My children and I have a new tradition that started this year that I’m having a blast with. Every day after school we go to a different park with our dog Toby and we run. Well the boys definitely run, and I do my best to run, let’s call it a jog, while Monica walks our dog. It is probably my favorite thing to do right now outside of hiking with my family. I look forward to it every day and I do my best to just soak in the time with them. There are these moments where it just hits me, watching them laugh with each other, and talk to me, where I just can’t believe how much they have grown, and it makes you wonder where time has gone. There are moments where between God’s awesome creation all around us and just how beautiful they all are, that it just hits my heart so hard that time almost seems to stop. Leaving me to just pray that I will always remember these times forever. Sometimes if I’m honest I pray for God to slow time down for me, because I have so much fun in that half hour after school that I just don’t want it to end. There are funny moments too, as they talk trash on who does what better, or as they chase the dog around cow pastures that he should not be in. I just love it. So even though I’m often pushing myself physically to a point where I’m tired. I am so happy because my focus is on the time with my children, and it really feels like a real gift right now in the busy world that we live in, to have that time. So for me, regardless of how I run, my focus is on the time with my children and it’s always a good time. Focus is an amazing thing, because what you focus on really determines a lot of what how you experience life in anything you do. Take my son Trey for instance. He runs 2 miles with me. He will run at Franklin Township Park, Friendship Park, Logan Park, or the High School track and can run away from me in the second mile. But if he hears that we are going to Boiling Springs to run at South Middleton Park he doesn’t want to go, because he has to run so much farther. Now here’s what’s funny, he is still running two miles, but he is not doing it in a big circle where he can see the entire run ahead of him…so if I get him to come, so he thinks it’s a lot farther. If I do get him to come he usually gets so tired that he can’t finish the 2 mile run! It’s amazing to watch, he can run two miles like it’s nothing but he has decided that he is running farther there, just because it’s a path rather than a loop! It messes with him so much that he physically just can’t finish a run that really is a breeze for him. The other day as I watched him, and tried to explain to him that it’s the same distance as any other park we go to it just looks different, and as he complained while we ran and then fell off and quit in the second mile I realized just how powerful focus is. His experience is changed based on what he is focused on. At the parks with the loops he is focused on how fast he can run because to him they are shorter runs. When we go to the “big” park, he is focused on how far it is, and he will talk himself right out of finishing the run. Focus is a powerful thing. My focus is on the time with the children, and I have so much fun. Jaden, he is focused on getting faster and preparing for Track and Cross Country. Monica focuses on the beauty of walking along the creek and trail with our little Min Pin Toby…and we all have a blast but Trey can have a difficult time, because his focus is on how far he is going. Focus is a powerful thing, and frankly where your focus is, has a lot to do with how your experiences go, and that goes from moments in time, to your life, to your relationship with God.
Take our buddy Peter for instance in the story that really jump started this whole series. The story is loaded with lessons from the idea of why we would take risk to get out of the boat and walk to Jesus, to faith, but I also see Peter’s story change as his focus changes as he walked on water towards Jesus…
Matthew 14:28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” NIV
So this is an incredible moment, where Peter is literally walking on water towards Jesus. He was doing great as long as his focus was on Jesus, but if you notice his focus shifted from Jesus to the wind and the waves…the focus changed the experience. Now he isn’t walking on water now he is sinking and hoping he doesn’t drown. The story is a lot different if he can keep his eyes on Jesus isn’t it? Your focus really determines your experience.
Growing up around church my whole life I have seen a lot of really awesome things around church. I have also seen some really difficult things around church. I have seen people come to know Jesus in a real way that has changed their lives forever and their Christianity seems light, and fun, and life giving. I have seen other good Christians who drag themselves to church each week trying really, really hard to not sin, or to look the part, and I have to tell you…there Christianity doesn’t look so fun. You probably know people like this…their Christianity is WORK! It’s heavy on them. Most of the time it’s a miserable experience, muscling through life, trying not to sin. What is that? Why is it, that some people seem to look like my son Jaden our there looking like they could run all day, just gliding around the park light and free…and some peoples Christianity looks a lot more like Trey’s running experience at Boiling Springs. There is nothing stopping him from running it, he has the strength, he is in shape, but he really struggles to run there…on the most beautiful course we have around here to run, he is miserable, and the run is work. Do you see why? It has everything to do with their focus. Just as Trey’s experience is ruined by his focus, and just like Peter’s experience walking on water was ruined by what he was focused on…there are a lot of good people out there whose experience in life as a disciple of Christ is miserable, it’s work, frankly it’s ruined the fun days and that has everything to do with what they are focused on too. Your focus will determine your experience.
Take Ken’s talk last week. It was awesome! When I first read his talk I just couldn’t wait to hear him preach it this past week. Do you remember what he was talking about? He was talking about sin. Sin is the number one conversation blocker between us and God. Sin puts distance between us and God. He talked about the deal that we make, where we trade God for sin and how Jesus came to cancel that trade! It was an awesome talk where we see something that we all deal with, sin…and also how easy it is to allow the redeeming power and love of God into our hearts to take care of the sin problem for us. Here’s what is really interesting about a talk like that, there can be two types of reactions to it. The first is a feeling of excitement and hope because of how amazing the love of God is! The second is one of feeling overwhelmed, and defeated, and like you just can’t ever get ahead…why? Because Ken described us very well as he described a life where you have traded God’s will for your own will. I can tell you that a talk on sin in my old BIC church growing up in the 1980’s would have felt heavy, and like a burden rather than free and light and filled with hope. And it has everything to do with where the focus was back in the day. Why the different reactions to the exact same message? Some are focused on the grace and love of God. Some stay focused on sin. If you grew up around religion your focus is probably on sin, and rules, you know the do’s and don’t do’s…and let me tell you when your focus is on sin and not love, well Christianity will always look and feel like work to you. Your focus determines your experience.
You know if you think about it, this is exactly what Jesus was trying to do as he simplified all of religiosity down to those four words that I have been bringing this up so often lately, do you remember those four words?
Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” NIV
So many of us struggle with how complex Christianity is, but Jesus says it’s actually very simple. We are to love God and love others. In so many ways I think Jesus is trying to get our focus to where it needs to be. We make things so much harder than they need to be. We struggle with holiness. We struggle to spend time with God. We struggle to pray. We struggle to just live that bold and free life that Jesus said we could have. It’s interesting, Jesus would say take all the other stuff away and just focus on love. Love God and love others. You want to live a holy life? Just focus on loving God. You want to love others and it’s hard, well just keep focused on loving God. You want to pull away from sin and all the selfish ways that Ken walked us through last week? Well Jesus would say just focus on loving God and all of these things will begin to fall into place.
So today Kim and I want to look at what life would look like if our focus was on God. Imagine that being your primary focus…God, who is love. If our focus determines our experience what would life look like if that kind of all-encompassing love was our focus? When God’s love is central and becomes part of our lives we can live truly free lives. Boy love comes up a lot around here doesn’t it? Check out what Jesus said to his disciples here…
John 15:9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. NIV
So Jesus literally commands us to love others the way that He loves us. Here’s what is really interesting, you can’t do that on your own. You need God’s love in you to love this way. So again this comes back to our focus. You can’t love others in your own strength, your focus needs to be on loving God, and his love will flow through you and you can love others in His strength. Do you see it? It’s a focus thing. So many of us think of Christianity as restrictive, you know even in this scripture we hear about “commands” and we can think that Jesus is bossing me around and it’s so hard to accomplish what he is asking me to do! Well that may actually be the point…without Him, you can’t accomplish any of it. This is why Ken’s talk could hit you a couple different ways last week. When he brought up sin, some of us found hope in repenting and new freedom as we walked out of here last week. But for some, we were so focused on how hard it is to live holy lives and not sin, that we left feeling heavy, and still in that same tired and stuck place we were before. Can I tell you something that may help you today? You will never live a holy life in your own strength. You are a sinner, just like me. We are not perfect, but we know the one who is. Holiness will always be the wall that you can’t climb in your own strength. For some of you there are things you confessed last week, that you truly didn’t want to do this week, and you did them again and now you feel worse. Maybe your biggest issue isn’t the sin, but your focus. Your focus must be on God, and as his love pours into you, holiness, loving others, and all the good you wish you had starts coming together. So yes, holiness would feel hard if you are focused on what you need to do be holy…because you can’t do it without God. Your focus must be in his love and as his love pours into you, your life will change. Your actions will change and some of those sins you were stuck in start to fade away as you spend time in His presence. You see it’s God’s love poured into us through the Holy Spirit that changes us from the inside out…it isn’t our strength that gets that done.
2 Corinthians 5:21 For God took the sinless Christ and poured into him our sins. Then, in exchange, he poured God’s goodness into us! TLB
So why so much talk last week about sin, and this week about focusing on love when we are supposed to be in the middle of a Prayer series? It’s because prayer is a huge part of our relationship with God. And we know that sin is THE blocker between us and close relationship with God and when we can walk in God’s all-encompassing love well, we can draw closer and closer to him. The secret to living a Christian life is holiness. It’s living a pure life, with pure intentions. The secret to powerful prayers is the same.
James 5:16 Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. MSG
So powerful prayers to be reckoned with come from pure living. So some of us will hear that and focus on it. Ok I have to live a holy life this week…then we run out into the world and try to only listen to Christian music, and not swear, and not watch rated R movies unless Jesus is in them, and we just try to muscle through a day focused on not sinning…and what happens? We sin. Why? Because our focus is on everything we need to do, rather than on The One who can do it all for us. We stay focused on loving God and everything falls into place…from loving others, to holy lives, which lead to powerful and effective prayers. It’s so interesting how much our focus really determines our experience. You simply won’t have a pure heart in your own strength. You must have the Holy Spirit pouring that into you.
So as our focus stays on God, who is love, our lives begin to change. His love pours into us. It’s the kind of love that we really see in Jesus laying down his life for us.
1 John 3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. NIV
This is a different kind of love isn’t it? Well Jesus says that this kind of sacrificial love is absolutely available to us and he actually expects this kind of love to be in his disciples. Frankly this is how I believe a disciple of Christ shows God to this world. Through showing this kind of sacrificial love to everyone far from God. When you serve, when you love like this you are literally showing God to people in this dark and broken world. This is how the world will know who you are and what you stand for too! Do you know how I know that? Because Jesus told me so.
John 13:34 “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. 35 This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.” MSG
This type of love we are talking about is called “Agape” love. When this kind of Godly love is present in our lives things change. But it’s very clear, this kind of love can only come from God pouring into us. So you can’t earn it. You won’t achieve it on your own. You can only receive it from God as you allow him into your life. Its life changing, and it won’t change without God doing it for you. This is why I want you really looking into your focus today. If it’s on what you need to do the result of your life is tired and stuck. If it’s on you trying to not sin, you will fall to that sin again, and again. Your focus will absolutely determine your experience. You can’t pour Agape love into you, only God can. So your focus should be on God or this Christian life will always be oppressive, hard, and frustrating.
So as you focus on God who is love, and the Holy Spirit pours His love into your life you will see some changes in what is coming out of you. I wanted to look at four products of a life lived with God’s love as the focus.
- God’s agape love allows us to live a surrendered life.
So how does this love make our lives different? Well we need to start here…this type of love allows us to live a surrendered life. What is a surrendered life? It’s a life lived with God’s will running the show rather than our own.
Galatians 5:24 Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good — crucified.
So again, there is two things we could choose to focus on here. For some, much like that word ‘command’ we heard in scripture earlier this term ‘surrender’ can really hit a nerve? It can feel oppressive and restrictive right? Well if your focus is on God who is love, it isn’t restrictive but freeing to live a life fully surrendered to God’s will. Because God’s will can consume you, and lead you and when that is the case…all the petty issues, and stresses that used to be there, really fade away. It’s really amazing what can happen in our human relationships if we bow to God’s will and love with this kind of sacrificial and pure love. All of a sudden we are free to love those who are different than us, even those who hurt us. That doesn’t sound oppressive, that sounds freeing but again it’s all in where your focus is.
- God’s agape love allows us to live a transparent life.
This is a really challenging one for us people. Living open and transparent lives in our culture today but God’s love frees us from having to keep up a front, and look a certain way to people. We don’t have to pretend we are someone we aren’t because we find our security in God, not others. It’s really hard for a lot of us to drop our defenses and let people in, I have told you it is for me, and I see God really pushing in on me in this area of my own life. Paul describes this kind of love this way…
1 Corinthians 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. NIV
So Paul would say that we are not living in competition with one another but we give of ourselves to others. This is pretty challenging in our world today isn’t it? Living open, allowing people in…not competing with others? This type of ‘God love’ living in you and I really is the opposite of every instinct we have isn’t it? Think of how freeing your life would be if you could walk into work tomorrow and not worry about who is getting ahead of you? Think about how freeing your life would be if you could go to your child’s game and not worry about whose child has a competitive edge on yours? What would it be like to get on social media actually celebrate someone’s nice vacation, or their new car rather than resenting them for it and wonder what they did to get something you deserved more? Think of the freedom that can be found in living a life fully centered in God’s love. When you live an open life you are free to just simply be yourself. No secrets. When you screw up, you screw up, it not a world-ender because everyone knows you’re not perfect. Do you catch how freeing that would make life? Living a life focused on God’s love is a very different way to live.
- God’s agape love allows me to live a life of forgiveness.
1 Corinthians 13:5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. NIV
Do you have the ability to forgive? Forgiveness is so important. If you can’t let go of other people’s sins and failures your prayer life will not be effective. On top of that you just can’t walk in the joy, the lightness, and the freedom that a life in God should be. That record of wrongs that you are keeping needs to be destroyed. You don’t have to carry that with you anymore but again every instinct we humans have is to carry that hurt. Hold onto it. They hurt me, I need to hurt them! It is the love of God pouring into us that allows us to forgive others. Your ability or lack of ability to forgive a person who has wronged you can actually hinder your relationship with God. It’s the grace of Jesus that can keep our relationships pure, so that we can pray for those who may have hurt us. Only God’s love poured into our hearts makes this possible. Forgiveness is impossible without Him. How we respond to someone who hurt us is a really big deal, we don’t let someone continue to hurt us, but when we forgive we can move forward in freedom rather than carrying someone else’s issues with us through life.
- Agape love allows me to live a generous life.
Finally the Holy Spirit can free us to concentrate on meeting the needs of the world because we have entrusted our own needs to God. Remember the more time you spend with God, the more what matters to Him will matter to you. Well that is awesome. But it’s this all-encompassing love that is being poured into us through the Holy Spirit that allows us to loosen the grip on our time, our money, and our energy and to give those things to others, with the knowledge that God has our best interest in mind. Imagine the freedom in knowing that God is in control and will provide. Imagine the freedom in no longer worrying about our possessions. What would it look like if your stuff and was so secondary that you weren’t worried about what you have or what others have? I love this quote by CS Lewis…
“He who has God and everything has no more than he who has God alone.” CS Lewis.
Listen, the minute you asked Jesus into your heart the Holy Spirit went to work. He is pouring God’s love into your heart. As your relationship with God grows, so does this love. For so many Christian’s we struggle to see this pure love pouring out of them. For so many of us we hear about prayer and it’s a challenge. We hear about holy living and we leave discouraged because we just can’t seem to accomplish that. We come to a church where they are talking about loving others enough to start a whole other church in another town and we just can’t seem to get there, ourselves. Well maybe that is the point. On your own you never will. Your focus is off. It’s not about you and what you do, if it is about you then your Christian life will always feel stuck, frustrating, and just seem to never grow. Is this you? If it is, then maybe today we see that the focus needs to shift. It needs to shift off of sin, or loving others, or all that God commands you to do, and maybe for the first time the focus can land where it has to, on God…who is love. When He is the focus we see lives that were tired and stuck turn to lives that are bold and free. Just keep focused on Him, and all this other stuff will begin to pour out of your life. In the end your focus really determines your experience.