Category Archives: pastor

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!

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Sailing anyone?

Sail to Sunset

Sailing is at least as deep as life…

I long ago learned two things. My most powerful ministries will come from one of two places… my deepest hurts and my deepest passions. I can talk about the hurts some other time, right now I’m into passions! Sailing is a biggy for me and my ability to use it to connect with people and to connect people to the real stuff of life, the world and faith has been one of the most treasured things I get to do.

Interested in an adventure? We will have a Jacob’s Well trip sailing the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior Friday, June 20-Sunday, June 22 (arrive anytime on Thursday, June 19). You don’t need any previous sailing experience, or to be a Jacob’s Well person to come along – just to be interested in an experience of a lifetime.

See a video teaser and find more information HERE.

Reading the Bible today

michelangelo-god-touches-usweb.jpg

I’ve had some great conversations with some folks lately. I am continually impressed with the questions and depth of personal investment people have in what they are struggling with. Most who meet me to talk over a cup of coffee or an email are thinking about faith, and one of the regular themes is the Bible. How do we understand, use, believe that book?

Clearly the way the Bible has been treated as an “inerrant and infallible” writing come from God isn’t working anymore. Is the Bible less than it once was? Or is it less to us than it is among some churches who cling to those claims? Wrong question!

Truth has a different role today. In a world that is as pluralistic as ours and where assumptions are not just challenged everyday, but dumped on their head, authority and absolutes just aren’t what they once were. Frankly, I think the Bible is becoming more alive and, theologically speaking, is becoming more powerful as it steps down from its ivory tower and starts living with us. Are there rumblings of Jesus in that statement?!?! Hope so…

Jacob’s Well was founded on the conviction that the Bible is not only relevant, but it is foundational. THE writing among many writings that have true spiritual strength. But it isn’t an instruction book. It’s truth is mined, not just spread like frosting. It’s truth is contingent on our willingness and ability to subject ourselves to it, and to bring our lives into the story. Indeed, without application to our lives there is no truth there at all. Just writing. Or as I like to say, the ‘book’ itself, white pages with black (or red, ugh… I am not a fan of red-letter Bibles… another blog…) is the dead word of God. The living word of God is embracing the people behind and before the story; the telling of the story around the fire at night 1000’s of years ago, the gradual recording of it, the editing, the compiling, the translation, the reading, the interpreting, the sharing of it. This on-going process is where inspiration happens, every step of the way. God’s word is alive when, and only when, humanity and humans engage and wrestle with the writing this way.

That means the Bible is contextual.  This is not its weakness but it’s strength and we live in a world today that is willing and able to see that!  I contend that it is comprised of universal truths (as far as human words speaking from particular contexts can express them) and the application of those truths. Our task, to read and apply the truths, and to learn from the application of truths (not to mimic them). That puts us in the messy situation of deciding which is which, but what about living by faith isn’t messy?

I read Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed (www.jesuscreed.org), when I have time (he writes a lot!). A week or so ago he blogged the notes below that are very interesting. They talk(in ‘theologian-speak’) about what Jacob’s Well is built on. These are six points that he believes characterize the emerging church’ s relationship with the Bible and “the Story” of what the Bible is pointing to. He seems to think they are healthy trends. I’d add that they are both healthy and inevitable. Deal with them! Interestingly they come from both sides, i.e. they show how post-modern culture is putting ‘religion’ in its place to make room for the Real World, and also putting ‘modernism’ in its place to make room for the Story. Here they are:

1. De-throning science as the sole Story.
2. En-throning a subjectivity as part of the real Story.
3. Embracing a local story as part of the real Story.
4. Epistemic (that means ‘intellectual’) humility about what one concludes from the Bible.
5. Acceptance of myth and fiction as capable of truth-telling. (I really love this one! Watch for a worship series on this before too long!)
6. Admission of cultural influence on all texts, even the Bible.

Any comments from wrestlers? Or from people who think we’re not supposed to be wrestling? I’d love to hear from either… just gives me another thing to wrestle with.

Sabbath was Good

Burntside - north armj

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46.10) is often cited and for a good reason.  We need to let quiet and breaks from our routine bring space in our lives to be refreshed and to hear God speak again.  We had a great time up in Boundary Waters country.  Company, food, conversation, food, cards, food, skiing, did I mention food? was wonderful.  It was really cold, (high was -3, and typical temps were -25 to -15) but it was beautiful!  And there is something about being in the boreal forest of the north that makes the temps not nearly so cold.  I’d take -20 up there over 0 in the city anytime.  But then being the gimp I spent all my time by the woodstove anyway…

The picture is looking out from the sauna over the North Arm of Burntside Lake.  The little ice wall is built from the ice cut from the hole made for people to dip into the lake from the sauna.  At night (when we perform this crazed ritual) a kerosene lantern sits there, competing with the moon for providing illumination.  The rectangular spot of snow in the right foreground is the “door” covering the hole, snow piled on top, to keep the ice from forming too thickly during the day.  Remember, it’s 20 below zero.

If you look in the distance there is a little island 300 yards or so away.  it is a white lump against the trees on the horizon towards the right.  The teens got daring this year and multiple dips and snow angels in the snow to beat the sauna heat wasn’t enough, so they dashed all the way to the island and back wearing only their, well, you know…

Find a sabbath everyday.  Don’t wait for the big trips.  Let quiet break in for a short time everyday, and for a minute or two every hour.

Rest

Quick note to say I’m off to the Upper Arm of Burntside Lake, northwest of Ely, MN.  Our family is joining a couple of other families we have done this with for many years.  We get a rustic barn of a cabin where we share great food, drink, recreation and conversation.  It is adjacent to the BWCA so the ski trails meander through that wilderness.  For me it is a much needed break from always being “on” with my job and calling.  A time to allow my mind and heart to do some rumination and hopefully find some illumination.

The news on my ankle isn’t good (I now have an appointment with a surgeon…)  so I’ll be keeping the fire company while everyone else X-C skis in the sub-zero temp.  But the sauna and polar bear dip should still be within my grasp.

May each of us deliberately find a time each day, and a day each week, and retreat each year, when we are still and let God be God.

Peace!

Spiritual Manipulation

I had a great conversation yesterday with a ‘jacob’s-well-checker-outer.’ He represents people whom I love to talk to because they are searching and critically discerning at the same time. They bring hope and skepticism to the table simultaneously. I see a lot of me reflected in such people.

One of the things we talked about is the danger of manipulation of people by religious organizations. There are certainly enough examples of it – Jonestown in Guyana comes to mind, but that is the extreme. The danger of manipulation comes from people allowing another person to tell them what to do or think. What happens at church can certainly fall into that category; people come looking for a ‘Word from God,’ and the leaders, often a pastor, offers to supply that Word.

Do I manipulate people? I want to say no, and I can confidently say that I never do it intentionally for purposes that are self serving, but that is where I have to ask just what the difference is between manipulation and inspiration. It is the church’s job to open people’s hearts, to lead them places they wouldn’t go otherwise, to touch their emotions. Is that manipulation? Is the difference between inspiration and manipulation the motivation behind it? After all, to manipulate literally means to alter something manually, with an intentional act. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t try to create that nexus between God and people andso that something happen there.

In my message tomorrow as part of our High Definition Living series I am talking about “God’s HD Signal” (forgive the comparison…). God’s ‘signal’ or message is different from others because of how much ‘bandwidth’ it holds, that is, how comprehensive it is in addressing all aspects of our lives. I’ll mention Jesus’ Great Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength.” God wants to get into every nook & cranny of us, and make us different.

I don’t want people to ever feel manipulated, but I do want people to feel moved – by God, through me, and the music, the community, the environment, everything. I guess we need to demonstrate transparency, ask people to not be passive receivers but to engage in the process, to test out what they experience at Jacob’s Well. And I need people to trust me. I know that I need to earn that trust. I don’t expect it to be given me just because I am ‘the pastor’ or the person up front. If anything, I see those things as barriers to gaining people’s trust because it removes me from their experience. I also need to ask people to risk. To be willing to be vulnerable to God’s work through our worship experiences and other places in their lives – not to turn off their brains or to live in a fantasy world, but to dare to see and experience things in a way in which they aren’t in control.

What are you looking for here?

I started this blog to make myself write down some of the things I am thinking about, the idea that someone might read it was a bonus. The idea that someone might read it and find it helpful was a dream. The surprise is that a lot of people are reading. Yikes!

So, here’s my question… are you from Jacob’s Well and curious? Are you a church leader that I have worked with somewhere? Someone from one of the conferences I’ve taught? Have you just run into my blog somehow? No matter who you are and why you are checking out this site, what are you looking for? I’d love to hear.

Are you a:

– a church launcher wondering about what we are trying out or dreaming about or learning from at Jacob’s Well…

– a preacher wondering about our worship series or creative arts process…

– a God-follower curious about my theological ideas or musings…

– a fellow precarious person who wants to know more about living the vulnerable life of faith…

Let me know… thanks!