Staying Focused
by Rev. Randall C. Herr, Ph.D.
Presented by Saint Luke Evangelical School Of Biblical Studies

Text: Matthew 14:22-33. Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

During the fourth watch of the night (this was between 3 - 6:00 A.M.) Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." Peter replied, "Tell me to come to you on the water."

"Come," he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying "Truly you are the Son of God." (NIV)

The letters had been mailed and received. There was a problem in the church and a special congregational meeting was scheduled. And, like most churches today, when there is a "problem" it usually centers around money.

The church ran a day school and the day school accounted for sixty-six percent of the church's budget. Offerings were down. There was a possibility payroll would not be met. Suppliers were clamoring for payments due them. While the situation was not a surprise to most of the members, things had come to a point where something had to be done. Opinions of the course of action to choose were far apart and adamantly supported by the respective interest groups.

The appointed day and time for the meeting arrived. The turn out was so large the meeting had to be moved from the fellowship hall to the church sanctuary. As the membership filed into the church those supporting the day school sat on the left of the sanctuary and those who did not support the day school sat on the right. There was, apparently, no middle ground.

The Pastor opened the meeting with a prayer, and the president of the congregation gave a brief synopsis of the situation. A few questions were asked and answered and the discussion was opened to the floor. The character of the discussion changed quickly from one in which a problem was being addressed to one in which personalities became the dominate focus of conversation.

The meeting was getting nowhere. Unkind words were being exchanged. People were so concerned about what they wanted to say, they no longer were listening to what was being said by others. The feelings of brothers and sisters in the faith were being hurt. The congregational president had lost control of the meeting.

Without anyone particularly noticing, the Pastor got up, walked out of the sanctuary into the narthex. On the wall of the narthex was a row of light switches that controlled every light in the sanctuary, save one. That light was a flood light on the ceiling that showed down on the cross on the altar. Using both hands, the Pastor turned all the light switches off.

There was confusion in the sanctuary. Some thought there had been a power failure. Some asked sarcastically if the electric bill had been paid. Then someone noted the flood light shining on the altar, shining on the cross. From the back of the sanctuary came the Pastor's voice. "It was beginning to smell a lot like sulfur in here," he said. "I thought it would be good if we took a moment to be quiet and each of us focuses on the reason we are here."

Life is like that, isn't it? In our personal lives, our marriage, our family, our relationship with others at school or on the job, in our community, in our church family. When we take our focus off of Jesus, we go astray. Just like Peter in our text, when we take our focus off of Jesus we begin to sink into the wild, dangerous, deadly sea the world and the devil put around us. When we take our focus off of Jesus, we are on our own, left to our own devices. And, the results are predictable: disappointment, sadness, misery, hurting and being hurt.

Did you ever wonder why that is? Is mankind really so flawed that he begins to "sink" the instant he takes his focus off of Jesus? I asked the question rhetorically. Let's ask our heavenly Father and look to his Word for the answer.

God's Holy Word tells us that we are sinners. "Surely I was a sinner at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." (Psalm 51:5) You see, sin is not only what you have done or have failed to do; it is the condition in which you were created.

And, God's Holy Word tells that because we are sinners; "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-12)

There are those who are not focused on Jesus; those who do not know Jesus; those who do not realize why they need to be focused on Jesus who will attempt to rebut our sinful condition. "We're not all that bad," they'll say. "In fact, we've done some really good things. We take care of widows and orphans. We give food to the hungry. We build shelters for the homeless." But, God's inerrant, Holy Word tells us that all our good works are but filthy rags. We can't ever be good enough, apart from Christ.

St. Paul tells us in the Book of Romans that we are born "blind, dead, and enemies of God." And, I don't know about you, but I've never seen a dead person capable of doing anything to help himself out of his condition. Is it any wonder then that those churches of the Reformation tradition begin their confessions, "I, a poor miserable sinner...?"

Take a moment and focus on the cross on our altar. (Pause) Now look away. What do you see? Well you see things; things made by mankind that may be of good quality, but not perfect - certainly not redeeming. Or you may see people; good people, but people, like you, who are also born a sinner. No redemption there! Now focus back on the cross on our altar.

It's still there, isn't it? You focused on it, you looked away, and when you looked back, it was still there. So is Jesus! Jesus didn't abandon Peter when Peter lost focus. And when Peter called out for help, (refocused) Jesus was right there to grab Peter and put him safely into the boat, wasn't he?

Jesus is here for you too. He died for all so that all may live. You may think you have drifted so far away that it is no longer possible to focus on him. But, as far as you may have drifted, He is still there - right beside you. He promised you that he would be there for you when he gave the great commission. "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Oh, it is true that the little cross on our altar is also man made. It's of good quality, but it isn't "perfect". No, our little cross has no magic. It is not like Aladdin's lamp where we can rub it and a genie pops out to grant our wishes. However, our little cross is just a reminder of what Christ did on the cross. It reminds us of how God became man, took on the sins of the whole world, suffered and died on "the cross" to pay for the transgressions of all.

Yes, God sent his Son as a substitute for me and you and all the sinners in this world. With His blood, not ours, did God extract the penalty for sin and reconcile himself with mankind. Because of the blood that Christ shed on the cross are we cleansed. Because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross can we stand before God on the day of judgement and appear pure and righteous. Yes, God loves you that much!

When Christians grasp that concept, wow, how awesome it is! One such Christian was a man named John Browning. Browning lived in the late 18th and 19th centuries. So overcome with the good news of how much God loved him, Browning wrote a hymn about it. It's on page 99 of the hymnal. We're not going to sing it, but open your hymnal and let's read his words.

In the cross of Christ I glory,
Tow'ring o'er the wrecks of time.
All the light of sacred story
gathers round its head sublime.

When the woes of life o'ertake me,
hopes deceive, and fears annoy,
never shall the cross forsake me;
Lo, it glows with peace and joy.

When the sun of bliss is beaming
light and love upon my way,
from the cross the radiance streaming
adds more luster to the day.

Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure
by the cross are sanctified;
peace is there that knows no measure,
joys that through all time abide.

And what happened to the divided and dysfunctional congregation we left sitting in the dark? I can tell you because, don't you see, I was there. I was one of the members who was so sure that I had the whole situation figured out that I was not prepared to listen to anyone else, but I was prepared to hurt anyone who disagreed with me.

Well, the Pastor's words produced a dead silence in the sanctuary. The congregation sat in the semi-darkness for what seemed an endless time. Slowly but surely the members rose, sought each other out, asking each other's forgiveness, and made amends. Some cried, some hugged, others simply shook hands. The lights were turned on, a new prayer was given, the "real" issues addressed. And, God, with his children focused on him, led them to find answers to their problem.

May the Lord make it so in all of our lives. Stay focused! AMEN!

copyright 2000 Rev. Randall C. Herr, Ph.D.
Used by permission.