Category Archives: God

IMPACT!

We’re trying to increase our income at Jacob’s Well right now. Frankly, if we don’t we’ll have to do some serious cutting. I’m not worried about it, I have the sense that the community is ready to respond and the initial contacts I’ve had with people have borne that out. But this situation has forced me to think long and hard about the whole ‘money raising’ side of the church. It is awkward, easily manipulative and insincere. When I am asking people to increase their giving I have the possible double motives of trying to cover my own salary and maintain the church that I am familiar with. I.e., ask others to sacrifice so I don’t have to.

Some good hard wrestling and guidance by other very smart and ‘in it for the longhaul’ Jacob’s Well folks have taken me beyond that. Now I realize that it is all about impact (beyond all the also true statements of the spiritually benefits of learning generosity and gratitude to God). It is so hard to keep articulating the vision over and against the need, that is the purpose over and against paying the light bill. But what I’ve discovered is that giving to the church isn’t paying salaries, buying or renting buildings, it isn’t purchasing materials or anything else, it is resourcing the church to have impact.

We want our churches to have impact – in our lives, our communities and in the world. When we give money (or anything) to a church that uses it responsibly, we are resourcing it for impact. You do not pay a salary, you provide a highly trained (hopefully), passionate and hard-working person to go to work and make things happen; to equip leaders, to prepare contexts for growing in faith, for changing lives, for unleashing the faith of others. Things that God wants to have happen and aren’t going to happen by people who are busy with their own occupations, worlds of knowledge and expertise and homes and families.

Who doesn’t want their church to have more impact than it does already? Who doesn’t understand that an organization that has the people and resources to make things happen is going to have that sort of impact? Who doesn’t realize that this takes investment, and that God’s gift of our wealth is what gives us the ability to make that happen.

Don’t apologize for seeking to prepare your church for impact. And don’t expect your church to have it if you are not investing in it aggressively with all that God has given you: your time, your ability, your money.

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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.

The Dump Truck of Affirmation

I think I heard this phrase from Ron Sylvia first, but it sure captured it for me.

The question I’m dealing with right now is where is God at work. Not in theory. not just theologically safe, but where in my life, do I feel sure, confident, whatever, that God is there. There are places and all of them squoosh out between my fingers when I squeeze my fingers too tightly, but this is one that keeps coming through for me. The dump truck of affirmation.

Let’s face it, following God isn’t easy, and it is hard to know where to go, what to do, and whether you are walking with God or lost in the wilderness. So I get discouraged sometimes – a lot of times – and I’ve learned to let God know that. My prayer is something like this, “God, this is tough. I don’t know if what I’m doing is working, whether it’s worth it, or whether you are even there right now. Can you let me know?” And when I ask I get an answer, God comes through bigger than I expect. I start getting emails and phone calls from people – unsolicited, things start working out, people appear out of nowhere to take on leadership roles or fill gaps that are driving me crazy. It’s like God has everything going just fine, and cracks it open wide enough for me to see how what I’m up to fits into it – more than enough to keep me going. It’s not a hint, not a suggestion that could be easily dismissed as chance or selective perception, its the dump truck of affirmation.

Plop. “There it is,” God says, “you asked. Try and deny it.”

I know, this all sounds kind of weird to me too. But it happens. Every time. Sometimes the affirmation is not of what I’m doing but the new direction that I should be heading. Coming from God though, it isn’t like a reprimand, but like an inviting open door showing me what I want more than what I have. I guess God doesn’t just tell us – or at least me – what I should or shouldn’t do, and God doesn’t just melt the problems away, God does seem to care enough about me to want me to know I’m not alone and that what I’m doing is worthwhile and not just an invention of my own imagination.

Try it. Be honest with God about your discouragement. I can make no guarantees about how it will work out for you, but that dump truck of affirmation keeps backing up for me and dropping another load. So… I guess I’ll go back to work tomorrow and finish that message and try to connect with a few more lives this week.

God exists, but does God do anything?

Okay, one of the driving factors for me to start a new church (read the Jacob’s Well story here) was that I didn’t want to have to choose between the existing options. This is true in nearly every aspect of the life of the church, but the one I am writing about here is the real and active presence of God. On the one-side you have people who see God everywhere. God is responsible for all the good stuff that has happened to them, and for getting them out of all the bad stuff. Strangely, this God wasn’t responsible for the bad stuff The precarious walk between the optionsin their lives, except for helping good stuff come from it. But this God is often seen behind the bad stuff that happens to other people as a sign of judgment on them. This is deus ex machina, the game playing God. Sorry, can’t do it.

On the other side is a tradition that has rationalized God so thoroughly that God has (as in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) disappeared in a puff of logic. God still exists, and is a wonderful force for good in the universe, but any suggestion of just where or when makes people very uncomfortable very fast. I guess I’m looking for more.

So, I don’t want to choose between those two options. I feel like God is an active force in my life and in our world, but I’ll be the first to admit that it is pretty difficult to pin it down. It is a faith thing. My experience with God can be very compelling for me, but it is for me. You need to have your own experiences that are compelling for you.

When churches just get good at being churches (which is quite possible) and lose the active sense of God – a real, credible, respectable and inspired sense – they are in danger of losing their soul. It may as well be another club that offers good things for life; not the stuff that changes life by turning it upside down and inside out. By the way, an active God doesn’t just turn people’s lives upside down and inside out, but does that to churches too! So I asked the Jacob’s Well Board, which is responsible for the well-being of our community, to spend some time thinking about how God is active in their lives. I gave them each a composition book and asked them to start keeping track of where God was showing up.

They were pretty good sports about it, it seems. But I admit it isn’t an easy assignment. Not as hard as making our budget balance, but pretty hard. It is going to take some thinking, and soul searching. I know that I have to spend a fair amount of time just thinking about what it means that God is active in my life before I start writing where God is actually there. But that’s me. And I’m hopelessly cerebral and skeptical and all that fun stuff that constipates faith.

So there is God Sighting #1.  My intellectual approach to life has had its veneer irreparably cracked to let God in. God did it. God does it. My heart knows God and teaches my head. It may not seem like a lot to you, but it is pretty clearly God’s work to me.

More Active God Coming… the dump truck of affirmation, and the desperation of Haiti. Stay tuned.

Oh, and thanks for reading – I’d appreciate comments.


Spong and “church alumni”

The former Episcopalian Bishop of the Newark Diocese is on to something. I was listening to an MPR Midmorning interview with him that Melissa – another of my media gleaners – passed on to me. Brilliant and honest man. He takes people who Jacob’s Well was created to reach seriously: people who recognize and value the dimensions of life that are commonly referred to as ‘spiritual’ but who don’t consider themselves religious.

We learned early on that one of the best descriptors of Jacob’s Well likely candidates is “given up on church.” John Shelby Spong uses the term “church alumni.” That is so poignant it hurts. People who started in or tried the church and ‘graduated’ from it. They may have been hurt or burned by it. Just bored or uninspired. But for many the sophistication of the rest of their life outstripped what the church presented and how it expected them to adopt their “Christian” identity.

There is so much more that they have never been awakened to.  Christ followers are life time learners who had best always admit that there is more that they don’t understand than that they do. That their doubts are really just peeks through the cracks of their present understanding towards something that might be deeper, truer, more authentic to the human/divine experience.

Like with any organization, alumni are a powerful force. It is a pity to cut them loose and not utilize their strength. At one level or another, Jacob’s Well seeks to be a powerful alumni organization that reconnects them and their current lives with all the assets, experiences, hurts, worries and needs they have accumulated. I like this. Thanks Bishop Spong. I’ve got to dig into some more of your books.

Listen to the interview HERE.

Sorry Jesus, We’re Just Not That Into You?

Stephanie of Jacob’s Well – one of my inveterate combers of cyberspace sending me stuff I should have on my radar – sent me this article from Emily Bennington of the Huffington Post this morning under her subject heading, “Why Jacob’s Well matters.”

There is a lot more to the “why it matters” debate than moral discourse, but it important and is probably a good place to start. Particularly for those who have given up on church, God, faith and (without a doubt) religion. God matters. Faith matters. Jacob’s Well and others who are willing to wade out into the waters before they have fully parted… let’s go. We’ve got real, hard, honest work to do – there is a lot of wilderness between us and the Promised Land.

Here’s the link to the article. Sorry Jesus, We’re Just Not That Into You?

When you just couldn’t make it happen

I got an email from a friend who told me about a project that she had been working on. She was a little disappointed. She and others had high hopes, but it wasn’t panning out so great. To quote her,

“I’m doing my best, but it’s a big job … and I wasn’t as successful as I had hoped. Not for lack of trying … or dedication. It’s just a lot.”

I know her. She’s great, talented, hardworking. I believe her. I don’t think she should be so disappointed, though. We tend to think about the things we do as isolated successes or failures while most of the time they are neither. They are parts of a journey of which we know neither the true beginning nor ending. We see a little way ahead and behind us and understand our world and lives from it. God looks and works a long, long, long way further before, beyond and within what we experience.

I suppose it is impossible for us to turn off our instinct to size up and evaluate, but in truth we ought to restrain ourselves so we can be open to the journey too vast and cosmic for us to measure. We need to trust that what we do, fail to do, mess up, excel at – all of it – is something God can and will use. This is where confidence comes from: not from our ability to ‘get it done,’ but from God’s determination to make the really important stuff happen anyway.