One of the interesting aspects of Jesus ministry is that he made it a habit of practicing solitude. The most mature human to ever live modeled for us the need for retreat. Jesus, God incarnate, showed us that solitude isn’t alone time but rather time alone with God. It isn’t just space from others, it as Henri Nouwen refers to as a portable cell that you bring with you everywhere you go. Jesus taught us how to commune with God through retreat and silence, through prayer and ministry. There are few things we fear more than solitude. Sheri Terkel in her book Alone Together says this powerful statement “If we never teach our kids to be alone we will only train them to be lonely.” In the noisy world, we live in today the practices of solitude and silence are not high on the list of spiritual practices. We love to network, innovate and create (all of which are important and have their place) we fear solitude and we fill silence.
We see the start of Jesus Ministry as miraculous, as marked by obedience but we don’t see it as solitude. If you are going to last in ministry you will need to learn to embrace the transforming furnace of solitude. Henri Nouwen in his book The Way of the Heart says:
Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude, we remain victims of society and we are continued to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.
Jesus came to be our substitute but He also came to reveal his Kingdom to us. He came to show us how to live and how to serve. Jesus began his ministry in solitude facing the three temptations every leader has to face.
- To Be Relevant. – “To turn stones into bread.” – The first pull you feel as a young leader is the pull of relevance. The right desire to help people that ends in giving them what they want rather than what they need. The pull to find pragmatic solutions that are not based in way of our savior is perhaps one of the most difficult battles you have to face early in ministry. We are not Chik-fil-a we are the church. In business, the bottom line is profit in the church the bottom line is submission to God, obedience rather than self-reliance. In the economy of God, the way up is down and the last is first. Jesus fought the pragmatic good of feeding himself and instead submitted his desires to his Father. In a world that tells you church planting is all about turning stone into bread. Young pastor submit your desire to be loved and to care for yourself to the only one who truly can care for you.
- To Be Spectacular – “Throw yourself from the roof of the temple.” – To be known is the second temptation a leader faces, I want to be seen, followed and loved. This may even be an altruistic desire in that you want others to see or know or to teach others the dangers of the desire for relevance. How did they do that? Is a question that every leader secretly wishes he is asked. Solitude teaches you that the temptation to be spectacular is only conquered through hidden faithfulness. Christ modeled for us in the desert what Adam failed to do in the garden. Silence teaches us that our words are not the most profound and solitude teaches us to wait for God’s word.
- To Be Powerful – “I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.” The last and probably most difficult is the temptation to be powerful. I have learned over the years and continue to learn, that if the leader you are following doesn’t walk with a limp they more than likely overestimating what they feel they can accomplish on their own. The longer you walk with God the more you understand that weakness is the strength of the Christian life. Every election cycle my feed gets filled with friends who are Republican and friends who are Democrats both of which think that the more power the church has the more it can accomplish the agenda they feel is most fitting for the church to pursue. Being powerful, being political was never what God’s Kingdom was about. When you practice solitude you are confronted with your own weakness your own finality with your own need for God. You realize that way of the kingdom is in weakness, not strength. You understand that your identity isn’t from your success but in Christ accomplishment on your behalf. Your only job is cling to Christ. That is the essence of faith. Cling to Christ alone. Jesus’ answer to this temptation was to ground his identity in God. That is God’s word for you and me. Ground your identity in God.
I’ll be honest I was difficult sending my kids to school today. The events in South Florida are heartbreaking. There are no words to convey the pain so many parents feel today losing what is most precious in such horrific fashion. There are not words that make sense of what took place. There are no words that can be said that would help bring comfort. Our nation is overcome with a collective sense of grief. Any time a child dies it is hard to understand, digest or explain. When multiple children die it’s horrific.
The question I hear most parents saying and I find myself thinking. “How do I send my kids to school tomorrow?” My wife asked me this very question here is how I responded perhaps it will help another parent out there.
Here is why I am sent my kids to school today.
1. We as parents must create an environment where our kids can thrive and can become all that God has designed them to be. We can not, however, protect and shield our kids from everything. We have to demonstrate to our kids in any way that we can that ultimately we trust God more than anything. Christ is our cornerstone he is the reference point of our life. When life is good He is that reference point when life is painful He is our source He is our life. Our hope as a parent can never lie wholly in our ability to keep our kids from harm, our hope has to be ultimately in Jesus alone.
2. See Christ as more valuable than anything else. – Paul says in Philippians “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He understood something we so often forget. If Jesus is truly most valuable to us if we lose everything in life we are ok because we have Jesus. If we die we win in death because we get Jesus.
I have always thought of myself as an innovative person. Twenty years in kids ministry with many of those years having a very small budget to no budget at all, I had to learn to be innovative. The problem came for me when innovation became part of my identity. I identified as an innovative person. I liked finding new solutions to problems. I would find out new tricks and shortcuts that made my life easier and the lives of those around me easier. I was praised as an innovator. I thought innovation was always the answer. New ideas to new problems.
A Darwinian Dilemma
The problem was that I started to measure success in terms of progress. I saw all change as good. I thought in terms of trying to come up with solutions to new problems. This is what I call Darwins Dilemma. We don’t even fully realize how much Darwin’s theory of evolution and his idea of the survival of the fittest has infiltrated our thinking. The Greeks measured their thought in terms of geometry it was a mental puzzle to be solved (this isn’t perfect either). After the release of The Origin of Species that rational geometric thought was exchanged for a more biological framework. We no longer look at problems in terms of logic but in terms of progress. Darwin has sewn into the fabric of the west this pernicious idea that all change is good that all progress is right. Innovation at all costs. We may not even believe in evolution but we have collectively bought into the faulty framework of ideas that new is better that progress is good.
This was the way I thought for years. What changed my viewpoint was reading old books. Books written before Darwin’s theory became the new gospel of our culture and a functional reality in our churches. So many of the church planting ideas and strategies are Darwinian. Church growth is hard work coupled with deep trust with an attitude of gospel humility. The gospel of pragmatism, if it works do it and is based on Darwinian thinking.
The Bible is not a story about heroes we should emulate, but about a Savior we are to adore. JD Greer
Is the Gospel clearly articulated? – The big mistake we make here in our teaching, and our curriculum is we limit the gospel to an event. We very easily limit the gospel both actively and passively shrink the gospel to something that is a box to be checked rather than as sustaining truth that continues to shape, empower and sustain or lives.
Love how John Piper puts it.
Parents teach your kids the gospel is not just something that begins the Christian life but empowers it, shapes it and sustains it. Pray, love, correct and demonstrate the love of God to your kids until he draws them they respond and He becomes their treasure and their great reward. John Piper
For a curriculum to be life transforming it has be centered around the gospel. I remember In 1989 Rick Moranis entered into the vernacular of our culture the words “honey I shrunk the kids” Moranis portrays a wacky inventor who accidentally shrinks his kids and the neighbor kids with his shrink ray he invented. Moranis’ character is unaware that his kids were shrunk by the very invention he destroys because he thinks it doesn’t work. There were multiple spin-offs of the movie and “honey I shrunk the (fill in the blank with something witty)” became a staple of sitcoms and watercolors alike for most of the 90’s.
Growing up in the 80’s has created a passion in me for all things 80’s. I love 80’s music, and 80’s movies and like it or not 80’s fashion is coming back full force. Being a fan of the 80’s it’s only natural that the analogy I will use for how we at times treat the gospel was born out of a movie from the 1980’s.
One of the problems that are very real and very dangerous in the church today is the fact that we have simplified, truncated and have made the gospel powerless in our churches and in our homes. Honey we have shrunk the gospel.
What is the gospel? Terms matter and many people refer to the gospel, but I’m not sure that we are always talking about the same thing. The gospel is the good news. It’s the good news that we have been longing to hear since God created a perfect world that we messed up when we introduced sin to this perfect world. Because we have sinned and have broken God’s perfect world, He had to send His sinless son to live the life we could not live die a death we should have died. Jesus came back to life, ascended into heaven, and will come back to us to make right all the things that are wrong about our world. That is the good news in a nutshell. We don’t have to be good enough because Jesus is, was and continues to be our spotless sacrifice.
So how have we shrunk the gospel?