Category Archives: jacob’s well

“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.

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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.

‘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

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?

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?”

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.