Category Archives: church

“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.

‘Building a church’ or ‘A church building’?

My 89 year old mom is wonderful. As healthy as she is, her short-term memory is My mompretty well gone. But she’ll beat you at Scrabble or do a crossword puzzle faster than you. We have great conversations… often the same one.

The other day I called and as we chatted she asked me about my church, so I told her what is going on at Jacob’s Well. Then she asked what she often asks, “Are you going to be building a church?” I once again explained how it was our plan to keep using public spaces, like the school we are in now, because of the baggage many people who don’t go to church have about churches.

Then she said, “Oh good, you’re busy reaching people, not just building a church.” And I said, with a tear forming in my eye, “You got it, Mom. I don’t think I could say it better myself.”

There is something very special when your mom or dad understands the heart of what you are about and pats you on the back for it. Thanks, Mom!

If you are interested in’ our commitment to not owning a church building (or being a church, rather than having one) check out these previous posts.

“Building” – A verb, not a noun, for churches

More on Churches and Buildings

Pastors can be their family’s worst pastor

I know many pastors and church developers read this site, so here is a series of thoughts that I’ve been discovering or been taught. Hopefully you’ll be able to implement what is of value before you have to learn them the hard way – like I did…

You’ve heard people say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” well, not always true. Some of the characteristics that make me a better pastor for my congregation, make me a worse pastor for my family. In particular it is being there for the congregation. Always being available is great, but if you are, your congregation and community will take advantage of you, and you will not be available for your family.

Message to your congregation/community: “You are important to me!”

Message to your family: “Other people are more important to me!”

Spouse and kids can be (and rightly so) hurt and resentful. And how can they argue?!? You are doing good and important stuff. The laundry list of the things I get dragged into each week stuns me, and the little my family hears about it often shocks them. Not only is it good and important, but it is supposed to be God’s work. How can your kids, or your husband or wife, compete with that? How can they say, “I want more of you. Don’t give so much to God.” They can’t. Well actually, they often do, but they do so through rebellion, giving up on the church, God or you.

Your kids just want a dad, or a mom. They don’t want you to be a pastor, or a superhero for St. Whatever’s.

Boundaries are part of the answer. Have inviolable time set aside for the family. Don’t just make sure you are at the important events in their lives, set aside enough space to be part of making the memorable, unimportant moments.

Don't be SuperStupid

Don't be SuperStupid

Better than boundaries is making sure the ministry of your congregation belongs to the congregation, not you. Don’t worry, you won’t become dispensable. The “S” on your chest may just be standing for “Stupid” instead of “Super.” [That’s a Rick Warren line…] There is more than enough work that you will not be able to pass off to someone else. But the truth is that God pulled the people who make your congregation together because they need each other, not just because they need you. Design the DNA to turn your people to each other. More gifts, more hands, better ministry.

And you… you can do what you are uniquely called and equipped to do. And… you can let your family know that nothing God gave you is more important than they are.

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!

“Education is an inoculation against exploitation.”

CB068378I heard Neil deGrasse Tyson say this on a NPR Science Friday interview today. Tyson is the noted astrophysicist who recently published The Pluto Files, chronicling the fall of Pluto from planetary status.

I’m not writing about that controversy (I think they are right, however. I was a math and science geek in my earlier life… still am, I suppose), but I am very interested in Tyson who takes his obscure and hard to understand discipline and does two very important things with it. 1) He makes science understandable and very interesting to the larger public. And 2) he steps from his field to make some very clear and important observations that relate to everyone.

That’s what I hear in the quote above; a profound observation that could change the world. The world would have far fewer victims if we all did our homework. His insight applies to religion as well. While I believe God’s truth is from beyond our understanding, I also believe it is understandable. We may not be able to author it ourselves, but when articulated it resonates with us and recognized by us. Something like John 10.4.

When Martin Luther was defending his works in 1521 he purportedly said,

“Unless I am fully convinced by testimony of Holy Scripture and evident reasonI am neither able nor willing to recant, since it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience.

God’s wisdom is greater than human knowledge, but not illogical. It is what human knowledge reflects when it approaches wisdom. That was what Paul was getting at in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 and it is the premise of the wisdom tradition in the Old Testament.

The best educated person will not fall for the phony side of religion, but will see the value of God’s wisdom manifested in an authentic community of faith. Education, knowledge, sophistication are not antithetical to God or faith, but innoculations against bad theology and poor practice.

Was not wisdom the first of God’s creations? (Proverbs 8.22)

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?

Who needs God?

starnurseryI totally missed it at Jacob’s Well today.  We are just finishing up a series called “Extreme Makeover: World Edition” and I was trying to chase down the parts of life where God has prepared us to be the big movers in the remaking of the cosmos. The last thing I talked about was the fact that we need to have God-sized goals. No one ever failed God, or life, by having too big of goals. God thinks big. Very big. Building a galactic nursery for stars is thinking big.

I wanted to leave everyone with a question that would help us keep our goals like God would like them. And I had it figured out my question a week ago, but for some reason when sent my copy to the people who print out our Sunday Paper (that’s what we call our worship program) I forgot and gave them a different and less potent question. I caught it too late, but I was going to straighten it out when I preached… Nope, missed again.

So here it is. It’s a question I wrestle with often, but never often enough. I hope you spend some time with it and take it’s implications seriously. It is one of the most important questions of our existence.

It is simply this:

“Can you accomplish your goals without God’s help?”