Category Archives: preaching

Discovery

Another eye for beautyPreaching is always autobiographical for me. Not that I talk about myself, but what I’m talking about is something that I am struggling with. I guess that if I don’t find the content for my message personally engaging and at least somewhat troubling, I keep looking for something more worthy of all our time. Sometimes when i’m preaching I get caught off guard by how personal what I have to say is for me. It happened today.

Our service at Jacob’s Well was starting off a series preparing for Christmas called “Missing God.” I am convinced that to know the heart of God is to know poverty. Not just people in poverty, but poverty in you. Obviously not just economic poverty either, but that fundamental condition of humanity of being in want.  Poverty is good, in fact beautiful, but that’s another blog entry, or perhaps listen to the message ( 11.30.2008 ) on our site. Our neediness is our open door for God. It is acknowledgement that there is a hole inside that someone else must fill for us. At the end of the service we invited people to write what was missing in their life, what was in want, on a sticky note and then to come forward and stick them on a big box.

I had to do it too, of course. I was surprised, at first, that even though I’d talked about this so easily and thought about the concept so long, that I really didn’t know what I would write on the note. But then when I began to put the pen on paper my poverty was so clear. I really didn’t have to think. It was clearly more obvious than I wanted it to be. God showed up. For me. I wonder why I find that surprising… shouldn’t I assume God will? I do, I guess, but it still amazes me when it happens.

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UnLearn Religion… again

A few more thoughts from Sunday at Jacob’s Well:

“The greatest UnLearner of all time is God.  Face it,  God had a problem.  God created us with so much hope and promise and it wasn’t panning out.  We turned away and kept walking.  So God decided that to learn how to truly be what God wanted to be for us, God would need to unlearn what it meant to be God.  We call that unlearning event, ‘Jesus.’  And it was hard.  It is always hard when we leave the competence of what we know how to do – even if it wasn’t working – and we have to learn a new way.  It was about 30 years of the toughest unlearning and relearning that could be imagined, so that God could come out of that experience and provide 3 years of the greatest leadership that this world will ever see.  It changed the world forever.

If God had to UnLearn being God to offer the true relationship God sought to have with us, who are we to think we don’t have to UnLearn what it means for us to be followers of Jesus?”

– – – – –

“Why do we need to UnLearn?  To be ready for a world that has seen too much, gotten too big and too interconnected to swallow ‘Christianity’s’ certainties – which are really an illusion of knowledge, a disguise of ignorance, a refusal to unlearn and relearn – so that we can touch humanity as God wants us to.”

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Both of the quotes above from my message on Sunday (they are approximate, I don’t use a script) are inspired (and maybe partly created?) by Ron Heifetz of the Harvard/Kennedy School of Govt.  I heard him speak at a Leadership Network event in Dallas some years ago.  He, along with Jim Collins, Neil Cole and others really drove the unlearning concept home.  I heard him speak again at the Carlson School (part of the U of M) last week which made me pull out my old notes.  Good stuff.  Smart man.

UnLearn Religion

UnLearn

At Jacob’s Well we are focusing on UnLearning these days.  (Earlier blog on unlearning)  And since we are a church we need to start at  home,  so it was  UnLearn Religion.  God wants us to  UnLearn it so we can ReLearn Relationship.

I want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices.  I would rather have my people know me than burn offerings to me.    Hosea 6.6 (TEV)

Something that spoke ‘convictingly’ (is that a word?) to me that I shared was this simple distinction between religion and relationship, between being a Christian and following Jesus.  It is this,

“Being a follower of Jesus means that you give up deciding where you will apply Jesus to your life, and instead discover where Jesus wants to take you.”

That is a scary concept that I hope to get good at!

Me in You

Billy the Kid Documentary

We based our service today at Jacob’s Well on the Billy the Kid documentary filmed by Jennifer Venditti. See this film if you get a chance. It won Indie Film fests all around the world in 2007 and came to the Parkway Theater in Mpls this weekend along with creator Venditti who answered questions after the screening.

Dawn spoke about today and one of the points that she brought out – a Gospel message from the film and Venditti’s commentary – was that it is our job to see ourselves in the lives of others. That is a good point all in itself. It makes the world smaller and more humane when we see our lives reflected in others. But she went for a more profound statement, and that is that what really causes us to dislike, fear, even hate others is not the differences in each other, but the similarities. That is, what really threatens me in you, isn’t that you are different, but that i see myself in you. In fact I see things that I don’t like about myself or am afraid to admit to.

Could it be true? Do we laugh at the uncool kid, not because we despise him or her, but because we see a reflection of our own insecurity of being cool enough, of measuring up to the standards others impose on us?  Do we humiliate others for their imperfections because it is easier to do than to face ours?

I’m not sure there is nothing else at work in our differences and intolerances, but I think Billy and Jennifer are on to something.  The remedy, as Dawn presented it, is nothing other than having enough backbone in who we are (children of God) so that we don’t have to maintain our status by cutting others down.   Or as Isaiah (Is.43.1) and as Dawn also listed it, “Fear not, for I have called you by name, and you are mine.”

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.

Which is the greater danger?

Heresy or Blind Compliance

Which way

Last Sunday, in talking about what it means to know Jesus, I talked about the ways it happens. There are a few obvious choices; like worship, the Bible, prayer, community.  But I offered a small stretch in ‘nature,’ saying that God wove patterns into creation that remind us of God’s truths for us.  Often these expressions capture God’s truth better than our words.  Then I took it a step further and offered that we get to know Jesus through ‘other writings and teachings.’  I said that something doesn’t have to be stamped ‘Christian’ to teach what God wants us to know.  Indeed, it could be far from God’s truth and still bear have the label.

I expected some phone calls and emails for that and was pleasantly surprised that all I got was a few thanks for saying it.  It is very consistent with our Jacob’s Well core values, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but it may just mean no one was listening…

God’s truth is what lies behind and in all that exists.  As such it is so big we can’t hide it forever.  It oozes out of every pore in our world, often especially where we least expect it.  That doesn’t mean that all things are good or helpful.  Much is not.  What is so important is that we don’t need to be afraid.  We can look and learn anywhere and everywhere.  Let Christ be the filter.  Trust the Spirit to guide us, and to rescue us from our errors.  Keeping ‘in the box’ of Christian teaching has certainly never prevented heresy in the past.

The point isn’t that Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, humanism, etc. is right or wrong, but rather that God is so big that God’s truth can’t be hidden forever.  Different cultures, perspectives, languages, eras will inevitably express and hide God’s truth in ways that are novel to us.  Don’t be afraid, that’s the key.  Be humble, admit mistakes, don’t try to justify what isn’t working and keep the heart of the Bible at the heart of your searching.

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.