Berlin’s Coffee Shops

My daughter recently attended a music camp in Berlin with concerts every night of the week.  So, being proud parents, we decided to take a week of vacation and be there for every concert!  Why not, right?  Having a concert to attend every night meant that we needed to find something to do with our days, so I had an idea:  let’s visit at least one Third Wave coffee shop each day.  Rather than do an extensive explanation of what “Third Wave Coffee” is, I’ll reference Elizabeth Childer’s well written article, “Third Wave Coffee: A History.”  Read up, if you’re intrigued by this.

Berlin has some of the most popular coffee shops and roasters in all of Europe.  So, with brochure in hand, some recommendations from coffee aficionados, we began our “Third Wave Tour” of Berlin.  I decided that, if I’m going to compare the shops, I needed to try the same things in each.  That meant espresso and a flat white at each shop.  Just a note:  I’m presenting these in the order they were visited, and not in the order of preference.  I’d visit every one of these shops again.

Berlin Kaffeerösterei

Berlin KaffeeröstereiFirst stop was on Sunday, when my son and I stopped off at the Berlin Kaffeerösterei.  It was jam packed with people (a good sign).  It conveys a “step back in time” atmosphere that reminded me of a 1920′s coffee shop.  Not being a fan of coffee, my son ordered a huge chocolate shake (Eis-schokolade).  I ordered a shot of espresso and then a hand-filter coffee.  As my son devoured his drink, I assumed it was great.  My espresso was good.  I couldn’t quite place the roast.  It was a middle-of-the-road shot, nothing to write home about.  However, the hand filter was another story.  I really enjoyed the hand filter Brazilian.  It tasted natural, and left a lingering flavor in my mouth; well balanced and enjoyable.  And rather than brewing it for me, they brought the components to my table, instructed me on timing, amounts, etc. and let me brew it myself.  Being a coffee nerd, I almost enjoyed that aspect of it as much as the coffee itself.

The Kaffeerösterei has a speciality shop attached where you can view roastings, or pick up a HUGE variety of coffees, teas, and more.  They also offers a wide assortment of cakes and pies.  I had the lemon pie, which was delicious!  My only regret is that, my bent towards all things lemon took me to a bad pairing: Brazilian coffee and lemon pie.  Had I gone with something richer, like a rich chocolate cake, I think I would have been happier.  However, all in all, it was a great little shop.

The Barn

The Barn

Next up was The Barn, arguably Berlin’s most well known shop and roaster.  Had we arrived 10 minutes later, we wouldn’t have been able to stay.  There’s seating for around 15 people, and that’s IF you want to sit shoulder to shoulder with the people at the next table.  Rain and cold forced us inside, where we found a corner that was comfortable.  But I definitely didn’t get the vibe that you would come and stay for a while.

The shop is small, but the coffee is not!  The espresso shot was perfectly pulled.  It lingered.  Sporting a nice crema, it was heavy and smooth, earthy, buttery.  And the flat white presented the perfect balance of espresso and milk.  We also tried some of their baked goods; the custard tart.  They, too, tasted rich and complimented the espresso well.  Being The Barn, we had to buy a bag of beans!

They offer a vast assortment of beans that are sure to please every variety of coffee drinker.  We picked up a bag of the Mwembe, which I’ve already had three or four shots from.  A little slice of heaven:  fruity, bold, forces your mouth to water by a direct attack on the glands in your mouth… Mmmm.

No Fire No Glory

No Fire No Glory

Our third cafe was No Fire No Glory.  When we embarked on this journey of coffee tasting, we hadn’t even heard of this cafe.  Which is a tragedy because it was absolutely amazing!  Spacious, warm, inviting, we felt at home before we’d even ordered.  Offering an abundance of seating, both inside and out, we didn’t have to figure out where the three of us would fit.  The eclectic decor said, “Come, stay all day if you’d like.”

The espresso was a bit more earthy than that of The Barn.  It was pulled well, and had the tell-tale indicators that a well-trained barista was behind the bar.  It didn’t linger, but popped, eliciting an “ohhh yeah” response from my taste buds.  I enjoy it when I can taste the earthy notes of a shot, and this was a shot that I enjoyed.  The flat white was much stronger than usual.  At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d ordered extra shots or if it was just so.  But I found it very enjoyable to the point of thinking maybe I should order a flat white with an extra shot.  It may have just been the strength of the roast.  Either way, it was a great beverage.

Am Ende der Welt

Ende der WeltOn to our fourth stop, Am Ende Der Welt (at the end of the world).  And it was!  We traveled to the section of Berlin known as Wedding to visit this shop.  We almost walked right past it!  When we walked in, we were greeted by an urban-minimalist decor:  lights hanging by wires, “unfinished walls,” aged wooden floor.  My wife, an interior decorator type, loved it!  If the chairs had been more comfortable, she would have given it three thumbs up!

The coffee was great!  My shot of espresso was more to the fruity side, which is the way I like it, than our first shops.  Again, expertly pulled, it was greasy (and that’s a good thing) and coated my tongue and mouth.  It was smooth and a hint towards the sweet side.  The flat white was also good, with the difference from the others being the espresso.

My wife ordered a chocolate croissant, and with the first bite, said, “Ooo, now THAT’S good!”  Which, at the time of day we arrived, was surprising!  Usually, later afternoon pastries taste like, well, late afternoon pastries.  But this was fluffy, warm, buttery, like a whole stick of butter was used in each croissant (again, to me, a good thing!).

Buena Vida Coffee Club

Buena VidaThe last stop on our tour was Buena Vida Coffee Club, which is actually in Potsdam.  Buena Vida was not in our brochure.  I had posted in our FaceBook group “Third Wave Wichteln” that I was going to be making a tour of coffee shops, and asked if there were any that weren’t in the brochure that I should visit.  A guy in the group recommended Buena Vida.  But, being in Potsdam (outside Berlin), I had written it off as “too far.”  Some friends suggested giving it a try because Potsdam is a beautiful city worth seeing, so we added it to our list.  I am so glad we did!  It was the greatest surprise of our tour.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the guy in FaceBook that recommended it was, in fact, the owner, Patrick Berger.  The shop had plenty of seating when we arrived.  However, being centrally located in the shopping/touristy district of Potsdam, it quickly filled up and was buzzing with activity.  This was another shop that communicated a warm “come and stay” atmosphere.

We didn’t order food at this shop, but went straight into the coffee.  My flat white was just the way I like it:  bold, robust.  When put to the sniffing test, I could taste the roast as it lingered between mouth and nose.  It was an Ethiopian espresso with that dark and seductive Africa flavor.  I decided to order a Syphon Coffee instead of espresso for two reasons:  first and foremost, so my 14 year old son could watch the process; and second to see the master in action!  The only draw back was that, had Patrick not been there, I would have had to pass on it since the other baristas don’t know how to work the syphon.  Kudos to them, though, to say, “Sorry, we don’t know how.” rather than serving something sub-par out of inexperience!  Fortunately for me, Patrick was in the house, and served up a Kenyan Syphon coffee that blew my socks off.  With the first sniff I could tell that it had been mixed to the gram perfectly.  After the first sip, I looked at Caryn and said, “I can taste vegetables.”  She laughed at me since I hate, HATE vegetables, but this was something different.  As I let the sip roll around in my mouth, I tasted the earthy, almost sweet pea flavor of this african coffee.  It was light, pleasant, and not overpoweringly earthy.  Needless to say, Buena Vida in and of itself is worth the visit to Potsdam!  We will be back!

All in all, we enjoyed every one of these shops.  We felt like we were touring living art exhibits, where the baristas were performing and creating for us.  Thank you for your art and dedication to excellence.

The Heart of the Matter

So, lets say you sell it all and move to another country where you hope to see revival, awakening, salvations, etc. Isn’t that a great reason to move? Isn’t that a great cause to devote your life to?

In Matthew 13:44, Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a treasure that a man found. Hiding the treasure again, he goes and sells everything he owns to be able to buy the field and be the rightful owner of the treasure.

The treasure of great price is not an obscure verse. It’s pretty well known. I think, at least for me, the problem isn’t the selling of everything to lay hold of a treasure. The problem for me is at the very beginning where Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like… So often what I want, where I commit time, what I want to lay hold off is indeed something worthwhile, but not the greatest treasure, the Kingdom.

My daily reminder to take up my cross every day now comes with an attachment: take up your cross and pursue the Kingdom. Sure, revival and awakening are kingdom things. Salvations are the greatest of all miracles! But if i pursue them and not HIM, I’m missing the point entirely. Seek first His Kingdom, and He’ll do the rest.

My Time In Lisbon

Tonight, while sharing Jesus in the streets of Lisbon, I met a man with a definite need. He was begging for money on the side of a shopping street, and was missing his left leg from the knee down.

When I was hungry…
Our new friend is Umberto. We asked him some questions, seeking to see which language we could use with him. Turns out he speaks fluently English, Portuguese, Spanish, and French! He’s 26 years old, and has been on his own since he was 14. He lost the bottom part of his leg in a motorcycle accident. As a general rule, I don’t hand out money on the streets, so we asked him if he’d like to get a cup of coffee. To say he was shocked would be an understatement. He said on rare occasions people bring him food, but no one ever took him for coffee or to get something to eat! No one ever spends time with him. He led us to a café around the corner where we got coffee and some “slap yo’ mama good” pastries. And we got to know Umberto.

As we turned to spiritual things, he pulled a Bible out of his backpack and told us he reads 30 minutes every day. He was currently reading Psalms and told us all about Ps. 91, which was what he’d read today. He prays, speaks to God every day, and hopes to do enough good to tip the scales in his favor and earn a spot in Heaven. That’s when I shared the good news with him: Jesus has already tipped the scales, and would like to have a relationship with him. We spoke for some time, and it became clear that Umberto loves God, His Bible, but has been alone for so long that he didn’t want to trust what we were explaining to him. BUT, he’s agreed to meet with a friend on Saturday at the same café to find out how he can better understand the Bible and God’s plans for him. PLEASE pray for him, and for Joe as they meet to further the conversation. Pray for his salvation AND pray for him to finish raising the money for his prosthetic leg. He’s got 80% of what he needs. Now, because Portuguese is only minimally close to Spanish, either he needs €1,800 and already has €1,600 OR he needs €8,000 and has raised €6,000! Pray that the local body of Christ will be faithful to meet him at his point of need and express God’s love for him.

As we wrapped up our coffee, I told him that God was leading me to express God’s love to him, and asked if I could just give him a hug. He somewhat hesitantly said, “Yes, that would be okay.” And when I hugged him, and wrapped my arms around him, he grabbed a hold of me like he didn’t want to let go. He then told me he hadn’t had contact like that in 12 years, since his dad died and his mom abandoned him. He began to cry. I told him he didn’t have to be alone any more. That his is loved, valued, and would have people in his life to prove that.

From the café, we went to a local restaurant for dinner. Umberto took us to a restaurant where they serve his favorite Cod fish. We shared a meal, shared more life, and shared about our faiths. We shared our stories, and connected over common experiences we’ve had in our lives. After dinner, we hugged one more time. As I hugged him, I prayed God’s blessing on him and told him how loved he is. Then he headed home.

Please add Umberto to your prayers. I’ll do my best to keep in touch with our folks here in Lisbon and provide updates on Umberto as I can.

Thanks for praying!

You’re Invited

In Germany, there’s a saying when someone has invited you to dinner and you attempt to pay. They say, “No, you are invited.” In German, “Nein, du bist eingeladen.” That means that the inviter expected to pay, and by accepting the invitation, you agreed to be paid for. To violate this would be rude. Okay, maybe not rude, but interesting push back would begin.

In the last 2 plus years living in Germany, I’ve shared the Gospel with hundreds of people. Some are people I know. Some are people I’ve met. And some were just random people. In that time, we haven’t seen GREAT returns, but we’ve seen people saved. In the last year, we’ve also started training groups to help Christians get out there and share their faith. 100% of people who do not hear the Gospel have no chance of salvation. That means, when we share with at least 1 person, their chances increase by 100%. But as I share and train, I come up against the same push back over and over and over. It goes something like this, “I’ve shared Jesus, but no one is interested.” At first, I empathized with this response. I’ve encountered it many times. My usual response is to encourage them to keep sharing. Someone will say, “Yes, I want to follow Jesus.” But recently I’ve pushed back a little when I get this answer, and have found that, just as in America, those sharing Jesus do not offer an invitation to make a choice to transfer their trust from their own redeeming work to the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross. When it comes to salvation, and the most critical step in any Gospel conversation, we must invite those we’ve shared with. Jesus has already paid! They just need to accept His invitation to new life. The power of The Gospel is the power that changes people. And they’re invited to be paid for, too.

Recruiting or Recruited?

I just returned from a motorcycle tour of the Harz Mountains. It was a blast! When a local believer invited me to go with him on this retreat for bikers, I had mixed feelings. I was pumped because it was 3 days on the motorcycle in the mountains of Central Germany. I was also not so excited because it was retreat planned by a local Pastor for believers who also ride. If you know me, you know I’m cautious about spending my time with groups of “already believing people.” Not that hanging out with Christians is a bad thing. No, the opposite is true. But my heart is more for reaching the lost and investing my time in the harvest field. And after 2 decades of serving as a Pastor, it’s comfortable to slip back into relating primarily to Christians. So, I geared up for this trip, almost canceled twice, and rolled out with the idea that I’d be looking for partnerships in reaching local bikers and for potential Christian Motorcyclists Association members. You know, like a recruiting trip.
But what happened was altogether different.

The mixture was, from what I could tell, 50/50. There were a couple pastors there, a German missionary serving in communist Asia, a few church members, and then just a bunch of folks who like motorcycles and riding them. My training kicked in, and I started looking for the non-believers in the group, almost intentionally avoiding the believers when God got my attention. I was sitting with two local pastors and the missionary when the missionary asked me what I did, and why I was in Germany. I get that. A LOT. After a few minutes of introduction, one of the pastors asked me what my main focus was. Without hesitation, I said, “Reaching the lost.”

“How are you doing that?”

“I’m sharing Jesus and life with them.”

“Yeah, but how?”

“I tell them my story, Jesus’ story, and invite them to follow Jesus.”

“Are you doing this alone?”

“Actually, I’ve found some local partners, individuals and churches, who are joining me and allowing me to train them.”

“What kind of training?”

“To share their story, Jesus story, who to share with, and what to do with those that say ‘Yes’ when invited to follow Jesus.”

“What does that look like?” And the conversation lasted a good hour as I shared about the need to reach the lost and not just stay in our bubble of politeness and tolerance. The missionary from communist Asia asked some questions and shared insights into what a Church Planting Movement in his asian context would look like. We agreed that the concepts were the same, but the appearance was completely different from Asia to Germany. Out of the blue, one of the pastors says, “Would you come and train my people? We really need something like that. Would you have the time to invest in us?”

As I’ve already said, I try to spend my time in the field. But I knew that God had just asked me if I would help put workers in the field. How do you say no to that? It became clear that God had a reason for me coming on this trip that was well beyond riding the motorcycle to the mountains, or bigger than finding a potential CMA member. Here was a Luke 10:2 moment. I’ve been praying that God would send workers into the harvest. Although I was there to do some recruiting, turns out I got recruited; seemingly as an answer to my own prayer.

The Center Of My Universe

Who is at the center of your universe?  God?  You?  Your kids?  Your Spouse?  Your Values?  HIS Values?  It’s an important question for followers of Jesus, especially today.  I live in a very secular, very humanistic culture. And, I would guess that you do, too. I see it all around me: people who have decided humanity is the highest good. As a short definition for secular humanism, I would offer this: a belief structure that embraces social justice, human reasoning, ethics, and philosophy for the shaping of a value system while simultaneously rejecting anything spiritual or faith flavored UNLESS said belief stems from a sense of self-fulfillment or self satisfaction. Such a system would, then, value human choice, tolerance, and logic in the pursuit of self-fulfillment. And, self-fulfillment is the bottom line.

Before you go wagging your finger at such an obviously non-Christian way of living, ask yourself what drives you day in and day out.  For example:  if I were to sell all of my possessions, give the money to the poor, and live the rest of my life in the service of the least of these, it would appear to be a very Christ-centered life.  It very well could be.  But why do I choose that life?  Do I choose it ultimately because it’s fulfilling to me?  Is it my value being played out?  Or have I embraced something Christ has asked of me in the pursuit of obedience to Him?  That’s the issue.  As if reading my mind, The Nomad Podcast posted this quote from Carl Medearis this morning:
“As Christians, we’re faced with a problem difficult to see because it’s so obvious. We’re aware of Jesus, but we are obsessed with Christianity. We’re stuck on its requirements and we’re defined by its doctrines, caught in an endless struggle to find out where we fit, if we’ve “arrived” yet, and if we’re doing it right…In this state, we’re not living in the grace of Jesus. We’re trying to maintain our membership.”

Modern western Christianity seems to be moving toward, at least in part, an attempted  synergistic mixing of Christian principles and secular humanism.  We follow those teachings that bring us the greatest fulfillment or that broker acceptance from those we value, avoid most things that require deep faith or great sacrifice, thus elevating ourselves or the group to the position of god.  This is a very complex and serious thing to me.  We have found a way to secularly humanize Christianity with the pursuit of what feels right to us, often embracing logic, social justice, and self-fulfillment with no thought to God’s desire for us or faith while at the same time having the appearance of Christianity.  Still having trouble wrapping your brain around what I’m saying?  When people come together to study the Bible, they circle up, read a verse, and then ask, “What does this verse mean to you?”  Fourteen answers and perspectives later, we’ve taken a text and filtered it through us to derive its meaning.  And no one dare say, “This verse couldn’t mean that…” or you’re intolerant, dogmatic, and narrow minded.  I agree that there is room for interpretation of the Bible, but not to the extent it’s normally taken.  The flex should come in what that simple truth looks like as it’s put into practice in our lives.  In my 20+ years of being a Youth Pastor, I saw it countless times.  I would ask, “What does this verse say?”  And 20 answers later there’s been an honest attempt at deeply spiritual things, philosophical things, application-type things, only to have to say, “Look at the verse.  The answer is there.”  Typically, we’ve run God’s Word through the filter of “me” in order to find its meaning.

Anyway, I digress.  I really simply wanted to pose the question today, “Why do you and I do what we do?”  Here’s a couple of quotes to meditate on today:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)  “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  (Luke 14:27)  “My food…is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”  (John 4:34)  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (Gal. 2:20)

If I do all the right things, but only because I find them fulfilling and derive great satisfaction from them, have I really embraced what Christ is all about?  Honestly, only if I can say that love for and obedience to Christ, no matter the cost, are my bottom line.

Shouldn’t it be simple?

We have some measurements for the things we put into practice here in our work. Too often, as we search after something revolutionary to reach the world we live in, we implement things that don’t meet these standards and in doing so, we hinder a greater movement. Having studied Church Planting Movements (CPMs) around the world, we have discovered some things present in all of them. Mind you, each of them is distinct, and solely dependent on God and His moving. I’m not saying that God doesn’t figure in, because in the final evaluation, He is the only factor that matters. However, we’ve found that these other elements keep us out of God’s way, and keep us from doing things that lead to weird places. Some of these elements seem no brainers. For instance: urgent, fervent, and frequent prayer are present in the lives of believers where CPMs are happening. We also see a great emphasis on the sharing Jesus with those who don’t know Him. Anyway, I digress from what I sat down to write. Needless to say, there are things we, as His people, should be doing. And, if we’re not careful, we can spend all of our time talking about what we should be doing, studying what others are doing, and even training others to do what they should be doing: and not doing it ourselves. We can advocate the newest ideas and train people in the most effective uses of their time and relationships and remain disobedient to what Jesus modeled for us, and has asked us to do.

We don’t find Jesus giving a training conference with His disciples. He didn’t say, “Come, be trained by me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He said, “Follow me.” And for 3 years, His disciples WATCHED Him do what He did.  In John 20, we find Jesus being very clear on what He expects from His disciples, “As my Father has sent me, even so send I you.” Do what He did.  Go as He went.  He kept it simple and easily reproducible.

Similarly, we read about Paul, and get a glimpse into his training program: go with me and let’s do this! If we boil down what Paul modeled for people like Timothy, Luke, Barnabas, Mark, Silas, etc. we see him share his story, share Jesus, baptize those who believe AND those they bring to faith. We don’t see him extract people for further training. We don’t see him having people read more “how to” books. Share, share, baptize, send. It’s simple. It’s easy. It’s how it should be.  He kept it simple and easily reproducible.

I’m challenged this morning to simply ask the question, both of myself and of you, are you being obedient in this simple pattern of obedience? Are you loving God, loving others, and making disciples? If your answer is “No,” the next question is “Why not?” Here’s five simple & easy things you can do in the next week to change that answer to “Yes.”
1) Make a list of people you know who are far from God and pray for that list.
2) Write your story and practice sharing it in 2 minutes: My life before Jesus/How I met Jesus/My life since Jesus. Share it with someone who can help you make it easily understood by people who don’t speak Christianese.
3) Divide your list into groups of 5, and share your story with the first 5 on your list THIS WEEK.
4) With those that are interested in knowing more, share God’s plan to save them through Jesus.
5) With those that decide that want to follow Jesus, help them make their list, write their story, practice with them, and send them out to share. Or, as Johnson & Johnson have often wrote, “Lather, rinse, repeat.”

IT’S SIMPLE! And, honestly, it’s a matter of obedience. So the one simple question to answer is: Will you be obedient? To quote Elwood Blues, “We’re on a mission from God.” Well, at least we should be.

Change the parameters

My friend and I spend a LOT of time at our local coffee shop.  As a matter of fact, my whole family does. That being said, we’ve been very intentional about learning the names and stories of the staff there. Now, it’s pretty normal to get asked what we do for our careers, so most of the staff at this coffee shop knows that I am a church planter, and that I was a Pastor in the States. Last week, my friend and I decided it was time to take it a step further. We decided that we would be there on Tuesdays at 3:00 to read the Scriptures together, talk accountability, and to pray. And since we are going to be praying, why not pray for the staff? And, since we’re praying for the staff, we should ask them if there’s anything they would like us to pray about. Sounds simple enough, but try asking an acquaintance about prayer requests! You should have seen the look on the manager’s face when I asked if there was anything we could pray about for her! “Um, well, let me think, um, WOW, that’s nice, um, yeah, I can’t think of anything…” Then she looks at the other employees who were standing there, too, and had been asked the same question and says, “What about you guys? Is there something you need prayer for?” The shock then spread as the employees realized the manager had sucked them into this “weird” encounter! To defuse the situation, I told them it was okay, and I didn’t mean to put them on the spot. But, my friend and I would be here every Tuesday specifically to pray for them and the other customers, and if they thought of something, just let us know. Less than stellar response, and not what I’d hoped/prayed would happen. Well, at least not at first. I went back in on Friday while my oldest was at tutoring.  I had just sat down when the manager comes over, kneels down by my chair, and begins to weep. She goes on to tell me that, after thinking about it a lot, she has a request for me. Giving me a little back story, she shared a request about her family, illness, and gets to the request. I was amazed. I guess when I stepped outside the paradigm, it gave her freedom to do the same. I prayed for her right there, and have continued to pray for her and her family every day. Since last Friday, we’ve had a couple other staffers share requests with us. It just goes to show, as “Patch Adams” suggests in the video below, when you care enough to step outside the parameters culture has imposed, you might just be surprised at who steps out with you, and completely changes the nature of your relationship.

The Hello Experiment

UPDATE:  On Tuesday, 1/29, we went to the counter to ask for prayer requests.  One of the ladies working asked us to pray for some tough decisions she has to make, and the arrangements of moving to another city where lodging is super hard to find.  She was excited to share with me.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, 2/5, we asked a staffer at the coffee shop what we could pray for. He was really confused about why we would pray anything for him. We were explaining the concept when the co-worker we prayed for last week comes over and says, “They prayed for me last week, and everything worked out perfectly! You should try it!”  Here’s to hoping God becomes famous in this coffee shop!

Some thoughts from The Green House

Back in September I attended a Green House with Neil Cole in Vienna. Although it was my first Green House, the content was not anything really new to me. Having read a lot of Neil’s stuff, and having had opportunities to pick his brain in the past, it was more of a refresher course and reaffirmation of things I’ve been processing since 2005, when I started on my church planting journey. I often site “The Shaping of Things to Come” by Hirsch and Frost as the book that turned my church concept upside down. And while that’s true, the book that plowed the soil was the “Organic Church” manuscript that I received in Cologne, Germany, in the Summer of 2004. Anyway, I digress. So, from the Green House in Vienna, I took copious notes on what these concepts look like in new forms of church. And, during my review of these notes this morning, I thought it could be fun to throw some of these ideas out there for discussion. I’ll say upfront, these are my thoughts on Neil’s talk. To say this is Neil’s point or his talk would not be completely accurate, although it could be. And to say that they are my original ideas is not completely accurate, but could be. Clear? LOL!  Let’s jump in.

*The Kingdom starts with the Good Seed!
In this parable, the seed is the word of God.  When the message is planted, it will reproduce.  John 5:39 says that eternal life is not in the Scriptures, per se, but in Him!  Blindly obeying commands on a page is not what He’s all about.  He’s all about the voice behind the words on the page; the breath of God.  It’s a living voice that is around me today and wants to talk to me today.  Make no mistake.  This does not discount or at all minimize the Scriptures.  But sometimes we replace God with just his word.  After all, aren’t there people who follow the Scriptures and do not know Christ?  The scriptures say the spirit and letter of the law are important, not just the letter.

*The Kingdom starts with Good Soil!
1) Hard Soil – repels the seed and the birds steal it
2) Shallow Soil – receives the seed, grows quickly, the wilts from heat
3) Weed-infested Soil – receives seed with joy, springs up, then fruit is choked out by the weeds (the worries of life, the deceitfulness of riches, the desire for other things)
4) Good Soil – receives seed, grows quickly, and reproduces

Some truths from this:
1)  it affirms the experience of my life – some people show up, then disappear.  The truth is 2/3′s of those who receive the word will not reproduce.  Yes, I know there are 4 soils.  But notice the third soil also produces fruit, but gets choked out.  I’ve wrestled with what that means exactly, but can only say there is some fruit there.  Regardless, many who have the seed sown too them are not good soil.  So, we change the way we do church in an attempt to bring them back, lowering the bar, and filling the church with bad soils.   (Aside:  and pastors wonder why their churches don’t “get it,” rise up, and storm the gates of Hell.)  Now, we’ve changed church so much that bad soil feels like good church to them:  that they should come and expect to receive, receive, receive…  The entrance exam for the church is to take up your cross and follow Him.  But we’ve reduced church to cater to bad soil.  But we can be set free from this need!  It’s not my job to change the soil!  I can’t change the soil!  I can’t give a sermon every week that will “get them through” for another week!  After all, if the death, burial, & resurrection doesn’t motivate them, can I really think my sermon will?

2) Those that DO bear fruit bear a WHOLE LOT of fruit!  A single shaft of wheat, when left unhindered, will produce crops big enough to feed the entire world in 8 years.  To reproduce is a natural desire.  And, thus, a natural process.  I can’t pull the growth out of a seed.  I can’t grab the stalk of corn and pull it taller.  Our job is to plant God’s voice in peoples’ lives and their job to obey.  Those that do will bear much fruit (30x, 60x, 100x)..  If this was a stock, we’d jump on it!  With a minimum return of 3,000%?  Invest in the proven stock.  Invest in the good soil.  It only takes one seed to produce an apple tree.  One seed can produce one tree and that tree will produce enough seeds for an entire orchard of trees that will produce several orchards of trees.  Could this mean that Jesus isn’t saying that some will reach 3 people, some 6, and some 10?  Or, is he saying some seed will reproduce to the 3rd generation, 6th generation, or 10th?

3)  The proof of the type of soil comes from the production side, and not the planting side.  The seed is sown equally in all the soils.  There’s been a tragic miscalculation of the soils based on human standards and evaluations.  This was certainly true in my story.  My High School principal told me to learn a trade because college wasn’t in my future; and prison probably was.  He couldn’t see that my future had an “X-factor” in it, only that my life was full of fertilizer…which is great soil for seed.  You just can’t really know, can you?  Sow abundantly and faithfully.  Then, watch for fruit.

*The Kingdom Grows micro to Macro – easily seen in human reproduction.  Even now, my body is reproducing cells.  6 months from now I’ll be different.  It starts small.  Our attempt to reproduce the complex from the beginning is not natural.  We split churches in an attempt to plant them; like cutting off an arm and planting it in hopes that another person will grow.  All reproduction starts at the simplest level:  individual makes disciples, some of whom become leaders who plant churches that lead to a movement.  If you multiply the simple enough times, it will go global.  John 4:30-32

Translation Tables or Common Ground

One of the struggles anyone will have in moving to a different country will be learning the culture and/or the language.  In our case, learning both is something very hard to do.  I spent a few hours yesterday talking with an American who is moving here next year, and I bet he thinks I’m some type of language fanatic.  The one thing I said over and over was that he would need to guard his first year here JUST to get a basic handle on the language.  The other element we spoke about was the cultural differences between USAmerica and Germany.  Although a very western, post-modern culture, these two countries are VERY different.  At some point, I’ll blog solely about the differences.  Last weekend I was speaking with 3 men who live in Stuttgart, and we were speaking about American expressions like, “That was so good, it’ll make you slap yo’ mama!”  It just doesn’t translate.  When we spoke about Texas, the idea of a “Good ol’ Boy” came up.  I thought I’d done a great job of explaining this one when one of them asked, “So, is Arnold Schwartzenager a ‘good ol’ boy?’”  My saving grace is that the conference presenter used a clip from “Second Hand Lions” where Garth, Hub, & Walter realize the salesman sold them all the same seed, and that they’d be eating corn for the next year.  I was able to lean over to my friend and point to these two old men in overalls eating corn-on-the-cobb that they grew on their farm, and said, “Those are good ol’ boys!”

The next day I received an email from a very close and very wise friend.  He always seems to have the right words at the right time, and was speaking into my frustration getting the Harley road-ready.  And he drove home the point that where my American culture and German language may fail me, the Harley is a “point of translation.”  I’ve been chewing on that, and the implications for life overseas in general.  There is a great temptation to always be transfixed on the differences, and to see the cultural gap as unbridgeable.  But, I think that’s going about things all wrong.  The question should be, “Where are there commonalities that will bridge that gap, and make language and culture a minimal difference (or at least a smaller difference?”  Motorcycles, sports, family, kids, eating, art, the list is endless.  Caryn has been singing in a community choir for the last month.  It’s a group of mostly senior adults who don’t know a lot of English, but they love music and she loves music.  So, they come together in the medium of their interests and bridge the cultural and language gaps with music.

We often quote Paul saying, “I’ve become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22)  I know I’ve often used this verse to talk about being places the traditional church hasn’t been, but it’s much bigger than that.  And, even though Paul was a Roman citizen and a Jew among Jews, what does he really mean?  This morning, I’m chewing on the idea that he didn’t let things keep him from his appointed task.  He didn’t balk at cultural or language differences.  Instead, he found the commonalities and plowed ahead.  

Today was the first time I’ve ridden my motorcycle out to have coffee.  It wasn’t just a “ride through the country so the battery doesn’t die” ride.  It wasn’t a ride to the shop because there was a problem, or a ride home from the shop only to be parked.  I rode into town, found a parking place, and was unpacking my stuff when a German man walks up, looks over the motorcycle, looks at me, and, with a smile, says, “Wunderbar!”  Then, he turns and walks off.  For just a moment we connected.  As he walked off, I said, “Danke!” hoping he’d turn around, but he didn’t.  But I guarantee that, had you been standing there with NO knowledge of the German language, you’d have understood, too.  The gap was bridged, and, even for a short moment, we connected using an understood medium, or “translation table,” as my friend called it.

New concept?  Not at all.  For thousands of years, God sought to make Himself understood to humanity.  Although His language was clearly understood, our sin-nature clouded our understanding; a disconnect of cultures perhaps?  But, at just the right time, in just the right way, God made His perfect revelation of Himself in Jesus so that we could say, “Wunderbar!” and connect with the divine. (Gal. 4:4-5)

Instead of living your day today disconnected or discontent, feeling alone or misunderstood, why not follow the model of Christ, the model of Paul, and  strive to bridge some gaps today through commonalities.  You’d be good at it, I promise, if you’d just get out there and give it a try.  There is a world of very diverse people all around you that would benefit greatly from your presence.  Find a commonality and connect with them!