Father Maestro

Do you know how to make time slow down? It works like this. An orchestra conductor extends his arms, suspending his white shirt cuffs and links above the laser-focused eyes of skilled musicians poised at the ready like warriors entering combat–and that is the moment time stretches. That ever-so-slight lift of the baton, when everyone inhales indefinitely, and a three centimeter movement seems to command the cosmos… you have been there. Time waits for him.

The majestic Maestro, similarly, orchestrates all of his purposes and mission. For those gazing and concentrated where all drown like Peter if they dare look away, He is known as Father.

When Father commands, children make music. Knowing that he is in command and coordinating my piece together with all others removes every disappointment, pressure, and tension. He has this. Mission is in his hand and so is my heart.

Knowing that he is Father, endears me to his music. Captivated, I refuse to play anything else.

The concerto rises — “Your Kingdom come!” and falls — “Your will be done.” In each movement, Father conducts his mission and weaves his glory.

I play in the Italian section. If found in Christ, you play in yours. Therefore, do play and don’t stop. Father Maestro does not wave needlessly. There is missional music to be made and we each have a part. From soaring melodies to subtle harmonies and the occasional touch of a triangle, all share in symphonic glory.

Watch him closely for every subtle and swift movement of his baton to not miss a single beat. Father Maestro orchestrates and orchestrates. Praise him. It is so comforting, so control-free, to know our lives are not wasted and time slows down, because we have been given lives to be spent and an eternity to play in the orchestra of the Father’s family.

 

Orchestration Design of the Father and Body of Christ (from the book, The Church Beyond the Congregation)

Planting Ecclesiology as a way of life

Immediately apparent when commencing to plant ministries in Italy is that all people use the word church, but rarely anyone uses it biblically. The very idea of church here is something ‘private, cold, judgmental, obligatory, an event, passive, traditional, cultural, heavy, & Roman’. Therefore, we have a great crisis when it comes to the understanding of what actually constitutes a church.

Embedding Believersplanting ecclesiology

This is one of our major concerns, in that, if we enter a city and open a traditional church structure, it will be viewed through the cultural lens and automatically disregarded. Similar to the seasonal circus that comes to town, people in the general culture will ask, “What’s that?” And others will naturally respond, “Oh, I think that’s one of those foreign churches, evangelista or something…” Instantly, a perceived level of distance and safety is established.

However, if there are people who they know and have had experience with, the conversation might go a bit differently,

“Who are those people?” they might ask.
“Oh, that is the group that Daniele is a part of… you know Daniele, the mechanic that helps a lot of people with their cars over on Viale Venezia… His wife teaches some language classes and they run activities in the park with the kids.”
“Ya, that’s right — a classmate I went to school with works for him. It’s a bit surprising they opened a business in this crisis!”

We are not seeking to plant more institutions in post-catholic Europe, but rather, we emphasize planting people who are energized, holy, and evidentially part of the New City and the Christ culture. If the people of our Italian cities will find a refuge in Jesus, then, it will most likely come from people who have lived in their city with them through all of its positives, negatives, ups, and downs. These embedded believers do familiar-looking things, but they do them with an entirely different set of motives and attitudes.

“Church Work”

Embedded believers approach their lives and cities in an integral and theological way. Like an under-current that courses through their actions, they show gracious respect to local authorities but they reject that their sustenance comes from the state as their sovereign provider. Embedded believers are not getting all they can but giving all they can. In a suffocating economic market, demonstrating that you are not “on the take” but “living to serve” speaks loudly into people’s lives.

Furthermore, embedded believers are not demanding jobs, instead, they are developing them in the full realization that the “Earth is the Lord’s and all of its fullness.” With health, creativity, holy determination, persevering faith, and youth (life is said to begin at 40 in Italia) – their mission is pan-vocational because their theology is integral to all of life; impacting every aspect.

The Reformers of the 1500’s (especially Luther & Calvin) rediscovered this in their theology of work. One of their main emphasis was on the subject of consecration. They moved the emphasis off of the job or the talent and rested it upon the worker’s devotion to God. You could be a joyful, contented farmer or a deceptive, adulterous religious leader. The issue was not whether one was called as a religious leader versus called to farm. Rather, it was what kind of farmer or religious leader you actually were that made all the difference. To this day in Italia, the mindset lingers that work is unholyIt is a necessary evil and not a gift from God. Work should be avoided or oppressive and therefore, cheating others is rampant. Yet on the other hand, a person is more holy or powerful by the garments he wears or the buildings he enters. Life is divided into two categories: what to show (pride) and what to hide (pleasure).

“Home Work”

It is at this point where a marginalized, periphery church begins to touch the fabric of the city when she helps holy farmers, devoted teachers, and Christocentric entrepreneurs. Not only does the church assist these believers to establish their livelihoods, but she is also training them to grow up into the city through opening their homes for ministry as a regular rhythm of life. It is their gospel character on display throughout the city that makes them a community of light.

Embedded believers are not hidden behind their jobs where people cannot determine if they are truly kind or just trying to earn money through quality customer service. Their home is a refuge for seekers to come and find peace, and in turn, embedded believers are seekers who reach out to their cities in peace. I believe this balance of a ministering home coupled with a ministering business is critical to planting churches. It is a salty model because it does not stay confined to four walls of a comfortable structure. Integral home-life and work-life stimulate missional-life.

If you have read this far in the article, I am voicing some of our developing ministry philosophy as we face a church and market crisis here in southern Europe. I am not saying that this is a formula, but rather, an approach to life and work as missional theologians.

  • Have you experienced Life-work in this way? 
  • As you read this, would you have any helpful suggestions or comments?
  • How do you think an approach like this would impact where you live?

The Thanksgiving Conundrum

I’ve been thinking today about how “Thanksgiving” has been made a holiday instead of it simply just being a way of life. We all know that Thanksgiving was a British marketing endeavor to exploit the new world and make an international holiday of tasty food since their cuisine is was so bad. It just took a little longer to catch-on than the marketing groups thought because their trans-Atlantic internet speeds were so slow.  ;-)

Actually, one of the common sentiments that I’ve heard in these last years (mostly from my American friends and family) is that Thanksgiving has lost its meaning and significance. Sadly to many, Black Friday has become black everything. Stores now stay open incessantly. Families don’t eat together. Restaurant dining instead of family gathering is the new thing. Meals are inhaled because football (versione Americana) is starting. And worst of all, many people find it difficult to list more than one thing for which they are thankful. The culture has shifted, and for many, that’s difficult turkey to swallow.

The Conundrum

The conundrum is if we are a self-absorbed culture, we can only be thankful for what we achieve and what we take. Also, the only person we really desire to give thanks to is ourself, but we’re not satisfied with that person, ever. Yet, the reality of gratitude is that giving thanks demands acknowledgment of another, greater person who has acted favorably on your behalfSaid differently, if we struggle to give thanks, it’s simply because we’ve adopted our culture over the Christ story and we’re too auto-centric.

Christocentric people are Thanksgiving people.

The affectionately called Pilgrim Fathers were repeatedly ridiculed and threatened by their ship’s crew for their thankful worship. As an insult, they were called Psalm-singers because of their gratitude toward God while they sang with the waves both smooth and rough on their passage. What was so “awful” to the mariners was the Pilgrims’ pursuit of Christ together which manifested in a communal gracious spirit over difficult waters and sicknesses. How could they have been so thankful when we have abundance and complain so much about it?

Thanksgiving for a Christian is not just something we say, it’s a mark of who we are. It is a vocal realization of favor, toward us, from the Father. Favor comes in pleasurable forms like blessing and not-so-pleasurable forms like discipline. But it’s all from God, and it’s all good. So, now you have a huge list for which to be thankful.

But here’s the underlying motive:

Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Three times in verses 15-17, thankfulness is mentioned and connected to Jesus. In verse 16, a fair understanding would be that when the message of Christ (the Scriptures) is given a royal priority and permeates God’s children then wise teaching, correction, all kinds of Spirit-borne songs, and thanksgiving is going to result. In fact, seeing that Jesus is enough and filling up with him will literally draw gratitude out of you toward God. Gordon Fee wrote it well, “The focus is not so much on our attitude toward God as we sing, but on our awareness of his toward us that prompts such singing in the first place.” [God's Empowering Presence, p. 655]

The best way to be un-thankful is to get so distracted (turkey, football, 75% off sales, whatever…), and turn inward so that we have no fresh vision of the anointed Christ. We will be isolated, materially contented, spiritually lazy, wayward, song-less, and simply ungrateful toward God and others. I once had a self-assured guy come to my church for a while and one of his complaints was, “I don’t know why we have to sing songs anyway.” Sadly, he would skip our music times. Also, sadly, I think he only had a notion of what it meant to know the real Christ Jesus.

If you know Christ, then enjoy filling the air with thanksgiving today (and perpetually) as the Father draws it out of you. In Christ, it is who we are.

Communities of the unburning bush

The Lord himself – who is who he is – has bound himself inextricably to his people.

Immanuel: the-with-you-God

 

That key phrase caught my attention in a smaller but similar way to Moses noticing an unburning bush. I’m currently enjoying a read through the newly released work, Covenantal Apologetics by Scott Oliphint. In chapter 2 (Set Christ Apart as Lord), the author draws special attention to the essence of who Jesus Christ is and claimed to be. Jesus is the embodiment of the I AM that spoke to Moses in the Sinai desert. Rejecting Jesus is rejecting the I AM (Yahweh). Here is the quote in context and then a brief application.

Covenantal Apologetics by Scott OliphintThe revelation that Moses has of what is really the unburning bush is, in part, designed to reveal to Moses both of these truths [wholly satisfied God alone is who he is and also commits himself to his covenants]. The fire, which represents The Lord himself, is in no way dependent on the bush in order to burn. The fire is, in that sense, a se. It does not need the bush for fuel; it is able to burn in and of itself. But it is also with the bush. It could easily appear on its own, because it is in need of nothing to burn. Or it could appear beside the bush. Instead, it is linked inextricably with the bush, even as The Lord himself – who is who he is – has bound himself inextricably to his people.

One of the unique and glorious truths of being knit together by the Gospel in community is the presence of the wholly satisfied God. That presence is what sets redeemed friends apart from any other form of community in this world. Moses must have seen a billion bushes but only one like the I AM’s. Similarly, the people of our cities will see tens of thousands of friends, families, and homes but what makes all the difference is the connected lives of unburning believers. I desire my home to stand out like that, and the fire has already united with me because he loved me first.

We might ask, “Where’s the sign? You know, the unburning house or unburning church so people will be shocked out of their shoes?” The answer is to look into the ordinary and the mundane which contains the extraordinary (like the ordinary manger holding the Creator and Redeemer of the universe). This is using the eyes of faith to see the hidden, blazing reality.

One day, the I AM himself took off the sandals of his desert pastors and washed their feet (Jn 13). There, he showed us how to be an ordinary bush but ablaze with transformed hearts. After all, he is seeking people who worship him in spirit and in truth. Are we not a people bearing and reflecting the image of the sovra-natural God who in no single way needs us but loves and binds himself to us? Instead of consuming us for what we rightly deserve, he is now revealed through us; converting the ordinary into the remarkable.

Web Stew September 2013

Here’s a mixture of articles and videos that I’ve recently appreciated and thought they were interesting and helpful enough to share again.HM Web Stew graphic

  • healthy!  Chris Lazo calls us to find our place in the gospel story and serves up a good summary of why biblical theology is so important utilizing the illustration with the famous TV series Lost.
  • sweet!  a fascinating and well-produced video on the loneliness that social media reinforcesThis video demonstrates how we humans are wired-for-community.
  • discerning taste!  here was an informative article from the Atlantic on the science of how to make perfect coffee.
  • non-microwaveable! A life-rhythm that is beginning to ebb in Italia and go the way of the drainage pipes as in America is the great August break that happens every year. Check out The Demise of August. It personally took us a decade to figure this one out. For some, this is culturally distasteful, but it’s worth thinking about. How idolized is our desire to achieve?
  • spicy! I always enjoy including something from Mez in the mix. In this article, Mez meets an American who believes he knows better how to attract people to church in Scotland. No, I wasn’t that American, thank goodness. This Americano caught Mez on a really generous day — otherwise, it might have been a situation that called for some spicy, Irish grace. Read Mez’ article on why church isn’t just about making the services look good.

Guidance for Spiritual Gifts: part 5 – gifts meet needs

spiritual gifts logo-image

In this series on the Spirit-giftings, let’s take a step back and simply ask what the Holy Spirit is actually doing when he graces a gift to us?

At surface level, we can say that God is actively fixing stuff. Literally, the Spirit of God is stepping into disorder and bringing gifts through his people of organization and administration. Where the fog of ignorance hinders his children from hearing his truth, God sends teaching that leads men to worship him. Where illness seems to conquer, the Spirit arrives with merciful hands to show he is the ever-present Help in time of need. When the suffering of lack and oppression take place, the Spirit releases a wave of generosity through his children. We can continue on like this with prayer, faith, discernment, hope, and many more. In fact, I believe that as many different needs that you can identify, there is One Solution with the right gift for each one of them.

At a greater level, God is gracing us beyond our own means to accomplish his will. He is giving evidence and signs of the Kingdom which is here but must be accepted by faith. We can say that the Spirit is operating in a way that “rights” a world gone wrong, and he is doing it so that it reveals the truth and presence of Jesus. Therefore, God the Spirit is gifting the message of God the Son around the world through a gracious invasion.

Yes, yes, but we really like the spectacular stuff. It is a very tempting desire to see “the cool of God” and the miraculous. If you have been around the work of God for any length of time and witnessed his power, you know that he trademarks some surprising things at times. On the other hand, let’s ask ourselves if that is normative in how God ordered his world? Is it right to demand that if it’s not spectacular, then it’s not of the Spirit?

Notice that Jesus was washing feet the night before he was unjustly murdered. Nothing spectacular about that. No power-show happening there. It was all quite ordinary and yet extraordinary at the very same time. Jesus left them the example of loving service for how he operates in his world. Apostle Paul follows this up with, “You can do the spectacular with angels and lightning bolts included, but if you don’t have love, you’ve only lit-up fireworks.” (paraphrase di Rob, 1 Cor. 13:1-3). The Italian word for fireworks is fuochi artificiali meaning “artificial fire” and aptly applies here. Spectacular yes, beneficial niente. So, we might test a “gifting” with this helpful question — Does the gift in operation meet needs and show the greater way of Jesus’ love?

The point is that there are hundreds of kinds of needs (ways the world just doesn’t work) and correspondingly, hundreds of opportunities for the Spirit to work through me and you by putting Jesus right into the middle of each one of them. Don’t overcomplicate the beautiful simplicity of gifts. Also, be careful not to overemphasize one, singular “gifting” at the expense of declaring one, singular Christ. Needs abound, but there is one, generous, gift-giving Solution.

Does that mean that I have all the gifts? In a certain sense, yes. If you have the one Spirit of God who operates to meet needs and you’re like me with a thousand weaknesses to operate through, you might experience all kinds of the works of Jesus as you serve. However, I would say that not one person has all the gifts exclusively. Then you wouldn’t need me and I wouldn’t need you. What kind of a holy minestrone is that?

God parla “Son”

Check out this glorious gospel insight from Hebrews 1:1-2

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,

2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

parlo Son

Verse 1 says long ago, God used many times, ways, and voices to get his message across to humanity.
Verse 2 says that now God speaks Son. Literally, the construct in the Greek says, “God spoke once for all – to us – in Son.” (for readers who have fun with Greek — the verb is aorist, the preposition is “en”, and there is no definite article before huios speaking to the nature or kind of speech)

A Taste of Hebrews

The book of Hebrews teaches about the Messiah-community here on Earth and how God is speaking the Son language to them and through them. Hebrews unpacks the language of Jesus that the Father speaks through Jewish references, stories, and metaphors. One of the main Hebraic themes of the book is about the new Messiah-community in a glorious “wilderness wandering” similar to the one of the Israelites. The first wandering was a foreshadow and a time when God would woo his bride, Israel, to himself and away from the lovers of Egypt.
Today, however, the difference lies in the fact that Christians are led by the ultimate Moses and ministered to by the superior Aaron from the true Tabernacle. Jesus has emerged from the shadows and become the reality (the “heir” of all things; the ultimate truth the whole world is searching for). The new covenant and new identity binds Christians to Jesus and indelibly writes the Son language all over our lives. This new relational identity in Jesus works through God’s people like never before as Christians walk with one foot in this world and the other in the heavenly sphere because of their union with Son.

What Do You Speak?

As mentioned, God now speaks Son through his new covenant to his covenant people. The new covenant is the last one God will ever make. It is also a new kind of relationship, in that, it is a liberating covenant which permits us to please God a thousand different ways instead of offending him repeatedly. This new covenantalism brings his people (the covenant community) into the law of love to serve God and one another thus demonstrating that God’s presence is with his people. And that is why the Hebrews preacher can declare so confidently that God has fulfilled his promise by saying, “I AM their God, they are my people…” Hebrews 8:10
So, God spoke Son to you, and if you have received his new relationship, he now speaks Son through you. In fact, everyone in the new covenant will speak this new language as they are being conformed to the image of his Son. This is not a theory to try, but rather, a way of life. The Father is expressing Son through us. God is invading this world with Grace. This is wonderful news because it also means we don’t have to make up our own language to try to make sense of this world and life.
Therefore, permit me to spice things up and provoke you with a few questions:
  • When you gather together in Christian community or when you do any activity with your friends, what language do you speak?
  • Is it cruciform and does it resemble “Son”?
  • Does Son language go away when you are with certain groups of people at various times?
    • some friends were recently sharing with us that years ago they felt it was an obligation (“un dovere” in Italian) to speak Son to others around them. However, now the life of Son has so filled them that curious friends and acquaintances frequently want them to talk about Jesus and spiritual things. In other words, those who don’t yet know the Father are asking for our friends to speak more Son!
  • Do you hear the Son language calling out from the communion table, “Justice is done. Come and receive mercy again and again!”? Does that excite you and invite you, humble you and enthrall you all at the same time?
  • How has the Father been teaching you Son lately?

Shalom! and as we say in Italia at this time of year, “Buone Vacanze!”