Category Archives: risk

The Dump Truck of Affirmation

I think I heard this phrase from Ron Sylvia first, but it sure captured it for me.

The question I’m dealing with right now is where is God at work. Not in theory. not just theologically safe, but where in my life, do I feel sure, confident, whatever, that God is there. There are places and all of them squoosh out between my fingers when I squeeze my fingers too tightly, but this is one that keeps coming through for me. The dump truck of affirmation.

Let’s face it, following God isn’t easy, and it is hard to know where to go, what to do, and whether you are walking with God or lost in the wilderness. So I get discouraged sometimes – a lot of times – and I’ve learned to let God know that. My prayer is something like this, “God, this is tough. I don’t know if what I’m doing is working, whether it’s worth it, or whether you are even there right now. Can you let me know?” And when I ask I get an answer, God comes through bigger than I expect. I start getting emails and phone calls from people – unsolicited, things start working out, people appear out of nowhere to take on leadership roles or fill gaps that are driving me crazy. It’s like God has everything going just fine, and cracks it open wide enough for me to see how what I’m up to fits into it – more than enough to keep me going. It’s not a hint, not a suggestion that could be easily dismissed as chance or selective perception, its the dump truck of affirmation.

Plop. “There it is,” God says, “you asked. Try and deny it.”

I know, this all sounds kind of weird to me too. But it happens. Every time. Sometimes the affirmation is not of what I’m doing but the new direction that I should be heading. Coming from God though, it isn’t like a reprimand, but like an inviting open door showing me what I want more than what I have. I guess God doesn’t just tell us – or at least me – what I should or shouldn’t do, and God doesn’t just melt the problems away, God does seem to care enough about me to want me to know I’m not alone and that what I’m doing is worthwhile and not just an invention of my own imagination.

Try it. Be honest with God about your discouragement. I can make no guarantees about how it will work out for you, but that dump truck of affirmation keeps backing up for me and dropping another load. So… I guess I’ll go back to work tomorrow and finish that message and try to connect with a few more lives this week.

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“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.”

Who needs God?

starnurseryI totally missed it at Jacob’s Well today.  We are just finishing up a series called “Extreme Makeover: World Edition” and I was trying to chase down the parts of life where God has prepared us to be the big movers in the remaking of the cosmos. The last thing I talked about was the fact that we need to have God-sized goals. No one ever failed God, or life, by having too big of goals. God thinks big. Very big. Building a galactic nursery for stars is thinking big.

I wanted to leave everyone with a question that would help us keep our goals like God would like them. And I had it figured out my question a week ago, but for some reason when sent my copy to the people who print out our Sunday Paper (that’s what we call our worship program) I forgot and gave them a different and less potent question. I caught it too late, but I was going to straighten it out when I preached… Nope, missed again.

So here it is. It’s a question I wrestle with often, but never often enough. I hope you spend some time with it and take it’s implications seriously. It is one of the most important questions of our existence.

It is simply this:

“Can you accomplish your goals without God’s help?”

Baby Jesus with a full set of teeth

dangersignOn Sunday, Dec. 14, at Jacob’s Well I was exploring what it meant that the magi (or kings or wisemen) – a bunch of outsiders – knew that “the king of the Jews” had been born, but no one inside knew it.  [Read Matthew 2] Interesting… in fact Herod not only didn’t know, but when he caught wind of the possibility he used that information to try to stop it.

I commented that, at its worst, the church does the same thing. The institutional church is humanity’s plot to acknowledge God, because it can’t do otherwise, but to de-claw and render God harmless. It doesn’t want God upsetting what it has going.

Then I shared that it is the hope of Jacob’s Well, and the need for every person who is part of it, to make sure that God is allowed to be dangerous. To let the pregnancy of God’s advent turn our world upsidedown and never leave things the same.

The infant Jesus is a beautiful and gentle sign, but it is important to remember that he had a full set of teeth. He meant and still means business. We want to be the kind of church that lets God be dangerous.

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.

Jacob’s Well in Sioux Falls

I’m in Sioux Falls today (Thursday, 10.23) and tomorrow at a “Churches Planting Churches” conference. I’m speaking about Jacob’s Well as a congregation that was launched by another church two years ago (Bethlehem Lutheran Church) and as a church that is launching a new church. We are planning our establishment of a second site in 2009). But while I’m sharing some of our learnings I am mostly just trying to learn everything I can. Keep me and all these people thinking brave thoughts about birthing new churches in many and various ways. Thanks!

From the Wilderness

Insula Lake campsite

Insula Lake campsite

I’ve taken my half year sabbatical from this blog and it is time to resume it. I love writing in it and the side of myself and my ministry it feeds, but I had to hunker down for a while to get things in order. As small a part of my life these entries represented, they were one thing I could set aside. So I did. It is time to pick it up again.

Last night I returned from the wilderness. Literal more than figurative. My wife, Kris, my two teens still at home and I drove up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on Monday and set our canoes in at Lake One east of Ely on Tuesday morning, heading for Insula Lake. It is late fall up there. All the leaves are down except for some golden birch. Temperatures were in the low 30’s at night and low 50’s daytime. It was not a luxurious experience, but it was the transition from fall to winter for one of the places on this planet I love the most – and it is good to be part of it. We all sensed that and it didn’t need to be spoken. We all knew that this wasn’t going to be a ‘fun’ trip, but expected it to be a ‘good’ trip. That means you are there for what the Boundary Waters really are, not what you want them to be. It was a good trip.

It was quiet in the northwoods. We usually saw no other people until the entry lakes as we exited on the weekend. Wildlife has mostly migrated too. Days were short, and when there was no wind, the silence could make your ears ring. It is a season of nature that must happen, but one we typically pass over preferring the more comfortable.

When we sat still, listened and watched we were rewarded. A Ruffed Grouse on a drumming log only meters from our campsite entertaining our ears with low frequencies we felt instead of heard. The bellowing of a herd of moose not far away. Granite formations hidden by summer’s high waters showing their faces and grabbing at the underside of our canoes. Lichens and rose hips and matchsticks of brilliant white birch alight with a golden flame of leaves. Bald Eagles soaring above the waters for a last few weeks before they freeze over. Campfires. Quiet.

I have to say I was proud of my teenagers who wanted to head to the Boundary Waters this time of year. Their maturity of spirit in relishing the bittersweet six days we had speaks well of them. They realized that there are not only things one must experience to have the things one prefers, but that if one has the stomach for it, one can be nourished by them. I spent time thinking about the seasons of our own lives. We avoid and try to pass over the painful and less comfortable times. I understand that and do the same. But while we travel those less climate experiences we can sit back, relax, look around, take in and be enriched by what is happening to us. It is all good.