Focal Point


I’m not much of a photographer, however, like a lot of people I do like to look at a good photograph. I couldn’t tell you what makes a photograph good, I can only tell you when I see it. The only thing I like more than looking at a good photograph is taking one. Fortunately for me, there are cameras these days that do most of the work for you. Automatic settings and focus help non-photographers like me pull off a decent photo every once in a while. For me, it’s pretty much the blind squirrel finding an acorn scenario.

I think the feature that helps the most with my “point and click” is not just the autofocus but my camera automatically locates the focal point. The truth is, unless there’s a focal point, autofocus does little to help.

So it is with the church. The church must have the proper focal point. If it doesn’t then all the focus in the world will amount to nothing. What do you think should be the focus of the church?

Your view of the church growth movement may affect how you answer this question. Also, depending on whether you’re in the vocational ministry or a lay-leader in the church or simply a church attender may make a difference too. However, I fear this question is more commonly answered incorrectly than not. Is church about people, the Great Commission, discipleship, worship services or social justice?

Sure, church should include all these things but none of these should be the focal point of the church. If they are, focus can quickly become attentive to the wrong things.

What, then, should be the ultimate focus of the church?

As I look at the New Testament epistles the answer should be easy. But, how many of our churches, church members and attenders come into “worship” services and programs in our churches and completely miss the focal point? Honestly, it shouldn’t be possible but unfortunately I think it happens all the time.

I could give many, many more references from the Epistles but here are a few to make my point:

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according with the Scriptures…”(1 Corinthians 15:3) Emphasis mine

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God…”(2 Corinthians 3:5)

“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 6:14)

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace…”(Ephesians 2:13-14)

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

“….I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8)

“And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” (Colossians 1:18)

As I said, I could give many more examples but as Paul wrote to the church, he always focused on the centrality, the focal point of Jesus.

All the difficulties we find in the church: division, dissatisfaction, gossip and faded worship are all symptoms of the real problem, Jesus isn’t the focal point.

But, when Jesus is the focal point the fruits are obvious:

1. Authentic, Spirit and Truth worship in the church.

2. Fulfillment of the great commission including the necessity of discipleship.

3. A heart for others that will result in social justice.

4. Unity within the Body. (Remember, Jesus never causes division within His church. If there’s division, it’s not from Him.)

5. Believers who follow Jesus with obedience [to Jesus] that stems from love for Him and His Word. Obedience to Jesus causes the Christian to abide in Him and therefore produce all kinds of good fruit. (Matthew 7:16)

Lord, help us that Jesus may be our focal point, our only focal point. I understand, by that, the rest of your purpose will come into focus. I pray for Jesus to be our focal point, and I pray it starts with me; today.

What’s a Christian? (Part 4)


I read the story in Acts 10 this morning about Cornelius the Centurion and his request for Peter to come and tell them, in Cornelius’ mind, whatever Peter needed to tell them. Peter had the greatest message to tell in the history of the world and Cornelius had a chance to hear it!

Ever since I preached a sermon from Matthew 13 several months ago asking the question, can you hear Jesus speaking? Do I want to hear what Jesus has to say? I have been trying to evaluate in myself how much drive and desire I really have to hear Him. I could picture in my mind all these people who were looking for their Messiah, but when He was there, they didn’t listen; they didn’t even have ears to hear! Scary!

It seems that we are in a culture, a church culture, where few seem worried about what God says or wants, or wants to say. Even in the church I pastor, I see people who say they’re Christ followers yet their decisions on their involvement, and even church membership, seem to be made without regard to what Jesus is wanting or saying. Usually, it comes down to whether things are done the way they want or whether it’s the right program, or the right program on the right day, or the right program on the right day at the right time.

I wonder if this is just a symptom of the real problem, which is, a lack of desire to actually hear God speak through His word. I wonder if the problem is really just a matter of familiarity.

Doesn’t it seem like our human nature just causes us to want things we can’t or don’t have and think of that which we do have as no big deal?

I wonder if this is the reason it seems so many, who call themselves Christians, don’t read their Bible with regularity and don’t seem to allow Jesus’ desires and Word to factor into decisions of church attendance, membership and even worship.


As I was reading Acts 10 this morning, I found myself wanting to feel like Cornelius. Can you imagine wanting to hear God speak so badly? I don’t just mean “so badly” that he would send for Peter but Cornelius had such an expectation of what would be said that he assembled “his relatives and his close friends.” Can you imagine? Cornelius just knew that God was going to speak through Peter so he gathered everyone he knew and loved!

I want that kind of desire to hear the Word speak!

So, I want to be careful with my next answer to the question of What’s a Christian? I want to say, “A Christian is one who is driven to hear their Savior speak.” But, I know there are many Christians, who like me, at times struggle with this. So, here’s my statement:

A Christian is a person who wants to here their Master speak. This, at times, culminates in a prayer asking God to give a desire to hear Him. Lord, please give me ears to hear! A believer is someone who cares about what Jesus has to say.

“And he said to me, ‘Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.’” (Ezekiel 2:1)

Thankful for….

If you’re like me, you’re thinking a little bit about Thanksgiving by now. In only a couple days you’ll probably be with family, gathered around the table and celebrating with your normal Thanksgiving family traditions. We have our family traditions too.

It’s also a tradition, and certainly a good one, for Christians to think about that for which their thankful to God and count as blessings from Him over the last year. I have much for which to be thankful this year too but I think I’m going to break tradition.

I’m not going to thank God for anything He’s given me this year.

Ok, that’s a little tongue in cheek, not to mention the fact that I’ve been thanking Him all year long for His blessings but, this Thanksgiving, I’m just going to express my thanks for Him. That is, I’m just going to tell Him I’m thankful for Him. This is why:

God Himself is better than anything He’s ever blessed me with!

I don’t want to think about my thanksgiving to God in hopes He gives me more stuff or more health or more years or more anything of this world. I want my thanksgiving to lead me to more of Him. I think that’s the sentiment of the Psalmist who penned Psalm 50.

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:23)

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Then You’ll Be A Witness

For my morning Bible reading time during the last month, I’ve been following a pre-made reading plan called “thirty days with Jesus.” I’m constantly looking for Jesus when I read the Bible but it’s been great to spend 30 days in passages that consist of His story on earth and His teaching.

As Jesus instructs His disciples near the end of His life on earth, He spends a lot of time encouraging them about the future. Now, if you’re reading passages like Luke 21, you may wonder how I can use the word, “encouraging.” But, the focus of Christ’s words, in my estimation, are not about the end times as much as that the disciples, and followers of Jesus, will be ok.

Here are a couple of encouragements that I see in Luke 21 as Jesus teaches:

1.     The most difficult days of your life will be when God speaks through your life the most.

Jesus tells the disciples that they’re going to be arrested, imprisoned and some even killed because of the Gospel. But, His encouragement in all that bad news is found in these words: “This will be your opportunity to bear witness.” (Luke 21:13, ESV) In other words, Jesus is telling them, no matter their circumstances, they will be able to live the life to which He’s called them.

The same is true for you and me; difficult circumstances don’t mean that you can’t live your life in Christ today. Actually, Biblically, the opposite is true. Difficult circumstances mean you can live the life Christ has for you.

2.     The Gospel is never bound by circumstances.

If you were to study church history, you would notice that the church flourished when persecution was the highest. There can certainly be an argument for the same today as it’s believed that one of the nations with the fastest growing church is China which is a country that is closed to the Gospel.

Just as it seems the proclamation of the Gospel may be stopped, Jesus’ words to His disciples rings true again. “For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.” (Luke 21:15, ESV)

Just when I think I can’t be a witness for the greatness of Jesus and His story, He gives me the words and wisdom to do just that.

This is the good news of Jesus’ teaching that can make all the difference for you today. If you’re having a difficult day, this is the greatest opportunity for God to work in and through your life.

The Dangers of Traditionalism

I preached a sermon last night in our church and thought the main idea may be blog worthy, so here it is. I never really noticed Jesus’ view on man’s traditions until I began to look at his assessment of traditions in Matthew 15. I’ve had my own opinion of traditionalism for quite some time as I’ve personally witnessed its possibility to be destructive. Even with that, usually we think of traditions as something seemingly harmless and just a matter of taste and opinion, especially within the church. It surprised me a little, however, to see Jesus’ evaluation of it.

In the first nine verses of Matthew 15, Jesus makes an evaluation of tradition beginning with a tradition that seems, on the surface, to be somewhat harmless. I mean, who’s going to argue that washing your hands before you eat is a bad thing? But, what may surprise you, as it did me, is the affects of traditionalism especially in regard to the Word of God.

This is what Jesus says is the problem with traditionalism:

“So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” (Matthew 15:6, ESV)

Make void the Word?!  I don’t know about but it’s a scary thought to me that someone could spend their life memorizing the Bible, thinking they are authentic followers of God but not being able to hear and apply the Word at all.

The problem is traditions can wrongly be equated with obedience. Please know this; being obedient to a man-made tradition is not the same thing as being obedient to God and His Word.

What is the fruit of Traditionalism? The answer is pretty plain and clear in the words of Jesus:

  1. Hypocrisy – I don’t know about you but the last thing I ever want to hear from Jesus’ mouth to me is that I’m a hypocrite. I imagine you feel the same way. What Jesus is saying about the Pharisaical traditionalists is that they look the part of a God follower but unfortunately they only look like it. They can’t even hear Him!
  2. All Talk and No heart – Traditionalism creates a people who can talk about God but have no real Spiritual connection with Him.
  3. Lost Worship – Traditionalism misses the fact that God’s Word has a sole purpose of connected us to Him. Trying to live to a religious standard completely misses that and worship fades.
  4. Worthless Teaching – When tradition rules in the church, clear, unapologetic, biblical preaching is traded out for something far less. Men standing in pulpits running on about the “good ole days” when hymns and women in dresses ruled. That’s not Biblical, and it’s not preaching.

As we talk about tradition, a question does need to be asked. Are there any good traditions? After all, Paul did say to the Thessalonians:

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15, ESV)

As I looked at this idea of tradition, the first thing I noticed was that Paul said that these “traditions” were something that the Apostles had spoken and written. As you research the New Testament, you may find as I have, these traditions are what I call the Jesus traditions. These are the traditional teachings of Jesus they made their way through the first century church and they look like this:

  1. Love your enemies (Luke 6:27)
  2. Humble yourself before the Lord and people (Matt. 18:4)
  3. It’s better to give than receive (Acts 20:35)
  4. Do unto others that you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

I’m sure you’ve noticed these types of traditions are not religious externals, but traditions that only come as Jesus, through His Spirit, brings internal changes to us.

It’s absolutely important that we don’t hold ourselves to old man-made traditions within the church and that we don’t create new ones but we hold the traditions of the teaching of Jesus. When we do that, worship is not lost but becomes God-centered, Spirit filled and vibrant. (Anything other than that is not actually worship.) And, the Word and work of God becomes realized in our life, not void as Jesus told the Pharisees because of their tradition.

My hope is that God Word lives out as He promised it, both in me and the church I pastor.

“so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, ESV)