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Monday, January 24, 2011

Intensity - directed focus

 3-8And Saul just went wild, devastating the church, entering house after house after house, dragging men and women off to jail. Forced to leave home base, the followers of Jesus all became missionaries. Wherever they were scattered, they preached the Message about Jesus. Going down to a Samaritan city, Philip proclaimed the Message of the Messiah. When the people heard what he had to say and saw the miracles, the clear signs of God's action, they hung on his every word. Many who could neither stand nor walk were healed that day. The evil spirits protested loudly as they were sent on their way. And what joy in the city!
(Acts 7:3-8)

Stephen was martyred for his faith - stoned on the outskirts of the city - guilty of nothing more than his passionate pursuit of Christ.  Saul was an onlooker to those events that day.  We read that he was there, congratulating the killers of Stephen.  Then scripture defines the "scattering of the believers" all over the world - because they were being persecuted terribly in Jerusalem.  One of the leading players in the role of persecutor was Saul of Tarsus.  There was a "passion" behind what Saul was doing - he wanted to stop the message of hope. Scripture tells us that it was his goal to destroy the church - in turn, he caused the message of hope to be scattered to the regions well beyond Jerusalem.

For a moment, I would like us to consider "intensity".  There are words we use without really having a thorough understanding of their meaning.  When we "dig into" the meaning of a word, we often get insight into how God describes things in scripture.  Intensity if often thought of as that event or circumstance that creates some type of emotional response within us that has us "sitting on the edge of our seats", tension mounting, blood pressure rising, heart rate increasing, the mind set to respond with fight or flight.  As a matter of fact, we pay good money to go see movies that will elicit this response from us all within a two-hour window!

I'd like to look at intensity from the vantage point of that which displays the most vibrant color or the most radiant light.  When we look at rows and rows of light bulbs on a shelf, we make our selection based on the amount of "intensity" we want from the light.  If we hope to read by that light, we want a light with focused intensity.  If we want a soft glow in the room without specific focus on one particular thing, we get a bulb that has a "muted" intensity.  When we look at walls of paint swatches, we see various colors of what we could call "white", "yellow", or "blue" - but there are so many varieties of "color" within each of those palettes.  What makes one different from the other is the degree of intensity - the specific blend of colors that produces the more vibrant hues is said to have a higher intensity than the more muted color.

The persecution of the church did much to enhance the "intensity" of the believers.  When the pressure mounted, the degree of their "intensity" also rose.  Great energy, strength, and passion became apparent in their walk.  As they are made the focus of the attention of Saul and his followers, their commitment to follow Christ regardless of the cost becomes more apparent.  We could say that their "true colors" began to emerge!  There was a "radiance" about them that made the gospel message even more evident in their lives.  As they scatter to Samaria and the outer parts of the then known world, theirs is a message of hope, not despair.  Why?  They had "intensity".

Intensity is a result of depth - the depth of a person's focus.  When we put a standard light bulb in a spotlight, we would have light "aimed" at a particular subject, but it would lack focus.  If we exchanged that bulb for a spotlight bulb, backed by mirrored substance, we'd see that the "reflected" light becomes more intense, giving us a better focus on the subject.  Now, exchange that for a halogen or LED spotlight bulb and wow!  You have not only focus, but vibrant light!  

What persecution's impact did in the lives of these believers was to increase their intensity.  It was giving them an even greater "focus".  They were scattered, but in that scattering they had to grow.  The scripture points out that the apostles remained in Jerusalem.  That meant that these believers would have to "dig into" the Word, learn to feed their spirits, and then allow the Spirit of God to "grow them up" in Christ.  The local church exists today because of the intensity of a few.  First, the few gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem awaiting the power of God to be displayed in their midst.  Then the believers who were gathered in Jerusalem.  Ultimately, the "few" that would be scattered to the ends of the earth - the first missionaries!

Intensity is directed focus.  There is nothing more powerful than directed focus - it can change the world!  How's your focus?