Holy Week, Maundy Thursday Edition (What’s a maundy?)

Tonight is the night when the end began.  Jesus celebrated his final meal with his disciples, washing their feet and giving them a mandate (where the word “maundy” comes from):

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

Within a few hours he would be executed.  His final command: love.

Love one another.

Love.

That is pretty awesome.  Jesus showed us what love is by laying down his life for his friends and enemies.

A few good thoughts on this:

Ben Witherington – Mandatum Thursday:

What do you do, to celebrate Holy Week? Do you have any special family traditions? How often during Holy Week do you go to church services (there are services on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday at the least in most church traditions). What most moves you about the whole Holy Week celebration?

Sometimes we make the mistake of only focusing on the more joyful notes and not on, for example, what Jesus says in John 13— ‘greater love has no one than he lay down his life for his friends.’ The call to a life of self-sacrifice and surrender and cross-bearing is at the heart of what Jesus was trying to teach his disciples shortly before he died.

Emily Heath – Maundy Thursday and the Love Mandate

It’s not my job to rename Christian holy days. But if it were, I might change the name of Maundy Thursday. I might change it from this word that none of us really know anymore to something we would all understand. Something like “Love One Another Thursday” or “The Last Thing Christ Really Wanted Us to Know Thursday.”

Because this is a message we Christians all need to hear. We don’t need to hide it behind fancy terms. We don’t need to just check it off as another night in holy week. We need to hear that this is how Christ said other people would know us: by how we love one another.

Maybe it would help us remember. Maybe it would help us remember not just what this night is about, but maybe it would help us remember what it means to be Christians. And maybe if we always had that reminder, if we always had that commandment to love in the front of our head, Christ’s dream for us would come true.

Maybe we wouldn’t be known as Christ’s disciples by the fact we put a Christian fish sticker on our car. Or wore a cross around our necks. Maybe we wouldn’t be know by what we said about what we believed. Maybe we wouldn’t be known by our what we voted for, or against. Maybe we wouldn’t be known by the anger some Christians express on the evening news, or the mean-spiritedness others show in their day-to-day lives. Maybe instead we would just be known by the one thing Christ wanted us to be known for: by how we love.

Finally, the Pope washes the feet of twelve prisoners.

In a homily, the Pope earlier urged priests to do less “soul-searching” and engage more with parishioners.

“It is not in soul-searching… that we encounter the Lord,” he told hundreds of cardinals, priests and bishops in St Peter’s Basilica.

“We need to go out… to the outskirts where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters.”

Worshippers should “leave Mass looking as if they had heard good news”, he added.

Gesture of humility

During Thursday’s intimate service, the Pope washed and kissed the feet of 12 young detainees to replicate the Bible’s account of Jesus Christ’s gesture of humility towards his 12 apostles on the night before he was crucified.

The 12 inmates included two girls, one Italian Catholic and one of Serbian Muslim origin, local prison ombudsman Angiolo Marroni said ahead of the ceremony.

Its Holy Week! A few links on Jesus and the Bible for your enjoyment.

Isaiah 50:4-9, one of the readings for Holy Wednesday:

The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
    to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
    wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
    I have not been rebellious,
    I have not turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
    my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
    from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
    and I know I will not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
    Who then will bring charges against me?
    Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
    Let him confront me!
It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.
    Who will condemn me?
They will all wear out like a garment;
    the moths will eat them up.

What would you do if you had one week to live?  Eugene Cho shares what he would do and then points us to Jesus who bought a donkey, turned over tables, washed dirty feet and got crucified.

The Bible is not a safe book.  Sadly it seems many want to make it a safe book, sanitized and fun for the whole family.  We then expect the Bible to reinforce what we already think.  I love what Tim Gombis says about all of this:

When I began teaching evangelical undergraduates, it wasn’t long before I heard a student say, “I’ve never heard this before.”  My first response was, “I know, and there’s so much more to discover!”

But then I heard another variation: “I’ve never heard this before.  What you’re saying isn’t biblical.”

I asked for clarification.  The student responded by saying, “well, I think there’s a verse somewhere that says something like . . . ,” proceeding to blend together three different passages with the chorus of a praise song.

I figured this sort of thing was just the arrogance of youth, but it began to happen regularly.  Just about three weeks into every semester, a student would raise his or her hand and say, “I’ve never heard this stuff before.”

I began to respond by saying, “you’re welcome!  You or your parents are paying me thousands of dollars to tell you things that you don’t know.  This is what we call ‘education’ and it sounds like I’m doing my job.”

It began to dawn on me, however, that there was something about evangelical culture that was making these students assume that if something was unfamiliar, it was unbiblical.

Often we are more interested in building a wall around the Bible than we are in letting it be what it is.

Along the same lines, here is a list of fifteen myths about Bible translation.  The first myth is that word-for-word translation is the best kind.  They’re not.  And literal translations are not automatically the best.

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate (Review)

Justin Lee was called “God-boy” by the kids in school. Everyone knew him as a Jesus-fanatic, an outspoken member of the evangelical Christian community. Yet Justin had a secret: he was attracted to men. The problem was that his Southern Baptist background considered being gay a sin, or more precisely a disease to be cured of. In his book Torn,  Justin tells his story and it is an important story to hear.

As I read, I could not help but recall being an adolescent, traveling through those confusing days of middle school and high school, trying to figure out your identity. What if Justin’s secret had been mine? What if I was attracted to other guys, not through any choice of my own, but instead because I just was? How many other kids are out there like Justin – scared, feeling like they have nowhere to turn, moving towards hopelessness?

Justin spends a lot of time talking about his encounters with “ex-gay ministries”. What he writes about such ministries is revealing. He discovered that the success stories in these ministries were not really success; the men were still attracted to men, they had just made the choice to be marry women. Justin saw first-hand how often such choices ended up damaging the families of these men, as their attractions to the same sex never went away.

Justin also spends a lot of time on the question of what makes people gay. As he came out to more people, and as he did more research, he found that the reasons given by Christians for why people are gay did not apply to him. Justin had never been abused, he had a wonderful relationship with his parents, overall he had a great upbringing. Nothing happened in his life to make him choose to be gay, he simply has always been attracted to men.

Overall, this is a well-written, thoughtful, grace-filled and challenging book. It could ruffle feathers, for Justin is still “God-boy” – an evangelical Christian strongly committed to Jesus Christ. Yet he concludes that being gay is no sin and he is open to a monogamous relationship if the right person comes along. I think whether you agree or disagree with Justin’s conclusions, you ought to give him a hearing because you can’t “disagree” with someone’s life story. Too many Christians approach issues like this as, well, as issues. It is forgotten that these “issues” are about real people with hopes and dreams, fears and flaws. Maybe if we begin to approach others as people to love and not just problems to solve we’ll be a little closer to the dream of Jesus.

If you’re interested, check out the organization Justin started, The Gay Christian Network.

Building Arks and Propping Up Faith

A church in Texas is building a life-sized replica of Noah’s ark.

Because that’s a good use of millions of dollars.

Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk calls it the “Disney-ization” of Christianity – taking classic stories and making cartoons out of them.  This may help you sell a product, but it does little in the way of creating disciples of Jesus.   Fred Clark quotes the pastors of the church who say that the reason for building this ark is to show people that the story really happened, to which Fred retorts, “And because building a replica proves something happened, just like the way Peter Jackson proved the existence of Rivendell.”

What does such a spectacle ask people to put their faith in?  Cool graphics and colors? Jesus?

People are walking away from the church on a daily basis.  Building a gigantic ark is not going to convince the skeptics to stay on  board.  Providing spectacular entertainment that wows a person may be enough to provide a good vacation or a fun afternoon, after all, that’s what amusement parks are for, but it is not enough to build a life-changing religion, relationship or spirituality.

Churches can choose to shelter kids as long as possible in an attempt to prop up a shallow or non-existent faith, or take the risky move of following that crucified Jew from Nazareth all the way into the suffering in our own world.

Too many churches choose the shallow way, and I resonate with what Jen Hatmaker says about this:

 I’m hungry for a church less known for sanctimony and more for their shocking intervention for hungry babies and human trafficking and racism and injustice. Christianity is too thrilling to reduce to middle/upper-middle class First World Problems, encapsulated in issues and gauged by a nebulous moral compass that lost its bearing decades ago.
People are starving – spiritually and physically – and this world needs some Good News, but they can’t decode what is actually good about us. Good is finding a safe place to struggle, to doubt, to ask hard questions. Good is food when you’re hungry. Good is warm, kind, genuine love extended, no strings attached. Good is clean water, medicine for your sick baby, education, family. Good is community, even before ‘belief’ binds us tight. Good is sustainable work, dignity. Good is Jesus and His backwards, upside-down ways.I constantly ask these hard questions of the Bride, of myself, of my own little family.

Because of this, I was recently uninvited to speak by a large church. They cited my struggle with the church, concerned that “these disparaging glimpses at the church certainly can be helpful to a more mature follower but cause great confusion to those who are not quite so far along in their walk with the Lord.” In fact, it is the exact opposite. It is the young believers asking the questions and finding very few safe places to do so. Sanitized Christianity in which the church is propped up and healthy criticism is labeled as “spiritual attack” is the head-in-the-sand approach turning away the next generation.

Amen.

A few days ago news came out that Rob Bell endorses gay marriage.  It was big news.  Some applauded, some shook their heads in dismay.

Yesterday millions of children went to bed hungry, young girls in this country were forced into prostitution and raped by men, other millions died because of lack of clean water or suffered from disease.

What matters more?

Between Babel and the Beast (Review)

Over the years I have moved in an Anabaptist direction in my thinking on ethics and the relationship of a Christian to the government. Like many, this was greatly influenced by the works of John Howard Yoder (though having a wife who worked at a Mennonite school and spending time with many people there certainly helped). After growing up in a church that often praised America alongside of Jesus during worship (or so it seemed), and living in an evangelical subculture that sees America as a Christian nation, it was refreshing to see a view that unequivocally upheld the supremacy of Christ in the face of any nation.

Yet I often felt that some of what I read and heard went a bit too far. Yes, all governments are flawed and fall short of God, but some are better then others. Peter Leithart’s book offers the sort of balance that I have been looking for.

He begins with a section looking at empire from a Biblical perspective and argues that not all empires are bad. Some empires, especially those that protect God’s people, can be good. This leads into his second and third sections, discussing America. Leithart is no David Barton, he shows the numerous flaws in America. Along with this, he calls the religion of lifting up America to the heights of heaven as “Americanism”, a sin for which Barton and many others certainly are guilty of. I have often thought that the greatest sin of America Christians is nationalism, Leithart’s word for this is Americanism.

What is most chilling is how Leithart shows that while America does not qualify as a beast, America supports the work of many beasts worldwide. Leithart defines a ‘beast’ as an empire that persecutes God’s people. America allows freedom of religion and thus protects God’s people. Yet America provides millions of dollars to countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and even Israel who are not safe-havens for Christians but instead where Christians face persecution (yes, even Israel).

This book is a must-read for evangelical Christians because Leithart says what needs to be said, and he is one of their own. While it may be easy to brush off Yoder or Shane Claiborne or Jim Wallis it should not be so easy to brush off Leithart. His conservative credentials are clear. For that, hopefully he can get the message out that while America is great, Americanism is a sin that puts a country in place of Christ.

Being Real and Holy Extinguished (Recent Reads)

As I read this article from Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk I wondered for a moment if it had come from a parallel universe and I had actually written it.  I resonated with every word.  This is me.  You can read the entire article, but here’s the punch-line:

Count me among the holy extinguished. I am no longer on fire for Jesus. I’m just me, take me or leave me. I love Jesus very imperfectly. I have good days and crappy days and a lot of days that are a swirl of the two. When God whispers I sometimes hear him and sometimes don’t. If being on fire would help me to see and hear and know God better, I would dump a can of Holy Ghost gasoline on my head and strike the match. I have found that doesn’t work. From now on you will have to deal with me as I am, the non-burning man. I hope that is not too great a disappointment.

A few weeks back I read an article that said something quite similar: Are Churches Any Better Than Nightclubs?  Enns quotes Peter Rollins and then writes, “it’s hard to be real in church because the whole system seems to work better if you’re not.Which is not good.”

Yes indeed.

The Fire that Consumes by Edward Fudge (Review)

Growing up in American evangelical Christianity there were a few things that were a given, one of them was belief in hell as eternal conscious torment. Those who do not believe in Jesus, which does not just include atheists and those of other religions, but those whose belief is not sincere enough, were looking at an endless experience of torture. This was the punishment given by a loving God to those who, for whatever reason, make the wrong choice about what religion to believe.

Most who grow up in such churches eventually become uneasy with such a doctrine. How could a loving God do something that none of us could conceive of doing to our worst enemy? What is loving about endless torture? But we swallow our questions because we do not want to appear to question accepted truth, such questions may indicate our own hellish destination.

Yet the doctrine of eternal conscious torment has come under question in recent decades. Some adherents to the traditional view say such questions are a result of people who do not believe the Bible, people who have allowed the culture to seduce them. The truth is that when the evidence of scripture is weighed, it is the traditional view of eternal torment that is found wanting. Edward Fudge’s book The Fire that Consumes is one of the most detailed and comprehensive studies of scripture on the subject of hell. He looks at the subject in all of scripture and finds that the Bible teaches the destruction of the wicked. This destruction is just that: death, destruction, perishing. It is not a “destruction” that leaves one endlessly alive and in pain. To be clear, this is not an elimination of hell.  The argument between the traditional view and the annihilation view is not whether there is a hell, it is whether hell lasts forever as conscious torment OR whether hell ends in the destruction of the wicked.  The only way to get to the traditional view is to take the 1-2 verses that might support it, allow them to dictate our reading of the rest of scripture and add in a dose of Platonic philosophy (which gives us a soul inherently immortal).

Fudge goes even farther by giving a brief tour of church history, showing how the traditional view began, won the day and became the view of the majority of Christians. He also shows the many, and growing, instances of Christians who question this traditional view, not out of some wishy-washy desire to appease culture, but out of a desire to truly and fairly represent the Biblical teaching of who God is.

This is a must read for any and all who desire to know what the Bible teaches on hell. Though I should note, Fudge has recently released a shorter book (Hell: A Final Word) that may be easier to read.

CSF Spring Break in Washington DC

Spring Break - GroupI spent all of last week in Washington DC with 12 Penn State Berks students.  We worked with the Center for Student Missions (csm.org).  Throughout the week I missed my wife and daughter immensely.  As I missed my daughter I kept thinking one thing: I hope when she grows up she becomes a young woman similar to one of these young men and women.  Whatever their parents did, I want to know!

 

We were blessed with a fantastic group of students.  It made leading the trip quite easy for me.

 

 

 We were also blessed to discover CSM.  They are an amazing organization.  I had never worked with them, so I was not entirely sure what to expect.  They exceeded any expectations I had.

 

Spring Break - Guys

Each day the students had the opportunity to work in two different ministry sites.  The first morning we worked for a church, tearing out carpet in a school building they had purchased, helping with the renovation with the hopes that one day the building will be reading for students.  We spent another (very early) morning serving breakfast and lunch at SOME (So Others May Eat).  Other mornings we worked at the Capital Area Foodbank and at a place that provides entertainment and exercise for elderly people.

 

The afternoons were spent at three different after-school programs. Students did everything from helping with homework, reading with kids, playing basketball and other games and taking part in Bible studies.

Each evening CSM took us to family-owned ethnic restaurants to get a “taste” of the city.

Spring Break - Girls Overall, it was practically a perfect trip.  Since we got home on Saturday I have been reading the Facebook posts the students have put up about the trip.  For a taste, here are three:

Faith – “First mission trip in D.C went better than I had ever imagined: made new friends, enjoy new food, saw amazing structures but most importantly serve those in need for the glory of my Father. Definitely hope there’s more trip like this in my future. Thank you Lord for all that you did in D.C”

Brianna – ” have been to DC multiple times and this time was the best time I have ever had. All of us bonding together to move the kingdom of God this week was incredible. We touched all of those kids this week and I pray for them as they move on with their lives.”

Nate – “I feel like going back to DC! Thanks for a wonderful spring break guys, i will never forget it!”

The goal of CSF is to see lives changed.  I am confident that this past week, lives were changed.  The lives of the students on the trip were changed, as were those they were able to meet.

Finally, I want to give praise to my wing-man, Sergeant Mark Groff!  He drove around DC in our 15-passenger van like a pro and his dedication to the students, and his job, is inspiring.

Getting Crafty and then Reading about Baby Brains (i.e., some parenting books)

I am not artistic.  The thought of drawing and painting almost makes me cringe.  Actually, as I wrote those words I thought back to “drawing and painting” class in junior high and…pardon me while I sob in the corner for five minutes.

Okay, I’m back.

Anyway, I am not a very artistic person.  But thanks to having a daughter, I am learning.  One of the highlights of our week is going to The Independent Space in Kutztown for storytime.  Before the actual stories begin the kids draw while the adults work on various, simple, art projects.  A few months ago I did something called “finger-knitting” and I am proud to say my daughter now has a cool scarf for her dolls.

I may not be artistic, but I see the value in art for children as they learn creativity, motor skills, problem solving and more.  A couple days before my birthday I must have dropped a hint about this to my wife, for she bought me two books filled with ideas for toddlers.  The first is 101 Ways to Teach and Entertain Your Toddler: Activities and Games for Every Season by Sophia Lawson.  This book is very brief and to the point.  As the title says, there are 101 ideas.  I look forward to trying some of these.  My main negative critique would be that the “ideas for boys” and “ideas for girls” chapters seemed somewhat archaic.  I think many of the ideas for boys would be great fun for my daughter.

The second book is Baby and Toddler Learning Fun: 50 Interactive and Developmental Activities to Enjoy with Your Child by Sally Goldberg.  This book has a lot more theory before getting to the actual fifty activities, which could be a pro or a con.  If you want to how kids learn and why you should make your own toys, then you’ll appreciate this part.  If you’re like me you may wonder why you have to be sold on making your own toys if you have already bought the book!  After a while I wanted to scream – just get to the point already!  Finally you get to the fifty activities and there are many great ones in there.  Definitely worth checking out if you want to make stuff for your kids to play with.  Just feel free to skip the beginning chunk.

As I read these two books, I noticed that Amazon was having a sale on Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina.  I had heard of his book Brain Rules, but never read it.  This looked interesting so I got it.  I was not disappointed.  Medina debunks many myths parents believe (the truth is, playing Mozart for your baby will make them like Mozart, it won’t make them smarter).  On one hand, this book could be depressing as Medina argues that 50% of your child’s intelligence is genetic and thus cannot really be changed.  On the other hand, Medina emphasizes the things you can do to help your child.  He shows that things like being able to delay gratification and learning to have empathy for others are some of the best indicators of happiness later in life.  Overall, if you want to learn about the brain and are not weary of parenting books, check this one out.