Month: April 2011


Trusting in God

So an interesting thing happened to our family and our church this past weekend. Here is the story:

I helped with a funeral on Saturday at our church and I was waiting for someone to drop off a prop for the narthex to help with our theme for Sunday. As I sat in my office waiting, my phone rang and it was one of the students who goes to our church. He was working at a hotel and some college aged individuals carrying a cross had come through and he found out they were traveling from Pickwick to Bloomington. Knowing that Stacy and I try to practice hospitality whenever we can he called me figuring I could figure out how to connect with them since he was working and unable to help.

Well after the canoe got dropped off and placed in the narthex of the church, I headed down to Target to see if these individuals were still there. As I approached Target I kept looking around just in case they had started moving. I kept seeing groups of college aged individuals everywhere (no surprise in a college town) but no group carrying a cross. Finally, I spotted them in a field between a bank and Walgreens and so I drove around and parked in the Walgreens’ parking lot just in time to catch them. I told them I had heard they were traveling to Bloomington and asked them to tell me their story.

They were four students from Bethany School of Mission who had been blindfolded at 4:45 a.m. and driven from Bloomington and dropped off at Pickwick. This was an exercise in trusting God and so: (1) they had no money (2) they could not openly ask for help but only could received what was offered (3) if they were offered a ride they could only go 20 miles with that individual.

How many of you would have done this? They didn’t know where they were getting dropped off or how in the world they were going to get home?

I told them that our family would like to help them since it was supposed to storm that evening by providing them a meal and a place to stay and see what happens from there. They gladly accepted after having walked 20 miles that day. When we got to our house I learned a bit more about each one of them: Samantha from Texas, Angela was from St. Paul (actually Woodbury but she said nobody knew where Woodbury was so she says St. Paul…I knew where it was), Taylor was from Tennessee, and Nathanael was from Pennsylvania. We got to hear each of their stories and how thy ended up at Bethany and discovered that they all were training to be missionaries. We also discovered that there were ten groups of 4 individuals that were sent out to various parts of Minnesota to find their way back to Bloomington.

I also discovered that each group had an emergency cell phone that they could use if they had not been offered shelter by 8:00 in the evening and someone would come and get them and take them back to Bloomington (which was good to know that they wouldn’t have been stuck in the downpour had it come to that for them).

Well we ate a meal and visited and I told them that I was hoping to put together a caravan of vehicles to get them back to Bloomington the next day and wondered if they wanted to go to church with us and share their story with my senior high youth sunday school class and then head out after lunch to get back to Bloomington. They agreed and so the adventure began. I was planning on just posting a message on Facebook to see if my friends closer to the Twin Cities would respond but then as I thought more I thought this would be a great opportunity for our church to live into abundant giving. I posted a message on Facebook that evening and set out to tell these student’s story in the morning along with checking if anyone responded to the Facebook post (which was cryptic because of me posting it on Twitter in 140 characters or less…note to self that Twitter isn’t the best vehicle for describing a need like this).

I woke up in the morning and had no responses to Facebook and so I went and announced their story at the 8 a.m. service then ran home to pick them up to get back in time for sunday school. When I got back I was already halfway complete with the caravan (we needed 6 drivers to give them a ride for 20 miles each…myself and another member had already agreed to do it the night before) and so I share again at the 10 a.m. service and we completed the number needed for the caravan (plus I had a few extra that had agreed to help but weren’t needed). God provided abundantly for this group in need.

We took off at 1 p.m. as a caravan of 6 vehicles stopping every 20 miles to switch vehicles and then the vehicle that had completed that leg of the journey would head back to Winona. I had the last leg because I wanted to see their school and I wanted to hear some of the other teams stories. We made it back to Bethany (well not fully, I got them to .5 miles from the school but then they got picked up by another caravan that had another group with them for the last .5 miles) and I got to see their school. I heard that five of the groups had to call the night before and only one group was still out.

Overall, it was a great experience to hear the wonderful stories of these four individuals and how they came to trust in Christ with their life. I truly believe that God worked through the situation not only to bless them in their travels but to bless our church with their presence and their story of trust.

That gets me to my last reflection on this event. This past week our denomination (The United Methodist Church) had the Leadership Summit where they talked about “drivers” of vibrant and healthy churches, etc. As I have reflected on this story I can’t help but believe that one of the “qualities” of a vibrant and healthy church is this: “trusting in God.” Do our churches and do our denomination deeply trust that God will provide? Is this “trust” central to our “dna?” Metrics can’t capture this but I believe this is one of the true “fruits” of a vibrant and healthy church….

Here are some pictures from the caravan back to Bethany:


Leadership Summit Reflections

*image via

The United Methodist Church held a webcast yesterday to discuss our latest commissioned study that resulted in the Call To Action Report. I watched the webcast from my office while interacting with others on twitter via the tag #umclead. The reaction to the report/presentation I think is best summed up this way: the twitterverse wasn’t to sure that the “drivers” and statistical accountability is the answer to our problem.

To be honest I understand many of their sentiments. I don’t believe the presentation was meant to be taken this way, but it really did come off as an institutional survival presentation rather than a call to be a movement. (even though this was explicitly stated by Bishop Palmer within the Q & A portion)

Here is what I think most people heard: Dashboards are the key. Now I know that this isn’t want the report or the presenters are really saying, but that is what many people heard. I have to admit it did seem that we were being told the problem is that we haven’t been accountable to the statistics and if we were we could address the problem and that is where I have a slight pause. The problem is still there. The statistics might help us recognize a problem exists and try to address it, but the “Call to Action” then just ends up telling us what we already knew: there is a problem.

The telling moment came when a question from the Congo was shared: “What is God’s vision for the UMC?” That was the heart of the matter that people were looking for and that was still left unanswered. I think Bishop Palmer and the others hinted at an answer with the assertion to return to being a movement, but there was no direction/vision for how to do that. I was left asking this question over and over in my head: “Is the UMC willing to die for the sake of the Gospel? If not we may have a disconnect?”

If our questions continue to center around the UMC and its survival, I feel we will never return to a movement. I don’t believe movements are about creating an establishment/institution and then making sure it survived. A movement, in my estimation, is willing to do anything, even cease to exist, if it can accomplish its goal. Which brings me to my question again: Are we willing to let go of our own survival as an institution and focus on what God has called us to do? What if we trusted that God would provide and looked instead on what we have been given and how we can best be stewards of those gifts?

What if we stopped asking what was wrong or what is missing and instead focused on what is right and what we already have (which is enough in my estimation)?

My parting thought is this: The UMC needs God but God doesn’t necessarily need the UMC and until we recognize that I think we will continue to struggle and fail to be a movement.


The 2011 Influential Christian Thinker Champion

Well the field of 64 was narrowed down to just two: St. Augustine and Martin Luther. The championship game was one that was back and forth throughout the weekend with each competitor taking the lead at various points and many occasions where it was tied. With only 10 minutes to go the match was all knotted up and then Augustine was able to slowly separate himself from the great reformer Martin Luther. Final score: Augustine wins 29-27

So here is your Methodist Justin’s 2011 Influential Christian Thinker Champion:

St. Augustine


Championship Game

Well we had a frantic overtime game between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and St. Augustine but in the end Augustine prevailed: 135-99. Bonhoeffer started out strong in overtime but Augustine was just too much down the stretch and the late rally by Bonhoeffer was not enough.

So here we are now in the championship game with a match between Martin Luther and St. Augustine. Who will prevail? Voting for the championship will be open until Monday, April 4th at 1 p.m. central time and the winner will be crowned in an afternoon post on Monday.  Good luck to the two thinkers in the 1st annual Influential Christian Thinkers Tourney.

St. Augustine vs. Martin Luther

final four

Final Four: Overtime

Well for the second time in the tourney we have an overtime game.  Augustine and Bonhoeffer have ended regulation with a 15-15 tie, and so we have gone into overtime.  Here is what will happen: Below you will see the poll, the poll will be open until Noon (central standard time) to determine the winner and you can vote as many times as you like.

In our other game, Martin Luther defeated Martin Luther King Jr by a score of 19-11. Martin Luther is now awaiting his competition in the championship game.  Due to this overtime game, the championship game will begin sometime this afternoon and will go into Monday with the champion now declared on Tuesday (baring another tie).


Dietrich Bonhoeffer vs. St. Augustine