Sunday2Serve: The Church has Left the Building!

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 11.08.07 AM.pngWhen the church bells ring on Sunday morning, July 31, you’ll find several local church sanctuaries empty. But this doesn’t mean they won’t be worshiping. “Most Sundays we worship God with words and music,” says Pastor Meg Newswanger of First Presbyterian in Maple Plain. “On July 31 we will worship God with our hands and feet, by serving others in Christ’s name.” Several area churches are joining together in a new inter church initiative called Sunday 2 Serve organized by the Westonka Ministerial Association, a monthly gathering of pastors from Westonka area churches and beyond. Perhaps you have seen the blue signs blanketing the town.

In place of regular worship services, churches are going out to serve people and needs in the community. Projects include things like making sandwiches for the homeless, raking leaves and cleaning houses of elderly and shut-ins, picking up trash along the roads, visiting people at a nursing home, painting fire hydrants, school improvement projects, assembling care kits for cancer patients, and more. In the words of Pastor Dave Abernathy of Mound Evangelical Free Church, “Churches exist not only to celebrate and communicate the gospel Jesus Christ, but also to demonstrate that gospel.”

The idea for Sunday 2 Serve came about when two churches discovered they were already doing this on their own, and the impact could be multiplied by inviting other churches into the fun. One of those churches was MainStreet Covenant Church led by Pastor Jeremy Berg, the current president of the Westonka Ministerial Association. “As our church name implies, MainStreet was started 5 years ago with the mission of bringing hope beyond the church walls and into the streets of our city,” says Pastor Berg. “To this end we have devoted a Sunday morning for serving our neighbors each year we’ve been in existence.”

The other church is Freshwater Community with campuses in St. Boni and Waconia. Freshwater mobilized their larger congregation to go out and serve last summer with remarkable impact. Over 600 people participated in 19 different projects in four different communities. “The experience blessed both those being served and those going out to serve,” Pastor Van Tassel remarks. “Its amazing to see how much can be accomplished in only a couple hours on a Sunday morning when we all come together as Christians.”

So far 8 churches are participating in Sunday 2 Serve this July including St. John’s Lutheran, Bethel United Methodist, MainStreet Covenant, St. Martin’s Episcopal, First Presbyterian, Freshwater Community, and Mound Evangelical Free. Mount Olive Lutheran is hosting an “after party” for participants to stop by between 11AM-1PM to enjoy food & refreshments, fellowship & testimonies, and family friendly musical entertainment by the Teddy Bear Band. One project is bringing generations together. MainStreet Covenant is partnering with Lake Minnetonka Shores (Presbyterian Homes) to enable young children to serve alongside the elderly in making sandwiches for the homeless at Lake Minnetonka Shores.

The people and organizations who have been touched by these efforts are eager to share their appreciation. One outreach MainStreet does is to the Meals on Wheels clients who often have disabilities and therefore needs around the house — especially spring cleaning and yard work. After having her house cleaned, one woman was holding back tears as she said, “Because of my disability, my husband has to do everything — buy groceries, cook, laundry, work a full time job — and the house just never gets cleaned. And I have to sit in the mess everyday all day, and can’t do anything about it. You have no idea how much this cleaning help means to me!”

Sojourn Adult Day Center has been another beneficiary of this outreach as crews of volunteers have come over to help clean their center in Mound the past couple years. Kari Johnson, Program Director at Sojourn, remarks, “By serving in this way, churches are saying “We see you! We’re glad you’re in our community! You matter to us so much that we want to give our time to bless your life! That is so powerful!”

A couple springs ago Christine Zachow, principal at Grandview Middle School, expressed her appreciation for a crew who helped clean up the school grounds: “I just drove by Grandview on my way home from a choir concert and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The flower beds look amazing! Thanks to your efforts, we can actually see and enjoy the sprouts that tell us summer is right around the corner. On behalf of our staff, students and myself, please pass along my thanks to your wonderful volunteers!”

In a world where the news cycle constantly highlights our differences and how they divide us, the organizers of Sunday 2 Serve hope to provide a beautiful display of unity as churches of different traditions come together around a shared mission to love and serve their neighbors. “St. John’s is excited to connect with other churches in the community as we address needs in our area,” says Pastor Jeff Heiderscheit.  “I am encouraged to see the one, universal, Christian church standing shoulder-to-shoulder in our community.” Pastor Berg hopes that “everywhere people look that Sunday morning they’ll see people in matching light blue shirts making a difference all over our communities.”

Everyone is welcome to participate in Sunday 2 Serve. If you would like to participate (and your church was not able to participate this year), you are welcome to contact any of the participating churches above to get involved).

Continue reading Sunday2Serve: The Church has Left the Building!

Scholar or Magi?

A friend passed this reflection on the Magi along to me. I’m not sure who wrote it but it’s a good challenge. -JB

I can see you there, you scholar, you teacher of the law, with your important position in Herod’s court. Busy, busy, busy with the work of the day.

The court stirs…a contingent of Magi from a far off land are welcomed in. They come with a question: where is the new born king, whose rising star trumpeted his arrival? You are summoned. Do you know the answer from your studies of the Holy Scriptures? This is your moment. You have studied. You know the answer. Micah 5:2: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times.” Bethlehem. A few miles away.
The Magi are appreciative. Perhaps even impressed. Herod is troubled. He allows no competition. You wonder how this will impact your career, your work in the court.
Did it ever cross your mind to leave the confines of the court and travel with the Magi those few miles to Bethlehem? Did it occur to you that if God was calling people from far away to a Messiah born on your doorstep, that there was an invitation to you as well?
I will never know if those thoughts ran through your mind. But I will learn from your example.
To be busy with things that the world sees as important can put a person in danger of missing the greatest invitation from God.
Slow down. Listen. Where is God’s invitation to you today?

O Eve!

This was passed along to me – a very powerful image to ponder in this season of waiting, expecting, longing and hoping for the Christ who steps into the Darkness of our fractured world. -JB

From Ben Sternke:

The painting below was created by Sister Grace Remington of Our Sister of the Mississippi Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa. Try taking 5 minutes (seriously, set a timer), and just take the painting in.

43d1b172-8e77-463a-82cc-17ab8b9cd6b9

O Eve!

My mother, my daughter, life-giving Eve,
Do not be ashamed, do not grieve.
The former things have passed away,
Our God has brought us to a New Day.
See, I am with Child,
Through whom all will be reconciled.
O Eve! My sister, my friend,
We will rejoice together
Forever
Life without end.

Makes me cry every time! We need this, don’t we? We need to learn to wait in hope, looking to Christ to save us from ourselves, and also to guide our feet into the path of peace.

I’ll leave you with the ending of a Eucharistic prayer we prayed every week in our first church plant:

Come and make of your gathered people
the real presence of Christ for the world,
living our prayer and praying our life
till earth and heaven are reconciled,
and all are free as Christ is free.

Bore the Hell out of ’em this Christmas

Martin Luff, the Deliberate Disciple (a great blog I recommend!), pointed out this great article by David Fitch about finding space in our busy lives to meet with God.  This is especially timely for this season of Advent:

Recently, I was meeting in the corner booth (of the local McDonald’s) with the men in my triad (spiritual formation group) and we were talking about our Sunday morning gathering. I said “one of the best things our gathering can do for people is bore the hell out of em.” Sorry if this seems counter intuitive but I nonetheless believe it is true – literally true. Let me explain……

It is stunning to me how many many people I encounter in a month who cannot even acquire even a modicum of mind space cleared of societal clutter to meet God.  We live in a society where God is being organized out of our life experience (and this is most certainly true of our young people). If we don’t have the means to discipline our lives from societal noise, real living with God, listening and responding to his voice is lost from our horizon. God becomes an item to believe, an obligation to take care alongside the many others. And then, and I am dead serious here, other demons take over our lives. Our loneliness/our emptiness becomes filled by multivarious forms of fake pornogaphic substitutes. Demons take over. I see it everywhere.

In the midst of this, sometimes the best place (the only place) I can point people to is the gathering on Sunday morning. Continue reading Bore the Hell out of ’em this Christmas

Two Blind Disciples

We’ve all heard the song “Three Blind Mice,” but I hear the tune of “Two Blind Disciples” more often these days.  Max Lucado sets the scene:

“Were the scene not so common it would be comical. Two heavy-hearted disciples slouching their way home to Emma’s. By the slump in their shoulders, you’d never know today was Resurrection Sunday. By the looks on their faces, you’d think Jesus was still in the tomb. “We were hoping that he would free Israel,” they lament (Luke 24:21).

As if he hasn’t! How could you be so close to Christ and miss the point? Jesus has just redeemed the world and they are complaining about Rome? Jesus came to deal with sin and death — and they want him to deal with Caesar and soldiers? Jesus came to set us free from hell — and they want to be set free from taxes?”

-Max Lucado, The Great House of God

You ever find yourselves in the disciples shoes? The Risen Christ is standing next to us — no, in us!  — and we’re still worried about so many lesser things…

I relive this scene almost everyday.

Let’s ask God to open our eyes today to see our world anew through Resurrection lenses.

Brennan Manning & Scandalous Grace

I’ve recently rediscovered the powerful grace-centered ministry of the late Brennan Manning who passed away a couple years ago. What a life, what a story, what a message he brought to so many people in need of an accurate image of the true God revealed in Jesus, and to the many in need of an accurate image of themselves as the object of God’s ferocious love.

The internet has brought into our homes so much useless, trivial, and crude content for sure. But I was reminded this week how fortunate we are to have at our finger tips access to so many great messages by some of God’s greatest prophets and preachers from the past century. I have spent many hours the past couple weeks feasting on the tear-jerking, gut-wrenching, hope-giving, image-healing messages of Brennan Manning.

I was privileged to go hear Brennan speak in person once or twice in high school and college. He is part of the tapestry of my faith formation and he sowed seeds in me as a young man that are bearing fruit in the kind of grace-filled church of ragamuffins I now get to lead at MainStreet. I had a blast sharing a video of one of his messages this past Sunday in place of my sermon…because once I heard his message on the topic I was preparing…how could I deprive my flock from the opportunity to hear from this gentle giant? (I’m tempted to show an encore this Sunday. Why not?)

His books Abba’s Child and Ragamuffin Gospel are classics now, but I believe Brennan’s gift of communication flows through his story telling and passionate preaching.

I’ve decided to spend the next 2 or 3 Lifegroup gatherings watching and discussing some of these videos. I encourage you to check them out too this week. You’ll be blessed. But a warning: Grab some tissue before you begin watching. I broke down in tears at least twice each message.)


Just “Good Enough”? (by Daniel Henderson)

This post by Pastor Daniel Henderson struck a chord with me this week. I read it a couple days after confessing to my congregation a deep desire to lead them into the kind of discipleship that would lead to “abiding in Him”, connected to the vine, and really producing fruit. It seems like the main struggle for many Christians is not running away from God and into all manner of sin and rebellion, but rather resigning ourselves to a kind of faith that just scratches the surface of things but really never delivers on Jesus’ promise to give us “life to the full” (John 10:10).  Read below and let’s not settle for cheap, old wine! -JB

I remember hearing many years ago that “to be satisfied with yourself is a sure sign that your forward progress is about to stop.”  We all need a sense of holy dissatisfaction about our current status, our influence for Christ, and our potential in serving His mission.
In Luke 5:37-39, Jesus addresses the Pharisees who questioned why Jesus did not conform to the man-made religious standards of the day.  He responded, “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine will burst the wineskins and be spilled, and the wineskins will be ruined.  But new wine must be put into new wineskins, and both are preserved.  And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, ‘The old is better.'” I like the translation of the New American Standard here: “The old is good enough ” (v. 39).
Stuck in “Good Enough”
It is so easy to get stuck in the “good enough” rut.  When we simply go along with the way things have always been, accepting what others have always said, and doing what we have always done, we’ve likely lost our true forward progress.  It is time to take a fresh look at the radical life of Jesus, the extreme needs of the world around us, and the potential of the Spirit within us and pray for a deliverance from the “good enough” mentality.
The work of the Gospel is the new wine Jesus speaks of.  The word of the Gospel is living, active, dynamic, and relevant to every generation.  Yet, the old wineskins of mindless routines and long-standing traditions can inhibit and waste the work of the new wine.
Why We Settle for “Good Enough”
We all tend to be creatures of habit.  We can also be plagued by fear, laziness, and selfishness to the degree that we are not open to the new adventure of His calling on our lives, whether it is the daily call to live fully for Him or a new chapter that He is opening before us.  It is easy to cling to the familiar, comfortable, and functional rather than surrender to the Spirit’s prompting to embrace the biblical, the effective, and the best choices of an adventuring and influential faith.
Paul wrote to his disciple Timothy, who had settled into a “good enough” mentality, no longer driven by the fire of a clear calling and the sufficiency of the spiritual gifts God had placed in him.  Paul told his son in the faith, “Stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:6-7).  Literally, Paul commands Timothy to “fan into flame” the smoldering coals of his spiritual passion and to reject the fear that was keeping him in the gray twilight of “good enough.”  Like Timothy, we must affirm the power of God that is able to energize us for unprecedented, supernatural impact.  We must surrender to His love that compels us to get past ourselves and give our lives away to others in sustained, sacrificial service.  We must submit to the sound mind (or discipline) of the Holy Spirit to keep us clear-headed and resolute to finish our race with perseverance and passion.
Moving Beyond “Good Enough”
When I see the things Jesus did to prepare His very inadequate disciples to become the catalysts for world transformation, I think of five words: Look, Pray, Receive, Go, and Finish.  These ideas can move us beyond  a “good enough” lifestyle.
  • Look – The disciples, like so many of us, tended to go through the routines of their day without seeing the kingdom opportunities available to them.  For example, in John 4 they were busy taking care of lunch and fixating on superficial issues while Jesus reached into the heart of a Samaritan woman at a well, then called her entire village to encounter His truth.  In this moment He turned to His disciples with the challenge, “Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:35-36).  When we fail to see the needs around us with spiritual eyes and kingdom vision, we are happy with a “good enough” lifestyle.
  • Pray – In Matthew 9:36-38 Jesus saw the crowds like sheep without a shepherd – scattered and weary.  From His heart of compassion, He challenged His disciples to pray that the Lord of the harvest would send forth laborers into the harvest.  This is similar to the 10 days His followers spent in an upper room before the Day of Pentecost, praying prior to the great spiritual harvest.  Prayer is a key to preparing our hearts and aligning our wills to His in order to step through the open doors of opportunity.
  • Receive – Before Jesus sent His disciples out on short-term assignments, or to launch the church in Acts 2, He gave them His power to move out of their comfort zones into the battle zones of high-impact ministry. Today, He calls us to abide in Him (John 15:4-8) to receive the sufficiency of His life in us so that He may accomplish His work through us.
  • Go – When “good enough” no longer attracts our hearts, we must then go into uncharted territory to share the Good News of His life and message.  Back in Matthew 9 & 10 we see Jesus sending the disciples out, after they prayed and received His provision.  His final commission compels us to keep going into all the world (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:18-20), which is a calling we must obey every day, right where we are.
  • Finish – Jesus calls us to the “uttermost parts of the earth,” signifying the magnitude and scope of our calling.  As long as you are breathing, your mission is not complete.  “Good enough” isn’t.  As Paul said, “But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
New Day, New Wine, New Wineskins
Every day of our lives, we must reject the “good enough” attitude.  With each new day, we enjoy the new wine of His presence and purpose.  We must willingly adopt new wineskins to deliver the Good News to the world around us.  As we look, pray, receive, go, and finish we will live a life to His glory and someday receive the reward He has prepared for those who keep pressing on as long as they have breath.

Continue reading Just “Good Enough”? (by Daniel Henderson)

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