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Wonder (part 2)

On the first post in this short series, I was wondering about the notions of things not being right in the world and the role of church and state…you can link to that here.

Growing up in Scotland, I found it a strange concept to understand that for many Americans if they labelled themselves “Christian”, then that generally also directed which political party they voted for (a generalisation, I know).  It’s also strange that when I have found myself in a voting booth and presented with an option to vote for a specifically “Christian” party outwith the main political parties or an independent candidate using “Christian” as an adjective for their manifesto, that the first thing that comes into my head is, “they must be dodgy”.  That’s probably hugely unfair, but it goes to show how prejudiced my natural response can be at times.

So, Church and State…What are our experiences of these?  For a glimpse into my experience, please click on the arrow below.

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Must I Paint You A Picture? (Part 2)

“Must I paint you a picture

About the way that I feel?

You know my love for you is stronger.

You know my love for you is real.”

From “Must I Paint You A Picture?” by Billy Bragg.

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This forms the second part of  two halves.  The previous post can be linked here.  It explains an exercise we did when half of those gathered at a meeting a few weeks ago were asked to face a wall, unaware of who would then stand behind them and to ask God to reveal a picture, verse or impression that they should share with the person behind them.

I was stood behind someone I’ve never met before, but whom I know is held in high regard by many in our congregation.  He said that he felt he had seen a picture of a fruit tree –  a peach tree –  and that the fruit was really ripe.  What does it mean?  I think I know what it relates to, but I’m not sure what the interpretation is.

I guess I’d been thinking ahead of the meeting about how my life looks in terms of how I spend my time.  It is largely taken up by work, family and church commitments.  Despite the pressure of work deadlines, I am trying to find time for the things of God in all of that – whether it’s to work with all my best efforts, to influence the office culture or environment or to catch up socially with people I ought to.  I sometimes I wonder how much of a witness I am at work as I often just have my head down trying to maintain focus and get things done…Right now things are very demanding and many evenings are spent back in the office (after I’ve made it home to have meal with my family and be their for my daughter’s bath time) with me eventually making it home only to collapse into bed.  It’s not always like that, but right now is one of those periods.

Family life is great and there’s loads to be thankful for, but, it still demands (rightly) a huge amount of my time and energy.

Church life is also busy with organising, preparing for and facilitating a weekly small group, preparing and leading the music parts of our evening services once a month, helping drum at a friend’s church service once a month and assisting us find a property solution to our growing congregation.

Maybe the picture means that as I grow older, I am growing into the person I am meant to be?  Maybe the fruits of the spirit are more evident in my life than they once were? (that sounds pious and unlikely as I know I still have a long way to go)  Maybe, as I use these different skills I have been gifted with, it is pleasing to God?

Maybe the picture means that the fruit is ripe and is to be enjoyed by others – the benefactors of my efforts?

Maybe the fruit is ripe and ready to fall?  Maybe I have grown to fullness in some of these areas of life and it is time to hand those things over before the fruit gets over-ripe and rots?  Maybe the tree was overladen?  My gut instinct is that it is this latter interpretation that is more accurate of how life actually is right now.

We then went to pray in groups of three.  As we shared something for prayer, we were encouraged to wait in silence for a minute or two – again asking God to reveal whether there was anything He wanted us to share – a picture, a scripture, an impression, etc and then to share that with the person being prayed for, to see if it resonated and then to pray into that. 

When asked what people could pray for for me, I shared something of the above (not the picture – just the question about whether I am doing all that I ought to be or whether I should do less and do it better?).  One of the guys praying said that after the moment or two of silence he just sensed the word “blessing” and that is what I was to others.  He talked particularly of my role in leading music at church (which was an encouragement as I’d been a bit frustrated and discouraged by the previous Sunday night’s service). 

My wife was also in the group and she thought she saw a picture of a jigsaw which had a picture of the sea on it.  The corner piece was missing to complete the picture and there were a few final pieces piled on top of the bigger picture, so she couldn’t see exactly what the picture was…

One of the most helpful things I have done in my Christian life of late was a thing called the Network Course.  It helps explore, establish and affirm natural abilities and spiritual gifts,  From it I learned that my gifts are creative communication, faith and encouragement.  At the time I was leading worship once a month and that seemed like a natural outlet for these things.  I used to try and tell stories or set the scene or use DVD clips to help communicate and encourage us all into God’s presence.  As church has grown, I seem to spend less time doing those things as others try to cram loads of announcements, testimonies, DVD clips, etc into the space we have.  I spend more time just getting lost in my drumming and I concentrate on doing that as well as I can.  I found myself leading worship when our church was a very different place to what it is now.  We were really short of gifted musicians back then and short of folks who wanted to see something more contemporary happen musically.  I stepped into  a gap, explored it, felt anointed and forgiven when I made mistakes.  I wonder if that was a role for a season and whether there are others who could more naturally organise and lead that whilst I revert to just getting stuck back into my drumming?  Is that what this is all about? 

Maybe my blog is a good means of communicating creatively for someone as softly spoken as me?  Maybe hosting our small group and helping facilitate something like the art project linked here is more fitting just now?

Would that give me more time to feed my soul in other ways?  As an individual and as a family we love being near water.  Would that give me the time to spend with my family on the beach or by the sea?  To enjoy the view?  To walk and shoot the breeze?  The sea is a powerful image for me due to my love of padlling about and falling off my surfboard and also because of a recurring dream I had when I was going through a particularly difficult period about 10 years ago.  There is something about the vastness of the sea that enables me to see how big and awesome God is and how small I am.  Why is that picture incomplete?

What does it all mean???

Wonder (part 6)

This is the sixth in a short series of posts.  Post 1 can be accessed here.  Post 2 can be linked to by clicking here.  Post 3 is connected here.  Post 4 is here and post 5 is here.

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So as I mentioned earlier, the same day of the terrorist attach on Glasgow Airport in July 2007 we went to hear Rob Bell deliver a presentation in Glasgow entitled “Calling All Peacemakers”.  What does that look like?  Thank you Fourth space for sharing your notes from the talk which I have heavily plagiarised for this post!!!

Rob pointed out that the Kingdom of God is here, right now, and is present.  The message of Jesus is to return (to repent) and get back into a right life.  BUT: We live in an evil, dark world.  A world with fighting and turmoil and pain. What does Jesus say to that?

Jesus says if someone hits you on the right cheek, turn the other one.  He helpfully explained that for the Jews, the right hand was the clean hand, used for eating and handshakes.  The left hand was used for…..well, not polite stuff anyway.  You’d want to wash your hand.  So the left hand was unclean.  So you would only strike someone with your right hand, as otherwise you would be unclean.  You had two options – a right hand fist to the right cheek (hitting with a fist was indicating that person was your equal – remember it was all about relative status) or secondly, to slap – to strike an unequal, with the back of your right hand; this would be done only to a slave, a minion, a soldier below you, to someone less human than you.  So if someone hit you on the right cheek, then it follows that it must have been a slap as they couldn’t hit the right cheek with their right fist.  To have been hit on your right cheek must have indicated that the person hitting you thought you were below them – a lesser human being.  So when you turn the cheek, they would have to hit you with the fist, treating you as an equal.  It was a simple way of turning things upside down of asserting that you did not consider yourself less than them and asking them to recognise that.  It moved the position of the person being struck from unequal to equal.  This simple action takes away power and coercion.   It says, “Treats me as equal.  Validate me”.

If someone takes your coat, then give your shirt also.  Remember that the Jews would have had 2 layers – a shirt, then a coat.  So if someone sues you and takes your coat (what if you have only that left, 80-90% tax rates at the time – Jews had been conquered, there was a big army, which was in need of high revenues, so there was a high tax on people conquered – e.g. census at Christmas for purpose of counting people).  People were losing family lands.  People were oppressed.  People who were poor and having to get hired out hourly to work on their own land.  These people were experiencing shame, humiliation and guilt.  All you have left is your coat.  You are poor.  Jesus says to give to them your shirt also.  Why?  Because viewing the nakedness of another was shameful in that culture for the person who viewed it – not the person who had been stripped bare.  Again, this turns things upside down.  The master would then say “stop doing that”, put your clothes back on.  The oppressed person is now acting, the master begging him to stop.  It offered an innovative, peaceful and practical way to deal with the situation.  The genius is that the aggressor may change his heart and give the coat back.

Jesus says if demanded to walk 1 mile, then go another one.  Romans mastered the place, these are the people who invented crucifixion.  These were not nice conquerors.  Roman soldiers could demand that you walked with them, to carry their pack – even if on Sabbath, you had no choice, even if it meant being apart from your family.  It treats you like an animal.  BUT Roman military rules restricted this to 1 mile per person.  So if you then walked another mile, the Romans had to beg you to stop – otherwise they would be in trouble with the military commanders and could face a court marshall.  The Romans would have begged you to stop.  A Roman wouldn’t want to be caught punishing a person who was carrying their pack.  So Jesus says be fearless. Go the 2nd mile.  Put the Roman in an awkward situation.  Ask him to do something.

The world we live in suffers from lack of imagination.

When we suffer wrong there are 2 approaches we usually take:

1)  Do nothing.  Pacifism.  Turn the other cheek.  Take it.  God loves you.  Jesus gave my spine to someone else.  This is not what Jesus is advocating.

2)  Strike back.  Pick up the sword and swing.  Corresponding level of aggression.  “Let me tell you about those gossips so you can pray better for them” etc. At that moment you have just lost.

Jesus is giving a 3rd way.  Not passivity.  3rd way theology.  Jesus pioneered non-violence.  Gives us imagination.

Turn the other cheek.  Do not co-operate with anything that humiliates you.  Preserve the image of God.  Protect the humanity.  He holds out the possibility that the aggressor may have a change of heart.  We can see it acted out in more modern examples e.g. Freeze practices of Danish resistance.  Chose a random time, e.g. Thurs 2.07, held a 2mins freeze.  Saved thousands of people, allowed thousands to escape WWII with their conscience intact.

Is there a 3rd way here today? Can I do things differently?

How can you get to the oppressor asking you to stop your innovative, non-violent and yet provocative action?

The 3rd way demonstrates tremendous creativity and  massive courage.

THE CROSS

This was first seen as an icon 300-400AD, funnily enough the same time as the Romans died out.  Crucifixion was a genius tool for oppressors – kills people, they suffer for a time, most people can see it and heed its warning.  The cross only became art when people who had seen crucifixion died out. – YET WE SING SONGS OF THE CROSS & ITS POWER. HAD COSMIC IMPLICATIONS FOR FIRST CHRISTIANS. GOD RECONCILES ALL THINGS TO HIMSELF THROUGH THE CROSS.  God makes peace with all things.  Very real reconciliation.  The work has been done, it’s about trust through the cross & resurrection.

BUT REMEMBER THAT THIS RECONCILIATION REFERRED TO ALL THINGS. Reconciliation – trusting Jesus is where it starts.  The cross is our personal encounter with Jesus.  Christ wants to put each of us back together.  The cross is the only hope.

As church experiences shalom together He works inside us, bonds us to others.  We then understand we need to bring shalom to the world.  God wants to reconcile himself to all things.

The world today

– 6bn people

– USA 300m

– UK 60m

This is only 8% of the world population.

  • 1 billion people do not have clean drinking water
  • 2.6bn people do not have adequate sanitation – leads to lower immune rates etc
  • 780-800m people are hungry due to no food
  • 2.2bn children. 1bn live in poverty (absence of basic necessities)
  • 2bn no electricity
  • 80% live in sub-standard housing
  • 1bn can not read or sign their name
  • Wealthiest 1% have same net worth as poorest 57%
  • 1bn people live off <$1/day
  • 2bn more <$2/day

THIS IS NOT SHALOM

  • 20% of the world consume 86% of world’s resources

In Rwanda there was a woman who was very poor – a micro-finance loan was given, she bought a stall, built house & owns it, uniforms & food for kids & they go to school.  She was able to pay the loan back. $40 loan.  Given to someone else. Etc etc.   For these particular series of talks Rob Bell was offering £1 off the ticket price and that £1 went to turami, to micro-finance in Burundi where $90 is the average annual income.  The repayment rate on micro-finance loans is 98-99% globally.

All the spare money from the speaking tour went to turami.  Lets set out to bring shalom.  Catch a vision for being a peacemaker.  Bring shalom to the world.

 Peace & Shalom.


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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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