twenty-first century jubilee

Warning: this bloggage contains idealism, optimism and challenge.

prioritiesI grew up in an era when the threat of nuclear attack was real. The peace of the world existed in a tension that was known as MAD – mutually assured destruction. In other words, we would not blow up another country because we knew that they would blow us up in return – the missiles passing each other in their deadly trajectories. It was also an era when acts of terrorism were commonplace – mostly in Northern Ireland but sometimes on the UK mainland too.

We now live in an era when there is a new threat of nuclear attack as smaller countries acquire the technology to split the atom destructively. We also live in an era where acts of terrorism are commonplace – fuelled by a hideous distortion of Islamic ideology.

It seems to me that MAD and terrorism are two aspects of the same worldview: the threat and reality of death and destruction are the ultimate ways of exercising power, influence and control over someone else. They are ways of establishing or enforcing control in a situation. Those who have the power maintain it with the threat or reality of death and destruction and those who feel powerless seek to regain power and control through the threat or reality of bringing death and destruction to those who have the power.

Part of me wants to scream, “Have we learned nothing in 50 years?”

And I fear that the silent response will speak louder than words.

Why is it that some nations, people groups and ideologies are seeking to regain or establish power and control? Put simply (and I know it’s more complex than this) it must be that they feel powerless or lack control. So if we are to resolve these issues how are we going to do it?

  1. You could rain death and destruction down on those who are threatening it – remove them from the planet and you remove the threat. Except that the threat will always re-emerge because there will always be others who feel so powerless and lacking in control and influence over their own lives that they see no alternative. That is the current policy operated by the powerful.
  2. You could seek to force those who are threatening death and destruction to desist by making their existence intolerable through the imposition of sanctions of different sorts. But the danger is that if they are not starved into submission they may be starved into even more desperate acts in order to try to survive.
  3. You could seek to negotiate peace with those who are seeking or threatening to disrupt it. This only works if all sides want peace and are willing to negotiate. It necessitates a recognition that peace through compromise is more desirable than the current situation. Peace that lasts cannot be coerced or imposed because otherwise resentment will fester and emerge later on in violent antipathy.

It seems to me that the approaches that have been taken in the 50 years I have lived on this spinning globe have not secured lasting peace. United Nations resolutions have not changed anything. Economics has not changed anything. Ideology has not changed anything – capitalism may have gained the ascendancy but it actually only benefits the wealthy and powerful so is likely in the long term to exacerbate the problem. Religion has not changed anything – different sides have claimed moral and religious justifications for their actions but nobody has been proved right. Technology has not changed the status quo.

So what would work? I think we need a global response to a global problem. That problem is inequality: inequality of wealth, power, influence, lifestyle, resource consumption, technology and so much more. And what we need is a global outpouring of grace. By this I mean that those with power become willing to ‘lose face’ and seek to improve the circumstances for those who are power-less. It will cost a lot in many different ways, and the cost will primarily be paid by those who have the power, wealth and so on. They are the ones who will be giving things up for the benefit of those who have less as it means a substantial redistribution of wealth, power and influence.

It also carries with it a lot of risks: the risk that those who are seeking to wreak death and destruction on others will simply take what is offered and continue their deadly path; the risk that those who have used aggression or its threat to make their point will claim victory and it could encourage others to try the same thing; the risk that the citizens of the powerful nations will see it as weakness and not re-elect those that we in power who acted that way… many more besides.

It’s actually something that God intends. In the Bible we read of the concept of Jubilee. It was to be a year (once every 50 years) in which debts are written off, land is restored to its original owners, those who have been exploited are released, and everyone acts in the best interests of everyone rather than motivated by greedy self-interest. The problem is that those who had the power and wealth found it too difficult to let go of it so it was never (to our knowledge) put into practice.

Is this achievable? Not by our own efforts because greedy self-interest will always overpower grace and love. Look at what happened to Jesus!

But it is achievable if we get radical. ‘Radical’ as a word has its origins in the concept of ‘going back to the root’. What we need is not a new politics, economics or ideology. What we need is a radical renewal of our relationship with God. Jesus described what he had come to do in the form of announcing a year of Jubilee in our relationship with God: a change of heart and renewed relationship with our Creator is the only way we can begin to see his world transformed and the only way we can see the sort of change that is needed that will affect the hearts and minds in such a way that we will be willing to risk all for the benefit of all. It’s only possible when we allow him to get to work on us by his Spirit to change our hearts and minds and we live in a grace-rich environment.

Am I an idealist? Maybe. Am I unrealistic? Maybe. But it can start with me and you. How about it?

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

essentials

So… the Baptist Union of Great Britain has a new logo. That’s bad news for Baptist Churches that have the old one embedded into their architecture! The old logo contained a cross, water and a fish. The new logo is explained in this diagram:

NewLogoElements

(You have to recognise that the fish is swimming downwards).

Oh yes. A cross, water and a fish (plus a ‘b’ for ‘baptists’). In some ways nothing has changed, but in others plenty has changed. On Sunday evening I am preaching on Acts 15, where the early Christians had to work out what was unchangeable about being a Christian, and what God wanted them to hold lightly and be ready to change.

Questions were raised about whether being circumcised was essential for being a Christian – thankfully they discerned that this was not essential.

They discussed what sort of food could be eaten (including that which had been sacrificed to idols and was now being re-sold (probably discounted) – they felt that it was best that they avoided that (along with  a few other items of food and sexual immorality – interesting how it is last in the list!). In essence I think the advice was for them not to get mixed up in the cult worship of the surrounding culture: if it was about worship they should focus only on worshipping God as revealed in Jesus and not be distracted.

It does make me wonder what is still essential to being a Christian and whether there are things God wants to hold more lightly and be ready to change. At the risk of being hauled before a religious court or stoned by a mob I am going to try a few ‘essentials’:

Is it essential to accept that Jesus, God incarnate, died on the cross for you and receive the forgiveness God offers us, following him for the rest of our life?

Yup.

Is anything else essential?

Nope.

[cue sounds of rocks being gathered and ecclesiastical gavels being banged].

Let’s go back to the changing / unchanging logo of the Baptist Union of Great Britain:

The cross is essential and was probably the earliest Christian symbol.

The fish was an early Christian symbol too. In Greek the word for fish is ‘ichthus’ and in Greek this is also an acronym that means ‘Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour’. That is pretty essential.

The water represents believer’s baptism, one of the things that made our foreparents (forefathers and foremothers) distinctive when they started forming Baptist churches just over 400 years ago. Believer’s baptism is an early Christian event too (Jesus told us to get wet) that expresses faith in Jesus and affirms our commitment to him as his followers. (Yes there’s a lot more here, but I will save that for another day).

Did the early Christians get thrown to the lions for believing more than that? Would you be willing to die for anything more than that? Is anything else essential?

Answers on a postcard (preferably not wrapped around a brick) – or you can give some feedback on the blog page by clicking the link at the top of this bloggage.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the sequel

I had an interesting and helpful conversation with someone this morning following yesterday’s bloggage. They helped me realise that I needed to expand a bit more on what I had written, so consider this the sequel.

I finished yesterday by saying that Jesus offers us life in all its fullness as the Creator’s intended answer to our search for happiness. I realised after this morning’s conversation that it looks like I meant that God was offering us happiness after all. I am sorry if that is the impression I left you with (all I can say in my defence is that it was blogged on a phone on a train).

I am sorry too if you have ever got the impression from me that if you become a Christian your life will be sorted and there will never be any problems. That’s not the message of Jesus. He told us that his followers can expect opposition, even persecution. He told us that we should pick up our cross daily and follow him. He told people not to worry about tomorrow … “each day has enough trouble of its own.” He taught us to pray “deliver us from evil” and “don’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.”

There is much more to life than this
There is much more to life than this

‘Life in all its fullness’ is a life lived in God’s presence, filled with God’s Spirit, seeking to live in a way that honours him as a follower of Jesus. As wonderful as that is, and as amazing and positive as that is, fullness of life also includes the pain, grief, difficulties, frustrations, confusion and anxieties that life can throw in our direction. It includes all of life, knowing that God is with us in it. It includes those moments when we can look back and see that God really was in it with us when we wondered if we were alone. It includes those times when we were clinging on to our faith by our fingernails. It is life lived in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Following Jesus is no guarantee of an easy life (perhaps it’s a guarantee that life will not be easy) but it is life as it was created to be. It’s not all doom and gloom, there is also brightness, joy, peace, laughter, fun and so much more – don’t read this and think that it’s all bad. God is with us by his Spirit in the light and the dark, in the laughter and the tears, in the joy and the pain.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

inadequate prayers

Those who know me at all will know that it is rare that words fail me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut the shooting at Sandy Hook School, Newtown, Connecticut, left me speechless. I wanted to express outrage at what had happened, despair at how helpless I felt, pain and grief for the families who had been bereaved, but all I could muster was silence and a lump in my throat.

In the aftermath of the event there have been many knee-jerk reactions. Some may have been wise and helpful, others were extremist and became white noise in the background of the grief. People have been posturing, blaming, demanding action.

I would like to comment on some of those opinions, but for the moment I won’t. Now is not the moment for political posturing it is a moment for prayerful love.

I pray for God’s blessing, peace, strength, love and presence to be with all who are grieving.

 

I feel that this is one of those times when the Holy Spirit takes our emotions and words we cannot express and turns them into prayer in the throne room of heaven.

If you want to know what to pray, here are some suggestions: May this strengthen the resolve of each one of us who is a follower of Jesus to cry out, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” May it inspire us to pray with hope, “Deliver us from evil.” May Jesus show us how we may be part of the answer to our own prayers.

Be blessed, be a blessing