Monday, October 27, 2008

Taking our eyes off of the prize

Matthew 6:33 - But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Those words are some incredibly sound advice given by our Lord Jesus Christ during the sermon on the Mount. For nearly 2000 years they have been available to Christians as wise counsel about the practical application of living out our faith. Yet, they are often ignored as we let the smaller things in life crowd out the vision of the Kingdom of God in our thinking.

This has been on my mind for a while now as I progress through seminary. I've seen so many churches take their eyes off of the prize, and get locked up into bickering, schism, name-calling, church splits and all manner of ungodly behavior over seemingly minor things.

Here are a few of the examples I have seen churches split over:
1. Should the pastor's wife be compelled to wear a hat?
2. Removal of a beloved worship leader and replacement with someone who plays a different style of music.
3. Factional fighting for power/control within a congregation resulting in "churning" of pastors who cannot get past the initial 2-year call.
4. Removal of a pastor who violated church bylaws on divorce and remarriage.
5. Removal of a beloved member of the church staff.
6. Gossip, backbiting and strife used to wield power behind the scenes in a church.

Looking back at each of these, I ask the question: "Where is the kingdom of God in all of this?" Do any of these examples warrant blowing up a congregation and destroying the unity of a church? Is clothing, music or personnel worth ruining the reputation of the Bride of Christ?

Please hear me. I am NOT excusing ungodly leadership or behavior. If a church leader or pastor is engaging in ungodly behavior, they should be dealt with according to the scriptures and the leadership of the church. What I am talking about here are preferences that become "sacred cows" and the ensuing aftermath when someones sacred cow gets slaughtered.

Paul takes on the personnel issue in 1 Corinthians 3. He is writing to a church that is in discord because some say they are followers of Paul and others are followers of Apollos. That sounds familiar in the list I printed above. Neither Paul or Apollos are anything but followers of God. The church has taken their eyes off of God, and is focusing on the men. They are missing the message because they are so worried about the messenger! That is a tragic mistake that we see repeated over and over again.

Imagine if Paul and Apollos both fell over dead. Who would they follow then? The next apostle who showed up? They should be following God, and listening to the messengers who speak for him. But they became so wrapped up in the temporal things that they are missing the heavenly things.

My friends, I fear that is what many today are doing. We worry so much about the who (is delivering), and how (it is being delivered) of the message that we are missing the point of what (is being said) in the message. I know that I've been guilty in the past of letting the temporal overrule the eternal in my thinking, and I've asked God for forgiveness for that. I pray that each of you, during your prayer time, will ask God the question: "Is there something that I hold dear that is more important than building the Kingdom of God and its righteousness?" If there is, confess that to God and ask for his help in rearranging your priorities. The Kingdom of God awaits your help.

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