Category Archives: God

Come on… you gotta give God a chance

I was just below half a tank a few days ago and thought to myself, “Gotta get gas.” That happened a couple more times in the next two days, as the needle moved south. There was still quite a bit, but then yesterday I knew I had to do a bunch of driving and I knew it was going to be tight. Today the needle is falling below the E, and I’m still driving and thinking, “I really need some gas.”

The problem is simple. I think about it a lot. I know I need it. I just never stop to get any. Funny thing, gas doesn’t just show up in your tank because you need it.

I get pretty dry spiritually too. The tank I filled up earlier can take me a long way, but not all the way. Maybe you know the feeling. “God, I really need your help on this.” “God, I don’t know what to do!” “God, I know there are better ways to use my time and money and abilities… what are they?” And we ask, and wait, and ask again… but we never stop at the gas station.

The gas station isn’t church. It may be, but it’s more than church. Basically refueling is doing the same thing you do to fill our auto’s gas tank. You stop what you are doing and you take the time to be available to actually get refilled.

  • Turn the radio off in the car and just talk – and listen – to God.
  • Get up 15 minutes early, get a cup of tea or coffee, and read the Bible or some other spiritually enriching book for 10 and pray for 5.
  • Look someone you talk to in the eyes and look for God inside them. Keep looking until you think you see God there.
  • Journal.
  • Invest in a weekly (or bi-weekly) small group that gets honest and explores faith.
  • Serve. Regularly. In ways that use real gifts you have. Even when it’s inconvenient. (It’s always inconvenient, by the way, so get over it. But that’s another post.)
  • COMMENT below and add your ways to refuel.
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“The Beginning is Near”

The indomitable Jacob’s Well “Get the Word Out” people keep coming up with more ideas about how to let their neighbors know they’ve got something they want to share. So to spread the news about Jacob’s Well expanding to the Longfellow neighborhood in south Minneapolis they started building these ‘snowfellows’ all over the place. Each holding the placard, “The Beginning is Near” and our web address.

I guess we aren’t a fire and brimstone church. We think that God is more promise and hope. And we think that is equally or even more so transforming than its gloom and doom cousin. We expect glimmers of the kingdom to appear all around us. In the joy and wonder of life, and in the pain and problems of life. We hold on to the crazy Jesus idea that nothing keeps God out.

So the end… who knows, I suppose it is always just around the corner. But the beginning… ahhhh… the beginning, it is upon us. Preach it snowfellows!

Maybe the name of this post should have been “Evangelism we can live with.”

Most of us aren’t here yet!

We believe this with all our hearts. It’s got two sides to it.

One – “Jacob’s Well is mostly made up of people who aren’t here…” Jacob’s Well isn’t for or about ‘us.’ It is about and for the people God has called, the people God has in mind when God said, “Let there be Jacob’s Well.”

Two – “Yet!” We expect them to come, or better yet, we expect to go to them. It is one thing for us to know we are incomplete, it is another to believe that God is at work to fulfill us and for us to live and act in that expectation.

What is so amazing about this is how this is coming to life within the community as we prepare to launch our second site. The night before the first preview service the Board and spouses met for a social dinner together (it is a whole other story about how we could possibly afford to do that the night before our first preview!) and while we were talking about the journey that has been Jacob’s Well our chair noted how close we had all become and how much we had done together that we loved and were proud of. And (this is the clincher) that if it were not for Jacob’s Well no one in that room would have known anyone else (spouses excepted…)

The next morning, about 45 minutes before the first service was to begin at Longfellow, we gathered for last minute details and prayer. Our Site Leader who has only been around for about six months made a similar comment. He noted that most of us haven’t known each other very long but we were all here because of God’s work in Jacob’s Well. He asked us to think forward six months when this circle would be vastly expanded with people we by then knew, loved and had shared significant experiences with, but right now we don’t even know exist. And just imagine what we will accomplish, be and reach with them as the next layer of who we are.

God’s vision for Jacob’s Well may have started in my mind and heart, but it is contagious and owned by so many other people now. That giving away and ownership by others is the fulfillment of a vision. That is why I get up each morning to help Jacob’s Well remain faithful to it. And it tells me to start listening for the next stage of that vision.

Launching a ‘not very good church’ on purpose

Cover of mailer for Jacob's Well Longfellow preview

Is this anyway to attract people to our church? We think so. Obviously not if you were trying to get people who already think church is just fine. But why would we do that? They are probably going to church already. What about all those people (a majority today?) who think there is something basically wrong with ‘church’?

From the very beginning Jacob’s Well was designed to speak to people who have given up or are ready to give up on church, God and faith. It seems ridiculous to try to interest them by claiming what a good example of church we are. The copy on the back of our mailer says, “If your image of church is like most people’s, we’re glad not to be a very good example of it. So instead of being another church, we’ve tried to be a “what if” church. One known for being honest, thinking, relevant and casual so people can be themselves – you know, their real selves.”

We believe that life needs God at its center and Jesus in its heart, but we also believe that for that to happen people need churches that are authentic to who they are. People want their church to be in their own  neighborhood so it resonates with, pulls together and speaks to people with whom they already share community.  That’s why we’re in the process of starting Jacob’s Well Longfellow just 4 miles from Jacob’s Well Field in this densely populated urban neighborhood of south Minneapolis.

We had our first monthly  “preview” service on Sunday at Anne Sullivan School on Sunday (Jan. 24, 2010) and had a great time. The school and district have been great partners and the building is wonderful. Most of all, the team of people, many brand new to the Jacob’s Well community, have been incredible. A little over 100 people attended, nearly half of them new to Jacob’s Well. A great start. But it is just a start. We want to add value to the Longfellow neighborhood and be part of the struggles and joys of the community and individuals. We don’t just want to expand, we want to fulfill what God has in mind for us. And we need to let them know we are here. As I’ve said a thousand times, “It doesn’t do any good to start a church if no one knows about it.”

Starting another church is a lot of work. Being an authentic presence is a much bigger task, but that is what it is all about.

[Want to know more about why we would do this? Read “Most of us aren’t here yet.”]

“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.

God’s ‘too big’ ideas

There is an intrinsic problem in trying to understand God. That is that God is God and therefore beyond our experience or understanding. Our best and most sophisticated concepts and analogies inevitably reduce God to something we can handle. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, it just means that we should be careful what we claim. I find that the most helpful isn’t to describe what God is like and doing, but to point towards where we see God showing up.

So, to point in a helpful direction, I like to say God is too big for our world and wants to make us too big for it too and by blowing our minds with thinking that is too big for our world. Too big thinking resonates with and calls to us, but it can’t be managed or accomplished.

What is God’s too big thinking? I’m sure many lists of great length could be put together, but here is one I shared on Christmas Eve at Jacob’s Well that makes a lot of sense to me. What do you think?

God’s too big thinking – we see these all played out in the person of Jesus – says…

  • Sacrifice, not self-interest, is the most direct route to happiness.
  • Generosity, not accumulation, is the greatest source of wealth.
  • Love, forgiveness and mercy are the greatest forces in our world.
  • We are loved no matter how unlovable we think we are, and that
  • We depend on that undeserved love no matter how deserving we think we are.
  • Hope is not wishful thinking, but faith in action.
  • Peace is not the absence of violence or trouble, but an active presence in the midst of life.

What makes me think that these are God-style too big is that I want them all to be true and find myself drawn to them, but have to be really honest and say that I neither truly understand, fully agree or practice any of them. I’m ready to follow a God who says they are the real thing though.

What is faith?

I wonder why I don’t have enough or strong enough faith sometimes. But really, that is just a roadblock I construct, not one that is actually there.

Faith is a gift. It isn’t miraculously or heroically pulled out of our insides, but dropped in our hands and heart when we open them widely enough. And it often hurts when it lands there. You do not get what you need from God by having enough faith, but you ask for faith so you can experience what it is that God has already given you.

The act of turning to God for more faith, is an act of faith already. To ask for it is evidence that the request has already been granted. Trust it.