Category Archives: worship

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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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.

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.”

Leap of Faith

Jacob’s Well started a second service on its 1st anniversary.  That was Sept.2007, and the service is at 6 on Sunday evening.  All our study pointed at this as the time to do it.  It’s great, but poorly attended.  We didn’t launch it right, we pushed it, but only in the context of what we are already did that has tons of momentum.  Now it is time to relaunch it.

Since we don’t have unused money, resources, time or people to do the launch, there was only one option.  Use who we have already to launch it.  This not only gives us a several hundred person launch team, it reminds us why we are here in the first place – to be about what God is up to. That keeps us on target and helps us keep out of reach of the grasp of institutionalism.

So we are suspending our popular 10:30 am service for the 4 weeks before Easter to be about one, and only one thing as a community for those weeks.  Getting a couple 100 new people to Jacob’s Well for whom the 6 pm service will be normative.

I don’t know of any church who has ever done this, but I think it is a noble experiment that has to at least teach us to never do it again.  We will accompany the switch with a heavy dose of advertising in the area and a major push on getting out into the community to meet people, as well as encouraging everyone to invite others during this month.

That’s the short intro to it all.  See the COUNTDOWN on our website (upper right).  It is ticking down the moments  until we start the second venue on Feb. 24 at 6 p.m.

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.