30 March 2012
What is the Seder?
The Seder is a ritual performed by a community involving a retelling of the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in ancient Egypt. This story is in the Book of Exodus. Seder itself is based on the Biblical verse commanding the “People of God” to retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt: "You shall tell your child on that day, saying, 'It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.'" (Exodus 13:8) Traditionally, families and friends gather in the evening to read the text of the Haggadah. The Haggadah contains the narrative of the Israelite exodus from Egypt, special blessings, rituals and special Passover songs. Seder customs include drinking four cups of wine, eating matza, partaking of symbolic foods placed on the Passover Seder Plate, and reclining in celebration of freedom.
Our story must be understood through the Israelite story.
When you read the Old Testament from Genesis to Chronicles you’re left with a sense that the story is supposed to be going somewhere, but hasn’t gotten their yet. It is an unfinished narrative. Things are supposed to happen that haven’t happened yet. You cannot understand the climax of the story if you do not enter into the longings and expectations accumulated by the Hebrew people. The story is God’s master project with Israel; a work of art He slaved over for thousands of years. This project initiated by God tells a story with tales of glorious beginnings, rich vocations and then horrible failure and exile. Our identity is birthed out of God’s plans for Israel. What God does for them is what God is doing in relation to the whole world. To be Israel was to be the people who, for better and worse, carried the destiny of the world on their shoulders (The New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright). Grasp that, and you have a pathway into the heart of New Testament Christianity.
Jesus is the answer to Israel’s story
This journey through the Old Covenant is the drama filled back-story to Jesus arrival. God’s action in Jesus seems like a new thing but it’s what He has always promised “The time is fulfilled” (Mark 1:15). Jesus is the one who will rescue Israel from its long continued nightmare. He is the one that will “save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). When Matthew said that, any first-century Jew didn’t just mean that individuals could turn and find personal forgiveness. Exile is the payment for sin, so forgiveness means the end of exile. Jesus is the jubilee that the Israelite body had been groaning for. When most westerns read the gospels they imply that the back-story is “everyman” sinning and dying and needing salvation. But if you don’t root the story in Abraham, Moses, David and the cry of the prophets you cannot appreciate the identity of Jesus and what He came to complete and subsequently launch (Jesus and Judaism by E.P Sanders).
A Community Instrument
Seder is a communal tool in helping a tethered gathering of people remember their spiritual story. It's more than just remembering our own personal salvation, it's recalling the epic faithfulness of God, the frustrated relational dynamic with His collective people and the restorative work He's committed to on this planet. Seder speaks to us through reenacting the drama of Israel. It tells us that despite appearances God is good, present, coming, moving and making beautiful things out of seemingly stalled things. Seder connects with our imagination and says “don’t forget you’re a part of something much bigger than yourself.”
For more reading on the story of Israel as our story read> Jesus and Judaism by E.P. Sanders http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Judaism-E-P-Sanders/dp/0800620615/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_4
Check out the interview here> http://frankviola.org/2012/02/15/christiansmith/
24 March 2012
Two extreme pictures of manhood have taken center stage in literature, movies, sermons and in our cultural dialogue because of this pendulumnitis. (I apologize for the oversimplified stereo types.)
Man as a Warrior: This picture of masculinity is to be confidant and highly respected. His communication style is debate and dominance with his logic. The people he has relationships with are seen as subordinates that work for his leadership. His opinions are to be given out whenever possible and his masculine impulses are to be acted on since men know best (sorry about the sarcasm). Conquering the world around him is a sign of success in his life.
Man as a Dolt: This picture of masculinity is self-indulgent; living for beer, video-gaming and sports. This man has the right to be free of too much responsibility and the weight of being responsible for others. He views most of his relationships through the grid of fun; if they’re not fun he’s not hanging with them. His sexuality is uncontrolled always looking for a release. He avoids planting his feet and digging-in to challenges that require long term commitment and sacrifice. When it comes to making wise decisions he’d rather defer to someone else because it’s easier and someone else will always make the choice for him.
I’ve been mentoring young men for years and within in reason these are the only two pictures of manhood that young men can conjure up as their presented options. I’m convinced that out of the ashes of Chauvinism and Feminism this is what we are left elevating on the stage of masculinity.
Let me make a hard turn here. It’s because of this that I was so moved by the character Peeta in the book The Hunger Games. The kind of masculinity portrayed in Peeta is an endangered species right now. When I came across it, it stuck out like a sore thumb in the midst of all the other cultural pictures of manhood floating around. I haven’t seen the movie but I read the books.
Peeta models a masculinity I can get excited about:
1. His pursuit of unselfish love> His love for others was an active choice to serve others, to make a sacrifice by stepping into pain in order to lift up someone else. This unselfish love was not simply a limp deferral to other people around him or an avoidance of conflict. The opposite is actually true, it was a concentrated act of strength. Peeta had power and he chose to use it to unselfishly love others. He chooses to value people more than himself and even more than survival. He does not love for his own gain or for the reciprocation of their love. Although he's a great shmoozer and public speaker, Peeta uses his gifts for selfless causes. He thinks of the people he and Katniss have watched die with sorrow and wants to honor their families. Just think about his speech in Rue 's district during the Victory Tour: "It can no way replace your losses, but as a token of our thanks we'd like for each of the tributes' families from District Eleven to receive one month of our winnings every year for the duration of our lives." He also takes a physical beating in order to be generous to someone in need, evident in the time he secretly gave two loaves of burnt bread to a starving Katniss.
2. His loyalty to maintain moral character> In Peeta’s famous monologue the night before the tributes are sent to battle in the arena, he expresses his intent to maintain “his purity of self," even though behaving otherwise could be easier, even safer for him. “I don’t know how to say it exactly. Only … I want to die as myself ... I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not.” There is a character plumbline in Peeta. He cannot and will not compromise because of the circumstances presented to him. There is a moral compass that compels him to stay authentic to a certain moral no matter the pressure to abandon it. There is an integrity-of-self that haunts Peeta in a good way and he does not muffle that internal voice of character and conviction.
In no way do I think these qualities should be exclusive to men. But I do believe there is an appropriate place to help men construct a better, more compelling, Jesus-oriented picture of masculinity. Ephesians 5:25 says “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave up his life for her.” This passage does not have a hidden agenda for loving in order to gain something in return; love, sex, respect or power. This kind of love reflects the radical love displayed by Jesus that loves unselfishly...just because. I don't often see this kind of love, as the core to mature manhood, being taught from many celebrity preachers and their subsequent ministries. Thanks Suzanne Collins for creating Peeta and for giving us a masculinity I'm not embarrassed of.
19 March 2012
When we're disappointed by people and circumstances the bud of cynicism begins to sprout. Cynicism is really a reaction to disappointment. Either our idealism or our idea about how a situation should work out is met with resistance. When we’re let down and angered we’re faced with how to respond. It’s at this tipping point that our justifiable frustration can turn into a poison that enters our own blood stream. A cynic is a dejected idealist. We begin to think that cynicism keeps us alert to the potential dangers that lurk from the individuals and organizations that try to manipulate us into believing what they say. The cynical voice in our heads convinces us we are more “streetwise.” So we surrender to the cynic inside us.
I've heard it said that, “The problem with being a cynic these days is that it's difficult to keep up.” There is certainly no shortage of targets for the cynic. The Internet-age has accelerated and amped-up our deep potential to be cynical. Someone is always saying something dumb online, saying something exaggerated that gets under our skin, saying something that baits us into a fighting mood.
Like junk food, cynicism begins to be our favorite meal after a while. We lose sight of the long term harm because the short term consumption of this psychological junk food is so tasty. We find some sense of satisfaction in recognizing how bad things are. The expert cynic will point out that things are “even worse than anyone knew."
Cynicism is questioning with a sour edge.
I’m naturally a questioning person. I’ve been asking big questions about everything related to Christianity since I was a teenager. What I’ve discovered is that there is a difference between questioning and cynicism. Cynicism often sneaks up on you, plants its seed and then uses disappointment to fuel its presence in your life. I can notice a subtle spirit of cynicism creeping in on my attitude simply from reading an article that angers me. Honestly, nothing gives a buzz like cynicism and so it feels powerful to give over to it.
When are unaware of our cynical lens we unknowingly embellish the volume of the things we see as problems. I’ve also observed that cynicism can lead to arrogance cloaked in education. It begins to spot holes in others thoughts and plans and responds with “they are ignorant about something I’m educated in.” The problem with this is that all humans will have gaps in their knowledge.
One of the main effects I’ve noticed as a church planter is that cynicism "soaked into a heart" makes it very, very difficult for someone to embrace a vision and give their energy and soul to it. It causes them to keep the vision and mission at arm’s length. It becomes awkward for them to buy in or go all in.
A Tenacious Unnatural Attitude
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:7: "Love… bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." He was speaking of a tenacious-unnatural-attitude that keeps bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring in the face of disappointment with others. It takes serious intentionality and perseverance to do community well. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said "community is something everyone wants but most bail on it when it starts challenging their attitude." I find many young adults are shocked by the practical disciplines love requires on their cynicism while reorienting around community. In my experience one of the glaring community-killers is the psychological junk-good of cynicism.
15 March 2012
Watch at your own risk.
13 March 2012
Bruxy Cavey (The Meeting House) speaks like a classic Anabaptist and I love it.
12 March 2012
In England things are quite different. Churches are often half empty and the attitude of many of the British people towards evangelical Christianity is pretty negative (to say the least!). A large church in England might have 300 people. Obviously, this is a really foreign reality for people who have grown up in a culturally Christian United States. However, there are some things that we as British Christians are learning that may be useful on both sides of the Atlantic. Britain has become a mission field again in the true sense of the word and the remnant believers have had to change and adapt in order to remain effective as God’s people.
I live in Sheffield, a northern, post-industrial English city where about 2.5% of the population attend church on a Sunday. This means that the vast majority of people in our city never go to church. Ever. For us, ‘Build it and they will come’ does not really figure any more. Instead, we have had to learn afresh what Jesus meant when he said ‘go and make disciples.’ One of the most important lessons we have learned is this:
Incarnation is better than intervention.
Intervention says “I really want God to touch my life and make it better. But God is a little scary; I think I need a Pastor to stand between him and me.” Of course we never actually come out and say this; we just act as if it is true. Instead of going to Jesus directly we expect our Pastor to go to Him, praying, fasting and reading the Bible and then to instruct us in what he has learned at the worship service. In return, we pay out tithes and turn up on a Sunday morning before going back to our lives, and to be honest, not changing too terribly much.
These things are all good and I am sure that God likes it when we intervene to help people, but I believe that God actually has a preference for incarnation. He does not want to help us from a distance, through our Pastor. He wants to be in every part of our lives. I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of John 1:14; he writes:
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.
God wants us to access His presence in community and His Word amongst each other. He wants to deal with us directly, and He wants us to do the same with the Last, the Least and the Lost.
In recent years in our church we have seen an incredible thing – every day members of the church who consider themselves to be missionaries even while they still live in their home city, and who actually live that way. They believe that if you’re a Christian, it means you’re a missionary. There isn’t really a choice in the matter. They have found that life-on-life engagement with others allows our contagious faith to spread. They share their time, energy and resources with each other and move into the lives of those they are trying to reach. In a city where no-one goes to church, we have begun to see people come to the Lord in the hundreds, most without ever darkening the door of the church.
For those of us with an "intervention" approach to faith, I believe Jesus brings the challenge of incarnation.
Question: If you are a pastor are you unintentionally teaching people that for them to access God they need to hear your preaching, worship as your church-band plays, grow closer to God through your programmed class?
Excerpted from Mike Breen's Blog
05 March 2012
I’m sorry to crumble your picture of the early church but it has to come down. In the first few chapters in Acts we read about an unbelievable event; the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the lives of those who believe Jesus is the Messiah. You can read those chapters and recount the crazy supernatural manifestations occurring on a large scale. But those early chapters do not give us a correct view of the early church. They do help us understand the opening event of the church that will never be duplicated again; essentially because it was the beginning. It was the first time the Holy Spirit comes to planet earth to dwell amongst His people, it’s the first time the gospel is given freely to Jews and Gentiles, it’s the first time Jesus is embraced by outsiders that He is truly God. It’s a succession of firsts.
Fast forward to the end of Acts and we see the intentional planting of a church being talked about. After the wave of the Acts 2 event has passed, a semi-organized initiative is started to plant a church in Acts 18. That church is in Corinth.
One of the first real church plants is the Corinthian church. Suddenly the opening event loses its luster in only a few years time. Jews and Gentiles start finding some distance from that initial Pentecost event and now find themselves in the trenches with each other. It’s no longer Jesus and I; it’s becoming Jesus and us. Community becomes the great squeeze on the life of Jesus followers. It’s a little easier to like Jesus than it is to like Jesus in other people. When passionate Jesus followers are mashed together to become a new family with a mission in the city of Corinth it starts getting messy. This is the reality of community. Put people with different personalities and different cultural backgrounds in the same spiritual family, commission them to build for the Kingdom of God together and it starts to get messy real quickly.
Our modern expectations that community is like going back to the Garden of Eden are naive. I’ve become a bit more understanding of these naive expectations because I believe most Christians have not experienced real tethered-community. Sure they've had close friends or served on leadership teams or attended a small group of some kind but the covenantal nature of community alluded them. The bubble of romanticism must be popped to embrace the reality of work required to build community.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 sets up a beautiful equation. Somehow the very mess of community can become the catalyst for Holiness. Paul pulls out the fire hose and unloads a sermon on the topic of love. In 1 Cor 13:4 this Love-Sermon unearths “envy, arrogance, selfishness, pride over our accomplishments, not speaking well of others, getting miffed too quickly, being easily offended, holding a grudge against someone, not protecting someone’s reputation, not choosing to trust each other, believing the worst about others and giving up on someone’s potential to change.” All of the pain, pride and anger that community can stir up in the darkness of our flesh now has the possibility in the light to be addressed with scalpel of love. Authentic community causes us to think deeply about how our ambitions, drive, motives and choices hurt or help those we are in relationship with.
Learn to let go of your expectations on Community that you think are biblical. Dive into the mess of shared-life and mission with other people. Let God through others address those parts of you that need the surgery of Divine love. This is the Holy Mess and there's nothing sexy about it.