Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Greetings!

(from the Pastor's wife, Janet)

Just wanted to greet you all before New Years and thank you once again for your wonderful support these past months. Your prayers have been a warm blanket of love, and sharing through these electronic updates has been a joy and a comfort to me. Connecting with many of you through the "written word" has been such a blessing! The computer has it's limitations, but the blessing of communicating with all of you on a regular basis, makes up for many of its downfalls...

Both the pastors' lunch and the New Day open house the week before Christmas went very well! And the prep for those really moved along some of the house projects which was exhausting and satisfying. Basement living area, curtains, and the slate floor smoothed and sealed were the biggies. The list is finally dwindling away - YEAH!

There were about 20 of our potential New Day community and 6 other helpers who joined us that Sunday in spite of the awful snow the day before and the bitter cold! The best part was introducing 3 families to each other - each with 2 kids, babies 3-4 months old and toddlers age 2-3. It was so great to watch them interact and connect. We had met with one of the couples this fall about baptizing their baby, and after Sunday it looks like one of our preview worship services in the spring may include not 1, but 3-4 baptisms!!! (We laughed when we discovered that the baby girls are Cameryn and Kameryn born 16 days apart!) The comment that touched my heart was how few people they know in Big Lake and how nice it was to meet other families. That reinforced our belief that the need for fellowship and Christian community is great in these young families in this area. Motivating and challenging at the same time!

May the hope that comes from celebrating our Lord's birth bring you peace and joy this Christmas and through the new year...

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Emptiness of God

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas ... our freshly-cut balsam is up; the greens have been strategically hung above the cupboards; the snowman cookie jar has come out from hiding; but something is missing ... We found the straw, the manger frames, and even the star (which we hang with clear fish line from the ceiling), but where is the rest of it?! Where are the ceramic nativity figures: Mary, Joseph, the shepherd with his sheep, the kings, the camel? Everything else made the move with us over the summer; how could the plain white box (slightly bigger than a large pizza) nestling the precious holy family not be with the rest of our junk? We’ve gone through every square inch of our house about ten times, called everyone who helped store/transport pieces of our lives last summer, and even dreamed about it in our sleep, but to no avail. Help! We’ve lost Baby Jesus!

My outer world is often a reflection of my inner world. These days, my soul feels remotely satisfied with my Advent preparations, but it is also fighting off the stress of this world, this season, and this job. Doubts, inadequacies, and frustrations creep a little wider into my soul, like the ever expanding hours of darkness of Minnesota Decembers. And even though I am exercising more (thanks to my wife and our new membership at Anytime Fitness), my spiritual exercises have temporarily gone into sleep mode. Where is the light of the world for my spiritual winter? Help! I think I’ve lost Jesus!

In his book, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives, Wayne Muller reflects on my condition in this way: So when we see Jesus withdraw from the press of the crowds and retreat to a place of rest, he is not simply taking a well-deserved break from his useful but exhausting ministry. He is honoring a deep spiritual need for a time dedicated not to accomplishment and growth, but to quiescence and rest. His disciples cannot comprehend his leaving – there are still lepers to heal, blind that need to see, and the hungry to be fed. When Jesus slips away, they run about in search of him -- doesn’t he realize there is much good work to be done?
Soon enough, Jesus rests in death. Like a seed planted in fertile ground, he must die to bear fruit... And so Jesus dies, and lies dormant for three days. Without this dormancy, the resurrection of new life would be impossible.
If God raised Jesus in three days, surely he could have been raised in two, or one, or even been made invincible. So why sentence him to death for three days? Because everything, even the anointed of God, must rest, even in death.
Unless the grain falls into the earth and dies, there will be no harvest. These three days are necessary dormancy of a Sabbath, an emptiness in which Jesus may be reborn, and take on a new form. All form is either arising or falling away. And between falling away and arising again, there is an inevitable dormancy, the
ein sof, the emptiness of God. (pgs. 58-59)

And so, I give you no reports on accomplishments of late, nor visions of events to anticipate. Instead, today’s blog gives us permission to be empty of God and spiritually distant from Jesus for a time. For who knows? Perhaps all of this is part of God’s spiritual rhythm, part of the preparation of Advent itself. May a necessary dormancy take hold of your life so that in the emptiness, Baby Jesus may be reborn, and what for a time was lost can again be found.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Church Building

This week I had breakfast with a clergy friend in the next town. Over basted eggs, sausage links, potatoes and English muffin, I shared a longing for something more (and not just more coffee). After months of community events and meeting lots and lots of people casually, I am longing for more spiritual depth and connection. I’m missing those conversations that go deeper into people’s thoughts, feelings, and lives. I miss journeying with others through significant times and issues of faith. Church planting has certainly been challenging and rewarding and significant, but there is something missing for me in not regularly leading classes on spiritual living, or preaching on eternal concepts from God each week, or being able to share soul-deep prayers back and forth with others. It’s not that I’m tired of meeting, greeting, and serving; I’m just hungry to go deeper with these new friends.

At our last meeting, my coach helped Janet and I to realize that everything we do in these preparatory months need not be about gathering together large crowds at safe points of first contacts. Four or five of these might be sufficient in the first year. These then need to be offset with small group times: times to build friendships and community; times to share stories, beliefs, and values; times to journey together, encounter Christ, and grow in faith. This is a refreshing thought for me at this point.

Here is another point of refreshment ...

Last night we received some good news. The lease on the space in which we have been hoping to set up shop was approved by the conference Board of Trustees! After eight months of searching and discerning, six versions of build-out drawings, twelve pages of legal dissections, and hundreds of prayers from people like you, the nod was given to move ahead. The contractor predicts readiness for occupancy to be in March. Now we can truly begin to put visions-for-ministry into actions-for-ministry.

And yet, I remind myself that the church is not a building, it is the people. Although a space to call our own will make ministry easier and more effective in some ways, Christ and people are the essential building materials. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he writes, “God is building a home. He’s using us all – irrespective of how we got here – in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day – a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home (Ephesians 2:20-22 MSG).”

Therefore, even though I am excited to be building structures without, I am hungrier to build souls within. I feel we are about to move into another phase of this church-planting adventure. Please revise your prayers and keep them coming!

Monday, November 3, 2008


(Reflections from the Pastor's wife, Janet)

Happy November and Daylight Savings!
As the saying goes, I have good news and bad news, but Jim and I decided yesterday that even the bad news could have been so much worse! So, here's the story...

First, the candy bar hand out at Coborns last weekend went very well, although it was a bit exhausting! As it turned out, Saturday was a BEAUTIFUL fall day which was perfect for standing outside and greeting people as they came to shop. However, the manager thought the weather also kept the usual number of customers low. So after about 5 hours, we still had a couple of baskets of candy bars left, but were tired and losing a bit of the enthusiasm needed to continue. So, we quit for the day.

As those of you in MN know, Sunday dawned cold and SNOWY! Not so nice for standing outside! The Coborns manager graciously let us stand just inside the doorway to greet people and we managed to get all the candy bars into people's hands in a couple more hours Sunday afternoon. The response we got from the people we actually talked to was very positive and the candy bar was a great means of getting the word out. It was also really fun to "treat" people - it felt like handing just a little bit of God's grace to some! I spent the majority of the time in front of the entrance near the gas pumps and it was very interesting how many people (especially the men) started to give a donation. It took me completely by surprise the first time! They were often shocked to hear that the candy bar wrapper was an invitation and the candy itself, a gift - no strings attached!

So, the week flew by, and by Thursday night most everything was prepared and ready, except the number of volunteers. Many of the "maybe's" had turned into "no's" and even many of the "yes's" were delayed and couldn't arrive for the set up time. There were enough, however, to make the event happen and we just trusted that things would work out.

Halloween arrived, warm and sunny, and we packed up our two vehicles to the brim and with a prayer and a few deep breaths, off we went! Well, (here's the first bad news!) we arrived at the school by about 3:15 and by 3:25 our main adult volunteer (Jacob, manager at Caribou Coffee, who had been helping with a lot of the prep and ideas and was so excited about this event), sliced open his finger while hauling in the popcorn maker. UGH! The poor guy! I saw it happen and was trying to tell Jim that "We have blood, there's blood!" without getting too hysterical and (being Halloween) he thought I was talking about an unwanted prop or something!! Anyway, the photographer volunteer arrived at just that moment, so she took him to the hospital and (see, it could have been worse ☺) he did make it back later in the evening after 4 stitches and a tetanus shot!

The set up, however, was suddenly a bit more stressful than planned - with just the two of us and 3 youth! However, 39 hay bales got hauled in and set up, blow-up pumpkins and straw scarecrows and welcome arch and lights and fog machines all were displayed, candy and other treats were prepared for trick-or-treaters, photographer, games and Charlie Brown video were set up in the center room, hot cider, apple juice, coffee and popcorn were all ready to be served and, although it wasn't perfect, by 5:00 we had people waiting at the door and so, with another prayer and no time for a breath - it began!!

We were still missing a couple of volunteers, and Paula, the lady from Community Ed who was our link to renting the space in the school, graciously pitched in and manned the popcorn machine. Paula is what I call tangible grace as (here's the next bad news!) by 5:20, between the popcorn machine and the fog machines, we had set off the fire alarm! YIKES! And it was this moment that Jim was standing in his underwear in the men's room trying to change into his costume! Good grief! Fortunately, (see, it could have been worse - imagine sprinklers and WET hay, firemen and sirens, naked pastor running the halls, etc.! - and here's the grace) Paula immediately called the fire department and the custodians called Honeywell Security to let everyone know that it was a false alarm and within just a few minutes, without any major fuss, everyone was back inside and we continued on - fog and popcorn moved outside!! (Thank goodness for the nice weather!) And thank goodness for Paula's presence!

By 7:30, by counting the pieces of candy in my basket, we figure we had seen about 120 kids and nearly all had parents along - over 200 people total. We were blessed by the presence of at least 15 spirit-filled volunteers at various points throughout the event whose energy, enthusiasm, joy and laughter filled the space with God's love. And we also received several candy donations from various sources which allowed us to be very generous with treats. I would venture to say that nearly all who attended had fun, felt the warmth of God's love (whether they identified it or not) through some aspect of the event and left with a little more info (and positive impression) about New Day UMC. Whew!

The struggle, once again, comes in comparing our visions and expectations to harsh reality. And sometimes even our two (Jim's and my) expectations don't coincide! Trusting God that the harsh reality is exactly what was needed at the time, regardless of our individual expectations, can get tough when we are faced daily with so much "unknown". It will be helpful to gather a community of more "committed" people (hopefully in December) to get a sense that we are "succeeding" in truly impacting lives and to get some meaningful feedback on our attempts to reach out. It's a slow process which we know in our heads; our hearts just need a little encouragement! We do believe, Lord, help our unbelief...

The other thing that keeps surprising us is that many of the people we are meeting have few expectations, since most of what we're doing is totally new to them. (Seems like "old hat" to us!) Many have not experienced the blessings of vibrant, alive, meaningful, loving faith and fellowship, so even the little bit we are trying to provide seems to make a bit of an impact for those whose hearts are open and who are seeking deeper meaning in their life journey. That's what truly gives me hope - and I pray that God will lead those open hearts to intersect our path, that His love can be shared and His kingdom come...

And so, as these events take place, I find that I can't think too hard about what's happening at the moment - only go with the flow relying on God's love through me to encounter all that transpires. And laugh A LOT - thank goodness for a sense of humor and God's grace to use it!

May you find the humor and the blessings on your journey,

Janet :->

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Halloween Fun for Families

New Day UMC is hosting another event for the Big Lake community.
Because Halloween can be uncomfortable for many families, we thought, “Why not offer an indoor Halloween trick-or-treat path, where games and candy can be provided in a safe, warm environment?!” So, here you go ...

Bring your little princesses, cowboys, ninjas, and ghosts (found this photo online and just couldn't resist!) over to Independence Elementary School (enter through Door J by Community Ed.) any time after 5:00 pm on Halloween night, and we’ll have a completely non-scary Trick or Treat Path all laid out for them. You get to relax with a cup of Caribou coffee or hot cider while your little ones run down the hall from station to station, gathering candy, stickers, and other treats. A photographer’s corner will be set up to capture all their cuteness (bring your own camera or we’ll send you a free copy); a face-painting booth will be available to add a little Halloween extra to their costume; and a game room will offer some simple challenges that can be completed in (almost!) any costume.

We’ll also have more info about our new method, along with a little write-up on the background of this rather weird holiday tradition (did you know that Halloween actually has its origins in the church?!).
Please come on by and invite your friends to join you. We’ll be outside Coborns this Saturday (10/25) inviting people ourselves with Hershey candy bars for the parents; here's a look at the special promo we wrapped around each one!
Finally, anyone who'd like to get in on the fun of helping out should give us call or send us a comment at the end of this post; we'll be awarding prizes to OUR VOLUNTEERS for best costume, best treats, and best decorations.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

We Stand at the Door and Knock

The invitations continued to go out ... come join us for a free neighborhood lunch ... just down the block from your house ... food and games, along with some optional Family Stations for you and your kids. Although the results were not as dramatic the last two weeks as they were the first two weeks, we felt good personally inviting people over and offering these Picnics in the Park as a service to the Big Lake community. All told, we served around 120 dads, moms, and children and sent them home with countless more smiles. Sometimes, however, it’s the volunteers who receive the greater blessings; here is one such story of transformation...

This lady was coming all the way from Chanhassen on the final Saturday. Reluctantly, she says, she dragged herself out of bed that morning; some physical “discomforting ailments” delayed her by 45 minutes, but she shook off the urges to make excuses and stay home. Joyful determination slowly overtook her as she met and invited person after person with the love of Christ. One gruff, older gentleman might have scared others away, but not her (he did end up coming to lunch AND he invited another neighbor to join him as well!). Absolute enthusiasm radiated from her when she left for home at the end of the event, and reports are that her sharing at church the next morning was inspired!

Janet and I felt very blessed by her and all of the support we received in order to pull it all off. 57 volunteers stepped forward over the four weekends (several repeats but many new faces each time); 9 other United Methodist churches contributed in some way to the happenings; 3 businesses provided free or discounted items; and $555 was donated to help offset a portion of the expenses! Without a doubt, we would not have been able to do any of this without the wide-spread support of so many who care about reaching out to those who are presently inactive in a faith community. Without a doubt, we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the love of Christ to surround, strengthen, and propel each of us forward with enthusiasm.

I hope you will continue to pray for the people of this area. Pray for those who came forth and shared lunch with us; may these first steps lead to even greater steps of faith discovery. Pray also for all of those people who received the invitation but did not come; may they at least know that there are people out there who are thinking about them and care for their well-being. Finally, pray for those who refused to even answer the doors upon which we were knocking for Christ; may their skepticism, fear, or whatever held them back be overcome so they might experience the abundant life of Christ which is available for all. The Bible reflects on each of these groups when it says:

“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” Matthew 6:22-23 The Message
Our eyes are now open to the future to which God is calling us. In the next couple of months, we look forward with wonder to the things Christ will do through our small group gatherings, our Indoor Trick or Treat Path on Halloween night, and our holiday outreach events. Actually, we are still looking for a creative activity or two for the holidays, so if you have any great community-building activities that revolve around helping others in need, please let us know (just hit the word “Comments” at the end of this posting). In return, we pray that the power, peace, and wonder of Christ are blessing you these days as well.

(PS: I will be leading worship at Blessed Cross UMC in Zimmerman on Oct. 19 if any are interested in attending)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Experimenters Discover Unpredictability

For two Saturdays now, we have been out at the neighborhood parks, inviting people to join us for a mini-adventure in thankfulness and a free picnic lunch. The hot dogs were a-roasting, the floats were a-fizzing, and the kids were a-laughing! Those who came seem to thoroughly enjoy meeting their neighbors and playing as a family of God. The theme was Power Lab, but all has not been an experience of predictability, more like an experiment in faithfulness! Let me explain...

We were ready to rumba the first week, with beautiful blue skies and a thoroughly prepared program. But nobody came. And nobody came. And still nobody came! For the first hour, we fought off discouragement with prayer and playfulness, and then took on-the-spot action. Out to the houses, pairs of us went to personally knock on doors and invite the neighbors to lunch. An hour later, people started venturing over for food, family, and fun. Believe it or not, 50-60 people eventually came by (with 80% or more of them there only because of our invitations); like our Christian story itself, defeat was transformed to victory!

This experiment in outreach taught us a few things: 1) you have to invite (with face-to-face contact) not just attract (with signs and decorations); 2) you have to be flexible (willing to change on the spot) and adaptable (responding to what the people are doing or not doing); and 3) every volunteer’s positive spirit is essential (even one whiner would have drained us this day!).

On the second Saturday, we came with a better strategy: do away with the formalized program, set up optional Family Stations, and double the number of inviting teams. Again we were prepared, the team was positively spirited-filled, and decorations were toned down to be less intimidating (who knew lab coats could be scary?!). This time, 45 new families were given personal invitations to lunch, but again, predictability was not to be. Drizzle in the morning gave way to steady rains by lunchtime. Faithful volunteers warmly greeted the 12 who came, and made the best of a soggy situation. Lessons learned this week: 1) you can only control your actions and attitude, not the outcomes or the weather; 2) water-based artwork doesn’t like even a little rain; and 3) count success by people touched, not hot dogs served!

There are still two weekends to go ~ we can’t wait to see what powerful lessons in thankfulness God will teach us next. See you at the park (then again, that isn’t predictable is it? Better to say, “You’ll see us at the park this Saturday; come on over!”)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Power Lab is Coming Your Way!

Thanks for checking out our Power Lab details. Till the website for our new faith community is developed, we’ll keep you updated here. Please note, this blog has been intended to keep our supporters updated on our new church start progress, and so other posts may give you a flavor of what our journey has been like, and my style as a pastor-type, but they weren’t really written with you, the general audience, in mind. Enough of the disclaimers; here’s what our mini-Power Labs have to offer your family:

Our goal with these one-day events is to let you check us out safely and comfortably as a possible new faith community for your family. A lot of you have little kids, children in K-6 grades. If you haven’t been active or connected at all to a church in the past, we understand how uncomfortable it can be to get started. At the same time, young families often need help instilling healthy morals, a sense of faith, and life-giving attitudes (like thankfulness) in their children. We are here to help. These Saturday mornings are just for you!

No need to commit to anything but one session.
No need to go further than the neighborhood park near you.
No need to know anything about God, Jesus, or church-stuff in order to participate.
No need to be afraid – we’re not into guilt, judgment, or shame.
Come as you are, wherever your family is on your faith journeys together and we’ll help you to take a simple step forward together, and hopefully have a great time doing it.

The topic of the day will be THANKFULNESS. We do the exact same program all four weekends, so you can choose whatever weekend works best for your family. Here’s how the morning is laid out:

9:00 am Registration and Refreshments
9:20 am Sonic Sing and Play
(fun songs, skit, & introductions)
9:45 am Breakout Stations
(Station 1 Wacky Works Crafts – Station 2 Bible Blast)
10:15 am Test Tube Treats
(snack, thankfulness challenges, parents’ time to learn more)
10:35 am Breakout Stations
(Station 3 HyperSpeed Bubble Games – Station 4 Science Experiment & sharing)
11:15 am Fusion Finale
(more songs, wrap up talks, Great Geyser experiment, and more)
11:45 am Neighborhood Lunch
(a freebee for everyone as long as the hot dogs & floats last!)

The morning is really designed for families to do together. If the adults are working, no problem, but try to hook up your son or daughter with another family for the day. Got little, little ones in the mix? Might be better to plan for a childcare swap with one of your friends, but we will be doing our best to also offer a pre-schoolers program if we can. If we can’t, bring ‘em along and they can go around to the stations with you.

Registration forms can be obtained in advance or filled in on the day of the event. Cost is $10 per child, which primarily covers costs of everything they get to take home. There will be free Caribou Coffee for the adults each morning, and other things for you to take home too! And don’t forget to invite your neighbors to the free picnic lunch after each event.

All of this is coming to you from New Day United Methodist Church, a new church to the Big Lake area. However, United Methodism is not new; we are actually the third largest denomination across the United States. To learn more about us, check out our links on the left hand side of this blog. New Day has not started worship services yet – look for those in 6-12 months; till then, look for us to be listening, responding, and creating something new for you!

Future Plans:
If 15 or more families indicate they’d like more events like these, we’ll start pulling together possible follow-up sessions focusing on helping others, being brave, living forever, and more.

Watch for more ways to try us out throughout the year. We’re going to be calling it The Good Life Series, and basically, these are going to be short-term courses to help address other needs in your lives:
Good Cents (practical help on money matters)
Good Heavens (spirituality and faith basics)
Good Grief (disaster, death and dying concerns)
Good Sex (dating, relationships, and love for both singles and married couples)
Good Times (community building events for good Christian fun)
Good Neighbor (hands on projects of Christian service for everyone)
And more!

Obviously, we hope your kids will come away feeling happy, more thankful, knowing more about the power which Jesus gives, and wanting more. We hope you’ll come away with a positive family experience, a sense of comfort with us, and a curiosity about growing more in your spirituality. For registration forms or more information on anything, feel free to call Pastor Jim Beard at 763-300-9626, or contact us at anewmethod@izoom.net.

We look forward to the fun together with you and your family at Power Lab!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Stressful Times

Something new has entered into the hearts of us these past four weeks – stress! After sharing this with my coach, he calmly replied, “Good! That is exactly what church planting should feel like at this point; if it didn’t, we might think you were doing something wrong!” Well, that’s good ...... I guess ......

At this point, we have not only had all of the issues with moving to contend with, but all of the issues of “going live” (so to speak) for the first time in the community. For those following our progress, you may recall our plans to help young families with some parenting support by offering a mini-VBS experience on developing thankfulness in children. It was originally to take place on August 23rd; rather than put “all our eggs in one basket” and limit families to one option, we decided to adjust the plan by going smaller, more local, and on more dates. We are now offering the same event in four of the neighborhood parks, one on each of the four Saturdays in September. Rather than hoping for 40 people all at once, we’re now preparing to serve 1-2 dozen children at a time, thus giving each family more personal attention and care.

The stress comes with making it all happen, of course! How will we decorate? What needs to be on the door hangers? Do we need insurance? Photo permission clauses? How do we keep the Caribou Coffee hot and fresh? Who has a parachute? Gosh, we probably need a United Methodist banner so we don’t look like some suspicious-looking cult; now how are we going to display that? Help, we need a trailer to move this stuff around; anybody have one? Anybody? Families are probably going to want to check us out by going to our website; but that isn’t ready yet. Can we throw a simple one together? Yes, but we have to decide on an official church name in order to take the first step (and the winner is: New Day United Methodist Church!). Still not enough time to put something in place. What can we do immediately instead? (By the way, tomorrow’s blog is dedicated to them and the details of these Power Lab events)

OK, you get the idea. And that’s just one of many areas demanding attention these days. What we took for granted in the past can not be counted on in the present. Even little things like electricity, or a pool of caring volunteers, are now luxuries. I guess we are the first ones who are learning God’s lessons on THE POWER OF THANKFULNESS. Everything is indeed a gift in our lives. Every person has something to offer which can bless us. Every action we take is aimed at blessing someone else with the Spirit of Christ, and even if we can only take half the actions we dream about, we can at least be thankful to be able to take the actions which we can.

The Bible reminds me to do this, if only I’d pay more attention to it: “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matthew 6:30-34 The Message

So maybe I should stop stressing and start praising more. Thank you, almighty Lord, for whatever we have for this event, and all we can do right now to share your blessings with others; help us to be leaders of the thankfulness that is due to you!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

It's Really Happening

For over a year now, we have been thinking about, planning for, praying over, and preparing to move to Big Lake to launch this new ministry with the people of the area. All those words, however, (thinking, planning, praying, preparing) are not quite the same as it really happening. Now granted, they are vital, necessary, and active in themselves, but there is a distinct difference when things are really happening. For us right now, things are really happening!
Tomorrow morning, the moving van arrives with all of our stuff to move us into our new home in Big Lake! Tomorrow morning, what has been thought about, planned for, prayed over, and prepared to do will really be done ... we will be living in Big Lake. We are excited! We are thankful! We are tired! We are there (well almost)!

Starting a new church has some of those same dynamics – for over a year we have been actively thinking, planning, praying, and preparing (all vital and good); and this too will eventually give over to “it’s really happening!” We are not quite there yet either, but getting closer! Even the almost-but-not-quite steps of really-happening ministry are exciting right now.
For example, our first two community events have been taking shape over the last two weeks: a mini-VBS is scheduled for Saturday, August 23rd from 9-noon, and a Good Cents money management course will be tested out starting the following week. Actually purchasing over $750 in VBS supplies might have something to do with making it feel more real; actually recruiting Launch Team members and giving them specific jobs to accomplish to pull these events off might be another part of it; actually telling people “this is what we are doing” versus “here’s what we are strategizing, what do you think?” is another. I know, I know ... but when the real thing is only a month away, it feels more like it’s really happening than ever before! Cool!

The Older Testament prophet, Jeremiah, bought a piece of land from his uncle long before he actually occupied it. War, deportation, and strife would take place before it would really happen, but Jeremiah had believed and had faith in God who proclaimed, “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” (Jer. 29:10-12 NIV)

I now know the feeling Jeremiah had seventy years later, the night before he walked onto the land which God had promised him. “Wow! It’s really happening! Faith in God pays off! Though I’m not surprised, I am so pleased.”

P.S. We’d love it if you’d leave us a house-warming blessing; just click on the word “comments” below and drop us a quick thought from your heart!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Who Am I by Casting Crowns


Got this YouTube video clip from a friend and thought it was great! Can imagine doing something creative like this in the worship services at our new church. What do you think?

(By the way, can anyone tell me how to add this YouTube directly to this blog, instead of just the link? I have tried several things but this is the best I can do right now. Thanks!)

Bring the Holy to Their Doorsteps

Thank you all for your prayers for a smooth closing on our current home last week ~ all indeed went rather smoothly (but it was a ton of work!!). For you pastor-types out there, here’s something you might copy (as we did).

Remember the great old Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart? Well, just as George Bailey did when the Martinez Family moved into their new home, we gave the buyers of our new home a one-minute blessing before they crossed the threshold for their final inspection. A loaf of bread was presented to represent the bread of life and prayers that they never go hungry, and a blooming plant was gifted to represent the happiness we prayed would take root and grow here for them over the years. The ritual was witnessed by the couple, the couples’ parents, their realtor, and a few of the new neighbors (who we intentionally invited over to welcome them to the neighborhood). I think my wife and their realtor were the most choked up by it all, but the family certainly seemed to appreciate it as well. Perhaps, by bringing simple spiritual rituals to the unchurched in every day affairs, we can spark an awareness of the holy which has been missing. Regardless of their reactions, we seek to bless them with unconditional prayers of blessing and support.

So, we are now homeless for two weeks. A closing date has finally been set on our new home and church-planting is literally working out of a box on the floor right now! Our old email address is no more; our new email address is not yet, and our current email address is ... let’s just say, inconvenient! The same can be said of almost everything else we have taken for granted over the years. Two days ago my soul was feeling strangled by the inefficiency of it all, frustrated by moving at the speed of tar on a July driveway. But angels came and fixed things up, including my impatient spirit.

Preaching each week at neighboring United Methodist churches has been richly relational; connecting with fellow church planting colleagues at our bi-monthly Great Challenge Leadership Academy was wonderfully strengthening; and organizing our first community event for the end of August has been solidifying (nothing like something practical to move one from the abstract to the concrete!).

Small steps continue to move us forward. The support of family, friends, and colleagues continue to strengthen us. The love of the Lord continues to compel us. We wish the same for you.

I'm not trying to get my way in the world's way. I'm trying to get your way, your Word's way. I'm staying on your trail; I'm putting one foot in front of the other. I'm not giving up. I call to you, God, because I'm sure of an answer. Psalm 17:4-6 MSG

Thursday, July 3, 2008

So, What's New?

We have been going through a busy couple of weeks recently. Church-planting has been focusing on two areas these days: 1) volunteering in the community, and 2) strategic planning.

Volunteering was intense over the weekend; SpudFest was Thursday thru Sunday. I think I put in approximately 37 hours on those four days alone: setting up, checking IDs, grilling hamburgers & hot dogs, hauling tables, cleaning up, and a lot more. I loved getting to know the people on the Board better, meeting their families, and being out there with the crowds of people. At first I was uncomfortable not knowing what to do or how to help out, but by the end, things were better. As I told the people at Cross Winds UMC (where I was preaching on Sunday morning), we in the church must be the ones to bear the burden of being uncomfortable; we do this by going out to the unchurched, instead of expecting the unchurched to come to us and consequently feeling uncomfortable in our space. It was a weekend of practicing what I preach! Here are some pictures with others from the Spud Fest Board.

Strategically, we have been working on just what is new in this “New Method for a New Day.” Two distinctive qualities for today’s busy families have surfaced:

The Good Life! – Courses, activities, and programs designed specifically for those not connected to a church community. These courses will offer practical instruction / support with a Christian edge. They will most likely be held off-site, and in public spaces whenever possible. Courses which may be offered include:
Good Sense (money and budgeting)
Good Sex (sexuality, dating, and relationships)
Good Grief (disaster, death & dying)
Good Night Moon (family dynamics & communications)
Good Job (career exploration)
Good for You (healthy lifestyles)
Good Heavens (basic spirituality)
Other Good Life! events:
Good Times (friends and family activities)
Good Neighbor (community support projects)

E-Life! – a personal, flexible, intentional program for the spiritual stuff of life. A guiding method will provide the framework upon which participants fill in the details their way; comes with 4 levels for upgrading one’s spiritual life, starting with discovering the spiritual side of real life issues, all the way up to “High Risk: High Reward” Christian living. It is especially designed for young adults and young families who want it all on their time.

In church lingo, the first is all about needs-based evangelism, while the second places a strong emphasis on methodical spiritual development for adults. Of course, we will strive to offer worship, children’s programs, youth ministries, and all the rest with excellence, but evangelism and adult faith formation will have a distinctively new and strong focus in this setting.
Stay tuned for more on these and other experiments with new methods for a new day. And feel free to add to the idea pool with your own ideas, reflections, and ruminations. What do you think church needs to do to be relevant for today’s 25-45 year olds?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What Does a Church Planter Do?

It is now the 18th week of this church planting adventure, and the key activity continues to be ... NETWORKING! But I find that most people don’t initially grasp the magnitude of this activity. Relationships and trust are the foundation upon which this community of faith will grow. Relationships near and not-so-near must be patiently nurtured for things to happen in the future. Let me give you five concrete examples from my pastoral work this last week. Although they are five very different forms of networking, they each have the potential to be significant contacts down the road:

(1) Jacob – the general manager of the local Caribou Coffee. Fantastic young guy! Quite musical (went to college on a full ride music scholarship on trumpet). Embraces the values of excellence and hospitality which Caribou is about. Brainstormed the possibilities of doing several joint events together (Hey! Why not have the best coffee at all our fellowship gatherings or hold Bible Studies at their place?!)

(2) Kelly – Director of Children’s Ministries at Brooklyn UMC. Sharp as they come, and a young dynamo of organization! Showed me all of the magic they have prepared for Vacation Bible School next week. We threw around the idea of sharing the VBS props with the other UM churches along the corridor. (Hey! Why not let every church have more by working together?!)

(3) Jennifer – a 45-minute phone conversation with an unchurched mom of young kids in Big Lake. I called as part of my Spud Fest volunteer-sign-up duties. Ending up hearing all about their exciting out-West vacation plans for 17 days over the 4th; lead into church-talk and an open-ended invitation to call and talk more about church stuff in the future (Hey! In-roads into a family’s spiritual life sometimes begin with volunteering elsewhere and talking about other things!)

(4) Lyle – retired United Methodist pastor serving on the Metro West Builders Association. No one does graciousness or hospitality better. Invited me to join the Builders for lunch and before I even knew what was happening, the entire group and I are talking about land, buildings, ministry dreams, and financing for half an hour (Hey! It may be worth much more than a free lunch down the road!)

(5) Joanie – looking for a job as a Worship / Music Director in a church near Maple Grove. Vivacious, experienced, and genuine. Were able to connect thanks to the MAC Bulletin Board (email version). Now, I am no where near ready to hold formal job interviews, but a shared cup of coffee now allowed each of us to share visions, passions, and faith-views long before deadlines are coming due (Hey! If she is not the right fit, she may know another who is and now she knows all about us!)

What do church planters like me do in the early stages of getting a faith community going? We build relationships which may or may not amount to anything. We go and scatter the seeds of God’s grace along the pathways of life, hoping that some will grow to bear much fruit (Matthew 13:1-9). In a nutshell, we do a lot of networking.

Know anyone you think I should talk to?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Time for Wonder

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
Isaiah 6:3 NIV

Today just feels like good day to sit back and ponder the wonders of God's world. Here are some pictures I took while on a family vacation along the St. Croix River Valley a couple of years back. While camping at Taylor's Falls, we had time to explore God's creation in many ways ...

Hot air ballooning is such a peaceful way to get above it all, and take a bigger look at life from the perspective of angels ...

All of life flows with the life touch of the creator, sparkling and dancing even in the quietest of hillside streams...

Those who walk slowly, with eyes open to wonder, may discover beauty where others see only rocks ...

Sometimes it is only by being quiet and still can we drift to places where majesty lives ...

Even the rocks cry out what the Lord has done for us!

And do you know what the St. Croix River is named for? It is named for the rock formation shown here, a permanent reminder of the love of God through his Son, Jesus.

Take a moment to rediscover the holy for yourself this day. Where do you sense the wonder of God around you today? I'd love to hear what you find ...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Kingdom of What?

I am curious ~ what visions for the world get you absolutely stoked? In this political election year, are there any issues that you just dream our next President will embrace and bring about? What kind of emotions do these potential realities stir in you? Do you believe that this kind of change is even possible in your lifetime?

At the beginning of one of the books of the Bible are the following words: “The time has come,” He said. “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15 NIV

Now, the Gospel of Mark reads quickly and is full of action-based accounts, but even this passage moves a little too quickly for me. We are at the very beginning of Mark, and these are Jesus’ first recorded words. Granted, they are probably only the thesis statement of a much longer speech, however Mark writes it under the assumption perhaps that everyone understands what “the kingdom of God” means. The focus is NOT on the meaning of the phrase, but rather on the timing of it. NOW is the time! TODAY you must repent and believe!

I wonder if people today have a grasp of that phrase “the kingdom of God.” I think the common vision, common hope, common fear, common wonder and understanding of that kingdom has been lost to us modern American Christians. I think the beauty of it, the longing for it, and the anticipated relief of its coming is not a part of the daily life of today’s faithful, let alone today’s unfaithful. Without it, however, does the fact that Jesus proclaims its immanence (its closeness at hand) really matter!?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Because Change Happens

Six months ago I was a regular pastor, in a regular United Methodist Church, with a regular mid-life routine. It kept me busy. I knew what I was doing. I was good at it (most of the time. anyway!). I listened to CDs on my 5-disk changer; I watched Tivo-ed shows at my leisure; I kept my calendar on my Palm; I emailed, voice messaged, and I felt modern. Not any more.

Now, I am anything but a regular pastor. As a new church planter now, I have no church building (though that is everybody's first question), no official members to care for, and a schedule that changes daily. I am still busy, but I'm less and less sure of what I am doing. I now listen to music on an iPod, watch episodes of favorite shows on-line or You Tube, keep my calendar, contacts, tasks, photos, and more on my iTouch, have just learned to communicate via facebook and blogging, and I although I feel even more modern, I hardly feel proficient at anything anymore. All of this in six months or less.

It happens.

How do you handle it? Do you resist it, fight it, deny it, stress over it? Do you try to embrace it, only to discover there are a thousand more questions you didn't know that you didn't know? Can you live with the risk of being the naïve learner, the dependent colleague, or the incompetent beginner again? Are you patient with yourself, and willing to forgive your mistakes? Until things are routine again, are you OK with who you are and where you are right now?

These questions are part of the reason I need God. I need God because change happens, and it is happening faster than ever. I know how God helps me through change, and I'd be happy to share that, but this blog is already too long, so let's just leave you with something to reflect upon: how does your spirituality help you with change? If it doesn't, how in the world are you coping?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Woohoo! Here we go!

Do you remember what it feels like to stretch yourself out beyond your limits, beyond the places you've never dared or were able to go before?

I remember the story of one of our best friends taking her 10 year old son on a bike ride along a converted railroad line. Prior to this ride they always, and I mean always, stopped at the bridge, turned around and went back home. But this day was different. This day Peter was ready to cross the bridge to the pathways that stretched out to places beyond. Having his mom on the bike next to him made things safe and better. For our friend, crossing the bridge and riding the trail beyond was no big deal, an ordinary experience. Imagine her startled reaction upon pedaling across the bridge that day, when quite unexpectedly her son let out a wild "Woohoo!" and punched the air! He had just moved into an entirely new world and could not hold back his cheering!

I feel a lot like that right now. For most (all?) of you, you have been down this path of blogging before. You know your way around the sites and have seen this landscape a thousand times. But for me ... Woohoo! Here we go! This is something totally new for me. What do I say? What do I do next? Is this really something that people potentially around the world could see? What kind of communications will this open up for me? It is thrilling and yet intimidating. Thanks, Michelle, for being there next to me and accompanying me on this blogging ride! When is it time to turn around and head for home again? After posting this first entry, I will have stretched beyond my limits to new personal frontiers. My heart is pounding!

Spiritual journeys often feel the same way. Although I have been down those paths a thousand times, I must remember that another's spiritual ride often stops and always turns around at a certain point and heads home. How about you? Would you like to get your spiritual heart pounding again? Maybe it's time to cross the bridge. There's a lot more world ahead to experience. Maybe it's time to stretch out beyond your self imposed limits. I'd be happy to ride along beside you, if you'd like. And if you feel like letting out a "Woohoo!" of your own along the way, I will understand, for breaking through and discovering a whole new world of God is worth cheering!

So, let the cheering begin! Here we go............