a theological vision for immanuel church – part 1 – restore lives

Your kingdom come, your will be done in Spokane as it is in heaven.

In Spokane as it is in heaven! That is how I always pray the Lord’s Prayer in regards to our church.

So, what is it like in heaven? What will that be like? I think each one of us has the ability to conjure or imagine what it might be. Fortunately for us we get glimpses into what that might be like in the latter portion of the book of Revelation.

 “I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.  I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.” Revelation 21:1-5 (Message)

Really that is my vision for Immanuel. To live into that… In Spokane as it is in heaven.

About a few years ago now, we did a multi-part series reflecting this idea entitled “The Reconciliation of All Things.” We tackled subjects of kingdom misalignments in our city, such as broken relationships, racial tension, class discrimination, gender inequality, the environment and several other culturally significant (and charged) topics. We brought in presenters for each topic who were considered “experts.” It was an attempt at the very least to sensitize us to the misalignments in our world and in the best case, equip us to be agents of shalom in our city.

The reality is we live in a world that is disjointed or as the theologian Jürgen Moltmann would say, “…out of order.”

If this is our vision then, how does it work itself out in mission? At least part of the answer to that question would be, our mission is to vigilantly observe where the misalignments are and locate ourselves into those places as people and as a community of reconciliation.

That is our calling.

In II Corinthians 5:16-20 the apostle Paul writes,

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 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. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

It tells us that God has committed to us the message of reconciliation and that we are his ambassadors.

So what I’d like to lay out in this short essay are the four forms that this reconciliation occurs in the context; Immanuel Church, the West Central neighborhood and the larger city of Spokane.

RESTORED LIVES

I use the word restored not to infer that everyone was once Christian and just fell away. It is more to help capture the idea that there is a Gospel story or narrative if you will. See, the Gospel doesn’t begin with bad news, but with good. It is a narrative of God’s loving gestures to us that culminates in the Christ event. In other words, the Gospel didn’t begin the last days of Jesus’ life and in his resurrection, but rather it began in Genesis 1. You know the story. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In that creation event, we see that each creative act God performed was described as good. In fact, when it describes the creation of humanity, it is described as very good. It says that humanity was in a perfect environment. Eden. If you are familiar with Scripture you know that that did not last though. What comes next is what is described theologically as the Fall. It’s found in Genesis 2:15-17.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’”

It says “death” will come upon humanity if disobedience happens. So restoration, if seen through this lens, would be for people to be moved back into right relationship with God. Restoration means, to be sure, a rescue from estrangement from God to life eternal, but also must include the idea of being healed of our brokenness, made whole…having the potential to experience God’s shalom through Jesus Christ.

My hope then, is that people would be restored to that right relationship to God. Or another more straightforward way to say it is, I want to see people become Christ followers. The sad fact is in Western culture we do not see many people become Christians. Not long ago I surveyed 10 or 12 different local pastors and asked them if they had seen any type of conversion growth in their church at all in the last year. I allowed them to define what conversion was in their own terms, whether it was as following Jesus, or getting saved, or converting or some other descriptor. The sobering results, though nonscientific, were that few of them were seeing anyone become Christian. Now, it must be stated that these leaders are some of the strong leaders in our city. They’re the good guys. Trying to do church in a way that reflects Jesus. Yet, none of them were seeing anybody (or at least very few) become Christian. I believe this is endemic in the west. The sobering fact is when we see churches that are growing, though there are exceptions, almost all of them are experiencing what we call “transfer growth.” In missiological circles, we call this “rearranging of the furniture on the Titanic.” If this trajectory continues the church in the west is headed toward obsolesces.

Looping back to the text we just read from II Corinthian’s, Paul makes it clear in verse 14 that “…it is Christ’s love that compels us.”

That really is my story. I became a Christian in my early 20s, but the seven or eight years just prior to that I lived a significantly self-destructive life. When I encountered Jesus, when I realized that I was loved and that there was a purpose in life, it changed everything. I could no longer go on living the way I once did. And, I fervently wanted others to know about this love.

Our love for Jesus inspires us to fulfill our mission. Everyone matters to God. God loves every person who has ever been born. God made some people that I don’t love. I can go further, God made people that I don’t even like. But God loves them. The most dreadful human you can imagine is still loved by God. And because God cares, it follows that we must care as well.

I think the missionary theologian Lesslie Newburgh put it best. He writes,

“Anyone who knows Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior must desire ardently that others should share that knowledge and must rejoice when the number of those who do is multiplied. Where this desire and rejoicing are absent, we must ask whether something is not wrong at the very center of he church’s life.”

We, Immanuel, must resolutely and unapologetically be about the restoration of all people to a right relationship with God, through Jesus Christ.

Peace to each of you!

r

3 Replies to “a theological vision for immanuel church – part 1 – restore lives”

  1. Bless you brother. You are surely nourishing my soul through your posts. I hope to be a shiney ambassador of God’s shalom everywhere I go. What markers of maturity do you look for in your congregants? How do you help them work toward those markers of shalom, maturity, and holiness, i.e. “work out their salvation”?

    1. Brendan, thanks for stopping by. I’d love to have a conversation about this with you. Let me start by saying, our process for getting to the other side of this is more related to practices than content. I believe that content can emerge from practices, but to communicate content (head full of info) can often time miss the praxis aspect. Does that make any sense?

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