Tag: Jesus

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.

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.

Neo-asceticism: Why we cringe at being blessed

We tend to react or repeat things rather than respond to things. Many level headed Christians have grave concerns with the “prosperity Gospel.” This teaches that being in Jesus gets you massive Earthly blessings. Living it up is seen as being godly. This is wrong. In the last decade a “poverty gospel” developed that sees being godly as neglecting Earthly goods as a sign of contentment and holiness. This is also wrong. We need to learn how to live in contentment. This means when we have much or we have little.

What is asceticism
Asceticism is a movement throughout Christian history where people under go significant discipline or give up on the pleasurable things in life in view of trying to be godly. Some have even taken to actually beating themselves. (The cutting movement seems to have ancient ancestors.) Asceticism is taking on new forms today (hence neo-asceticism), but it is not a new movement. Here is why asceticism is problematic:

Problem #1: Things don’t control us
It is easier to blame an object than take ownership for our own responsibility. This comes up all the time in the area of technology. An object has no power over us. It is the choices we make that is at issue. I often take breaks from technology to keep me from choosing technology over more important things.

Problem #2: Collecting things is a form of worship
Solomon repeatedly said “Eat, drink, and enjoy the fruit of your labor, for this too is a gift from God.” Having things that we enjoy is truly 1) A blessing from God and 2) Enjoying Him. When Paul discusses contentment, it includes when he had much as much as when he had little. BOTH require the power of Christ, and hence the “all things” that we can do through Jesus. Giving up things can be as unholy and unspiritual as hoarding things selfishly. Saying God blessed me when we gained a good job or things are going well or we received game tickets to our favorite sports team. Life is a gift that God intends for us to enjoy.

Problem #3: Godliness trumps working out
Yes, we are to take care of ourselves. But, we are also at times called to sacrifice ourselves. We can worship the temple instead of the God of our temple. We can worship the Bible instead of the God of our Bible. We can worship worship, instead of the God of our worship. Paul warns us that we can go to far in the health craze. Being healthy and working out has value, but it’s not the most important thing. You can have a great health and body, and not be holy.

Problem #4: Works is a false gospel
The point of Jesus is we cannot earn our way to heaven and we can’t good enough. Deep down the problem with asceticism is we think that God doesn’t REALY love us. We blame other things for our lack of holiness, or worse we take the asceticism route to look better than what we are. (Ironic that giving up things or being extremely disciplined can actually be really selfish.) The point of Jesus is that he free’s us to be our best. Fear, anger, etc. is antithetical to being a Christian. Jesus us gave us his best up front. There’s nothing we can do to earn more of his love. He gave it all! So what’s the cure for neo-asceticism?

Cure #1: Learn to make wise choices
We are often the choices we make. God does give us free will. Use it. Freedom does not have be anarchy. So take responsibility for your own actions.

Cure #2: Enjoy the Earthly blessings
I love fountain pens. I collect them. Such were gifts from friends and family. I use them for work and take great pleasure in using them. This is a gift from God. I had a friend recently buy his dream car. Life is going well, he’s blessing others, generous to his church family, and he enjoyed the fruit of his labor. Enjoying life is part of worship. (When he had little he gave up what he loved because that was the wise choice.) Like a dad taking delight in giving his kids something they love, God delights in us when we enjoy the blessings he gives us. A big part of this cure: Learn to be happy for others when they’re blessed and you’re struggling.

Cure #3: Be healthy, and eat that piece of cake
The purpose of being healthy is to splurge. Sometimes it’s about sacrifice, sometimes its to party. God instructed Israel to collect money for the poor. God also instructed them to save up to party. Same God. Sacrifice and splurging are both aspects to worship and godly living. With work also comes rest. God worked. God rested.

Cure #4: Cease striving
Know that God is God, and that he deeply loves you. Stop operating out of fear and learn how deep the father’s love for us is. Jesus did the asceticism thing so we wouldn’t have to. While there are times of frugality and suffering, God also gives times of plenty and wealth. Whichever you’re in, focus on who God is and how you can bless others. If you’re trying to be a good Christian, you’re really missing the point.

The bottom line:
We too often struggle with the idea that God loves us, deeply, and significantly. We often choose to live less than comforting lives in order to be more noble or holy. We can easily blame things or other such things for lack of whatever, and family to recognize our own choices. Let’s stop operating our of fear and guilt and enjoy the life God gives. As Solomon said: Eat, drink, and enjoy the fruit of your labor, for this too is a gift from God. Cheers!

The most hated concept in the Bible is love

heart-001Based on actions, I find that love is the most hated concept in Scripture. Love is the most wanted yet least acted on focal point in Christianity. Often the worst perpetrators are those who scold the church for being judgmental and unloving. If we are honest with ourselves, there really is very few people who have this concept nailed down. Ironically, they most likely don’t read blogs and do much social media. Likely that’s correlation not causation. We despise love and the church would be radically different if we acted on love. Here is what I mean…

Love fights for the relationship
A friend once stated that many Christians lack the relational maturity to fight for the relationship. Personal preferences, demands for perfect justice, hurt feelings, etc drown out what the Bible instructs is love. When these occurrences arise, we blame the church for being unloving/judgmental when the person standing in the mirror is guilty. A HUGE part of love is the concept of reconciliation. In North America we can walk across the street to the next church, but biblically we often shouldn’t. Biblical love fights for the relationship.

Love is servant minded
The first offerings of the church were 100%. The Biblical patter of church giving was sacrifice and not 10%. People cringe when a discussion of money comes up and pastors often have to couch carefully the discussions on money. This is a lack of love issue. The flip side of the coin is how we invest our time. We are a very impatient and demanding society. Church leaders have to be cautious when asking people to invest time into ministry given busy schedules. When people say they are burned out, it’s often things outside of church life that is the cause. Often people will give money so as to not have to sacrifice their time. (Ask most churches about volunteering to clean.)

Love assumes the best
A significant portion of christian misunderstandings happens from people assuming the worst. The “yeah, but…” crowd is the worst offender. Their hair-trigger on being easily offended and church-correct language demonstrate this in spades. So does the last election. (Oops, a card game reference.) The social justice crowd in the church is quite guilty of this as well. In some extreme instances, people often have to prove why something is not wrong before they can teach how it is right. Bringing up the needs to act on social justice issues brings this to light. I bet many reading this are thinking: Who is T. Woznek addressing? Is he guilt tripping someone?

We need repentance
Repentance is the key. Those not guilty are the exceptions. If you find an exception, spend time with them to learn what it means to be loving. I find every church has a least a couple. Christians as a whole need to repent and realize we are not loving, as defined by Scripture. Seeing as this is the greatest commandment, a new commandment, and the most excellent way, perhaps we should be much more focused on dealing with this area of repentance.

We need sanctuary
Church is to be a safe place where people can be wrong and broken so healing may result. Often we do not what to go through the pain of making that happen. This would mean fighting for relationships, being a servant, and assuming the best in people. It means choosing forgiveness over justice, submission over arrogance, being a listener over being right. On the other side of the pain is healing and worship, because there we so how profound the Gospel is. Jesus already modeled this for us.

We need a mirror
We hate love. Some reading this will think amen and be thinking of names. Others will say this is laying on the guilt trip. A group has a whole list of “yeah, but…” while another will try and read between the lines. Theologically right of center will say Im going liberal, left of center may ask the the same. The guilty will trying to reason their way out of guilt. The offended will scoff and roll their eyes. Love takes work, it takes choosing to value people first. It means there is a lot of bridges that need to be rebuilt. It is inconvenient.

The bottom line:
Look in the mirror and read what Paul wrote about love in First Corinthians Thirteen. Jesus and the Holy Spirit invested a ton of time teaching on love because we really don’t want to be loving. We need to be. We really do want to be loving. We really what our churches to be a place of sanctuary. If it really is about Jesus, we must master this area of repentance. Jesus already died for this, demonstrated it, and gave us a road map. So, look in the mirror, repent, and why not make love the most cherished concept instead of the most hated. That would be a radical.

P.S. Ok. Who or what am I thinking about? What is between the lines? You, because in biblical love there is no catch. I think our actions speak differently than our words in how we value this concept. So, let’s repent together and be better, because change is possible.

Why go to church?

DSC_0082_2This questions was raised recently and I thought I had blogged on it. I did, but never posted it. In today’s religious climate, much of what people can gain from going to church can be seemingly obtained from other avenues. What makes going to church unique is something that is critical for the church to rediscover.

Yeah but crowd
At this juncture someone is no doubt thinking we are the church, we don’t go to church. It is really both. I said often I need to leave a particular meeting and go to family time. That time, designated family, doesn’t mean that I’m not family when I’m apart from them. Quite the contrary, we set aside- make holy- special times for family. The same is true of church. Yes, we go to church.

Categories of Christians
Many of the non-church going Christians, or sporadic church goers fit into a few categories: naive, so-called spiritual, spiritual abuse survivors, and unspiritual. The naive suffer from a simple lack of theological development. So-called spiritual crowd border on either being heretics or idol worship of which sports is a major one. Spiritual abuse survivors stem from either over reacting to legalism of ‘if the doors are open you have to be there’ or they were traumatized to the level that a physical reaction to going to church is hard to overcome. Unspiritual are people who claim to be Christian, understand the importance of church, but choose to put other priorities over the church.

What Jesus couldn’t explain
In John 3, Jesus describes the workings of the Holy Spirit as a mystery. We know that he works, and we see fruit of his working, but not even Jesus could explain it. The Father and the Son send the Helper for our benefit. There is a critical function going to church fulfills in our relationship to God. Specifically the working of the Spirit. The Spirit’s mysterious work incorporates the Scriptures, our spirit, and the Spirit’s work in other believers, as we gather. Much of North American Christianity has a too individualistic view of the Spirit when it is clearly a corporate issue. We- the church- are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Danger, danger, danger
Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the gathering of the church family, there is a dangerous element if treated too casually. Warnings against putting out the Spirit’s fire, grieving the Holy Spirit, or lying to the Holy Spirit in worship is connected to church gatherings. Being dismissive of the Spirit in worship can, has, and does cause death or maladies. As Jesus died once for all sin, that does not mean we can do what we want. We can grieve God to the point where he sends us home.

The tension
The tension with church is this: Not going to church is a sin, but having to go to church every time the door is open is a sin of legalism. Discernment is the key. That said the sin isn’t so much in performance of church going as it is in priority. The purpose of going to church is building up other believers. It is to serve your church family. That simply cannot happen well with sporadic or non-attendance. Failure in this grieves God, much as failing to make family a priority grieves parents.

Think garden not weeds
Weeds grow organically, great, and everywhere. Gardens are organized, take time, and require nurturing. The church is a garden and not a bed of weeds. This no doubt ticks off the organic church or spiritual crowd. Organization, logic, programing is not the antithesis of spirituality, it is actually the expression of it! Order and filling are key aspects to a biblical worldview. Such is about nurturing like that of artistic expression, not the coldness of manufactured products.

Love God
You cannot be a Christian, spiritual, or have a great relationship with God, and write off the church. This grieves the Holy Spirit. Jesus died for the church. God the Father gave the church to his Son. Part of “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” is in relationship to the church. John says that if we say we love God, but hate our brother, we are a liar and the truth is not in us. Much church bashing or neglect demonstrates a lack of love for God. Answer this, how would you feel is someone consistently dissed you, neglected you, and at the same time said they loved you?

So why go to church?
Christianity is a religion based on a relationship with God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that is expressed in a family we call church. For the Christian to neglect church is a sin. There are a variety of reasons to have that sin struggle, but it is not legalistic to say one needs to be engaged in church. Church, like all families, is not about what you get but about what you give to the relationship.