Hebrews 2:1-4 – Learning to Pay Attention

We must give our full attention to what we were told, so that we won’t drift away. The message spoken by angels proved to be true, and all who disobeyed or rejected it were punished as they deserved. So, if we refuse this great way of being saved, how can we hope to escape? The Lord himself was the first to tell about it, and people who heard the message proved to us that it was true. God himself showed that his message was true by working all kinds of powerful miracles and wonders. He also gave his Holy Spirit to anyone he chose to. (CEV)

My three girls all have attention deficit disorder (A.D.D.). You might think this is a disadvantage. Rather, since the biology of their brains do not have good filters for sifting out all the stimuli which they hear each day, each of them are much more intentional about picking out the voice they want to hear and engaging with it. Whereas you and I might take this for granted, my girls know the value of creating the skills to pay attention.

We stand at the cusp of Lent, just two days from now. A healthy way of looking at this important season in the Christian Year is that it is a time to listen. It is the opportunity and privilege of giving our complete attention to Jesus as we plod along the 40-day path to Easter. And we need to develop some solid skills in paying attention, whether we have A.D.D. or not.

The cost of not developing such skills is that we will drift away. Taking for granted that we are Christians, that we know something about salvation, and are basically good people, might only be setting us up for spiritual failure. That is, we think we already know about Christ’s person and work of salvation, so we fail to really pay attention. Bad idea.

Assuming we are paying attention is not the same thing as actually doing it. Assumptions lead to drifting away from truth. We are meant to have continual and constant reminders of Christ and his redemptive events. This is what Lent intends for us. To ignore the wisdom of two-thousand years of church practice puts us in a precarious position of being lost at sea.

For the next six weeks, make the choice that you will pay attention to Christ each day through the following:

  • Reading Scripture every day with a combination of standing and sitting, reading silently and out loud.
  • Holding a cross or other Christian reminder in your hand and feeling free to fidget with it.
  • Journaling your thoughts in a notebook.
  • Imposing time limits on yourself each day for the next 40 days.
  • Using different versions of the Bible to read throughout Lent.
  • Going outside occasionally and praying while walking.
  • Focusing on your breathing. Breathe out: “Speak Lord.” Breathe in: “I am listening.”
  • Drinking some coffee, tea, or something soothing.
  • Being mindful of distractions and acknowledging them without judging yourself.

The point is to have an intentional plan for paying attention. Do not assume you will be focused. May your journey with Jesus this season be a fresh experience in knowing him better.

Lord God, the world is rushing by. The days are sometimes a blur. But in those moments when I stop, time almost stands still. Keep my heart open to the simplicity of the day – to virtual interactions and connections with others without being distracted – and paying attention. Help me, Lord. Open my eyes. Open my ears. Open my heart to know you are with me, if I just pay attention. Amen.  

Deuteronomy 12:28-32 – Curious

Be careful to obey all these words that I command you today, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.

When the Lord your God has cut off before you the nations whom you are about to enter to dispossess them, when you have dispossessed them and live in their land, take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you: do not inquire concerning their gods, saying, “How did these nations worship their gods? I also want to do the same.” You must not do the same for the Lord your God, because every abhorrent thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods. They would even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. You must diligently observe everything that I command you; do not add to it or take anything from it. (NRSV)

The old phrase “curiosity kills the cat” certainly applies to the ancient Israelites concerning the pagan nations that surrounded them. The book of Deuteronomy is a re-statement of the law for a new generation of God’s people poised to enter the Promised Land. The previous generation had experienced a failure of faith and completely died out over the course of a forty-year sojourn in the desert. But now their children were ready to enter the land and receive the promises of God.

There is the healthy curiosity of seeking to understand, and then there is a bad curiosity borne from discontentment. God knew the people would be curious, in all the negative sense of that word. Today’s Old Testament lesson is a clear warning to keep away from the practices of the nations which God was about to dispossess from the land. 

Now, thousands of years removed from the Old Testament, we know the end of the story. The Israelites, although possessing a remnant of people faithful and devoted to God’s law, allowed their curiosity to get the best of them and ended up not following the Lord as they were commanded.

“Curiosity is not a sin. But we should exercise caution with our curiosity yes, indeed.”

albus dumbledore to harry potter

Before becoming a Christian over forty years ago, I did not live according to God’s commands or the way of Jesus Christ. Because of that reality, I have always found it “curious” that there are believers who wonder if they are missing out on something, having always been in the church. They may even adopt some cultural practices, like offering their children on the altar of wealth or sports, serving the idols of security, or getting ahead.  

Spiritual F.O.M.O. (Fear of Missing Out) is likely to lead one down a damaging path. We must all have the wisdom to identify the healthy practices of our culture consistent with God’s Word, and the unhealthy curiosity to pursue endeavors uncritically without making sound godly decisions. 

Ever-present God, you have given us your gracious and holy Word to know and live by. Strengthen our knowledge and faith so that we may serve you faithfully today and always through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Jeremiah 20:7-13 – Let It Out!

The Prophet Jeremiah by Michelangelo, c.1545

You tricked me, Lord,
    and I was really fooled.
You are stronger than I am,
    and you have defeated me.
People never stop sneering
    and insulting me.
You have let me announce
    only destruction and death.
Your message has brought me
nothing but insults
    and trouble.
Sometimes I tell myself
not to think about you, Lord,
    or even mention your name.
But your message burns
in my heart and bones,
    and I cannot keep silent.

I heard the crowds whisper,
    “Everyone is afraid.
Now’s our chance
    to accuse Jeremiah!”
All of my so-called friends
are just waiting
    for me to make a mistake.
They say, “Maybe Jeremiah
    can be tricked.
Then we can overpower him
    and get even at last.”

But you, Lord,
are a mighty soldier,
    standing at my side.
Those troublemakers
will fall down and fail—
    terribly embarrassed,
    forever ashamed.

Lord All-Powerful,
    you test those who do right,
and you know every heart
    and mind.
I have told you my complaints,
so let me watch you
    take revenge on my enemies.
I sing praises to you, Lord.
You rescue the oppressed
    from the wicked. (CEV)

The prophet Jeremiah had a tough gig. The Lord God almighty didn’t give him much choice about his life’s work. Jeremiah was commissioned by God with a message of doom and destruction. If that weren’t enough, God promised him that no one would respond, nobody would repent, and not one person would listen to what he had to say. Sheesh, talk about a tough ministry!

But Jeremiah was compelled to speak. He just could not hold it in. His calling, his life’s work, bubbled up and out of him, no matter what he did to try and keep a lid on it. Whenever Jeremiah would try and walk away and say, “Forget it! No more God-Messages from me!” then the words from God burned like a fire in his belly. Jeremiah got worn out trying to keep the message domesticated within him.

Maybe you can relate in some small way.  It isn’t always easy talking about God to others, let alone talking about some subject other people really don’t want to hear.  Yet, as the people of God, we discover it is much more painful to keep it inside than it is letting it out and taking the consequences as they may come.

Or it could be that you resonate with Jeremiah’s trying to distance himself from God.  You were hurt, wounded in some way, and no matter how hard you run from God, your inner sacred space will not leave you alone – it relentlessly tracks you down and hounds you, barking to be heard and expressed.

What then, should we do? How, then, shall we live? Don’t keep silent. Speak! Let your voice out. Say what is important to you. Because ignoring it, wishing it would go away, or thinking God will eventually give-up isn’t going to happen, my friend.  Let the Word have its way.

God Almighty, you have your ways in this world, and they don’t always make sense to me.  Sticking my fingers in my ears trying to pretend you are not there isn’t working – my heart burns within me.  So, help me to speak with all the confidence of the message I have, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit.  Amen.

Judges 2:6-15 – *Sigh*

After Joshua had dismissed them, the People of Israel went off to claim their allotted territories and take possession of the land. The people worshiped God throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the time of the leaders who survived him, leaders who had been in on all of God’s great work that he had done for Israel. Then Joshua son of Nun, the servant of God, died. He was 110 years old. They buried him in his allotted inheritance at Timnath Heres in the hills of Ephraim north of Mount Gaash.

Eventually that entire generation died and was buried. Then another generation grew up that didn’t know anything of God or the work he had done for Israel.

The People of Israel did evil in God’s sight: they served Baal-gods; they deserted God, the God of their parents who had led them out of Egypt; they took up with other gods, gods of the peoples around them. They actually worshiped them! And oh, how they angered God as they worshiped god Baal and goddess Astarte! God’s anger was hot against Israel: He handed them off to plunderers who stripped them; he sold them cheap to enemies on all sides. They were helpless before their enemies. Every time they walked out the door God was with them—but for evil, just as God had said, just as he had sworn he would do. They were in a bad way. (MSG)

The Old Testament book of Judges reads like a soap opera. The main characters are the ancient Israelites, fresh from coming into the Promised Land; God, the One who brought them into the land with a series of miraculous events and divine interventions; and, of course, the Judges, the men and women who led the people and ruled in the land.

Throughout the book of Judges, there are plenty of adventures and misadventures. The exploits and foibles narrate a sad downward spiral of people forsaking the worship of God; God arresting their attention; the people awakening to their dire condition and crying out to God; God sending a Judge to save them; the people slipping into a worse condition; and, the cycle starting all over again with more disastrous results and brokenness than before. *Sigh*

In today’s lesson, we get a clue as to where it all began and why it kept happening. Tucked away in the middle of these verses is the cryptic message that when Joshua’s generation died, the next generation did not know the Lord or any of the mighty acts God did on their behalf. *Sigh*

The first generation of Israelites born into the Promised Land were flat out ignorant of God because their parents and religious leaders failed to pass on values, experiences, and knowledge to their children. They were not intentional about providing the kind of education to their kids that would let them know about the person and work of God. *Sigh*

Emerging generations need present generations to grab hold of the mandate to graciously teach and develop them in the words and ways of Jesus Christ – because faith is not a magically delicious box of Lucky Charms which providentially drops from the sky. *Sigh*

It behooves us all to consider ways to pass on the grace and truth of Jesus to the next generation – and to do so in a loving and compelling way. And, if you feel a low confidence level in doing this, go on a discovery with teens, kids, and grandkids so that you are all learning together.

A few of the ways my wife and I taught our three girls when they were young included singing Scripture, even coming up with our own original tunes; dramatizing biblical stories, complete with costumes and interesting ad libs; and, prayer walking together outside.

I am more than confident younger generations will have ideas that are not boring or pedantic. In other words, take some initiative and have some fun with it. Then, neither you nor anyone else will be ending sentences with a big *Sigh*

Lord God Almighty, you have acted in the past with mighty deeds and gracious ways. Enable your people to pass on their love for Jesus to the next generation so that your kingdom breaks into the generations and your will be done here on earth as it is always done in heaven. Amen.