Monday, September 24, 2007

Wholeness is First Priority: Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

Recently my wife said to me that she heard that Steven Covey said: "The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing." I think that the Christian Church is in trouble in this area unknowingly (maybe sometimes knowingly). Historical influences can exercise an influence on us without us knowing it. I am convinced this has led to a general drift in priorities from the first priority of wholeness to some part of that wholeness.

Take the example of the city that I live in today when it comes to influences that are unknown. It is located between Green Bay and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You would think that the football tradition here would be strong, as it is in most of the state of Wisconsin. But there is a historical influence that has ties to the Los Angeles Lakers. This city, I was told, is the original beginning for the Lakers who traveled from here in Sheboygan, then to Minneapolis and finally to there in Los Angeles. So it is stronger in its basketball tradition than it is in its football tradition. This influence is subtle, because it is buried in this city's past, yet it is very real in its influence on what people see as a priority and as its first love. The Laker influence apparently is still sending out ripples of influence into life here in Sheboygan. I'm learning this the hard way trying to coach football in a basketball city.

The same may go for churches. We may not know it, but we are heavily influenced in subtle ways by our historical roots. Lutherans may not be aware, but their priority is righteousness and justice. The Reformed may not be aware, but their priority is humility and truth. Episcopalians may not be aware, but their priority is comprehensiveness and holiness (or wholeness). Methodists (and many Evangelicals) may not be aware, but their priority is love and practicality. Finally, Baptists may not be aware, but their priority is goodness and mental maturity to discern it. All of these groups, at their historical root, had holiness, sanctification and wholeness at the top of their priority lists with these other priorities, but gradually with the confusion over what holiness meant, wholeness lost its priority alongside these clearer priorities. A lack of clarity rolled out into a lack of priority as history rolled out into the future.

The problem is that these other priorities pull us in directions we often are not aware of consciously and so the main thing is pushed aside by something that is not the main thing. The first thing is that we need to understand what the main thing was for the previous generations, so that we can understand where they and we habitually use our time. Then once that recognition is there we can decide if something else should replace it. In the past, wholeness supplemented many of these good priorities and even was a first priority among Anglicans and Episcopalians, except that comprehensiveness was gradually pulled away from its biblical roots in holiness, due to lack of clarity on the ground surface of meaning.

Jesus once said to the Pharisees that they needed to "Do the greater and not neglect the lesser things. " I think this is the problem with so many things churches do. We are not doing the greater or the main thing, moral wholeness. Instead we are working on the lesser things that should not be neglected, yet should not come first. The main thing needs to be the main thing, as Covey says. I learned the truth of this lesson from Jesus through the Word and by the Holy Spirit. I don't want to be grouped in history with the Pharisees who worked so hard on the lesser things. And holpefully, you don't want to be grouped with them either.

Let me simplify too the whole lesson of priorities or main things. It comes down to big versus little. We must count our priorities up front. The big must win over the little. Otherwise the big things never get done and their big impact is never felt. That is why we do not feel big impacts in our Christian lives. Wholeness is that big impact, yet it must first be a priority for us to feel it. Feelings have their core ties to relationships. Big things last means small feelings. Main things make big splashes. Small things barely make ripples.

Until wholeness becomes the main thing for many of us, I think our situation as Christians will continue to look bleak. We desparately need to be renewed, even as happened in past times of renewal (Romans 12:1-3). I know wholeness as a priority has had a bigger impact for me than any other lesson I have learned. It has renewed not only my mind, but my joy. I hope you will join me in the name of our God to change our main thing to be the main thing.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon Westlund

Friday, September 7, 2007

Wholeness is First Priority: According to Donald Nicholl

Donald Nicholl had this to say (in Gathered Gold by John Blanchard): "Holiness is not an optional extra to the process of creation, but rather the whole point of it." It is either intentional or a great irony that "holiness" is connected with "the whole." Either way, he does see holiness as a first priority.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Wholeness is First Priority: According to William Law

William Law (as quoted in Gathered Gold by John Blanchard) had this to say: "Christianity is a universal holiness in every part of life." Notice the primary definition he has for Christianity is holiness and that he also indicates that holiness is both universal and extends to every part. So he also indicates the ideal fo wholeness indirectly. This could be coming out of his Anglican roots where holiness was certainly wholeness or comprehensiveness.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Wholeness is First Priority: According to Matthew Henry

Matthew Henry (in Gathered Gold by John Blanchard) has this to say about holiness:

"`Be ye holy' is the great and fundamental law of our religion." I believe Philip Henry was his father, and had this to say: "Holiness is the symmetry of the soul." So we see here both the high priority of holiness and holiness as a kind of symmetry potentially expressing wholeness.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Wholeness is First Priority: The Good is the Enemy of the Best

Many people are trying to do good things in the church. I have met many good Christian people, but I think we also have become soft intellectually and soft in prioritizing our time. As a result, our efforts produce meager results at best. We must admit that even our best known Christian leaders often have different priorities among them. So even they can't all be right. Maybe too, because we are soft intellectually, we also are a bit too afraid of facing honest criticism that good things are the enemies of the best things.

We must turn from our good ways and focus on our best ways to reshape a good biblical phrase. It was one of my professors in seminary that pointed out numerous examples of how the good can be the enemy of the best. Are we focused on our first priority or are other priorities pushing it out? Are we willing to move from the convenience of where we've focused our efforts before or from the comfort of just dropping out and not trying? Do we really find peace without pursuing first things first?

Have you ever tried to fill a jar with rocks, small stones, sand and water? You have likely seen that it is important to place the items in the order I have listed them. Without that order or if the rocks are placed in the jar last, they are likely to not even fit in the jar. Our lives are like that jar. Our jar of time is limited. If we want to fit the big things in our lives, they must go into our lives first.

So whether called biggest or best, let's put what counts most first. I recommend studying holiness first and foremost and not taking our eye off the greatest character trait that God's word places as best. We need to do the intellectual work of realizing that holiness is wholeness, so that we know wholeness comes first. Whether you look at Isaiah 6:3 or Revelation 4:8, holy, holy, holy or wholly or wholly, wholly remains his most awesome character trait.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon Westlund

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Wholeness is First Priority: According to Holiness

Back in the middle 1980's, I had the good fortune of learning priorities from a great man named Claude Bowen. He was formerly with the Dale Carnegie Foundation. He was then giving his time to train youth ministers like myself. He got my passions going and this led me to spend a lot of time learning all I could on how to determine priorities. Added to this later was language training that taught me how to determine what comes first in things that are written, especially when the author does not directly tell us what their primary theme is. Dr. Daniel Shaw , who taught me so much about languages, called this prominence.

I've since used those skills and added them to traditional biblical reading skills to arrive at the conclusion that wholeness is the first priority in the Bible when it comes to God's or our character traits. What you need to know is that when I use the word wholeness, I am using it as a substitute for holiness, for the simple reason of clarity. If you want to read why I am comfortable using one word for the other read:

The biblical support for wholeness or holiness being the first priority among character traits is the repetition of "holy, holy holy" in two very important passages in Scripture. One is found in Isaiah and the other is found in Revelation. In the Revelation text, the majority text view actually supports it being repeated nine times! I learned when I was a seminary student and real estate agent (to pay for the education) that "location, location, location" was a popular way of expressing what was the first priority in real estate. Likewise, though I cannot claim that my expensive education taught me this, John Calvin, a theologian of some prominence, once said that all the Bible could be summarized in three words: "humility, humility humility." I think it is fair to say that some theologians have interpreted this since to refer to John Calvin's first priority in theology.

There is more support though than theological tradition or a good business illustration from daily life. There is the history of writers using repetition to express their most important themes. So this argument is rooted in reading and writing itself. Keep in mind, that all the other good candidates for the first priority for character never are repeated three times or even two times successively. You might think righteousness, truth (a close cousin of humility), love or goodness would be priority one. Remember how the Beatles used to say: "love, love love" to express their number one priority? But wholeness or holiness in the Bible stands alone in this way.

So I take wholeness to be the first priority in Scripture when it comes to reading that writing for what it says. If we follow the sound rules the first priority gets to be first: wholeness. I think it is good to know God's first priority regardless of time in history. Yet, next time, I will be talking about how is also the first thing needed in this particular time in history.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon Westlund