The-Contemplative-Pastor-Peterson-Eugene-H-9780802801142Unbusy.

Subversive.

Apocalyptic.

These are the adjectives that ought to describe the pastor, according to Eugene Peterson. Though written in 1989, The Contemplative Pastor is just as, if not more, relevant to today’s church culture. The pastors we honor in American evangelicalism often do little or no pastoral work. They are high-achievers, brands unto themselves. They are CEOs of ever-expanding religious empires. They are busy. They tackle problems head-on. They have neither the time nor the patience to plow the fields of the hearts of their congregation.

The pastor should not be busy. “The word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.” We often search for significance in busyness. If I am busy, then I am important. But this is vanity, argues Peterson. Instead, the pastor should be unbusy enough to do three things: pray, preach, and listen. “The question I put to myself is not “How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week?” but “How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?”

The pastor should not use blunt force, but rather use the subversive methods of the kingdom of God. Jesus, after all, was the subversive par excellence. He preached in parables, which “aren’t illustrations that make things easier; they make things harder by requiring the exercise of our imaginations, which if we aren’t careful becomes the exercise of our faith.” The kingdom which is grown is more permanent and powerful than the kingdom which is imposed. “God does not impose his reality from without; he grows flowers and fruit from within.”


The way the gospel is conveyed is as much a part of the kingdom as the truth presented. -Peterson
The Contemplative Pastor is must-reading for all who are pursuing the ministry. My fear is that many young pastors, especially church planters, are motivated not by the needs of the kingdom but by the needs of their own egos. Peterson is a douse of cold water to a drunken narcissist. The work of the pastor is gloriously ordinary, but we have stars in our eyes. We long for crowds and lights and buzz, but the pastor receives something far better – ordinary people who struggle to believe, to be faithful, and to attend church even twice a month. This is not the job for superstars, but it is perfectly suited for the unbusy, apocalyptic subversive.

We recently started a new sermon series at Grace Church called Everyday Virtue. In it, we are exploring the lives of Bible characters, learning certain virtues from them. My sermon was on John Mark, whose story is found in several books of the New Testament. The virtue we learn from John Mark’s life is perseverance. He failed in a couple of big ways, but God remained faithful to him, and powerfully redeemed his story.

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What does God look like in slow motion? Does the thunderbolt in his hand meet halfway between the earth and sky, like real lightning? Does the furrow of his angry brow seem extra intimidating in super slo-mo? In fact, God in slow motion is Jesus in real life, and according to author Mike Nappa, there are ten “unexpected lessons” we can learn from his life.

These ten unexpected lessons take the form of apparent contradictions – oxymoronic chapter titles that capture the inverted nature of what we think God looks like and how he actually appears. Mischievous Glory is how Nappa describes the birth of Jesus, which is the first, and perhaps most profound, chapter of the book. Nappa argues that the way in which God chose to enter the world upends all of our expectations of what glory truly is. We see, in the nature of the Incarnation, that Glory = Humility. 


“God, in his great wisdom, thumbed his nose at all human expectations of greatness, choosing humility underfoot as the most resplendent setting for the opening act of his grand redemptive work.” (9)

Taking ten stories from Jesus’s life and ministry, Nappa paints a picture of God that is both surprising and comforting. God is, after all, like Jesus, and not like the angry gods of our imaginations. To see God in Jesus is to see God in slow motion, viewing each frame of God’s activity with full clarity and in sharp focus. Jesus makes God clear, though that doesn’t mean the oxymoronic lessons make any more sense to our imperfect, rightside-up (or is that upside-down?) minds.

Nappa’s book reads like a series of sermons about Jesus, and would be useful for new or younger believers that are just getting to know what God is like. It could also be a tremendous help for those who have grown up with a false understanding of God, particularly one that painted a picture of God as a loveless, joyless, graceless deity ready to dole out punishment at the first opportunity.

BookSneeze® provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.

 

This is a collection of essays by Teddy Roosevelt, America’s 26th president. Roosevelt is a fascinating character, and I have read several of his biographies, most notably the trilogy by Edmund Morris. I was first turned on to Teddy when I read his famous “Man in the Arena” quote at the beginning of John Eldredge’s book, Wild at Heart. Since then I’ve seen it in a number of other places, and no doubt you have seen it, too.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.-Theodore Roosevelt

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We’re wrapping up the first week of the New Year, as well as the first week of the Year of No. It’s been a pretty good week for me, as far as saying “No” to my entitlements goes. I started off by naming my entitlements and indulgences, which has helped me to stay focused on what I’m saying “No” to, as well as to provide perspective about how often I’m saying “No” and why. If you haven’t taken the time to sit down and name your entitlements and indulgences, I highly recommend you do so. Clarity is the first step toward victory.

As far as my entitlements go, I haven’t eaten out except for work or family events. I’ve forced myself to find food around the house, or to eat something before I leave for work at night so that I won’t be tempted to stop at Wendy’s or Chipotle. My pop consumption is less than half of what it was last year. The other temptations that I face occur less frequently, but the concept of the Year of No has been at the front of my mind, so I’ve been intentional about taking ground on those issues, too. 


Saying “Yes” to our indulgences and entitlements today makes us far more likely to say “Yes” to them tomorrow.

Like many of you, we are snowed in today. Many of us treat days like this as special, like a birthday or a holiday. This means that we might allow ourselves to indulge in certain pleasures that we may not otherwise. We give ourselves permission to indulge because we believe that these indulgences are what make special days so special. But the danger of indulging is not in what it means for today, but what it could mean for tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Saying “Yes” to our indulgences and entitlements today makes us far more likely to say “Yes” to them tomorrow, which makes it more likely we say “Yes” the next day, and so on.

The other thing that can happen on snow days is we can go a little stir crazy. Our kids have been out of school for almost three full weeks now, and because of the weather here in the Midwest we’re all stuck indoors. Together. Tensions can run high. You might be tempted to yell or lash out. You might be tempted to grab your phone and lock yourself in the bathroom for an hour. Days like today are the ones when my resolve is most tested. What can we do to overcome the temptations of these “special” days?

Titus 2:11-12 says, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” God’s grace teaches us to say “No.” If you’re snowed-in at home today and tempted to indulge, remember that it’s not clenching your fists and gritting your teeth that helps you say “No,” it’s the grace of God. God has grace for you today to say “No” to the ungodliness of your indulgence and entitlement and to say “Yes” to self-control. When you’re tempted today, ask God for grace.

Self-discipline requires both grace and vigilance. We can’t do this on our own, but through the grace of God we can do this. We can become more like Jesus by making these small decisions toward self-discipline. God gives us the power to make these choices in his grace. But we must be vigilant. Character development doesn’t happen on accident. When we allow things to get out of balance today, our starting point for tomorrow is that same out-of-balance point. In other words, we lose hard-fought ground when we indulge ourselves. But when we continue on the path of self-discipline, we gain a great victory because we have overcome the tiny temptations that beset us each day, and on the sort of day when we are most likely to indulge ourselves.

Many of us have formed habits of permissiveness that manifest themselves in times of stress, or on special days when we just want to relax and take a break. We have rationalized our indulgence. 


The reality is that we don’t need to indulge in order for a day to be special. Our problem is that indulgence is an everyday occurrence.

I’m going to smoke this cigarette because work was really stressful today.

The kids are home from school so we’re just going to lay around, watch movies, and eat cookies all day.

The little ones are finally asleep and now I’m going to binge on social media for the next two hours.

Special days call for special grace. Instead of permissiveness, focus on what God has set you free to do and become. You don’t have to be enslaved by the old temptations anymore. There is grace for you, and in that grace there is great power. Use the time you have to form new habits rather than fall back into old ones. Special days are unique opportunities to become the new you!