One of the Psalms I used this morning for prayers was Psalm 66:4
“Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.”
It is obviously an invitational Psalm. Come and see! Behold! As I prayed it over and over, I found myself deeply struggling with the phrase, “…all people.”
Honestly, I felt like I could barely will the phrase past my lips, “Behold how wonderful God is in his doing toward all people,” let alone pray it.
As I continued to pray though, my mind found its way to a young 5th grader who wandered into our service on Sunday. He is a kid from the neighborhood. When he realized that we were a church, he innocently asked one of the folks from Immanuel if he could go home and get his sister, which he did.
As I allowed my soul to exhale from all the troubles of the world and allowed it to reside in the beauty of the one, I actually felt the muscles in my body relax and my heart rise. I felt myself release the surplus of frustration and finally join the Psalmist in his invitation, “Come now and see the works of God, how wonderful he is in his doing toward all people.”
After all, it is the Fourth Week of Easter!
"The Church is not to be defined by what it is,
but by that End to which it moves."
What will the end times be like? Not the tribulation, scary stuff, frightenly described in Revelation…or the “Left Behind” series. A bloody moon, catastrophic wars, demons thrown into lakes of fire…not that part, but afterwards when God makes all things right. It says that there will be a new heaven and new earth and all that is broken will be righted, that which is out of joint with creation will be healed.
Fortunately, we get a few glimpses. For example, in Revelation 21 we find these words:
“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bridebeautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain,for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the thronesaid, “I am making everything new!”
In the next chapter, John the Revelator says, “No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”
It requires what I call Kingdom imagination. With a bit of intentionality we (most people) can summon a picture of ultimate human flourishing. The Bible calls that "shalom" and it is at the core of reconciliation. Paul says that in Christ we are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.
The problem though is where we are and what that picture is seems like a million miles away. The way Scot McKnight would put it is the beautiful image that God wonderfully created is cracked, subsequently, there is estrangement with God, ourselves, others and ultimately creation itself.
I believe that the mission for every Christian, every community, is to recognize and humbly acknowledge the brokenness of our world, but not be satisfied there. We must live into the future reality that is to come. We pray that direction every time we recite the Lords Prayer, “Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What is it we are praying? We are praying the ultimate flourishing that exists in heaven into our realities?
We recognize our quest whenever we see things out of joint. Poverty? Can we imagine poverty existing in the New Heaven and New Earth? Absolutely not! Inequality between men and women? Between different nationalities or races? Will that exist when all is righted? Certainly not! An injured planet? No, it will be healed or, as Paul says, “redeemed!” Do you see how it plays out? Anywhere we see a discontinuity or misalignment between where we are and what will be illuminates elements of our mission. Ultimately, that includes estrangement with God. In sum, the Bible describes this as a picture of reconciliation.
This fall, at Immanuel Church will embark on a journey grappling with how we can be a community that lives out our life attempting to fulfill the Apostle Paul’s words,
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christand gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”
Below are the dates and speakers for the series. As a pastor for 30 years now, I am fully aware of the shelf life of sermons (they are usually forgotten before lunch is over), but I truly believe that this has a greater potential for impact then any other series I've been a part of.
This Sunday, Immanuel Church has two services - 9 and 11 am, and we meet at The Bartlett (228 W Sprague Ave), in downtown Spokane. Why don't you join us!
A Personal Invite!
If you would be interested in finding out more about Immanuel Church, we will be hosting an informational meeting this Thursday evening at 708 W. Nora here in Spokane (where we will be meeting). It will start at 7 pm and will run for just over an hour. I’d love to see you!
Years ago, I was having a weekly breakfast with a group of pastors who led downtown churches in my city (that is what pastors do, right? Eat!). One of them I became exceptionally fond of. He was nearing retirement and I found his insights particularly insightful. On one occasion, I asked him if he had any wisdom he’d like to pass on to me (I was one of the young ones then). He said if he were to do it all over again he’d sell the church buildings. Firm, resolute...unflinching...sell em all! He felt like they stole focus from the “main thing” he was trying to accomplish.
That was years ago now and in my nearly 30 years of pastoring I have heard his words echo in the back of my mind at many crossroads. In those years, I have rarely pastored a community with a “church building.” We’ve rented a few, but to truly occupy, none…until now. God has graciously seen fit to loan us one. I say graciously because it was not what we were looking for. We simply were seeking to embed our community in a specific location. For us, it was the north central part of Spokane. We all sensed this was where we were to put down roots.
Some people in the missional conversation eschew the idea of having a building. It conjures up the "evil" word: Attractional. In some circles, it is viewed with the same derison as the name "Voldemort." However, for us having a building (or being loaned one) gives us a taproot into a particular geographical area. In a word, it contextualizes this for us. It gives us a parish. I was talking with a friend of mine who has a small building in a very cool “niche” community here in our city. He was commenting about how helpful it is for them to have a building because it moves them into a “participant relationship” in the commercial area where they are. They’re looked upon as a group that is stable and permanent rather then remote and transient. They are seen as vested members of the community, rather than outsiders or intruders.
A quick aside – a building doesn’t provide success or failure per say. The last church I pastored grew quite large, all while being in rented spaces. It really depends on what God is doing in your community.
We will guard against having our focus captured by having space (I know, you are thinking that is what everyone says), but for us at this time and place, a building gives an element of stability in a world of “rent the box” churches…and we are grateful.
Incarnating the Gospel
What does it mean to incarnate the Gospel? Observing God’s love toward humanity best captures the idea of incarnation. It is actualized by God taking on human flesh and lovingly drawing near to His creation. As a matter of fact, in John 1 it is articulated by verse 14, which says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Literally, it means God came near, even moving into the neighborhood.
As we plant Immanuel Church, one of the contouring values we have is seeking to dream of how we can incarnate the Gospel in a particular context. In our case, that is the north central area of Spokane, Washington (Click here for demographics of the area). It has become our parish, if you will.
An Ecclesial (tricky word for "church") Problem
One of the problems that the church faces in America is Christians often envision their church involvement one directionally. By that I mean, people make decisions about where they should go based upon what they can get out of it. It is kind of like a laundry list of items like:
While we may fairly debate the validity of each of those reasons for attending a church, if we believe that incarnation is important, it is also essential that we consider attending in a location that has some proximity to where we live. In a word, we MUST consider the missional aspect of where we attend.
Here’s a challenge as it relates to Immanuel here in Spokane - and it is two prong:
If you are interested in helping in any way, just comment on this blog and I will get back to you promptly or email me at (Click here).
Living, investing and “embedding” in the same area you gather to worship is not a new idea. It has been a proven missiological concept for a very long time…it is as old as, well…the moment God took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood.
Welcome back to my dead-ish blog. I fell off the blogging grid awhile back and have had a tough time climbing back on. Hopefully I can maintain some rhythm as we approach fall.
What brought me out of the blog black-hole? Exciting Mission activity!
I wrote a bit ago about a church-planting venture we began (click here). Well, we have been working assiduously on that – gathering a core team, doing mission and planning for the future.
Some of that future is upon us. We will be publically launching on September 29th. God has been providentially conspiring so many things that it would be too lengthy to describe them all, but one of the things you might be interested in is our partnership with Life Center here in Spokane. Pastor Joe Wittwer has been a friend and colleague for over 20 years and we, Immanuel Church are excited to join forces with them as we seek to display and declare the Kingdom of God here in Spokane and beyond.
A Starting Location
One of the ways this partnership will take form is by us utilizing their former building on 708 W. Nora. Our community listening efforts have led us to the conclusion that God wants to plant us in the north-central part of Spokane. The facility is about a 100-year-old building “smack-dab” in the center of this under-resourced area. Over half of core team resides in that area and several of the key ministries we are connected with as well (Including Christ Clinic where Robi works as a counselor). Also, the facility is about 2 blocks from one of Spokane’s inner-cities high schools, appropriately named North Central.
Two ways you might participate with us:
Ok, that is it for now…
I will be sending out more deets as they become available. Thanks for your interest.
Debra Hirsch: Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations About Sexuality and Spirituality (Forge Partnership Books)
Not quite done yet, but at this point can confidently say that this book is amazing. So needed in the conversation about sexuality. It is highly recommendable. Well done, Deb! (*****)
Bryan Loritts: Right Color, Wrong Culture: The Type of Leader Your Organization Needs to Become Multiethnic (Leadership Fable)
An interesting book, written as fable, describing the nuances of attempting a multi-ethic church. Once again, I am reading it with a group and have found it insightful. (***)
Walter Brueggemann: The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd Edition
I love Brueggemann's thoughts and writing. I read this book years ago and just finished reading it again with my Theo-Reading Group. One of the most helpful books on discerning how the prophetic works both biblically and practically. (*****)
Scot McKnight: Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church
An interesting book that works to restore the beautiful and undeniable connection between the Kingdom of God and the Church. (****)
Christian Wiman: My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
Reading with my group. Amazing insights, mesmerizing writing. (*****)