Loss of Focus

Family vacations are a blast in the Parish household. Especially the long car rides. With four boys in the back seat, the trips can get rather interesting. A few month ago we packed up the kids and headed towards our favorite vacation destination, Destin Florida. Our boys love the big water park in Destin and we’re very excited about where we were headed.

The boys started out for the first leg of the trip just fine, actually well behaved. Then Abel touched Luke, and Luke didnt like the way Abel looked at him. Lincoln began to hum a tune and Andy got irritated and began shouting at Linc. It seemed like the littlest things got under the boys skin with one another.

The huge excitement of looking forward to the water park began to pale in comparison to the smallest annoyances. They were more focused on trivial things rather than realizing that they were headed to one of their favorite places on earth and just enjoying the ride!

For the church of Jesus Christ, we are just like kids in the backseat of a car on a long ride headed towards a spectacular destination. But instead of basking in that excitement and encouraging our brothers and sisters as we travel down life’s road, we can begin to lose focus of the destination and let trival things get in the way. Instead of sitting back and enjoying the ride, and focusing on reaching others to join us, we can all too often begin to complain and fight among one another.

Sadly, the consequences of this happening inside of the church are much more detrimental than my kids fighting inside of a car. We are on a road headed towards eternity. And our hope is that God would draw others to join us as we head towards our final destination to be with God the Father. But when we fight amongst ourselves, and look for reasons to stir up strife within the body, we become a stumbling block to those who do not know Christ.

I can tell you with great assurance that if we stopped to pick up a hitchhiker and before getting in, they saw our four boys holding a Wrestlemania in the back seat, they would never get in the car with us! In much the same way, we misrepresent Jesus to the outside world when we focus more on our personal preferences and what we don’t like rather than looking ahead and anticipating our Heavenly reward!

The scriptures say that if we have a problem with another brother or sister, we are to immediately put an end to it before it can escalate by confronting that person in love to settle the matter. That is one of the marks of a mature Christian. Troubles arise when we begin to neglect the teachings of scripture, and instead of bravely confronting issues in love, we cower and chose instead to slander, gossip and complain.

It is not the lost individuals outside of the church that are the greatest threat to the mission of Christ. It is the people within the walls of the church who choose to tear people down rather than rejoicing in their own salvation and seeking to build up the body. Wherever the truth of God’s word is spoken, and the church is advancing, darkness will always raise its head, even inside of the church. Stephen, one of the men chosen by the apostles to serve the church, faced this problem.

Stephen was described as a man that was full of the Spirit of God. He was a man who stood on truth. Stephen was doing great signs and wonders empowered by the Spirit and proclaiming the risen Christ, and people began to rise up against him. But it was not a group of atheist that had a problem with Stephen. It was the people who claimed to be religious, but in truth preferred to serve a God of their own makings, not the Christ that Stephen preached and the scriptures spoke of. And they hated Stephen for the truth he preached.

“And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.  Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen.  But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” Acts 6:8-10.

Instead of being the church and focusing on the mission of Christ, these religious men chose to slander Stephen. Instead of seeking unity, they pursued an agenda of division. Instead of taking the time to search the scriptures and their hearts to see if what Stephen was saying was actually true, they stiffened their necks and began to falsely accuse Stephen of blasphemy. They began to start whispering campaigns to stir up dissension rather than approaching Stephen in love to gain understanding. When the whispers and false accusations against Stephen had grown into a mob, only then were these men brave enough to confront Stephen with their drummed up charges.

“Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.”  And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council,” Acts 6:11-12.

It was not that Stephen was preaching a false Gospel. Rather, the problem was that they did not want to believe the Gospel Stephen was preaching. Perhaps it was pride the filled their hearts, as they feared having to admit they were wrong. Perhaps they were so steeped in the religious traditions of the temple that they feared change. Or maybe their hearts were just rocks of stone. Regardless of their reasoning, the church was not glorifying Christ to the outside world, they were causing massive internal problems and stifling the truth of the Gospel that Stephen preached. Their hypocracy continued to grow.

“…and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law,  for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” Acts 6:13-14.

These religious leaders continued to stir people up within the church behind the scenes. They began to take truth out of context. One of the charges against Stephen was that they claimed Jesus said he would destroy the temple, their sacred place of worship. I would imagine that Stephen may have quoted Jesus to them when He had said;

“Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John 2:19.

No doubt Jesus had said He would destroy the temple, but their building was not what Christ was talking about. In context, Jesus was speaking of His own body and His resurrection that would follow three days later. The religious leaders had not taken the time to understand. Instead, they rose up in ignorance. They assigned their own meaning to what Stephen was saying instead of taking the time to understand the truth Stephen was speaking. And they were more focused on the internal things that they disagreed with rather than the mandate and honor of making Christ name great among the nations. These religious leaders missed out on the joy of living for Jesus because they were to consumed with living for themselves.

The Old Testament Prophets were persecuted for preaching the truth. Jesus was crucified for preaching the truth. And the Apostles and Stephen were killed for preaching the truth. Whenever truth is preached, opposition will rear its head. Because in our flesh we don’t want truth, we want life, Church, and even at times God to conform to our personal preferences. It is the human condition.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,” 2 Timothy 4:3.

But when this takes places within the walls of the church, three things happen. First we neglect the truth of the scriptures, which halts our sanctification. Secondly, we become ineffective in reaching the lost world for Christ because our focus is misdirected. And thirdly, we become just like the religious leaders who stoned Stephen.

Pastors, Elders, Deacons, and congregants alike, we are own worst enemy at times. Rather than seeking to divide the body of Christ over back seat squabbles, we should take every opportunity to seek unity! Instead of arguing over our opinions of Biblical doctrines and the runnings of the church, we should go to one another in love and filter everything through the Word of God, letting it be our guide. And where there is misunderstanding in the church, we should all as the children of God come together in love to seek truth together as the body.

That trip to the water park in Destin did not happen for our boys, at least not that day. As we traveled the road on the way to a place that should have brought joy to our kids, squabbling from the kids in the backseat was so bad that as punishment, we said no to going to the water park. They were crushed, because they thought that was where they were going. I gave many chances for our kids to repent as I pleaded with them to stop arguing. But they were to focused on themselves to take joy in where they were headed.

Just because they were in the car didn’t mean they deserved to go to the water park. The little hearts and attitudes were dependant on the reward. And in the same way, name on a role or bodies on a pew do not serve as a punch ticket to Heaven.

The church is not comprised of people who slander, gossip, and seek to cause division. The church is comprised of new people, who through the love of Christ now desire above all else to love one another to serve the Lord.

“Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; No one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.” Psalm 101:5

The church is a transformed people with new desires. And although we fall into error at times and make mistakes, the children of God learn from their mistakes and repent of them. They don’t practice divisive tactics. They are seekers of unity and lovers of truth. Let us as brothers and sisters not merely come to church. Lets be the church. The road is long, and we are in the backseat together following after Christ. Let our focus be upon Him, the mission of making His name great, and the eternal joy that is to come.

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