Friday, October 22, 2010

A Thank You Letter

I just composed a thank-you letter to Peace Mennonite Church in Burlington, Iowa. The church who first started me down the journey toward my conversion to the way of Jesus. Enjoy.

October 18, 2010

To the family of Peace Mennonite Church,
Hello, my name is Donnie Miller and I’m the pastor of Trinity Family Church of the Nazarene in Gardner, KS. I grew up in Burlington First Church of the Nazarene, graduating from Fort Madison High School in 1996 and am the son of Dan and Lori Miller, long-time members of Burlington First Nazarene.

In the spring of 2003, I was taking a worship class during my 3rd year at Nazarene Theological Seminary. That class gave me the assignment of visiting three worship services of different denominations. Being a staff member at a Nazarene church, it was difficult to get away on a Sunday morning. So when I was visiting my parents one weekend in March, I decided to worship with your church that Sunday morning.

The Sunday morning in which I worshipped with you was a unique Sunday, not only for Mennonites but for all American Christians. It was the Sunday after the beginning of the Iraq war. As we were driving to your church building, the person I was with that morning mentioned that Mennonites were pacifists, adding “if it wasn’t for our military, they wouldn’t be able to believe that way.” At the time, I simply agreed with that statement, going along with the conventional “wisdom” held by most American Christians.
That morning’s worship gathering was filled with prayers for peace. I appreciated the biblically based prayers while at the same time believing the most likely prospect for peace was a quick victory by US military forces. After worship was over, someone in your congregation gave me the book Choosing Against War by Mennonite theologian John Roth. I politely smiled and thanked the man for the gift, while at the same time, not expecting to actually read the book. Upon returning home, I placed the book on my bookshelf and forgot about it.

One year later, I was in my last year at NTS and taking an ethics course that required extra reading. Due to its convenient location, I pulled Roth’s book off my shelf. By the end of that book, my conversion to the way of Jesus had begun. I still had a long way to go but I could see the beauty of Jesus’ message of nonviolence and how the casual statement about the US military protecting the rights of Mennonites to believe in nonviolence was completely wrong. I ended that book with the realization that while the US could not survive if all her citizens became pacifists, the Kingdom of God would not only survive but thrive if its citizens lived out the way of Jesus.
Over the next several years, I began to explore writings about the Sermon on the Mount, and more specifically, Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence. I was influenced by theologians such as Walter Wink, Greg Boyd, Shane Claiborne, Rob Bell, Tony Campolo, Shane Hipps and others who faithfully call the people of God to fidelity to the message and example of the Son of God. Somewhere between my disillusionment with the Iraq war as a result of the Abu ghriab incident and an understanding of the political and unbiblical history of Just War Theory, I embraced nonviolence. The most important point in my journey however, might have been hearing Walter Wink’s explanation of the “Third Way” and the nonviolent resistance message of Jesus from Matthew 5.
There is no need for me to go into a full explanation of the way of Jesus and the gospel of peace so faithfully proclaimed and modeled by the Mennonite church. I believe it will be sufficient for me to tell all of you that I now “get it.” I understand that Jesus meant what he said on the Sermon on the Mount. I understand that it takes a higher faith and a stronger courage to be committed to non-violence rather than violence. I understand that earthly kingdoms aren’t the point but rather the Kingdom of God and how a love for one’s enemies is the strongest possible testimony to the present and future reality of that Kingdom. I understand that this life isn’t the point and that we can, if necessary, lay down our lives for our enemies knowing that the First-Fruit of our future resurrection has already defeated death. I understand that true victory and lasting peace comes through the cross, not the sword.

I also understand how a commitment to Jesus’ nonviolent teachings makes one quite unpopular as a citizen of world’s most powerful empire since the Rome. I’ve experienced everything from the condescending scoffs to the angry attacks that come from both well-intentioned nonChristians and Christians who are caught up in the myth of redemptive violence and the idolatry of nationalism.
Now, my heart hurts while participating in a worship gathering that celebrates military violence, when I see American Christians confusing Christianity with nationalism or observing how Evangelicals are known more for their pro-war stance then their commitment to serving the “least of these.”
With the above lamented, I’ve also seen the beauty that comes out of Jesus’ message. I’ve been able to learn about and support peace-making teams. I was able to play a small part in the conversion from nationalism to the Kingdom of God in the life of a close friend who is also a church member and Iraq war veteran. This young man is now sharing his conversation story with anyone open-minded enough to listen. I’ve been able to help some members of my congregation take steps toward a lifestyle of peace or to at least begin considering the option. I’ve even begun dreaming of ways I could begin educating my own denomination about Jesus’ message of nonviolence. I’ve been able to find a middle ground that respects good-hearted Christian brothers and sisters who risk their lives for what they believe by serving in the military while still challenging those fellow Christians to take the words of Jesus seriously.
Finally, I’ve developed a deep respect for the testimony of Mennonites. From your steadfast commitment to beliefs despite the murderous persecution of the European State and Church to your ability to reform mental health hospitals as a result of your refusal to kill for your nation during WWII; the Mennonite commitment to take Jesus seriously shines brightly in a nation full of Christians who easily disregard Jesus’ teachings for the sake of their nation.

I’ve been wanting to write this letter for about a year now and I’m glad to finally get around to it. I thought you’d like to know how a small Kingdom seed planted almost 7 years ago is now bearing Kingdom fruit. If you’d like to contact me, I’ve enclosed by business card.
Grace and Peace,

Donnie Miller

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Worship or Manipulation?

I'm going to repost a video I shared earlier, because I just heard an interesting discussion regarding the point of the video.

To listen to an interesting discussion regarding worship or manipulation, click on this link. The first 12 minutes of this podcast is spent disussing that difference.

I used to be right with all of that but as you can maybe tell, I've changed my perspective somewhat. Also, God does work through that, clearly. However, I think it's kind of missing the point, too.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blessing Sunday

I'm a little late on posting this, but on Sunday, Oct. 10th we had a "blessing Sunday." One week before, however, I challenged everyone to bless three people during the week, making sure one of those people didn't deserve the blessing, then share those blessing stories the next Sunday. I also gave the biblical foundation for this role of blessing others. Most of our time that Sunday morning was spent in small groups, sharing our blessing stories. It was a very powerful time. That afternoon, our Advisory Council shared some ideas on how we could make the sharing of blessing stories a regular part of our time together. The main idea was that we'd make the question "how were you a blessing to someone during the past week" a regular part of our discussion time.

I'll post an excerpt from my message on Oct. 3rd below, but I want to share some reasons for why we're focusing on blessing others.

First of all, I'm trying to deconstruct the attractional idea of church that most of us hold onto. I keep telling our people that church is not a place to which they go, it's a people we are. Church isn't Sunday AM at 10:30 at PRMS, it's a 24-7 lifestyle. We can't go to church anymore than someone can go to the Miller family. The Miller family can have regular get-togethers that we attend but we're always the Miller family whether we're together or not. The same is true of church. By sharing what has happened during the previous week, I'm hoping we get a clearer picture of church as a lifestyle, not a place or organization.

Secondly, I'm trying to help us continue to become more others-focused. As I shared in that message and have been reading lately, the church exists to bless the world. And in blessing the world, we reveal God's heart for the world to the world we're blessing. We don't exist for ourselves but for the world's sake. In his book, Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal challenges churches to forgo their evangelism strategy (a strategy most people aren't following anyway) and instead adopt a blessing strategy. As my DS was sharing with me over lunch yesterday, we've reduced evangelism to the sharing of a few verses and trying to get people to pray a certain prayer. A more holistic / New Testament view of evangelism is better communicated through this idea of a blessing strategy. People don't get excited about a pre-packaged evangelism sales-pitch, but they do, as one lady shared last Sunday, get fired up about the chance to bless people. Of course, in the midst of this blessing a New Testament form of evangelism is blooming in full.

Here's the excerpt from my sermon on Oct. 3rd:

To share some biblical ideas on church, I want us to go to the very beginning of church. Very beginning, Genesis 12. This is the where we meet Abraham and Sarah, although at this point, they’re still named Abram and Sarai. If you had a Mount Rushmore of bible dudes, Abraham would be on it. Anyone who grew up in church remember the song, “Father Abraham?” Many sons… Well, he really did have many sons. Anyone of Arabian or Jewish descent can trace their lineage back to Abraham. And if you think about it, that’s pretty incredible. Because at the time of the passage we’re about to read, Abraham was 75, Sarah was 65 and they had NO KIDS! A great biblical theme is that God’s a fan of the underdog. He chooses people who don’t have a prayer, so to speak and uses them to accomplish great things. It’s to make sure God gets the credit, not them. By the time Abraham and Sarah had a child together, Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90. I hope when I’m 100…

God’s plan was that he would take the offspring of Abraham and Sarah and turn them into his body. This nation of Israel would be the people of God, God’s body on earth. The people through whom God would share his character with the rest of the world. Genesis 12:1-9 To summarize a pretty long story, eventually the role of “people of God” was changed from the nation of Israel to the church. We became the new Israel. The apostle Paul explained it this way, Romans 11:17

We may not be Abraham’s physical descendants but we’ve been adopted into God’s family and we’re now Abraham’s spiritual descendants. The church lives out this role of being God’s body in this world. With this understanding that we’ve been grafted into the lineage of Abraham, I want to look back at God’s initial promise and calling to Abraham in Genesis 12. One verse in particular, God blessed Abraham so that Abraham could be the father of a great nation. That nation was brought into existence, why? So they could bless the whole rest of the world. The people of God exist to be a blessing. We are here to bless others. But we so often miss that. Somehow we make it about us. Whether it’s to get more people at the show or to make a bigger name for ourselves or to have a more comfortable life. In so many different ways, we’ve come to think we’ve been blessed for our own sake. But this is really nothing new. Eventually, the descendants of Israel became more focused on holding onto the promised land than their primary role of blessing the world. The land of Canaan was given to them so as to be their base from which they could bless the world. But their focus got turned inward. And the people of God still give into the temptation to make it about us.

All that I’ve just shared is to lead to this one point – or this one challenge. My challenge to you this week is that you will be a blessing to three people this week. Find a way to bless three people this week in specific ways. And, don’t miss this, make sure that at least one of them doesn’t deserve it.

Of course, none of us deserve God’s blessing. But he does it anyway. You see it all throughout scripture, God blesses everyone – not because they deserve it – but because that’s just what he likes to do. The good news of the gospel is that we all get the undeserved blessings of God. We’ve been blessed to be a blessing. Now just to make sure we’re clear. What’s your responsibility this week? Bless three people, including one who doesn’t deserve it. Next Sunday, we’re going to devote most of our time together to sharing stories of how God has blessed other people through our lives. Next Sunday is “Blessing story Sunday.” If you don’t have any stories, it will be a really short time together. But I’m pretty sure we’ll have some great stories to share.

Saturday, October 9, 2010