Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chalkboard Assignment: Connect

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 06/24/2012

video from the service is available at http://www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand


This is our chalkboard assignment from Jesus…

Today, creating breathing room for the disconnected to connect.

5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

And later…

20“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 17:20-23

Universe fundamentally relational.

Quantum entanglement.

Emergent properties of systems as more and more simple parts come into connected relationship with each other: neurons - consciousness, subatomic particles - fixedness

God himself is relational: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

Body of Christ (the church) an emergent phenomenon. No one part on its own is the body, all the parts together are. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am with them.” (which interestingly is followed by Jesus’ teaching about forgiving someone 77 times…)

It is things in particular relationship to each other that makes things as they are, that gives rise to all life and beauty and joy.

The work of creation is bringing things into new and life-giving connected relationship with one another. Music. Cooking. Art. Families. Teams. Businesses.

The work of the enemy is the undoing of connections. Destruction. Tearing. Making friend into enemy, family into stranger. Disconnecting the connected.

The enemy’s whisper in the garden: Don’t trust him. You can be like him – you don’t need him. You can be fine on your own.

Exile. Isolation. Death as the cessation of all relationships...

Is there greater pain in the world than the pain of broken relationships? And the more connected the relationship is meant to be from a life-giving perspective, the deeper the pain of the break. This should come as no surprise. Because a tear in a relationship is a tear in the very fabric of the Trinity’s universe, a universe birthed out of love.

The work of new creation is taking what the enemy has uncreated and recreating it in indestructible, incorruptible form. Using redemptive tools like mercy and forgiveness and self-giving love for the other. Making enemy into friend, stranger into family. Love Re-Connecting the disconnected.

It all begins with a restored connection to God through Jesus. He is the source of all life. Without connection to him, there is no real life.

5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

The restored connection happens through two movements, the movement of God towards us and the movement of us towards God.

We see the movement of God towards us in Jesus himself – God taking on human flesh, coming to us and among us – even the most sinful of us – with favor and forgiveness and healing and mercy and unconditional love. Naked and vulnerable from the cradle to the grave – risking the most violent of rejections from us.

We see the movement of God towards us in the parable Jesus tells of the prodigal son and the Father. The Father who waits eyes peeled on the horizon for his son to return, running towards him with open arms, cutting off his plea with a kiss, with robes, a ring, sandals and a feast.

Have you ever tried to emulate that movement towards someone who has broken relationship with you? It is perhaps the most difficult movement in the universe, the one which will encounter the most entrenched resistance.

This is the movement we call Grace.

Thankfully, that is the movement God makes, though it costs him his very life.

Our movement towards God, critical as it is, is simpler. It takes only the breathing room created by Jesus and the empowering of his holy spirit to do. And that is receiving God’s movement towards us by trusting him. By trusting him with our lives – a 180 degree turn from the untrusting actions we took when we took our lives into our own hands in the garden.

I trust you. I trust your forgiveness for my sins. I trust your embrace. I trust your invitation to follow you out of this mess I’ve made. I trust your leadership and goodness. I can be like you – but only as I depend on you for life, because you are my greatest need. On my own, I can do nothing.

And out of that restored connection to God, Jesus leads us into restored connection in every other relationship.

20“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one23I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

John 17:20-23

Our connection to our selves – heart, mind, body, soul.

Our connection to others – friends, family, strangers, enemies.

Our connection to the rest of creation – the earth and its inhabitants, systems and structures.

Our job as a church, then, is to join Jesus in creating breathing room for the disconnected to connect.

Which means, first and foremost, announcing, demonstrating, and embodying the good news of God’s grace.

This is the era of Grace. Grace that brings freedom in community is on the move, and the judgment that enslaves in isolation is on the run.

Grace flies in the face of judgment. The fear of judgment is what makes us hide in the garden. It’s what makes us blame one another. It’s what gives us permission to dismiss and disown and destroy one another. There is no room for judging if we are to create breathing room for the disconnected to connect. Judgment belongs to the Lord, and the Lord alone, and he has chosen to extend Grace. So must we.

Grace in our words…

Grace in our symbolic actions…

Grace in our community – our words and actions lived out towards one another, room in our worship services and small groups and ministry teams…

Announcement of Grace and invitation to receive Grace…

Practical Tips:

1. Tell someone that God is moving towards them with grace

2. Show someone that God is moving towards them with grace

3. Move towards someone with God’s grace

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Chalkboard Assignment: Count

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 06/17/2012

video of this sermon is available at http://www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand


This is our chalkboard assignment from Jesus…

Today, creating breathing room for the discounted to count.

[miracle on ice video…]

3 One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. 2Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. 3When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. 4Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

6Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Acts 3:1-10

Peter and the lame man, both once discounted and now counting.

Counting matters.

[studies about the elderly with plants, visits from studentswhy selecting groceries is such a big deal]

We like to have an impact, to control, to have value, to make a difference. We like it so much we’ll act like we can do it, even when we can’t.

[betting more money if opponent is incompetent…dice throwing (self-tossed, not yet thrown, picking winning number)… live sports…]

This desire to count is at the heart of creativity.

Some talk about creativity as a specialized thing that artists and other “creatives” do. Sure, making something where there was nothing before is creative. And sure, making something that has never been made before is creative. But the reality is that at the heart of creativity is the very simple act of making a positive difference.

Teaching your son or daughter to throw a ball or why the days are longer in the summer or how to clear the dishes is creative. It makes a positive difference. It counts. We want our work to make a positive difference, to count. Our relationships. Our lives.

Our desire to count, to control, to make an impact, like the list making we talked about last week, is part of the image of God in us. We think about the future. And then we cooperate with God in shaping the future. God is a creative God, and he has made us creative image-bearers.

We are meant to make a difference. To have an impact. To count. There is life in that for us, life for the world in that. God made us image-bearers to bear his image. To join with him in trusting and faithfully imagining the good he has promised, and then faithfully and creatively cooperating with him in bringing that good about.

Which is why when we are discounted, it is so devastating.

[end of the study with student visits…]

Many of you know what it’s like to not have an opportunity to play. Or for your best efforts to fail. Or for your creative energies to be frustrated, time and time again. This is the work of the enemy in the world. To cause us to judge and discount one another. Or to cause us to discount ourselves.

God will have none of that, and he calls his church to have none of that either. It is the voices of judgment and shame and fear that have counted for way too much in this world, and Jesus is rebuking them as he invites us to follow him, as he invites us to count for something bigger than all the judgment and shame and fear in the world. Because God is love, and his love is on the move, and he’s like a conductor yelling, “All Aboard!”

The scriptures are laced with accounts of the discounted being counted by God. The poor count. Aliens count. Moral failures count. People from lowly families count. Widows and orphans count.

Joseph starts as a slave and prisoner in Egypt and rises to the right hand of the pharaoh.

Moses, the murderer with a speech impediment helps deliver Israel from 400 years of slavery.

David, the youngest son goes from tending sheep to leading the nation.

Rahab, the prostitute, helps Joshua and company infiltrate Jericho, and becomes one of the great great great grandmothers of Jesus.

Jesus gathers a band of drop outs and counted outs and turns them loose as midwives to resurrection life spreading across the face of the earth.

He doesn’t go after those who already count and try to leverage their impact. He goes after the discounted, counts them in, and teaches them how to make their lives count.

Young people, for example, count in the kingdom of God.

The elderly count in the kingdom of God.

The poor count in the kingdom of God.

The moral failures count in the kingdom of God.

Because there are two qualities that make all the difference in the kingdom of God. One is a willingness to let yourself count for God, a willingness to stand up and be counted by him, regardless of where he sends you, what he asks you to do.

5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. ”

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? ”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Isaiah 6:5-8

And the other is humility.

6An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For whoever is least among you all is the greatest.”

Luke 9:46-48

Those who have an experience of being discounted, have both of these qualities in great abundance. The already counted are sometimes so busy counting for themselves or lesser things that the invitation of God goes unnoticed or unattended to. Not so with the discounted! (that’s perhaps part of why the disciples were so eager to follow Jesus…) The already counted are sometimes competing and striving for personal glory that the humility required to trust God to direct and empower one’s efforts is noticeably unexercised. Not so with the discounted!

What a beautiful job Jesus has given us as his church. To create breathing room for the discounted by first recognizing everyone’s value and capacity to cooperate with God, and then in faith making space for them and equipping them.

[compassion ministry… prayer ministry… baptism… workplace relationships…]

Creating breathing room for the discounted to count is ultimately very simple. It’s saying: “you can do what I do (and probably even better!); here, give it a try and I’ll help however I can.”

Very truly I tell you, all who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 14:12-14

Practical Tips:

1. Count a kid. Have a kid help you with something this week.

2. Count yourself in. Pray the “Here I am Lord, send me” prayer

3. Count your blessings. Write a thank you note to your Dad for the ways he let you count. Or anyone else in your life who did.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Chalkboard Assignment: Favor

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 06/12/2012

a video recording of this message is available at http://www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand


This is our chalkboard assignment from Jesus, and we’ve talked about the importance of together we, and what following the way of Jesus is all about, and what it means to create breathing room. This week, and through the rest of June, we will unpack how to Favor, Count, and Connect people.

Favor is where we begin today. Jesus calls us to create breathing room for the disfavored to find favor. Unfortunately, churches have a reputation not for showing the favor of God to people, but rather for communicating judgment and displeasure.

Unchristian research results:

87% of outsiders said that the word “judgmental” described present day Christianity.

When asked whether Christian Churches accept and love people unconditionally, regardless of how people look or what they do, 76% of pastors and 47% of born-again Christians said that they do. Only 20% of outsiders agreed. Which means 80% disagreed.

[Dana Carvey’s Church lady…3:20-5:45]

So I want to look at this task of creating breathing room for the disfavored to find favor from a fresh angle, in hopes that it will inspire us, the Vineyard Church of Milan, at least, to do better. And we are going to begin by talk about how important the way we look at the future is to human beings. Because when it comes down to it, creating breathing room to experience the favor of God is all about surprising people with a new vision of the future, and in light of that, a new vision of the past and the present as well. A vision that arrests our anxiety and frees us to new kinds of faith-filled actions.

Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert writes in Stumbling on Happiness about 2 different ways we think about the future.

The first is what he calls “Nexting.” Past + Present = immediate future.

Stomp stomp clap, stomp stomp clap, stomp stomp ________

[Toss something to people…]

It was a dark and stormy ______

Surprise is what we feel when our nexting is wrong, even when we weren’t conscious of the fact that we were asparagus.

Which is how we know monkeys do it. Babies do it. Slugs even do it.

Nexting is important, but it’s not what makes human beings especially special.


Later is where it’s really at. Human beings, unique it seems among all the rest of the animals, think about later. We think about the future. We imagine what might happen at some point in the future, we imagine how life might be like, what we might be like, and it changes how we feel now, it changes what we decide to do now.

(different than squirrels who bury nuts, for example. Pure instinct. When the amount of sunlight that enters their eyes decreases by a critical amount, burying behavior is triggered…)

As Daniel Gilbert writes,

“Until a chimp weeps at the thought of growing old alone, or smiles as it contemplates its summer vacation, or turns down a fudgsicle because it already looks too fat in shorts, I will stand by my version of The Sentence. We think about the future in a way no other animal can, does, or ever has, and this simple, ubiquitous, ordinary act is a defining feature of our humanity.”


This capacity to think about the future is surely part of what it means to be made in the image of God. God’s first act in scriptures is to speak something new into being that was not there before – “let there be light!” To create and to order and organize, to tend the garden and exercise creative and faithful dominion of and care over it requires the capacity to think about the future.

Have you ever made a to do list? You are an image-bearer of God.


Later happens in the frontal lobe of our brains, which is one of the distinguishing anatomical characteristics of human beings. The frontal lobe is the part of our brain we use for worrying and for planning. Which is why lobotomies were both so effective and so damaging. Anxiety is gone because you can’t think about the future. But you also can’t think about the future – which means you can’t plan.

So what does all of this have to do with our mission to create breathing room for the disfavored to find favor?


When Jesus arrives to create breathing room for humanity, the first thing he does is announce good news about the kingdom of God. (Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.”) Saying that it’s near. That it’s here. That it’s on its way. Good news that shapes our understanding of a present and a future drenched in the favor of God. Good news. News that’s meant to speak directly to our anxieties, to our misperception that we are out of God’s favor. News of grace and favor. That blessing is available even to those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who are meek, and on and on. Good news. News that speaks directly to the actions we take now in light of it. News that invites us to trust and follow Jesus in living in light of the invisible world he sees in spreading out in front of us, or maybe advancing towards us like a wave, one in which love wins over fear, in in which grace and forgiveness defeat sin and death, in which humility and mercy triumph over pride and judgment.

It’s why the most common command in the bible is do not be afraid.

It’s why Jesus’ first miracle is changing water into wine. God is taking humanity’s party to the next level – just when we think the party is winding down, God is bringing out the best.

It’s why the first thing Jesus says when he creates breathing room for his fearful disciples after his resurrection is “Peace be with you.” It’s why the second thing he says to them is, “as the father has sent me, now I am sending you.”

The favor of God is what restores us to the wholeness of image-bearing human beings.

It’s why the first words of the Father to Jesus are, “This is my son whom I love, with whom I am well pleased.”

Jesus is the new humanity, and we who receive his favor and follow him into the favor of the Father are those whom he invites to carry out the image-bearing work of humanity in the new creation wrought by his resurrection.

We are a church called to carry on the work of Christ in the world. And it begins by creating breathing room for the disfavored to find favor. It begins with us announcing the favor of God – in all sorts of ways – to people who have experienced the opposite of that in their lives.

The poor, the less thans, the down and outs, the sick, the hurting, the haven’t made its, the trapped in sin, the wanderers, the lost and the losing, the judged and condemned. Truth is, it doesn’t matter how great someone’s life can look from the outside, anyone can have the experience of being disfavored. A miscarriage, a failed relationship, an unapplauded talent or passion, a broken dream, a debilitating illness, a dysfunctional family, getting stuck in the line behind the person paying their highway toll with quarters. Until you know the favor of the unconditional love of the God of the good news kingdom, the weight of the uncertain future and the discouragement of the confusing present can be crippling to any human being.

Why? Because when a person thinks they are disfavored by God (or any other person or system, for that matter) they don’t come to him (or them or it) seeking life, because they expect more condemnation. So they look elsewhere or they stop looking and start going through the motions. This always leads to death, because the only true source of life in the universe is God, and the life he has for us is one of anticipating and creatively cooperating with his good future.

So how do we create breathing room for the disfavored to find favor?

It begins with finding ways to communicate surprising favor.

This is what Jesus did all the time.

Healing the centurion’s son.

Touching the leper.

Eating with the tax collector.

Talking to the Samaritan woman.

Refusing to condemn the adulteress.

Receiving the worship of the prostitute.

It’s what the beatitudes are all about.

Blessed are the poor in spirit? Say what?

Blessed are those who mourn? Say what?

It’s what forgiveness says, everytime. It says relationship with you is more important than anything you might have done to me. Which is always a surprise when we’ve done something to someone. You are willing to cancel that debt? For the sake of restored relationship with me? Say what?

It’s why Jesus says what he says on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Uh, yes we did know what we were doing, we maybe want to say.

No, no you really didn’t, says Jesus. Because you don’t see the present clearly enough, nor what the past means, nor what the future holds. And if you did – if you knew the good news of the kingdom of God, his favor for you, the plans he has for rescue and redemption – you’re anxieties would fall away, and you would change everything about your current course of action.

We interrupt people’s nexting with surprise, and it creates breathing room to see a now and later drenched with favor and good news.


Quarters on newspaper stands and car wash coin slots. Surprise. Popcorn on redbox kiosks. Surprise. Fresh baked bread on the doorstep. Surprise. A drive through order paid for. Surprise. Garbage cans delivered to the top of the driveway. Surprise. A toilet cleaned for free. Surprise. A windshield washed in a gas station. A foot massaged after a long walk. Surprise. A cold drink on a hot day. Surprise. Food that you get to choose yourself at compassion ministry. Surprise. No requirement to show evidence of your income, we just take you at your word that you have need of what we have to offer. Surprise. An adult spending time with a teenager whom they are not getting a tax write off to be with. Surprise.

Not what anyone was expecting next. Surprise! Which opens our eyes to see what we couldn’t see before, wakes us up, gives us breathing room. Breathing room to receive the favor of a God who has been longing for us to know his favor, like a father longs for his kids to know that he loves them, that he would lay down his life for them.

The ways we communicate the unconditional favor of God to people are, by and large, so small. So simple. So ordinary. They can seem unglamorous, insignificant, a waste of time. But if we see them in the light of the gospel, that God is restoring and redeeming and recreating humanity in his image, starting with our very basic capacity to think about the future, we can see that in those simple actions we are participating with the Risen Lord of the Universe in the very work of salvation.

Let’s be a church where everyone who walks in the door experiences the favor of God. A parking space available. A friendly greeting. A seat offered. An embrace. A child cared for with love and enthusiasm. A kind word of encouragement. An offer of help. Or prayer. And let’s be a church that expresses that same favor in our small groups, and through our ministries, and in our outreaches, and in our daily lives at workplaces and schools and neighborhoods and grocery stores.


Practical Tips:

1. Participate in a servant evangelism / kindness outreach activity once a week this summer. Like toilet cleaning next week. Or invent your own. Take the money out of your tithe this summer to pay for it if you don’t have enough faith or money to spend any extra money on surprising favor J

2. Imagine a future where you thought you were out of God’s favor. What might surprise you enough to get you to reconsider? Ask God to help you be a part of his surprise to someone who needed that kind of breathing room.

3. Commit to participating in the Compassion Ministry twice a year.