Communities of the unburning bush

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

Immanuel: the-with-you-God

 

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

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

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

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

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

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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 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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