A Painter's Palette

Yesterday I flew back from Chicago after meeting for two days with the Evangelical Covenant Church's Commission on Biblical Gender Equality. I usually come back energized by many new thoughts and lively conversations. This time was no exception. Yet it was different because I came back with new appreciation for Abbey Way and all that God is doing in and with us through the years. I also came back with songs and prayers on my heart that seem to bubble from the unseen depths. 

Wanting to capture what seems like the Spirit's movement, I have been busy posting new songs on Abbey Way's Slack account that we use to communicate between staff on our every day to do lists, projects and ideas. As I posted possible new worship tunes, I scrolled our list and was blown away by the wealth of song ideas that are already present. Many of the songs we have sung but many are just there waiting for the right moment to be used. It is a beautiful reflection on the palette of color in our worship life at Abbey Way that is available to us each week when we gather.

Last night a bunch of Abbey Way-ers recorded background vocals for some of Abbey Way's original music. I am so excited to hear our first "produced" recordings of new songs. We have talked about this desire for many years and it is finally happening. When it is available, I will let you know!

So many new songs sprouting out all around. For this I am so very grateful.

+ Jan Bros 

Becoming Virtuous Persons

There are people in my life that have influenced who I am and what I think about God. One of them is a woman whose name is Leanne Payne. Leanne was an anointed woman who led healing ministry gatherings called PCMs (Pastoral Care Ministry Schools). Bob and I attended them for a number of years both in Minneapolis and in Chicago: learning and growing, receiving and giving. We served on their prayer teams with a number of other friends and ministry partners. These experiences deeply impacted me in the core of my being. 

Like with every human leader there were points that Leanne's teaching differed from my own including the call to lead as a pastor in the church. Never the less, my appreciation for her teaching and who God called her to be the world remained (and remains) unabated. Here is an (very) short article Leanne wrote for her newsletter back in 1996r. It includes a substantial quote from one my favorite modern theologians C.S. Lewis. Enjoy!

+ Pastor Jan

Becoming Virtuous Persons

By Leanne Payne from her newsletter archives, Fall 1996

Run your lives by the Spirit. Then you will not do what your old nature wants. Galatians 5:16, Jewish New Testament (JNT)

To be led by Christ is to walk in the Spirit, and to walk in the Spirit has this ennobling corol­lary: its wondrous flipside, as it were, is ongoing death to the Old Man. 

For the old nature wants what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is contrary to the old nature. These oppose each other, so that you find yourselves unable to carry out your good intentions. But if you are led by the Spirit, then you are not in subjection to the system that results from perverting the Torah into legalism. Galatians 5:17, 18, JNT

When we walk in the Spirit, the Lord creates in us the fruits and gifts of His character - we become virtuous persons. What a wonderful word virtue is; what a wonderful epithet to have - that of being a virtuous person. And in union with Christ, we can all be that. The biblical texts above were penned by St. Paul, one who before his conversion put Christians to death; yet, he who considered himself to have been the "chiefest of sinners" became one of the greatest men in history. A man full of Christ, full of virtue.

Most moderns have to ask themselves what exactly is this thing called virtue. Well, first of all it is a quality and C. S. Lewis helps us understand this: 

A man who perseveres in doing just actions gets in the end a certain quality of character. Now it is that quality rather than the particular actions which we mean when we talk of "virtue." This distinction is important for the following reason. If we thought only of the particular actions we might encourage three wrong ideas:

1) We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it....But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a "virtue," and it is this quality or character that really matters.

2) We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort. [See St. Paul's words above about perverting Torah into legalism.]

3) We might think that the "virtues" were necessary only for this present life....The point is not that God will refuse you admission to His eternal world if you have not got certain qualities of character: the point is that if people have not got at least the beginnings of those qualities inside them then no possible external conditions could make them happy with the deep, strong, unshakable kind of happiness God intends for us.

Mere Christianity, Book III, Ch 2.

Copyright ©1999-2013 by Pastoral Care Ministries, Inc.

Eleven Years Old...Almost

Abbey Way began almost eleven years ago. As a church plant, our model of Christian faith community was adapted from a 1500 year old rule of life written by an Italian named Benedict of Nursia. We loosely applied what he and many others had lived, doing our best to honor the roots of the tradition that has given a structure of Gospel living for many.

Starting at a point that was very different than most other evangelical church plants, we have learned many things over the last eleven years. Some are normal part of the church planting process such as defining essential identity questions of who we are and who we are not. But most of our schooling came in the practice of community making itself. With a lack of an unified conceptual framework readily available, we encountered together distinct moments of stumbling ...sometimes coming very near to the possibility of experiencing a deadly blow to something precious and good among us. The monastic instruction encapsulated in the innate inevitably of "falling down and getting back up again" helped to sustain Abbey Way's willingness to journey on even when our corporate story's unfolding seemed hard or overwhelming. 

One of the surprising places of learning for me personally as the planting pastor was the application of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's wisdom from Life Together. Life Together always floated around as a resource in the background of Abbey Way for many of our people--myself included. When a significant time of hardship occurred among us, Bonhoeffer as a Lutheran pastor and seminary professor coupled with his respect for the monastic tradition and love for the church gave his words respectable weight as applied to Abbey Way's life together. The words that flashed in intensity for me were these:

"Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess he builds. We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it's pulled down. It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church. You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough.... Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts."

Abbey Way begin with the working model of three essential elements working in tension with each other. They are: spiritual practices; corporate rhythms; and intentional relationships. With many people coming to Abbey Way from a large mega-church context with its inherent struggle to find deep relationship and friendship, people came hungry if not starving for something different. Quite quickly intentional relationship arose to the top of the reasons why people came and stayed at Abbey Way. For some, relationship was the only reason they remained at (or even left) Abbey Way. Ironically, the mega-church experience of disconnection became a small church experience of over connection. Pastorally, I struggled with how to lead and guide the dearly loved of God from a corporate self understanding of being a community of relational connections to church of Christ's own formation, confronting my own failures and weaknesses along the way.

At the eleven year mark, I feel more reflective than in years past. Some of it may be that there are more years to reflect upon. But I think that is not all. I need to acknowledge my years at Abbey Way are numbered. This is not because there is a plan a foot of my leaving Abbey Way--a place I truly love--that I am now announcing. No, that is not it. I see a dawn of new season ahead that has yet to be named. I want to write the goodness of what Abbey Way has been down so that we can all continue our learning of what God has done and is doing in us. In some tangible way, I would like to complete my cycle and in turn our cycle of faithfulness here by recording some it for others to see.

This is the first of hopefully many musings.

Peace of Christ to you,

Pastor Jan

A Prayer by Søren Kierkegaard

To Will One Thing

Father in Heaven, what are we without you?
What is all that we know, vast accumulation though it be,
But a chipped fragment if we do not know you?
What is all our striving?
Could it ever encompass a world, 
But a half-finished work
If we do not know you?
You, the One who is one thing and who is all.

So may you give
To the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing
To the heart, sincerity to receive this and this only
To the will, purity that wills only one thing
In prosperity, may you grant perseverance to will one thing
Amid distraction, collectedness to will one thing
In suffering, patience to will one thing.

You that gives both the beginning and the completion
May you early, at the dawn of the day,
Give to the young the resolution to will one thing
As the day wanes, may you give to the old
A renewed remembrance of that first resolution
That the first may be like the last
And the last like the first
In possession of a life that has willed only one thing,
To know God.

Translated from the Danish
Soren Kierkegaard, "Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing"

On Beatitudes and Blessings

When prepping a sermon, a preacher usually gathers much more information than they need. The work is to distill all the collected pieces into a coherent whole that ministers and speaks life to those who have come to worship. This morning as I begin the work of studying and thinking for the Sunday ahead, I ran across an article by David Lose on the site I frequent in the early days of preparation on Abbey Way's continuing study on the Beatitudes. I am not sure if any of what it says on the experience of "blessing" and being "blessed" will filter down and remain in the crafting of this week's sermon on Matthew 5:8 but I want to share what Dr. Lose says with you. Here it is...

Small Group Discussion Update

Four Abbey Way-ers came together on Wednesday evening for the second fruitful discussion about small groups at Abbey Way. The conversation built on what had begun a couple of months ago at the Eastside Chapter House. Notably the same themes have come forward in both conversations. These are the desire for continued opportunities for connection and deepening in our life with each other and with God.

The framework we have had for groups has served us well these last ten years. Groups were created to fit into a well-integrated model of community life.

In review, some of the practices Abbey Way has chosen to incorporate into its rhythm of life together are:

       Daily: Morning and Evening Prayer and Meditation (Lectio Divina)

       Weekly: Gathering for worship and study

       Bi-Monthly: Groups meeting for a meal, prayer and connection and ministry

       Monthly: Individual Spiritual Reflection or Group Direction  and Shared Sunday Meal

       Quarterly:  Mission/Service

       Yearly: Community and Personal Retreat

Here are the four types of groups currently available as important extensions of our community life at Abbey Way Covenant Church:

  • Spiritual Direction Group: A place to practice and grow in personal piety through deepening in our listening and prayerfulness with a regular rhythm. (Monthly; consistent members; self-facilitated.)
  • Chapter House: A place to practice and grow in the practice of hospitality through a comfortable and familial setting creating an opportunity for relational bonding. (Bi-monthly or monthly; consistent members; self-facilitated.)
  • Study/Book Group: A place to discuss together a particular topic or book with usually some preparation asked. (Occasional & short-term; self selected members; led by facilitator.)
  • Ministry Group: A place to pray, plan, oversee and implement different aspects of our shared life. (Short or long term; facilitated by team lead.)

The expectation in the early days of Abbey Way was that everyone would be in a Chapter House (home group) and in spiritual direction (either group or one-on-one). This expectation was punctuated by occasional other types of groups and studies that fit certain needs among our community or ministry group involvement. Where this group commitment with an occasional opportunity to participate in something more was an ideal we held and shared as our Abbey Way way, it has been hard to live into with integrity long term.

Roughly a little more than a quarter of Abbey Way-ers are not connected to any group with about half attending just one group. For some, this is due to season of life and the busyness of changing demands on time and energy. But others, the desire to be in a group has not always met the opportunity to participate in one. (We have a number people who want to be a spiritual direction group or Chapter House but there is none available at this time.) And sometimes the groups themselves have not functioned well which led to slow decay of the commitment level within group and the group either formally or informally dissolving.

Before any panic arises in hearing this information, these factors have always been in true in the life of Abbey Way. They are not new. We can learn from what has been, if we are not afraid to look honestly at our own failures and disappointments both with ourselves and among us.

I believe in order to create the best opportunity to infuse new life into our smaller groups of gathering, we need some fresh thinking.

Here is one thing we can think about it.

As we met on Wednesday, we talked about adding the layer of spiritual development (i.e., “The Critical Journey”) to the small group framework to help an individual self identify what may help them grow in their life in God and love of the other. We will continue to unpack this thought further in the days ahead. Using a tool our Pastoral Intern Julie developed, we hope this will help us all name where we hear the invitations of God as it relates to the groups we participate in at Abbey Way. With this approach, our group life experiences would hopefully move from any sense of duty or expectation we hold of ourselves or each other to a better matching of what is God's call for me (us) today.

In August, I will send out another invitation to gather to continue our discussion of our group life at Abbey Way.

Come September, we hope to have a couple of short-term groups begin with various degrees of frequency and differing formats for you to participate in.

Until then, look for an invitation to participate in a Survey Monkey to help collect more information about your interests and desires in the season ahead.

Keep praying for us as we discuss and plan. May we hear God’s voice and know his way.

Peace of Christ,

Pastor Jan

#With you in the wondering

When was the last time Scripture grabbed you? Ruffled your feathers? Disrupted your thinking? 

It happened to me last Monday. I read Luke 8:26-39, thought about it awhile, and feathers were ruffled. It also caused some questions to arise in me that perhaps you’ve wondered too:

What do I think about the supernatural? About demons, angels, Satan? Was Jesus really casting out a Legion, an army, of demons from a man? Can people today be demon possessed? Was demon-possession simply an understandable explanation for the man’s behavior in a 1st century context? Are there more trustworthy psychological and rational explanations for similar crazy behavior today? Why does the conversation about the supernatural and its place in Scripture and our lives matter?

If you find yourself wondering about the supernatural after this week’s sermon, I would recommend to you a couple of resources:

 “Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views” by James K. Beilby and Paul

Rhodes Eddy

 A conversation with Pastor Jan or Associate Pastor Laura #withyouinthewondering

May you have a close encounter with living Word as you seek and wonder.

- Associate Pastor Laura

Encounters of the Wondrous Kind

When was the last time you had a wondrous encounter with God?

Now by wondrous I don't mean ethereal happiness and mystical delight. That would us set up for potential disappointment. Some may preach that all our God encounters must be glorious (insert the word wondrous) mountain top experiences. With them, I disagree. God comes to us not in the bright and beautiful but also in the misty and mundane. It is our expectation that can get in the way of our naming the experience as a holy encounter.

I think every encounter with God is wondrous but we may need some help recognizing his presence with us.

This summer we will be exploring some the wondrous encounters Jesus had with people as he walked the earth some two thousand years ago through the Gospel of Luke. All of those encounters were not pretty. All of those encounters were not pleasant. But yet, Jesus was there, shepherding his people, healing their souls and calling them to live wondrously lives of abundance. As we reflect on those experiences, hopefully we will learn some new ways God is comes to us now..and that my friends is truly wondrous!!