Saturday, April 19, 2014

LEARNING TO ACCEPT

As a pastor, I often will sit with people as they describe the difficulty they find themselves in. So much anxiety comes with experiencing great loss, unexpected change and regret from past mistakes.

My role is to listen, reflect and look for God in the difficulty. Sometimes, I ask questions that help them uncover the change they desire to have. From experience I have learned to tell people less of what they should do and more of asking what part God is playing in this challenge.

One of the most daunting hills to climb is the mountain named ‘acceptance’. Often people are not ready to accept that change has come and adjust to those things beyond their control.

Real faith does not deny the reality of its challenges; faith accepts the need for God who may or may not change the outcome of the present problem. Faith requires a measure of acceptance.

We see this kind of faith when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are sentenced to death by burning. They tell King Nebuchadnezzar that they will not violate their faith by bowing to his idol. They know that God can save them from the flames, but even if God does not, their faith remains.

We see Job say of the Almighty,

Job 13:
15a Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him…

I am much more interested in that kind of faith; not the watered down version that demands God comply with our desired outcome. Have you accepted the reality of your circumstances?

Paul Tournier said:
‘Acceptance of one's life has nothing to do with resignation; it does not mean running away from the struggle. On the contrary, it means accepting it as it comes, with all the handicaps of heredity, of suffering, of psychological complexes and injustices.’[i]

Often, we are not ready to accept life’s limitations and conditions. We want the God of picnics and sunny days. We hope we don’t have to be His welfare recipient in times of trouble.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

MORE SAVED THAN YOU'VE BEEN TOLD

The biblical vision of shalom goes much further than the self-focused concept of salvation we settle for. We are right to believe that God wants to eternally save us from our sins and adopt us into His eternal family. 


This alone is huge but we fall short of the true biblical proportion of salvation.

One of the words used for salvation in the New Testament is the Greek word sozo. While we reduce it to mean ‘save’ it also can be translated ‘to heal, to preserve or to make whole.’

Salvation, shalom & healing are inseparable because salvation is the process whereby human beings are restored to wholeness and full relationship with God – body soul, spirit – not as individuals but in community with others and with God’s creation, what theologian Paul Tillich calls the “the act of cosmic healing”
Missiology’s David Bosch tells us “there is, in Jesus’ ministry, no tension between saving from sin and saving from physical ailment, between the spiritual and the social.”
Salvation carries with it the same sense of anticipation as shalom - the promise that God’s intention is to restore all things to wholeness.

Another New Testament ‘salvation word’ is the Greek word eirēnē. This word usually refers to political stability and order. This word reflects the Hebrew sense of shalom. For example,

Acts 10:
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace (eirēnē) through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 

Howard Snyder explains “Peace in the New Testament has the same meaning as in the Old, but it now finds its focus and means in the person of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant in his blood”[i]

There have always been systems of justice in every culture. The fullness of God's intentions is realized in Jesus as the mediator of God's conciliatory nature.

Shalom is not just a human system, but insists on God's participation in human affairs. Shalom depends on Emmanuel, God with us. No Kingdom without the King. Call it benevolent theocracy where Jesus’ rule over our hearts brings the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. If your presence brings Jesus into view, you are an agent of God’s shalom.

Jonathan Kozol is an American writer who wrote eloquently about social justice. One of his books told stories of children in the Bronx living in poverty. There is a passage where Jonathan asks a thirteen year old named Anthony to imagine what heaven is like. His description is a hint of things to come when shalom finally settles on the earth with Christ’s return. Anthony said that in Heaven,

“God will be there.  He’ll be happy that we have arrived.  People shall come hand-in-hand.  It will be bright, not dim and gloomy like on earth.  All friendly animals will be there, but no mean ones.  As for television, forget it!  If you want vision, you can use your eyes to see the people that you love.  No one will look at you from the outside.  People will see you from the inside.  All the people from the street will be there.  My uncle will be there and he will be healed… No violence will there be in heaven.  There will be no guns or drugs or IRS.  You won’t have to pay taxes.  You’ll recognize all the children who have died when they were little.  Jesus will be good to them and play with them.  At night he’ll come and visit at your home.  God will be fond of you.  How will you know that you are there?  Something will tell you, ‘this is it! Eureka!’  If you still feel lonely in your heart, or bitterness, you’ll know that you’re not there.”[ii]

We’re not there yet. But we’re getting there. Maranatha! Even so, come Lord Jesus, come.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

SHALOM IN THE STREETS

Christine Sine is a contemplative activist and a thoughtful writer. About the idea of Shalom, she wrote:

The Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed is the fulfillment of the ‘shalom vision’ from the Old Testament. It is a place in which all humanity, particularly the poor and excluded, in fact all creation is freed from slavery and bondage reconciled and made whole.  It is a new heaven and a new earth rich with the promise of shalom, of wholeness and well being for all and established through the mediation of Christ.
God’s vision of the restoration of shalom was obviously very much at the centre of Jesus’ life.  Throughout the gospels Jesus went about bringing glimpses of God’s shalom future into peoples lives. Time after time He led them out of the old oppressions and into new freedoms.
To those enslaved by hunger, He gave the freedom of food and even envisioned the new kingdom as a great banquet. To the guilt-ridden, He announced forgiveness and release from the burden of sin.  He came to lepers who had been excommunicated for their disease and freed them to come back with full acceptance into the community. 
He came to the women who had been overlooked and often marginalized and gave them the assurance that they were of equal importance in the eyes of God.  He came to the deaf and opened ears, to the blind and gave them sight. To all human kind He offered the hope of a new life and a new world in which shalom relationships were once again at the centre of life.[i]

We get a preview of Shalom every time the followers of Jesus demonstrate God’s Love to one another and to their communities.

Early Christians were notable for their outrageous love, and not for clever worship songs, big budgets or their political power. They were people who stepped into love when no one else would. Love is inarguable.

When the plague ravaged Rome in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, inciting an exodus of citizens, many Christians rushed in to care for the sick and dying, joining the many that were already there, refusing to leave. As church father Dionysius wrote in A.D. 260, "Most of the Christians in our city showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves … drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pain." (Rodney Stark famously argues that such outlandish compassion helped spur Christianity's meteoric rise throughout the empire.)[ii]