The Jesus centered wheel needs an alignment…

“How does Jesus pointing people to God the Father line up with the emphasis on Jesus in preaching?” I asked during a conference. “It seems with our emphasis on Jesus in the Scriptures we are forgetting God the Father, who Jesus pointed to, submitted to, and sacrificed himself so we can have a relationship with. Later I watched an interview of a celebrity pastor give an awful answer to politics in relationship to preaching to a right of center pundit. He tossed aside the issue of economics but focused on morality illustrated by speaking to the right to life issue. The Bible has much to say concerning economics. It’s a moral issue.

We need an alignment

Our tires were months old, but no longer good. We needed an alignment. At that time in our marriage, we drove over 175,000 miles in three years. That means we needed 5 alignments a year. Oops. With the laser focus on the centrality of the Gospel or Christ we have done something similar with the church. We are in need of fresh tires because of over emphasis. At this point the “yeah…but…” is starting to rise. While the Gospel is the main thing, it’s not the only thing. While it is most important “I delivered to you as of first importance…” It is not the only thing that Paul, Jesus, and the Bible spoke on. So why do we need an alignment?

Foolishness is evil

Jesus said in Mark 7 that what comes out of a person is what defiles them. He gives a list. At the end of the list is foolishness. Why is this a big deal? Because right after that Jesus says “All the EVIL things…” Foolishness is evil, according to Jesus. Proverbs makes the point that to be wise is to be godly. Paul, in Ephesians 5 flips that. To be godly is to be wise, “making the best use of the time for the days are evil.” The preacher of Hebrews relegates the basics of the faith as milk, not solid food. The church is out of practice when it comes to “the mature who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

What are you saying?

Would an average Christian have an informed answer when asked what is the biblical view of government, economics, and what criteria for judging nations? Some reading this may say “The Bible teaches on politics?!” The Bible speaks deeply about these matters. Do a study on “unjust scales” for example. (Federal Reserve system won’t match up too well with this.) Do a study on God judging a nation based on Nahum 3. (The U.S. foreign policy wont match up well will this.) Do a study on coveting. (Push towards socialism won’t match up well.) And if you’re thinking “…well, that’s the obsolete testament, old covenant thing…” Remember God judges nations in Revelation, which voluminously quotes from the Prophets. We need to build discernment in all areas of life.

Is Jesus the main thing or the Father?

More importantly the need of an alignment is our view on God the Father. While much of the Bible points to and is about Jesus, I would suggest God the Father is the central figure. We ignore him too often. Paul alludes to this in Philippians when he says “… every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Paul’s prayer in Ephesians chapter one amplifies this point. Paul thanks the father for the work done in us, through us and for us in Jesus. But more than that is what Jesus said.

A few things that Jesus said in Matthew

… so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. … so that you you may be sons of your Father who is heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good… You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. …your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. All things have been handed over to me by my Father… For whoever does does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will. My Father if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.

Three suggestions

  1. While the preaching of the Gospel is primary, and Jesus the agent that makes that happen, as Gospel centered people we must point people to Father. Jesus did. Significant parts of the Bible are about our Father. In focusing on what Jesus is to us, let us not forget that our brother Jesus established our relationship with the Father, goes before the Father on our behalf, and that together we glorify the Father by doing Dad’s will.
  2. As foolishness is evil, and the current time evil, let us sharpen our discernment to distinguish good from evil. Let us be deep, reasoned, and thoughtful saints. Let us think, judge and redeem every area of life around us. This involves knowing the whole counsel of God, and applying it to life, family, relationships, economics, politics, ethics, philosophy, history, protection, law, childrearing, conflict, science, engineering, environment, criminal justice, monetary policy, entertainment, etc., etc., etc.
  3. Preach Jesus! While the church needs an alignment, we must not “swing the pendulum” the other direction. Without Jesus, we cannot know who is central, the Father. Without Jesus, we lack the power of the Holy Spirit to live biblically discerning lives. Without Jesus, we are of all most people to be pitied. In course correcting, let us never forget that the Gospel was delivered to us as of first importance. Preach Jesus, and don’t forget to build discernment. Preach Jesus, and don’t forget our Father in heaven. Let us be in proper alignment and not out of balance. Our culture needs this from us.

Reding the Bible in a week

On occasion the Holy Spirit, whose operations are mysterious no doubt, taps you on the shoulder. The tap is often a kind way of saying you need to do something different or correctly. This occurred when on a spiritual retreat. I wanted to try something different by reading through the whole Bible in one week. Right up from I got a tap on the shoulder that I was reading it wrong. Here are some things that stood out when going through the whole book.

You’re likely not the hero
We like to identify with the protagonist in the story, and not the mob. Chances are very good that we’d be like the mob. Reading through the Bible will break you and it will challenge whatever perspective of the Bible you hold. Rather than asking how people in the Bible could make the mistakes they make, ask yourself how you could make those same mistakes. Why? Because we do. The Bible was written to people like you in me. Different time and culture, but many of the same challenges.

Scope and Sequence
In reading through the Bible in a week, aim to see the big picture of what is going on. Speed read it. The win isn’t details, it’s the big picture. If something catches your attention, flag it to study later. In hitting the New Testament I suggest this order: Matthew, Hebrews, Galatians, Revelation, and then the rest in order. Coming fresh off the Old Testament, those books in the New Testament will make a TON more sense. But first, pray and tell God that you’re going to listen and keep you mouth shut. Bible reading is ultimately about listening to God. For me, the process took about 6-8 hours of 216ish pages a day.

Random thoughts
Reading from beginning to end is interesting. Genesis carries a lot more weight than we realize, as do the first five books. God’s standard is perfection in every sense of that term. This is massive when suddenly in the New Testament Jesus touches people who were forbidden in the temple. The prophets will depress you. Even heroic moments ultimately become let downs. But before that lets you down, there are the writings. Those books show how things can be done. Psalms is a pain to read. Great content, but repetition of various phrases make it challenging reading. The Gospels are a breath of fresh air! The New Testament carries common themes from the Old, but Jesus gives TONS of up. Things move ahead.

Gratefulness
Reading through the Gospel makes you VERY thankful for the Gospel. Without the Gospel we are very stuck. What is also amazing is how gracious and merciful God is throughout the entire Bible. The mean curmudgeon feeling we associate with God in the Old Testament isn’t there. God is truly the loving father who doesn’t give up on his family, even when his family abuses or takes advantage of him.

Always old
The key message from God nearly always been an old story of hundreds if not thousands of years old. We ask the question of why we should listen to a book that is 2,000 years old. But that comment could easily be made in Noah’s day, Abraham’s, Moses’, Davids, and Jesus’ day. But given this span of time, God’s Word became more and more fulfilled…literally.

You are loved
A repeated phrase throughout the Bible is God’s love endures forever. It is a major theme in the Bible. If God chose to orient himself with humanity through the lens of justice, we would not exist. Instead God chose the lens of grace and mercy. A BIG reason for the chaos we live in now is God wants you to be a part of his family. God willingly endures what he hates to get what he most loves, and that is you. God doesn’t give up on those he loves.

The bottom line:
Take the time to read through the whole Bible as fast as you can. It may seem intimidating, but it is very refreshing. While it will break you, scare you, it will also leave you feeling incredibly loved. Ultimately the Bible is about God revealing himself and being available to us all. Even when we try to run from him.

Sabbatical: On the flip side

It is weird to be on the other side of the sabbatical. Loads of planning and coordination to pull the venture off, the actual sabbatical, and now back to grind and figuring out what a new normal will be. Here are some random thoughts, and again another push why pastors should take a sabbatical.

You’re more tired than you think
In interviewing people who went on a sabbatical, this was a common phrase stated. So, I wasn’t too surprised when I realized I was more tired and fried than I thought I was. We need rest, and sometimes we need TONS of rest. Be tired is often a good sign that we hopefully worked hard.

You’re more broken than you hoped
Sabbatical is that wonderful time in the mirror when all your brokenness jumps out at out. This can happen in many forms. But the cessation of activity allows you to evaluate deeply where you’re struggling and need to change. Often this isn’t because of some volitional sin. We wear out and can slowly get off track.

You’re better than you realized
This may sound like a contradiction, but there are moments when you look back and realize that you handled things better than you thought you did. You accept the outcome, and you realized you did all you could do. This allows you to see strengths, and it gives you confidence to move forward.

You’re not as essential as you think, and more important than you realized
Life truly can go on without you. At the same time, people realize the void that you fill. This builds appreciation on all sides. It’s healthy to see a church work hard on mission without you. It’s also important to help people see what you do. It’s better together, but a brief season apart helps all.

You’re a big deal to God
This is truly the bottom line. All this combined leaves you with an incredible appreciation for the grace God grants you to pastor, despite the errors and exhaustion. But that’s not the point. You get to spend more time just being with the one you work hard for. It allows you to see that “God has this, you’ll be ok.” This isn’t because you’re superman. It is because God chose to be your friend, and despite who you are and because of who you are, God loves and uses you. Time with God is THE reward of sabbatical.

The bottom line:
Pastors, going on a sabbatical is essential for your ministry. Not because you’re tired, broke, need to see strengths, or help appreciate your role. You need to go on sabbatical because you need to trust God and be with him. To draw deeply from his grace. A layman, who was initially a skeptic or critic of sabbaticals, said this: “Then I realized, do we really want a climate of pastoral ministry where we don’t help pastors meet with God.” No conference or course can take the place of our ultimate source. Pastor, you need God.