Years ago, I was a pastor in the Netherlands. One day, I realized something about the pictures on my walls.
My grandfather had died shortly after I arrived in Holland, and as I wandered through the rowhouse I lived in, I noticed that at one point or another I had put pictures of my grandparents and particularly my grandfather somewhere in every room. These were the grandparents who raised me…
The moment of realization came for me when I thought about how different the pictures were than the actual memories I have. In the pictures, my grandfather is looking at me.
In my memories, he never is.
In my memories, he’s reading a book, watching TV, driving- looking straight ahead. But I can’t recall a single time my grandfather looked me straight in the eye and spoke to me.
I think those pictures had become a way to get (whether he wanted to give it or not!) the attention, the presence of my grandfather…
Fast forward a couple of years. I had planted a new church community in Portland, Oregon. I was sitting at one of my favorite pubs, waiting for the people who were coming to a Theology discussion we were having. I was re-reading the material we were using, Stan Grenz’s Created for Community, and one line in particular hit me like a punch in the gut.
In defining omnipresence he said:
“Often Christians declare that God is near or present to all things.”
Present to all things…
In my mind, God has always been everywhere present, but it struck me that there’s a ton of emotional weight behind that one little preposition “to” that it would be a tragedy to miss.
There are emotional components to God’s attributes that we should pay attention to, that we should teach, that we should bring right up to people so that they can taste and see that the Lord is good. How we conceive of and describe them makes a huge difference in how we experience them (or fail to experience them).
Omnipresence– God is present to all of His creation. He is near and close and available to everyone, everywhere, all the time. It’s not simply that God is present, like a parent who may be in the room but is not looking, is not aware, is not concerned. No- God’s omnipresence means that He is present to us at every moment, even times when it is difficult to feel or understand that notwithstanding.God is present to all of His creation. He is near and close and available to everyone, everywhere, all the time. Click To Tweet
Omniscience– Because God is present to all of His creation, he is also supremely aware of and concerned about all of creation. I think our tendency when thinking about omniscience is to go to the Santa place and think in terms of “He’s making a list, He’s checking it twice…”, but that’s far too distant and removed. It’s not simply a detached awareness. The fact that He is present to all of creation leads to an understanding that He is aware of, concerned with, intimately involved with all things. God is present with me as I sit, looking out the window, typing this. He’s also watching the birds in the tree outside my window, each ant on the ground in our driveway… He sees, He knows, He’s aware. And yes, he hates what we do to each other and even what happens in the natural course of our sin ravaged and broken world. And so…
Omnipotence– Not only is God present to all of His creation, and so intimately aware of all that they do, are, experience. He is also able -powerful enough- to accomplish the goals He has for this creation. While we may wonder at the timing and the “not yet” aspects of it, God is not an absentee landlord. He has not abandoned us to our sinking ship. He’s there, He’s aware and He is able to bring things to a full and complete wholeness again. He is able to fix not only the brokenness of the world inside us, but the brokenness of the world around us as well.
One of the most beautiful things about fresh expressions is that they make the God of the Universe, the God who is present to all of us, more accessible to people who would never walk into a traditional church service for one reason or another. Turning the usual paradigms of church on its head, taking the Gospel to people in ways that they’ve never experienced, inviting them to belong even before they believe- in all these ways, fresh expressions demonstrates that God is with us.One of the most beautiful things about fresh expressions is that they make the God who is present to all of us more accessible to people who would never walk into a traditional church service for one reason or another. Click To Tweet
When we pay attention to those who traditional forms of church struggle to reach, we demonstrate that God Himself is paying attention. When we are present to those on the outside, on the margins, we demonstrate that God Himself is present to them. And when we serve those people, in whatever way our fresh expression is meeting needs, we are a sign and foretaste of the Kingdom of God, coming in power, and we point to the God who will someday make all things new.
Bob is the Director of Equipping and Spiritual Formation for the Ecclesia Network. He’s the co-author of Eldership and the Mission of God: Equipping Teams for Faithful Church Leadership as well as Ministry Mantras: Language for Cultivating Kingdom Culture. He planted the Evergreen Community in Portland, OR in 2004 and holds a DMin from George Fox/Portland Seminary. Bob currently lives in Boise, ID with his wife, Amy, his kids, Jack, Jane, and Josie and his dog, Bentley.