haunted by peace

‘If only you knew the things that would make for your peace’. These words have been haunting me over the last few days. They are what Jesus said as he wept over Jerusalem when approaching the city for the last time. He longed for his people to be at peace with themselves, their calling, with God and with life. The Hebrew notion of peace fascinates me. It is a blessing given from the start of the Judeo-Christian narrative throughout history to today, but the meaning has been somewhat lost in translation. Shalom (the Hebrew word for Peace) is a word picture of God’s dream and purpose to restore humanity and all creation to his original design … and more. It means everything coming into its rightful place the way God intended. It is about the Kingdom of God, that reality where God’s will is being done, its about him making all things new. Its about wholeness and life and healing and reconciliation, Joy and restoration, redemption, grace and right relationship with others, oneself, God and the created world. Shalom.

‘If only you knew the things that would make for your peace.’ There are paradigms that I have that take me away from God’s purposes, his good and perfect will that effects not only myself but those around me; and there is a paradigm and perspective that enables me to see things through his eyes and understand the world in his light and make choices from there. Both John the Baptist and Jesus called the people to have a ‘metanoia’, to change their paradigm and perspective so that they could recognise the Kingdom of God, in other words God doing stuff his way in their midst. They had been waiting for the unfolding of Gods plans for centuries, the danger was that now that things were moving, they would miss it because they were looking with blinded eyes… they needed to have a metanoia, a changed perspective. (the word in Christianese is ‘repent’).

However, Jesus said those words to a city, a community, a society; not to individuals. I look at Britain today and I hear his words – if only our nation knew the things….. but wait, we do! We have been there before. We do know the things that would make for our Peace, its just that we have forgotten and lost our way. Centuries before Jesus spoke these words, God sent a message to his people in exile instructing them to ‘seek for, pray for and work for the peace of the place where I have sent you’. I believe those orders are still standing orders for us today. Our job is to help our nation re-discover its God given purpose to live and chose and lead in the world according to his design; that is with justice, kindness, mercy, honour and compassion; caring for and defending the poor, the orphans, the widows and the refugees. We need to turn the hearts of this generation to our past redemptive heritage, inspire them to stand with courage for the things that goodness demands of us today… for the sake of the generations to come, so that they in turn can live those things that would make for their Peace.

Come on, its time to change the world.

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Hey, leader, stop blending in!

What do you do when you find squatters on your property? I don’t have property and I certainly am not facing this dilemma in a literal sense, however I am realising how much it features in so many ways, less literal but just as destructive.

A couple of months ago a friend was sharing how she was told by a church leader that she could only really belong if she was committed to this leader’s vision. There was more, but to preserve the honour of those involved I will leave it at that. Just this week a colleague shared how a discussion amongst the leadership of a church pitched commitment to God against commitment to the details of the church constitution; the discussion went in favour of the constitution.

There are so many ways in which we as Christians blend in seamlessly with the system and values of the environment around us.  In the area of leadership and authority, great swaths of the Christian community have embraced the values and practices of the business world and other systems; often our efforts to be relevant and attractive in our world has resulted in us looking very much like it. It was a sad, sad day when Israel asked for a king, the reason they gave was so that they could be like all the other nations. It didn’t go so well for them even though God redeemed the situation through David and ultimately through Jesus. Yet I know that the church tradition that I grew up in modelled so much of its life and structures on this and other similar aspects of the life of Israel. But actually, was this God’s intention?

In current discussions around how small groups can be a vehicle for effective discipleship, mission and transformation, questions around leadership and authority rise, quickly followed by those around ‘who’s in and who’s out?’. The assumption is that one person knows more than the others and leads the way for the group; the groups’ role is to follow submissively. That’s what we have been doing in the Christian community for a generation, and it’s part of what we need to rethink and redesign if we are to be part of God’s mission of grace and mercy into the future. If we look down the corridors of history we will find that this monarchic structure didn’t serve exponential growth or the transformation of society’s values very well. On the other hand models where God not man was central (really), where leadership was service to God and his people, and accountability was mutual with a shared passion to know God better and follow him better… a theocratic model… these had great effect.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we shouldn’t have leaders. I myself am a leader. What I am saying is that we need to make sure our models of leadership reflect God’s heart and nature much more than the systems around us. I am becoming more aware of the assumptions and habits I have that come from a value system that is different to the one I say I ascribe to. Like squatters who have taken up residence and become ‘part of the place’, it doesn’t matter how long they have been there and how entrenched they have become, they don’t belong. Like enemy strongholds in a newly conquered territory, until the stronghold is removed, the territory will never be fully conquered.

The Christian community is here to help with the great rescue plan of God on the world, we are here to help make all things new, to help bring mercy, compassion and justice, reconciliation and shalom. We cant do that if we simply melt into the background and become part of the problem.

Just saying…

Building with precious metal

This morning, someone referred to the passage of scripture in first Corinthians 3 about building on the foundation with gold, silver and precious jewels or wood, straw and hay and it dawned on me that I have invariably thought of this in terms of individual growth and narrative. Perhaps it’s because I have been mulling over the subject of discipleship and what it will mean to ‘be church’ in this next few decades here in the UK. Perhaps I just had a rare moment of clarity, I don’t know, but I realised that Paul was actually talking about the growth and narrative of a community, not of an individual.

There is coming a time when church as we know it just isn’t going to cut it when it comes to the job of being the incarnation of the Father’s heart to our nation; disciples making disciples in and of families, communities and sectors – society unable to dismiss the transforming love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If this is the task, I think we have some work to do and I wonder if Paul has given us the key.  I wonder if the job isn’t to recognise where, in the church, we have been building with wood, straw and hay, and to embark on a deconstruction of our edifices. Then with new eyes to find the gold, silver and precious jewels with which we need to build.

Gold and silver are precious metals that undergo the intense furnace of purification to reach their pure identity. Precious jewels are made in the intensity of prolonged pressure, stress, irritation and pain. Will we as the church have the courage to enter into the pain of the world around us, armed not with the pat answers of the indoctrinated but the long suffering, faith and hope that come from the Holy Spirit who is willing to travel to the depths of despair with us? Will we sit with the doubts, live the real questions that dwell in the depths of our hearts? Because I think it’s in traveling this ‘road to Jerusalem, the city of suffering’ that we are able to find the gold, silver and jewels with which we will build the cathedral that will inspire hearts to rise to the creator of heaven and earth.

The more I reflect on the nature of discipleship the more I think it has little to do with answers and everything to do with living real life fully engaged with the questions it embodies. For too long we have been stressing about having the right answer to ‘the questions’, too anxious to take the time and listen deeply enough to the questions in our own hearts let alone those in the hearts of others. The people in my street need a church that is built of gold, silver and jewels, indeed they have their own stores of gold and pearls that belong. Perhaps as I learn to bring precious metals from my life, I can stand with them as they bring forth their own. I wonder if the very things I try to shut out are the treasures designed to build for eternity, whilst the easier things I thought were so important, simply straw and hay?

Can I, can we, can the church become a movement of the Father’s disciples making disciples seeking and bringing treasure from the furnace of real life, treasure that will build a new tomorrow worthy of our Lord Jesus, our firm foundation?