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Stay Focused . . . On the Message


by Jim Micheff

January Memo Editorial, 2019

Right now, today, our church is in crisis and the unity of our church is being challenged. There is a difference of opinion that has developed between many leaders in our world church over spiritual leadership roles. This has resulted in growing frustration between members and church leaders alike. The mere identification of the points of contention cause some on both sides of the issue to attack, isolate, and discredit anyone who voices a different opinion from their own.

Social media platforms are busy with people eager to carry on the debate. Swords are being drawn and used against each other.

Websites are quick to report facts about events or quote words spoken that are fueling the tension and focusing the minds of readers on the points of disagreement. Social media platforms are busy with people eager to carry on the debate. Swords are being drawn and used against each other. Those who have entered the debate surrounding these issues of contention are getting so embroiled in the controversy that the focus of preparing for the soon coming of Jesus has been forgotten and is no longer the focus. 

In Proverbs 6:16-19, God identifies seven things that are an abomination to Him. The last one is identified as “one who sows discord among brethren.” David wrote in Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Paul added this admonition in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” 

Jesus Himself identifies a major difference between those who profess to serve Him in their own strength and those who have surrendered their will to God and by the power of the Holy Spirit are practicing godliness. Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” 

What is desperately needed in our church today is this kind of love for each other. When we approach ministry filled with God’s love – there is unity. This is the same message that Christ tried to share with His disciples. 

One of the greatest misunderstandings of all time occurred when the disciples failed to comprehend the plan of salvation that Jesus was trying to teach them. He clearly gave them enough information to not only strengthen their faith, but to warn them of what was soon to take place. Had they really listened, it would have been a whole different story, as there would have been no element of surprise or shock as to what was about to unfold.

Christ tried to prepare His disciples for His crucifixion so they would be strong when their faith was being put to the test. One might ask, why were they so unprepared, and why did they desert their Lord in the moment of His greatest need? The answer is all too painfully familiar – selfishness and greed. 

All the gospels except John record three different times (Mark 8:31; 9:30; 10:32) where Jesus plainly described exactly what was going to happen – including dying on a cross and rising from the grave on the third day. One of those occasions was when Jesus was walking with His disciples on the road to Capernaum. The disciples’ minds were focused on the politics of the day, and they were certain it wouldn’t be much longer before Jesus would be proclaimed King. Clearly, they were not thinking about a heavenly kingdom. The competitive spirit of selfishness had penetrated their hearts, and all they could think about was pursuing the highest position possible in His new government. Their thoughts were so caught up with who would be the greatest that they couldn’t comprehend what Jesus was talking about – even though He plainly told them He would be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 

What if we heeded Jesus’ warning in Revelation 3:14-22 and acknowledged that we are spiritually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked?” 

Usually when they walked together, the disciples gathered around Jesus, longing to be close to Him, but on this occasion, they lagged behind. When they arrived at their destination, Jesus called them together and asked what they were discussing among themselves as they walked. They were ashamed to answer Him, and Jesus responded to their silence by saying, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). 

Then He called a child to Him and said, “Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” He then added, “Whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, 4). By saying this, Jesus explained that selfishness leads to contention about who is the greatest, but the love of God transforms the selfish heart . . . and greed is replaced with humility and a deep desire to do God’s bidding, whether the responsibility be great or small.  

In Matthew 26:41, just before Jesus was taken by the mob in the garden of Gethsemane, He instructed His disciples to “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Jesus wanted His disciples to pray because He knew that they would need God’s strength to sustain them – lest they fall. Although Jesus tried to warn them about what was to come, His words fell on deaf ears, as they were oblivious to the impending danger. Because of this, when the test came, they were unprepared, causing them to forsake Jesus. The discouragement that followed was so agonizing, that for the very first time, they lost all hope. 

Now let’s examine this event from the perspective of what if the disciples had listened to Jesus and accepted what He told them about His death? Surely history would have been written differently. For one thing, the disciples would have continued asking Jesus questions until they received clarification and understanding. They would have been right there in the Garden of Gethsemane, throughout the trial and the beatings, and finally while Jesus was hanging on the cross, praying and lending support when He needed them the most, while recognizing that Jesus was doing all of this for them. 

Imagine what it would have been like at Calvary, when the sun went down on Friday night. Hopelessness would have been replaced by joy in their hearts, knowing that Jesus would rise again! They would have gone throughout all Jerusalem, inviting everyone to come to the grave and welcome their Lord from the tomb on Sunday morning. There would have been so many witnesses at the resurrection that it would have been impossible for anyone to deny that Jesus rose from the grave! Sadly, that was not the case.

Just as clearly as Jesus warned the disciples about His crucifixion, He is warning us today. Matthew 24:21 tells us, “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” And in Hebrews 12:26-27, we’re told, “Whose voice then shook the earth; but now he that promised saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.’” The Spirit of Prophecy, in volume one of the Testimonies to the Church, pp. 179-184, connects this shaking with the church. 

What is this shaking? Amos 3:3 asks the question, “Can two walk together except they agree?” The implied answer is no. In Ephesians 4:13, Paul explains, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” God has given various leadership roles, including pastors and teachers, for the purpose of equipping the saints for the work of ministry and to edify the body of Christ, which will lead us to unity of the faith and to a deeper knowledge of the Son of God. 

Let's work together here in our territory to put aside the controversial issues surrounding our church and work to accomplish the mission God has given us.

The shaking is referring to a time of testing that will be allowed by God to separate those who profess the faith but do not practice it. Ellen White wrote in volume five of Testimonies to the Church, pp. 80, 81, “The time is not far distant, when the test will come to every soul. In this time, the gold will be separated from the brass in the church. True godliness will be clearly distinguished from the appearance and tinsel of it. Many a star that we have admired for its brilliancy will then go out in darkness.” 

In the book Great Controversy, p. 608, these words of warning are given: “As the storm approaches, a large class who have professed faith in the third angel’s message but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position and join the ranks of the opposition.” Ellen White also gave these words of encouragement in volume two of Selected Messages, p. 380, “The Church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out – the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place.”

Let your mind think about the following scenarios: What if people stopped reading what they see online, refused to argue over differences of opinions, chose to recognize that Jesus Himself, as the Head of the church, has the right to appoint spiritual leaders, and by faith, believe and trust that God will bring His church into the unity that has been promised? 

What if we heeded Jesus’ warning in Revelation 3:14-22 and acknowledged that we are spiritually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked?” What if we accepted the faith and righteousness that God offers to us and then exercised that faith by believing His promise to “work in us to will and do of His good pleasure?” If we seek clarity from God and pray for wisdom and discernment, we’ll have an opportunity to change the world. 

Surely our history would be written differently if we would ask more questions – for when we seek for truth - God will give spiritual understanding and insight. The love of God will transform our selfish hearts and unselfishness will be demonstrated by humility and contentment with whatever responsibility God gives us. The message of a soon coming Savior will dominate the content of our thoughts. Every spare moment will be spent searching the scriptures and then sharing the wonderful things God reveals to us with others. This will be the reality and destiny of all who respond to Jesus’ invitation, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me,” Revelation 3:20.

Jesus is about to come, and Satan is diligently working to distract us from carrying out the responsibilities God has given each of us. He is trying to get us to focus on the mechanics of ministry rather than the message. He knows that if we embrace the message, his power will be broken, and he does not want God’s mission to be accomplished through us. 

My fellow Michigan members, let’s work together here in our territory to put aside the controversial issues surrounding our church and work to accomplish the mission God has given us. There are entire areas in our territory where there is no Seventh-day Adventist presence. We must stay focused on our message. Remember that message will drive mission. Let’s not get distracted. Stay focused on the message – for soon we all want to hear God say these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . welcome home!”