Our Roman Leadership Problem

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,…” Matthew 20:25-26

statue of NeroItalia is in the news quite a bit these days from the papal resignation to the sorting of the political system where an angry, non-elected comedian may set the tone and agenda of the country over the next couple years. Oh, but he has no agenda. In fact, he ran other people for office on “no agenda”. It’s comical + sad = bizarre.

These are symbolic of the leadership problems that the church is also facing throughout southern Europe (and in many cases, around the western world). Putting it succinctly, there is an abnormal dearth of servant eldership in Italia to both guide existing churches and plant new ones. We have our work cut out for us. I believe a great cause of the abnormal dearth is the Roman ideal and model of leadership imported and imposed upon the life of the church itself.

Now, please stay with me because I’m striving to write something for everyone utilizing an Italian cultural example…

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Evangelism in Scary Territory

conversationalist - not so muchWe have some middle-eastern brothers in our church. Listening to their stories and thinking about evangelizing where they are from is not stuff for the faint of heart. Recently, we’ve listened to eye-popping stories of evangelism with some dear friends and readers of this blog in Naples with mafia problems, in the UK with human trafficking & severe domestic abuse, and also in the Scotland projects (schemes) of Edinburgh with crime, laziness, and addiction — all scary. Listening to some of the same brothers pronounce Italian words — even scarier.

For most believers, however, it’s not the thought of having to move to any of the aforementioned places, but rather, the scariest territory to share the Good News is simply next door, down the street, at the park, and in the workplace.

So, we often assuage our fears and bottle-up the Bible’s wonderful truth into safe houses (aka. church buildings). But there’s an inherent problem we encounter, our safe-houses are only safe to us. Take a think about the following quote and see if it doesn’t ring true:

Church is where Christians feel safe and comfortable. Church is where non-Christians feel embarrassed and awkward. We offer people the gospel, but on our terms and on our turf. [Porterbrook Learning, FY-P1, Evangelism, Unit 3]

Small groups can become and often are safe, Bible clubs; huddles of the foto-copied.
What fear keeps us from being the neighbor that everybody wants to have? What fear keeps us from learning how to cook a different kind of food just to honor and kindly surprise the foreigners around our cities? What fear keeps us from humbly telling people how it was Jesus who has transformed our lives?

But can we reduce it to fear alone? My initial opinion is that fear does play a significant role (fear of man, rejection, awkwardness, disbelief etc.). However, I would also go a bit farther for Western believers and add what we have experienced in post-catholic, secular Italy. We are not in a Christian majority, people don’t generally know what we’re talking about, and we are terribly slow to realize that fact that we just say “God” and move on while wondering how come they don’t get it? One of the missing elements, therefore, is developing a whole new way to converse with “auto-contented” secularists that shows how the Story we live by has so radically transformed our lives that it’s worth sharing with others.

And that is both the rub and the fear, isn’t it?

Numerous “Christians” cannot talk about heart-rending transformation and life-supporting community because there just hasn’t been much of any to share. As Jesus put it, He who has been forgiven much, loves much. And in the very moment we get to the heart of that truth is when the Gospel isn’t scary at all.

Guidance for Spiritual Gifts – Part 3: A Character of Service

spiritual gifts logo-imageBack to our gifts series after an extended delay. To catch back up, in part 2 I was stating that the Spirit-gifts will operate in accord with the Gospel and never in contradiction to it. Paul describes to us that the gifts of God will seek to provide edification to believers and clarity to unbelievers (what they do). Now, I’d like to spend a few paragraphs sharing about how they accomplish the desires of the Spirit.

So, a basic question to answer is simply, what are the gifts for?  Without entering a long discourse, we see the Apostle’s teaching repeatedly saying that the gifts are meant for God’s power to be demonstrated in human weakness. In other words, they are meant to meet needs and testify to the glory of God. It seems simple and beautiful enough, and it is.

However, don’t miss the part of God involving human agency. The Lord wants his people to be an active part of them. This isn’t magic fairy dust he is sprinkling on the Church. This is transformed people living and experiencing the active  power of God building others up. This is Heaven moving outward and pushing back the Hell-gates.

Accomplishing this purpose, therefore, the Spirit-mediated gifts flow into the church body through people who are faithful to God and faithful in service to others. Where can you see the gifts operate? Right where those who love God are serving others because that is the point where they flow into the Body from Heaven. I believe it is one of the most visible evidences of how “God-is-with-us” and where we see the activity of Immanuel himself.

Service is the point! Take a look at this great paragraph from the Porterbrook Learning material that was teaching on character:

…Spiritual gifts are abused when they are used as an excuse for self-fulfillment or for doing our own thing. The discussion of spiritual gifts in the New Testament is not addressed to individuals. It does not include a call to identify or operate within your gifting. The application in the New Testament is to celebrate the diversity that God has given to his people: humbly to serve other people and humbly to value the contributions of others. Paul does not tell individual Christians to identify their gifting and stick to it. He tells Christians to be servants, looking to the interests of others and modeling ourselves on the self-giving of the cross. More important than highly gifted individuals are individuals who are servant-hearted. [Porterbrook Learning FY-P2 Character: Gospel Relationships, p. 44] (emphasis mine)

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The Principle of Breaking Fresh Bread

The Italian word Panificio means ‘bakery’ and therefore a baker is called a panettiere. One of the Italian charms is the local bakery strategically situated within nose-shot of every bread-lover on the peninsula. Each bakery must have the following three components to put bread into society: fresh ingredients, the fired ovens, and the artistry of the panettiere himself.

Fresh ingredients worked together through the ovens of prayer to break fresh bread with others.

In our ministry, we try to teach this metaphor as a guiding principle for how we gather together and share the Word and life of Jesus in our Gospel Communities. In other words, our LifeTeams (small groups) strive to live-life-out-together-in-Christ and will seek opportunities to bring the Bible into the fullness of life and its rhythms. The Bread is so fresh and filling that we are eager for opportunities to share it. On a side note, some might ask if this is done in our “weekly meetings”? Yes, however, I would like to emphasize that learning Jesus happens not only in our meal gatherings but can and should happen everywhere, and at all various opportunities.

So, here is the principle in short (shorter than when I would teach it):

Every maturing disciple of Jesus is a panettiere; one through whom the Bread of Life will share himself to others.

Firstly, therefore, utilize the fresh ingredients available to you through healthy personal exposure to the Word, accountable questions, the preaching & teaching of God’s Word that you hear, Bible stories, sermon application, studies that are Cristo & Gospel centric (not just helpful how-to’s), devotions, praise, pastoral articles, training materials (such as Porterbrook), and specialized guides that are produced through the ministry.

Secondly, remember that having good ingredients is not enough to share the freshness of warm bread. A lump of dough is neither compelling nor tasty. These ingredients have to be worked-together into your life and be “fired-up”. Your heart and life is the furnace through which the bread is given. Are you engaged in an active walk with Jesus? Are the ovens of prayer lit? Pray through the people all around you and the fresh Word you’re sharing with them.

Thirdly, panettieri (bakers) become better at their craft over time. Walking in the Spirit with others really starts to hone listening skills and become story-formed. People with a vibrant and loving relationship with Jesus will notice that they will be able to share many more Gospel insights into the lives of others around them. They will carry with them the power and perfume of Jesus. Also, they will mature in their discernment in how to lead their gatherings to be more Cristo-centric. What I mean is that a godly panettiere does not just study to pass information along to people; they share the bread of their very lives.

So, in summary, to serve well in a Gospel Community a believer needs to be gathering fresh ingredients (which there is an abundance of when you learn where to look) that the Father is placing into your life. Then, those ingredients must be kneaded together in the cucina of your life and brought through the ovens of prayer. And finally, break fresh bread as the Spirit leads you into the abundance of His opportunities from gospel gatherings to grocery shopping. This can be done through stories, authentic conversations, and real-time examples of the Gospel in action (like parenting or colleagues or neighborhood problems etc.)

If you noticed, I did not emphasize a heavy reliance upon professionally produced Bible studies. While I’m generally not opposed to them, I find that they tend to produce a ‘sterile’ environment of information-passing because people naturally lean-on the material and look-at it and talk-about it. These are all things that we want people to engage in around Jesus. Often, our studies can simply distract us. Worse, they can mantle and mask many of the real needs and problems under a veneer of Bible information resulting in Pharisee-formation more than disciples of the living Christ. So, beware of becoming “Bible-study-centered”. We tend to make meetings out of studies and compartmentalize them away from our daily lives.

Are you enjoying Christ today?

If I Open My Window, You Open Your Door

It’s a nice church, but it’s not somewhere I feel that I could really bring my friends or colleagues. It’s over their heads, they’ll get bored, and they may even walk out. I don’t think I want to risk all the awkwardness.”A window from the local village of Polcenigo

What a frequently painful comment to hear about a church. And yet, it’s an accurate comment albeit a general one. I have heard this expression in numerous places that I have been, have you? (members of Serenissima are not permitted to answer that!)

How did we (the church in general) get to the place where our own people would not want their friends, colleagues, and neighbors to share in the joy that has transformed their lives? Jesus basically said the world will know that he is God and sent by the Father just by how we love one another, but many don’t even want others to meet their church family.

When a congregation arrives at that point, whose fault is it? Is it the pastors’ fault? Or the people’s fault for thinking like that? I think it’s both and I offer a start to reduce the emphasis on this over-emphasized clergy-laity divide where we should all be living missionally in our respective roles:

Pastors’ Fault!

I was listening to a pastor’s consultation held in England a few years ago. Tim Keller was speaking along with many others about how our preaching needs to be missional. In other words, is our teaching only for the faithful? He said something timely along these lines, “You should preach to your congregation as if your city is listening-in through the windows and one day they’ll be in the seats.” At the very least, this begins to evaporate an us vs. them language and mindset. The truth is that as we gather in our congregations, it’s an all-of-us before God reality.

One of my personal preaching questions is, “What if I were sharing this message with my entire province? — because I am. Is it clear, faithful, applicable, and grace-full? Will they be able to see & start to understand Christ in their current cultural ways of thinking?” Asking this question among others is me learning how to open the windows. And I live in Italia… hello, this is not an easy question to answer! However, we really must strive to speak both to our people and their friends. If we preach with closed windows (the “us”, the faithful), our people will simply not be missional and we’ll just stick them into “small groups” without ever mentioning that we even have small groups. What we as preachers are really communicating is that we hope our people will just magically understand and “get it.” Then, they will turn into sacrificial, missional Christians and we will be able to say, “See, we told you all along.”

People’s Fault!

And yet, Gospel-listeners must be diligent actors or the sum-total of their Christian maturity will be sermon-tasting. One of the greatest apologetics that we have to show the power and reality of King Jesus is the compassionate treatment of one-another in his name. Jesus said it this way, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

So, there is our mandate, our new commandment. Be around one another in such a way that people who haven’t met Jesus yet can clearly see him. And the best place to do that is in the place where you are who you are the most — your home.

Frankly, people will taste more of what it means to be a Christian through our homes and how we live our lives than in a formal church meeting. Are our doors open? Do we allow our homes to be the church so that people can meet Jesus? If we live with closed doors, then the preaching we hear will turn into information-passing because people will never be able to experience the reality of the church as they can’t see it being lived before them.

Can you see the sad cycle? Pastors who preach with closed windows point the finger at the people with closed doors who have come to expect pastors to teach comfortable, closed-up messages — and thousands of people neither hear nor see the King of all while we blink at each other.

So, if I open my window, then you open your door.  Deal?

With love,  Portiere Rob

Guidance for Spiritual Gifts – Part 2 – the Gospel Guides

spiritual gifts logo-image

In our previous article, I wanted to differentiate between the gifts and the Gospel. When these get confused or switched, an abuse of the Spirit of God generally follows with an accompanying injury to members of the Bride.

Because the Gospel is primary, and it is the work of God’s Spirit to empower it and convict with it and then restore mankind to himself through it, the Spirit-gifts will always concur with the character and nature of the Gospel. The Spirit will neither fight against the Word nor represent it in a false fashion. Therefore, the gifts are guided by the Gospel. They will correspond to all of the facets of the Gospel message and activity. When a need is met that points men and women to the Gospel, it is the Spirit who is testifying of himself and bringing men to the truth.

What does that look like?

The Apostle Paul stresses in 1 Cor 14:23 that the gifts will be orderly, they will be for the building of the Body, and they will be for an accurate representation to unbelievers. In other words, if they don’t correspond to the nature of the Gospel and they abuse the Spirit who is giving them, then the result is that people will think the church has gone mad. Unity breaks down within the church and non-believers are repulsed and repelled away from the church.

The Lord is very careful to instruct us through Paul that he cares how the Gospel is presented to unbelievers and represented in believers. So then, how the Spirit imparts his gifts will testify to what the Father is doing through the Gospel; for believers, edification, and for unbelievers, clarity (so that they will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 1 Cor. 14:25).

Some examples might include when believers show hospitality that takes on the richness of ministering to the stranger or outcast, not just putting on a dinner party. Another time might occur when discernment is practiced that the Lord protects the testimony of his people and his good name through holy decisions. We often hear about the Spirit’s activity when someone is sharing their Faith-story and is amazed that many verses or “just the right verse” came to mind in the evangelistic gifting. We also see Gospel-guidance when various members start to pray over a simple request that continues to grow into a great burden and the Holy Spirit infuses them with energy and strength to pray with great depth. And, the Holy Spirit quite frequently graces his people simply when they are showing the love of Christ to one-another that unbelievers literally take notice and say, “What’s that?” There are tens if not hundreds of examples that can demonstrate how the Spirit will testify of himself and demonstrate the Gospel as beautiful and powerful.

If you can think of one that you’ve seen, would you share it with me?

In our next article of this series, we will look at how the gifts accompany and flow through service and character. I hope for God’s glory— in you!

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? 

Guidance for Spiritual Gifts – Part 1 – The Gifts and the Gospel

[Note: I took a break from writing for 6 weeks due to travel and suffering from a kidney stone. I realized it’s harder to think and write when a stone is eating your brain to stay alive. However, the Lord really blessed and healed me. You can laugh, cry, and rejoice with me through the story that I wrote here called “My 4mm Miracle.” Thanks for praying through it all with me and also for really missing these articles 😉 ]spiritual gifts logo-image

Zest

What a great word to describe the flavor and gusto of a splendid minestrone. Zest literally means an agreeable or piquant flavor imparted to something; anything added to impart flavor, 
enhance one’s appreciation, etc. Notice two key words in this definition — impart & enhanceContinuing with the Italian simile of the Lord’s church being like a wonderful minestra, so the Holy Spirit’s work through his imparted gifts enhance the life and vigor of his people and signify his active presence. Zest does not make a soup, but it does demonstrate that there is something different and wonderful about what is in the bowl. In this series, I would like to briefly add (if possible) one flavor at a time to magnify our appreciation of what the Lord is doing through his church while understanding that there is still a great deal for all of us to taste and learn from the Holy Spirit as we see him working.

 

The Gifts are not the Gospel

This is such an easy thing to confuse in different church circles. It’s an issue of priority. The Gospel is primary, the gifts are secondary, and both are necessary. The most magnificent part of the Gospel is that God gave himself for us in love on the cross and then gives himself to us in life through the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the first thing that needs to be clearly emphasized is that the very Spirit of God is both given and then the giver — as he is pleased and finds pleasure to operate for his glory. The one gift that I receive is the Spirit, and he has the gifts that he imparts when he desires to do so.

There are two awkward claims that Christians often make.  The first claim begins with, “I have this-or-that gift…” And what we generally mean is that we’ve experienced the Spirit’s blessing and enabling at specific occasions and in certain ways. However, the awkward part of that phrase is that it makes us sound like we are the new owners of the gift to release at will. In the Gospel, I have Christ and he has me. Therefore, my identity is built in Jesus and is not found in a grace-gift that I might use or one that I think might correspond with my personality. If I find my identity in a gift, I miss the Spirit. It is common to find Christians spending a good amount of time wondering, debating, and even arguing whether a person “has” a certain gift or not. Take the pressure off. Make sure you or the person in question has Christ and is fulfilling his royal law. You know, the law that says love God fully and your neighbor as yourself. The Spirit has the gifts. He is the owner and he wants to give them, but remember, those gifts represent him and the Truth so he will be very careful, strategic, and sometimes surprising in how he imparts them.

The second awkward (and I believe, incorrect) phrase that I’ve heard at times is, “Unless that gift (whatever one the Christian has in mind) is manifested, the Holy Spirit isn’t there.” Now, I know that the phrase isn’t spoken exactly in that way, but it goes something like that depending on the context. I’ve heard it recently and also through the years in ministry in different forms — but that’s the gist of it. Usually, the person has a pet-gift that has grown into an agenda where they would like to see an entire church formed around it. They have equated much if not all of the Holy Spirit, doctrine, and the work of God with that one gift. It becomes the litmus test for all service and fellowship.

Again, the problem is one of  identity. The Apostle Paul corrected the Corinthian believers strongly saying, “One Spirit, many gifts.” Their error was an inordinate focus on one particular gift and therefore an abuse of the Spirit himself. So, the temptation we face is to identify so strongly with the expression of a gift that we build the Gospel around it. In effect, we make the gift and our experience dogmatic by saying, “Manifest this gift and then you’re really in God’s family.” No, the Gospel tells us to manifest repentance. We should be more concerned about what kind of vessel we are than what kind of gift we are manifesting.

Please understand that I’m not picking on any specific church. There is the tendency for Christian communities to gravitate to a one or two-gift-only practice. Some churches concentrate on a couple of sign-gifts while others think that the only two gifts in operation are preaching and listening with an optional third gift of rear-end endurance & comfort depending on your persuasion. I’m writing principally to assist our church to be Gospel-centered and Spirit-guided. We’ll talk more about how the gifts are Gospel-guided in the next article.

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

What Makes Your Church Attractive? Part 2

Continuing from part 1, we shared that entertainment or recreational-propelled worship is the wrong kind of attraction to the church community than what the Scriptures call for. It’s not a missional-oriented approach because it is man-centric. While deliciously tempting to fall into, an attitude of let’s change this to attract more people can actually become an affront to God, all while using his name. So, how do we maintain our missional edge and a holy attractiveness at the same time?

"Coming Attractions"Are You Serious?

It’s radical devotion to the rules of the gospel and living our new identity in Christ that makes us so beautiful. We need to be serious about our active piety. It is our devotion which points to the real, radical center of Jesus. How can you tell when a church is flowing in this attractive sense of devotion? Tim Keller recently shared that one sign occurs when new guests come to your church gatherings. They will notice a number of familiar forms about church (things they expect to see) but they will also see a people (young and old) who practice them with a serious, new life. Prayer has power and passion, forgiveness works, and the community is filled with hope of the kind that welcomes the good reign of God and its final coming.

The Attractive City of Love

Jonathan Edwards called the church, The Glorious Society of God. Edwards’ emphasis was that God wills himself (his perfections and wonders) to be known through the power of a redeemed people on display. The church, therefore, becomes a reflection of Heaven; what Edwards also called The City of Love.

Therefore, we can’t “make our church attractive” or the story and glory would be all about us. Attractiveness, therefore, is a by-product of the shared, communal pursuit of Jesus and the practice of active love. We could describe it as a people who are actively falling in love with Jesus, but that phrase is so vague and dried-out by modern meanings. Instead, our concentration is serving the Lord by serving others and attractiveness will happen often without us even recognizing it — and definitely not by forcing or generating it.

Because the church is the alternative city, it should and it will portray the image of the City of Love. In Heaven, you never have to try to fit-in. A person will never experience the want of being accepted. In Heaven, right now and forever, love emanates outward. Waves of love greet the child coming Home. From the enthroned epicenter, through the Apostles, outward from the great saints, coursing over the multitude of the elect, raced along by praising angels, cascading down into the thousands on Earth gathered in God’s family, received by us in the church, and spread around the world to the last, the least, and the lost, this is how we experience the path and power of God’s love.

We as God’s children are surrounded by a great cloud of saints, all compelling the farthest to come into the banquet, and never to be separated from the love of God by anything. Holy Minestrone! Now that’s attractive!

So, I would say that we shouldn’t throw out the word ‘attractional‘ but we should be careful what we apply it to.

8 Signs that our African Friends are Receiving the Gospel

Ngwa Smith Isoh from CameroonThey are “ours” because we share life together in this land and church.
They are “friends” because the Good News is for everyone, and then Jesus makes them “brothers“.
They are “African” because they have immigrated by the tens of thousands¹ to find work and they are bringing a very distinct cultural perspective on life and truth. Subsequently, when the Gospel begins to win the hearts of our friends it produces a number of signs that transformational change is occurring. Here are some of the excellencies of Christ that shine through:

  1. Our brothers think more about Jesus than money
    Our brothers have so much cultural and familial pressure on them to perform and become wealthy with European money.  The main motivation is often summarized in the word prosperity. Money — obtaining it, having it, showing it, and sending it — becomes the all-consuming focus. One of our brothers shared with us that he had lived every day for thirteen years trapped in the agony of perpetually thinking about money. At the thirteen year mark, the Savior and Lord Jesus broke in to his life and rescued him. Now, he shares with us that he thinks much more about Jesus each day than he ever does about money. The weight has been lifted and the victory allows his soul to rest.
     
  2. Our brothers repent of being their family or tribe’s savior.
    As mentioned above, our African friends arrive seeking not just for employment for themselves but often for their entire family or tribe. A family in Africa is greatly assisted if their loved-one can send them 30-50 euros each week from Europe. The grim reality is that it is often harder to make money in Europe than what their dreams and ideas had originally informed them. So, this sets up a tenuous system. There is a lot of pride if you do well and a lot of shame if you don’t. When the Gospel comes in, however, that system is up-ended. Our brothers and sisters are no longer motivated on one hand by pride and on the other hand, shame. Jesus buried the first and and bore the second. Now, we see a wholistic and generous love being offered to their families. We also notice that there is much more honesty in reporting their circumstances to their families. They tell them what they can and cannot do — and that Jesus is their family’s Savior, not themselves.
     
  3. Our brothers seek to bless the city and not just take from it
    It follows simply that if you are here in Europe to prosper yourself,  your family, and your tribe back home, you are most likely not interested in integrating into the city or looking to spend your time and resources to benefit the people around you. However, the Gospel settles us and helps us to look around at others. It causes us to give and to seek the good of the society where we live. Our brothers from Africa begin to take an interest in the history of our cities as well as the social conditions. What a surprising message is broadcasted when the natural outsiders seek the benefit of the indigenous insiders who are predisposed to not want them here. Only the Gospel brings our African brothers to say with eager humility, “We are all here.”
      Continue reading

Stir the Beans – Pray Together

Sherlock Holmes “had his man” and was just about to reveal to Watson who the culprit was when he froze, literally. My wife paused the YouTube movie and exclaimed, “Hold that thought, I gotta’ stir the beans.” The delicious perfume of what proved to be a high-octane, bean soup was wafting from our kitchen through the city. One minute longer, and the aroma would have ceased to be a pleasing perfume. Are you catching my drift? In every good minestra, you have to stir the beanseven when murder hangs in the balance!

When cooking-up church life together, it holds true that we will neither have mission nor discipleship without prayer. Prayer is missional and to be missional means praying. Discipleship is also soaked in prayer.

Serenissima Prayer Wheel InitiativeFrom the above illustration, it follows that sitting beans are burnt beans. So, my challenge is simply mix-it-up and release the flavors. Whether in triads or small teams or through prayer initiatives as a corporate body, strive to practice various and creative times of communal prayer. Try to pray as much with others as you do alone.

Right now at Serenissima, our ministry is holding one of our annual prayer initiatives. It’s called The 10 Days of Prayer (more info here) and lasts until the 27th of May. Basically, we as a church body cover the clock in prayer; 24 hours each day for 10 days. We do this by having people volunteer to pray for 1 specific hour of their choosing for each day. We also provide a prayer guide which is full of requests and helps for prayer.

This has been a fabulous way to stir-up prayer in our midst! Yes, it’s important to pray on our own, continuously (1 Thess. 5:17). However, we really turn the heat up in our devotion when we are in a group of 30-50 people, all on mission, passing the prayer baton hour-by-hour, and sharing our insights and experiences. To put it simply, our church — our holy minestrone — needs this right now.

Why, it’s elementary, my dear Watson — stir the beans!

hours for prayer