Friday, March 13, 2009

Pastor Erik--Toward God's Purpose for BLC

Towards God's Purpose for Bethlehem Lutheran


On Sunday March 8, 2009 Pastor Erik preached a sermon on Mark 8:31-38.  This is the story of when Jesus tells his disciples that following God's purpose for his life means that he will undergo great suffering, be rejected, killed, and will rise again.  His disciple Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him, insisting that there must be another way.  Jesus says to Peter (so that all the disciples can hear) “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” Then to  the disciples and the crowd Jesus says: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”


Peter wasn’t able to see that God’s purpose for Jesus would bring him to the cross.  He probably suggested all sorts of safer ways that Jesus could have continued his ministry more safely and without taking the sorts of risks Jesus was talking about.  But Jesus told Peter (and the disciples, and the crowds, and us) that following God’s purpose for us is not safe, it’s extremely risky.  It’s not that Peter’s plan wasn’t a good one—maybe he suggested Jesus continue to heal people, travel the world proclaiming Good News, and live a long and happy life—but it wasn’t God’s plan.  The real danger in this story isn’t a bad idea, but a good idea that just isn’t what God has in mind. 


Pastor Erik gave everyone in the congregation index cards and asked us to write “Get Behind” on one side and “Take up” on the other side.  (He realized later that it should have been “Put Behind” which is what we’ll use from now on.)  On the “Put Behind” side we were asked to list those things that Bethlehem Lutheran Church might spend our time and energy on that, while certainly “good” things to do, might not be what God has in mind for us.  These are “safe” plans that don’t involve much risk.  On the “Take Up” side we were asked to list those things that God might be calling our congregation to—risky things that might cause us to “loose our life for Jesus’ sake” but are the ways to ultimately save it.  Here is our list of the things we think Jesus is asking us to “put behind” and “take up” to better follow Jesus into God’s purpose for our congregation.


Put Behind


l Church improvements

l Groups using the church

l Ceremony and beautification if they are for superficial reasons—if for outreach, take them up

l Elaborate building

l Unwise use of funds

l Beautification of church building grounds and landscape

l The property being beautified—money better spent elsewhere

l Spending time designing and funding member programs

l Spending all our resources on just our property

l Coming to church and fellowship only

l Speed at task completion

l Having members only groups that discount those interested in our church

l Disguising God's calling in a way we like

l Misjudging or ignoring a task of God

l “Contemporary” worship service

l Beautifying the church out of vanity

l The finances as they will be discussed today

l Being self serving

l Having functions, fundraisers, etc that serve only BLC members

l Not rocking the boat

l No conflict

l Landscaping with an architect when we have talent in our own church

l Pay the mortgage

l Focusing just on church members

l Complaining—count your blessings

l Landscaping renovation things

l Greeting and talking to friends but not greeting visitors

l Worrying about money for things: yard, building

l Worrying about more people in church for money purposes and membership numbers

l Raising a lot of money

l Having more social events

l Church members and their needs

l Welcoming on a superficial level

l Being concerned just for our church or comfort zones

l Being self centered, self serving


Take Up


l Neighborhood welcome activities

l Compassionate care for people in need outsite of the congregation

l make church more open and inviting to encourage others to see what we are about and hear God's message

l Lutheran community

l Hunger

l Reach the neighborhood individuals and families

l Feed the hungry

l Build homes for the poor

l Work with other groups to do even more

l Outreach

l Evangelism

l Welcome others to this church

l Children education

l Youth

l More personal outreach

l Neighborhood dimension

l Ice cream social

l Evangelizing

l More friendliness to visitors and each other

l Sponsoring a Thrivent Food Bank here in our parking area

l Get out in the world of Spokane

l Spend finanical resources on ministry in Spokane

l Get out of pews and donate time to ministry in Spokane not just Bethlehem

l Having more volunteers for projects going on in the area

l Get to know the neighborhood better

l Have more activities for teens

l Sending a group of people to help in suffering parts of the world

l Use financial resources on parts of our city that need help

l Have congregational interaction across the city, looking for callings from God

l Service to our neighbors

l Let neighbors use our space

l Some sort of weekly feeding program

l Global mission

l Food bank and homeless shelter assistance

l To be a place that welcomes gay and lesbian people—open and affirming

l Help at community dinners

l Assist with shelter for the homeless

l Utilize church property for community needs (like AA, NA, etc)

l Reach out to neighborhood

l Change—new music and liturgies

l Open doors to community even if they might spill something on the carpet (risk)

l Evangeliszing

l Care of needy

l Mission Support

l Lighting of windows

l Upgrade sound system with “audio loop” for hearing impaired

l Spread what we have learned from service to give to friends and neighbors

l Service to worthy causes outside of church

l Evangelizing to the neighborhood and friends and family

l Service in this community

l Look in the neighborhood for service projects

l Help our neighbors

l Reaching out to the homeless

l Caring about the souls of neighbors

l Making God's house a place of welcome and safety and a place of learning about Jesus and God

l Reach out to more people geographically

l Think more about doing things for others

l Evangelizing

l Providing refuge sanctuary

l Donating money to causes

l Witness to the gospel

l Serve the needy

l Artistic expression

l Be God's light to the neighborhood

l Reach out to our neighbors

l Do for others even if it costs us the “put behind” concerns

l Be examples that show this (doing for others)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Pastor Erik--March 2009

Prayer and Purpose

In the next several months you will be hearing the words “prayer and purpose” quite a lot. In part, this will be because this is our theme for Lent this year. But also because during this season of Lent we are going to devote some time to prayer and trying to discern our purpose as a congregation—and drafting a purpose statement. Lent is the perfect time to do this, because the season of Lent is meant to be a time of reflection, taking stock of who we are and who we are called to be, repenting of where we have strayed from God's calling, and recommitting ourselves to be about what God would have us be about.

Dave Daubert, in the book “Living Lutheran” writes the following about our purpose as the Church of Jesus: “A primary point of being the church together is to refocus us when we gather so that we can be effective when we are apart. We don't gather to escape the world. We gather to be sure we are doing a good job of engaging it. God wants our help. If a church is doing effective ministry, people leave better prepared to be missionaries to the world and ambassadors for Jesus. Our participation in this work is called our 'purpose.'” The next phase in our Transformation process is to figure out what specific purpose God has in mind for Bethlehem—just which part of God's dream are we called to be a part of?

Daubert makes clear that there is a difference between “mission” and “purpose”: “Mission is what God is up to. It is the mission of God. Lutherans are very clear that the mission belongs to God. Everything that is of ultimate importance and eternal value starts and ends there. But that doesn't mean that God prefers to work alone. In fact, God has demonstrated time after time that God prefers to work with others—to include people in the creative work of bringing in the kingdom.” (Living Lutheran, pg 38)

We've already seen the power of purpose (and purpose statements) at work at Bethlehem. Last spring, our Property Mission Task Force met for prayer, Bible study, and conversation around how God was calling us to use our property. Out of that process, we developed a purpose statement for our property which reads: “The purpose of Bethlehem Lutheran Church's property is to make clear that everyone is welcome and to help everyone encounter God in this place.” And since then we have seen some pretty major changes take place to our property, starting with a rock wall on the corner of our property, a transformation of our lobby to be more welcoming to all who pass through our building, and the cutting down of the two large trees in front of our building and the opening up of our property for a whole host of projects. And all of this has come about because we started to ask ourselves “Is our property fulling living into the dream God has for it?” and as we looked at our purpose statement we realized there were ways to get closer to this dream.

God has done some amazing things with our property through this focus on its purpose. Just imagine what God will do with us as we form a purpose not just for our building and grounds, but for our congregation. And much like our guiding principles, this purpose statements will not just come out of the blue, but is meant to be deeply connected to the things God has been doing among us for our entire history. When we figure it out, it should “feel right” for us—though it may also stretch us, much as our guiding principles have done.

I hope that you will take the opportunity to get involved in this process, because the more voices involved, the better chance we have of really hearing the dream God has in mind for us as a community. We'll be engaging in prayer, Bible reading, and conversations. We'll think about purpose in sermons (yes, the sticky notes are coming back), through some cottage meetings, in Adult Ed, during coffee hour, and in all sorts of other ways. Join in the conversation as we figure out together the specific purpose we are meant to play in what God is up to in the world.