Orbit Round the Centre – what Gospel-centredness is like

What does it mean to be Gospel-centred?  There are many places in print or online where you find an answer.  For some it might seem already like a tired term.  But I am just beginning to use such a term and ideas with my congregation – it will form part of our vision for the future – and so I should articulate it too.  In every sermon I give I usually work this refrain in to the introduction:

 

See how everything revolves around the Earth?  Oh, wait...that;s not right.

See how everything revolves around the Earth? Oh, wait…that’s not right.

It basically means that the Gospel is the centre of everything – of devotion, of theology, of worship practice, of our life together with God (that’s code for Church!).  When I was a kid I remember being so excited to learn about how all the planets of the solar system revolved around the sun.  There’s one less planet now than when I was a kid but the solar system still works the same way.  The Sun is the centre.  It gives life and power to every other heavenly body.  The planets are wonderful, exciting places to examine but they orbit around this blazing centre.  Suppose the sun just went *poof* and disappeared; these planets would spin off on their own paths and lose their light and vitality.  While there are many things to explore and discover about the planets – it is by the Sun’s centrality that we are able to.

This is like what keeping the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ – at the centre of our faith and practice means.  Since I first became a Christian I’ve always thought it important to keep the main thing the main thing.  The main thing is the Good News (not good advice!) which we have been entrusted with believing, guarding, proclaiming.  This is a community effort for the entire Church.  The Gospel can be pretty slippery.  Unless it is concentrated on, enjoyed, and continually articulated it can slip away.  That doesn’t necessarily mean faith is lost but the central issue of Christianity can slip into the background.  Like the planets revolving around the Sun, every other topic/issue/facet of Christian life and practice finds it meaning, life, and power from the central Gospel.  By the light of the Gospel we see everything in Christianity – feel free to see the C S Lewis allusion!  Many other wonderful, glorious truths orbit around this central message – church life, spiritual gifts, God’s Father heart, worship, community life, ethics, social concern/action, engagement with culture, good deeds, relationships to money/sex/power/each other…everything else orbits around the central proclamation.

The Gospel needs to be central because, as it has been written, it is the power to save.  All those other topics are wonderful.  But like planets spinning off without their Sun, each one of them could spin off into powerless goofiness unless they stay in orbit around the Gospel.

How do we keep it central?   We must always stay concentrated on it.  One of the ways I do this is by saying during every sermon I preach:

The Gospel is that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Messiah of Israel.  He is God in the flesh – God has come into world He made.  He is both Man and God, and lived a perfect sinless life, worthy of God’s blessing.  But He was crucified, bled on Cross, where He suffered and died for sinners.  On the 3rd day He rose again; the grave couldn’t hold Him and He achieved victory over death.  After a time, He ascended into heaven both as Man and God, where He is alive praying for His people.  He is still a mediator between God and sinners.  Someday He will return and make all things new.  He’ll be the Judge of everyone and bring His Kingdom.  This is the Gospel

 There are implications of this Gospel and here are three major ones:  1)  Jesus is Lord; there is no other – no higher authority.  He exercises His rule over the world and those who come under His Lordship may become champions of  unfashionable causes.  2)  Every person who believes is personally forgiven of every and all their sins.  They are counted righteous in eyes of God because an exchange has taken place.  God has places all the wrath we deserve on His Son, so that all the blessing He deserved may come upon us.  We are given eternal life and inherit the Kingdom of God.  3)  Those who believe congregate in His church, because He shed His blood for her.  They live holy lives, pursue His will, and serve the world in His name.

This is my summary of the Gospel message and its main implications.  There may be many like it but this one is mine.  We must hear it again and again and always find ways to celebrate it.  I’ve said nearly the same thing in the last dozen or so sermons but I got a ‘Hallelujah!’ this last time.  That means that someone isn’t getting tired of hearing it – Praise God!  Whatever else we hear in the sermon – or sing or pray or share or learn – we do it in light of this central proclamation.  We must learn to see everything else by it and how it fuels every other topic of the Christian life.  Like the Sun orbited by planets, it is the blazing centre.

Bible Reading – Fast or Slow?

Broad strokes and brush strokes?  This guy gets it.

Broad strokes and brush strokes?                                   This guy gets it.

We can probably all agree that spending time reading the Scriptures is good for our spiritual growth and well-being.  It is an important discipline to have.  I read the Bible a lot – it is part of my job.  Sometimes it feels like hard work.  Sometimes it is a breeze.  Sometimes it feels like dull going through the motions.  Sometimes it feels like the Spirit causes the words to jump from page to heart.  The discipline of it keeps us doing it through every kind of experience or season we can be having with the Bible.  And… sometimes we read the Bible slow and sometimes we read it fast.

Which is better?  To read it fast or read it slow?  I think both are important.  Sometimes when you look at a painting it’s good to stand back a see the composition from across the room – the broad strokes so to speak.  Then it’s good to get close and see the small brush strokes that the artist has used to make the picture.  Broad strokes and brush strokes.  That’s similar to reading the Bible both really slowly and really quickly.

This plaid shirt wearing guy is taking his time.

This plaid shirt wearing guy is taking his time.

Reading It Slow.  The Bible is God’s word.  Every word of it is God’s word.  That should cause us to want to take our time and savour it slowly.  A lot of power can be packed into one verse or even clause within a verse.  To sit and read slow, asking the Spirit to help us understand everything is a great way to read the Bible.  Also, looking things up and considering different readings/interpretations is part of careful, slow reading.  What does that mean?  Why is this word used?  Who is this directed to?  How does this verse relate to the one before it?  What, Holy Spirit, do you want me to see here?  All of this requires slow reading.  Reading Scripture slowly often means unlike the way you’d read a normal book.  You wouldn’t pick up a novel a read four lines of it and meditate deeply on them, would you?  But reading slow helps us get in deep in ways that we wouldn’t with other types of literature.  Reading slow is like looking closely at the brush strokes

This plaid shirt wearing guy is zipping through his Bible.

This plaid shirt wearing guy is zipping through his Bible.

Reading It Fast. The Bible is a big book (actually collection of 66 books but, hey, you know what I mean!).  And it tells one big story – God’s Story of how he has related to all he has made.  There are over arching themes which sweep through from Genesis to Revelation.  Consuming large amounts of Bible can help us see that.  I love to read the Bible fast using a chronological reading plan.  It helps show the big themes and the big storyline – Creation, Fall, Law, Israel, Exile, Return, Christ, Church, The Future.  Just recently reading through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations in rapid succession really helped me see a big piece of the BIg Story.  Sometimes we can feel guilty about reading too fast – it does require zooming over a lot.  But reading the Bible quickly (I mean four, five, six chapters at a time) has really helped me see the broad strokes.

Fine brush strokes and broad strokes both are part of a full picture.  Individual verses and large themes both make up God’s Story to us.  Read slow and read fast to see them both.

Science and Faith?

It is common today for people to assume science has sometimes overtaken the claims of faith.  That somehow scientific knowledge can answer all and every kind of question?

In brief, science is terrific for answering the ‘whats’ and ‘hows’.  But when it claims to be able to answer the ‘whys’ then it is overstepping it’s game.  I could go on but a far more astute, profound, and challenging meditation on this has already been offered by Scot McKnight.  Read it, please.

Sciences and the Tower of Babel.

Dads! Teach your family the Faith!

There's probably a better way to do it than this.

There’s probably a better way to do it than this.  via the Sacred Sandwich

During a sermon from a couple weeks ago I had this brief sidebar – a tiny sermon within a sermon, if you will.  Give it a listen (it’s only 2 minutes long!):

Dads, Teach Your the Faith!

Basically it is an admonition for parents, but especially Dads, to teach their children the Bible and the basic doctrines of Christian faith.  It was a bit of a tangent but it is basically Ephesians 6:4.  Experience can’t be passed on to the next generation but the content of the Faith can and must be.  This is a daunting task but so important.  If you are a Dad and not feeling the challenge of this then you haven’t heard.  This challenge means a few things:

First, you can’t leave it to pastors, youth leaders, Sunday School, or Veggie Tales to teach your kids the faith.  All those things are great but you can’t pass the buck to anybody.  One hour of Sunday School a week will never be enough.  Our children have been entrusted to us by God and they need serious discipleship in our homes.

Second, you don’t know enough to do it.  Don’t be discouraged by that.  I’m a pretty well-trained Bible and Theology guy but talking, praying, and reading the Bible with my 3-and-a-half year old pushes me like no other teaching challenge.  It drives me into Scripture and meditation like nothing else.  Small children ask such good questions!

Third, you need help.  It didn’t feel quite right issuing this challenge to my congregation without some backup.  So here’s some stuff to look at.  *This post is mainly to resource my own congregation by the way*

Teaching Kids the Bible, an article by Sally Lloyd-Jones (the late, great Martyn Lloyd-jones’ daughter!)  She has also created the Jesus Storybook Bible – a resource that might worth looking into!

The What, When, and How of Family Worship, an article by Jason Helopoulos.  This is some practical tips for helping make regular times of reading and prayer happen.

Pastor Dad, a free ebook by Mark Driscoll.  This book can help you get a picture for the responsibility Dads have for their family’s faith.

Leading Family Worship, a conference talk by Joel Beeke.  This talk lays out a pretty lofty vision for family instruction and worship.  If you listen to it, be warned!  Beeke’s description is a very high ideal – the reality is probably much more faltering and imperfect than this.  It’s a little like wanting to serve the poor and then looking at Mother Theresa!   If you listen to this than my fourth and last point is very important to read…

Fourth, you have to have grace for yourself.  To imagine yourself leading Bible instruction and prayer with your kids is pretty daunting.  If the picture you form in your mind seems impossible to achieve (like Beeke’s) just remember to go easy on yourself.  Sometimes trying to do everything off the hop can be paralyzing.  Trust God, celebrate the small things. and pray for your kids.

Come To Sex Hole? Let’s not trick anybody and just be a Church, okay?

Watch this brief stand-up comedy by Maria Bamford.  It’s less than two minutes long and despite the title is not dirty.  What she’s making fun of, I will comment on below.

Okay, so that was pretty funny, right?   Not hard to see what she was poking fun at.  Bamford is quite possibly not a Christian and so her critique is especially helpful.  What’s she poking fun at?

Churches who are pretending not to be churches so that people will come inside and get involved.  The old Bait-and-Switch.  Now don’t get me wrong.  As Christian churches we probably all need to be doing better at reaching out to our communities.  Caring for the shared needs and addressing the shared concerns is a good thing.  It certainly isn’t bad to invite people in.  But how do you answer this question:  What does the world really need from the Church?

Maybe, just maybe, what’s needed is for the Church to be unashamedly the Church.  Let’s not be ashamed of ‘what goes on in there’ and be up front from the beginning.

Want Something to Hope In? Isaiah’s Got Something For You.

At the end of his writings, the prophet Isaiah reveals one of the most hopeful things ever.

At the end of his writings, the prophet Isaiah reveals one of the most hopeful things ever.

Finished reading Isaiah today, the most-quoted-by-Jesus-prophet by the way.  He really knew how to end on a hopeful note:

For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, andLud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations.  66:18-19 ESV

Let that sink and realize the greatest hope there is and the challenge that it gives to us.

The time is coming…  God is going to call from and gather His people from all nations (ethnic groups) and tongues (languages).  This is the beautiful plan of our electing God.  Can you picture the end of His great plan?  Can you taste in your soul the hope of a redeemed people from every corner of the world?  Will it actually happen?  I dunno… sounds familiar, and kind of sounds like it will.

They shall come and shall see my glory…  This is certainly in Isaiah’s future but is it in ours?  Or is it in our past?  God has always planned to call His people from every corner but when did He start?  When did He show His glory in this world?  Could it be when Christ came into the world?  Could He be the sign set before them?

And from them I will send…  It is a great hope that God calls from all people.  But He doesn’t do it with magic.  He does it with people.  Those who ‘see’ His glory and His sign (His Son) are sent to everyone and everywhere.  They can go with hope because they know the outcome.

So know the hope of God’s great plan.  And be ‘sent people’ today.