Anabaptist Mission & Peace – Day 2 Follow-Up

Recently I shared some notes from my two-day class a couple weeks ago.  Thought it’d be fitting to include here some follow-up correspondence with Jesse Johnson, pastor of Media Mennonite Church.  This exchange helps to fill out some of the stuff I didn’t include in my earlier summary:

Nathan,

Read your blog today on day 2 of the classes.  Sounds fun.

One thing that jumped out at me was the continuous pointing to the cross.  That’s good to hear, because too many Mennonites have moved away from the atoning work of Christ to focus too exclusively on political peace and humanist ventures, but here’s what I’ve always wondered about:  what is it about the cross that gets us excited?  I understand the magnificence of the fact that our God would allow this to happen to His Son, that Jesus would subject himself to it, and that without that sacrifice we would be nowhere.  But, that being said, doesn’t the real center of our faith come three days later?  Not to downplay the cross, but everyone dies.  Every religious hero in the world has died, and some have gone out in tremendous circumstances.  But, what sets Jesus apart and confirms Him as the real deal is that he rose again, and that resurrection is what makes Him truly unique.  No other had the power to defeat death, and that resurrection life is what I think we’re really about.

I’m pretty sure I’m just splitting hairs, but I that’s what I’m thinking.

Peace,
Jesse

My response:

Jesse,

Thanks for the email.  No, I don’t think you’re splitting hairs at all. The crucifixion and resurrection are obviously inextricably linked, but they’re still separate events.  I think your comments were right on.

Looking back on that post, I can see why that stood out to you.  Our teacher did in fact talk a lot about the resurrection.  At the beginning of the blog entry I said something about how I couldn’t share everything we talked about in class without going to some length to lay a theological and metaphorical framework.  Unfortunately, in leaving those things out, it was mostly the resurrection that was omitted.

David Shenk talked about the “high places” that were central to ancient pagan worship.  (He drew diagrams for this, which is another reason it would be difficult to blog.)  To the pagans, hills were the “pregnant earth.”  The sky was where the gods lived.  A tree that stood on a hill was like a bridge connecting the fertile heavens with the pregnant earth.  (Apparently the pagans never realized that if the earth was already pregnant, continued fertility was not really necessary, but anyway….)  That’s why sexual rites commonly took place among trees that stood on hills.

Jesus Christ, as we know, was fully divine and fully human, truly bridging the gap between God and people.  And by being crucified on a “tree” on a hill, He was meeting the powers of darkness right in their place of worship, “unmasking them” as the Bible puts it.

As for the resurrection, David Shenk stated: “In rising from the dead, He has broken the power of the powers forever.  It is simply astounding.  And wonder of wonders.”  In His resurrection, Jesus triumphs over death.  Today the risen Christ lives in His church, which is why the church is such a powerful tool for transformation.

In defeating death itself, Jesus truly sets us free.  After all, if death has already been conquered, what is there to fear?  The resurrection brings genuine, complete freedom.

By the way, I’m not saying all this stuff as if you didn’t know it.  I just wanted to fill in the blanks on some of the class discussion about the resurrection.  There was also some good stuff about the Lamb who was slain who appears in Revelation, and about how the resurrected Christ still had His wounds, which again shows the powerful connection between the crucifixion and the resurrection.  But that’s even more complicated.

Do you mind if I post your email on the blog?  You raise some legitimate points that would be good follow up to the post.

Thanks!

Nathan

(Note: Obviously, he said it’d be okay!)

Published in: on October 24, 2007 at 7:22 am  Leave a Comment  

Anabaptist Mission & Peace – Day 2

The second day of my class last weekend, “Anabaptist Mission and Peace,” is harder to write about. (Of course, it probably would have been easier if I’d done it several days ago!) We got a little deeper into theology, and without writing at length to build that theological framework, a lot of my notes wouldn’t make sense because they’d be without context. But I’ll share some of the highlights. The following are quotes from our teacher, David Shenk:

  • “Be people of the Word, folks. Be people of the Word.”
  • “The work of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness to the Truth…. The Holy Spirit’s ministry is always centered in Jesus.”
  • “Within God there is loving fellowship, but He doesn’t just keep this loving fellowship to Himself–He pursues us.”
  • “Begin your days being filled with the Holy Spirit.”
  • “Let’s embrace all that the cross is, in all its marvelous dimensions.”
  • “We will never fully fathom the depths of what the cross is all about–it’s truly astounding…. No philosophies or religious categories can contain it.”
  • “Let God bust open your categories. That’s the Gospel. That’s the cross.”
  • The Gospel message–that we are sinners who are forgiven because Jesus died for our sins–is “a lesson that we never graduate from.”
  • “The most important business in history is proclaiming the Gospel around the world.”
  • This might be more of a paraphrase than a quote–I didn’t catch it all word for word, but it’s something like this: “The power center of the universe is the crucified God. The cross turns the whole universe upside down.”
  • “Why are Mennonites so afraid of grace?”
  • “Ethics without grace is a dry orange.”
  • Another paraphrase: “Ethics isn’t the all-in-all. At the end of the day, I’m a sinner saved by grace…. We need to keep grace and ethics together.”

Interesting fact: There are more Anabaptists in Africa than any other continent on the planet. Of the 1.4 million Anabaptists in the world, half a million are in Africa.

Another interesting fact: Felix Manz, one of the first Anabaptist leaders and martyrs, held his Bible studies at the same spot in Zurich where Karl Marx would later hold his communist meetings.

Lloyd Hoover was one of our guest speakers. After his session I had the opportunity to talk with him about reconciliation efforts in Munster. Lloyd once shared communion in the hall where the “King David” guy in the Munster Rebellion had his throne.  Very, very interesting fellow. Notes from his presentation:

  • “Reconciliation” is one word that describes how God is moving in the world.
  • Reconciliation is deepening intimacy between each other and God.
  • Reconciliation catches how God is bringing His body together and healing relationships.
  • “Unforgiveness is a seedbed for strongholds.” It opens the door for the enemy to interfere and wield authority in the affairs of the church.
  • Walk in forgiveness!
  • Forgiveness is the way of Christ, so it must be our way too.
  • Christ is the only valid reason in this world for forgiveness, so He is the only hope for the division and hostility in the world.
  • If we deal with our past, we are prepared to move forward redemptively into our future.

Notes from guest speaker Keith Weaver:

  • “Peace and missions are inseparable.”
  • Reconciliation is God’s agenda.
  • The cross is what crumbles walls of division.
  • To respond to the Gospel is to take the message of reconciliation throughout the world.
  • “I’m not sure that we haven’t bought into the American Dream and lost sight of the values of the Kingdom.”

Here are some notes from our last speaker, John something:

  • “Whenever the Gospel is attached to violence, it will never live up to our expectations.”
  • “Violence never delivers what it promises.”

One final comment from David Shenk to wrap up the weekend: “Pray and cultivate the soil, and the harvest will come in  God’s time and in God’s way.”

I’m looking forward to our next two-day session!  It will include a field trip to Philadelphia and some time with Ron Sider.

Anabaptist Mission & Peace – Day 1

Class today was amazing.  It’s the most immersed I’ve ever been in sheer Anabaptism.  Our teacher, David Shenk, was fascinating and inspiring.  And he brought in three speakers who shared some of their experiences and what they’ve learned from them.  They told the kinds of stories I’ve only read about in books or seen in movies; the difference is that they were sharing firsthand accounts.

David, who was born and raised by missionary parents in Tanzania, told about a time he was sharing a stage before a Muslim audience in a Muslim country.  Someone in the crowd posed this question: You say that you’re a follower of Jesus, and that Jesus taught peace.  Yet your President invaded Iraq–and not only does he say he’s a Christian, but he was re-elected by Christians even after he started this war!  How can you explain that?

As I sat there thinking, Wow!  I’m glad I don’t have to answer that!, David told us to talk in small groups and tell each other how we would answer that question.  What can you say?

After we discussed it and batted around some possible answers, he finally told us what he said.  Of course, he was on the spot at the time, in front of a large Muslim crowd in a foreign country, and didn’t have time to think about it.  He told us that he silently prayed something like, “Lord, You promised the Spirit would tell us what to say at times like this, so… uh… get crackin’!”

David told the crowd: “The nation-state is not the Kingdom of God… The nation-state is not the Kingdom I represent.”  He then explained how the Mennonite Church wrote a letter to President Bush urging him to consider options other than war, gathered 7,000 signatures, and delivered it to the White House.

By the way, he found out later that his reply was televised!

After recounting this event to us, he prayed: “May God forgive us for the inadequacy of our witness.”

All day long we heard incredible firsthand stories of extreme forgiveness and grace, told by David and the guest speakers: Peter Sensenig, Don Jacobs, and Linda Witmer.  I’d expected that a nine-hour class might get tiresome at some point, but it never did–not for a single solitary second.  I’m excited about the next session!

The day was enormously challenging as I was continuously confronted with the power of the Gospel in action.  Some highlights:

  • “When Muslims see Christians worshiping, they say, ‘It sounds like they’re having a party.’  And I say, ‘You’re right!'” (David Shenk on Muslim converts to Christianity in Africa)
  • The story of Paulus Hartono, a pastor in Indonesia.  He befriended the Hezbollah commander who was personally responsible for the deaths of many Christian pastors and the burning of many Christian churches.  Paulus became good friends with this man, who on multiple occasions has been so overwhelmed by the love of the Christians he’s persecuted that he’s broken down in front of his troops.  These days, the commander is personally involved in preventing the persecution of Christians and destruction of churches.
  • After sharing the story about Paulus Hartono, one of the students asked David why this kind of peace building isn’t spreading around the world.  I love his reply: “It is spreading around the world!”
  • To be a good neighbor means to be a blessing.
  • The church is called to be a blessing.
  • After talking about how God came down to meet with Moses, David said: “God has been in the coming-down-and-meeting-with-people business ever since!”
  • When God meets with us, He has a mission.
  • Jesus always has the last word.
  • “The Gospel is very, very practical in its applications.”  (David Shenk)
  • “Our identity in the world is vital.”  (Peter Sensenig on the church’s international reputation)
  • “We reject violence because we are ambassadors of Christ.”  (Peter Sensenig)
  • “We love our enemies because that’s what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.”  (Peter Sensenig)
  • In the early church, violence was not just rejected–it was replaced by the pursuit of justice.
  • Peacemaking is a positive, proactive practice–not simply a negative condemnation of war.
  • In revival, the cross of Christ is always central.
  • “Reconciliation doesn’t work if you stay in your camps.  Jesus suffered outside the camp.”  (Don Jacobs)
  • Sin is what divides us and creates hostility.  Therefore, it is the cleansing blood of Christ that brings reconciliation.
  • Forgiveness is a way of life.
  • We forgive because we’ve been forgiven.
  • No hostility or anger will get into heaven–get rid of it now!
  • Loyalty to Jesus must be placed above all other loyalties.
Published in: on October 12, 2007 at 8:00 pm  Comments (5)  

Leadership Class

This weekend I’m taking a class about leadership.  It’s specifically about leadership as a Mennonite pastor.  I’m really looking forward to it!  The course is part of a series called Gateway put together by Eastern Mennonite University.  The last Gateway course I took was excellent, so I have high expectations for this one.  I’m really hoping it will help me grow as a leader & pastor.

Published in: on April 1, 2008 at 5:17 am  Comments (2)  

Skollership

This fall I’m taking a course on Anabaptist Missions & Peace.  You can read about it here.  It looks pretty interesting!  Nerdy as it sounds, I’ve been wanting for years to go back to school.  Fortunately, I’m now required to by the conference our church is affiliated with!  There are four courses designed primarily for Mennonite pastors who don’t come from a Mennonite background, and I’ll take all four of them over the course of two years.  (Grueling pace, huh?)

Anyway, I got some good news in my email inbox last week: Our conference is paying my tuition for the course!  Since I’m not taking the course for credit, that knocks the price down to $150.  But hey, that’s still 150 bucks!  Until last week I didn’t even know there was a scholarship available.  I received an email about it, applied, and found out two or three days later that I’d been approved!  Woo hoo!

Now that I think about it, this is the first scholarship I’ve ever gotten.  Sweet.

I’ve been really impressed with the generosity I’ve experienced in my short time as part of the Mennonite community.  When I first found out I needed to take these classes, Carolyn and I did the math and found that it could add up to be quite expensive–tuition, lodging, books, food, gas, etc.  But some of the friends I’ve made the past few months have offered to let me stay with them while I’m up in Lancaster for the courses.  And now a scholarship….  God does indeed provide!!!!

Published in: on September 18, 2007 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment