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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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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The Fishin’ Mission

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One of the first actions that Jesus does when he enters his ministry is to go fishing. You can find him in the boat with Peter in Luke 5. Jesus was definitely a God-man on mission; the Master of the seas in carpenter’s guise. There on Galilee, Jesus draws Peter (James, John, & Andrew too) and catches them in his net of awe and compassion.

Peter crumbles and responds most adamantly, “Get away!” because he knew he was in the presence of overwhelming holiness which had invaded his helpless little business-in-a-boat. Jesus graciously replies, “Stop being afraid…” which in this context has the emphasis of his sins being pardoned and his person being accepted before God. This is what it means to be drawn and caught by Jesus. There’s a radical recognition of who Jesus the Christ really is, which in turn causes a total surrender, which in turn leads to the realization that you’ve already been caught – by Grace himself. But you are caught for a reason.

At the end of the great catch of both fish and men, we see Jesus beginning to walk away from the scene. Following him are his catch of men who are so fundamentally altered by his word that they “leave all their nets” and all they know. Actually, they leave almost all they know. Jesus tells them why they were caught, to do what they love (fishing) for different objectives (men). “From now on, you will be fishers of men.”

So, in a unique way, the “fish” have become the fishermen. Therefore, to realize that you’ve been caught by Jesus is to automatically be on mission with Him – simultaneously. Back down to the bottom of the sea with a type of Christianity that says, “Ya, I believe in Jesus, but I don’t have or need any community.” Drown the selfish idea that fish are only good for my consumption. Walk-the-plank with the practice of church attendance alone as the sum total of Christian living. And let the scales fall off that you’re dead in the water without an active fishin-mission in your life.

Do you have any more “Sea – analogies” that would call-out the false separation of Christian identity from Christian mission? (See how I’m baiting you to leave a comment?)

7 Lessons of Gospeltality

Jesus is invited to a meal where he takes the opportunity to disciple two sisters in hosting and communing. The story is found in Luke 10:38-42 just before he trains his disciples to pray. The intent of the passage is to have both sisters banqueting at the feet of Jesus. In this case, however, the quiet and resting Mary acts as a foil to her agitated and busy sister, Martha. And that is where we see the discipleship lessons of Jesus coming into play. The presence of the Good News (Gospel) coupled with the activity of teaching and training in a meal setting (hospitality) is where we combine the words to get Gospeltality. On a lovely side note, isn’t it great that Jesus is discipling women and also how he disciples them through their home and everyday lives? By doing it this way, Jesus went beyond the cultural norms (women weren’t discipled) and did it so that it wouldn’t be scandalous to others (informally at a meal setting). 

Our gratitude goes out to Sister Martha who represented us so well. We needed these discipleship lessons:

  1. We need to make sure that we understand who the host is correctly. Jesus said in verse 42, “…this one thing is necessary…” He is the one thing.
  2. We need to understand what is being hosted. The bigger picture of Jesus is why we serve. He is the living meal of God; the one, good portion that will never be taken away.
  3. We need to get our attitude right about our circumstances. If the presence of Jesus is there, then we need to recognize it and rest at his feet.  
  4. We need to forsake the kind of hosting that gives pride to our cooking, cleaning, and homes (our stuff). Otherwise, that will become all that we are about.
  5. We need to help people interact with Jesus. People should be able to see and hear Jesus when they intersect with our lives. If Martha doesn’t learn this, people will always see her. Mary got it.
  6. We need to give-way to Jesus to do his ministry in our every-day world.
  7. We need to allow the marginalized to host us. Jesus came to his own and was unwelcome (Jn. 1:11-12). There were plots to kill him. Jesus had no home, and he was poor. He also made himself the marginalized King by leaving heaven to be the friend of the broken and the least. And so, Jesus says, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40).  We have so much to learn from those who are on the outside. We also have a great opportunity to be humble because we will be constantly surprised how Jesus enters our homes and our worlds. If Jesus doesn’t host us, we will always be the host, rival him, and make ourselves superior to others.

Martha3

Lord, Do You Not Care?

Luke 11:40

But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me’.”

The way that Martha asks this question reveals her attitude in coming to this meal of grace with Jesus. When she says, Lord do you not care? She is expecting a positive response. We can catch this sense of irritation in her question, “It’s obvious that I’m justified in how I feel and how I’m viewing this situation! You do care, don’t you?” In Greek, the way the word ‘not’ is placed in the sentence gives us this clue, “Do you not care?!”

That’s a tough one to answer. When an irritated woman is about to serve a meal and asks me, “Do you not care…?!” I don’t think I would answer like Jesus did. I strive not to have fear of man issues, but I haven’t gotten so far with fear of woman issues. My immediate reaction would be, “Why yes, I do care!” Then, I would stand up, move toward the kitchen, look at the other guys sitting around and say, “Don’t you care? Look at you just sitting there… pathetic.” Or something similar.

Darrell Bock in his commentary on this passage says, “As is often the case when Jesus is asked to settle a dispute, he refuses to side with the one who asks that things be decided in a particular way (compare Lk. 12:13, Jn. 8:4-7).” [Luke, pg. 201] So, Jesus himself does not get up, neither does he tell Mary to rise up and help.

Instead, Jesus warmly says, “Martha, Martha…” because he is training his disciple and friend to eat the greater meal. Martha will always have this “service chip” in her attitude unless Jesus saves her from it. People will not see Jesus or the Gospel through her hard work, because it will always go back to her. Her hospitality has to be trained to point to the greater host. It would literally be better if they didn’t eat (temporarily, until the host was ready). There was a better meal to be had.
See? Jesus does care.

Martha4

 

Rival Hosting 2: Stressed-out Martha

Luke 10:38-42

Martha is anxious and troubled about many things, says Jesus. Here’s my question,
What does she have to be troubled about?

There’s no dishwasher, no microwave, no playlists to queue, no cellphones ringing, no status to update that she’s “…cooking for the King of kings. How about you?” Copy. Tweet. Like.

She’s not taking pictures, chasing toddlers, or printing out a new recipe. The floors are made of hardened clay so they’re naturally a bit dirty. She has a simple broom, but no vacuum and the broom is faster anyway in such a small house. She doesn’t have dish soap, so it’s always rinse cycle and there’s a certain relaxing bliss to being ignorant about germs. The furniture and utensils are simple so she’s not using her fine China. Can she even find China? It doesn’t matter because their internet connection is perpetually down so there’s no stream of superfluous information. And she’s not living in the Age of Distraction, but Martha is inventing multi-tasking which hasn’t even been named yet.

How many things could she possibly have to be so stressed-out about?

If Martha, being so troubled by the simple stuff of life-back-then, were living today — she would implode. She would never make it! Give our world a try, Martha!

All the more desperation is necessary, therefore, to recover the life-rhythm of allowing Jesus to host his Gospel of grace through our homes. If it happened to Martha back then, I don’t think we are better-off now.

 

Galilean_kitchen
note: for more information about this picture and Galilean kitchens, click here.

 

Rival Hosting

Martha, the anxious hostess, invites Jesus the Kingdom-host to come into her home. She wants him to be around her house, but she’s not yet ready to surrender her life to him. Martha craves the admiration and affirmation of a powerful Rabbi. Instead, the events start to turn against her will and she breaks-down into anxious anger.

Galilean_family_room

What’s really happening is a small power struggle; a rivalry of hosting. Martha is in her “every-day-world” where she is queen; it’s her home. Hosting is where Martha shines. And like all of us, home is where “Martha is Martha.” The plot thickens when Martha invites the King into her world who is at home in all of his world. Who should impress who? Which one should host the other?

A quick discipleship lesson we can learn is that we can’t rival the host where it matters the most — in the center of our everyday lives, or what we call home. Otherwise, our homes can never be gospel homes. Jesus hosts, or we do.

Luke 10:38-42

 

note: for more information on this interesting photo and a Galilean family room, click here.