The God Story | A Field Guide

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The God Story | A Field Guide

Welcome to the greatest story ever told.

In fact, the story of God is still being told.  It’s easy to look at the Bible as old news – the dusty accounts of long-ago people with outrageous customs and irrelevant principles, but it is so much more than that. 

The Bible, as we know it today, is a collection of sixty-six books, each with its own plot, pacing, heroes and villains.  But the whole library is held together by a cosmic context, wherein we see God step onto every page as the one true Hero, the one main character (and we know He’s the main character because He’s the only one that doesn’t die.)  The story of God reaches across time, space and distance.  It stretches from the beginning of creation in Genesis, to the beginning of a new creation in Revelation.  And within that vast timeline, we find hundreds of amazing biographies of the men and women who stepped into God’s story and played a part in His ultimate mission to create, restore and redeem humanity.  This three-word plotline runs through every line of every page, revealing the unchanging purpose of God for then, for them, for now, for us.  Our stories are still being written, and as we begin to read the Bible narrative as a timeless masterpiece of missional living and the inspired truth that saves and sets us free, we will find our greatest chapters are also yet to be written.

We’ve created a field guide for you, so that you will know a little more about each book as you travel through it.  We encourage you to read the introductions, find where the story falls on the timeline of history  and then read the key passages from that book in whatever translation of the Bible you enjoy the most. This will be a beautiful adventure as we dive deep into the story of God. 

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Easter Weekend | Video from Westside Church

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Easter Weekend | Video from Westside Church

We often look at the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection from 30,000 feet above. When you know a story from the beginning to end, you tend to lose compassion for how the characters are processing their current situation. The result lends itself to thinking Peter is weak for denying or John is fearful for running away. Truly, if we were put under the same pressure I wonder what our reaction would be?

We produced this video to identify with the disciples in the midst of some of the most important days of history. As we insert ourselves into the Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Holy Week, we see with fresh eyes how death, doubt, faith, and friendship can all play defining roles in how we process the story of Jesus and the cross.

Authors : Bo Stern and Casey Parnell
Composer : Casey Parnell
Producer : Amelia Rabelhofer
Video Editor : Trevor McCreery
Inspired by the book "A Glorious Dark" by A.J. Swoboda

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Hope Is An Anchor

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Hope Is An Anchor

Hope is an Anchor is an Easter song. Not in the sense that you can only sing it when peeps and cadbury eggs show up in stores (mmmm…Cadbury eggs), but in the sense that it really is about the resurrection of Jesus, the truest hope of every Christ-follower. There are quite a few worship songs about hope and anchors these days, and I think it’s because Hebrews 6:19 is poetic and powerful and really good song-writin’ material. More than that, I think it’s popular because it provides SUCH a beautiful picture for people (people like yours truly) who often feel tossed and tested by the storms of life. People who need hope, and anchors. When it really came alive to me though, was a few years back when we unexpectedly entered a season of life where hope felt lost. Ever had one of those? It was a season where dear friends and family were suddenly diagnosed with things like breast cancer and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Dreams? Dormant. Expectations? Unmet. We felt hopeless around nearly every turn. So I ran to chapters like Hebrews 6, and found inspiration, peace and even the start of a song.

If you really read Hebrews 6 though, like really read it, the verse that has inspired so many songs, lands in its own little storm. It’s a storm of words. They are words that require a lot of context to fully grasp. What I realized in my hope-search was that while Hebrews 6:19 is not directly about the resurrection of Jesus, in a grander sense, it very much is, because of another verse you may have read.

In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul gives us a piece of life-altering truth. You should read it for yourself, but in my own paraphrase it simply says, “No Easter, No Hope.” If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then this is all just a big sham and there’s no hope for any of us. But here’s the thing…if He did come back from the dead, if the historical evidence is accurate and the tomb is empty, then my friends we have found ourselves quite an anchor. It’s an anchor of hope. A hope that stays put, regardless of trial or change. A hope that says in essence…life goes on.

Hate your job? Life goes on.

Relationships falling apart? Life goes on.

Bad diagnosis? Life goes on.

Death? LIFE. GOES. ON. And always will, if we put our hope in resurrected savior of the earth, Jesus.

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The Well | Inspiration For Church

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The Well | Inspiration For Church

Thank you for checking out The Well Conference!  If you’ve ventured onto our website, it’s probably because you’ve been to The Well Conference in years past and are wanting info about The Well Conference 2016, or maybe you’ve just heard of us and wanted to see what all the hype is about.  Either way, allow us to fill you in on what’s going on with us this year.

In the last few years, The Well Conference has established itself as one of the most highly-anticipated Christian leadership conferences in the Northwest. Church leaders and support staff have traveled from across the region to be inspired and equipped, learn best practices, and experience deep times of worship, teaching and personal ministry. 

As we began praying about the future of The Well Conference, we could sense that change was coming.  We felt God leading us toward more intimate, hands-on experiences for leaders and creatives. So we have reimagined how our conference might resource churches and we are so excited about the results. 

The Well is transforming from a conference to a collection of resources to inspire church.  In this format, The Well will include retreats and resourcing to meet you where you're at in ministry.  The retreats will be able target specific areas of ministry, making our gatherings more focused and intimate. These boutique gatherings will include instruction and insight from some of the most sought-after thought-leaders in the nation, and worship from the best artists in the Pacific Northwest. Limited availability will ensure a room where you have a voice, can ask questions, and make solid ministry connections in your region. 

Our intention has always been to equip and inspire the church. We will continue to offer what we know will be a worthy investment for you and your ministry partners.

Thanks for checking back in, and we’re so excited to see how God continues to unite us and drive us forward in His purpose.

For Him,

The Well Team

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Compassionate Love for a Hurting World

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Compassionate Love for a Hurting World

Lisa* paced nervously outside the doors of our church.  Although she had been personally invited to attend our Day of Beauty, she seemed unsure of the welcome she would receive.  Her demeanor was guarded, tired and devoid of hope.  When she finally worked up the courage to step inside, the kind smiles of volunteers and the comfort of a well-planned afternoon seemed to ease her discomfort.  

We had transformed a corner of our atrium into a comfortable space complete with couches, magazines, snacks and an espresso bar.  Our guests had been offered an array of choices for their visit: haircut and style, manicure, waxing, makeup, even massages were part of the menu.  Our amazing (and huge!) team of volunteers did everything they could to let the women know that they were special, they were seen, and they were loved: by us and most importantly, by God.   

Who were these 32 ladies?  We had first invited single moms from the community, and then expanded to include women who were living at our local shelters.  It was apparent that most of them hadn’t had the opportunity to pamper themselves for a long time.  And to be pampered by others who didn’t even know them was a totally new experience.

One of the guests was a young mother who had fled an abusive relationship with her young daughter.  Following the Day of Beauty, she wrote a heartfelt thank-you to the team she called “the Magicians at Westside Church”:

“Thinking I was calling to request a haircut (which was a gift unto itself), I was amazed when the woman on the phone explained to me that I would have the option of having a manicure, pedicure or even a massage in addition to the cut.  I was so moved by her kindness and the generosity of the church’s offer that I cried when I got off the phone.  In retrospect, this was the first time I had cried in a very long time.

“The day of the event was lovely.  I cried again when a complete stranger offered to wash my car and a woman gave me the first haircut I’d had in nearly a year.  I drove out of the Westside parking lot that day with the realization that, by caring for myself, I was showing my daughter how to do the same.

“Thank you for showing me through a series of random acts of kindness how God’s love works.”

As the Day of Beauty wound down, several of us sat in the lounge area, waiting to cheer for the final few ladies as they modeled their new looks and most importantly, their new outlooks.  One of the last women to finish was Lisa.  As she rounded the corner and we caught a glimpse, it took a moment to realize this was the same person who had stepped timidly through the doors just a couple of hours before.  Her hair was cut much shorter and as she walked towards us, she flipped it playfully.  Her smile was beautiful as she told us: “I feel like I can do anything!”

If you are looking for a way for your church to reach out effectively into your community, don’t look to a program.  Simply find a way to use the gifts and talents of your people to touch someone’s soul.  A kind word, a gentle touch, an unexpected gift all send a powerful message of God’s compassionate love to our hurting world.  

That’s something to celebrate.

Chris


Chris Earwicker is the director of local and global outreach for Westside Church in Bend, Oregon.

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If We Could Do Anything

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If We Could Do Anything

At Westside, we often say, “if we could do anything, without restriction, what would we do?” This “blank canvas” kind of thinking creates innovation. So often we allow the boundaries that exist to limit our thinking and creativity. But here’s the problem: blank canvases are actually hard to find in the chaotic world where the demands of life press in on us and can stifle innovation. This tension drives me towards a two-prong approach to innovation:

1) Create open spaces in my life. Do you know Jesus was a thief? He was. He stole time from everything that was demanding attention. He took from those things and created space to hear God, to be refreshed, to breathe. Open spaces don’t just happen, they are created with intentionality. And if you don’t create space, life will close in on you and suffocate the innovation right out of you.

2) Chaos is not the enemy to innovation. It actually is the fodder for implementation. Once you steal time and create open space and hear from God, then you go back into the chaos. It is there that innovation is implemented. God wants to use the craziness to speak truth and life. It was the storm that created an opportunity for stillness; it was the blindness that created opportunity for sight; it was the hungry that created opportunity for justice. I don’t pray for a life without trouble – I pray for the creativity of God to speak into the trouble.

When I think about hosting The Well Conference, I think about creating open spaces where pastors and leaders can come and be refreshed and receive an innovative word from God for their situation, no matter how chaotic it might be. Will you join me on the mountaintop, at the well of living water, to receive from our Lord?


Steve Mickel grew up a Pastor’s kid in Oregon. After graduating from Life Pacific College in 1994, where he met and married his wife of 20 years, he and Suzanne went back to Oregon to plant the Foursquare church in Sisters. In 2001, the Mickel family went to Croatia and served as Missionaries until being called back to Oregon where Steve served as the Executive Pastor of Expansion at Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. In October 2013 Steve became Lead Pastor of Westside Church.

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Propped: Three Laws on being a Creative but not a Self-Promoter

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Propped: Three Laws on being a Creative but not a Self-Promoter

Tuesday blues got you down? Well how about a book giveaway to cheer you up? We're giving away a copy of AJ Swoboda's new book "A Glorious Dark". All you have to do is check out any of our social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter or Facebook), find our post about this giveaway and tag a friend in a comment! Easy as that. 


Propped: Three Laws on being a Creative but not a Self-Promoter

by AJ Swoboda

Lessons always hit hard in the world of self-promotion.

In a good way, of course. Turns out, there are all these secret tricks on Twitter. By sheer happenstance, I had discovered that by placing a tiny “period” ( . ) before a reply to someone, the reply would be translated as a Tweet itself. And, as such,every one of my followers would see it for themselves.

Revolutionary, I thought at the time. As we all do when we uncover some new trick on social media that can expand or amplify your voice, I went to work trying out the new trick. My first “reply-as-Tweet” was sent when a friend—a rather famous friend, I should add—posted a reply to one of my Tweets earlier that day (the content was meaningless as I recall nothing about its substance). But—knowing I very well could catch a wave of attention by doing the “period trick” in front of my reply to him—everyone would become aware that a famous, cool, brilliant theologian was talking directly to me.

So I used the period.

In about one minute, I got a response. Without skipping a beat, one of my Twitter buddies reached out almost immediately and asked; “Hey, why did you put that period in there?” He didn’t know about the trick, I thought. I thought I was going to teach a novice the ways of Twitter. Again, he pushed back, “No, why did you do put that period in there?”

I knew I’d been caught. After a brutally honest phone call, I learned a lesson. My friend told me I should be careful about doing the “period thing” (his words). It looked dirty, he said. It was true: I’d been caught in the shameless economy of social media self-promotion—a dark world where every post becomes about the creative’s own self. In what turned out to be one of the most helpful lessons of my young social media career, I discovered, first, that it really doesn’t make you look good to be a constant self-promoter. And, secondly, that I am in desperate need for a community of people in my life who have the guts to direct message me at a moment’s notice out when I’m being a narcissistic self-promoter. I’ve since learned my lesson, thanks to a truth-telling Twitter buddy.

This puts me (and others like me) in a conundrum. I write stuff. Lots of stuff. And I want to share it with others. Mostly because I believe what I say to be true. There’s the rub: how can we learn to boldly share our voice without being constant self-promoters?

Well, it’s tricky. And I think the answer is closer to home than we’d like to admit. One of our biggest problems, at the end of the day, is that we often lack a true belief in our hearts that if nobody ever read our stuff, Jesus would still be our friend. And that notion—I see you rolling your eyes—is a bare minimum to any creative who has a public vocation in writing, blogging, preaching, teaching, or anything else demanding you to put your ideas out there. Gospel is necessary for the creative. And the gospel is essential because it becomes our constant reminder that we don’t live according to the competition-based economy ruling our world. We are loved “just as.”

Competition rules my mind; always has. What I’m describing here as the “competition-based economy” is one, I believe, virtually none of us have escaped. Competition is in our bones. And in Cain-like fashion, we spend most of our energies jealously examining what everyone else has and how we can come close to their attainment.

Most of us were raised in a culture that set the framework for—in the timely words of David Brooks—“the professionalization of childhood.” His On Paradise Drive illuminates for us the kinds of Egypt-like pressures of performance we put upon children’s backs in their earliest years of their formative development. As soon as they’re old enough, we place children in teams that force them to compete against their peers, we give unnecessarily heightened attention to their grades, and we demand constant attempts by them to excel in all they do. In short, we’re burdening our children to live their lives like we live our lives—in break-neck, “survival of the fittest,” capitalistic, competition.

And we almost never escape it. Perhaps the sickest dimension of competition is when we actually win. For when we do win, we sit proudly, high, boastfully on our ladders of success looking down on the pitifully unsuccessful below. Yet such a way of looking upon others is not only harmful, it is simply ungodly. Paul, in writing to his young friend Timothy, reminds him to speak respectfully toward those above him and treat “younger men as brothers.” (1 Tim. 5:1-2). The irony of Paul’s direction was that that Timothy—pastoring the church in Ephesus—was permitted only to look up at, or, eye-to-eye toward others; Timothy could never peer down upon anybody. And that as the leading Christian in his town.

Paul’s thinking on the subject couldn’t be more succinct than when he writes that a Christ-follower should never “Lord over anybody.” One can’t help but assume that in saying this, Paul is putting a no-compete clause between brothers and sisters of the family of God. Competition, the kind we see in our world and the kind that we teach our kids to live within, is not a Kingdom ethic.

As I’ve pulled together my own thoughts, read the Scriptures, and talked with others, I’ve come to the firm conclusion that the most important roads of maturity that we can walk down is to refuse to play the competition game as we’ve been handed it. We must experience, personally, intimately, emotionally, physically, and spiritually God’s incessant plea to us in the gospel that we are loved in the state we are in. The economy of the gospel entirely undermines our economy of the “survival of the fittest” that orients us toward break-neck competition toward one another.

How can we be creative without being competitive self-promoters?

That is the question for me. I really struggle when social media becomes an unchecked, wild, boundary-less environment for self-promotion and personal self-interests. It just feels dirty when every one of my Tweets is about me. Every time I post something about a book I’ve written, or something I’ve done, I feel almost guilty; and I’ve come to believe part of that is a healthy response of the Holy Spirit. The Christ follower isn’t intended to live a life propping themselves up for the world.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t boldly put our ideas or work out there. We must, if it is in our bones. My friend Joshua Butler really helped me think through. Recently, he reminded me that social media should become a place of service to help life others’ voices, as a place to lend or own timeline to other’s work, to let your Tweets be redemptively sacrificial. That really freed me. I can use social media to serve. I don’t need it to be all about me.

Does that mean I’m going to stop sharing my own work? No. I believe in what I do. And I believe others should see it. If I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t speak it. And hopefully a few people are helped. But I guess I’m coming to believe the days of having a Twitter account or Facebook timeline that is merely my own publicity department is coming to an end.

Here are my three new rules. They’re just mine. Don’t feel oppressed by my rules. Pick and choose as you want:

1. I seek to leverage my own voice disproportionately for the sake of others’ voices.

2. I seek to invite “truth-tellers” to call me out for any waft of narcissism or constant self-promotion.

3. I choose to live in the gracious love of Jesus, being okay with the little voice I have while  not trying to make it louder than God is letting it be.


Dr. A. J. Swoboda is a professor, author, and pastor of Theophilus in urban Portland, Oregon. He teaches theology, biblical studies, and Christian history at George Fox Evangelical Seminary and a number of other universities and Bible colleges. Previous to this, A.J. served as a campus pastor at the University of Oregon. His doctoral research at the University of Birmingham (U.K.) explored the never-ending relationship between the Holy Spirit and ecology. He is a member of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Pentecostal Studies. A.J. is the author of Messy: God Likes It That Way (Kregel), Tongues and Trees: Toward a Pentecostal Ecological Theology (JPTSup, Deo), and Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology (Baker Academic). You can find his website and blog at www.ajswoboda.com, or follow him on Twitter @mrajswoboda.

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The Resurrection: Wake Up!

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The Resurrection: Wake Up!

Luke 24:1-7, 24:30-32

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”
Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

 

This Easter Sunday was different. Surrounded by elaborately dressed African Mamas and Tatas and the dust that their dancing produced, I was overcome with the celebratory atmosphere. People shimmied, stomped and shouted, “Uvikile! He is Risen!” as though they themselves were the very disciples that found the empty tomb. I remember a lot about Easters in Africa with services extending for hours while babies slept and wooden benches teeter tottered under the weight of their many occupants. I recall this particular Easter to be the one where the jolly, boisterous pastor repeatedly hollered, “Vuka! Wake up!” as he recounted the victorious story of the resurrection. Though I suspected he caught the eye of a dozing attendee, there was something to his shouting that has stuck with me every Easter since that one. 

In Luke’s account of the Gospel, we see Jesus’ beloved friends astonished to find the empty tomb where Jesus had laid. Though filled with faith for God’s promises, they unknowingly found themselves looking for the living among the dead. Later other disciples were alarmed that their mysterious, fellow traveller was unaware of the tragic events of that week. They missed seeing Jesus for who He was, the Resurrected Lord. In both moments, they were unable to see. I wonder in these encounters if part of Jesus wanted to cry out to those He loved. With face beaming He would proclaim, “Wake up and truly see me! I am your Resurrected Lord. I am alive for you, to offer you life, celebrate my victory!” Just as Jesus was awakened in the tomb, defeating sin and death, so should our hearts wake up to all that the resurrection means for us. 

Because of the Resurrection…

We are set free from the power of sin and darkness

Hope, peace, healing, restoration, and freedom abound 

Death has been defeated and eternity with God secure

We can intimately know our God 

Fullness of joy is found in His presence 

Abundant life is at our doorstep

…The list is beyond searching out.

As Pastor Manphis’ voice echoes, “VUKA!” in my mind, I wonder in what ways my eyes are not fully awake to the power and person that is our Resurrected Lord. Easter so easily reminds us of the tremendous sacrifice of the cross, leaving us humbled with gratitude.  Above all, the resurrection of Jesus is worth celebrating. The resurrection is the happy ending that is actually a glorious beginning for us. 

Jesus’ death on the cross triumphantly paid our debt once and for all.  It’s His Resurrection from the dark and dismal tomb that guarantees His continual life at work in and through us. With eyes of faith this Easter may we be awakened afresh and new to the power of the resurrection for our lives. For Jesus is Risen and we have a reason to celebrate!

 

Raised in Portland, OR, Jenna Javens served as a missionary in Africa for five years before moving to Bend, where she is now the Global Outreach Pastor at Westside Church.  

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The Tomb: Dealing with a Dead Dream

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The Tomb: Dealing with a Dead Dream

"Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man,  who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid.  Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment." -Luke 23:50-56

I can imagine the despair. The questioning. The doubt. Was He not the Messiah after all? All of their hopes and dreams were now laying dead in a tomb.

On this side of the story, we know the end. We know that Jesus rises again and we even know, that in the very end, the end of it all, He wins. But they didn't know that. I can't help but think of those poor women who anointed his bloody, dead, unrecognizable body with spices. What pain they must have felt.

I think we've all been there in one way or another. Watched a dream die. I know I have. As a senior in high school, with stars in my eyes, I moved to Bend, OR expecting to be God's gift to worship in Central Oregon. With barely 18 years under my belt,  some experience, if-y character, and questionable motivations (I realize, I'm making myself out to be some law breaking drug dealer - I can assure you, I was not.) I quickly realized I did not have what it would take - yet. Because it did not look how I thought it would, when I thought it would, I questioned my calling, I questioned my decision to move to Bend, and worst of all, I questioned Jesus. I watched my dream die.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. - John 12:24

It didn't happen easily. And if we're all being honest, it didn't happen voluntarily. It was not this noble, selfless decision to nail my lifelong dream to the cross. I didn't have a choice in the matter, but neither did the disciples. If they'd had it their way, Jesus would have overthrown the government, set up His kingdom right here on earth, and made all of them His right hand men. If I'd had it my way, I would've been the next Christian Britney Spears (can we all just take a moment to thank the Lord that did not happen?!). God sees things we don't. There is pain in the dying, yes, but there's absolutely nothing that compares to the joy of the resurrection.

11 years after the death of my dream, I'm now living my resurrected dream. Letting it die, allowed the Lord to shape it, and me, and now I believe with my whole heart, that it will bear much fruit. I still have a lot to learn, and I know that there will be other things in my life that I will have to bury, but from this side of the story, I can tell you that the tomb isn't the end, it’s just the beginning.
Lindsay Parnell is the Westside Youth Worship Pastor at Westside Church in Bend, OR, and is the owner of Dollface Lashes.  She and her husband Eric have been married for 7 years and love serving at Westside and hanging out with their awesome dog, Bruno.

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The Cross: We Were Finished

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The Cross: We Were Finished

Today we're borrowing a post from Bo Stern, who wrote the story of The Cross from Mary's perspective.  We think this haunting, beautiful description perfectly describes all that Good Friday should be and all that should be remembered.  Enjoy...

She woke up and rubbed her weary eyes, trying to wish the memories away.
He was gone..  Gone in the worst sort of way.  Gone, not in a blaze of glory but in endless hours of agony. Not with a shout of victory, but with an anguished cry to His Father.
Many were incredulous that he was really dead.  Some couldn’t believe and thought perhaps the whole thing was staged.  She gave a bitter laugh, and looked down at her stained hands.  They could ask her and she would tell them.  Oh, would she tell them!  Her eyes had seen His body, destroyed by Roman guards with nothing better to do. Her fingers had helped to tend him after it was finished, and she remembered being so gentle handling his flesh-torn-from-bone.  She knew being careful was silly; knew He was no longer there.  But she longed to somehow surround his broken body not just in cloth, but in tenderness and love. She wondered if maybe she worked with extra affection, it might retroactively cut through the pain of His past twelve hours.  Though it seemed an impossible idea, she hoped to care for to Him in death the way that He had cared for her in life.  His outrageous love had worked backwards in her life.  It soothed old wounds and rearranged painful memories and softened hardened places in her heart.
She closed her eyes tight again at the memories that careened through her mind; weak and weary from a sleepless night.  A walk might help.   But how would it help?  It would feel like a search for Him and she knew He would not be found.
He had said it Himself.  In fact, she had jumped at the sound of His voice as it tumbled out through His bloody lips with surprising force.   Finished.   He said it.  She heard it.   And He had sounded so angry – like He was done with this world that had treated Him so viciously.
His words came on the heels of the darkest three hours she had ever lived through.  People say the weather is always crazy this time of year, but this was not ordinary cloud-cover in the middle of the day.  It was dark.  Pitch black.   Clearly, the sun couldn’t bear to watch the injustice taking place on that wicked hill and she was somehow comforted knowing that even nature was on her side in loving Him.  It was at that moment that she stopped praying for deliverance and started praying for mercy.  “Please,” she wept into the darkness, hoping to be heard by a God who had never seemed more invisible, “If You will not set Him free, please let Him die.”  She must have said broken pieces of that sentence a million times until she finally heard His words.
It is finished.
A stunned hush had swept over the crowd.  No one knew what to say or do.  This rabid mob had been hungry for His death for hours, chanting and cheering and at one point she felt that if they could, they would lap up His blood in their hate-fueled insanity.  And now that the deed was done they were…silent?  No raised fists?  No victory lap?  No laurel wreath to drape over these small-minded “winners”?  She glanced surreptitiously at the chief tormentors and thought she saw something that looked like confusion, maybe tinged with sorrow, or maybe she was just seeing through her own heart.  But one thing was certain: the glee was gone.  Jesus was finished, yes, but so were they.

We know this leaves the story hanging, but that's exactly what Good Friday did, in essence: it was a cliff-hanger.  For 48 hours, we were finished, without hope.  That's what makes the coming victory so sweet on Resurrection Day.

If you're wanting more of an audio/visual take on Good Friday, Westside Church did just that on Wednesday, by providing a service focusing wholly on The Cross.  If you'd like to watch that, click here.

We'll be back tomorrow to look at The Tomb: Dealing with Dead Dreams.

Bo Stern is a main stage and workshop speaker at The Well Conference 2015, and a speaking pastor at Westside Church in Bend, OR.  Bo realizes life is full of fierce and unexpected battles. When her husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness, she knew she had found her Goliath. With winsome sincerity, Bo points to the battle plans available to us in Scripture and to our God who brings beauty from the struggles we face.

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The Garden: When the Fearless Leader Becomes Vulnerable

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The Garden: When the Fearless Leader Becomes Vulnerable

Luke 22:39-49

“Leaving there, he went, as he so often did, to Mount Olives.  The disciples followed him.  When they arrived at the place, he said, “Pray that you don’t give in to temptation.”  He pulled away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, remove this cup from me.  But please, not what I want.  What do you want?”  At once an angel from heaven was at his side, strengthening him.  He prayed on all the harder.  Sweat, wrung from him like drops of blood, poured off his face.  He got up from prayer, went back to the disciples and found them asleep, drugged by grief.  He said, “What business do you have sleeping?  Get up.  Pray so you won’t give in to temptation.”

It’s been a long night.  Jesus has spent the better portion of the evening with his disciples eating dinner, saying cryptic goodbyes.  And now on this cold night, he goes for a walk.

He’s going out to that garden again.

That garden where he normally goes to be alone, but now his disciples follow him there.  Follow him to that place where he prays.  Where words are exchanged between He and His Father.  Words they have never heard before. They must have wondered what those times were like in the garden.  How did Jesus pray?  What did he say? Did he shout and pace back and forth, or was he silent, still.  He tells his disciples to pray and watch.

I guess we’ll finally get to see the secret prayer life of Jesus.  It must be grand, full of power and spectacle and…

And then they see it.  Just a stone’s throw away.  Not a proud man with arms outstretched to the heavens, not a humble man quiet and contemplative.

The Son of God.

On the ground.

Crying.

They hear their fearless leader pleading with God for His life, begging for another way, and then in the same breath accepting God’s will that He lose it.  The disciples are speechless.  They’ve seen Jesus cry before…but not like this.  Jesus knows that this is the last moment He will spend with his disciples.  This is a moment they will likely replay in their minds after he is gone. And he chooses a moment of weakness.  He could have gone to the garden alone like he always did, and cried in private like a real man.  He could have done a bunch of miracles to remind them how strong he was.  Why did he bring them there to see this awful moment?

Life is full of awful moments.

Jesus said, “In this world you will have sorrow…”  And wow, He wasn’t kidding.  You will have sorrow, your kids will have sorrow.  You will read sorrow in the news and see sorrow in the cinema.  You’ll wake up with a smile on your face, but then read that another school shooting has taken place.  Jesus commands His disciples to pray so they don’t fall into temptation.  What kind of temptation?  Sleep.  Sorrow is heavy and exhausting.  And it doesn’t even have to be yours.  The disciples became “drugged with grief” just from watching Jesus cry.  And in that exhaustion we begin to question and worry and fear.  The ONLY thing that keeps us on track, keeps us focused and sure and hopeful is prayer.  Only through prayer can we see beyond the sorrow, beyond the awful moments, beyond the cross and to the resurrection that God has promised.

Everyone’s life is full of awful moments.

Jesus could have hidden this vulnerable moment from His disciples, but he didn’t.  He gave them a front row seat to His agony.  He let them see Him struggle with the heaviness of God’s will not looking like much fun, with wanting to avoid pain, with needing strength just to keep praying.  He, in great humility, modeled sorrow.  I used to think that good leaders never had problems, never cried on the ground in a garden.  But I have learned more from the suffering of my leaders than from their strength.  When you let people see you struggle you also give them the chance to see you win.  Let’s stop trying to make our walk with God look like a photo shopped magazine cover.  We may look good, but we’ll just have a trail of anorexic followers desperate to live up to an impossible standard.

Jesus was a man acquainted with our sorrows.  Let’s be people acquainted with each other’s.  And let us be awake, vigilant, prayerful and determined to find purpose beyond our present pain.

This guest post is brought to you by Katie Scott, who is a content creator for The Well Conference.  She lives in Bend, OR and has attended and served in various leadership roles at Westside Church for 12 years.  She's currently in medical school, and loves all things words, melodies, and decaf.

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The Meal: A Lesson in Communal Living

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The Meal: A Lesson in Communal Living

Luke 22:14-20 

“When the hour came, He reclined at the table, and the apostles with Him. Then He said to them, “I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. Then He took a cup, and after giving thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I tell you, from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me. In the same way He also took the cup after supper and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you. But look, the hand of the one betraying Me is at the table with Me! For the Son of Man will go away as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!”

This story in Luke of Jesus’ “Last Supper” with His disciples holds all of the elements of a great dinner feast; wine, bread, trash talking, and story telling.  Okay, maybe trash talking is a little extreme, but I’m telling you, that last sentence? Jesus was getting feisty! 

There are few things in this world that I love as much as gathering around a table with my dearest friends and sharing a meal. Every time it happens (and if I’m honest, its fairly often, we like to EAT!) I can’t help but feel like it is sacred somehow. I believe Jesus really liked dinner parties as well. And as we read in the text, He was especially excited about THIS particular meal. It is referred to as the Last Supper and scriptures will tell us that they were eating the Passover Meal. This meal was important to the Jews because it was a yearly reminder of when God delivered them out of slavery to the Egyptian’s and into their freedom in the Promised Land. This meal was important to Jesus because it is some of the last words that He will speak to those closest to Him on earth.  And that’s important to us because the words He spoke then are still active for us today. While this story is rich with symbolism and history I would like to share three principles that Jesus was communicating through this meal that, if we let them, will change us.  

Live Communally: Jesus example in life, until the very end, was living in rich, deep community. And He wants the same for us. In order to exist in that kind of community you have to be willing to be vulnerable. I love that the very first thing Jesus tells them is how excited He is to share this meal with them. He was honest and humble and I believe authentic community is impossible without those as a foundation. 

Remember Often: His command to them regarding communion was for the purpose of remembering. I have an absolutely terrible memory. It’s actually somewhat alarming to me just how bad it is. However, the stories and moments that are easiest for me to remember are the ones that I talk about the most. I have walked with Jesus for most of my life and His daily faithfulness is astounding to me. I wonder, though, how much of His goodness and faithfulness I have forgotten because I simply didn’t share them. Remembering who Jesus has been not only to you, but also to those around you, will build your faith and expand your view of Him. 

Walk Freely: Jesus’ desire is for us to live an abundant, free life. The Passover Meal was to remember freedom. To remind them that they are no longer slaves to Pharaoh but that God had made a way for them. The thing that was so important for the Jews to remember in their exodus is the same thing that is important for us to remember now. We are free. We don’t have to live as slaves to sin, or self. We can acknowledge what Jesus did on the cross as enough and start living a life out in the open spaces. 

I would like to encourage you this week to gather up some of your very best people, squeeze in around a table, open up some of your favorite wine, and share your life, remember His goodness, and breath in, like fresh air, the truth that you are free.  

Mekenzie Stearns is an integral part of volunteer ministry teams at Westside Church.  Raised in Southern Oregon, she attended Vanguard University and has called Bend, OR her home for 9 years.  

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The Hour: Washing the Disciples Feet and the Perils of Insecure Leadership

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The Hour: Washing the Disciples Feet and the Perils of Insecure Leadership

John 13:1-5
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist,and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.

When I was a young teen, my mom realized one day that I was on a fast track to awkward slouching.  I’m on the taller side, so she told me (all. the. time.) to stand up straight and be proud of my height.  Beyond that, my parents raised me to carry an inner strength, knowing who I am and what I stand for, making for one super confident-looking 14 year old, when in reality, I was classic homeschooled people-pleaser with a constant deer-in-the-headlights feeling behind my strong facade.  

I find it really interesting to look back and see how I was led as a young person.  I had the variety of leaders who liked me, saw potential in me, and invested in me while I was yet awkward.  I also had the leaders who were intimidated by me and my apparent confidence, and tried to make me smaller by questioning my heart and motivations and abilities.  They were trying to humble me.  (I tried this on others, too, in later years, and got called out for it by a guy who would end up being my husband...that’s another story for another day.)  Does that ever really work?  In my experience, the only thing that MAKES humility IS humility, and that’s what we get to see so clearly in John 13.

Twice in these five verses it says, “Jesus knew…”  These statements are revealing to us that Jesus knew two things: A. His time had come, and B. the Father had given Him all authority.  Jesus had confidence and conviction about WHY He was here on earth, WHEN He was here on earth, and WHO had given Him authority here on earth.  I’d venture to say that if Jesus was unclear on any of these things, he wouldn’t have been able to access the humility needed to serve His disciples.  If He had any uncertainty about who He was, or what authority He really did have, or if it was or was not His time, His mind and heart would’ve been focused on getting answers to those questions, and He wouldn’t have had the time or the frame of mind to submit to the Father and serve those beneath Him.  Even worse, He may have even looked for proof of who He was by proving who His disciples weren’t - marginalizing and “humbling” them by bringing them down below Himself with cutting remarks or snarky looks.  Instead, He sets a brilliant example for us by revealing the way to show love, the way to glorify the Father, the way to find humility, and ultimately, the way to be lifted up.  

There can be no room for insecure leadership in the church, in the home, in the professional workplace, or in relationships.  The insecure leader forces others to be lower, while the servant leader confidently knows their place and wills others to exceed even more than they have.  The insecure leader looks for faults in others to feel better about their own abilities or authority, while the servant leader gently corrects the faults seen and overwhelmingly encourages others to grow in giftings.  The insecure leader has to be the loudest voice, the biggest talent, the smartest brain, and the brightest star, while the servant leader always hopes, always trusts, always respects, always listens, and always encourages.  Jesus demonstrated all of this in just one moment of pure humility, love and gentleness.

My 14-year-old self had a heck of a lot to learn back then, and there’s no chance I did everything perfectly, but looking back now I realize that I was a sponge.  What I learned from servant leaders in my life was that I was loved and cherished and seen by God, that He had put giftings in me that I had a responsibility to nurture, and that if I didn’t push myself to follow Him I would miss my shot at accomplishing some awesome things in the Kingdom.  What I learned from insecure leadership was how NOT to teach, how NOT to treat others, and how NOT to become bitter when I felt I was treated unfairly.  I’m incredibly thankful I learned all of those lessons because I rely on them to this day, but I also realize that without the servant leaders around me, I wouldn’t have had the confidence, wisdom or maturity to gracefully learn the lessons that came through hurt.

I hope that today, you are able to do one of three things (or all three, for you overachievers out there):

  1. Find the hidden purpose in past hurts from insecure leadership.

  2. Express thankfulness to a servant leader who led you well in the past, and

  3. Serve someone beneath you, even if they have dirt-coated feet or are awkwardly tall.

Whitney Parnell is the director of The Well Conference and the Worship Administrator at Westside Church in Bend, OR.  She's the daughter of Steve & Bo Stern, wife of Corey Parnell, and mom to two awesome little boys. 

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The Welcoming: Mercy for the Chronically Broken

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The Welcoming: Mercy for the Chronically Broken

Luke 19:29-40
As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead.  “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”
And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.
As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.  
“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”[a]  But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”  He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

I don’t like Timehop in the same way I don’t like reading my old journals. As an outspoken, spunky, still-learning-how-to-use-humor-in-a-healthy-way young woman, I don’t really like looking back at the things I said and did when I had even less wisdom and self-restraint than I do today.

Like most people, I make mistakes again and again and again. I don’t learn my lesson and have to ask for forgiveness for the same things all the time. Does anyone else feel guilty or embarrassed with every passing, “Holy Spirit, give me strength for the next time,” prayer? This repetitive repentance means that while I am proud of and thankful for the incredible ways that God has changed me in the past one, three, and five years, I do not want to read what I had to say on any given day back in college. I don’t even really want to read what I had to say a few months ago.

My journals serve to remind me just how long I’ve dealt with the same areas of weakness in my life. Instead of being reminded, I would prefer to believe that there is hope for perfection. I would like to think that at some point I will be such a strong, faithful, and wise Christian that I will become the first person in the history of the world to literally stop sinning. This is ridiculous, I know, but I still hope I’ll do it. What’s worse, I assume that Jesus hopes I’ll do it, too. I assume that he listens to my prayers and thinks, “I’ll give you strength, but we both know it’s only a matter of time.”

How often do we put words in his mouth--imagining that he agrees with our unattainable standards? If we look closely, right there on that donkey, Jesus tells us what he’s actually thinking. The following is my own paraphrasing of our passage in Luke 19:

Just as they passed the road to the garden where only hours later these men would flee, leaving Christ in the hands of his enemies, the whole crowd of disciples began to proclaim that their friend was the King who came in the name of the Lord. The Pharisees asked him why he did not stop them from saying such scandalous things. He did not say, “Don’t worry, they’ll abandon me tomorrow.” He did not say, “They sound good now, but it’ll only last so long.” He did not say, “Yes, they seem so committed, don’t they?” He didn’t even say, “When they stop, the rocks will cry out.” He said, “If.” “If they stop, the rocks will cry out.”

What Grace is this that believes we are capable of righteousness even when he can see our weakness coming just a few hours away? What Mercy could love the chronically broken? Only the King who entered Jerusalem on a donkey.

This week, as we begin to look at the events leading up to sacrifice and salvation, let’s take a moment to understand that it all started with omniscient Grace...with the welcoming of our wonderful Savior.

 

Victoria Stern is the Exhibitor Coordinator for The Well Conference and works at Westside Church in Bend, OR.  She attended Portland Bible College and has a one-eared dog named Mycroft.

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Hymns Make Me Mad

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Hymns Make Me Mad

Let me start by saying I shamelessly gave this blog a title that would make you read it. Hymns really do make me mad, but probably not for the reasons you think. I was raised on hymns, and contrary to what my obsession with 90’s rock might make you think, I love them. They are sacred to me, not just as a worship leader, but as a Christ-following human. At my home church (Westside Church in Bend, OR) I lead a hymn almost every weekend. Nevertheless, these are the reasons they make me mad:

1. They are JUST. SO. GOOD.

Every time I sing a lyric like, “let thy goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee” I’m undone. I think, “What’s wrong with you, Corey? Why can’t you just write a song like that, you lowly, uneducated beast?” It’s true that most of the hymns we sing in church today are poetically flawless, theologically rich and musically brilliant. That’s not to speak of the thousands of songs in hymn books that no one remembers or sings today (more on that later). Hymns make me mad because they’re so good and well…I’m jealous. Help me, Jesus.

2. They’re hard to play.

The truth is, music is just different than it was in the 1800’s and I’m working with musicians who are much more familiar with the music of Bastille than that of Bach. Also, because church is about a community of people serving together, I often have musicians of varying skill levels in the mix too. Many hymns land in odd time signatures and have passing notes that seem to surprise (boo!) modern musicians. It’s not bad, I want people to grow, but I’ve had more than one hymn sabotage both my rehearsal and my drummer's confidence. The sacrifice is worth it, and I’ll keep leading them, but man…sometimes a 90’s kid just needs four chords and the Truth. Hymns make me mad because they’re hard to play.

3.  People idolize them.

I know I said I love them but I’m not gonna go and marry them. Listen, and listen carefully; there are good songs and there are bad songs. The “hymns” that we cling to as if they are friggin canonized scripture, are simply the best worship songs of a few hundred years ago. I’m sure my generation will be complaining about how we never sing the powerful hymns of yesteryear like “How Great is our God” anymore. And say what you want about modern songs lacking theological depth, it simply isn’t true across the board. Some modern songs do fall short, just like those thousands of hymns from point 1 that no one remembers fall short, filling hymn books across the land with their mediocrity. In our community we sing modern songs that teach us about the nature of God and the love of God, just like the songs of Charles Wesley or Fanny Crosby, and we work hard to find them or write them. Don’t idolize hymns, that makes me and probably Jesus…mad. 

In closing, I’d encourage you passionate hymn nazi’s to simmer down and just sing to Jesus whenever you get the chance. And to you #hillsongbethelpassionelevationvertical-ites, for the love of all that is holy, and for the sake of generational unity in the church LEAD SOME HYMNS. Expand your theology and your musicality.  I’ve included a few of my favorite hymns led by great worship leaders in our church that you can download them here and watch and learn.  If you’d like chord charts, just shoot me an email at csparnell@westsidechurch.org.

Ok…I’m not mad anymore.

-Corey

 

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Creating Open Space Through Collaboration

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Creating Open Space Through Collaboration

This marvelous blog post is brought to you by our friend, Bo Stern, a teaching pastor at Westside church in Bend, Oregon and a bestselling author of Beautiful Battlefields (Navpress), Ruthless (Navpress), and When Holidays Hurt (Thomas Nelson), and a speaker at this year's conference.


I remember the first time someone nudged me toward the idea of writing a book.  In spite of the fact that I already wanted to write, and even had about a million book ideas and prototype chapters stashed away in my computer, the suggestion filled me with fear. Heart racing, eye twitching (my classic fight or flight response is the eye twitch which is exactly as awesome as it sounds), I stuttered out, “I…I don’t think I could.  I can’t imagine ever showing anyone my work.”  

Lacking the necessary bravery to reveal my work to the world, those chapters languished in their pass-protected prisons until the fresh ideas became old news and my passion for them died.  

Years later, when my life took a sudden and unexpected turn toward the tragic, I discovered a new, weird brand of bravery, wherein other, bigger concerns had eclipsed the fear of feedback.  I found myself ready to take the risk and open my words and up to the watching world. I partnered with an unapologetically truth-telling editor who did not go easy on me.  She wasn’t mean, but she was very, very direct.  She edited with an eye toward the audience, understanding how easily even a brilliant message can grow muddy and messy beneath the ego of the author.   She loved my book too much to spare my feelings and it was the best experience of my writing life. 

No matter how you slice it, collaboration is hard. It’s hard to open up ideas to other voices and opinions.  It’s hard to check egos at the door and commit to live in truth-telling, heart-pounding  community.  I’m still not fond of feedback, but I’m learning that I’m not smart or strong enough to create anything of value without it.  All creation is a grand work of Trinitarian collaboration. Procreation is depends upon it. The human race itself would be extinguished without it. And yet, for so many centuries preachers and teachers have largely disregarded it, choosing to build sermons behind closed doors, away from the critical collaboration necessary to clarify and crystalize that message into something sharp and effective.  Many reasons exist as to why.  Some fear feedback, some are reluctant to share the credit, some feel their education or intellect eliminates their need for it and many would welcome it, but lack the time or organizational structure required to prioritize it. 

My favorite thing about being a part of the teaching team at Westside Church is the system we have created to foster a culture of collaboration. It has been difficult and time-consuming to find a way that works for us.  The process has taken many twists and turns along the way, but the result is a powerful team spirit and an environment where honest collaboration is central to nearly everything we do. Our service content is stronger than it’s ever been as evidenced by remarkable growth in several key metrics, and our relationships are stronger as well as we learn to trust one another in authentic community. If you’d like to know the story of how it developed, why we think it works and why it’s worth fighting for, please join me and Casey Parnell in our workshop at The Well.  We’re excited to dream with you about new ways to create life-changing content in the wide open space of collaboration. 

 

 

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The Mere Edges - Promo!

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The Mere Edges - Promo!

We are so excited to enter into a space that touches even the mere edges of his ways. 

Introducing our promo video that absolutely gives us chills. Let yourself dream of wide open spaces to which God can beckon you to see even beyond the edges of his majesty. Let that be an inspiration you! 

 


Come to the well this May and enter into the freedom of open space with us. 

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Midnight in Paris (Or The Tyranny of the Possible)

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Midnight in Paris (Or The Tyranny of the Possible)

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Partially excerpted from The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith?

If you really wanted to badly enough, you could be eating dinner in Paris by midnight.  Or you could be standing on top of the Empire State Building, or even walking on the Great Wall of China.

We live in an age of unbounded possibilities.

The sky is the limit, and we are consumed with pursuing our passion, chasing our dreams and seizing opportunities to fulfill our wants and desires. The dream chase is fueled by many things including the mobility of society, the ability to transplant and change jobs, urbanization and the growth of multi-culturalism.  Yet, two of the most significant factors shaping our modern minds and psyches are the influence of the media age and globalization.

When I was a youth pastor I frequently showed my students excerpts from movies like The Count of Monte Cristo or The Mask of Zorro. Both films portray classic scenes in which the would-be hero (think Antonio Banderas) is mentored by a patient, elder instructor in the art of swordsmanship. The scenes usually last around five minutes, during which the bumbling young protagonist—barely able to hold a sword or assume the correct fighting stance—is miraculously transformed into the world’s greatest swordsman.

After the clip, I’d ask students what they’d learned. The obvious take-a-ways were offered up.  “You need a teacher to help you learn,” “Practice makes perfect,” and so on. When they ran out of answers I’d ask them again and they’d look at me inquisitively wondering what I had in mind.

“You learned that you can become a world-class expert in five minutes,” I’d say.

The media age has shaped our perspective, convincing us that there are no limits on what we can do or what we can accomplish. We believe we can be anyone and do anything—all in a matter of weeks or minutes.

At the same time globalization has brought the world into our living room. Have you ever caught yourself wishing you could have several houses all over the world? Distant places, for many Americans, seem like they’re right next door, and globetrotting seems effortless—just a quick search on Kayak or Expedia away.

It took Mark Twain a week to get to Europe by steamship in 1895. Today, we measure transatlantic travel in hours. The fact that for many Americans, travel flows like water can be seen in the following: in 1990 at the beginning of globalization the number of US Citizens holding passports was a mere 11 million. In 2012 it had grown by over a 100 million to around 113 million.[1]

We daily peer into other cultures and see what life is like in other places, and we begin to think that if we ran to the airport right now, we could be anywhere in the world by the end of the day.  Globalization has made many Americans truly cosmopolitan—citizens of the world.

But can the illusion of unbounded possibility negatively effect our pursuit of justice? Do the media age and globalization have a dark side?

The good thing about the media age is that it provides us with a virtual window into the atrocities occurring in many places around the globe. But because of the “Midnight in Paris” mentality that comes along with it, we often buy into the illusion that we can simply hop in and resolve the mess. We see it, we think we know everything about it, and we’ve been trained to believe we can fix it overnight.

A Princeton University study found that in one year, 1.6 million United States church members took mission trips—an average of eight days—at a cost of $2.4 billion. That is a lot of people spending a lot of money to go fix the world. In many ways we need to applaud the positive sentiment in this situation. But we also need to take a critical look to make sure we’re creating deep, lasting relationships and change rather than building a form of justice-tourism.

Ending global poverty or eradicating slavery in our age are worthwhile and noble goals, as long as we count the true cost and don’t make the mistake of believing that—like in movies—we can become an expert swordsman in five minutes.

One of the benefits of globalization is that our awareness of global injustices has expanded exponentially. But we can easily focus our attention outside the boundaries of our own neighborhood, city or country and lose sight of the subtle sins of culture within our own context and place.  In our awareness of great injustices on the other side of the world, we can miss the injustices in our backyard that aren’t as prominently displayed or represented in the media. We can also miss the fact that some injustices that seem far away have actually crept into our daily lives in subtle and hidden ways—slave or sweat shop labor in our shirts or shoes or conflict minerals in our phones or video game consuls.

So what do we do?

The media age and globalization are here to stay, so how do we learn to ground ourselves in reality without killing our imagination or hiding in a cave?

The mid-20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, known as a practical theologian with strong engagement in and focus on social justice, would have had something prophetic to say about living with the problems caused by unlimited possibility.  His practical thinking about the balance between the extremes of the real and ideal, or actual and possible, can be seen as he writes,  “The final wisdom of life requires not the annulment of incongruity but the achievement of serenity within and above it.”

We see this same train of thought in the prayer he penned at a funeral.  Known as the Serenity Prayer, the opening lines are used daily by millions of people affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
The things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
Which should be changed,
And the Wisdom to distinguish
The one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.

Niebuhr’s words speak to today’s justice-minded culture.  His words speak with relevance to personal responsibility and the need to take action within the subtleties of our day-to-day life and relationships.

Globalization stretches our minds, our understanding of reality, and our sense of responsibility.

Balance is found in grounding our contentment in reality and gaining the ability to bridge the paradox of the infinite with the finite; in the ability to live in the tension between actual and potential—realism and idealism. An excited realism keeps us from being tyrannized by the possible.

Contentment requires we grasp hold of the actual state of our life, and justice demands we slow down and go deeper. With all that’s possible, may we wisely use media and the positive side of globalization to love others and create lasting change in a flat and interconnected world.


This blog post is brought to you by Ken Wytsma, pastor of Antioch Church in Bend, OR, as well as innovator, speaker, and social entrepreneur, president of Kilns College, founder of The Justice Conference, and a return speaker at The Well Conference 2015. Visit his website for more awesomeness: kenwytsma.com/

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Let There Be Light

This video was created for The Well Conference 2014 by the talented Jerod Wanner. He is a local videographer who travels all over the world creating videos for companies and organizations including The Justice Conference, World Relief and Facebook.

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#TheStruggleIsReal

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The church has always had to walk a fine line when it comes to relevance.

Are we supposed to meet people where they are, or does the presence of Jesus speak for itself?

Does striving for excellence in our field really bring glory ultimately to Christ? And what’s the perfectly right formula for how much you have to talk about Jesus in order for people to associate your success with Him and not your own talent?

We always come back to this little kicker: “Be in the world, not of it.”

Gauntlet = laid.

I’ve run into this struggle in the world of social media. I spent a year or two diving into social media and trying to discover all it has to offer. I read the book Social Church to find out how a church can use social media to its advantage. As intentional as I strive to be with social media, using it as a tool and not just a hobby, I still find myself sinking into the depression of I’ll-never-be-good-enough-or-do-the-coolest-things. Over Thanksgiving my husband and I did a “social media fast” to break the habits that so quickly form, and also to not miss Thanksgiving. You know what’s scary? All this still happened, even though I tried to break the social media code… to control it without letting it control me.

However, just like the title of this blog tells, the struggle is REAL, people! As a person, church, business or celebrity of the 21st century, you absolutely cannot expect to shove social media to the side, and have the influence, relevance or impact in this great world you desire. I also firmly believe that we can’t get bogged down under the unhealthy weight of the Pinterest lifestyle. This is yet another one of those fine lines we find ourselves walking, and I want to share the perspective I’ve found that’s helped change my social media tactics, specifically when it comes to ministry.

Instead of trying to use social media as my own tool for gaining prestige or popularity, trying to get people to my events or to know the name of my church, I’ve decided to let my time on social media be completely driven by the Spirit of God.

I think about the times in Acts, in particular, where the Lord created divine encounters… the Holy Spirit sends Philip to the desert road south of Jerusalem, and there he meets the eunuch who is just dying to understand Jesus, salvation and water baptism. Or  Steven, the martyr, yelling out the words of Jesus right when Saul is standing there consenting his death. These examples, and so many others, remind me that walking the line, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, often brings you to a life-giving encounter with someone who really needs Jesus. Honestly, I don’t really want to be in the sticky middle of social media. I’d rather write it off forever—that would be easier than walking the line. But this new perspective has me seeing that God can use every word I type, every picture I post, everything I share or tweet or double-tap, to His kingdom’s advantage. We may try to deny the fact that likes, comments and shares hold any weight, but really, there’s no point. When I use my influence as a pastor in a large church in a small city, I remind people that there is someone they can go to when their world falls apart. Making myself available as the Spirit leads is a powerful strategy.

So my thought is, if I’m going to be a part of this world, I don’t want to waste anything. I’m going to continue facing the struggle and leaning into the purposes of Jesus in my world. I may have to pull myself out of the quicksand from time to time, but that only means I’ll get stronger and stronger every time. I might even learn more tricks along the way. In the end, it’s all about being available for the divine encounters the Holy Spirit is setting up for me, and I don’t want to miss a single one.

- Whitney Parnell

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