Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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Holy Week Reflection

The Gospel of John includes a unique account of The Last Supper on Thursday of what we often call Holy Week. Though its most noteworthy action is Christ instituting the Communion meal as representative of The New Covenant, John’s account begins with Christ washing the disciples’ feet.

Here’s the opening of John 13:

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Though we aren’t able to know for sure, we have no indication here that Judas was excluded from the foot washing by Jesus. Meaning that not only was his betrayer served, but all of the disciples who would abandon him also had their feet washed by Jesus. The scene is so striking because all the disciples knew that Jesus was the most worthy person in the room to be served, yet he chose the opposite posture.

In Luke’s Gospel, the account of The Last Supper (Luke 22) continues on to include the Communion meal instituted by Christ. Immediately following this, something shifts among the disciples. Here’s how Luke describes it:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.

Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.

But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.”

Knowing this meal would be one of the last opportunities to teach his disciples, Jesus washes their feet as a way of showing what leadership looks like. Imagine knowing you had one final meal left before your death. Then imagine choosing to spend it with men who were either about to betray you or abandon you.

Yet, mere minutes after Jesus gives this shocking example, the disciples get into a debate about who is greatest. They completely missed what Jesus was teaching.

May we, like Jesus, embrace the opportunity to serve—”for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)—instead of trying to raise ourselves up.

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God’s Sovereignty and the Gospel

“God has assuredly promised his grace to the humble, that is, to those who lament and despair of themselves.

But no man can be thoroughly humbled until he knows that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, devices, endeavors, will, and works, and depends entirely on the choice, will, and work of another, namely, of God alone.

For as long as he is persuaded that he himself can do even the least thing toward his salvation, he retains some self-confidence and does not altogether despair of himself, and therefore he is not humbled before God, but presumes that there is–or at least hopes or desires that there may be–some place, time, and work for him, by which he may at length attain to salvation.

But when a man has no doubt that everything depends on the will of God, then he completely despairs of himself and chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work; then he has come close to grace.”

—Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (emphasis mine)

Thank God, that in his sovereign goodness he has met our need through abundant grace. His Sovereignty and the Good News of Jesus are intimately connected.

10 years ago I hosted The Sovereignty of God blog series with a great group of exceptional writers. If this Luther quote piques your interest, don’t miss that series of posts.

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My Hot Take

hot takes

Turn on a morning talk show, open Facebook, look at Twitter—you can’t avoid an endless array of hot takes on the latest breaking news.

Following the 2016 Presidential Election I found myself exhausted from trying to keep up with the latest news and my personal response to it all. As a pastor and public figure with an online platform I felt it was my duty to help people navigate these difficult times by posting my take following nearly all of the biggest news stories that hit each week.

To do this well meant I needed to be up-to-date with all the latest in politics, culture, entertainment, and more.

Then I decided it was time for a change. I made the conscious, intentional decision to stop posting hot takes on the latest news.

This decision was and is platform suicide. It was also wise, though it’s taken much of that time for me to realize it’s wisdom.

I didn’t even recognize the ramifications entirely at the time, but it’s become clear since then: our online social networks are leveraged best through hot takes. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s nearly impossible to build a personal platform online without having an array of hot takes related to the biggest stories.

Why Hot Takes Work

Online news and the takes following the news rely on hyperbole and speed. In order to get as much reach as possible you need to overstate your point and make it as quickly as possible. This, of course, discourages nuance, charity, and thoughtfulness because hot takes are then driven by clicks and views.

As a writer and pastor with a website, a following, and several outlets for connection with followers, I felt the pressure to keep up. If you don’t stick with the hot takes you begin to take a backseat to others who post first.

Now a few disclaimers:

1. I have not successfully avoided posting hot takes on all the breaking news over the last 2.5 years. Some subjects are especially important and significant to me. Sometimes I lose sight of my stated desire to avoid putting out my hot takes. Sometimes it’s hard to stay quiet.

2. The counter-argument to my take on hot takes is that people are going to be influenced by someone or something, why not me? That’s a good point that I have no answer for.

To truly understand my intention on hot take avoidance I need to go back to the beginning. This all started by beginning with the end in mind. I had a greater goal in mind for myself, one that involved avoiding the formulation of hot takes. Generally speaking, I still have all the opinions, but I keep them to myself to focus on other things instead.

My Hot Take on Hot Takes

What motivated me to silence myself in responding to the latest news?

1. I wanted to focus on something greater than being noticed for having a good, hot take.

One of my favorite passages about Jesus is written about in Luke 5. In Luke’s Gospel, shortly after calling his disciples Jesus began performing miracles. Following the healing and miraculous signs, Jesus would tell the people to stay quiet. Why he did this is debated, but one thing is clear: he did not desire fame.

But Jesus couldn’t stop the crowds from jumping on the Jesus bandwagon. Luke says:

“Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16).

Jesus had every opportunity to build a crowd and to gain greater notoriety, but he valued something else entirely.

2. Hot take formulation is far too public to not cause damage to our souls.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus encouraged people to “close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). Juxtaposed next to this type of prayer is that of the Pharisees who make a show of their prayers—external righteousness—to which Jesus says “they have received their reward in full.”

Hot takes are not only are a form of virtue signaling (I’m right, you’re wrong), but they only allow for the kind of rewards that are ultimately unsatisfying. Our souls long for something of eternal significance beyond the temporal value of being seen, yet how quickly we take the bait in place of pursuing something greater.

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A Dangerous Life

This post will wrap up my series on exile, using Walter Brueggemann’s book Cadences of Home as our frame of reference. Though each post functions on its own, be sure to check out PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE.

In previous posts, we’ve established that life as a Christian believer in much of the Western World feels disconnected from feelings of home. While few are geographically in exile away from home, the emotional and spiritual sense of home is fleeting in society today for those who desire to follow Jesus. To be a Christian today feels counter-cultural and embraces that life will look different than the prevailing notion of how to live by those around them.

These realities cause a variety of responses, most notably a movement toward assimilation with the dominant trajectory of society, or despair over these new realities with little strength to endure through them. Though these are common responses, Brueggemann shares that in order to be part of the remnant of exiles who continues to seek a home of faith we must embrace living a dangerous life.

What Is a Dangerous Life in Exile?

1. Dangerous Memories

Exile causes us to either forget the past or embrace weak memories. We need the memories of faith lived before us to instruct us and empower us today.

When we forget the past we subsequently overvalue the present and lose a bigger perspective.

When we embrace weak memories we lose the opportunity for “sustained remembering, bearing daily and concrete testimony to the way in which God works life in the face of death, to the way in which God creates newness out of nothing, to the way in which hopeless faith discovers the power for life” (pg. 121).

2. Dangerous Criticism

“To be an exile and to resist assimilation and refuse despair, one must not grow too cozy with the host empire. It was a powerful temptation for exile Jews, whose story had run out, to live themselves into the story of Babylon and to reidentify themselves as citizens of Babylon.”

3. Dangerous Promises

In exile, who is able to have hope? “Only the baptized, only those who regularly enter a zone of alternative possibility that is not rooted in present technology, but in gifts yet to be given, in promises yet to become visible, in gifts and promises guaranteed by God” (pg. 126).

4. Dangerous Song

“There is even more to be said for unruly, unruled imagination that dares to sing what is prohibited and outrageous and subversive, for such singing enthrones and dethrones, and the restless exiles sing until homecoming” (pg. 129).

5. Dangerous Bread

“There will not be genuine freedom until, having new bread, we refuse the offer of Pharaoh’s tasty bread” (pg. 131).

The embrace of this kind of dangerous life does not mean God will move at our beck and call, but we will be ready for this new move of God as it comes.

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Responding to Exile

This is the 3rd post in the short series on exile, using Walter Brueggemann’s Cadences of Exile to help initiate these thoughts. Be sure to check out parts ONE and TWO on this subject, because the three posts are deeply connected.

As we’ve already discussed, there are many aspects of Old Testament exile that are true for followers of Jesus in the western world today. Though we are only in rare cases geographically taken from our homes, it continues to get more difficult for Christians to feel truly at home in society today.

Exile often feels the same as the empty beginning, awaiting the promise. Brueggemann says:

“This community (Israel)…began bereft, barren, powerless, without hope in the world. Now in exile it has become once again what it was in the beginning: bereft, barren, powerless, without hope in the world…there is only waiting and grieving and wondering…Israel hopes but does not know” (pg. 112).

Exile Responses

The difficulty of exile prompts three different responses:

1. Assimilation.

“It is possible for baptized Christians to assimilate into imperial America…to embrace the dominant American hopes and fears that are all around us, to live so that the world does not notice our odd baptism or our odd identity.”

2. Despair.

“God has failed and we are helpless. This is the temptation for those of us who know better than to assimilate, but for whom resistance is a defensive posture without buoyancy.”

3. Fresh, imaginative theological work.

“…recovering the old theological traditions and recasting them in terms appropriate to the new situation of faith in an alien culture.”

If we could track the Biblical narrative into the terms of God’s promise (covenant), moving into God’s demand (Israel in the Promised Land), moving into God’s absence (exile), then it seems clear, following this absence is a new move of God.

Go stand on the seashore, and you’ll notice for hours on end the waves seem quite similar, but if ever the water goes out further into the sea than before, you can be assured the biggest wave yet is on its way—exile means the biggest wave is on the way.

So, which response is yours?

Are you assimilating into a society moving away from God? Or are you in a state of debilitating despair?

Or are you preparing yourself for the new move of God that is ready to come crashing down on us?

Friends, I fear that all too often the response of the church is a mixture of assimilation and despair. Next week we’ll look at how to embrace the anticipation of the new move of God in an exile context.

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The Discombobulation of Exile

Let’s continue working through our short blog series on what Old Testament exile might have to teach 21st century believers in the western world. We’re using Walter Bruggemann’s book Cadences of Exile as a jumping off point. Make sure to check out the first post in this series because each post will build on the previous ones.

The Babylonian exile has some striking similarities to our own cultural climate. Though this specific exile started in Babylon, it was eventually taken over by the Persians, who provided support for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, written about in Ezra and Nehemiah. Over the course of several generations, the nation of Israel had gone from a global superpower, to later be run out of their own homes, overtaken by another nation. The entire experience had to be discombobulating.

Though many Christians globally are exiled in a geographical sense, like the Israelites, our sense of exile today is a sense of emotional loss. Christians were once understood to be the leaders of society throughout the western world, now many core Christian understandings about society are seen as damaging. We are, in a unique way, in our own time of exile, having to relearn how to exist as followers of Jesus when doing so stands in contrast to society as a whole.

What can we learn from the Babylonian and Persian exile?

Brueggemann shares 5 characteristics about the Babylonian exile that can be instructive to us in our own time of exile:

1. The Israelites understood that in their time of exile, disengagement from the power structures of their new geographical home was necessary, in order to exist as an alternative community.

2. Having been delivered by God out of captivity many generations before, Israel made it a practice to “think and rethink and rearticulate its faith and practice in light of its liberation” (pg. 102).

3. In exile, Israel had to make up everything as it went along. “This was a process of deep transformation of what was borrowed, transformed according to Israel’s central passion for liberation and for covenant” (pg. 103).

4. In exile, Israel lost many of their community bonds their previous home made easy, and they became a segmented community of extended family units and tribes.

5. The community of Israel was socioeconomically marginal. “Israel was indeed a new church start.”

Two things here should jump off the page:

1) First, the Israelites learned to accept they were no longer in charge of determining the direction of their society as a whole.

2) Second, the Israelites focused on existing as an alternative community exemplifying a different path for life than the predominant narrative around them.

Followers of Jesus today should deeply consider how their lives might operate differently if they embraced those two learnings.

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