Category Archives: bible

When church happens

Feeding the hungryShane Claiborne said some things about Acts chapter 2 that opened this up for me when we were talking about poverty as part of our JustStart> at Jacob’s Well.  The relevant verses are Acts 2.44-45

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

Now one can throw up all sorts of complications  around this passage, like how they pooled and distributed their wealth, and the difference between needs and wants. Such controversies miss the point, however, which is that when the church began, they happily and mutually filled the holes in each others lives.

Elimination of poverty isn’t a requirement or a duty of the church, it is simply what happens when church happens. In other words it isn’t giving your congregation a name,  a constitution or erecting a building that makes you a church, it’s God working among and through you to make a tangible difference in people’s lives. When people are church, they start living differently – others see that and like it. They want to be part of it. And when they do, they too are part of the church and their needs are met. The contagious, ever expanding, life-giving movement that introduces the kingdom of God is happening.

What is a sign that a church just got born? Needs are met. Poverty – all types – ends.

  • If you are thinking of starting a church, don’t miss this.
  • If you are wondering what to do with your church, don’t get distracted from this.
  • If you are looking for a church, look for this as a sign of a living one.

When will the world change?

We have been talking and thinking and dreaming and doing justice the last six weeks as Jacob’s Well. It has been interesting. I know people who have started some pretty admirable endeavors, one person told me he wants to quit his job and open a communal house as a long term shelter for homeless people. Many have done nothing. There is no judgement, there is learning and watching and wondering.  This is hard stuff and the changes that could happen, that should happen will take time – more than six weeks.

One thing I relearned during this time is just how the world is going to change. I truly believe that God wants the world to change, to better reflect God’s intentions, love, hope and righteousness than it does. But it isn’t going to change because we change it. Really, I mean it! The world needs to change, we are part of the change, BUT that change doesn’t happen because we get around to making it happen. The world changes when we let God change us.

Gandhi’s quote is famous, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It is as true as it is profound. What it doesn’t say is that even that change isn’t made by us. The world needs to be changed, and it happens when we are changed, but that change needs to come from beyond us. We cannot comprehend the nature or the scope of the change, we do not have the will nor the patience to make it. We have to let God do it.

Jesus talked about those who give up their life for his sake would find it (Luke 9.24). Paul talked about dying and rising to Christ (Romans ch.6). But how does that happen? How do we let God change us. This is hard to answer because sooner or later we get to something that we do. The difference is that this isn’t a matter of continually trying to manipulate ourselves or the world, but of simple dwelling in God. Being still, listening for God anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes getting away from the world to hear, other times diving into the world to hear. And when we notice anything – even the something-almost-nothing (1 Kings 19.12), letting God know we are afraid and don’t know how. And asking God to remake our hearts to receive the change we cannot make ourselves.

It is good to have a community of people who walk along with you when you try to let change like this start happening in your life. And when our communities become holy places wide open to this happening in and among them, this world is going to get changed.

It’s not about what it means, it’s about doing it.

It seems that the challenge of the bible isn’t what it means. Okay, that is tough. It’s hard to understand what the bible is saying in lots of places. But the basic message is pretty clear. The bible is talking about loving and caring for our neighbor. It is about recognizing God as the only feasible center of our lives. Stuff like that. The question isn’t ‘What do all the individual passages about this mean?’, it’s ‘How will I do that?’ And that isn’t a debate question, it’s an action issue. Just do it. Afterward go to bed thanking God for a chance to try,  asking forgiveness for what you messed up or missed, and a hint about how to do it tomorrow.

What do you have to know to follow Jesus? If you know that God loves you, and everyone else in the world, then you know enough to be dangerous.

Go be dangerous.

“Blessed”

I’ve made the claim with the Jacob’s Well folks that these “Blessed” sayings, usually called the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, are the most dangerous words Jesus ever spoke. I’ve wondered about that claim a lot, but the more I wonder the more I feel it’s true. Jesus is inciting revolution with these “Blessed are the _____, for they shall receive ______” sayings. Not revolution against the Roman Government, or the Jewish faith of his time. Jesus is declaring war on reality – at least the reality that most of us subscribe to most of the time.

In this speech, which according to Matthew is Jesus’ first public statement recorded, Jesus introduces who he will be and what he will be about with an almost offensive idea of grace. Grace that isn’t just there for us when we screw up, but that is searching for the screw up in us as the most important, useful, possible way to get a foothold in our lives. God loves us, not despite our undeserving nature, but precisely because and for our undeserving nature.

As a Christ follower who has hitched his wagon to the Lutheran team I am not new to the idea of grace and its centrality and all importance, but this stretches me.

This post meant to be about the word “blessed.” It is a hard word to define. The Greek makarios doesn’t really have an English equivalent. ‘Happy’, ‘lucky’, ‘fortunate’ don’t really do it, and ‘blessed’ itself… just doesn’t mean anything intrinsically. Rob Bell cites theologian Frederick Dale Bruner who proposes that in the beatitudes Jesus is saying, “God is on your side.” I like that. I think it works. It isn’t because you’re good enough, or ready or anything, it means that your need has opened the door to God’s presence. Our success, strength, even spiritual prowess has a way of making us self-sufficient. God can’t be on that side, no matter how godly it may look, seem, feel. The only thing that matters is the only thing that is true; that we need God – desperately.

In the spirit of Bruner’s “God is on your side” and my wrestling with Jesus’ own words, my proposal is this:

To be Blessed means to have the Door to God opened. Not opened by getting good enough, but by needing God enough.

and then the opposite comes clear, and this could be another posting…

To be Cursed means to have the Door to God closed. Not closed by breaking rules or not being good enough, but by the deception of self-sufficiency.

Maybe I can find God in who I actually am rather than who I know I ought to be but never am. That would be good news.

The Best News in the World!

This past Sunday [Feb 15, 2009 worship series Relationship911 at Jacob’s Well] I had everyone read this passage aloud with me. Ephesians 5.1-2. It’s The Message paraphrase. I knew it was strong, but when I heard everyone read it together the power of it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Read these verses. Slowly. Repeat.

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. Ephesians 5.1-2 (The Message)

In the evening I led the spoken word part of the service at The Source in Stillwater and we read it together again and it was even clearer. How can anyone NOT want to be part of this guy Jesus’ movement? How can you NOT want to be loved by this God?

Okay, it is The Message paraphrase and if you read these verses in a straight translation they aren’t quite so inspiring. But I did some careful comparison. The paraphrase captures the heart of what the Greek is trying to say, but does so in a way that speaks to the hearts of people today.

We have the best news in the world!

Speak to the Pilgrim

winding-roadBeing the pastor of a church that was created to reach people who have given up on or don’t like church, I have to speak differently. I can’t assume Bible or theological knowledge, and even more so, I can’t assume “buy in.” People are skeptics or at least questioning. And since we aren’t just trying to get a batch of those folks in and up to speed so that we can  move on this is a permanent, not temporary, mode.

Here’s the question I get asked and struggle with a lot: How do you create a worship experience, especially the teaching/preaching part, that meets the needs of those totally new and even outside faith, and those who are now in and ready for more? Can you speak to both at once?

My answer: Yes you can, and here’s how. The temptation, and even the downfall, of many established churches full of established believers is to speak to where people are in their faith, and that creates a split between the different places people are spiritually. Lyle Schaller says this is what we call “preaching to the choir.”  Think about it… faith is process, it is either growing and changing or dead. In reality there is little difference between the person who is new to faith and the one who has a long history. We all have a long, long way to go.

I aim at the movement of my target; flying, not sitting ducks. I don’t preach to where any one (seeker or believer, if you want to use that language) is, but to the movement within them. We are all on a winding road that takes attention, practice, skill and grace. None of us can see down the road too far, and it should never be an option to stay where we are right now.

Preach to the pilgrim, the sojourner, the learner, the restless within each person and yourself. That is what we all have in common, it binds us together, and it is the place that God’s Spirit is most at work.

I’d love to hear the reactions of people who hear my preaching. Is this a concern or a frustration for you? What works or doesn’t work for you? I’d love to hear!

Other preachers… what do you think?

We know SO much, not TOO much.

Here’s another thought that grew out of our Missing God series at Jacob’s Well. We miss God not because God isn’t there, and not just because we don’t know where to look, but because we eliminate certain places as potential “Godspots.” Among the many reasons for doing this, one is close-minded, and even anti-intellectual. It turns its back on parts of learning because they might distract or lead us astray. It fears knowing too much.

Herodotus knew this much...

Herodotus created this map 2500 years ago. It certainly isn’t too much knowledge from our perspective. It is just enough for the  next step of discovery.  Millennia later Copernicus and Galileo had other maps and many people thought they were trying to know too much. But it wasn’t too much, it was barely enough. It allowed them, and eventually us, to know the universe better and consequently understand our relationship with God better.

There are those who would say we know too much today. We look skeptically at the stories of the Bible. We know about other world religions and forms of spirituality and human wholeness which aren’t typically associated with Christianity. That threatens people who fear the disruption of their understanding of God.  It is too much knowledge from this perspective.

The threat isn’t too much knowledge, it is not enough knowledge to fully know God. When we refuse to learn about God from all areas of revelation we get an incomplete picture of God and end up worshiping an incomplete God.

We don’t know too much, but we do know so much that we have a chance of knowing God better than we have ever known God.