why aren’t we getting more of the word out so that people are knocking our door down to get in? People are different and the world is different and we have to be different. It is harder today because Satan has lulled Christians in to complacency for about 1800 years. It began when Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, was baptized around 315 AD. Since then, we have not been persecuted as Christians and we are casual about our willingness to suffer for our faith. We don’t pursue others who are in need of a savior and our churches continue to decline.
In our churches today, we actually know the truth. We know what is right. And it is a fantastic opportunity. But we have to meet the lost where they are just as Jesus did. Jesus went to the streets, to the markets and to the synagogues to teach and train. He spoke in terms they all understood. His message was relevant and important.
Today, our efforts have to be different. We have to go see those that we know and who we are relevant to. Then we have to do like Paul did in 1 Corinthians 9:20 “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law”
We are responsible for our world today. Jesus explains in Matthew 25: 31-46 in the Parable of Sheep and the Goats
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’hen he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Jesus commissioned the church to win souls…to disciple others…to be part of the winning team. Praise God, we are on the winning team. Whether it at shortstop, 2nd base or in the outfield, we get to play. Now maybe you’ve been on the bench for a while because you’ve not been feeling like playing the game. This is a new season and the odds are in your favor. You have the number one coach in the league. His name is I AM. Your pitcher is undefeated. His name is Jesus. And your pinch hitter always hits a home run. His name is the Holy Spirit. There is no other team like it. And you are on the starting lineup this year. Your role isn’t just important. It’s mandatory.
I always love it when a team starts their game with a prayer. Here is my prayer for today!
Lord God, Heavenly Father…the great I AM. We come to you today ready to put on our new uniforms. We want to be a part of your team. We have already completed the try out phase and now we want to be on the team. We want to win. And we know we will win! Jesus guaranteed it with his death and resurrection. Sure, we’ve had a lot of seasons that seems like losing seasons. But these were building years. You have been training us and conditioning us to be on the winning team. Father, help us do the things that are most important in order for the glory of your Kingdom to shine through us. And not just in this building on Sunday but through our lives every day of the week. Father, we know that the late innings of every game are the most difficult. Will you fill us with your Spirit so that we can complete the task? We long to hear the words, “well done, good and faithful servant”. Father, give us the strength and the will to become all that you created us to be…in the precious and great name of Jesus, we pray.