Attention Grabbers

Young Rehoboam had lived a privileged life. His father, Solomon, was the richest king in the world at that time. Rehoboam grew up with fun and wealth. Then, upon his father’s death, he was handed the coveted throne. Quickly consulting with wise elders for advice about ruling, he preferred to hear younger, more modern counselors. He chose the wrong advice, and a once-blessed kingdom began to unravel. Rehoboam’s real problem was distraction, causing him to have a hard time hearing wise elders, and even God.

The whole country had a similar problem. Years later, when Jeremiah was sent by God, they couldn’t listen. They were distracted by pleasure, pride, crime, and violence. Jeremiah cried out, “Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them. Yet they did not listen to Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck; they did evil more than their fathers.” (Jer.7:24)

Canadians have become a distracted people, unable to concentrate for long on any one thing. Facebook dings away at us, news feeds on our devices demand our attention, messages draw us in, and radio ads scream information all day long. Even our cars present us with attention-demanding gadgets offering all sorts of data. It’s hard to take it all in, and we skim over everything and move on to the next thing that jumps out at us. Got some time? What can I fill it with?

Don’t you think God wants our concentration sometimes? He wants us to focus on prayer, some reasonable study time, and to do the work of giving people our attention on Sundays and Wednesdays. All good preachers know they are often boring, but they appreciate people who give them concentrated attention when they stand and speak God’s word.

Distraction eventually killed Rehoboam. It caused Israel to become a disappointment to God. It frustrated the prophets. Even though all sorts of modern things demand our time, we can do better. God deserves it, and so do His people. Are you listening?

– Tim Johnson

Unappreciated?

A discouraged church secretary once said, “I’ve had enough of this; nobody notices all my hard work!” What one of us can’t sympathize with her? Hard work often goes unappreciated, and people are convinced they should stop doing it.

In one of the apostle Paul’s great passages about the judgment, he said we must be patient in the way we serve God. “To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” (Rom.2:7) While we are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, no man can enter heaven without a life of service, seeking to please God by his way of life. And that service must be “persistent” (NIV), done with “perseverance” (NASV), also described as “patient continuance in doing good” (NKJV).

We are easily discouraged. Some think their efforts should be praised by all, but are often ignored by all. Others encounter criticism for a job done well, or callous suggestions it could be done better another way. Many simply grow weary, feeling unacknowledged. Most congregations have children’s teachers who do their work every Sunday without notice; elders who grapple patiently with difficult situations with little praise; and maintenance people who selflessly pick up after everyone goes home. Few notice them.

Who are we trying to impress? Are we seeking honour from those around us? Are we being “selfishly ambitious” (v8) in what we do? Is human glory the thing we seek? Must we plaster our good works on Facebook? The apostle tells us God is pleased with people who seek the glory and honour from HIM, when He judges us on the last day. To be motivated by this allows us to work patiently, not expecting attention or praise, for we know that will come later.

When nobody seems to notice your patient good works, God notices. When no one seems to care for your sacrifices, God cares. When you’re worn out by service and everyone else seems to have a good night’s sleep, God sees your persistence. Serve to please Him, and the glory He will give you later.

And thank somebody today for the thankless things they do.

– Tim Johnson

Thoughts on Mother’s Day

Galatians 6:10 says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.” Writers have said many practical things about human behaviour. The following are a few of them:

If we wait until we feel like doing something – spending time with family, cleaning the garage, visiting a friend in the hospital (or calling your parent on Mother’s Day – Tim) – chances are we will wait a long time.

It is helpful that to learn to act ourselves into a better way of feeling, rather than to feel ourselves into a better way of acting. In other words, we have to act better than we feel.

The point is, we shouldn’t wait until we feel like doing something good. Those who don’t feel like it do most of the good in the world. Said one writer, “Be sure that behaviour will ultimately change our feelings.”

We should not waste time bothering whether or not we love our neighbour – act as if we do. As soon as we do this, we will find one of the greatest secrets: When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him or her.

– David Johnson, with revisions from Tim

Great Lives Despised

As we struggle to live in a morally loose society, we need the examples of great men and women to encourage us. James pointed out that the prophets of the past serve in this way. “As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:10) Many prophets come to mind: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc. All of them lived exemplary lives in difficult circumstances. Many other great prophets are mentioned, but we don’t even know their names.

In our Sunday a.m. Bible class, we have been reminded of the difficult life of Daniel. He quickly gained the respect of Babylonian kings. Belshazzar said of him, “…illumination, insight, and extraordinary wisdom have been found in you.” (Dan.5:14) When Daniel’s enemies attempted to find some condemning flaw in his life, “they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him.” (6:4)

Here is the amazing thing about these prophets: while they were well known as great, godly people, at the same time they were despised and hated. They suffered violence and attempts on their lives. Yet they insisted on living righteous lives in their difficult surroundings. It would only be until future generations that they would be acknowledged for their patience and godliness, as James and Jesus later testified (James 5:10; Matt.5:12).

So, what is the lesson for us today? While it may be useless to live in an upright manner when nobody around us seems to care, God cares; people you may not know may care; people of the future may look back and care. Above all else, you are to care. Like the prophets of old, you are to live your life the way God wants it lived, not to please everyone around you.

This may be hard to do, but when has it ever been easy?

– Tim Johnson

In the Hospital Food Court

From time to time I have to wait in the hospital food court. It is a place where a full range of human conditions can be seen. Boisterous nurses crowd around a table, indifferent officials punch away on their phones, patients in gowns seek some space away from their rooms, anxious families huddle in corners, and worried people sit alone with coffee. Other than a few noisy conversations, it’s a sombre place full of difficult needs.

Jesus often walked into places like that. In John 5 He entered an area around a pool protected from the weather by roofed-over columns. “In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered.” (v3) While He only healed one man, word spread quickly that the Master of healing was at hand. Mobs of needy cases soon sought Him out, and He gladly made them well. Mark records, “ …for He had healed many with the result was that all those who had afflictions pressed about Him in order to touch Him.” (Mk.3:10)

Jesus brought to Palestine a marvelous sense of hope. People came from everywhere to find His help and hear His words. Sadly, it only lasted a few years before He went back to heaven. His miraculous abilities didn’t have to continue for long, for the message was complete: Here is One who always stands by to help us. The Hebrew writer said, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (2:18) And, “Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.” (4:16)

Jesus may not heal a man from disease or injury now, but He arranges mercy and grace to help us with anything that weighs life down. Even in a hospital food court.

– Tim Johnson