Dealing with Distractions…

It’s been 17 days since my last blog post. That’s not very good if a person actually wants people to read the post. Of course, I’m not nearly as tech savvy as I think I am (or, so I learn more everyday), and getting people to read my blog is not the purpose of the blog. (Here’s why I started writing a blog.) But I digress (the digression proves the point of today’s particular blog).

distractionsI haven’t written lately because I’ve allowed myself get distracted. Maybe it’s just too easy for me to become distracted. I find it ever more difficult to stay on task. I would like to blame it on having so much to do that I don’t know what to do next, so the next thing that comes up, I do, but that would be too easy, and not totally correct. I would like to blame it on ADD (or, is it ADHD, or AADD? I’m not sure), and a simple fix would be getting medication, but that would be too easy, too, and it probably wouldn’t work (nor would my insurance cover it, so…). It’s probably a much more simple matter of allowing the urgent to crowd out the important, and not paying attention to present demand. It might also be a matter of establishing appropriate priorities. No matter! I haven’t written lately, AND I’m easily distracted.

Perhaps that’s why I spoke to our men’s group on Tuesday about distractions. Most of the time when I speak or preach a sermon, it’s not a message for THEM as much as it is them overhearing a conversation God is having with me, or me with God. The men got an earful Tuesday as the Lord got me pretty good.

We live in a world filled with distractions. Where would you like me to start? I could start with television, radio and the internet. I saw one study that showed between these media, the average adult spends more than nine hours a day in front of a screen. I know not all that time is spent as a distraction, but when I spend a couple of hours catching up on DVR’d episodes of American Pickers, that’s  a distraction. Another distraction is when I am “working” on-line researching some issue, or even catching up on the news, and I find myself spending twenty minutes watching a Stephen Colbert video that is neither research nor news, well, that’s a distraction. Or, I’ll do a Google search on “hours spent watching TV,” and I’ll find myself four clicks deep into the search on a page that has nothing to do with watching TV (I had the choices of two Miley Cyrus articles, Joan Rivers’ hospitalization, a NYPD sex abuse case, and…well, you get the point, and no, I’m not telling which one I landed on). I even get distracted when I’m distracted.

Then, there’s my whole email thing (yes, I know, email is an extension of digital media, but…). So, I’m at work, right? And, I have my computer on, right? And, I’m working on a project, or even talking to someone, right? And, my Outlook is open, right? And, I get an email (yes, Outlook dings every time I get an email, and no, I don’t know how to turn it off [I told you I wasn’t as tech savvy as some people think]). What do I do? I quit whatever I’m doing and look at email! How dumb! In my defense, I am learning to not keep Outlook open when I’m at my desk. It becomes less of a distraction that way.

Then, of course, there’s my smartphone. Talk about a distraction! Right there, in my pocket or on my hip, is a distraction that’s with me everywhere I go. Generally, if it rings, I answer it. It’s an addiction, I suppose. I can’t help myself. And, text messages, too. Ding! I’m stopping whatever I’m doing and looking at my phone. It’s very rude. I know it’s rude. But, I can’t help myself. Is there a medication for this malady? Is it covered by my insurance? Somebody help me! Oh, the distraction!

I’m a little concerned (notice my use of the word concerned as opposed to worried) that my life has become a reflection of the thorny ground Jesus talked about when he told the story of the farmer scattering seed in Luke 8: 1 -1 5. Jesus talks about the seed falling among the thorns, but it soon gets crowded out by the “cares, riches and pleasures” of this life. I’m thinking those are the distractions I’m dealing with. The “cares” of this life might better be translated “worries.” The Greek word means “being pulled in different directions.” We can feel like we’re being pulled in different directions, and often we are with family, work, civic and church responsibilities. Each of these is important, but each of these can keep us from hearing God’s voice (the seed in Jesus’ story).

Jesus also talks about “riches.” Not much I can say about this one (no riches, no worries!), except that I can become so distracted with making a living that I fail to make a life. Jesus then, however, talks about the “pleasures” of life. Talk about distractions! And, we are entering a time of the year when I will be plenty distracted. Seriously! College football has kicked off, and LSU plays tomorrow night. The Saints kick off next Sunday (in Atlanta, of all places [dirty Birds!]). And, I’ve discovered that Facebook is the new way to watch football with friends, as I post my in-game commentary so all of my friends know exactly what I’m doing, and how I feel about it. And, the weather? It’s going to turn cooler soon, and that’s going to make golf even more enticing. Yeah, I forsee a lot of distractions in my future (I should call them “thorns”), and I confess, I need help! Those distractions will crowd out the better things of life, and they’ll choke off the very life-blood of a disciple–God’s voice.

Here’s an interesting thing to note. Thorns grow without any effort. When I pastored Benton UMC, we had the opportunity to purchase 18 adjoining acres. Those 18 acres were filled with thorn bushes that had no problem growing on their own. The property was terribly unusable at it existed because of the thorns. The only way it was going to become fruitful was through an intentional eradication of the thorns. Here’s the point: Distractions, like thorns, grow on their own. They take no effort. The effort is in eradicating them.

So, where do I put my effort? One, establish my priorities, and my first priority is to nurture my relationship with the Lord. I need to hear his voice. As Elijah discovered on the mountain (1 Kings 19: 1 – 13), the voice of God is still and quiet. If we hear it, we’ll need to limit the distractions. Second, I just need to turn a few things off…let’s call it powering down. Yes, I know, it won’t be easy. Getting rid of thorns never is, but it is imperative if we’re going to live as faithful, fruitful disciples of Jesus Christ. Finally, I need accountability. This is the medication I’m searching for. I need people in my life who will call me to task when I’m distracted, who can lovingly and gently ask me questions that will give me pause to check my priorities, encourage me to power down, and re-focus on that which is most important–hearing God’s voice. Somebody, help me! (Oh, by the way, did you see…but, I digress).

Until next time, keep looking up…

Ode to a Watermelon…

I’m glad I have a brother who fancies himself a watermelon farmer. Actually, he just fancies himself a farmer, but watermelons we’re his abundant crop this summer. I’m glad because I love watermelon. I love it’s juicy sweetness. I love the sound a watermelon makes when you stick the knife in it and it’s ripeness is just such that it splits itself open. That’s when you know it’s going to be sweet and delicious. My brother had a pretty good crop this year, and I was the benefactor of several of those home-grown melons.

jubilee melonsMy love for watermelons is as much nostalgia as anything else, I suppose. I remember as a kid walking into Malone’s Grocery in Chatham, LA, in the summer time and seeing the front of the store lined with fresh Saline watermelons. Usually in July, the watermelon farmers from Bienville Parish would make their rounds pulling trailers loaded with watermelons, stopping at every little grocery store, convenience store and gas station along their routes. If we were anywhere around, we were usually the ones who helped pack the melons from the trailer into the store. I still can’t decide which I liked more–the striped “Jubilee” melon, or the solid “Charleston Gray.”

My grandfather’s store had a dairy case that ran the length of one wall just as you entered the store. Underneath the “cooler” was storage for extra milk or eggs. He’d have us clean out a spot and fill the “cooler” with watermelons, and a sign would go in the window reading “Cold Watermelon.” The best part (and here’s the love) was on Sunday after lunch, my grandfather would go to the store, pull out one of those ice cold watermelons and bring it home for everyone to enjoy on a hot summer afternoon. Once I was old enough to drive, he’d trust me with the keys to the store, and I would get to go pick out one of those ice cold melons. Every time I slice into a juicy, ripe melon, I remember those days growing up. Nothing sweeter on a hot summer afternoon than ice cold watermelon.

It’s really just the summer melons that evoke those memories. I’ve yet to find any of those “seedless” watermelons you buy these days that have the same sweetness or meaty-ness of those locally, home-grown melons. They are a cheap (well, not really cheap, but you know what I mean) imitation of the real thing, and while they’ll do in a pinch, they just never taste quite right (and, don’t even get me started on that stuff they call “watermelon” on buffets and salad bars–really?).

Seeds are part of the whole watermelon experience. There really is something missing when the seeds are not there (seriously, no pun intended). Seeds make us have to work for the melon. I mean, when was the last time you had a seed-spitting contest? People say the sweetest part of the melon is the “heart” where there are few seeds, but I disagree. I find the sweetest part of the melon to be right in the middle of all the seeds, and while it’s a chore and a bother to separate the melon from the seeds, it’s always worth the effort, and, if you save the seeds, you’ve got the beginnings of next year’s crop. But, seedless melons are all the rage. They’re what you find in the stores these days. They make watermelon eating easier, and after all, everyone wants easier.

Sometimes, I think we want our faith easier, too. We don’t want to be bothered with the hard work that is real faith. Give me a seedless faith, one where I don’t have to bothered with the demands of a holy God, one where I can taste of the sweetness without dealing with accountability, or transparency, or honesty. Give me a seedless faith where I don’t have to wrestle with the hard questions of life. Questions like, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “Where is God when it hurts?” No, my seedless faith says everything is supposed to come up roses, that life is supposed to be easy, that I’m supposed to have all the finer things of life because, hey, I deserve it. Give me a seedless faith, where sin is some nebulous reality we know exists, but no one (especially me!) actually ever does it anymore. Give me a seedless faith, one without judgment, one without trials and struggles, one where all things are perfect. Some faith that is!

Faith is made stronger in the fire. Faith is made stronger in the trials. Faith is made deeper when practiced in a community where accountability is real, where honesty and integrity matter. Faith is made stronger when we wrestle with sin (both our own and that of society). Faith is made stronger, and more meaningful, and life-changing when we have to deal with the seeds.

There are Christians around the world today whose faith is being made stronger because of the persecution they endure. The Kurdish Christians who are being driven from their homes, whose lives are being threatened if they do not convert to Islam, who are being killed for the belief in Jesus Christ, do not possess a seedless faith. I suspect the persecution comes for them because they have a deep faith, a faith that is being deepened even in the face of mounting persecution. I pray for them (and all our brothers and sisters around the world who are being persecuted) daily. I pray their faith doesn’t falter, but I also pray that I could have such faith.

Nah! Seedless watermelons just aren’t the same. Faith not borne out of the trials and struggles of life is not quite the same either. I’ll take my watermelon with seeds in it. I pray my faith deepens in the hard work of living life.

Until next time, keep looking up…