Category Archives: Jesus

Jesus’ Work

Real & Ideal Work @ Jacob's Well MinneapolisThe Jacob’s Well Minneapolis community has been talking about the ‘healthy real & ideal’ in order to keep the ‘unhealthy’ versions of them at bay. We talked about Real & Ideal Work yesterday (4/13/2014). Here are a few thoughts from it. It starts with a parable that was written by someone from our community especially for this day.

The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who looks in the mirror in the morning, touches up her hair, smiles and says, “Today I will make the world a better place” as she heads off to work. She does that every day.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday as the regular church calendar goes. That was the day Jesus entered Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, it was going to be the last week of his life. It was the week when he observed the Passover Meal with his disciples, was arrested that night, hung on a cross to die the next day, and then Sunday, Easter, is the day we celebrate his resurrection.

You know how I see what was going on with Jesus in all this? All of this was his work. When he entered into Jerusalem on that day we now call Palm Sunday everyone saw him as the superstar, he knew better. He wasn’t seduced with stardom, he knew it was an unhealthy idealization of the work he had to do. He wasn’t afraid of it either; he didn’t fall victim to despair by looking at the reality of his work in an unhealthy way. He knew what he was doing mattered. He had chosen to do it. I get this sense that Jesus was extraordinarily clear about what his work was – it was to love. To love us. You, me, everyone. Why? Purely because he did and he couldn’t turn it off. It didn’t matter if it was hard or it was easy, it didn’t matter if he liked doing it all the time or didn’t. It was the work that he had chosen and so like that woman who looked in the mirror each morning, touched up her hair and went forth ready to make the world a better place, Jesus was going to love us because he felt from the bottom of his heart that he was doing the right thing for the right reason.

Maybe that first Good Friday, when Jesus was killed, was really just another day at the office for him. He was just doing what he knew he was supposed to do. It wasn’t a matter of being hard to do, or easy. It wasn’t a matter of liking it or not. It was a matter of doing the work he knew he had been called to. And so he stretched out his arms and loved us with everything he had… just like he had always done.

What is your work? Choose it. Transform it if you must, but do it and live into it. Turn it into the power of God at work in the world, and in you. Remember, you GET to do this!

 

 

Christ is Risen! So what?

So Easter happened. Many people say that means Jesus is alive and God has defeated the powers of darkness. But what’s different? It isn’t a different world than it was on Saturday… Every year we celebrate Easter, and every year the same problems abound and then we celebrate it again. So Christ is risen? What’s changed?

This is a huge challenge that needs to be taken seriously and as I wrestle with it here’s what I come up with… This isn’t a question that we should fling at God. Like, “Come on God,  make the world more like your kingdom now!” Rather, it is the question that God persistently and hopefully and powerfully puts to us. Like, “I have empowered life and love and forgiveness – now I need you to trust them and go and start making the world more like our kingdom!”

What if… that was how we understood Easter and therefore what we did as followers of Jesus? What if… making that happen was why people got together to be a church?

That is a vision of the church that I can get excited about!

When will the world change?

We have been talking and thinking and dreaming and doing justice the last six weeks as Jacob’s Well. It has been interesting. I know people who have started some pretty admirable endeavors, one person told me he wants to quit his job and open a communal house as a long term shelter for homeless people. Many have done nothing. There is no judgement, there is learning and watching and wondering.  This is hard stuff and the changes that could happen, that should happen will take time – more than six weeks.

One thing I relearned during this time is just how the world is going to change. I truly believe that God wants the world to change, to better reflect God’s intentions, love, hope and righteousness than it does. But it isn’t going to change because we change it. Really, I mean it! The world needs to change, we are part of the change, BUT that change doesn’t happen because we get around to making it happen. The world changes when we let God change us.

Gandhi’s quote is famous, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It is as true as it is profound. What it doesn’t say is that even that change isn’t made by us. The world needs to be changed, and it happens when we are changed, but that change needs to come from beyond us. We cannot comprehend the nature or the scope of the change, we do not have the will nor the patience to make it. We have to let God do it.

Jesus talked about those who give up their life for his sake would find it (Luke 9.24). Paul talked about dying and rising to Christ (Romans ch.6). But how does that happen? How do we let God change us. This is hard to answer because sooner or later we get to something that we do. The difference is that this isn’t a matter of continually trying to manipulate ourselves or the world, but of simple dwelling in God. Being still, listening for God anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes getting away from the world to hear, other times diving into the world to hear. And when we notice anything – even the something-almost-nothing (1 Kings 19.12), letting God know we are afraid and don’t know how. And asking God to remake our hearts to receive the change we cannot make ourselves.

It is good to have a community of people who walk along with you when you try to let change like this start happening in your life. And when our communities become holy places wide open to this happening in and among them, this world is going to get changed.

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?

“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.”

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.

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!