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.

We took a Love Quiz

ImageWe hold a regular, missonal lunch gathering with our ministry partners called Converge. At one of our recent gatherings, we took a ministry-evaluation quiz based on the theme of Love: being other-centered. Our results were stellar! – mixed. And I think we have a very loving and serving group of people. Yet, when we sat down and just asked ourselves questions about how we take on the responsibility for others on a daily basis, there was a sense of disappointment.

The quiz had 8 questions. All of them dealt with every day rhythms like eating, repairing, helping, feeling responsible for others, discussing time and money, making decisions, and sharing resources. And a few of the responses were simply, “Our Gospel community just doesn’t want to engage with each other, what do we do?” And we talked all about it even though I could sense the frustration, disappointment, and confusion of what to do next.

I know that many who minister with people in community will face this same struggle, so it makes for a great minestrone. Here are 2 fundamental things to keep in mind and heart that will bring delight into your ministry of love toward others:

  1. Model It — A loving gospel community is only loving because its servant-leaders have already known the love of Jesus deeply in their own hearts. There is no. possible. way. that the true Gospel doesn’t get into our hearts and leave us indifferent toward others around us at the same time. Here’s a touch of spice for the minestrone: Christians with no urgency or affection for others are selfish and wasting time. Therefore, a loving gospel community begins with you channeling the love of Jesus for you — right into the lives and families where you live. See Philippians 2:1-4
  2. Intentionalize It — I’m “verbing a noun” here. Intentionalize isn’t in the dictionary but good preachers regularly make up new words and infuse them with meaning, right? (but first, you have to be a good preacher  ;-). I mentioned earlier that the “love questions” on the quiz covered daily life things. And I think that understanding reflects Jesus so much. He walked in towns, sat at meals, built stuff, touched the sick, hugged kids, washed feet, caught fish, and made breakfast for the night crew. God showed us the way to love — ordinary people doing every day things with Gospel intentionality. Jesus said to his often-selfish community, “As I have loved you (washed your feet and all the other daily things for the last 3 years), love one another in the same way.” (John 13). So, intentionalize Jesus right into the middle of your ordinary, daily activity for others.

Warning:  Others will catch this because it’s highly contagious.

10 Redemptive Practices of Social Media

off the wall     In a recent article that I shared with you about social media, I mentioned that my wife and I would be collaborating on a more positive and helpful article regarding our practices and habits with different social forums. Below, you will find a summary of a number of discussions that Sandy and I have had and we hope that our discussions will prove beneficial for you as well.
     Please understand that we as a couple are claiming neither to be experts nor to be the moral authorities on your tweeting or FB activity. Our simple goal in this post is to pastorally share with our people some of the things we have been able to discern and then pass them along for positive and constructive communication within our ministries.
     As I mentioned, you will find our summary of many good and at times, aggravating discussions. Ya, you read that correctly, aggravating. We are married and marriage is one holy, spicy minestrone of two very different people bound together and commanded to make it work. Don’t you just love it? So, here’s the simple rule: if you like something, it came from Sandy…if you don’t, it also came from Sandy. Fair enough. Let’s go avanti!
    1. Communicate a great image – We Christians often forget that our words don’t belong to us but to the one who has redeemed us. What we communicate is a representation of who Jesus is. And, as soon as we share or click-on items in social media, we are communicating openly.
      A practical application of this can simply be found in the automatically generated articles, pictures, game achievements, and horoscopes. We should strive to be alert to what is being communicated. Do these things represent Jesus well?
    2. Avoid foolish arguments that never cease – This is an oft-forgotten biblical injunction. There’s not too much more to add to this one.
    3. Keep it positive and light because it is so easy to forget who is on your friend list. Once our friends list reaches triple digits, we begin to broadcast more than “share”. We may be expressing an opinion that we feel should be heard, but have we passed it through the filter that it could hurt or offend someone publicly? Similar to email, status updates have a major disadvantage — they cannot express authenticity and emotive genuineness. It seems a bit obvious to say, but we should remind ourselves to avoid embattled language and any hints of hatred toward anyone (including those who work at the Casa Bianca). Are we possibly doing damage to our “in-person” relationships? This is one reason that we like private groups because the personal friends that we invite have most likely had genuine interaction with us. They can “hear” our voices in our updates and give us a deeper level of understanding (if not tolerance) because they have already encountered our authenticity in-person.
    4. Post things that count; not items that say “look at me here! … and now! … and again!. . . and now. . . and now again. . . . . . .”  yup. no likes.
    5. Watch the pictures you post. Social media is really capitalizing on photos and videos. Again, remember that we all take for granted just how public these sites are. Once you upload a photo, you have surrendered its rights to the company. It’s no longer yours. Also, more people than you realize may see the photo. To give some examples, we have seen vengeance photos uploaded. This is when someone is trying to get back at another person in some way.  So, they post a kind of  “in-your-face” picture. “Vengeance is mine and not the domain of social media, says the Lord.”  Two other examples could be posting photos that are compromising or immodest and pictures of moments and places that should just remain private within a marriage or family. It will actually take a good deal of discernment and a desire to only share that which is truly beautiful, uplifting, or hilarious.
    6. Build others up – We call this body-building and wrote an article on it here. On social media, we can post comments to let others know that this person is doing a good job. It might be that others don’t see that side of them. This encourages the whole body when we express gratitude. It also challenges people to join-in service to others. We can really leverage the organization of social media for thoughtful and caring activities, too.
    7. Don’t buy the ads. We might think that the adverts are mostly about things that we want. However, it’s not about the stuff, it’s the medium that we’re supporting to get the stuff. Many reports have been written showing that you are the ad. Don’t contribute to the consumption of people. With all of the data that the social mediums are collecting, they will sell you to others if they’re not already doing it.
    8. To FB, time is money – but not to Christ. Time on FB is more of a chance to make money from you or your friends or to gather information to make future money. However, for the believer, time is not money – time is morality. Remember that the time you take to be on FB is time you have taken from someone or something else.¹ Let’s just throw in a verse from Paul here, “Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16) In other words, we need to watch our time on things like this because those who care only for their appetites will consume it and try to get us to do the same. In fact, we believe FB will push the envelope more and more in ethics because its revenues are falling. If you are a Christ-follower, you have a moral obligation to devote one of your most precious gifts, your time, to the pleasure and will of God.
    9. Be in community – social media does have an ironic benefit in this area. Social media appears to work best for those communities that have already developed outside of the social medium first.
    10. Bless creatively – utilize Scripture in a positive way. Summarize biblical truths and blessings when you can. Some people just blast verses out there and they come-off like, “I’m a Christian,so deal with it.” How counter-productive is that? Most likely, we all have friends who don’t like it when we are “preachy” even if being preachy was not our intent. If God has done something wonderful in your life, thank him humbly for it and give grace to those who hear.

¹for more Gospel-oriented insights on time, image-presentation, and building real relationships, you can check out Tim Chester’s 7-part series called Will You Be My Facebook Friend? 

Edify and then Evangelize

Spiritual growth occurs best in a caring community…
The Holy Spirit ministers to us, in large measure, through each other…
I can edify myself only as I edify the community. This has immediate implications for the evangelistic task. The individual believer’s responsibility is first of all to the Christian community and to its head, Jesus Christ. The first task of every Christian is the edification of the community of believers…
The idea that every Christian’s first responsibility is to be a soul winner ignores the biblical teachings about spiritual gifts. Further, it puts all the emphasis at the one point of conversion and undervalues the upbuilding of the Church which is essential for effective evangelism and church growth. This leads us to affirm, secondly, the priority of community in relation to witness. Fellowship and community life are necessary in order to equip Christians for their various kinds of witness and service. In one way or another every Christian is a witness in the world and must share his faith. But he can be an effective witness only as he experiences the enabling common life of the Church.¹

Cover of "The Community of the King"

This is a short excerpt from H. Snyder’s helpful book, The Community of the KingIn this keen insight, Snyder is helping us to prioritize the life of the Church with the presentation of the Gospel, and rightly so.

We can then follow-on with one practical and important question about our ministry programs and priorities: If we emphasize evangelism out-ahead of edification, what demonstration of the Good News are we bringing people to when we call them to turn to Christ? 

In other words, if we declare the wonder of grace to a friend and then bring our friend into a place where we superficially know one-another and there is a scarcity of visible, devoted love for Jesus and brotherly affection for others, then our friend can get the same atmosphere at the local gym and the Good News is shown not to be so good after all. Therefore, edify first and then evangelize.

¹Snyder, Howard, The Community of the King, IVP Academic, pages 75-76

Church Body-Building in 3 Steps

Here is a practice that keeps a minestrone from becoming burnt.

How do you talk about others — to others?

At Serenissima, we insist on talking positively about others — to others. We call this body-buildingIn this article, I’ve narrowed it down to 3 simple principles that make a big difference in the health of a church.

Watch What You Eat!

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another! (Galatians 5:13-15 ESV)

image of the number 1 circledIn Galatians 5:15, Paul says to beware how we treat each other using three volatile verbs—biting, devouring, and consuming (destroying). The word devour literally means to eat down. And yes, you can chew somebody up and eat them down even when they are not present. It’s easy, “fast food” if you will.

The challenge of Paul comes from the two prior verses where Paul says, “…in love, serve one another.” (v.13b) And that’s the trouble, there’s no way that we can be lovingly serving one another and ungraciously gnawing on each other at the same time. The gnawing always wins and there’s very little to nothing left in the relationship. You know what I’m talking about if you’re picking something from the past out of your teeth right now. It takes more effort to resist taking the “occasion for our flesh” and serve others in love by what we say about them. I’ve been in church settings where the favorite pastime is cannibalism! And that, fratelli, is some unholy minestrone! Continue reading

Church Beautiful

Have you been reading any good books lately? Reading is an art-form that is sometimes dry and uninspiring and at other times a cascade of wonder and insight. I don’t really talk about what I’m reading when it’s been a bit dry, but lately, it’s been very good. So, after a lengthy pause due to many reasons, I write again. (inspiring background music starts here)

(inspiring background music abruptly finishes here)

I re-started to read a good book by Jonathan Wilson called Why Church MattersIn it, Wilson speaks often to the practices of our worship and community. He writes a section on the beauty of worship which touches on the fact that God cares about the beauty of our worship. God desired the unblemished, spotless, and best of the lambs to be offered to him and he chastened Israel when they offered him second-rate, leftover lambs because they were making money on the good ones. Even the presentation (the beauty) of the lamb must point to the one, true Lamb to come. And so it is with us.

Wilson describes beautiful worship first as a plural “we” and keeps the people of God as a whole in mind. In other words, we need to reflect deeply on what we practice as our worship. Second, he says, “Beautiful worship means worship that is shaped by and participates in the telos (the final goal; end of all things) given by God…” This means that it is summed up in the Trinity and has the look of Jesus all over it. Beautiful worship is therefore a people who love God alone.

And then he shares a number of “not beautiful” errors in our worship. Here’s a Gospel and community one:

Another way that our worship is “not beautiful” is our failure to reflect the work of God among all peoples. Our one-color, one-culture, one-class churches are ugly to God. They do not embody the practices of that telos — the redemption of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation…

The beauty of the gospel, its attractiveness and persuasiveness, is in part the glorious reality that in Jesus Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” (Gal. 3:28). The ugliness of the church is that very little of our practice bears witness to this beautiful, heartrending truth. God have mercy on us. God transform us by your grace.  {p. 46}

Lord Jesus, please help us to be your missional body that revels in your beauty found in the in-gathering of the peoples of the Earth.

 

Green Gate: A Pilgrim Minestra

 

Greengatehouse

 

I frequently use the word “minestra” interchangeably for the concept of community. The idea is a community in the mix of life. With that in mind, each year I read something new about the Separatists of the 1600’s known as the Pilgrim Fathers. And, with today being Thanksgiving, I learned about a Pilgrim Minestra that I thought would go well for this blog.

The band of Separatists were led by a pastor named John Robinson. The Robinsons would travel to Leyden (Holland) to seek religious freedom from penalty and persecution. As their young family arrived in Leyden, one of the great burdens they encountered was to have a place where their community could share life together. Here is a description of their deep Christian community at a special place called Green Gate:

Continue reading

Deeply Connected senza Facebook

I recently spent some time with a church community that was so harmoniously connected they didn’t need Facebook. Just imagine that! How did they do it? (written with great sarcasm)  In the same week, I heard from another ministry that was researching how they could really leverage social networking to grow the church. (note of sarcasm here, too)

Probably won't find us on Facebook

I just want to share a recipe of a beautiful minestrone that I’ve tasted. When you’re involved in deep, rich community of the Lord Jesus, the relationships are so good, you don’t “need” Facebook.  It’s too superficial and woefully artificial. Why trade-out the real thing?
At the same time, FB can become a useful tool for simple group organization and a type of “global phonebook.” However, it is not the “go to place” for tasting rich community. There is a subtle temptation to make it a substitute for the effort of the true face-time that community requires. But we don’t need FB (or similar) for that.I think we just give away too much if we substitute social media for the frequency of seeing each other. Social media can help our deep connections, not furnish them.

We already have the One — who reveals his face to us — in the Book. He also shows us how much he “likes” us through our church family. And to that, we say, “Basta” in Italiano.

The Meeting Fixation

Circleofchairs
I recently posted about thepulpit fixationwhere churches practice the great majority of their ministry from the pulpit — to the exclusion of operational Christian community. In this post, my thought goes to another ministry extreme that we’ve encountered among small groups. That tendency is to say that as long as we have “small or home group meetings” all of the ministry is being done through those meeting times. And that leads us to this important point: what we have is a meeting fixation to the exclusion of life lived together in Christian community.

The benefit of small group meetings is that they are another opportunity along-the-way of missional community life that is lived all week long. The default tendency is to put all of the emphasis onto the event of the meeting and to load all of the ministry into a 2-3 hour block of time together. NO, beware of doing that. Jesus is the King, not an event or program we’re running.

Again, the small, gospel community meeting at a home is meant to give people a friendly, family-time with Jesus. We can think of it as a rally point within the week that intentionally eats and shares both the Word and life together. Another way to say this is that a small group meeting is one of the numerous ways that we share life together throughout the week — not the only way. A meeting can richly assist our relationships to grow more deeply, but it is too short to have the necessary face-to-face and foot-washing time that spiritual friendships really need. Our friendships and Christian communities need the Bible coursing through them in a thousand different ways.

The Pulpit Fixation

Gospel preaching and heralding is so important; yes, central to church life and mission. “Thus says the Lord” (the kerygma) proclamation is unmatched in any other practice of the church. Men do well to study and refine both their art and skillset for better communication and captivating messages of grace.

However, there is a fixation with the “pulpit” that is counter-productive to church life. The hindrance comes when men focus so heavily on the pulpit-as-all-central to the exclusion of the practice of Christian community. We need to emphasize here that it is the Christian community which is called to live-out all of the finely delivered sermons they receive. Truly, the church body needs the preached Word but it also needs the gifts operating throughout the bride. Are we being careful so as not to make an enemy out of the practice of Christian community to seek validation for our preaching?

A pulpit-only ministry has two problem areas to start with. First, it communicates there is one person (or a few) who has all the gifts you need. Second, it pits the practice of the Word against the listening to it. In a brief amount of time, you will have frustrated and unfulfilled sheep because they have no avenues to practice the one-anothers nor missional outreach. Good messages will turn from captivating to aggravating due to the guilt of sitting on so many spoken truths. We need both the spoken and the embodied Word. It should not be an either-or scenario.

 

Podium

 

Note: coming next – “the meeting fixation” – which deals with the idea of groups meeting without biblical intentionality. 

A Great Definition of Accountability

The Apostle Paul writes to some of his life’s best friends — the loving, supporting believers of Philippi. And he says to them in chapter 1:

7 “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,”

There are a lot of deep “connection phrases” there in those verses (ie. hold you in my heart, you are partakers with me, I yearn for you with all affection etc. ) What I see Paul describing is a rich, mutual sharing where each party has each other’s best interests in mind. They really like and love each other. The Philippians want Paul to flourish, and Paul wants the same for them.

They are deep, spiritual friends. Only friends who know that other friends have their best interests at heart will open themselves accountably.

Therefore, accountability is spiritual friendship operating at its very best.

Family Minestra

Ciao!


When one of my friends in our ministry saw that I was starting this blog, she wrote and exclaimed, “LOVE it. So great- can’t wait for you to spill your beans on the screen. :) ”    Well said. What might look like good soup to me, in reality, is probably just a mess of spilled beans on the screen. I’m still encouraged, however, because I know there’s at least one who doesn’t mind me spilling beans.


So, let’s start cooking (or spilling) here through Holy Minestrone. Thanks for reading and please feel free to reply or comment. Cooking with friends makes the kitchen really enjoyable. Just ask my wife — I keep her company while she does the cooking all the time.


Family Minestra (soup)


I wanted to share a quote that stuck with me since the time I read it in 1996. The church is the family of God, and the family is the church of God. It is a simple thought with a depth of truth. The author was speaking about how Jesus is a real person and if we have his mind, it will impact our church structures. Here is a little more of the author’s context:


Church structure must be compatible with this personal emphasis. Structures should bring people face-to-face with Jesus Christ as responsible persons…Obviously, this will require a proper accent on one-to-one relationships in the Christian community…a whole glorious web of believer-to-believer relationships…small groups are necessary to provide opportunity and stimulus for such relationships… [And] In a sense, the Christian home is one of the structures of the church. In God’s intent, the church is the family of God and the family is the church of God. We must rethink the family on the basis of the biblical understanding of the Body of Christ. [H. Snyder, Radical Renewal, p. 112]


I’ve never heard Christian believers say, “I just want to be deeply connected and involved in a lousy church.” No. The opposite is true. We all say, “I want to be in a great church!” But often, we get the program confused with the mission. So, what’s the secret ingredient to being a part of a great church?


Christian community begins at home. Great churches are made through redeemed homes. If a home is passionate about Jesus, his presence fills that family and makes it his church. Really, the one, must-have ingredient of any church is the magnified presence of Jesus. And, if Jesus can be encountered like that in your home, the front door of your house becomes the front door of his church. I think Jesus even claims to be the Door to where we family (John 10:7,9).


The redeemed, Jesus-filled family — there’s just no other recipe like it on Earth.

 

Upcoming: a book recommendation & more beans on the screen.