Pastor's Meditations

A Matter of Focus


                What is the difference between a good and a great chess player? Well, other than natural talent and years of practice, focus or intense concentration is responsible for success. A chess master has only one goal: Play chess; learn more about chess; study every chess move and all its different variations.

                A world class bodybuilder spends hours every day at the gym. A chess master devotes the same amount of time to the game. You can probably say the same about professional athletes, expert musicians and famous actors.

                Single mindedness and intense focus is vital to become great in any enterprise. This focus and dedication is what shapes our talents, gifts and skills into a formidable force on the way to success. Most of us have the talents and the potential to achieve great things, but most of us lack the focus, effort and dedication necessary to attain our goals.

                To put it simply: To win the Prize of success we must pay the Price of suffering.

                The Bible has a thing or two to say about focus:

                You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3)

                But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”  (Matthew 6:33)

                “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2)

                 “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2)

                Jesus called his disciples and is calling us today, to follow Him. The only way we can do that is if we focus our minds, eyes and hearts on Him. The Christian way is narrow, the trials are difficult and the dangers are real; but our Savior has left his footsteps for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21) and his Word is a “lamp to my (our) feet and a light to my (our) path.” (Psalm 119:105 emphasis added).

                Ours must be a laser focus and devotion. As the laser is one single beam of light pointing into a single direction, we must focus all of our attention upon Jesus. Perhaps we can learn from the apostle Paul in this regard. He learned to focus and to do just one thing:

                “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14).

                The “one” thing we must do is to forget the past, focus on the Lord Jesus and finish the race.

                A. G.

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A Wrong Turn

             Have you ever made a wrong turn in your life? There are very few things more frustrating than making a wrong turn, especially when it happens in an unknown city and when we are in a hurry.

             This has happened a few times and it has never been a pleasurable experience. I consider myself to be pretty good with addresses and directions (driving expertise is another matter), so when I make a wrong turn my sadness and level of frustration is doubled.

             A few days ago, we made a wrong turn in Miami’s heavy and aggressive traffic. This minor turn or deviation from our route turned (pun intended) five minutes into an hour. I was angry as we made more U turns than a flip flop politician.

            Wrong turns can sometimes be a blessing. I have learned to contain my ire in situations that are out of my control (by the way, very few things are under my control), knowing that “…that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Wrong turns, “accidents” and other delays may very well have been ordained by God to save us from dangers and situations that we may never know about.

           There are wrong turns, however, that can lead us straight into danger and destruction. Making a wrong turn in a highway is painful and frustrating, but making a wrong turn in life---no matter how small it might be---can be disastrous.

          The Bible is full with examples of people that made a wrong turn. Some of them recovered by God’s grace, but some turned away from God forever (1 Timothy 1:19-20).

          Adam turned to the wrong tree (Genesis 3:2-6)

          The prophet Jonah turned in the opposite direction of God’s command (Jonah 1:3)

          Aaron turned to gross idolatry (Exodus 32:1-6)

          Samson turned after evil and dangerous women (Judges 14:1; 16:1-4)

          The wise and holy Salomon turned out to be an idolatrous fool (1 Kings 11:1-11)

          Many “believers” turned away from Jesus (John 6:66)

          Only God’s grace can turn the crooked or cold heart back to Him. He did so with Abraham, after he went down to Egypt; with David, after the Bathsheba incident; with Peter, after the three denials and with the Prodigal Son, after he spent his inheritance in all sorts of debauchery.

         There are many more biblical examples of men and women that turned away from, or unto God. I want to add my name to that list. My name will never be written in the Bible, but it has been inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

         I have tried to turn away from God sometimes, or at least to turn away from a life of obedience and holiness, but my God turns my heart to Him over and over again. He will do the same for you, but if you can avoid wrong turns, even better!

        A. G.

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Costly Victory

                Last Friday night, a team of Suwannee High School teachers defeated two other teams en route to be crowned champions of the “Bro-Ball” Volleyball Tournament. It was a great victory for this group of middle age (and beyond) educators, especially because we defeated our younger and definitely more athletic students.

                It was also a costly victory for some of us. The “veteran” team went home joyous but in great pain. In my case, I finished the game hurt and I limped and hobbled around the house the rest of the weekend. If you ask me, I rather win and experience some pain and discomfort, than to be a relaxed and comfortable loser.

                We have been called to walk in the Narrow Way (Matthew 7:13-14) that is filled with shadows and dangers (Psalm 23:4). We live in a dark world that only offers persecutions and tribulations for Christians (John 16:33), but we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

                The Christian life is very costly. It was costly to the Father for “He…did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:31). It was also extremely costly to the Son, who gave his life (John 6:51) on the cross for his people.

                Jesus paid it all in order for us to have a wonderful and comfortable life, free of stress, pain, suffering, poverty, sickness or death…in heaven. One day, all of these things will disappear forever as we enter through the gates of glory, but for now we must walk with our Lord, enduring all the trials and tribulations, knowing that heaven is waiting for us.

                There have been many costly or Pyrrhic victories in this world, and not only in sporting events, but in deadly wars. The United States alone, has lost almost three million people in all their wars; the deadliest being the Civil War and World War 2. The Civil War was fought to preserve the Union and it accomplished its goal, but it was very costly: Over a million Americans died fighting against each other.

                If the Union of a country and the peace of the world are important enough to go to war, how much more should we Christians be willing to lay down our lives for the cause of Christ? Nothing is more costly in this world than being a disciple of Christ.

                Esther put her life on the line to save her people (Esther 4:16)

                King David did not offer free or cheap sacrifices (2 Samuel 24:24)

                The apostles left everything behind to follow Jesus (Matthew 19:27)

                You and I have been called to follow Christ, but only after we deny ourselves and take up his cross (Luke 9:23). The Christian calling is very costly because it demands complete obedience and for us to “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). The price is high, but our eternal prize will be glorious.

                Alexander Gonzalez

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The Burden of Fruitfulness

                Once upon a time, there was a beautiful garden; as beautiful as the Garden of Eden. In this “paradise” you could find all sorts of fruit trees; from tropical fruit such as mangoes and bananas, to apple and pear trees.

                In this enchanted garden, all the trees were green, tall and extremely fruitful. The wearied and hungry travelers could find ample sustenance in their luscious fruits and shade under their expansive foliage.

                The trees seemed to be happy, especially during the daytime, but at night one could almost hear their painful cries and complaints.

                “I can’t take this anymore!” One of the trees cried out.

                “Yes, this burden is too heavy for us!” Another complained.

                One by one all the fruit bearing trees raised their complaints about all the fruit they had to carry every day. They had been fruitful for many years, but now they were old and tired. Bearing fruit had always been a privilege and a blessing for them, but lately it had become a burden.

                As every tree was trying to upstage and eclipse each other with bigger grievances, a barren and squalid tree appeared on the scene. There were no fruits, flowers or leafs on this “tree” and as far as branches, there was only one stretching across the trunk.

                “You complain because you have been blessed with much fruit.” The new tree started.

                “You feel that this fruit is a burden and so it is, but it is not a heavy load”

                All the other trees began to complain again, but they were silenced by a revelation from the newcomer:

                “I carried the most precious cargo and the most evil burden one day. Many years ago, a spotless Lamb was nailed on my branches and trunk and along with Him all the wickedness of humanity.”

                The whole garden was now in total silence as the stranger continued,

                “The fruit that you bear today comes from me. I was once a beautiful tree like you are today, but I was cut down for you. I became the Tree of Death so that you can be alive and fruitful forever.”

                The garden became alive once again, but there were no more cries of complaint; only shouts of gratitude and praise. The trees realized that the burden of fruitfulness is the greatest blessing in the world.

                A. G.

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Wasting Time

            My wife and I tutor a few children during the week. It is a rewarding job or ministry most of the time. Sometimes I come home from school so tired that I must fight against falling asleep during the tutoring session.

            My young students are smart and well behaved. They only have one problem: they tend to waste time and sometimes we are not able to finish all the work on time. They get distracted with just about anything that’s around them. I believe that my primary function as their tutor is to keep them on track.

            In this world, most people waste so much time following empty dreams that ends up as a wasted life. Oh, what a waste indeed is to pursue power, fame, riches and pleasures. King Solomon spent most of his time following after these things, only to realize in the end that all was vanity (read Ecclesiastes 2).   

            I must confess that I too have wasted a great amount of my time. The first twenty two years of my life were a total waste. I was “…dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) and I was a friend of the world and an enemy of God (James 4:4). I began to live, really live, when I repented of my sins and received Christ as my Lord and Savior.

            What about you? Are you a born-again Christian? I hope you are and that you are not wasting the time God has given you. You have a limited amount of time left on this earth. God has saved us and placed us here for one purpose: To glorify Him with everything we do and say.

            I am not judging you in any way. I know how hard it is to submit ourselves completely to the Lord and to walk perfectly on the narrow way. There are many dangers and distractions every step of the way. There are many voices calling our attention, the job, school, family, church, pleasures and sin.

            All of us receive the same amount of hours, minutes and seconds every day. We can use our time wisely or wastefully. I understand that we have responsibilities and needs that demand a portion of our time every day, but we can do everything in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3:17) and for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

            Ephesians 5:16 exhorts us to always be “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” How can we redeem our time for the glory of God? The answer is also found in the rest of this chapter. We must walk (or live) in love (v. 1), in light (v. 8), in wisdom (v. 15), filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 18) and with joy and gratitude (vv. 19, 20).

            Alexander Gonzalez

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