Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Shaping of the Church: Comfort & Convenience

In his book, "Forgotten Ways", Alan Hirsch writes about life in suburbs as being all about having life comfortable, convenient, and safe. He goes on to say that the suburban churches cater to this mentality and must offer the same for the people or they will go somewhere else.
I forget where it is in the Bible that calls for a comfortable, convenient, and safe faith. The Bible I read talks about followers being imprisoned, beaten, and killed for their faith. We read about people called to go into dangerous lands, to live with integrity even if it effects the income, to fast, pray, give, love, forgive, and to serve the least, the worst, and the most difficult. We hear stories of passion that can't be quenched, of faith that can't be shaken, and of a God that will be praised.

As I think about these things I wonder how the suburban church can create this environment. The truth is that life in the suburbs is good in the sense that we can be safe and comfortable and it is convenient to do almost anything (and frankly I like this life). The problem is that this can easily create complacency but since we can't move out of the "burbs", what can the church practically do to get followers of Jesus to reclaim the dangerous (or forgotten) ways of Jesus and the first Christians?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Home SWEET Home

Taking a week off to visit Greece was a nice break from life here in Jerusalem but returning home brought a certain level of comfort. It was nice to be in Greece where every meal consisted of various combinations of meat and dairy which we do not have in Israel. It was nice to wake up each morning and not have to check the news to see if "anything happened" the night before. It was nice to see churches everywhere and to not worry about how I would be treated if people knew where I was from or what I believed. My wife would say that it was nice to be able to wear shirts that "showed her shoulders" and shorts. Of course it was also nice to be in Greece for all of the other tourist type reasons but that is for another time.

With all of the great things about Greece, something strange happened when we went to the airport to check into our El Al flight back to Israel. We were greeted in Hebrew and were whisked through the extra screening process that this airline does on all of their flights. As we sat on the flight we spoke Hebrew and ate Kosher food. Upon arriving in Tel Aviv the passport control did not ask one question, they simply gave us a stamp and let us in (they undoubtably have our names cleared in their computers by now).

We then saw an Orthodox man handing out Matzah bread for Pesach (Passover) and when my wife went to receive his gift he turned away and shunned her. The next morning I woke up and checked the news to see "if anything happened" and found out that their was a fist fight between Armenian Priests and Greek Orthodox Priests at the tomb of Jesus (they consistently dispute who has the rights over certain parts of the church where the tomb is located). Next I read about a Yeshiva student who walked naked through a supermarket in protest of a recent ruling that allows stores to sell leavened products during the week of Pesach. Later in the day I was in the park with my boys and began talking with an 11 year old here who told me that "Christians are crazy... they kill Jews and mix their blood with Matzah". I then told him that I was a Christian and was hoping to mix his blood when he left the park. Maybe I didn't say that but I did inform him that I was a Christian and he changed his whole tune and was actually a nice kid (with the exception of his racism).

The rest of the week there are two protests planned by Orthodox Jewish groups against the "leaven laws", there are several restaurants that are choosing to sell leavened bread that are bracing for violence and arson attacks. Meanwhile all Palestinians who live in the West Bank are restricted from crossing the border for the entire week and some are talking about responding next week.

This week in our house we are back to using our meat dishes for meat and dairy dishes for dairy, we are sneaking leavened bread with each meal, we bought some groceries in East Jerusalem on Shabbat, we had dinner with our Palestinian friends in a non-kosher restaurant last night, we are struggling with our kids through home-school, and we are glad to be settling right back into life here. Ahhhh Jerusalem, our home sweet home.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Spring Break 2008- No Regrets

Since I am once again a college student this year Spring Break actually has significance for me once again. So for the next two weeks (I know 2 weeks is long but remember that we have no Christmas Break) I have no classes! My family will once again take a little adventure to explore the lands of the Bible. This time we will be in parts of Greece so I will be away for a few days. Enjoy.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Fifth Gospel

Some say that living in Jerusalem is the "Fifth Gospel" of Jesus. In other words, the Gospels as we have them in the New Testament scriptures tell us about the life of Christ in His context and give us incredibly challenging examples of how to respond in everyday life but the "Fifth Gospel" forces us to see the deeper truths of these gospels and how they work today.

For example, I read about "the Good Samaritan" and often wonder why this story seems to exaggerate a culture that is so prejudice against each other that they cannot offer the slightest glimmer of grace. Then I see in the "Fifth Gospel" that this level of hatred and cultural arrogance is possible and even normal for many today. I have heard Jews refer to Arabs as "thieves, scum, and peasants". I have heard Arabs refer to Jews as "Neo-Nazis, Occupiers, and terrorists". I have heard others referring to Christians as "Soul Stealers and infidels". I have heard Armeanean Christians call Greek Christians insane, I have heard Modern Orthodox Jews refer to Ultra Orthodox Jews as "Draft Dodgers" and "leeches". I could go on because the fact is everyone here is labeled as something and who you are comes with assumptions. But then I see true Christ followers put aside all of these labels and work to love all. I see Christians threatened as they offer aid to people in Gaza. I see Jesus followers risk their "visa" status by going to Iraq to get medical help for Iraqi children. I see Christian organizations offering help to Jewish orphans that the country of Israel doesn't even help. In other words, the most needy are helped by the one group that is the "lowest" in this culture- the Jesus followers.

Fifth Gospel Chapter 2: I read about "turning the other cheek" in an Eastern culture that believes in the "Golden Rule" of "eye for eye, tooth for tooth". Rabbis and Sheiks teach their communities that it is acceptable and even necessary to respond to violence with violence. It is actually amusing to watch Western leaders try to negotiate peace when they have no concept of the value of family/tribes and the deeply ingrained value of justice in this culture. The very culture of this place requires an ongoing cycle of violence that can only end if one side is willing to accept the disgrace of not avenging a wrong that has been done. The Fifth Gospel shows a follower of Jesus who forgives the group who disguised a bomb in the form of a present that forever changed the life of his 15 year old son. My natural response is to find the people who did this and let my Middle-Eastern Side show, but Jesus says turn the other cheek because he knows that the cycle can only end through lovers of peace and forgiveness.

The Fifth Gospel also helps us wrestle with the questions about the "Promised Land" or "Chosen People". The Fifth Gospel shows us what it means to "consider the cost" or how narrow the road really is. The Fifth Gospel teaches us that following Christ still might cost us everything and that the Word becoming Flesh really is a big deal. In the Fifth Gospel we see that Jesus' example really is the only hope for the world and that followers of Jesus really do have the capacity to make life better for everyone. The Fifth Gospel also gives me compassion for the disciples and causes me to not think they were so dumb after all because it is not always easy to see how this faith works. Like those disciples, I now have things that I once thought I understood about scripture cause me to scratch me head in confusion.

In the Fifth gospel I understand what it means when God says, "You honor me with your lips but your hearts are far from me", I begin to see the value in obedience over sacrifice, and I see just how big some mountains are to move. I recognize just how many "houses are built on sand" and how I often relate more to the rich man who struggled to give up everything than to the widow who gave all she owned. I see why God rejoices over one sheep that is found and why he wept when he saw Jerusalem from the top of Mount of Olives. In the Fifth Gospel I know why it was a big deal for the disciples to stay awake with their Lord and why it is upon people that the Church is built and that the world is changed.

The bottom line is that not everyone will ever have the opportunity of "living the Fifth Gospel" and I am grateful for the opportunity that I have had. I now just hope that I am able to inspire a group of people to put the reality of all of the Gospels into practical form in the context of the USA. I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Reality Check

On this blog and our other blog we told you about the Jewish tradition of celebrating the events of the book of Esther during the holiday of Purim. One of the customs of this event is to give gift baskets to friends and to families in need. This year one family that is associated with our church here in Jerusalem received a Purim basket from someone. The problem is when their 15 year old son opened this basket it exploded and destroyed their house and critically injured the son.
The miracle is that the son is still alive but the tragedy is that people here are justifying this act of terror as an "act of self defense". The father of the son (who has been threatened because he leads a Bible Study with Messianic Jews) is calling for the grace and mercy of Jesus while many (but certainly not all) in the Jewish community say the attack was justified. One Rabbi said that the whole building would have been blown up if Jews weren't living there. On the local news, they said, "Wherever there are missionaries, there will be anti-missionaries" and they acted as if this is okay.
This weekend we took an offering to help this family repair their home and tonight Sara and I received an email calling on all across the globe to pray for Ami Ortiz (the boy seriously injured). Also this week we heard of another person from our church who is friends with "our dear Martyr Romi" who was kidnapped in Gaza for declaring his faith in Christ.
Let this serve as a reminder to all of us who are comfortable in our Western cities and our Christian nations. Living for Christ comes at a cost that we must be willing to pay. Let us join together to pray and let us not become so complacent that our faith is routine and safe.