“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Chanukah

Well, I finally got around to my first post in the series regarding the Feasts. I will be spotty in my posting over the next few weeks -- starting a new job, and traveling, so bear with me...

Anyway, I thought I would start with Chanukah -- a celebration that is outside the Feasts established in the Pentateuch, but one that Messiah celebrated. I want to provide some basic background and then some thoughts about the celebration of Chanukah.

What exactly is Chanukah? Is it just a Jewish Christmas? NO! It is not; we did not 'invent' this holiday to compete for retail dollars. Chanukah celebrates a military victory that occurred in the inter-testamental period.

To understand the significance of Chanukah, we must first go through a short history lesson:

Alexander the Great was a brilliant general and leader who conquered most of the known world hundreds of years before Christ. When he was 32 years old he contracted a fever and died and the Diadochi divided his kingdom up. There were many generals and advisors who wanted a piece of this vast kingdom. In the end the kingdom was divided up amongst four generals, Ptolemy, Seleucus, Lysimachus, and Cassander. Ptolemy ended up with the Southern Kingdom, which included Egypt. Seleucus ended up with the Eastern Kingdom, which included Babylon and Syria. Lysimachus took the Northern Kingdom, which is now known as Turkey and Cassander the Western Kingdom that included Greece. The Ptolemic and Seleucid kings were continuously battling over Judea, with the Seleucid kingdom finally taking over the vast majority of the territory.

About 167 BC the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, decided to force Hellenism on to the Jewish people. He outlawed such things as the reading of the Torah, and circumcision, and anyone found to be disobeying Antiochus' edicts were put to death immediately. Babies were hung around their mother's necks, and women were thrown off the walls of the city.. It was also during this period that the position of High Priest in Jerusalem became a political appointment, and greedy, self-centered men were able to bribe their way into the position, some even selling items from the temple to pay bribes!

Antiochus strode into Jerusalem and desecrated the temple; sacrificing a pig on the holy altar and putting up a statue of Zeus. He sprinkled the blood of the pig in the Holy of Holies, and poured the broth from the pig over the Torah scrolls before cutting them into pieces and burning them! He also began to call himself Antiochus Epiphanes, which means 'The Manifestation of God.' The Jews took to calling him Antiochus Epimanes, which means 'Crazyman!'

During this time, Antiochus sent his troops into the countryside of Israel forcing everyone in all of the towns and villages to worship at pagan shrines. This all came to a screeching halt in a little town called Modi'in. The priest of this town was an elderly man named Mattathias. When the Syrian troops attempted to force him to perform a pagan ritual, he and his five sons revolted, killing the troops and taking to the hills with a small band of supporters. Eventually his eldest son, Judah, became the leader of the revolution, and earned the nickname The Maccabee (the Hammer). The revolt came to be known as the Maccabean Revolt.

Against all odds, the band of guerrillas outfought the troops of Antiochus, eventually retaking Jerusalem and the Temple. They set about repairing the damage and reconsecrating the temple. However, (as the legend goes), when it came to the Menorah, which symbolized God's Light in the Temple, they found that they only had enough oil to keep the Menorah burning for one day. It is supposed to be kept continuously burning. The oil that was prepared for the lamp was consecrated oil that took eight days to properly prepare. The people decided to light the Menorah anyway. Miraculously, the lamp stayed lit for eight days until the oil was ready to refill the lampstand.


Now, while the legend of the oil burning for eight days is somewhat apocryphal, the rest of the story is the recognized history of Chanukah. Why eight days? Well, many think that this was due to the fact that the Jews had been unable to celebrate sukkot, being at war. So, they took the seven days of sukkot and an additional day for Shemini Atzeret and celebrated Chanukah.

Why do we celebrate it? Well, first off, you will find Messiah celebrating it: (John 10:22f). Now, this does not mean that we are REQUIRED to celebrate it, but I like to bring out the significance of this holiday for the people that attend our church.

First -- In John 10:22 we find that Jesus was walking in the Temple area at Chanukah. The people asked "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus said, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak of me...I and the Father are one."

The people were looking for a deliverer to free them from Rome, much like Judas Maccabee had done under the Seleucid rule. This would have been heavily on people's minds during Hanukkah. They would have been celebrating the rededication of the Temple, with massive lights illuminating the Temple area. How tragic it is that they did not even realize that God was walking on Solomon's portico!

They did not realize that a greater deliverance was coming. That God himself was in their midst, and His agenda for Israel's salvation was infinitely greater than liberation from Rome. Isaiah prophesied: "...in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan — The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned...For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (9:1,2 & 6).

God sent His light into a world of spiritual darkness, first, to be seen in Galilee, where Jesus began his earthly ministry. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" (John 8:12). He came as the servant light or "shamash", (the candle which lights the other eight in the Chanukkiah), in order to give his light to us. Messiah cleanses us and dedicates us to God so that we can be His spiritual Temple.

Second -- The celebration of Chanukah might well be when Messiah was conceived. Without going into GREAT detail -- this post is already fairly long -- There is much evidence that Messiah was born during the Feast of Tabernacles (sukkot), which would put conception nine months back -- VERY near Chanukah. It seems that God would use some clear makers, i.e. the Feasts, to bring His plan about. Now what makes this very interesting is that, if this is the case, John the Baptist would have been born on Passover!

Well, there you have a brief overview of the celebration of Chanukah. I am not sure that this helps at all, but I believe as I progress through the celebrations, we will begin to see the tie of all of these festivals into God's plan.

Bugs -- I hope that some of this may help...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Of Synagogues and Churches

I apologize for my delay in posting. I have had some personal items that have kept me busy. However, I wanted to briefly post on something that we were discussing.

I wanted to make a few more observations regarding church structure, and then I will shut up about it.

There are many ongoing discussions regarding home church, and I think Steve has really opened my eyes to the difference between 'simple' church and 'home' churches. While a simple church may well be a home church, it is not required to be a home church. Simple church is church without the accretion of liturgy, traditions, etc (correct me if I am wrong, Steve). While I happen to think some traditions and/or liturgies are beautiful, I believe that the simple church is striving to bring back the relational aspects of the Body of Christ that have been lost in the 'institutional' church, and I am all for that.

As I have stated, I think there is a definitive place for didactic teaching in the church, however, I feel that church has become SO institutionalized that people are reduced to observers in their own faith. This is where I believe I have a point of agreement with my friends in the simple church movement. Far too many people attend church, sit in the pew, get their self-affirming message, and then go home to an unchanged life. This is NOT the message of the Bible!

I brought up the model of the synagogue in another discussion, therefore I thought that I would return to some synagogue thoughts regarding structure:

The synagogue was the place for relational study of the Scriptures, while the Temple was for corporate/national worship. In the synagogue you would find the Torah read, the points of Scripture expounded upon and discussion. The Temple would be the place for sacrifice, and for corporate liturgical worship. In our modern day church, some would equate 'small groups' with synagogue style worship, however I believe that one needs to understand that synagogues were not simply places where everyone got together and expounded upon what the Scripture 'meant to them'.

Far too often that is what a small group becomes, with people going down endless rabbit trails, or worse, as Ded has referenced; a Christian coffee klatch. In synagogue a teacher would expound on the Scriptures, and then discussion would occur. Where small groups can come up short is in the area of leadership -- somehow egalitarian expression seems to be the fad, with EVERYONE'S ideas carrying equal weight. There needs to be some Biblical perspective to this -- I have been in groups where everything from Jesus was an alien to New Age mysticism was given equal time with the Scriptures.

Now, with that being said -- I do not believe that one is required to have a seminary education, but I believe that one who is called to lead -- be it institutional, simple, or a home church -- should STUDY to show themselves approved. And they should be cognizant of the cultural, historical, and biblical perspectives of the material being taught. Someone needs to be the voice of Biblical reasoning, and it is vital that all church expressions have that.

So, I guess I have come to understand the concerns of my friends in the simple church movement, and agree. But I would like to put in place some caveats: there needs to be leadership within all of the structures -- however that leadership should not be a stifling, spirit-killing style of leadership that is often associated with the cult of personality type of churches that are out there. Also, the body needs to be able express its gifts and discuss their faith in an interactive setting that allows for true growth, not simple parroting of the leaders ideas.

Recently a well-known leader within the evangelical community was defrocked, and one of the charges against him was spiritual abuse of his congregants, the exact type of spirit-killing leadership style that I am discussing. This should open the eyes of those who feel that leadership should be exercised, rather than modeled.


I am not sure that I have covered all the bases, I just wanted to put some closure around this discussion. Bugs -- I hope to start with feasts soon! Probably going to start with Chanukkah/Hanukkah...

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

IC, HC, or SC?

I am writing this post in response to a discussion that has been taking place over at Theological Musings. We have been having a great discussion regarding the Institutional Church (hereafter known as IC), and the Simple Church (hereafter known as SC). I have truly enjoyed the give and take, but finally my responses were simply no longer comment-length, and to relieve Steve of my ovetaking the comment section, I decided to do a full on post. So, here go some thoughts:

First, a brief reference: We were discussing the synagogue teaching methods versus IC didactic preaching, and I had made a comment that synagogues used didactic teaching methods; this caused Steve to question my statement – and I must admit that my statement requires modification (thanks for the diligence in reading my LONG comments, Steve). In synagogues you would have found both interactive and didactic teaching. When the Word was proclaimed, that would be in a didactic manner, and afterwards there could be a time of interactive discussion. This was not always true, but could be.

As we have discussed SC, I have used the parallel of the synagogue as have others, but really upon further contemplation I believe that this is a false parallel. We cannot compare the IC of today with the synagogue as we must understand that the synagogue was really the ‘cell group’ of the Jewish faith, and true corporate worship took place at the Temple. So therefore, I think we have created a false dichotomy between the IC and the synagogue. I want to examine that a bit further in a future post, but first I wanted to get some things out on the table, so that people will understand my perspective a bit more.

I admit that I am an IC pastor, so I may look at things a bit differently from some of the folks in this discussion. When we established the church we had come from a situation where a pastor had done some significant damage due to an abuse of power, therefore as the church solidified, I knew that I did not want to be the potentate of this gathering of believers, (I am under no allusions as to my fallibility). We made it clear in our constitution that there was a plurality of leadership, with no one person more important than another within the realm of elders. This has served us well in many situations. We did not intend on doing anything different, or making a statement against the traditional church, but as we developed, we found that there were far too many trappings involved in starting a traditional church, i.e. liturgy, tradition, etc., and we therefore chose to start simply, and add things that we found to work as time goes on, rejecting a lot of other things that many people believe are required to be considered a true church.

I did not even know that we were all that different from most other churches until people pointed it out; I confess that this was not intentional (I would love to claim credit as a visionary!) However, I wanted to instill the things that I had grown to love within the context of my Jewish background such as; relationships being a vital component of our gatherings, the celebration of the Feasts, gathering as a family on other occasions OUTSIDE of Sunday mornings, etc. I also wanted to be as much a part of the church as possible, not treated in a way that separated me from others. These deeply felt convictions were not only the result of my background, but also a reaction to some of the abuses that I had seen in the past. We had been previously attended a church whose ecclesiology placed the pastor in the role of sole arbiter of the spiritual direction and guidance of the church. This was not a ‘one-off’ church, but a denomination that had, as one of their distinctives, this pastoral role. The damage that can be caused by this type of leadership is obvious to the most casual observer, and we lived through a horror story that I do not want to relate here as it will not serve to edify regarding my position. Suffice it to say, I found that type of pastoral role unacceptable.

Also, I will admit that I have made many, many mistakes in leading of this body of believers, and still make mistakes. However, we have learned through the mistakes AS A FAMILY! I emphasize that because it is something that I say regularly to the people within the congregation – we are family, not a bunch of people that simply get together on Sunday mornings and worship together. While Sunday mornings are a part of our body life, it is only a part.

You cannot function in the manner that Paul discusses by only meeting on Sunday morning. You also cannot function that way by subdividing the body into age, sex, and/or marital status groups. I see this nowhere in the Bible. To truly function as the body, we must have a VESTED interest in those around us, not a passing interest. When one weeps we should all weep, and when one rejoices, we should all rejoice. How can we hold one another accountable if we meet on Sunday only?

I am going to end this post for now, and next time post some additional thoughts. I do not wish to overstate what we are doing at my church. I am not sure how unique we are, and I am also uncomfortable thinking that we are somehow doing things better than other churches…

Truly, the Lord has blessed us, it was not my business or ecclesiastical acumen that put us where we are, but only His favor and grace. I pray that I am not being prideful in my discussions, but I am very proud of what the Lord has done in the people that worship with me.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Missions?

This past weekend we held a prayer walk around the city where our church is located. It was a great opportunity to get out and walk ALL of the town... Our town is one that is heavily marked by alcoholism and drugs. Literally a liquor store on every corner, and even our church is located between several bars (including one that shares a wall with us!).

We were intentional in our placement of the church. This town, we felt, was in need of a church in our location. This is not to say that there are no other churches in town -- there are several very good churches, however we wanted to be part of the outreach to this community.

We have been in our location for four years, and it has been anything but dull. We jokingly call our church the 'Island of Misfit Toys'. We run the gamut from homeless folks to blue-collar families, bikers, metalheads, and just your normal folks in normal homes. It is quite humbling to stand behind the pulpit and look at all of these people coming to hear the Word of the Lord, sitting together, praying together etc.

We run on a budget that is razor-thin, and meet in a commercial strip mall, as I mentioned, that is located between bars. Yet, with all of the difficult, and often frustrating, work, I have to say that there is nowhere else I would rather be most Sundays. The people in the church love one another intentionally, and look out for one another -- we almost always have one unemployed person struggling, and it is not uncommon for them to find 'gifts' left at their front door, often by unnamed people who have as little as they have!

This past weekend we were able to provide one of our church members with a car. No, it was not a brand-new car; it had many miles on it, but we all got together and contributed money and surprised him on Sunday morning (he NEVER saw it coming)!

Where am I going with this? Well, first off, I just wanted to brag, (yes, I KNOW its a sin), about my congregation. This is a group of people who do not get bragged about a lot, and don't expect to have accolades written about them. They are just people living out their lives as Christians in some very difficult situations. And secondly, I wanted to make an observation.

Fairly near our area are several huge churches, one is within fairly close proximity. Now, my goal is not to vilify them, but to simply wonder aloud. When I look at the attendees at these churches, I am disappointed to see that most of their congregants come in from OUTSIDE the community in which they are located. It is interesting to see a line of upscale cars driving through a neighborhood that is unused to seeing them, and then heading into a valet-assisted parking lot, to attend church. Many of these people would be horrified to have to walk through the surrounding neighborhood to attend church!

I wonder -- do these people SEE those in the community around them? Or, are they simply enamored with attending a 'name' church? Maybe the church does things in the community, but for the life of me, I can't think of any things that they have been with us on. One example -- We asked them to join us in putting together a Hurricane Katrina Relief event. They ignored our request and went so far as to instruct their folks to ONLY give to church-approved groups! It seems that when they do things it is not with small, local churches but either alone with their name prominently displayed, or with a collection of other monster churches. And everything has a fee attached. I know, probably better than pastor X, that things cost money, but many of their events are placed outside the price-range of the people living in the very shadow of the monolithic buildings that dominate the area.

I feel that there is something wrong when a church is in a community, yet knows next to nothing about the community. I know, many would say that I am a small church pastor with building envy. I don't know, maybe I am, but I am not lusting over the size of these churches, I am wondering why they don't find a small church to partner with in their local community. We have several churches in our town which could use some assistance in reaching the surrounding community.

Why is it that we see, or hear about HUGE campaigns in these churches to 'reach the lost' in, say, Tanzania, or Madagascar, with the requisite advertising campaign and poster placements, yet they have no outreach to the crack mom down the street, or the shut-in older man who is a prisoner in his home? Is it because this is not a 'sexy' ministry? Or is it because they feel it is the duty of churches like ours to do that? I don't know, and I am not here to make the claim that I do.

I will be the first to tell you that an outreach church is a pain! You have to deal with a lot, people are damaged, and it is, at times, VERY difficult to minister to them. Maybe that is why the pastor at the monster church doesn't do a lot with the surrounding community. In all honesty, I understand; it is hard work, and I will not deny that. However, I think that Western Christianity is far too often a religion of convenience -- it is easier to give a big check to ministries in Tanzania than it is to go out and have a meth head scream obscenities at you as you deliver a case of food.

What I think would be helpful is this -- One of these churches pony up with a small local church and give them a hand up. Send volunteers out to help us distribute food, or reach some of the bleaker portions of our community. One of their tithe collections is probably more than a year of mine, so put a portion of a single collection towards working with a local church.

Now, with that being said -- there are several of us smaller churches who have begun to work together tightly. We have discussed preaching from each others pulpits, bringing in our worship teams and providing worship on some Sundays and sharing costs in several areas. The other pastors are wonderful men of God who are also passionate about reaching our community, and we are all very different, each of us come from a different cultural background, but all are focused on one thing -- preaching the Kingdom of God, and reaching the surrounding community.

I am in discussion with my friend Steve, and others over at Steve's Place regarding church structure. In many ways I agree with their assessment of church life as it stands today. Far too many churches have become institutions unto themselves and have become completely insular organizations. We may not agree on everything (who does?), but I hear the concerns they have, and even share many of them.

I do not have all the answers, I am not even sure I have ANY of the answers, but I do know that there is a growing need in our increasingly post-Christian world, for outreach right outside of our doorposts.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Myopic Consumerism

Please forgive this screed -- you may want to just move on if you want something truly edifying, I just wanted to make a brief comment about the hypocrisy of boycotts.

I have heard MANY comments about "Brokeback Mountain', 'End of the Spear', and the TV show 'The Book of Daniel', none of which I have seen; however I read a very good review of 'End of the Spear' by John Ferguson here.

People are up in arms about the fact that a homosexual was hired to portray Nate Saint, and that Daniel portrays Christians in the worst possible light. I have no doubt that there is validity to these complaints. Daniel has been cancelled, I believe, but I have heard that EotS is doing well... Brokeback Mountain -- well, we know what it is about, so why go see it?

Anyway, the problem I have is that groups such as the AFA, and the Moral Majority, are FULL of boycotts and protests; everything from Kraft Foods to Reader's Digest, from Ford Motor Company to Movie Gallery, but they never decry some of the more blatant issues.

Why? Because, it is about an agenda -- that is, we are going to ensure that we wield power over these godless heathen's who would dare do something we dislike. These folks (AFA) do SOME good, I am sure, but I am always amazed at how myopic their perspective is. The BIG BOX stores are well-known for their importing of goods made from forced labor, yet I know many AFA/MM members/supporters who happily march to the Wal*Mart beat and think nothing of buying something made in China (as an example) that has been made by forced labor. Nor, do Christians think about their spending habits when it comes to items developed and produced overseas due to the toxic nature of their production.

To me, this is hypocrisy on par with the PETA group's decrying of animal research, all the while they live off the benefits of animal research (one of their leaders is diabetic, as am I, and the insulin she injects is made with animal research).

Why is it that the Christian community boycotts some things, and not others? I have a theory -- If it won't impact my life, I will boycott it; for example -- who cares about boycotting Movie Gallery? BUT, if it impacts me financially, then forget it. I will shop at the Big Box because I save money -- why boycott cheap slippers, and DVD's? After all, Wal*Mart is a FAMILY store! They don't have any of those AFA-boycotted products, they are FAMILY-FRIENDLY (unless that family happens to live in, say, Indonesia, or China, or any of the other places we have exported our livelihood to.).

I am just bothered by the activism of Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver when it comes to something that really does not affect them, but the absolute silence on items where they would be in any discomfort. Now, this is a generalization, but I have found through sleuthing a bit that this is far more the case than people want to admit.

Well, there you have it -- Don't boycott Ford until you have checked out your favorite store and seen their business practices. Now, in this day and age, it is impossible to not have something in your house that was produced in a questionable manner, but we should be much more discerning than we are. It seems that if it involves SEX then boycotts are coming, but if it is about quality of life in a NON-USA/Western country, many Christians seem to turn a blind eye to it...

End of screed! We now return you to your regularly scheduled program...