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Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Growing up we heard Bible basics quite a bit. I don’t know about you but it has been a while since I have heard many of those teachings. Sometimes I wonder if we went over those things so many times that some of us got tired of hearing them while others got tired of teaching them.

Now, as someone who doesn’t just hear the teaching but is regularly teaching and preaching one of the things that I think pushes out teaching on the basics, except to new believers and seekers if we have a class designed for them, comes from the desire for something new. When we study we are often seeking new information. We are looking for things to consider that show us new ways of looking at things. In our desire to be relevant we don’t like to repeat ourselves much and we can make the fundamental mistake of thinking that relevant requires being recent so we are constantly looking for something new rather than for something old. In doing so, the basics of the Christian faith, have often been neglected save a few select words at the end of the sermon.

The result of this is a generation full of questions. They wonder why we do what we do. Well, we knew what we did and we knew the Bible verses that supported the things we do when I was growing up. That is slightly different than knowing “Why” we do what we do but it is related. Why we do what we do was often because we believed our practices were authorized because that is how we were brought up to read the Bible but that still isn’t entirely a good answer to why we do what we do but it is a start. People today, young people especially, haven’t heard many of the basics of the Christian faith and those of us who teach got so tired of going over those same topics that many of us haven’t taught them ourselves.

It never hurts to teach the basics of the Christian faith and that means more than just worship practice. People need to understand their faith. They need good answers to their questions. We need to not push so hard to be relevant that we fail to teach some of the most relevant biblical information we could possibly teach!

Time to get back to the basics! How have you incorporated these things into your teaching and preaching or how have you seen it done?

I have come to believe two passages of Scripture, actually three, from the Hebrew Bible sum up the entire biblical faith both in terms of what/who is the object of our faith and what we are to do. These texts state what

1) we believe, the God Creed

2) we do, the Jesus Creed

God Creed is the Center

The God Creed is Exodus 34.6-7, a text that shows up in various forms (often almost verbatim) many times, while the heart of the creed, God’s steadfast love (hesed) shows up over 200x in the Hebrew Bible.

The God Creed tells us who our God is. It also tells us what God does. It stresses the divine indicative. It tells us who God is and what he does.

Yahweh is merciful
Yahweh is gracious
Yahweh is slower than a turtle to get angry
Yahweh overflows in hesed (steadfast love)
Yahweh keeps hesed (steadfast love)
Yahweh forgives, wickedness, rebellion and sin

Yahweh will deal with evil

This is the God Creed. This is the heart of biblical faith. The Bible does not simply say there is a god. Every pagan in the world believes in all kinds of gods. The Scripture says we deny the existence of all gods except the God of Exodus 34 … Jesus is Exodus 34.6-7 in the flesh.

The God Creed expresses the focus and content of our faith, Yahweh, the Lord.

Jesus Creed is the Circumference

The Jesus Creed sums up our response to the God Creed. We read the Jesus Creed in Mark 12.28-31 (cf. Mt. 22.37-40). This Creed actually is the combination of two Hebrew Bible texts, Deuteronomy 6.4 and Leviticus 19.18.

The Jesus Creed is the the law of the kingdom of God. Yahweh is the center of the kingdom and the Jesus Creed is how we live faithfully in the kingdom. Since Yahweh is radical, pure, and infinite love, those who confess Yahweh as God will,

Love God with all of their heart
Love God with all of their soul
Love God with all of their mind
Love God with all of their strength

This is simply a Hebraic way of saying “love God down to the DNA level.”  There is not a cell that we withhold from sold out love for the God who radiates such infinite love.  Yahweh’s love is God’s personal “glory” (Ex. 33.22).

We respond to God in love. But the Jesus Creed states that we respond to God’s images, icons, “photographs,” like we do to Yahweh. We love God’s images. How we respond to our neighbors is in fact how we respond to the the Lord as if God was standing in front of us. So the Jesus Creed states we will,

Love our neighbors as ourselves.

Center and Circumference of Biblical Faith

The God Creed and the Jesus Creed sum up the content of our faith and dictates the nature of our obedience to God. The God Creed and the Jesus Creed show that biblical faith is not a matter, and never has been, a matter of legal correctness. The Creeds show that biblical faith is a matter of passionate love. The passionate love of God is returned to God by his creation and shared among God’s creatures. The God Creed and the Jesus Creed reveal that our walk with God is in fact a “covenant of love.” (Deut 7.7, 12; 1 Kgs 8.23; 2 Chr 6.14; Neh 1.5; Neh 9.32; Dan 9.5).

The center and circumference of our faith are summed up in God Creed proclaimed by Yahweh and the Jesus Creed lived by the Nazarene.

Bivocational, it’s a term that not everyone is familiar with. It means to work two jobs simultaneously or to serve in two vocations at once. When applied to pastoral work, it is to serve in a church and to support oneself financially with some supplemental income from a secular occupation.

Does this lifestyle have pros & cons? Certainly. Is it for everyone who pursues ministry? Probably not, or is it? There is some data suggesting future trends will include many more churches who will turn to staffing which will be mainly bivocational. Why? Between decreasing attendance and lower contributions in many churches across denominations, this leadership transition might become more of a necessity than a personal choice for ministers and congregations alike.

So what does it feel like to be bivocational? It’s an odd position, given our culture’s projection of what the successful preacher supposedly looks like. On the one hand, you feel like something is wrong with you, or you don’t measure up, thus the need for a secular job as well. After all, if you were doing your job well enough, your church would be able to support you financially. On the other hand, you feel connected with more people who might never darken the doorway of your local church.

At times, when you are bivocational, you can feel rather second-rate, B-team, subpar. Instead of people greeting you as “Brother” (that affectionate moniker for the minster) you think they see you as their “step-brother.” Sometimes you think people don’t take your ministry role as serious as they would if you were in full-time ministry, or they assume the bivocational phase is just a stepping stone.

Also, when you are living in two worlds at once like this, you feel at times rather ineffective. You are stretched rather thin between trying to be engaged in full time “work” and attempting to be fully dedicated to the ministry you feel called to. It’s confusing, at times, to say the least.

Is there a Biblical precedent for this style of ministry? The Apostle Paul is probably the most common case, he was considered a “tentmaker” and he often fully supported himself as well as his companions. Of course there are some differences in what we experience today in contemporary bivocational ministry and what we read about in Paul’s case. For example, Paul traveled more often than he ever settled down in a local community. And, he might have turned down financial support from local congregations to teach certain churches a meta-lesson, or he may have chosen to be a tentmaker to distinguish himself from false apostles who were out to bilk believers.

So why does this subject matter? For starters, it might become more familiar to a wider range of believers as time goes on, so it’s good to be up to speed on this topic sooner than later. Also, it is an important topic since so many people are already involved in a bivocational ministry, and they could use the encouragement of the masses.

This topic matters since there is probably a slight social stigma attached to being bivocational, and most people (more than likely) won’t all understand the circumstances. Bivocational doesn’t mean under-trained or incompetent, and it would be helpful for people to recognize the validity of this style of ministry.

If you thought ministry in general was tough on the preacher’s family, it’s even more demanding when you are bivocational. Churches who have a bivocational minister should be more sensitive to this strain on their ministers.

Yet, there is a sense of authenticity when you find yourself in a bivocational ministry, a rewarding feeling that you are following your true calling. There is certainly nothing wrong with a church providing you with your entire income while serving as their minister, yet, when you are out earning a living elsewhere you know you aren’t in ministry solely for the money and the folks you minister to know you know what they experience week-in-week-out. Being bivocational feels odd at times, but it also feels rather incarnational as well.

By the way, I never aspired to being bivocational when I attended Bible College and then Seminary, but after about 20 years of serving in full time ministry in mainline churches, God led our family into a bivocational ministry. We’ve been serving this way for over five years, it has its ups & downs, but the blessings outweigh the struggles.

Mankind has a penchant for pushing pendulums. It is hard to leave them along long enough for them to settle out in the middle. Middle ground is hard to hold. Some contrary person who can’t seem to leave well enough alone always seems to come along and give that pendulum a push in one direction or the other a bit further than is ideal.

Often the corrective is needed. The pendulum has been at one end for so long and pushed out so far to the end of its reach that it needed a nudge in the other direction…just not so far as to push things out of balance in the other direction resulting in needless over correction.

The pendulum is going to swing. It is inevitable. We just have to make sure that the way in which we swing it as well as the direction and the magnitude of the swing are influenced by scripture more so than tradition or culture. It seems these three things have a lot to do with swinging pendulums (scripture, tradition and culture) and often the last two take on an inordinate amount of influence, diminishing the value and voice of the scriptures. Often what we take to be a biblical corrective to a given direction or decision is actually more the influence of tradition or culture than anything else, particularly in areas scripture is silent on (we seem to spend an awful lot of time on those!).

Let me give an example of this – the American Restoration movement was a movement that began as a unity movement (which was an attempted pendulum swing at its inception). Things had been so divided that it would seem pleasing to the Lord and in accordance with the scripture to appeal to unity. Given enough time and enough cultural influence and the emergence of tradition has made finding unity nearly impossible. The result is a unity movement that had morphed into its own form of sectarianism, the very thing it was started to address…a pendulum rightfully swung went too far!

The pendulum keeps on swinging.

We see this in the swing from modernism to post-modernism…from surety to doubt. The strength of one generation and one culture is the dry powder used to blow the whole thing up and launch something new in the opposite direction.

The pendulum just keeps swinging…just as it is designed to do…just as it is in our nature to find the pendulums we believe are out of balance and give then a nudge. Some of us are just contrary like that!

So let’s spend some time talking about pendulums and balance…talking about action and reaction. Let’s examine why we do what we do along with where we have come from and where the pendulum seems to be swinging next.