|Grave stone of Jonathan Edwards, Princeton, New Jersey|
Sometimes an intended message is lost in translation. This happened to me this past Saturday.
I was in Orlando waiting to fly back to Detroit. My flight was scheduled to depart at 2 PM. We didn't leave until 5. I was sitting in the plane, docked at the terminal, for 3 hours. The pilot said there were some things on the aircraft that needed to be checked. One of them was a dent in the plane. When I heard this I thought, "No way I want to fly in a dented plane!" Then I remembered all the dented cars I've had and a peace swept over me. Those dents didn't affect their drivability, therefore the dent on this plane will not affect its flyability. (Sometimes logic heals.)
I called Linda to let her know I would be home late. This is the message I left her:
"Hi Linda. It's almost 4 and this plane is still on the ground here in Orlando. They are checking some things about the plane. It's going to be OK - there are some minor thing they have to check. So I'm not sure when I'm coming in... Bye bye."
Whenever someone calls us and leaves a message we can go to our provider's website and pull up a written transcript of the voice message. I did this. When I read the message I thought "O no! I don't want Linda to read that!" The transcription read:
"Hi Brenda - it's almost 4:00 in this claim is still on the ground here in Atlanta. they're-checking some things about the flame and you know I don't gonna be okay they're-just-just minor things they-have-to. So I'm not sure when I'm coming in... Bye bye."
I did not want Linda to read this and be concerned that: 1) I called her 'Brenda,' 2) I was in Atlanta, not Orlando, 3) the plane was on fire, and 4) I'm so shook up that I can't even use proper grammar to express it ("you know I don't gonna be OK"). So I called her on her cell phone and gave her the original message.
Sometimes God's messages get lost in translation. One of God's lost messages concerns the "presence motif." Gordon Fee writes: "The theme of the presence of God is crucial to both the Old and New Testaments, serving in fact as bookends to the Christian Bible.” (Gordon Fee, Paul the Spirit, and the People of God) From Genesis to Revelation (see Rev. 21:1-22:5) the focus is on God and his presence with people. We see people yearning and fainting for the experiential presence of God. (See here, here, and here.)
The sign that it's the message has been accurately received is when people talk like this: "Surely the LORD is in this place!" (Gen. 28:15-17) The worst thing that could happen to the God Movement would be for God's manifest presence to be withdrawn. (Ex. 33:15-16)
The core distinctive of Real Church is the experiential reality of God-With-Us. Our uniqueness is not that a church has a fair-trade coffee bar, or awesome stage lighting, or its own iPhone app, or that it has pastors who look and dress like the Jonas Brothers. Our uniqueness is not that we are trying to imitate and duplicate culture so that we blend in with culture and be cool with culture and get tight with culture (which is surely the apex of non-uniqueness and not-distinctiveness).
Our great distinctive is this: We have God and God's presence. We have answers to the ultimate questions. We have Christ in us, the hope of glory. That's not bad. And, BTW, this core distinctive costs no money to maintain.
It's not evil for a church to have a fair-trade coffee bar. I probably like coffee more than you do. Coffee-drinking was so much a part of my Finnish background that my grandmother literally had tears in her eyes when she learned that I started to drink coffee. But something has gone very wrong when God communicates to us One Thing ("Better is one day in My presence") and it gets transcripted as another thing ("Better is one day with my barista").