Category Archives: discipleship

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!

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“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?

Baby Jesus with a full set of teeth

dangersignOn Sunday, Dec. 14, at Jacob’s Well I was exploring what it meant that the magi (or kings or wisemen) – a bunch of outsiders – knew that “the king of the Jews” had been born, but no one inside knew it.  [Read Matthew 2] Interesting… in fact Herod not only didn’t know, but when he caught wind of the possibility he used that information to try to stop it.

I commented that, at its worst, the church does the same thing. The institutional church is humanity’s plot to acknowledge God, because it can’t do otherwise, but to de-claw and render God harmless. It doesn’t want God upsetting what it has going.

Then I shared that it is the hope of Jacob’s Well, and the need for every person who is part of it, to make sure that God is allowed to be dangerous. To let the pregnancy of God’s advent turn our world upsidedown and never leave things the same.

The infant Jesus is a beautiful and gentle sign, but it is important to remember that he had a full set of teeth. He meant and still means business. We want to be the kind of church that lets God be dangerous.

Advent Conspiracy

I wish I’d known about this project a few months instead of a few weeks ago. (Where was I?!? Well, anyway, see the video we showed Sunday, Dec. 14, below.)

While the project is new, the conspiracy of which it speaks has been going on for a long time. Jesus was God’s trump card in the process. As we talk about “Missing God” at Jacob’s Well these four Sundays before Christmas (Nov 30 – Dec 21) we are looking at all the places that God is around, bigger than life, but we keep missing it. Advent, God coming into the world, is exactly this. It is the world pregnant with God’s presence waiting to burst out at the right time – and it is continually the right time.

This was God’s conspiracy to disrupt our complacency, to wake us from our indifference, to get our eyes off ourselves, to open our hearts and minds to God’s presence and the possibilities which exist when God is that real and present. May we be part of the change!

Thanks to the work by the folks at www.adventconspiracy.org

Practice what you preach (or just practice?)

I was meeting with my GroupLife group on Sunday evening and Steve, one of our hosts, said, “You hear people say you ought to practice what you preach, but I wonder if we shouldn’t just practice.” Wow.

Of course that brought up a very good conversation about the virtue and pitfalls of preaching. Legislating faithfulness or proclaiming judgment are dangerous areas for us human beings and this ‘bad news’ method of sharing ‘good news’ seems dubious. But there is value in connecting actions to words. You can be good forever, but aren’t you – at some point or other – obligated to tell people why?

I suppose so (I am a preacher after all), but I really like Steve’s inclination to just practice. Here’s why. Preaching – especially outside the bounds of the Church – has a tendency to do more than share, it likes to hold agendas, to hustle people into its camp rather than their camp. Is it insecurity about the preachers’ camp that drives this, because your joining my camp rationalizes why I’m in this camp?

I imagine that if you are heaven-bent on practicing (excuse the pun) there will be a time when you will speak. Practicing your faith would mean not just acting from your source, but pointing to it. If I want to give people something very special, by practicing what is most valued by me, then I will want to connect them with it so they can receive it without having to go through me. It’s not about convincing anyone, it is about giving my best away. Practicing speaks when the time is right. It doesn’t strategically wait, but is just ready. That’s what’s so interesting about Jesus; he wasn’t about collecting people, he was ready to give what was needed and did it for our sake.

Was it Augustine who purportedly said, “Proclaim the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words”?

PRACTICE!

The Irresistible Revolution – 2

The Irrestible Revolution

Talking about UnLearning Religion, here’s a quote from page 64 of Shane Claiborne’s book. (Shane, if you are reading this… real likely… I hope you don’t mind.)

“…I was puzzled, grieving over the state of our church. ‘I think I’ve lost hope in the church,’ I confessed, brokenhearted, to a friend. I will never forget her response. ‘No, you haven’t lost hope in the church. You may have lost hope in Christianity or Christendom or all the institutions, but you have not lost hope in the church. This is the church.’ At that moment, we decided to stop complaining about the church we saw, and we set our hearts on becoming the church we dreamed of.”

At Jacob’s Well we talk about being the kind of church you are, not that you have. That’s why we don’t have a building. It gives us nothing to point at and say, “That’s Jacob’s Well” except for ourselves. Since there is no grand edifice to impress people, no building to impact the landscape of south Minneapolis it is going to have be us. Us, following where Jesus is leading us – individually and together. Each of us on the leg of the journey that we are on. Putting into action what God has shown and given us – powerfully, imperfectly, limping, hurting, shouting, bravely, joyfully, gladly. Real people… who know that they what they are becoming belongs to God.

My fear? There are two of them. One is what it will mean for me. Following Jesus still scares the willies out of me because it threatens what I’ve figured out and am holding tightly to. The other is that we won’t do it. That we will talk about and agree with ‘becoming the church we dreamed of’ instead of doing what it takes to become it.

OK, so if you are in Minneapolis and not in a Group discussing this book, come join me at Turtle Bread tonight (Wed. April 2, 7 pm) on 48th St E & Chicago Ave S. Don’t worry if you haven’t read the book yet (if you are, try to get through chapters 1 & 2) or aren’t a Jacob’s Well person.  I’ll have copies with me for 10 bucks.

And if you live in Timbuktu or something and can’t get there tonight, post your ideas, comments, etc here and let’s get an on-line conversation going.

Thanks!