The Immanuel Principle

Immanuel: the-with-you-God

God: “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people out of Egypt”
Moses: “But, who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
God: “But, I will be with you…”

Moses asks God, “Who am I?” And Yahweh responds by speaking about himself, “I, the Great I AM, will be with you.”¹ What a strange response that more than answers Moses’ question.

Don’t miss the beauty here. Moses doesn’t have to be somebody great; Yahweh already is. Moses groans with deep inadequacy and nobody-ness. BUT, the saving, personal God of Israel is there with him, so it doesn’t matter. Who Am I?  Moses, you’re the man with whom God is. He doesn’t need to force Pharoah’s hand because Pharoah will be challenging the I-AM-with-Moses God. It was his total identity.

Why? God had committed himself to a covenant to eternally dwell with Moses and his people.² Repeatedly, the Lord declares, “I will be their God and they will be my people.” So, when Jesus (the greater Moses) comes and is given the name Immanuel  it means that Yahweh has kept his promise and can be found living with his people — forever. Who Are We?  Church, we are his people, and he is our God because he committed himself to be there, with us. It IS who we are; our new and complete identity.

In the eyes of this world, most of us are not elite, enabled, dripping-with-talent, accomplished, well-off, employees-of-the-month, or even parents-of-the-year. But, in Jesus, we don’t have to be known as any of those things because we already are known by the one who himself becomes our identity. Immanuel is the-with-us-God. That’s how I want to be known, don’t you?

In closing, the pen of Paul blazes like a new burning bush for the church. Notice the Immanuel Principle through the words “chosen by God” and “in the presence of God…in Christ Jesus” :

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus…”  1 Corinthians 1:26-30a

¹ ‘ehyeh ‘immak — “I AM, with you” — you can see the “imma” that forms the name Immanuel.
² I am indebted to John Frame in his work The Doctrine of God for pointing to the covenant presence of God (ch. 6). Some of my thoughts in this article were “ignited” and adapted from him.

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What Makes Your Church Attractive? Part 1

I’d like to share a couple of minestre on how God has made the church attractive and how we can mess that up by following a bad definition of the word “attractive.” Much has been written on the subject of missional vs. attractional church, so my addition here is simply practical in nature. My approach is that we should not throw-out the word attractional, but re-define it and understand it as a function of mission. Here’s what I mean:

"Coming Attractions"

We all desire inspiration in our lives, and we ache for wonder. Inspiration and wonder are misty synonyms describing that we truly long for God himself; that clear connection with the Divine. Our natural problem (3-letter word beginning with s and ending with n), however, is that while we seek for wonder, we want to find it everywhere else apart from Christ [Rom 3:11]. Showing mankind his awesome kindness and attracting us away from destruction, God gave himself to us in Jesus Christ — the central attraction of the universe!

Then, God placed his wonder all around us in the creation (which testifies about God passively day-by-day) and also called a people from out of the world to show his “excellent perfections”¹ (the Church which testifies about God actively day-by-day) [Rom 2:4]. God chose and called the Church to be his living demonstration of his own wonder, beauties, and glories. Therefore, the Church is attractional by the nature God gives to her — to be an active, representative community of the excellencies of God. The Church is not attractional to True Wonder as a recreational or entertainment-propelled society.

Can Man Market God?

The instant we try to better our worship methods for the reason of attracting people and not for the rendering of  more beautiful and holy worship which God deserves from his people is the very moment we become unfaithful witnesses of the living God.

Psalm 50:2

We stoop-down into a marketing competition that says, in essence, be attracted to us through your appetites. We’ll sing and say what you like. It is also the moment we begin using God more than adoring him. Our focus is off in this kind of thinking and performance because we are working to put on a good show in the name of God. Presently, our western cultural forms have pushed Christianity and the serious consideration of the biblical God to the margins of society. However, winning people back is not done through techniques that try to make the all-beautiful God more consumer-friendly. Rather, God is radiant when he is celebrated and magnified as good and all-together lovely by his devoted people. More on how that looks in my next minestra…

That God’s Church, in Scripture is represented as Christ’s house or temple, and as his raiment and ornament, and as a golden candlestick, etc., is wholly constituted of those saints that are his jewels, that are the spoils of his enemies, that were once his enemies’ possession, but that he has redeemed out of their hands.²

¹ Jonathan Edwards used the description of the ‘excellent perfections’ of God on display through his church. I borrowed that word picture from him.
² The Essential Edwards Collection,  
On Beauty, p. 98

Get off the Wall

Two new and insightful articles that I wanted to share with you all about the Gospel, loneliness, and the walled-garden of Facebook. Understanding that not all aspects of social media (specifically FB) are bad or problematic, my wife and I are collaborating on a future post about redemptive practices of social media for the church. I think it’s fun just to write that my wife and I are collaborating. I’m sure there will be hundreds of thumbs-up on that one.

Article 1 – by Tim Chester; Pastor – Sheffield, UK

Get off the Wall

The first article is actually a post in a 7-part series that Tim Chester is doing on the impact of Facebook on people’s thinking in the light of the Gospel. Tim always gives us a clear and salient view of the Gospel in his writings, so these articles are spiritually healthy perspectives on the tensions between social media and Gospel practices.

Article 2 – by Stephen Marche; Atlantic Magazine

This article closes with the astute observation that Facebook is preventing us from dis-connecting; not allowing us to literally forget-about-ourselves for a little while. The author of this post (from what I can tell) is not a follower of Christ. However, Marche has very keen insights into the sociological aspects that I found myself nodding in agreement on many quotes. It’s a bit lengthy but well-worth the read as one of the most insightful treatments of this subject that I’ve seen.
Here is the intro:
Social media—from Facebook to Twitter—have made us more densely networked than ever. Yet for all this connectivity, new research suggests that we have never been lonelier (or more narcissistic)—and that this loneliness is making us mentally and physically ill. A report on what the epidemic of loneliness is doing to our souls and our society.

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

Missional Messiness

In a couple of our recent training sessions, we have been discussing the subject of missional hospitality. And, commonly, we hit the deep and scandalous topic of how clean should your house be when hosting other people?  On the surface, this does not seem like a problem until we start reflecting more on our motivations both for and against a cleaner casa.

Some Good Questions

welcome to our formerly clean houseHere are some of the questions we asked, and I might add that they are good conversation developers:

  1. How much cleaning is enough in our cultural context for people to feel at home and not be distracted? (for example, northern Italians are fastidiously clean by nature. Sometimes, this is greatly appreciated, and at other times, one can feel quite awkward.)
  2. How much cleaning is necessary to be tidy and yet not cross the line of presenting an artificial, sterilized, and even hypocritical version of ourselves?
  3. How much cleaning reflects a performance-to-impress attitude where we simply become Martha in our own home and miss all of the good worship of Jesus? Is genuine hospitality a dinner party or something much more familiar?
  4. How should we respond when the little humans (children-unleashed) make a mess or break something in our homes?
  5. Do other people know where you keep your utensils, serving items, and tools? And do they have access to them?

A Key Principle

Don’t allow grace and mission to be hindered over a standard of sanitation. Martha couldn’t choose ‘the better meal’ because she was hindered in her hospitality. And a Pharisee was revealed as a fool because he failed to clean his “house” properly; his mission was himself, not grace. Luke 11:37-41

In the ministry here (Serenissima), our Gospel communities are called LifeTeams. And because we are seeking to share more and more life together, a LifeTeam is all about making a missional mess. Often, Christian community is simply a mess-on-mission. Somehow when the mess comes, however, the graciousness of God is mysteriously revealed and people can rest their souls and feel more at home than in their own houses. And that’s the beginning of missional hospitality; the use of our homes as temples to God and not to ourselves.

So, how clean should our house be when hosting other people? As clean as necessary for Jesus to be seen. And that could mean letting the little humans be loved as little humans, as well as re-humbling ourselves in the whole idea of putting on a production when someone comes through our front door. For some (and we have experienced this too), it might mean a bit more effort to recognize the missional context of people with which they are working. With a nip of hyperbolic language here, leaving an un-emptied, cat-litter box in the middle of the room where you are sharing Christ — honestly — might be a distraction to some. It’s just an observation, but I don’t think I’m out of my sand-box on this one.

A Nip of Newbigin: Working as Kingdom Agents

…the preaching of the Church carries no weight if it does not come from a community in which the truth of what is preached is being validated (even though always imperfectly) in the life of the community…

L. NewbiginIn this article, we are covering the third of five points for what Lesslie Newbigin calls helpful points for the re-evangelization of Europe (read: secularized cultures).

Christian communities that live by the other story AND engage their cities around them have a big job to do, in that, they have to disciple and empower their members to be Kingdom Agents first — before members identify themselves as an employee of such-and-such company. Then, as KAs, they need to engage all of their work and the sectors of society as a people with this sacred identity.

Newbigin explains:

It will be a major part of the work of such congregations to train and enable members to act as agents of the Kingdom in the various sectors of public life where they work. This kind of ‘frontier’ work is very difficult… It must become a part of ordinary congregational life that members are enabled to think through and discuss the ways in which their Christian faith impinges on their daily life in their secular work.

Here is where there ought to be a discernible difference in behavior between those who live by the old story and those who live by the story the Bible tells. It ought at many points to lead to differences in behavior, to dissent from current practice, to questioning. And this, of course, will be the place where the counter questions arise. The Christian will be asked, ‘Why do you do this? Why do you behave like this?’ Here is where true evangelistic dialogue begins…  [Lesslie Newbigin: A Reader, p. 235]

Again, Newbigin is spot-on. My guess is that we engage with others at least 70% of our waking hours through the means of some type of work activity. However, we live by the Story 100% of the time. We need to remember that this story includes both a resurrected and ascended Lord. Since this Lord is alive and in authority, we engage each sector with this initial reality in mind. So, we can ask, How does a living and holy Lord impact the way that this job is done, the means of how we do this job, and the reasons and results of what we do?

As a church, we are not so much coming in to each place and telling Christians how they can do their jobs better or more efficiently. We may not have the technical expertise for that. However, we are seeking to tell them how their job is better when their true employer has changed. And, we are striving to align our approach to work to the cruciform story of the true King.

Here’s a real-world example: One of our members owns a hair salon. Recently, the member was sharing with me that a “division of life” was inculcated in their thinking years ago. They thought on one side they had their private, religious life. On the other side, they had their secular employment and means of making money, and neither the two should ever meet. Talk about work as much as you’d like at a “church setting” but don’t ever talk about God in a “work setting.”

Now, they are discovering the refreshing liberation from this heavy dualism of life. The member said to me, “For the first time, I’m realizing that God sent me right into this hair salon as his representative. It’s right here where I lovingly share that I have found one, true answer to the troubles I hear on these chairs. His name is Jesus.”

The people getting haircuts are not just clients. They are people Jesus loves. I guarantee that they are being introduced to his love in ways that they have never heard or thought of him before.

HM Cooking in a New Kitchen

HM is Moving to a New Kitchen

I will continue to share Holy Minestrone articles over at http://minestrone.posterous.com for the coming weeks. Then, by sometime in April, I hope to have made the complete transfer over here to holyminestrone.com

In the meantime, a friend and I will be working on the appearance of the site and souping it up for public consumption.

Thanks for your patience while we’re moving sites.

Rob

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.

 

I Don’t Go to Church

Vision_and_decision

I’ve struggled with this language and idea that we “go to church.” Have you thought about this too?

Authentic “church” is not something I go to; it’s something I am. Even the word “church” speaks of a people who are called out by God. They are the people of God as a state of being. 

We need to watch and renew our language. We’ve reduced the whole concept of church to something very event-centric; like church is a sports event or concert thing held in a stadium environment or a trip to the mall. Jesus didn’t die to make something so cheap, so plastic. He died and rose again for his bride and his family.

So, instead of saying, “I (singularly) go to church,” we could more accurately say, “we live in this church, together.” And this state of being and living comes from the special identity that’s given to us in the Gospel. We live through our identity in Christ. Therefore, we gospel one-another (a term I have shamelessly borrowed from Steve Timmis 🙂

My emphasis is more about a paradigm shift than a nuance of words. If I just go to a church then it’s very easy for me to just go away from a church too. It starts to treat other people (our holy-family members) as a weekly task to be accomplished and checked-off on a personal agenda. It also sounds very consumeristic. So, I think it would be a good thing for us to struggle with this kind of language until we nail-down who we really exist-to-be in this holy minestra of the church.

Missional Giving through Repentance, Underwear, & WeBay

Wild truth. That’s the description that comes to mind when I study John the wilderness prophet. John was called the forerunner or way-preparer of the coming Messiah. Radical was his message; radical was his baptism. While forms of immersion and washing were practiced in the temple, John’s baptism was one of total devotion, never having to be repeated. It was all about cleansing and transformation.

Repentance

Yet, to be ready for the Kingdom, to recognize the Messiah when he would arrive, repentance was necessary. John preached, therefore, that a sign of this internal-transformation was how a person conducted themselves toward money and toward others. A person who would look like the coming Messiah would be content with what God was giving them and they would share what they had. In other words, they would be predisposed to looking-out for the needs of others. This would be a sign of Gospel generosity.

Underwear

Tunics

John preaches with earnest, earthy language. He is in the stuff of life to show men their need. One of these earthy illustrations is found in the hulag, or the tunic which was the common undergarment that everyone wore. It wasn’t the most important garment, it was the most basic and most needed

There’s a great description about what a tunic was and how it was worn here and here.

“The tunic was a shirt that was worn next to the skin. It was made out of leather, haircloth, wool, or linen. Both sexes wore tunics but they was a difference in the style and pattern. For men, the tunic came down to the knees and was fastened at the waist by a girdle of leather or cloth. Female tunics were very similar to the males, but went down to their ankles.” – Heather Breining in the article link above.

John says, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none…” (Luke 3:11)

Now, let’s be practical here and ask ourselves, “If we have ample supply of our basic needs, how are we supposed to know who has a tunic and who doesn’t?” At least three simple answers to that question come to mind:

  1. The need of a tunic became obvious when someone was wrapped up with an outer garment only. They would be hiding both their shame and their cold. My guess is that there were people cloaking their needs in the very crowd John was speaking to. Messiah would be looking for those basic needs to be met.
  2. Therefore, we have to be close enough to people to be able to observe and comprehend their needs. We need to be involved enough with people where we can see the neckline of their T-shirts and that’s a way to say “eye-to-eye”. The church must function in close, caring, and discreet community.
  3. And then, we need to share our abundance with others in need. The Messiah-community can no longer support the excuse that says, “Well, all the people around me aren’t that needy.” Or, “I don’t know anybody who has basic needs like that.” If that’s what we commonly tell ourselves, then we need to get some new friends for Jesus’ sake! The Good News is a generous news. The Gospel will work against hoarding. We should cringe and ache in our spirits when we find ourselves with amply more-than-enough and nobody else to care for at the same time.

WeBay

Webay_logo

Because we all struggle with this, our Messiah-community practices what is called WeBay. I use the word “practice” because it’s a Gospel-principle more than it is a place. The WeBay was invented about 10 years ago to dedicate an area of our ministry center to the exchange of tunics. We ask people that if they have any items of value and abundance to bring them and freely place them on the WeBay (a series of shelves and racks for organization etc). We have had tens-of-thousands of euros worth of clothes go through there. We’ve seen kitchen supplies, shoes, motor oil, cleaners, couches, desks, beds, and even some skis all make their way through the gospel generosity filter. So far, no children or elderly parents have been donated but a few turtles came through once (and almost landed at my house).

The principles for WeBay are simply to freely give (let-go!), freely take (meet your need), and freely give again (take something and meet other’s needs). This activity and practice is so healthy both to the giver and the recipient! What I’m pleading for in this post is that there has to be some avenues for giving that we regularly utilize to work through our abundance and our repentance at the same time. When the majority of the church is practicing this, it adds fabulous flavor to the minestrone. 

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A Nip of Newbigin: The Local Congregation

Lnewbigin

In this second part on evangelism in a secular culture, Lesslie Newbigin shares that it is not enough to try to impart evangelistic information to society, but rather, there needs to be a local and visible demonstration of the impact this Good-News-knowledge has had on real people. Therefore, the family of God becomes the best apologetic of the true story. 

The clue to evangelism in a secular society must be the local congregation. There are many other things of which one could speak — mass evangelism of the Billy Graham type, Christian literature, radio and television, study and training courses, and so on. These are auxiliary. Many of them can be very valuable. But they are auxiliary to the primary center of evangelism, which is the local congregation. The congregation should live by the true story and center their life in the continual remembering and relating of the true story, in meditating on it and expounding it in its relation to contemporary events so that contemporary events are truly understood, and in sharing in the sacrament by which we are incorporated into the dying and rising of Jesus so that we are at the very heart of the true story. The congregation that does this becomes the place where the new reality is present with its heart in the praise and adoration of God and in the sharing of the love of God among the members and in the wider society. And here, of course, an immense amount depends upon the leadership given through preaching, pastoral encouragement, and public action by those called to ministry in the congregations.

~ Lesslie Newbigin: a Reader, p. 234-235

I liked that part about the congregation becoming the place where the new reality is present with its heart in the praise and adoration of God and in the sharing of the love of God…

We need to emphasize that present, new reality. While contextualization is important, one of  the most compelling things about our gatherings (larger and smaller) is how serious and committed we are as a people to the true story. Rather, the focus is often on our “technique of doing church.”

The Gospel shared is the Gospel lived. So, to share that story in a radically attractive way (evangelism) will require us to ask, “How are we–together interpreting our world and responding to it by the truth of the Gospel?” 

When people begin to encounter other people who are walking by the Gospel, they might see forms of church that are familiar to them but they will be drawn to the story because they see others who have authentically entered it and are taking it seriously.

—–

Part one of this 5-part evangelism series can be found here: Living by the Other Story

Here below is a link to a very good article on communicating the Gospel in considerate and contemporary ways. It runs parallel with what I’ve shared above.

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A Nip of Newbigin: Living by the Other Story

 

Lnewbigin

The word “nip” in its noun form means a “taste” or “swallow”. I had to come up with a word that complimented minestrone, you know what I mean? I hope you can digest my weak and enigmatic sense of creativity.

So, with that out of the way, I enjoy reading the writings of Lesslie Newbigin. If you haven’t heard of him before, he was a missionary-theologian from Britain to India during the mid-1900’s. Lesslie passed away in South London at the age of 88 in 1998 but left behind a plethora of insights on the church and mission.

This is the first of five quotes that Lesslie wrote about evangelism and the thinking of the “re-evangelization” of Europe. I think these nips would apply to any secularized, Western culture. They’re quite good and I wanted to share them here on HM. 

Evangelism is not the effort of Christians to increase the size and importance of the Church. It is sharing the good news that God reigns — good news for those who believe, bad news for those who reject. Evanglism must be rescued from a Pelagian anxiety, as though we were responsible for converting the world. God reigns and his reign is revealed and effective in the incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As we grow into a deeper understanding of this fact, as we learn more and more to live by the other story, we become more confident in sharing this reality with those who have not yet seen it.

~ L. Newbigin, A Reader, p. 234

To nuance more of what Newbigin is saying, living by the other story is really understanding the active reality of the Gospel story in everything we do. The Gospel is the living word, daily impressing itself upon us, and the very light by which we see, interpret, and respond to our world. The more deeply we submerge ourselves into it, the more confidence we’ll have revealing it. 

I liked that line about a Pelagian anxiety. I was taught to live in that panic at one time. What I realized through living the other story was that you don’t have to sell the Gospel, you just have to say it.