I had just finished speaking for a Christian leaders' gathering that was part of the countdown to a Franklin Graham Festival. The setup team there was in their early days of working together on this massive mobilization. The team leader thought it would be a good idea to get his team together for a few minutes after the meeting ended, and he invited me to join them. Then he handed me a cluster of helium balloons tied together. Suddenly, I felt like I'd gone from speaker to circus clown. And, you know, I've read Winnie the Pooh stories to our kids enough that I couldn't help but picture Pooh Bear being carried into the sky by a bunch of balloons like that.
I'm not much of a photographer, but I'm married to one. A number of years ago, I was able to open doors to minister to our local football team by being on the sidelines and shooting pictures of them in action. Well, my wife gave me a crash course in photography, and the one thing I had to learn fast was how to focus my lens. See, I was shooting from all different angles, all different distances. If I said, "Well, I'll just focus my lens for the first photo and leave it like that," I would have had a pile of blurry pictures and not many friends on the football team when they came looking for a picture of themselves. See, the picture kept changing, so I had to constantly refocus for each new situation.
I'm Ron Hutchcraft, and I want to have A Word With You today about "The Focus That Sinks You."
What you focus on in any given situation will determine your attitude and ultimately your response, and quite possibly your outcome. So, it's important that you fill up your lens with the right thing. That you ultimately, of course, focus on Jesus and not on the circumstances. But your heart and your mind are a lot like my camera-you can't just focus once and leave it set there and think it's going to stay there. The picture keeps changing, right? You have to get back in focus for each new situation.
There's a memorable example of this in our word for today from the Word of God in Matthew 14 beginning in verse 25. The disciples were out on the lake in a sudden, violent, life-threatening storm. And then, the Bible says, "Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. 'It's a ghost,' they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: 'Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.' 'Lord, if it's You,' Peter replied, 'tell me to come to You on the water.' 'Come," He said. "Then Peter got down out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus."
Wow! Peter had his mental camera focused completely on Jesus and he was unsinkable. But then things slipped out of focus. The Bible says, "But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. 'You of little faith,' He said, 'why did you doubt?"
Well, there I am. There you are. Focused on Jesus, walking where we could never walk otherwise. And then focused on the storm, the circumstances, our fears – going under. That's why we need to constantly refocus on Jesus, because we keep slipping out of focus. We get halfway there, and we start looking around. We lose our focus on Jesus.
Let's say, for example, you start your day praising the Lord, really hanging onto Jesus. But throughout your day, there are just so many distracting problems and temptations and pressures and emotions and people. And it is so easy to focus on those stresses and those issues. And suddenly Jesus has become this kind of blurry figure in the background.
Over and over, we need to stop and consciously get our eyes back on Jesus-to breathe and just say, "Jesus is Lord." "Jesus is first." "Jesus is in charge here." "Jesus has got this." Often I'll find myself stopping several times a day when the winds have suddenly picked up and saying those three peace-producing words: "Jesus is Lord. Jesus is Lord."
Satan's great strategy for sinking you is to get your eyes off Jesus because he can beat you, but he doesn't stand a chance against Jesus. So keep readjusting your focus. Keep Jesus always in the foreground, clearly in focus. Remember, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."
If I ever want to know anything about gardening, I ask the man in my world who is the master gardener-my friend, Mark. He doesn't ever need to shop in the produce department. No, he's got his own produce department in his backyard in this fabulous garden of his. He once told me about these incredible raspberries he saw growing in the woods near his home. But why have to go hunting for them in the woods, right? You could just transplant those raspberries and grow them in your garden, right?
Well, Mark was sorry he did that. In the woods, where God planted them, the berries had been big and many. But in Mark's garden, where he planted them, those same bushes produced berries that were small and few.
I'm Ron Hutchcraft, and I want to have A Word With You today about "Why You're Not Getting the Harvest You Hoped For."
My gardener friend was thinking about his puny raspberries when he said to me, "Things just do a lot better when they're grown God's way." That applies to a lot more than berries. In fact, it may explain why the outcome you've been getting isn't the outcome you've been hoping for.
God addresses the difference between His way and my way in our word for today from the Word of God in Isaiah 50:10-11. "Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of His servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. But now, all you who light fires and provide themselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires, and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from My hand: You will lie down in torment."
The picture here isn't about how to grow a great harvest, but how to handle the dark times, the confusing times, the tough times, but the principle is the same. One way is to relax and rely on God to make things happen. Remember, my friend said, "Things just do a lot better when they're grown God's way." The other choice is to start making your own sources of light-to try to make it happen yourself.
Now for us control freaks, that's one of the greatest dangers in our life, one of the greatest sources of pain and frustration and failure. We can't wait for God's timing. We can't trust God to get it done. He might need a little help from us. We have to fall back on our own intelligence and our persuasion and our planning, our schemes, our skill, our effort. God sternly reminds us of where trying to force it will leave us. "You will lie down in torment." He says you're going to pay a painful price for you trying to make it happen, force it to happen, doing it your way instead of His way; blowing right past what He wants because you're impatient and can't wait for Him.
The poet Whittier said, "Of all sad words of tongue or pen, 'tis the saddest of these, it might have been." I wonder if that's going to be the epitaph over your life as you review it with Jesus in heaven. "What might have been" - if only you had let go of the wheel, if only you had relinquished control, if only you had waited for God to do it His way. But all you got instead was what you could do instead of the much bigger, better thing that God could have done.
Remember those raspberries. When you try to make things grow your way in your place, the harvest is small. But when you let God grow it His way in His place in His time, you're going to be amazed with the size of the harvest!
Okay, it's Wild Kingdom trivia quiz time. What is an emu? If you guessed a big old Australian bird that can't fly, you're right. They can't fly, but they can produce oil. Yeah! Boy, my wife, she was glad they do. She had been having some severe pain in her back and arm. We decided to go ahead with our plans to spend a few days away with our family. The place we were staying at had bottles of emu oil for sale, of all things, at the cash register. I'd never heard of emu oil. And I wasn't jumping up and down to buy some, actually. But the owners said it might help give my wife a little relief. So, "Hello, emu oil." Now it wasn't a miracle cure, but we do think it helped. I would just put a blob of it on her back and gently rub it into her back and arm. Actually, that blob of emu oil wouldn't have done much good just sitting on her back. You had to rub it in for it to really help.
The driver pulled up and dumped it in my driveway, but I was very happy to see it. It was my cord of wood; a winter of warm fires in our fireplace! See, we had ordered it during a special sale, which others apparently took advantage of big time. The driver told me some people had ordered five cords of wood. When I asked why, he said, "It's for their wood stoves. They're depending on it to keep their house warm this winter!" Well, no wonder they ordered a lot of wood for the winter. And when they run out of fuel, they run out of fire. When they run out of fire, it gets very cold.
It was always nice when we got to spend a little time at the little country place we inherited from my wife's grandparents. It's a pretty big treat for a city boy like me, and a real education. Now we don't have any cows ourselves, but that place is surrounded by cows on all sides. It made me feel all peaceful when I could sit on the porch and see the cows inside the fence across the road, just quietly grazing or sitting in the shade. It didn't make me feel peaceful when I got up one morning and saw one of our neighbor's cows in our front yard grazing and leaving like souvenirs of her visit.
I got this wonderful and unusual invitation. Gail, one of our ministry's most dedicated volunteers, invited us to attend her baptism. Now Gail has known and served Jesus for many years, but somehow she had never followed her Lord in His example of being baptized. Part of that might be because she always felt very self-conscious of being in front of a group of people. But when she felt her Lord's urging to take this step, she went for it.
You remember the first day of school when you were little? New crayons, new pencils with sharp points, a new notebook with nothing written in it, maybe even some clothes you'd never worn before. Then as you got older, that first day of school meant there were no grades in the teacher's book yet, no absences, no tardies. It's a nice feeling. You know what? You have a lifetime of those first days!
When we lived in New Jersey, twelve straight days of rain was pretty unusual. But I remember this time when we got to take our turn at almost two weeks without sunshine. For most of us, it was just a soggy nuisance. But for some people across town, it meant trading in their car for a rowboat. I turned on the news one night as they were talking about a roof that had caved in on a store in our town. It was the pharmacy I went to all the time. Apparently, water had collected until it just broke through the ceiling, and it literally washed one customer out the door like a raging river! I was in the pharmacy prior to the roof caving in and I noticed that they had put out a couple of buckets on the floor, catching drips from some leaks in the ceiling. First, some little leaks – then suddenly the roof caved in!
There's one kind of nice trait that seems to have infected every member of our family. It's how much we enjoy trying to just get the right gift for each other. So over the years you'd often hear the question, "What would you like for your birthday, or your anniversary, or for graduation, or Christmas?" And the least appreciated answer goes something like this, "I don't know. Anything is fine." That's usually what I would say. Great! I was hoping for something a little more specific. I need some guidance.