Category Archives: preaching

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

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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.

10.10.10 Read Pray Quiet

Okay, so it isn’t the “real” thing, but it is something we can all start with. Yesterday at Jacob’s Well I talked about the non-negotiable dimension of faith that we call ‘grow’; it’s learning, discipleship, education, doing the stuff you need to do to mature in your spiritual life. We always have what our creative team calls a PAW in our services, that is a ‘personal act of worship.’ A PAW is something that people are encouraged to do that takes the good intentions that people may have in the service and has them make some sort of first step towards actually doing it. (I’ll have to blog about this PAW concept later – I think it is extremely important.)

The PAW this week was to ask people to be in one of the Groups here at Jacob’s Well or elsewhere, (but I’m not writing about Groups here) and to join me in the 10.10.10 – that is committing 10 minutes to reading the Bible, 10 minutes to prayer and 10 minutes to quiet every day. You can hear the message on our website, but I don’t think it is up yet. When available this LINK will take you to it.

Now I know that millions of people have resolved to reading their Bible and crashed and burned because they couldn’t make heads or tails of what they read. And I know that this simplistic 10.10.10 formula isn’t a magic recipe for enlightenment, but we need something tangible, somewhere to start. This little dip in these three spiritual disciplines (very close to lectio divina actually, another blog that needs to be written…) reinforced by the Group Life available here at jacob’s well, and some encouragement and energy from the church as a whole, can make this simple formula have real staying power. Also, like I said yesterday, these 3 components of faith, with the right support, can take on a life of their own in people who test drive them.

At the morning service I asked people to do it, but forgot (argh…) to ask them to let us know they were going to do so by indicating it on their Communication Card (one downside of preaching without a script…) so I have no idea how many people meant to try it. But in the evening I did remember and nearly everyone wrote the 10.10.10 on their card. I can’t believe it. Oops, of course I can, that’s a God thing… I just know I can’t be that convincing.

What did I learn? 1. don’t be afraid to ask people for meaningful commitment around things that make a difference in the lives they see God calling them to. 2. People are hungry for spiritual growth and want to know what to do next. 3. We have a big job ahead of us keeping people focused on this and helping them sustain the practice until it becomes a natural (not a simplistic formulaic) part of their walk with Jesus.

Want to join me on the 10.10.10? Comment here and let me know. We’ll try to support you. Got other good ideas or stories about how this has worked (or not worked) for you? I want to hear them!

Want to know more about the 10.10.10? Check out THIS ENTRY on our website and watch for updates on what to read and how to live out this piece of your spiritual growth.

Held accountable

I finished my message yesterday at Jacob’s Well with Tony Campolo’s story about throwing a birthday party for a prostitute in the middle of the night.

(Great story, if you don’t know it see his book, The Kingdom of God is a Party. You can also find it on the web on sites like this.  But buy his book anyway.)

It’s a powerful story that calls us out of our “nice and tidy” ministries and out into the “down and dirty” love that Jesus was about.  My concluding words were, “What if there was a church that threw birthday parties for prostitutes in the middle of the night?  I want to be the pastor of a church like that, and I hope that you want to help Jacob’s Well be that kind of church too.”

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Afterwards a woman came up and said, “Great message, I love that vision of the church. But I wonder if you really mean it.”  She went on to a say a few other positive but challenging things and then ended by saying, “I’ll be watching you.”  I told her I needed accountability, we all do.  She had been burn by a church that didn’t practice what it taught, and is sharp enough to know that while I’m not Jacob’s Well, if I don’t believe and practice something it is pretty unlikely the church will either.

My first reaction – Wow!  Someone was listening and taking me seriously enough to call me on what I say.  That’s what preaching is all about.

Another reaction – Being a precarious pastor and a congregation that ministers from the margins rather than soft, safe center of its resources and comfort level isn’t easy.  We have to hold each other accountable so we will go where Jesus goes.  We also have to encourage each other and remind each other of the vision with which God leads us out of the wilderness of our comfort zone.

Anyone else ready for this journey?  What will we have to give up to be that kind of church, and are we willing to do it?

“Deep” & “Shallow”

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Okay, here is another one I’ve heard recently and has been reported to me by other church leaders trying to transition congregations into more intentional, discipleship oriented directions. “When will we get into deep teaching?” Operative term here is “deep.” I’ve asked people what they mean by this, and pretty much across the board they mean ‘heavy duty Bible Study’; a sermon that just keeps digging away at the text and unpacks its meaning.

I don’t disagree, there is something very deep about that, and being a bit of an insufferable academic myself, I can and do get into it. But to me the real meaning of deep isn’t only how far we get into the text, but how far we let the text get into us. If we keep learning and learning, but don’t spend time living out what we have learned, then ultimately that was all pretty shallow.

I believe in digging into the message of Jesus, exploring how to apply it, practicing that, and then letting that whet our appetite for more learning – either because what we have tasted made us hungry for even more, or because trying to implement it into our lives made us realize how much more we need to know.

One of the dangers of the church, and one of the reasons the church has lost relevance and value for younger generations, is that believing has been a head thing, not a life thing. Going to church or Bible studies are important, but it doesn’t make us look more like Christ or change the world.