Giving Our Attention

I think I’ll sit here.  Hmm, there’s an alert on my phone.  “Fantasy football player rankings for Week 11.”  I wonder if there are any worthy free agents this week…  I wonder what that couple at the bar are talking about…  Are they together?  Is this a lunch date?  Hmm, that cheese in the display case looks familiar.  Let me go see…  Yep, Guggisberg Baby Swiss, just like I thought.  OK, back to my seat.  Wonder when my sandwich will be ready…

That was my mind at lunch yesterday.  Have you ever slowed down and thought about what you think about?  It amazes me how fast my brain can go from one thing to the next to the next - and I hardly realize I’m doing it.

What’s interesting, though, is that even though my brain is able to quickly process all of the stimuli my senses bring to it, it’s only locked onto one thing at a time.  Can you relate?  Really stop and think about your thoughts...  Even with all of the things on your mind, are you ever processing more than one at a time?

We live in an age in which multi-tasking is the norm.  In some ways - from the classroom to the workplace to our families and social circles - it's expected.  Why wouldn't it be, right?  Be more connected, productive and successful.  It just makes sense.


The problem is, research suggests that multi-tasking doesn’t really exist.  What we call multi-tasking is actually just "task switching", moving our attention from one activity to another.

Whether it's our thoughts or our actions, our ability to focus is essential.  Focus is sustained energy concentrated on one thing for the purpose of growth and impact.  Without it, our lives get hung up in a bog of distractions.

The same is true when it comes to our faith.  We desire growth and impact, but we often experience lack of traction and the sense that we're not going anywhere.  I wonder if this has less to do with our desires and more with our attention.

Our discussion of Philippians last Sunday centered on this idea of focus.  Throughout the passage, Paul reminded his audience (and us) that we only give our attention to one thing at a time: staying stuck in the faults of our past or moving toward the hope of our future; being destroyed by our desires in this life or being renewed by our desires for the next; allowing differences to divide us or practicing love in order to bring us together.

It's only one or the other and it's always a choice.  Attention isn't taken from us; we give it away.

Where have you given your attention so far this week?  Your past or your future?  Getting all you can in this life or giving all you can in favor of the next?  The shortcomings of others or the unique value they bring to your life?

Our challenge for the rest of the week is to focus our thoughts and actions on who we long to become: the people of God who bring the unsurpassing goodness of his kingdom to earth.  And the best way to do this is to focus on Jesus, the man of God who in the King.

In Jesus, we know that our best days are ahead.  In Jesus, we have a perfect home in heaven that will last forever (so who cares if we don't get everything we want here?).  And in Jesus, we are encouraged and empowered to get over our differences and love others well because of the love he first showed us on the Cross.

What will it take for you to give Jesus your attention today?  Don't get distracted; it's the most important question you can answer.

Who's Opinion Matters?


"I'll defer to Johnny, but I think the widget goes under the gear assembly."

Johnny is a pseudonym and I don't deal with widgets or gear assemblies, but that's basically the reply email I received earlier this week.

I was in the middle of something else when the request came to revise my drawing.  The end of the afternoon was approaching and I didn't want to carry this task into the next day, so I rushed through the revision and sent it off.  The only problem was that I had done it wrong.

In my haste, I didn't realize that I had made a mistake, so I re-read the sentence a couple of times and opened the drawing to see what he was talking about.  "The widget goes under the gear assembly..."  And there it was - like a total idiot, I had located the widget above the gear assembly!  What kind of educated professional would make such a stupid mistake?!

I had blown it.  My client knew it - and the five other guys he copied on the email knew it, too.

It was that moment at the holiday party when everyone's looking good and having fun, when you're mixing it up and meeting new people and telling your best stories - and then you spill your drink all over the hors d'oeuvres table.  The music is still playing, but everybody's mouths go silent as they stare at you.  One woman hides her smile behind her hand.

I don't like using the word hate, but I hate feeling stupid.  I hate knowing that I knew the right answer, but for whatever reason I gave the wrong answer.  And I hate being pinned down under my stupidity, feeling like I'm on display for the world to laugh at.

When I read those words, "I think the widget goes under the gear assembly", all I could hear was "How could you be so stupid?!"  All I could see were guys sitting at their computers laughing, calling over others in the office to read it for themselves.  "Can you believe this guy?!"

What was I going to do?  How would I choose to respond?

I'll tell you one thing: my final response wasn't my initial response.  My initial response was filled with deflection and sarcasm as I attempted to shift the blame and fight back.  As my defensiveness turned to boiling anger within me, though, these words came to me: "Live in Him, not in you."

The words were different than those that Patrick shared with us last Sunday as we studied Philippians 3:1-14, but the message was the same.  You see, God had set me up. 

He wanted me to be changed by the words of in that passage, not simply read them.  He wanted me to understand the difference between finding one's identity in their own performance vs. the performance of Jesus, a difference as stark as death and life.  Patrick taught us that we're constantly competing and comparing when we find ourselves in our own achievements.  There's no end to performing, no peace and no place to hide when life is based solely on what we've done.

The good news for the Philippians - and the good news for us - is that Jesus' achievements create solid ground for anyone who puts their faith in him.  Living in him means sharing his identity and being fully accepted by the God who stands over the universe.  Whose opinion matters more than his?

It doesn't mean that we don't give life our best.  It simply means that we stop worrying about doing it perfectly, having all the answers or being exactly who other people expect.  It means that we don't have to be crushed with embarrassment when a couple of people in the office laugh at our mistakes.

Where are you with this today?  Let's leave behind the burden of finding our identity in our achievements and move forward in the freedom of knowing our identity is secure in Jesus Christ.

Seeing Scripture

I saw Scripture this morning. 

Yes, I saw the words of Scripture as I read my Bible, but that's not what I'm talking - er, writing - about.  What I mean is that the words of Scripture became more to me than text on a page because I saw them lived out by my friend.  It was particularly impactful because his actions were directed toward me.

I won't tell you what he did because the details don't matter here, but I will tell you that he gave me hours of his time between his preparation and actually doing what he did.  As my day went on, it really sank in.  It isn't his job to care about me, but he did.  I didn't ask him to think about me, but he did.  Spending his time on me meant that he gave up doing something else, but he did it anyway.

Do you know what it feels like to be treated like that?

I'll tell you: It's amazing!

Three Sundays ago we read these words from the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:

In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (vv. 3b-4)

I don't naturally live out verse 3 and 4 of Philippians 2.  My tendency is toward pride, to looking to my own interests rather than considering those of others.

But one of the reasons that I've come to love the Scriptures is that in them God gives me an encouraging picture of what life could be like if I lived it his way.  Paul wrote that line as a command to the Christians in Philippi. He wrote like it was something they should actually do, like it was actually possible.

This morning my friend reminded me that it is possible.  My friend and I both know, however, that it's not possible by our own strength or striving.  Maybe for a few minutes or hours or, if we're lucky, days.  At some point, though, we'll default back to ourselves as the center of the universe.

God's invitation to us is to let go of ourselves as the center and allow Jesus to be our center.  With that, we inherit his identity - an identity with the humility necessary to consider others more than ourselves, an identity with so much love for others that he would save them no matter what it cost him.

Join me today in considering the questions below.  Let's see how God leads us the rest of the week.

  • Am I sensitive to the Lord's leading as it relates to the interests of others?
  • What patterns of reflection, prayer and action might I establish to open up my life as an outlet for God's blessing toward others?

Learning from Brunch


One of the challenges with being the smallest church in Wooster is deciding what to do when you know that six families won't be around for your Sunday gathering - and the College is still on fall break.  The writer of Hebrews exhorts Believers to "not give up meeting together" and we want to live in obedience to God's Word, but six couples minus college students minus a handful of adults to serve with our kids...  You get it: not many of us left.

We called an audible last week and had Sycamore over for brunch on Sunday morning.  Now I'm not claiming that brunch is worship.  But I know that we came together in Jesus' name and that he was with us by the Spirit.   And I know that there was something undeniably good about our time together.

What was it that made it so good?  I think it was a taste of unity (pun intended).

Unity can be hard to pin down.  We know it when we see it, but even then we're really seeing something that has resulted from other things taking place.  Part of our unity was simply that we all made the decision to show up.  Another part was that everyone brought something to share at the food table.  But most importantly, we had the unspoken agreement that everyone could come as they were and be known. 

As I talked and laughed with people, I didn't feel the need to posture or pretend.  And I was eager to hear what was going on in others' lives without an agenda.  Knowing and being known - free from judgement, fear and condemnation - was what unified us.

A couple at Sycamore recently hosted a block party and I heard a number of encouraging stories from it.  One that stands out is of an older gentlemen who just kept hanging out after dinner, during cleanup and into the night.  Why would a stranger do that?  I think it's because people are desperate for relationships that mean something, for relationships in which we can come as we are and be known.

Wouldn't it be amazing if Sycamore became a community that lived for that?  What if we became a place for people to belong no matter where they've been or what they've done?  How many lives would change if we did what we did during Sunday brunch for our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers - regardless of who they are, where they've been or what they've done?

I invite you to reflect on two things this week and consider how the Lord might lead you to respond:

  • Is the Gospel of Jesus impacting my relationships with people?
  • Do you live life with people who know the real you?  If not, why not?

The Unity of the Cross


On Sunday, we continued our conversation of Paul's letter to the Church in Philippi (check it out if you weren't able to be with us).  The passage centered on unity, with Paul exhorting his audience to "make [his] joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind"  (vv.2).

It seems fair to say that unity is prized by social groups.  For any family, organization, business or sports team that I can think of, unity is fundamental to fulfilling its purpose.  Conversely, disunity becomes a cancer that compromises and, ultimately, destroys a group from the inside-out.

I think that Paul understood how essential unity was to the early Church.  Their survival depended on it.  He also knew that the most compelling and tangible way for God to reveal his great love and redemptive work to the world was through his people.  It had always been that way - from Abraham's family to Moses' nation to David's kingdom.  It had always been about a chosen people showing him to the world by living in his love and living out his love.  For Paul, living unified in God's love was how the Church would show the world that he was real.

Paul called the Philippian church to unity, but not for unity's sake.  Unity was to be the manifestation of their authentic love for one another lived out in response to the love they experienced in Christ Jesus.  It was a love that was undeserved yet given freely, a love that meant Jesus becoming nothing so that they could become everything, a love in which he submitted himself to death so that they could come alive.

Their unity in Christ would reveal him to the world - and it would only be possible if they remained focused on him.

"You all are so different.  How do you get along?" 

"We've never seen people sacrifice for one another like you do."

"You give so much even though you have so little.  Why?"

As we move forward together this week, I encourage you to reflect on the questions below and consider how the Lord is leading you to respond.

  • Are we who are Sycamore unified in Christ?  Would the world see evidence of God's presence in us and among us by observing our relationships with one another?
  • Spend time in Philippians 2:5-11 every day this week.  What about Jesus stands out to you in these verses?  How will you allow his life to inform your life moving forward?



The Major League Baseball playoffs began last night with the New York Yankees facing off against the Minnesota Twins in the first wild card game.  In case you missed the highlights, the Yankees won and - you guessed it - the Twins lost.

I've head the it said: "It doesn't matter if you win or lose.  It's how you play the game."  I doubt that the Twins agree.

Winning and losing is fundamental to sports.  Not everyone gets a trophy.  Competition builds drama, which is why sports capture the attention of so many.

As a guy whose current outlook for drama-filled competition is pick-up basketball with other 30-somethings and Monopoly Junior with my kids, I wonder: What does it look like to win or lose in everyday life?

On Sunday, Sean kicked off our study of Philippians by walking us through the first 26 verses.  He explained that this book of the Bible is actually a letter of joy written by the Apostle Paul to some of his dearest friends.  What's crazy, though, is that he wrote this joy letter while chained to a Roman guard while on house arrest - for 2 years.

Insert record scratch.

How was this possible?  Prison is a difficult place to live regardless of the time and place in human history, but Paul's prison was a far cry from our modern prisons complete with three meals a day and cable television.  How could he write with joy when his circumstances were so bad?

Paul had found a win-win life.  He wrote in verse 21, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain."  Living - no matter the circumstances - was great for Paul because he got to represent Jesus to the world.  Dying, he claimed, was even greater because he would be reunited with the risen Christ forever.  Nothing could touch who he had become at the core of his being.  He couldn't lose.

How about us?  Are we living win-win lives?  Have we taken on the identity of Jesus so that we can be free from the fluctuating, unpredictable circumstances of our lives?

I invite you to reflect on following and listen for how God might lead you forward:

  • To what degree is my outlook on life dictated by my job, possessions, relationships, etc.?
  • What would it look like for me to live out Philippians 1:21?

Here We Go!

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We've said from Day 1 that we are a church who desires to fulfill Jesus' command to make disciples"Disciple" comes from a Greek word that can be translated "learner" - more specifically, learner in the sense of pupil to a teacher or apprentice to a master craftsman.  Therefore, our desire is to help people learn from Jesus how to build a life worth living.

In order to help others, we must first be learners ourselves.  Part of learning means taking in information, which is why we listen to trusted Bible teachers and study the Bible as individuals.  Real learning, however, must also be lived out - information must transform our actions if we are to claim that we've truly learned something.

"What I Meant To Say" is one of the ways in which we who are Sycamore strive to help one another live out the words of Jesus.  Sometimes I say too much and sometimes too little; sometimes my thoughts don't come out of my mouth as clearly as they're formed in my head.  These posts intend to bridge that gap and highlight the primary takeaways for living more fully in the identity and activity of Jesus.