I invite you just to stop and THINK for a few moments before reading further. What do you feel is the center of your spiritual life?
I can't remember how many times I have sung, with tears stinging my eyes:
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heav'n's morning breaks and earth's vain shadows flee.
In life, in death, Oh, Lord, abide with me.
It seems that mostly I have concentrated on the "Heaven's morning breaking" part, longing to be there with a feeling something like homesickness. Until recently, I had not thought much about the "hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes" part. Has that happened to you?
It seems to me that we may have lost our focus. I hope I can explain what I mean.
Didn't Paul tell our Corinthian brothers and sisters that when we came to them he talked about nothing other than the crucified Jesus Christ? Isn't that where the whole book which we hold sacred points?
Didn't he tell God's children in Galatia that he had told them very clearly about the death of Jesus Christ on the cross? "However," he said, "you were very foolish; you let someone trick you."
It seems to me that we have been tricked. Have we let something shift our focus from the Christ to somewhere else?
For many years, the principal focus of my spiritual life was the church organization. I don't know about you, but even until very recently, my focus has also been inside instead of out. I find it highly ironic that today the Christ is in competition with "the church" for the affections of men. I have valued very highly the companionship, compassion and care of my brothers and sisters in the family of God. My spiritual life-style was to "be there every time the doors were opened". In fact, many times, I opened the doors to the church building myself. It has been important to me. I felt that opening the doors was one small way I could serve my Lord. I have been edified, taught, strengthened and encouraged by many loving, caring brothers and sisters over the years and in several parts of the country. I like that. Each of us needs that.
But if you are anything at all like me, whether in the organized church or out of it, you, too, have had your focus on your brothers and sisters in the Lord instead of outside on the lost.
In more recent times I have searched for the scriptures which would tell me to keep my focus on the church organization. I read and re-read it. I keep coming up with the fact that all of scripture - both the Hebrew and Greek - direct our undivided attention, not to the church, - not to each other - but to Jesus, the Son of God, himself.
Please don't think I am belittling our mutual relationship as God's children. Recently, I value that even more than I ever did in the past. However, I believe, that at least in my own life I have placed first "the church" and later my spiritual relationships somewhere slightly above my Lord. Have you? Do you still?
What had tricked the Galatians? Could the same thing have tricked you and me?
In his letter to them, Paul used some very strong language to convince them that they were giving up the freedom, the blessings, and yes, the very spirit of God, because they had given up on the grace of God and were trying to continue in Him "by their own power." They were trying to reimpose law. The very thing from which they had been freed!
He told them:
We have freedom now. Christ made us free. So stand firm. Don't turn and go back into slavery. Listen! I, Paul, am telling you this: If you allow yourselves to be circumcised, then Christ does you no good. Again, I warn every man: If you allow yourselves to be circumcised, then you must follow the entire law. If you try to be made right with God through law, then you are cut off from Christ you have fallen from grace! But we have a hope: We wait for it eagerly. We will be made right with God through the Spirit. How? Be faith! When a person in Christ Jesus, it doesn't matter whether he is circumcised or not. The only thing which is important is faith the kind of faith which works through love. (SEB)
I see a modern parallel. We may have forgotten that the key to salvation is being in Christ Jesus. Each of us who has been immersed into Christ has put Christ on.
Haven't we been taking "work out your own salvation" too literally? Haven't we thought that righteousness was in works? Oh, I know, we've taught a doctrine of both works and faith. But our emphasis has been on works, hasn't it? I don't think there could be much serious question about that.
F'rinstance: Do I "attend church" regularly? Am I a regular, cheerful giver? Do I visit neighboring "meetings"? Do I visit the sick (in the sense of going by and looking in, not necessarily helping the sick)? Do I distribute leaflets when something special is going on "at church"? Do I take an active role in "the services"? Is my name on the "obligation chart"? Am I carrying my share of classroom teaching? Do I carry the keys to the thermostat? Has my name ever been mentioned as a deacon? Deaconess? Elder? Do I sign up to feed and entertain any "visiting preachers"? Do I "go to church" regularly when I am travelling? (And do I send "my contribution" back home?) Have I "placed my membership" somewhere in a "local church"?
All of these things are looked upon among us as making one "faithful". But someone has tricked us!
Where has our focus been? This is the kind of thing Paul was talking about.
I know where mine was in the past. My focus was on Acts 2:38. Oh, I knew that I had been immersed into Jesus Christ himself, but that's not where my focus was. My focus was on the steps leading up to immersion. I made sure to get "hearing, believing, repenting and an oral confession of belief in Jesus" in the right order each time. My focus was on being immersed for the remission of sins. My focus was on being "added to the church".
All of those things are true and necessary, all right. I don't want to be misunderstood as belittling them at all. What I do want is to suggest an inventory. Look inside to see if your focus is on the Lord or on the church.
Is it on trying to imitate Him as our Shepherd and Example, or is it on faithful attendance to "the services"? Is it on "the blessing and freedom in Him, or on adhering to the decisions of the elders? Is it on the wonderful hope we have in Him, or is it on the budget?
I'm sorry to say that for many years I considered assembling with the saints as an end. This was the consummate "work" of being a child of God. I misapplied Hebrews 10:25. I believed that "being faithful" was better expressed by "being faithful to the church". Generally, this was measured by how many meetings of the church one attended each week and how regularly this was done week after week.
It is only recently that I have come to realize that assembling with other saints, is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end!
We are to edify - build each other up - and provoke one another to love and to good works. That helps us each to grow stronger in the faith so we can do the work our Lord gave us to do.
After all, Jesus told those following Him to lift up their eyes and look. In other words, they were told to focus on something just a little farther away than themselves. When they lifted their eyes up and looked, he said they would see that the fields are already white and ready for harvest.
The edification, strengthening, teaching, encouragement we get from each other is just too good to keep to ourselves. We ought to be sharing it with others.
We should be sharing with others not only the news about our own fellowship in His family, but about the other unspeakable blessings we have in Him, as well.
How about sharing the good news with those out there ready to be harvested. Paul mentioned several things. Receiving the Spirit of God. Being made righteous by the Lord through faith. Having our condemnation taken away.
The promise God made to Abraham, fulfilled in Christ for us. The forgiveness of our sins. Freedom. Being made right with God. Receiving all of God's blessings because of the promises he made to Abraham. We are God's heirs. We are God's children. God sends his Spirit into our hearts so we may fully understand the things which God gave us. Christ can be "fully formed" in us. We have freedom now. Christ made us free. We can have the mind of Christ.
When we are immersed into Jesus Christ, we put Him on. Isn't that great news? The forgiveness of sins is an additional benefit, but not the sole purpose of immersion. Isn't that news too good to keep to ourselves?
Oh, I know that many already share the good news with others. Some have been doing it for years while the rest of us sat back and wished we knew how. Too many of us have not. I'm talking about and to those who have been more like me over the years.
Let's change our focus from the joy of spending time with each other and shift it to those people we know who make up the white harvest.
To those who work outside the home, talk about Jesus with your co-workers. To those who work at home, share with everyone you can who comes to the door, or whom you meet at the store, at school, on the telephone everywhere you go.
The commission Jesus gave to His disciples just before he returned to the Father, does not give us a command to "go". The word in both Matthew and Mark is a participle showing continuing action. Thus:
As you are going (or as you have gone) along, proclaim the good news to every creature, immersing them into the names of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Also, teach them to know and do everything that I have taught you.
That's paraphrased, of course, but I believe it is a little clearer for me. The King James Version really makes it difficult for me to understand.
In other words, don't feel that you have to go around to the other side of earth to tell the good news. Why, those folks don't even know you. And probably don't speak your language. Don't feel that you even have to go to another region of the country nor another state. Not even to a different town.
I have learned that l don't have to go at all. By walking through doors of opportunity which the Lord has recently opened, I find that many of my friends and co-workers are literally hungry for spiritual information and guidance. The harvest is indeed white and ready. It has been waiting for us to reap. Not only that, but many of them are more spiritually mature than I ever thought. In my conceit, I thought I should lead them. But I find that we are learning from each other and they are also helping to fill my spiritual hunger.
In the past, I guess l approached people as a member of the one true church, I knew that my church and doctrine were right and theirs were wrong and that I had to convert them from what they believed to what I believed. Now, I believe I understand that the Lord wants me to tell others about Him, not about church. About the kind of life he lived. We can all live the way he did, he said.
The message we can share with others is the same good news that someone shared with us:
Turn from living for self.
Give your life wholly to the Lord.
Be immersed into Christ and begin living the kind of life He showed us, serving others. Thus you have been born again of water and the Spirit, have put on Christ, and have been buried into His death. In doing these things, you have put your old self to death and may now live a free life in Him. Praise God!
That's really great news and such a simple story to be able to tell others. They are hungry for it. The harvest is white and ready to be taken in.
Let's lift up our eyes, and change our focus from the church to the Christ, and from ourselves to others.
May God bless us and the harvest!