Paying Attention to God

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John 6:60-69

There was a farmer who scratched out a meager living off a terrible piece of farm land in South Carolina. He had the worst time growing crops on his land before he finally, after a particularly sad harvest, gave up, sold his land, and went to work in a factory. The man who bought his land noticed the poor vegetation on the property. He therefore didn’t pay much for the acreage. One day, walking over his property, he noticed a strange outcropping of white rock. He had always been interested in geology. He chipped some of the rock and took it to a geologist friend for analysis. To make a long story short, he eventually sold the property for millions. His land contained a huge deposit of a mineral used in the processing of aluminum and other metals. One man was on the land and didn’t notice its value. Another man’s background and curiosity led him to discover something wonderful.

As teenagers, we closed our Sunday night youth group meeting as we all gathered in a circle, held hands, closed our eyes and sang, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full at his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” As teenagers, jerked around by our emotions, our hormones, our fears and dreams, it was difficult to be attentive. Therefore we rightly sang, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.”
That, one might say, is the goal of all our worship.

Now that same day (resurrection day) two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. Some women went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

The poet, Robert Browning, spoke of the difference between the sort of person for whom almost every common bush is afire with the presence of God and other people who just walk by the bush picking blackberries. It’s all a matter of perception, attentiveness. It takes guts to pay attention, to try to look the world in the face. Taking notice of the world is a courageous, moral act. I have sympathy with those who check out, who comfort themselves with simplistic, reductionistic clichés and platitudes, who stop asking, cease probing, reaching out, touching or being touched. Yet my sympathy makes me respect all the more those who dare to pay attention. The cost of consciousness is great. Pain is the price we pay for attention. Life is not really lived unless it is lived in a state of consciousness. An agnostic believes that when the bear climbs up the mountain there may or may not be something on the other side. On the other hand, what do you call someone who is too lazy or too cowardly even to climb up the mountain and dare to look?

I want us to think of your presence here in church this Sunday as paying attention. You are a member of a minority of modern Americans who have expended the time and effort to attempt to love God, and to risk thereby being loved by God. While visiting up in the Black Hills, I was able to go into a number of art shops. Art is learning to pay attention to the world because people paint life. My daughter Brooks loves Monet, however, when I look at an impressionist painting I want to adjust my glasses because it seems out of focus. I want “realism.” If you’ve ever noticed art, you know that it takes time, training. You get better at noticing it as you go along. When you first look at a great painting, it may not seem great to you at all. It takes time to know what the artist is up to, how the painting is asking you to expand your ways of seeing and knowing. In today’s Scripture, Jesus steps out before his disciples and says “eat my flesh and drink my blood”. It’s a shocking statement. Maybe he had to shock them in order to get their attention. Earlier he had called himself “bread that came down from heaven”. But here, when he says, “eat my flesh,” we perk up and wonder what on earth (or heaven) he is talking about.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. There are so many things in our world that conspire to distract us, to keep us from being attentive to God. Our world has powerful forces that mitigate against an awareness of the presence of Christ among us. Therefore we gather on Sunday in an earnest effort to pay attention.

Paul was right when he wrote to the Hebrews, Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Open Up the Windows

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Daniel 6:10

Real prayer comes not from gritting our teeth, but from falling in love. The story is told around Washington about former presidential assistant Bill Moyers, who has a strong Baptist heritage and is presently a popular political commentator. Moyers was giving thanks at a lunch with President Johnson.
His prayer was interrupted by the President, who said, “Speak up, I can’t hear you.” Muttered Moyers, “I wasn’t speaking to you, Mr. President.”

Jesus said, when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Dwight L. Moody had a practical mind that never let a meeting get out of hand. Long public prayers particularly irritated him. Once he told his song leader, Sankey, “Lead us in a hymn while our brother is finishing his prayer.”

There are three rules about a prayer life if you want God’s blessing. Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. RULE 1: We must not let anything shut down our prayer life with God. Daniel knew that it was a foolish decree that Darius had made. Daniel knew that there were those who were trying to destroy him. The easy solution would have been to “give in” and go along with the majority. Even though Daniel knows that it is against the law, he is going to be disobedient! Darius is not a god and Daniel will not pray to what would constitute an idol. Daniel will not stop talking to his God.

Jesus’ disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread-which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Even with the windows open and his voice heard on the city streets, Daniel is going to pray.

Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed….RULE 2: Prayer should become a routine part of every day. Anything of importance must be a part of a daily routine. Prayer isn’t just when we are in difficult times – if it is, that says something about our relationship with God. If God is only a second thought in the course of the day, that says something about our closeness to God.

…giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. RULE 3: The style of our prayers tell a lot about the content of our hearts. The Hasidic Jews tell the wonderful story of Morris Meltzer who went to his rabbi and said: “Rabbi, my wife is going to have a baby. It’s our first child and my Lily isn’t so young.
When she goes into labor at our home would you make a special prayer for her?” The Rabbi said, “I’ll do more than that! I’ll come to your house with nine other men to form a minyan and we will pray for her together.” When the labor pains began, Meltzer telephoned the doctor and the rabbi. The doctor came and ran upstairs to the bedroom — the rabbi and the nine men stayed downstairs and began to pray vigorously. Morris sat outside the bedroom and waited. Suddenly the cries of a baby were heard and the doctor stuck his head outside the door and announced: “It’s a boy!” Morris ran to the head of the stairs and yelled down to the swaying men below: “It’s a boy!” They stopped praying — and the men cried out “Mazel tov!” “Congratulations!” The rabbi cried out: “Blessed be the God of Israel!” Then they went back to praying, and Morris went back to the bedroom door, when almost immediately the doctor stuck his head outside the door again and said: “It’s a girl! Twins!” Morris ran to the stairs and yelled: “Another baby! It’s a girl! I have twins!” “Mazel Tov,” shouted the men. “Blessed be the God of Israel,” said the Rabbi. And they went back to praying again. Back to the bedroom door went Morris. The doctor peeked his head outside the door and said: “Another boy!” Morris said: “What? Another boy — triplets!” Morris ran to the stairway and yelled down to the rabbi and the other men: “Hey, all you people down there… STOP praying!”

For Daniel, prayer is worship. To talk to God is more than conversation, it is worship! “Giving thanks” the Bible says.

One day in Lucerne, Switzerland, a man went up to the summit of Mount Pilatus in a cable car operated by hydraulic power. As he ascended, he marveled at the miracles of modern engineering. More than halfway up, his attention was caught by a waterfall. The water poured down the mountainside. If the railway symbolized modern science, then that waterfall was the symbol of primitive nature. “What a contrast!” he thought. Then it suddenly occurred to him that the waterfall was not a contrast but a complement. It was the source of that hydraulic power. It was the force of that water that was driving him up. So it is with prayer. The power that takes us up to God is the same power that comes from God.

Optimistic and Positive

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James 1:2-3

A woman went to the psychiatrist and poured out all her problems. The doctor said nothing — just nodded and grunted throughout the session. By the end of the hour, the woman was a bit irritated at his lack of input, so she said to him, “Well, Doctor, what’s your opinion about my case? What do you think?” The psychiatrist gathered himself together and said, “Well to be truthful I think you’re crazy!” The woman was aghast at his impertinence. She retorted, “Well, I think I’d like a second opinion.” So the doctor said — “O.K. If you want a second opinion — I also think you’re ugly!”

Bad attitudes have almost become a way of life in our society. The story of Elijah sitting under the juniper tree and pouting because he had been chased out of town by a ticked-off Jezebel is a study in bad attitudes. He’d had it. Rejection is a powerful theme in our lives. Isaiah 53 speaks of the suffering servant as the one who was despised and rejected by men.

Barbara Brown Taylor calls a “bad attitude” arthritis of the spirit. The problem with a bad attitude is that it doesn’t allow us the power to see the real world. A pastor was visiting one of his parishioners, and as they were talking the conversation began to lag. The lady of the house, wanting to pick up the conversation, pointed out her window to her neighbor’s back yard where the wash was hanging on the line. She said: “See that lady next door and the wash she hangs out, see how dirty it is, she never hangs out a clean wash.”
The pastor felt somewhat uncomfortable and tried to change the subject and quickly drew the visit to a close. As he was departing, the lady of the house walked out on the front porch with him and again the wash next door was clearly visible to them. They both realized at the same time that this wash was sparkling white, just as white as any wash could ever be. The truth began to dawn on them that it was not the neighbor’s wash which was dirty, rather it was the window through which they viewed the wash.

Victor Frankle during his stay in a German prison camp discovered a real truth – we have the freedom to chose our own attitude! How are we going to respond? Those who responded to all the harshness with negative feelings didn’t live as long in the camp. Those who responded with a positive attitude lived the longest. The Apostle Paul writes, (Rom 12:2) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified.
“It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Having an optimistic and positive attitude seems to strengthen our faith.
James is leading the Church at a time when it is very difficult to be a Christian. The Church is poor and all of Jerusalem is struggling. But James writes, Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?
Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. We misunderstand the reason Jesus says this, it is not for the benefit of the one being forgiven, but for the one forgiving. I am reminded of the young girl killed in a robbery of Mr Goodcents. When the killer was arrested and known to the community, her parents, “Forgave the man.” The benefit wasn’t the killers, but the freedom of the parents. It was a very Christian thing to do. The freedom to choose our response!

Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it [demon] out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, `Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Prov 17:22 A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Prov 15:13 A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit. All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast. Prov 15:30 A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. Never under estimate the power of an optimistic and positive spirit!

Research has proven that prayer mixed with medicine has better results.
Elderly people with pets live longer then ones that do not. The more happy the marriage, the better the quality of life people live. All directly related to having an optimistic spirit and a positive attitude. I went to the doctor one time for a serious sinus infection. He gave me an antibiotic as we would expect. But he also gave me a steroid that he said would boost the benefits of the antibiotic and make it work faster. An optimistic life and a positive attitude boost the benefits of our faith.

In the early 1800’s the custodian of a large cathedral in Europe saw a man come in just before he locked the doors. The custodian told him that he was about to close the cathedral and needed to leave. The man said that he had traveled a long way and just wanted to see the organ. When the custodian showed him the organ he asked to sit at the console of the great organ. “No,” the custodian said, “I could get in trouble with the organist.” But he let him. Then he asked to play the organ. Finally, the custodian relented and let him play. It was the most beautiful music the custodian had ever heard. “Who are you?” the custodian asked. “Felix Mendelssohn,” said the man. The custodian thought to himself, “I almost didn’t let the master play my organ.”

How many times have we not almost allowed the master to play in our lives because of our bad attitudes?

Our Advocate

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John 15: 26-27

Emmanuel, God with us. He who resided in Heaven, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, willingly descended into our world. He breathed our air, felt our pain, knew our sorrows, and died for our sins. He didn’t come to frighten us, but to show us the way to warmth and safety. However, Emmanuel (God with us) doesn’t end, for the Holy Spirit on Pentecost comes and remains with us forever.

The importance of the Holy Spirit is shown not only in events, but also in the frequency of his mention in the Bible: 142 times under 15 different names in the Old Testament, 256 times under 7 different names in the New Testament.
Noting the Holy Spirit’s prominence in the Bible: 398 references.

Of the trinity of God (Father, Son & Holy Spirit) it is the Holy Spirit that is least understood and least appreciated. When Walter Wangerin was pastor of an inter-city church in Evansville, Indiana: Lillian Lander, an old black woman, would shake his hand each Sunday after services, lining up with everyone else and waiting her turn. She was short. Always he had to look down in order to find her. She was soft-spoken. Always he had to bow down in order to hear her. She was inner-city and self-educated, as was most of the parish then; but she chose her words with particular care, and always I weighed those words to find their value. Some Sundays she would say, “You taught us today, pastor.” Other Sundays she said, “Hooo!” and “Mm-hmmmm! How you did preach!” So, I stopped her one Sunday, holding tight to her hand. “Lillian,” I said, “sometimes you say I teach.” ‘Mmmmm-hmm.’ “And sometimes you say I preach.” ‘Mmm-hmmm.’
“Is there a difference?” She gazed at Wangerin a moment as though to say, “Didn’t they tell you in the seminary?” “When you teach, I learn somethin’ for the day. I can take it home, and I can do it.” She paused. “But when you preach, God is here. God is holding us. And sometime he smilin’. And sometime he be frownin’, surely.”

In the 15th Chapter of John, Jesus talks words of comfort with His Disciples who know that they are hated by the world. “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. It is interesting that John records this, for a little later in John 20:22, John will tell us something different. The issue is the difference between the “pre-resurrected Christ” and the “post-resurrected Christ.” Jesus said, As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

The festival is called the feast of Weeks because it was celebrated seven complete weeks, or fifty days, after the Passover. The Scriptures do not clearly attach any historical significance to this festival but seem to teach that Pentecost owes its origin to the harvest that terminated at this time.
Pentecost would take place 50 days following the Passover. The Resurrection (Easter) came 3 days after the Passover. The Ascension came 40 days after the Resurrection or 43 days after the Passover. Then Pentecost came one week after the Ascension.

God has always been present with His children. When someone understands the truth about Christ, it is always a divine miracle. Remember Peter’s great confession? Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God.” How did he know? Jesus said, “Flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” There is no way to recognize Jesus Christ for who He is except though a miracle of God to open spiritually blind eyes. But when Christ opens the eyes of a soul, suddenly truth becomes recognizable.

“Every time we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” we mean that we believe that there is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it. Many people quench the Spirit by being down in the mouth rather than rejoicing, by planning rather than praying, by murmuring rather than giving thanks, and by worrying instead of trusting in him who is faithful. From Acts 12:2 we know that Herod beheaded the apostle James, brother of John, but do you know the rest of this story? James was the first apostle to suffer death after the martyrdom of Stephen. Although Herod was the authority that took his head, James’ fate started when a nameless individual brought charges against him before the tribunal. When the case was over and James had been condemned to death, this man who had instigated the trial was deeply moved by the behavior and countenance of the apostle. James was so filled with the Spirit of God that on the way to the place of execution, the one who had initiated the charges against him made a confession of faith in Christ. When he asked James to forgive him, the apostle said, “Peace be to thee, brother.” James then kissed him and both men were beheaded for their faith in A.D. 36. A Spirit-filled life may lead to physical death, but more importantly, it always leads to eternal life.

Dr. Raymond Edmond of Wheaton College had not been in Uruguay as a missionary very long when he became deathly sick. In fact, the Uruguay nationals had his grave dug, and were waiting close by to take his body away. Suddenly, Dr. Edmund sat up in bed. He called to his wife, “Bring me my clothes. I’m getting up!” He had instantly recovered and nobody knew what had happened or what had caused his recuperation. Many years later he was retelling the story of this remarkable recovery to a church in Boston. After the service, a little old lady with a small dog-eared, beaten-up old Prayer Book came up to him. She said, “What day did you say you were dying in Uruguay? What time would it have been in Boston?” They figured it would have been 2:00 A.M. on a specific date. Her wrinkled face lit up. Pointing to her book, she exclaimed, “There it is, you see? At 2:00 A. M. on that date, God said to me, ‘Get up and pray — the devil’s trying to kill Raymond Edmund in Uruguay!'”

Bob Mumford, in “Take Another Look at Guidance”, compares discovering God’s will with a sea captain’s docking procedure: A certain harbor in Italy can be reached only by sailing up a narrow channel between dangerous rocks and shoals. Over the years, many ships have been wrecked, and navigation is hazardous. To guide the ships safely into port, three lights have been mounted on three huge poles in the harbor. When the three lights are perfectly lined up and seen as one, the ship can safely proceed up the narrow channel. If the pilot sees two or three lights, he knows he’s off course and in danger.

God has also provided three beacons to guide us. The same rules of navigation apply-the three lights must be lined up before it is safe for us to proceed. The three harbor lights of guidance are: The Word of God (objective standard), The Holy Spirit (subjective witness) Circumstances (divine providence). Together they assure us that the directions we’ve received are from God and will lead us safely along His way.