Category Archives: worship

Jesus’ Work

Real & Ideal Work @ Jacob's Well MinneapolisThe Jacob’s Well Minneapolis community has been talking about the ‘healthy real & ideal’ in order to keep the ‘unhealthy’ versions of them at bay. We talked about Real & Ideal Work yesterday (4/13/2014). Here are a few thoughts from it. It starts with a parable that was written by someone from our community especially for this day.

The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who looks in the mirror in the morning, touches up her hair, smiles and says, “Today I will make the world a better place” as she heads off to work. She does that every day.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday as the regular church calendar goes. That was the day Jesus entered Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, it was going to be the last week of his life. It was the week when he observed the Passover Meal with his disciples, was arrested that night, hung on a cross to die the next day, and then Sunday, Easter, is the day we celebrate his resurrection.

You know how I see what was going on with Jesus in all this? All of this was his work. When he entered into Jerusalem on that day we now call Palm Sunday everyone saw him as the superstar, he knew better. He wasn’t seduced with stardom, he knew it was an unhealthy idealization of the work he had to do. He wasn’t afraid of it either; he didn’t fall victim to despair by looking at the reality of his work in an unhealthy way. He knew what he was doing mattered. He had chosen to do it. I get this sense that Jesus was extraordinarily clear about what his work was – it was to love. To love us. You, me, everyone. Why? Purely because he did and he couldn’t turn it off. It didn’t matter if it was hard or it was easy, it didn’t matter if he liked doing it all the time or didn’t. It was the work that he had chosen and so like that woman who looked in the mirror each morning, touched up her hair and went forth ready to make the world a better place, Jesus was going to love us because he felt from the bottom of his heart that he was doing the right thing for the right reason.

Maybe that first Good Friday, when Jesus was killed, was really just another day at the office for him. He was just doing what he knew he was supposed to do. It wasn’t a matter of being hard to do, or easy. It wasn’t a matter of liking it or not. It was a matter of doing the work he knew he had been called to. And so he stretched out his arms and loved us with everything he had… just like he had always done.

What is your work? Choose it. Transform it if you must, but do it and live into it. Turn it into the power of God at work in the world, and in you. Remember, you GET to do this!

 

 

What if… a Muslim spoke at Jacob’s Well the week bin Laden was killed?

May 2011 worship series - Jacob's Well | Minneapolis

This is a little too amazing to believe, but a Muslim is scheduled to speak at Jacob’s Well the week after bin Laden died and this opportunity has great potential for healing.

Jacob’s Well began a new worship series on May 1 that we call “What if…?” We think “What if…?” is the way God looks at the world and our lives. We have a God of possibilities and creativity, and likewise God has made us to be “What if…?” people. During these five weeks we are trying out some big what if’s, including, “What if religion united us instead of divided us?” And to do it we brought in a local Muslim leader, Abdisalam Adam, who spoke to the gathering at our Longfellow location last Sunday (May 1) and will be doing the same at our Field location this Sunday (May 8).

The purpose is to get a deeper understanding of another faith tradition and let that help us respect and learn from each other. Osama bin Laden’s death, and all the controversy surrounding that (see my last two blog postings, “Ought I rejoice…” & “Moral High Ground: Doing the right thing…), has opened a window for learning. What is Islam? Who are the people who follow it? Did bin Laden represent them? Even though Muslims no longer live half way around the world, but right in our own backyards, we see them as strangers rather than neighbors. What if we actually saw them as neighbors?

Here’s  a chance to make a little progress in that direction. Join us at Jacob’s Well Field this Sunday, 10:30, or watch for the audio or video of the service later through our website, www.jacobs-well.net.

[By the way, if you come to our Longfellow location you will hear Carla Barnhill, ABC-News runner up for their national advice guru, an amazing South Minneapolis citizen and thinker, co-present on “What if… love really did win?”]

Finding a church that meets my needs

Shopping Cart or part of the Body of Christ?For those looking for a church, or trying to decide if they are part of the right one or not, this is the question. “Does this church meet my needs.” It’s the right question, we just don’t understand what it means. We move into church life looking for music and a style of worship we like, programs that are about what we want them to be, good stuff for our kids (if we have them), a theology we agree with, people we would want to hang out with, and probably one that fits in our schedules.

Let me go on the record and say that I understand this. I’m not against this attitude. It is natural. It is the ‘looking for something’ part of people that gives a church the chance to say, “Let us help you with what you are looking for.” But it is also something that a church has to help people redefine sooner or later or we are all in trouble, unhappy and unsatisfied.

We should always be looking for a church that meets our needs, what we have to understand as we grow in spiritual maturity is that our needs need to change from things that fill us up, to things that we can do. It is the job of a church to help people see and begin to experience that they need their church because in and through it they can exercise their gifts. Our need is to be a functioning part of the Body of Christ, not a shopping cart. That we don’t get what we want (a theology and worship style I like), but what we need. That is, where faith is challenged, where we’re led to a deeper understanding of God’s role in our life and our role in the community and the world.

At Jacob’s Well when we tell people they can come as they are, we don’t just mean in jeans and t-shirts. We don’t just mean with your recovery, financial, relational, personal and whatever-al other issues. We mean as a consumer. Bring it. We’ll let it encounter God and see if that isn’t one more thing from which God will free you.

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.”]

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?

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.

Was that really Communion?

communion - saltines and grape juiceOn Sunday (November 30, 2008) Jacob’s Well gathered at the Urban Hub of Urban Ventures, one of our strategic partners in serving the community. If you were there you may have been surprised by how we shared Communion. Some people were actually offended by it. That was the point…It was supposed to be! Let me explain. If you weren’t there our service was called “See hope. See hope run.” It was about putting action into our faith so that it makes a difference in the lives of others and brings hope. We focused particularly on homelessness. Communion happened with no fanfare and little explanation. It was unremarkable to say the least. Saltines were passed down the aisles and paper cups of grape juice. The body and blood of Jesus Christ, given for us.

Here is what I tried to convey at the time and I’ll try to capture again here.

Question number one: Is it still the body and blood of Christ when it is just a saltine and grape juice? When we don’t have special music and the mood isn’t set to be reflective? Is it still the presence of Jesus when all we know is that Jesus’ promise to be with us always is in the ‘bread and wine’?

My answer number one: I think so. The ritual we or any church might typically follow has purpose and meaning, but rituals don’t make Jesus “really be there.” There is no incantation, no magic, no right way to do it. Just God’s promise, “When you seek me in this simple meal… I’m there.”

Question number two: How do most of the world’s people experience the love of God? Is it in nice houses, great meals, vacations and excesses from which to choose? Or is God’s love there for people despite the apparent poverty of their experience?

My answer number two: If God is truly faithful to all people, then God is doing it in ways that those of us in our western world of material wealth would find uncomfortable, and hard to perceive. God’s love – if it comes at all – comes without bells and whistles, without excess and attention to detail, without any expectation of ‘enough.’ God’s love just is, despite the circumstances.

The point wasn’t to offend or shock, but to throw us back on two very important realizations.

That God’s love is there in real and tangible ways even when we have a hard time seeing it. We need to learn that for our own good because there will be many times when our lives are going to need to seek out hope when we’ve lost sight of it.

The other is that just as we would like communion to be more of a celebration and closer to the banquet that God has in mind, so the way God’s love is experienced in the world should be more tangibly celebratory. We shouldn’t settle for billions of our sisters and brothers knowing God loves them despite their circumstances. We should be restless for them to know God loves them because of their circumstances – justice, opportunity, health, security. And that means that we who have the means need to get off one part of our anatomy and be the active arms and legs, the vibrant hearts and mind of Christ in the world. And until that day, maybe we should always celebrate God’s holy meal with mere saltines and paper cups of grape juice so that it might provoke us to the purpose of sharing God’s love.

Hmmm… we’re coming up on Christmas… How did Jesus show up? Was it, perhaps, sort of a saltine and grape juice arrival?

The Irresistible Revolution – 3

Is Jacob’s Well very, very new? Or very, very old?

The Irrestible Revolution

A common theme in Claiborne’s book is the echoes of the past that he feels in what he is doing.  He compares his ‘reformation’ (my word, not his) to that of St Francis of Assisi (p.65) and others – even Jesus!  I don’t think he is wrong.  But what he is doing is so future too.  He is very ‘disestablishment’ and trying to make the church speak to a new generation rather than the past.

I ask the same question about Jacob’s Well.  Yeah, we are very modern.  We use current music, video, a lot of high tech stuff (we had our trailer “stolen” once so we had to put a service on without all our ‘toys’ and we found it went just fine.  Although I think we all agree the toys add a lot.)  But I also feel like we are really, really old.  No, we aren’t part of the emergent church movement doing the ‘ancient future’ thing (google it if you don’t know what ancient future is), but we are doing the original thing.  We are taking our passion for what God is up to, and connecting it to our lives using the language and stuff of our age.

Isn’t that what the 1st century church did? This is really old stuff.