Category Archives: Uncategorized

I am in the 47%. Do you know me? – An open letter.

ImageAs a pastor I need to be everybody’s pastor and I value the fact that there are many who don’t agree with me on issues but still feel our church is their home and that I can be their spiritual mentor. So I help people have conversations, provoke them to think selflessly about tough issues, and I don’t advocate political positions. I work hard at helping people feel free to figure out for themselves what their faith means in rubber meets the road places like the polling booth. So, this post isn’t meant to be political in the sense of telling people how to vote, but Mitt Romney has made me personally very angry and I cannot help but speak out.

My wife and I were among the 47% for many years. We were ‘middle class’ but had more deductions than income. We paid lots of taxes, including the 15.3% self-employment tax, but no or very little income tax. All that time…

  • we secured our own healthcare, 
  • repaid college loans for ourselves and eventually for our children,
  • paid our own food bills, 
  • started a business (a church) that employed up to 8 other people and impacted the lives of 100’s of others, 
  • volunteered at schools, neighborhood parks and other organizations, 
  • gave fairly large amounts of money to charities we thought made a difference.

We never even remotely considered ourselves victims or waited for a handout, in fact we always thought we were privileged to have what we did and tried not to take it for granted. We realized that we are the beneficiaries of generations who worked hard to provide us with a world in which we could have secure, meaningful lives that realized dreams. We have always felt obliged to use our resources and influence to make that kind of world available for others too. To re-invest, so to speak, not accumulate.

As part of the 47% I never voted for a candidate who would create a government to take care of me, but a government that we could team up with in making the world we experienced available for everyone.

This 47% is full of people who are living to make the United States a great nation. I am angered that my middle class contribution to this country is looked down on as being dependent on government to come take care of us. We are helping build this country in powerful ways.

That is who we are as part of the 47%. 

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Dreams come true!

You might think this is crazy, but I’ve fantasized about this for years and yesterday it happened! I’m in the office and the phone rings and there is a woman on the other end. [If you’re thinking this is a sexual fantasy… get your mind out of the gutter! 🙂 ] She tells me she lives close to our church and is only working part-time but can’t get enough hours. She is really short of money for rent, feeding her kids, paying bills, etc. some friend of hers told her Jacob’s Well was a church that could help her work out her finances.

Okay, so here’s the deal. We need help with our finances at Jacob’s Well! We are running a deficit every month in this recession are getting within a hair’s breadth of having to cut back on staff or something (don’t worry staff… you won’t find out about lay offs in my blog – I promise!).  So I tell her that and inform her right away that we don’t have money to hand out. However, we do take managing our money really seriously and do a lot of work with people in establishing budgets and dealing with debt. I was ready to hear the ‘click’ on the other end as she hung up. But no, she cuts me off and says she isn’t looking for money. She was calling in hopes of finding help so she could learn how to better live on the money she has. Wow… I just sat there. Finally I came to and told her I could have someone call her who could help and she was  thrilled.

Why is this so cool? One, somehow the word is out that we believe our money is a spiritual issue and that we really want to help people manage their money so it isn’t managing them and getting between them and God. And that person shared that message with another person. I’ve worked in churches a long time. I have dealt with more people who walked in the door or called on the phone  looking for financial help than I can count, but I have NEVER had this happen before.

Two, if that wasn’t enough… I was already on the phone and had to put that person on hold to take this woman’s call. The person I put on hold was the person who runs our budgeting and debt workshops. I talk to him maybe once every 2 months on the phone. Within 5 minutes I had them connected.

Okay God… maybe it is worth working this hard. I guess I can doubt myself once in a while, but maybe I don’t have to doubt you so often. You are making things happen. Thanks for the glimpse. I need it!

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.

When you just couldn’t make it happen

I got an email from a friend who told me about a project that she had been working on. She was a little disappointed. She and others had high hopes, but it wasn’t panning out so great. To quote her,

“I’m doing my best, but it’s a big job … and I wasn’t as successful as I had hoped. Not for lack of trying … or dedication. It’s just a lot.”

I know her. She’s great, talented, hardworking. I believe her. I don’t think she should be so disappointed, though. We tend to think about the things we do as isolated successes or failures while most of the time they are neither. They are parts of a journey of which we know neither the true beginning nor ending. We see a little way ahead and behind us and understand our world and lives from it. God looks and works a long, long, long way further before, beyond and within what we experience.

I suppose it is impossible for us to turn off our instinct to size up and evaluate, but in truth we ought to restrain ourselves so we can be open to the journey too vast and cosmic for us to measure. We need to trust that what we do, fail to do, mess up, excel at – all of it – is something God can and will use. This is where confidence comes from: not from our ability to ‘get it done,’ but from God’s determination to make the really important stuff happen anyway.

Most of us aren’t here yet!

We believe this with all our hearts. It’s got two sides to it.

One – “Jacob’s Well is mostly made up of people who aren’t here…” Jacob’s Well isn’t for or about ‘us.’ It is about and for the people God has called, the people God has in mind when God said, “Let there be Jacob’s Well.”

Two – “Yet!” We expect them to come, or better yet, we expect to go to them. It is one thing for us to know we are incomplete, it is another to believe that God is at work to fulfill us and for us to live and act in that expectation.

What is so amazing about this is how this is coming to life within the community as we prepare to launch our second site. The night before the first preview service the Board and spouses met for a social dinner together (it is a whole other story about how we could possibly afford to do that the night before our first preview!) and while we were talking about the journey that has been Jacob’s Well our chair noted how close we had all become and how much we had done together that we loved and were proud of. And (this is the clincher) that if it were not for Jacob’s Well no one in that room would have known anyone else (spouses excepted…)

The next morning, about 45 minutes before the first service was to begin at Longfellow, we gathered for last minute details and prayer. Our Site Leader who has only been around for about six months made a similar comment. He noted that most of us haven’t known each other very long but we were all here because of God’s work in Jacob’s Well. He asked us to think forward six months when this circle would be vastly expanded with people we by then knew, loved and had shared significant experiences with, but right now we don’t even know exist. And just imagine what we will accomplish, be and reach with them as the next layer of who we are.

God’s vision for Jacob’s Well may have started in my mind and heart, but it is contagious and owned by so many other people now. That giving away and ownership by others is the fulfillment of a vision. That is why I get up each morning to help Jacob’s Well remain faithful to it. And it tells me to start listening for the next stage of that vision.

Launching a ‘not very good church’ on purpose

Cover of mailer for Jacob's Well Longfellow preview

Is this anyway to attract people to our church? We think so. Obviously not if you were trying to get people who already think church is just fine. But why would we do that? They are probably going to church already. What about all those people (a majority today?) who think there is something basically wrong with ‘church’?

From the very beginning Jacob’s Well was designed to speak to people who have given up or are ready to give up on church, God and faith. It seems ridiculous to try to interest them by claiming what a good example of church we are. The copy on the back of our mailer says, “If your image of church is like most people’s, we’re glad not to be a very good example of it. So instead of being another church, we’ve tried to be a “what if” church. One known for being honest, thinking, relevant and casual so people can be themselves – you know, their real selves.”

We believe that life needs God at its center and Jesus in its heart, but we also believe that for that to happen people need churches that are authentic to who they are. People want their church to be in their own  neighborhood so it resonates with, pulls together and speaks to people with whom they already share community.  That’s why we’re in the process of starting Jacob’s Well Longfellow just 4 miles from Jacob’s Well Field in this densely populated urban neighborhood of south Minneapolis.

We had our first monthly  “preview” service on Sunday at Anne Sullivan School on Sunday (Jan. 24, 2010) and had a great time. The school and district have been great partners and the building is wonderful. Most of all, the team of people, many brand new to the Jacob’s Well community, have been incredible. A little over 100 people attended, nearly half of them new to Jacob’s Well. A great start. But it is just a start. We want to add value to the Longfellow neighborhood and be part of the struggles and joys of the community and individuals. We don’t just want to expand, we want to fulfill what God has in mind for us. And we need to let them know we are here. As I’ve said a thousand times, “It doesn’t do any good to start a church if no one knows about it.”

Starting another church is a lot of work. Being an authentic presence is a much bigger task, but that is what it is all about.

[Want to know more about why we would do this? Read “Most of us aren’t here yet.”]

Prayers appreciated (sympathy is ok too)

Ankle MRI

Okay, I’m old.  I tore my Achilles tendon playing basketball yesterday.  Not total detachment, but worth an MRI for further investigation.  Keep me in your prayers, not to mention my family and the rest of the Jacob’s Well staff who are inevitably inconvenienced by my lack of mobility.

Hopefully I’ll be back running and out on the court in a couple months.