Category Archives: preaching

Relationships instead of Church?

Read this article from Kathy Lynn  Grossman of USA TODAY, “Relationships Are the New Religion for Many,” and tell me what you think. This is good Jacob’s Well conversation.Easter PostCard jacob's well 2007

I think the article’s observations are right on, the conclusion isn’t.              [It really reminds me of some elements of our message  yesterday. (3.24.2013)]

My analysis says that “church” has failed to deliver value or relevance to people at their gatherings (worship services and more) for so many decades that we now have whole generations who have no idea that the church might actually have any. What people still have is the relationships that once found amazing, empowering, loving context in being church, and so they gather around those relationships instead. And for the most part “church/religion/the institution” continues to gather those who are left around nostalgia for what doesn’t connect.

How will we teach those looking for more that there is more when so few are trying to reclaim what church can be?

Advertisements

ENDING POVERTY: Step 3 Sharing what is beyond sufficiency

Most people share from their leftovers, that means they don’t share much. The definition of ‘enough’ tells us we still need more. If that’s true, what are we going to share? It ends up being what we won’t miss. A couple bucks in our wallet (I use my cash card anyway), the change in my pocket (it isn’t really worth much after all), or maybe something that will be advantageous at tax time. The world won’t survive off the leftovers of those who can’t distinguish their need from their greed. The purpose of recognizing what is sufficient is that is allows us to choose what to do with the rest of our bounty. God has the life-giving idea that we share it!

We may want what is beyond our sufficiency, but others need it. Preventable forms of poverty and the illness, injustice, lack of opportunity, education and hope that come from it are just that – preventable. We can change them!

Sharing what is beyond sufficiency is also key because it isn’t only others in need who stand to benefit from our abundance. There are times and situations when it is us who need to rely on the abundance God has provided for us through someone else. When that time comes I bet we really hope that those others have understood and embraced the truth of sufficiency. What’s the best way of making that happen? Learning and practicing how to share what is beyond sufficiency ourselves right now.

“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!

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?

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!