Voting for Jesus

Confession time.

Sometimes a situation arises and my brain kicks into problem-solving mode.

Occasionally that can be positive. I’m learning more and more that when the “something that happens” is a person, seeing them as a problem to solve is a mindset I need to give up.

I wrote about us losing our house last year because our landlord and the bank were in the middle of a feud. While our initial response was to go into crisis mode, we decided to receive the situation as a gift…until it proved otherwise…it never did. And the move has been a positive in so many ways.

Recently I was sharing with a friend a situation that I was quite frustrated by. By the end of the conversation, I’d moved from “What do I need to do to fix this problem (person)?” to “This seems like an opportunity to trust God, and not become bitter.” The situation didn’t change, but my thinking did.

Too often we sign up to follow Jesus and then expect him to keep us from problems. At the very least he should solve said problems when we complain…I mean pray enough.

I was listening to a sermon recently where the speaker said we often look at Jesus the way we look at politicians. “Hey, I voted for you, because you said you’d fix the roads. Well, there are still potholes. If you aren’t going to do your job, maybe I need to vote for someone else.”

If you’ve got a situation where you find yourself wondering why Jesus isn’t fixing it. Perhaps a good next step is asking what he might want you to know to in the midst of it. It’s worth asking at least.

When I find myself in a challenging situation do I imagine Jesus’ main concern is that I get my way, or that I become more Christlike?

(the photo is from a recent trip to Co. Donegal)

Posted by bob in Formation, 0 comments

5 Costly Mistakes of Judging Those Who Suffer

Who is to blame?

thewilsonsindublin.com-2Who sinned, this man or his parents?
You may remember the story. Jesus and his disciples are walking along and see a man who was blind. In fact he had been blind from birth. So they ask Jesus “Whose fault is it that this person is blind?” “Did his parents do something that caused him to be born without sight, or did he, somehow, do something that brought this about?”

Jesus reply was “neither.” Rather it happened so that God can be glorified.

I’ve been thinking about this passage a lot in light of the hero’s journey, which I wrote about yesterday.

I think those of us in the church have messed up views of people who suffer. I’m not saying we don’t help, because I think historically, while the church has had a much publicised dark side, it also has a great history of helping those who suffer. And I believe still a lot of churches and people in them help when they see a need that touches them.

The messed up view that I believe we have is how we view the person suffering. And I’m thinking, not of the person in some far away place, I’m thinking of the people we know personally who are in the midst of a chapter 2.

Our default is to do what the disciples did with the blind man.

“Wow, look what that person is going through. I wonder what they did?”
“Look at what their kids are doing. I wonder what kind of parents they are.”
“That isn’t working out like they planned. I wonder if God is really in it.”
“Oh, they have Type 1 diabetes. I guess they ate too much sugar.”

We are part of a faith whose centre is a suffering Messiah. We are part of a church with an early leader who wrote, that he wanted to know Christ and share in his sufferings.

I mean we have a chapter in our scriptures that we refer to as “Heroes of the Faith,” complete with stories of men and women who went through horrible suffering…and many of them didn’t even get out of chapter 2.

We know this, yet we continue to fall into the trap of blaming and judging the one suffering.

Miroslav Volf tells the story of being on a train with a man who had two misbehaving children (I think it is in the book Free of Charge, but someone can correct me if I’m wrong). He got more and more frustrated with the man and his unwillingness to control his children and finally told him to please mind his children. The man apologised and explained that they’d just come from the hospital where the boy’s mother had just died and he was in a daze and trying to figure out what to do next.

On the surface, it was easy to look at this person, and make judgements about him and his lack of parenting skills. But, once you know his story, we shift from “What’s wrong with him?” to “What’s wrong with me?”

It hurts to be judged by people who don’t know your story. Yet it is a reality that often part of chapter 2, while you go through a time of suffering, like Job, you’ll have a group of ’people ‘friends’ come around who have easy answers to your problems, which are by the way, simply the result of something you must have done.

Unless we have been allowed in to a person’s story…into their chapter 2, our commentary will be far more damaging than helpful.

There are 5 damaging results of our judging people in chapter 2 of their stories.

1. We believe others are not as good as us.

We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. That’s fundamental to what we believe. But, if I look at you and wonder what you must have done to be going through what you are going through, I have made a judgement that your sin is worse than mine. Obviously what I’m doing hasn’t risen to the level of “suffering worthy.” Or perhaps your decision making ability is just bad.

We end up with a sense that we are doing okay, all the while walking around with beam sticking out of our eye.

2. We end up with a punitive view of God.

Think about the apostles’ question. Because basically they asked Jesus, “Why did God strike that man with blindness, when he was just a baby?” When we view suffering as punishment from God, we end up with God more like Zeus firing lightning bolts, than a loving Father who sent his son to take our punishment upon himself.
Believing in a punitive god who just waiting to smite people who sin will without question impact how you relate to God…and not in a good way.

3. We discount and avoid the process of discipleship.

There are various ‘christian-isms’ that drive me insane. For example, “Don’t pray for patience because, God will give it to you.” Usually followed by a couple hearty belly laughs. Because remaining a reactive, impatient hot head is so much better than actually learning patience, because there might be some discomfort involved in the process of becoming patient.
And I get that it’s a joke. It just isn’t funny. It might be funny if the church were full of the most patient, non-reactive people on the planet…but.

Basically, don’t become a disciple because discipleship is hard.
While God doesn’t punish us, he does prune…(take a look at a pair of pruning shears and tell me that sounds like an enjoyable process). But if suffering is something to be avoided at all costs, or ended as quickly as possible, then the process of discipleship is something that is going to be avoided too.

4. We look for escape instead of God.

This ties in a bit with what I just wrote. When we are looking for the quickest way out of suffering, we are not looking for God. When we focus only on, “how do I get out of this,” we are not asking, “God what are you doing in the midst of this? And what are you wanting me to do/learn?” And again, discipleship is frustrated.

 5. We go through our chapter 2 stories in isolation.

Sadly the church is for many an unsafe place to share your chapter 2 stories. We know how people respond to them. We know how we’ve responded. And so regardless of what is going on, when asked, we say we’re doing good and ask for prayer for some vague unspoken request.

It just feels safer. And it shouldn’t be like that.

As many of you know, Liz and I got off a plane in Dublin and walked into a chapter 2 story. And while we experienced a lot of what I’ve written about here, we connected with friends who went through very similar stories…people in Africa, and people here in Dublin. People that we could talk to, get emotional with, pray with, be encouraged by…and hear say “we get what you’re going through-you’re not crazy.”

It was them as well as other friends who took time to hear our story, to listen without judging, who gave us the courage to allow chapter 2 to run its course.

If you allow yourself to enter fully into the story that God is inviting you into, there is going to be a chapter 2…perhaps more than one. There is some reality to the fact that we have to go through chapter 2 on our own, but don’t have to do it in isolation.

A few years ago I heard someone say, we don’t know if a story is a comedy or a tragedy until we read the final chapter. I like that.

This is the second in a series of posts on the Hero’s Journey. I hope you’ll read post 1 and post 3.

Posted by bob in Formation, 0 comments

thinking about sundays

thewilsonsindublin.comI have had a weird relationship with Sunday church services for a while.

Up until the last couple of years in Ithaca, an ever increasing amount of energy, effort and people-hours went into putting on the Sunday morning worship gathering. And we got pretty good at it.

However, as our time there came to an end, and we prepared to move to Dublin, it was clear
that we could not use that same model here. There were a number of reasons, chief among them being:

  • It wasn’t sustainable. The amount of people needed, the amount of hours it required of the staff, and the pressure (internal and external) to keep doing it better was intense and did not feel healthy in any way…and I know I was not finding life in it.
  • It kept us from discipleship. After getting ready for Sunday, there wasn’t the time or the energy to focus on discipleship. (And while we said/thought discipleship was happening in our small groups, it really wasn’t…the popular small group model is usually more about keeping people connected to the church rather than it is about discipleship…In fact you’ll more often hear the phrase “Closing the Back Door” when church leaders talk about small groups, than you will “discipleship”…)
  • And it was creating something that felt less and less like what was supposed to be happening. It was becoming more common for people to critique the worship songs, the style a specific worship band used, the way the speaker spoke, etc.

As we settled here in Ireland, I often spoke about the community of faith we were hoping to start by saying that I didn’t want it to be “Sunday-centric,” but in actual fact I was coming to a point where I had a very difficult time seeing much value in a Sunday morning church service at all.

And as I walked around my community here in Clontarf, and saw people taking part in all kinds of recreational and leisure activities, my aversion to Sundays only grew. “How could that possibly relate to these people?”

I wrote a few weeks ago that I believe a lot of people who recognise that the church need to change to engage culture, have a hard time imagining “church” without all of the current bells and whistles.

And the vast majority of churches are designed to appeal to people who already like “going to church.”  The standard way that churches usually grow in this model is by providing better “services” than the other churches in the community (better worship, better kids’ programming, better youth services, etc.).


Despite all that, I was never ready to dump Sunday. And I knew that while I never wanted to lead an “attractional*” church model again, I’d want anything I lead to be attractive to people rather than repulsive.

(*Attractional is often used to describe the model where the staff and leaders put on quality church services, and people in the church are encouraged to bring their friends. So rather than going out among the community, the idea is that the church waits for the community to come to them. And while it’s not that cut and dried, you get the idea.)

So for the past few years I’ve been wrestling with this, and how it all fits together…and recently I had a bit of a light bulb moment.

I was reading Planting Churches in the 21st Century, [affiliate link] by Stuart Murray. And in a section entitled, “Incarnational Versus Attractional” he wrote this.

“The Christendom era, sometimes blamed for the attractional approach, can be interpreted instead as an attempt to transform an entire society incarnationally without the witness of a distinctive community. The outcome was a weak and compromised church rather than a sanctified culture. In our post-Christendom context, we must not make the same mistake. We need distinctive and countercultural expressions of church more than ever if we are to sustain authentic incarnational mission.”

Basically, the problem wasn’t that the church gathered on a Sunday, the problem was that outside of Sunday, they didn’t live as a community of Jesus followers (disciples). In fact, they didn’t live all that differently from those who didn’t gather as the church.

(Which leads to the question, if they are not living as Jesus followers, then what actually is the nature and purpose of their gathering?)

I’m still working through what all of this means. I still know we can’t go back to the model we were familiar with. I have no desire to put on a Sunday morning performance, or to lead a Sunday-centric type organisation.

But, I’m excited about being part of a community that tries to live out the gospel in every facet of their lives…i think that might actually be pretty attractive.

Posted by bob in church planting, 0 comments

Starting with Church

IMG_2207During our first Forge weekend in January, a statement was made that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about:

We have a hard time stopping starting with church.

Out of context it’s a bit confusing, so let me fill it out a bit.

Last week I wrote about one of the problems with church planting, which is simply the huge amount of baggage the word church comes with.

Despite that, when many of us “church planters” talk about what we’re doing, we start with the church.

We say things like: “We’re starting churches for people who don’t like church,” or “we’re starting Jesus Centred communities of faith.” You get the idea…I’ve used both of them. But the point is, we’re starting with the church.

To which you may be thinking…But if you’re a church planter, of course you start with the church.

But are we? Are we “church” planters?

Think about this…Are we planting churches, or are we planting the gospel? Are we trying to make churches or are we trying to make disciples? Is there a biblical mandate to start churches…or to make disciples?

This is not a chicken or egg type of discussion…and it’s not a matter of semantics. I think what we are focused on doing, actually matters.

When I was being coached as a church planter back in the 90s, I heard over an over again that the first thing you need to do if you want to build a successful church (is that a biblical phrase?) was to do was to gather a crowd of people as quickly as possible. Build momentum…build excitement…Get as many people to your Sunday worship service as you can, then, once you’ve got the crowd, you begin making disciples. It was a big idea when we were planting back in 1999 in New York, and it is still a popular philosophy of planting a church.  (Go and google “launching large church.” I’ll wait.)

Now if you’re a church planter, it feels a lot better when 100 people show up than it does when 10 people show up. But hopefully we didn’t go into this for some weird ego boost. (Trust me, there are easier ways to get that)

Anyways, contrary to all the advice we received about gathering a crowd, we did the opposite. And we did this for a number of reasons:

  • We didn’t want to gather a bunch of “church people” who were only looking for the next cool thing. (Because as you’d imagine, we were quite cool…okay, not really, but you get the idea)

  • We really wanted to have an opportunity to build a certain type of culture into this new community. That was going to mean a lot of time spent with people who were bought into what we were trying to do.

  • And well, as you’ve probably heard, I’m a bit of an introvert…and the idea of walking into cafés, chatting up countless people I didn’t know and inviting them to this new church we were starting…Let’s just say God and I had a number of chats, and while I told him I’ll do anything you ask me to do, if I needed to become an Extrovert in order to plant a church, it probably wasn’t going to happen…I mean he is the one who wired me this way.

And in looking back, I know that that was an important decision for us.

But as I’ve written previously, over time, there were two key decisions we made in our time in Ithaca, which I look back on and wish I could have done them differently (not that I only made two mistakes…trust me…these two just stand out). And in both of them, I chose to gather a crowd instead of protecting our community’s culture.

And even as I was making those decisions, I wondered about the current “crowd gathering” strategy, in light of how Jesus interacted with crowds.

Sure, he ministered to them. He taught them. He healed them. He had compassion on them. But he never dealt with them the way he dealt with the 12. In fact, rather than ever trying to gather crowds, his common reactions to them were to flee from them (for example John 6: 14-15), or make the crowd flee from him (further on in John 6). I can’t think of an instance where he tried to actually gather a crowd. He recognised the crowd was never there for the same reason he was.

Mike Breen has written in many places, “If you make disciples, you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.”

It seems clear, that we should start with discipleship. But we keep starting with the church.

I do think some of that comes because for a long time it made sense to do that. When we are explaining to our friends back home, we often say, we are planting/starting churches…because in general people understand that. It’s just easier.

Maybe we assume that if we say, we are making disciples…that will be too vague. And besides, once you have disciples, you’ll have the church, so technically, we are starting churches.

But by doing this, we encourage people to focus on something that isn’t really the focus:

  • “If you are planting churches, where is the church?”
  • “Okay, great, you’re having conversations…you’re building relationships, and talking to people about the gospel. Talking to people about Jesus. That’s great…but where’s the church you are supposed to be planting?

Starting with the church, even with people who are very much for what we are doing, can cause misunderstanding.

And then, we talk to people in our current context here in Dublin…it makes even less sense. We know the issues many people have with the church, yet more often then not we find ourselves starting with“the church”. As if talking to them about discipleship or Jesus, will some how mark us as just too weird. So instead we talk about the thing that they already don’t like and try to explain it in a way that’ll make it more palatable to them. “No really, this is a different kind of that thing you have no use for. You’ll like this one!”

For so many of us, the paradigm we are used to is:

1) we start a church

2) people come to church

3) people who come to church become disciples.

But I think Breen is right. I don’t think this way makes disciples. This model makes people who go to church…but not necessarily disciples of Jesus.

I was at a talk last autumn and the speaker asked a question that I love. If I could give you 500 people for your church, which would you chose. 500 people who would show up every Sunday, but only 20% were active in serving Jesus in any way. Or, 500 who were actively involved in ministering the kingdom of God in their community, but you could rarely get 100 of them together on a Sunday?

Do we chase the crowd, or do we seek to make disciples?

Posted by bob in church planting, 0 comments

What We Are Dreaming


This was originally published over at DublinChurchPlant.com in 2012. Thought it might be helpful to repost.

As we have spent time over the past 2 years dreaming about this new community and what it will look like, some key themes have risen to the top. This section seeks to outline some of these core ideas:

We will focus on discipleship above church planting.

We believe that when you focus on making disciples, a church will be a natural outflow. However, focusing on building a church does not guarantee that you make disciples. As such, rather than “launching large,” or “drawing a crowd,” we will focus our early efforts on disciple-making, and building that into the very DNA of who we are.

Since we recognise that the language of “planting a church” is something that most understand, and since our desire is to have a church community established in Clontarf, we will continue to use it. At the same time we will be using these core ideas to give a more complete definition to what we are describing.

Our focus from the very start will be to make disciples who will love and serve, Jesus, their community, and each other.

Invite people to join God’s mission rather than attend Sunday morning.
Much of the church growth material focuses on drawing people with your Sunday service.  However, we believe that “What you draw people with, is what you draw people to.”

Rather than drawing people to attend a Sunday service, and then attempt to get them to mission, we are calling people to join Jesus mission in Dublin.

We believe that the gathering of the church on Sundays is important, however, we desire to create a model that views what happens on Sunday to only be a small part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Centred set versus bounded set
We will be thoroughly centred set in our thinking.  We view life holistically, and believe that life is a journey not a destination. Our focus will be on helping people orient their lives toward Jesus (who is the Centre) on a daily basis.

Neighbourhood-based with multiple locations rather than regional
The common model used in planting a church is a to select a central location with the expectation that people with in a given radius will travel in for Sunday service. Depending on the distance of the drive, it often means that many people live too far away to be involved in the life of the church beyond Sunday. We believe that is not ideal.

Our focus will be on serving, relating to & loving people in Clontarf. As we start to see people come from other areas of Dublin and beyond, we will invite them to join us, have them learn along side of us what we are doing there, and then send them out to into their own neighbourhoods and communities rather than encouraging to leave their communities to come to Clontarf.

[I have written two blog posts, around this topic, and the comment sections include further thoughts.] [link 1 | Link 2 ] I encourage you to read these for further thinking on this topic.

Love to hear any thoughts or questions.

Posted by bob in church planting, 0 comments

Carrots and Sticks

carrot on a stickOver on our family blog (TheWilsonsInDublin.com), I’ve started a  series of posts explaining how we got from Ithaca to Ireland. In one of last week’s posts I talked a bit about a very difficult time our family went through from 2007 to 2009.

In recounting that period, it got me thinking about how God has worked in my life repeatedly.

I think it is how he works in the lives of most people.

And for lack of a better phrase I’ll call it the “carrot & stick method.”

Let me share two stories from my life, and then two biblical stories that illustrate what I’m thinking.

In 1995, I visited a couple Vineyard Churches for the first time. I was ordained with another denomination at that point, and working as a campus pastor/University Chaplain at Cornell University.

After my second Vineyard visit I had a very strong sense of God saying, “You need to check out the Vineyard.” (the carrot).

Now, while visiting those two Vineyard churches, I really liked what I saw and experienced (and not just that no one was wearing a tie or a suit…well except me, because I didn’t know any better).

So when I had this sense that God was saying “Check out the Vineyard,” guess what I did.


Well, I did “wish” I could be in the Vineyard…but all my relationships were in my current denomination. I was on the leadership team of the campus ministry department in our state. The majority of my support came from churches within my denomination…there would have been a large cost to “check out the Vineyard.”

So for the next two years I did nothing. I didn’t even visit another Vineyard in that time.

Then, in the summer of 1997, the campus ministry department I was part of went through a crisis. They fired the statewide director, instituted a new philosophy for campus ministry, and hired a new director from outside the organization to oversee the whole thing. And although we tried, it became clear that he was not someone I felt I could work with. (the stick)

So guess what I did…

I checked out the Vineyard, and while I knew immediately, “This is where I need to be.”

So after about 6 months of checking, Liz and I both decided the Vineyard was the right place for us.

We have never regretted that decision.

In 2009 I’d been leading the Ithaca Vineyard for 10 years, and until about 2 years before that, had been having, for the most part, a great time.

Then I went through an extremely difficult 2 years. (the stick)

One of the things that hit me in months following was that I couldn’t remember the last time I checked in and asked God, if this (leading the Ithaca Vineyard) was still what he had for me to do.

I assumed it was…but I hadn’t asked.

So as we spent the following summer in Ireland, for the first time in years I focused on that one question…”what do you want me to do with the rest of my life?”

Although, “Plant a church in Ireland,” was not what I expected…it was clearly the answer to that question. (the carrot)

Now, if God calls you someplace and it is difficult, I don’t think you leave unless it is clear God is leading/calling/directing you to something else.

Simply leaving, causes us to miss out on what God is trying to work out in us, or teach us…and eventually we’re going to need to go through it and learn what he wants to teach us. (I think much of the church leaving/hopping that occurs is people simply delaying the work God wants to do in them. Or even worse, putting it off altogether.)

You might wonder, shouldn’t we be obedient enough, that all we need is the carrot…a calling…a vision God has given us to go or do or be something?

Maybe. And I think with some things it is. The two examples I gave were both major changes, with major consequences for many people.

At the same time I’m taking some consolation in the fact that the bible seems full of stories of God working this way in people’s lives.

Two example…an Old Testament one and a New Testament one.

In the beginning of Genesis chapter 1 God’s command to humanity is to “fill the earth.” (the carrot) After the flood, in Genesis 9, he gives the same command to Noah and his family.

Yet generations later, in Genesis 11, what is everyone doing? Making a tower that reaches to heaven so that they won’t be “scattered all over the earth.”

You know how that ends. God confuses their language, and scattered them over the face of the earth. (the stick)

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, they are a bad example…this was a group up to no good.” (yeah, so much different from us, right?)

So on to our New Testament example. In Acts chapter 1 Jesus tells the early church they are to go where? “Jerusalem (where they were), Judea, Samaria & to the ends of the earth.” (the carrot)

Six chapters later in Acts 7 we read the story of the stoning of Stephen, which was the start of a great persecution against the church. (the stick)

Then we’re told one of the results of that persecution was, “All except the apostles were scattered (they were still in Jerusalem)

Where did this persecution scatter them?  To Judea & Samaria.

And what did they do when they got there? “Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”

I love that story.

It helps me not to beat myself up.

I think it is a great example of the grace that the Father has toward us. Why didn’t I listen and join the Vineyard two years earlier than I did? Why didn’t I…do lots of stuff?

But when I read stories like this & see how he weaves situations in our live together, it removes that burden. Should they have gone to Judea & Samaria immediately?

Or in the midst of a difficult situation, did their response now become clear?

It’s often easier in hindsight to see what we might have done, had we had just a bit more clarity…but I think rather than beating ourselves up, recognizing that, we eventually got to where we were supposed to (& likely even at the right time) opens us up to the grace the Father wants to pour out in our lives.

Just something I was thinking while writing about our journey.

Do you have examples like this in your journey?

Posted by bob in stuff in my head, 0 comments

A Couple Thoughts on Transformation

What is our goal?

Whether we are talking about our Sunday service, our kinships, or really anything we do as a church, when we get to the question of, “what are we hoping to see happen out of this?” it always comes down to transformation. Will what we do, & how we do it, help people to become more like Jesus?

As I looked in the mirror and noticed a face quite different than the one I’ve been looking at for years, a few thoughts about transformation popped into my head.

Transformation takes time.
My dentist first suggested this procedure 4-5 years ago, and I wrote it off. When he brought it up again, it took about 6 months to get in to see a specialist. About that long to get approval from the insurance company. Once that was set up, it took almost 5 months to get into see the orthodontist.

Once I saw the orthodontist, I had the braces on in a matter of days,  but that was last May.  I’ve had tons of x-rays, and molds of my mouth…computer modeled of my jaws have been made. And then last week I had the surgery. Now, 5 weeks of healing, then more time with braces to fine tune everything.

Transformation is beyond me.
In order for this whole process to move forward, I needed to rely on a whole team of people who specialized in various areas. The orthodontist…the Maxillofacial/Oral surgeon…the anesthesiologist…the nurses…the staff of each doctor. And of course my dentist, who after I turned down his first request to move forward on this, sat me down and told my why this was so important.

I was totally incapable of doing any of the work…I had to allow those who knew what they were doing to do what needed to be done. I had to trust them….even if it seemed difficult, and I would have chosen something else.

For Transformation to happen, I need to cooperate.
While I was at the mercy of others, I needed to regularly make a decision to stay there. I needed to show up for my appointments, not eat things I wasn’t supposed to eat, not eat or drink the day of the surgery. And now, to recover from the surgery, there are more instructions I need to follow.

Transformation is not comfortable and cost us something.
While nowhere near as traumatic as my first experience with braces…it still hurt a lot. There were days when eating beans hurt. And for the 3 days after the surgery…that was pretty awful. And even now, I know there are still months ahead of me before I’m back to full strength. (And if you were at the Vineyard on Sunday and heard me speak…now that was uncomfortable.)

The area that needs transformation, might not always have been our first choice.
If you had asked me, what part of my body I would like transformed it would have more likely been turning the extra pounds around my waist into “6-pack abs.” (vanity of vanities, or something like that). My teeth seemed okay…yeah they weren’t straight, but I’d already been down the braces road, and had no desire to go there again.

The Transformation is better than we imagined.
I went into this process thinking, “I need to go through this horrible experience just so my teeth don’t start falling out. Maybe dentures wouldn’t be all that bad.” However, after the surgery, while there is still some work to do, my teeth are likely to be with me for a long time…they are straight too! I’ll actually be able to smile! (if you have any old pictures of me, chances are my teeth are not showing🙂 And did I mention that I can breathe through my nose!?! And I don’t look like Jay Leno anymore!

 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1-2


Posted by bob in personal stuff, stuff in my head, 0 comments

Week of Prayer & Fasting @ the Vineyard

If you’ve been at the Vineyard over the past couple of Sundays, then you’ve probably heard that we are taking this next week as a week of prayer & fasting.  While we’re sure some of you have had some experience with prayer & fasting in the past, we recognize that for many people this may be the first time, they’ve actually had an opportunity to be part of something like this.  So, I thought I’d take a few minutes, explain why were doing this, & then give a bit more information on what fasting involves.

So, why a week of prayer & fasting?

Prayer & fasting is a time when we focus on God, and give him our full attention. Doing it as a church, means that many of us are coming to God with a unified focus and request!  Specifically, our focus over these next 7 days is that Jesus will be glorified in our city and that God would do great things in our city and in our church.

Now, we believe that when we pray stuff like this, we are simply praying God’s will. For example, I’m fully convinced that our Heavenly Father wants to see Jesus glorified.  So when a group of people, humble themselves, & seek God on stuff that He desires…great stuff will happen.

Over the next few days, we’ll list some specific focuses to pray about on the Vineyard’s FacebookTwitter accounts.  Obviously, you can go beyond these (please do!), but these will simply be there as a guide to give you some direction.

A great place to start, when thinking/studying the topic of fasting is Isaiah 58.  This passage really gets at the goal of fasting, why we do it, and where God fits in.

What is Fasting?

Depends on if you want the long answer or the short answer.  When I was first learning about fasting, I was taught that it was going with out food (and perhaps beverages) for a specific period of time (usually at least one day).  Sometimes it would be longer, other times, it might be skipping one meal.

Now, it is pretty common to hear people talk about fasting from “Facebook, the internet, tv, etc.”  But regardless of how it is done, the goal is to give something up, so that we can instead focus ourselves on seeking God.

If you’d like some biblical examples of fasting, here’s a quick list that might be helpful: :  Moses (Exodus 34:28), David (2 Samuel 12:16-17), Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1); Esther (Esther 4:15-16), Anna (Luke 2:37), Jesus (Matthew 4:1-2), the early church (Acts 13:1-3), Paul (Acts 14:23).

Is Fasting Some Legalistic Type of Thing?

Sadly, like anything, people can, and have taken means of relating to God that He has given to us, and twisted them until they become rules with no life.  We clearly don’t want to go there.  At the same time, Jesus makes it clear in the gospel of Matthew that those who follow him will fast:

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Matthew 6:16-18

In other words, fasting is simply a normal part of what it means to follow Jesus.  It is a way that helps us to focus on God, grow as disciples, and take part in what God is doing in the world.

I hope you’ll consider join in with us this week as we fast and pray.  And we’d love to hear how it goes for you.

PS – if you have any questions about fasting, drop a comment here on the blog.

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Why Don’t We Have a Men’s/Women’s Group (part 2.)

Yesterday we started answering the question, “Why Don’t We Have a Men’s/Women’s Group,” here @ the Vineyard, by talking about the vision of our church.  The conclusion of that post is below (if you didn’t ready yesterday’s post, everything will make much more sense if you start there!):

Our philosophy of discipleship is again, Connect with God through Sunday morning worship; Connect with others through weekly small groups, and Contribute your time, talent, & treasure.

For the average person, and the people we are trying to help connect with Jesus, there are only so many hours in a week. (okay not just for the average person).  And each time you add another item or event to a person’s calendar, they have to make a choice…”What do I want to be a part of?  With the limited time that I have available, where am I going to invest my time?”  Let’s face it, most of us have been in churches, where they have a bunch of programs, and much of the discussions involves trying to come up with creative ways to get people to show up for all of these meetings.

The first church I was on staff with has a Sunday night service, and common theme in the Sunday night sermons, were “people need to be more committed and come to church on Sunday nights.”

The problem was, they were committed.  But 3 or 4 other church commitments during the week as well as jobs and families…and there was only so much they could do.

A couple of years ago I went to the Willow Creek leadership Summit & heard Craig Groeschel speak & he said something that made so much sense, and fits with what we’re talking about here:

If you want to reach people that other churches are not reaching, you need to do what other churches are not doing.  And, if you are going to do what other churches are not doing, you can’t do everything that other churches are doing.

While we understand that some people have really benefited from men’s/women’s groups, and we’re glad that there are churches out there that are doing those types of ministries well, for us to focus on what we believe God has called us to do, we simply can’t do everything that other churches are doing.

Think about it this way…If you’ve been around the Vineyard any length of time, you know that we put a very high priority on kinship groups. (in fact, if you haven’t signed up for our winter/spring semester yet, you can do that here!).  And since we believe that these groups are one of the 3 key things that we want people at the Vineyard  involved in, we do not offer ongoing events that compete with our kinships.

We want you to have quantity time with you family.  We want you to get to know and bless your neighbors & the people you work with. And we want you to be part of a kinship group…and so, we’ve made a conscious choice that we are not going to fill the calendar with “stuff.”

Take a guy who is working 40-50, or more hours a week.  He has kids in middle school and high school, and wants to actually spend time with his wife.  Say he is coming to church on Sunday, & kinship on Wednesday.  And since this guy has a limited amount of time in his week, once you add men’s group on Saturday morning, you are now asking him to make a choice…kinship or men’s group.  And when we do that, we’ve violated the core philosophy of how disciples grow at the Vineyard.

(If you’re still a bit skeptical, I’d encourage you to get a copy of Simple Church, by Thom Rainer.  He says it much better than I could & backs it all up with research!)

So here’s our church’s thinking on men’s groups & women’s groups.  First off, contrary to what you might think, we are not opposed to them.  In fact, there are some options that we think would fit in well with how the Ithaca Vineyard currently works.  For example:

1) We’d love to see a men’s kinship (or a couple men’s kinships).  And likewise, we’d love to see one or more women’s kinships. In fact, if leading a kinship group like this sounds like something you’d like to do in the future, why not talk to your kinship leader about how you could go about becoming a kinship leader.

2) In addition, since we generally have 4-6 weeks off between our kinship semesters, that could be a great time to plan an event or two.  And maybe down the road, we are able to use those semester breaks as a time to regularly hold those types of events.

So, if you’ve got a passion for this type of ministry…AND, you’ve got a passion for the Vineyard, & the people who are here, start getting those creative juices flowing.  How would that fit into what it is that God has called us to do here in Ithaca?

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Why Don’t We Have a Men’s/Women’s Group (part 1.)

There are certain questions that those of us in leadership here @ the Vineyard get asked a lot.  So I thought that we’d take some time over the next few weeks and answer some of those questions.

I figured we’d start with one we’ve heard since we first had men or women coming to the Ithaca Vineyard: “Why Don’t We Have a Men’s/Women’s Group?”  To get at that question, I need to step back a bit…to what we were thinking when we first planted this church back in 1999.

The vision of the Ithaca Vineyard was that it would be a place for people who loved God, or were at interested in Jesus, but had not found a church where they fit.  In a lot of ways, that had been my story. Although I grew up in the church…or in and out of the church, I never really felt like I fit all that well.  There was a “church culture” that I simply couldn’t connect to (and still can’t).

In fact when I sensed that God was leading me to full-time ministry, the one thing I told my wife and anyone who would listen was that the one thing I never wanted to do was pastor a church.  (I learned later you are not supposed to say that kind of stuff.)

For the next ten years after I graduated from college, I worked as a campus pastor at SUNY Fredonia, Albany University, and Cornell University.  (And started the groups @ Albany & Cornell)

Now, even though I was part of a denomination at that time (not Vineyard), the longer I was a part of it, I had a harder and hard time taking the students in our campus ministry to the local church.  For those who grew up in this denomination, it was an easy fit…but for people who were really connecting with Jesus for the first time, church was major culture shock.

While Liz & I were at Cornell, we eventually got permission to start having Sunday afternoon chapel services on campus so that we could more effectively reach those students who once again, loved Jesus, but simply did not “fit” in the culture of the local church.

Shortly after starting the chapel services, we got involved with the Vineyard up in Syracuse, and 18 months later, through a series of events found ourselves, and many of these same students planting a Vineyard here in Ithaca.

When we first started going up to the Syracuse Vineyard, Liz & I were at a point where we were actually thinking about leaving full-time ministry.  Our inability to really connect with the local church, and be part of that culture was difficult.  Now, please don’t misunderstand…we met a lot of great people who were more than great to us…but they really didn’t get us.

One of the local pastors that we were working with had a great line when I told him we were going to be leaving to go work with the Vineyard.  He said, “this denomination is kind of like the Royal Family, and the campus ministry is more like Princess Diana.”  I’m not sure I like being called a princess, but I agreed with his point…there was a culture clash.  Again, both parties loved God…they just weren’t a good fit.

In February 1999, the Vineyard church of Ithaca held its first worship service in a blizzard.  We had a coffee break in the middle, and afterwards, we took everyone (36 people) to Pizza Hut.

Although we didn’t have everything figured out at that point (& we still don’t), we knew from the start that there were 3 things we wanted to do, and do well.
1) Sunday Worship Service
2) Kinship Groups
3) Outreach- (specifically servant evangelism)

For each of these three focuses, the goal was helping people connect with Jesus.

So, tying this all in with the vision of our church…again, our desire to be a place where people who are interested in Jesus, but haven’t been able to connect with a local church, can come in find a place where that can happen.

So our Sunday mornings are geared in such a way that mature followers of Jesus can worship learn & grow…it is also a place where someone with no faith background can come in and feel that this is a safe place to learn about faith.

I wrote a post a little over a month ago talking about how we view discipleship here @ the Vineyard. We believe, and we’ve seen over the past 11 years that if a person is regularly attending Sunday morning worship (joining in, taking next steps, etc.), if they are in a small group, and if they are contributing their time, talents & treasure, they are in a great place to grow as a disciple of Jesus.

And beyond Sunday morning, outreach is still a key part of who we are and what we do. Many of the outreach events we do are structured in such a way that even people new in their faith (or even still figuring out their faith) feel like they can join in and be a part…rather than thinking that they don’t know enough yet, but once they’ve been in a class for a few years they’ll be ready.

For example, on Christmas Eve, we had an dinner for people in our community who don’t have family close by.  We had many Vineyard people helping, from those who are leaders in the church, to those who are still  figuring out this whole Jesus thing!  That was exciting!  And just as exciting was the fact that for at least 8 people who came to the dinner, that was the first time they remember being in a church!

Some of you might be saying, “I’m 900 words into this post & you haven’t even mentioned men’s groups or women’s groups.”  I wanted to go into all of this first, so that you see how this ties into the vision of our church.

Tomorrow we’ll have part 2 of this post up.

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