First in series: 40 Days of Faith 2017
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GO FROM START-UP TO SUSTAINABLE?
On Wednesday we began the traditional church season of Lent - the 40 days leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when we mark the most pivotal time in the story of Jesus - his death and resurrection. Historically it has been marked through a time of self-denial, if you grew up Catholic for example perhaps you were encouraged to give up an indulgence like chocolate for 40 days… And we've come into our own unique version of that sort of thing marking Lent at this church It's not giving up something tangible like chocolates, It's giving up something intangible, BUT just as much an indulgence for Americans like us... it is giving up control
We've done this by embarking on 40-day all-church experiments each Lent with the goal of getting us living with high faith
What do we mean by high faith?
We mean believing in the possibility of God doing significant, observable things in our lives and world -- things beyond our control -- and praying for such things. Whether on a societal scale - like believing in God's ability to fight on a spiritual level systemic racism in our criminal justice system Or on a personal scale - like praying for the miraculous Depending on your experiences you may love this idea or be put off by this idea If you're in the "put off by this" camp, I sympathize with you... I personally can bend toward skeptical At its best though, the church has simply defined the miraculous as things that are unexplainable and unrepeatable In my experience what most puts people off and leads us to be skeptical of the miraculous is a specific approach to praying for miracles that tries to make them very repeatable and explainable (exactly what they're not) “you just have to pray THIS way!” or “buy my video and you'll learn why you're not seeing miracles when you pray and how you can see more power!... did I mention buy my video?” Unfortunately that approach is quite prolific in the Christian universe of prayer, but it is actually probably more accurately defined as a Christian sounding version of magic Magic is about trying to exert control over the forces or powers beyond us... Prayer for the miraculous is just the opposite. It is letting go of my control and looking to the force and power of God All to say: when we refer to praying for the miraculous we probably don't mean what has put you off
So high faith - believing God (who is beyond our control) is alive and active in the world and is working to impact positive change, who can make the miraculous happen! What's the benefit of this? It's a biggie I think High faith open us up to the possibility of experiences that show us God is actually good to us (and not just theoretically good to us) -- good to us concretely, in real time It's how god being good becomes our experience, not just an abstract belief Probably the strain of the church that has the most to teach anyone on this is the Black Church in America, Where the refrain is “god is good”... “all the time” How has that become so ingrained in the Black church in America? Through generations of role models of high faith
To be sure... Pursuing high faith risks disappointment You may not get what you pray for. Or see the change you're praying for. That's real… You are safer from disappointment NOT pursuing high faith But, granting the risk, I gotta say: Our annual 40 day season of trying to live with high faith has become a hugely rewarding rhythm in my life personally Because my default setting is most certainly NOT high faith.
Perhaps this makes me a lousy pastor but I am NOT the guy who, if I'm sick or my wife or one of our boys is sick, immediately says: let's pray
Or I think about when I finished university the summer of the worst job crises in recent American history. And my job search was coming up empty My default was NOT: I will fast and pray for weeks asking God to provide. My default was: I gotta update my resume and write cover letters and thank yous for reading my cover letters... and, man, I don't own a nice suit for interviews, shoot!
But shortly after that summer I had suggested to me: experimenting for a set amount of time as though I DO have high faith. In that case the experiment was a 21-day fast from certain foods; it’s called a Daniel Fast (based on a Biblical reference in the Old Testament book of Daniel) You can only eat veggies, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. And all the while you'd pray for God to provide for you in the way you were currently feeling lacking (so for financial provision in our case)
The wisdom behind fasting in such a way is something to the effect of: I, a human, acknowledge -- not just in my head but by actively choosing to live this out -- that the success of my life isn't dependent on me being at my absolute-most-resourced (symbolically, me eating whatever I want), But rather the success of my life is dependent on a power beyond me, on a good God who is invested in the success of my life because he loves me. And so I do some sort of physical act of self-denial as a way to experiment with believing that to be true: God, I am literally minimizing my will (in the form of my diet), as a way to invite you to maximize your will. Again I didn't really have this belief in full force, but I was up for the experiment.
In my entire life, I had never had to watch what I eat (I am super lucky in terms of my genetics)... But for this 21 days I did. It was hard and humbling. I won't lie.
But that 21 days was incredibly rewarding. First off over the following year Keziah and I felt profoundly provided for financially - We received multiple unsolicited, entirely "I want to do this for you of my own accord" financial gifts from family members and friends that got us through that season without full time work. So, while that's something we could only see months later looking back on the experiment, it seems like a big data point! But even more so, this 21 day experiment of living as though I did have high faith made me a happier, more hopeful person. The narrative that was most exerting a rule over me in my day to day was the classic American one: Take responsibility for what you want, take control of life, determine the destiny before you by your effort. And that's not an all-bad message… there is certainly a lot that can be said for working hard to try to improve our life... But while it may have been succeeding at convicting me to be responsible in terms of getting my resume out there, it was failing at supporting me... I felt pessimistic and "on my own" ruled by that narrative. I feared that my life all came down to me. I believed in God, I would have told you, but, in effect, I didn't. The belief my actual instincts and behavior revealed was: There is no help or hope beyond me. All that is real or worth relying on is my own strength and effort. Anything outside of that is wishful thinking and just prolonging disappointment. In the process of this 21 day experiment my narrative shifted Everyday I was spending time with God in prayer and that was making me feel measurably less alone, less fearful, and more hopeful I was experiencing God as actually good to me (not just theoretically) Believing in a good God actually started to happen for me. The whole experience did indeed feel like “giving up control” (because I was! -- I was not in control of my diet!) But I felt that self-denial was honored and responded to by God personally
Well I wonder if an experiment meant to move us from “an un-supportive and un-hopeful narrative ruling your day to day” to “a narrative of high faith” sounds appealing to you?
As I said this has become our way of marking the 40 Days of Lent every year…
Our guide for this year's experiment will be the Bible's book of Acts, following the early church after Jesus’ death and resurrection
It opens this way (follow along in your program…) During the forty days after [Jesus] suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. 4 Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before.5 John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus’ message: you need high faith to do what I have set before you… you will need to wait for power not your own (as opposed to just relying only on what's in your limited control to pull off)
And what does Jesus have set before the apostles?— That’s the rest of the story of Acts We might call the book the story of the early church going from start-up to sustainability (and therefore setting itself up for ever-expanding and enduring impact) The basic outline of the narrative can be shown by concentric circles working outward Jerusalem (their city) —> Judea & Samaria (their region) —> Ends of the earth (their whole known world) We are captivated by this because we think our own church has a small version of this same story to tell It's time for us (like the early church in acts) to make the jump from start-up to sustainable But if that's going to happen we've got to access resources beyond our own efforts and smarts We need the backing of an actually good (not just theoretically good) God who wants to in real time be concretely good to us
So, here's how we'd love for you to participate in this year's 40 days of faith Lenten prayer experiment
Pray every day of Lent... For Your Big Ask What’s something specific on your heart that you can pray for God to pull off for you? Again, if you’re willing to risk some disappointment, think high faith! Pray for financial provision (like me during my Daniel Fast), or pray for a better job, or pray for movement toward a next step in your personal life you’re longing for, or pray for relief or healing in some way, or to end a bad habit or start a good one My Big Ask is praying for our family to find the money and vacation time to visit my wife’s parents this summer in Niger, West Africa For Your 6 A highlight of our annual Lent experiment is that we also try to pray for 6 people in our everyday lives to experience God to be alive and active on their behalf Make your 6 people you regularly see BUT that you're on the fringe of relationship with So not your cousin in Georgia, or your really close friend that you live with, But your neighbor, or someone you work with or interact with on your commute The idea: another way to get us living as though we have high faith that God is alive and active For BLV For our path from start-up to sustainability That we would grow in the number of people connected to our community For our fundraising efforts For our impact as a positive, Jesus-like force in the Brown Line area More than our best laid plans, we need an actually good God to be actually good to us to accomplish this
Read Acts Come every Sunday to the Davis and follow along as we highlight various sections in our talks Read it all the way through on your own before the end of the 40 days… this week: chapters 1 & 2
Invest in Our Next Big Step Sacrifice something financial in your life to be able to give to our campaign to raise $200,000 above and beyond our normal monthly donations by the end of 2018 We currently have 31% of the 200k pledged; could you help get us over 50% by the end of Lent? If you're not currently giving, start a recurring donation toward our General Fund… we’d love for you to also consider the Next Big Step Campaign, but our General Fund is what will continue after the Campaign is over, so that’s what we actually need to get to a level of sustainability One idea we had was to get everyone in the church to, if this applies to you, donate your tax return -- that could fulfill a massive chunk of this 200k! Buy tickets for friends to join you at our Brown Line Ball on Saturday, April 8th
If you consider yourself a stakeholder here we would LOVE for you to make the Brown Line Ball, in particular, a priority, and to bring friends In the coming weeks we'll be passing on electronic and paper invites you all can share
First off, it's going to be like the most fun wedding reception you've ever been to At the awesome Begyle Brewery (where we were for Easter last year) We’ll be in swanky cocktail attire Open bar and food Live gypsy jazz music and dancing A silent auction
And while there is a ticket cost, that’s because it's a fundraiser toward the good cause of this community! It's worth noting, for some of our friends, depending on their experience, our word that "it's a good cause" may be outweighed by past bad experience with church or religion... And with some of the stories I've heard that is a super legitimate concern So, if this being “a church thing" or "a religious thing" is a sticking point for any of your friends, we encourage you to assure them: BLV is not what you’re afraid of… We totally acknowledge that many have had bad experiences with churches or religion (we’ve had some too!), and we in no way want to be another one of those bad experiences for you! This is literally just going to be an awesome party; there will be no preaching at people (we hope people never feel “preached at” with us, even on Sunday!)... We’ll of course share who we are and why we think we're a worthy cause to support, but that's it. We have a half sheet with our 40 days of faith experiment outlined for everyone to take today And we've included on the back a couple of FAQs to help you as you invite people to the ball Why support a church if I’m not religious? Why a fundraiser? Where would my money go?
So… could an experiment of living as though you have high faith (even if you don’t) benefit you right now? I wonder what you think... If you commit to this, it will indeed feel like giving up some control… we’re asking you to do a lot and, heck, we’re asking you to invest real money (!) But I believe that any self-denial on your part will be honored and responded to by God personally. I believe you will feel the narrative of your life shift toward hope… And who knows what else may happen as you pray!
In a moment, I want to pray for us as we get started on this And once we’re in that space of prayer, today’s band is going to lead us in a time of song… Something spiritual communities have done for centuries to slow down from the pace of life and encounter God at an emotional level. Engage in whatever way feels best to you: Singing along or just sitting back letting the music hit you.
And, as we are doing that, I really want to invite anyone who’s feeling something going on internally to make your way to the middle section of the theater and ask to receive prayer from someone on our prayer team Powerful things often happen in our prayer times on Sundays. Our prayer team are trained, safe folks; no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice, and everything you share is confidential. Stand with me, if you would, and I’ll pray.