Guidance for Spiritual Gifts: part 4 – delicacy and flexibility

spiritual gifts logo-image Contributing to our spiritual gifts series, we pick up from part 3 which emphasized servant-hearted character over the desire for the spectacular or to prove our spirituality through performance. In this part, the emphasis is that the Spirit-gifts are the divine marks of a healthy church and not the foundation of it. Therefore, there is a measure of practical flexibility with one another where other, core doctrines are uncompromisable. We can illustrate it in a general way like this:

  • foundational doctrines require dogmatism. Therefore, we are closed-handed or uncompromising in these.
    • example:  The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity; of the same essence, God, and unique in his personhood.
  • formational doctrines require delicacy. Therefore, we are to be more open-handed and gracious for the sake of brotherly care and unity but we should not support confusion and division.
    • example: The same Holy Spirit urges us to, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Eph. 4:1-2
    • Now, it is our responsibility to “walk that out together” under his guidance. There is a gracious delicacy (a patience mixed with kindness) in these areas both toward the Holy Spirit and toward his Spirit-born people. The Spirit then graces his church as he sees best and by the measure that his people are rightly-oriented to him in devotion. The Spirit knows what is the most appropriate for his bride because there is nobody who is more zealous for her than the Spirit of Christ himself.

open handed group picture

I’ve found that you can live in harmony and the bond of unity when you agree on the foundational things and don’t make secondary things foundational, which in this case is abusive to the Holy Spirit. A gospel character will be very sensitive to how the Holy Spirit is operating and represented. Simply, you won’t want to make a problematic issue out of a grace-gift — because you honor the Spirit so much.

I’ve also discovered some folks are very rigid in their approach to the gifts. Some don’t look at all for the work of the Spirit in their midst and they are usually skeptical about everyone and often sterile in their missional practice. I’ve also met other intransigent people who demand a certain gift and allow for way too much abuse and confusion in direct violation of the Corinthian corrections found in chapters 12-14.

Richard Lovelace calls these examples the temptations of “spiritual flesh” which can be

“pride in spiritual gifts or achievements, envy of the spirituality of others, a gluttonous dependence on spiritual experience which cannot reconcile itself to an obedient walk of faith independent of sight…It is God’s prerogative to bestow the fullness of the Holy Spirit wherever he wills to do so.” [Dynamics of Spiritual Life, 110-111]

I know I’m treading into highly sensitive territory here so I don’t need to “sort it all out” in a minestrone article. My encouragement to my dear church and friends is be delicate in this area of grace-giftings first toward the Spirit, his holy Word, and then his holy people.

Look, I’m not going to fight you about your view of a certain gift or giftings — unless you fight me first. Then, I’ll go to the mat with you in this order:  1) I’ll put you up against the ropes of the gospel-ring by saying don’t confuse the gospel by making something dogmatic and primary that deserves flexibility 2) I’ll wrestle to show you how you’re actually abusing the Spirit who guides his own giftings 3) I’ll pin you down to show you how you’re confusing his Bride when he wants to build her up. 4) And then I’ll press you on how your service is weak and probably geared more toward the spectacular than the substantive; the experiential more than the sacrificial. Then I’ll pick you up, dust you off, embrace you, pray with you, and help you come to repentance (remember, you started it). Body life restored with dogmatism & delicacy in beautiful balance. See how easy this is? 😉

Next up in this series: a great variety of needs calls for a great variety of gifts. Do we only get one? Can we have them all?

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!

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.

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