by Ryan Thurman
We are living in Gozo, a little sister island of the country of Malta in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, not too far from Tunisia. Wherever God places us in the world our work with Antioch Network (AN) is consistent. First, we help start and support new ministries. Second, we encourage and build up the body of Christ. And third, we care for the poor and vulnerable.
To help paint a fuller picture of what we are currently up to we will share the details of two recent days! On Sunday, we hosted and led the worship service. We had forty-plus people in our home from ten different countries. Keilah did a reading from Scripture and later gave the Bible lesson to the children. Noleen assisted in the communion and I gave the sermon. After the service, we ate and fellowshipped together. It was powerful to serve together as a family. It brought back memories of when we started A2J in our home in Phoenix and then a few years later helped start St. George’s Anglican Church, also in our home.
The next day, while Noleen was homeschooling the children, I left early in the morning to catch the ferry from Gozo to Malta to go shopping to buy food and supplies for the Eritrean family, the three children we took into our home last month while their mother was recovering from tuberculosis in the hospital. While there I noticed the mother was not doing well so after praying over her made arrangements with her social workers to go back to the hospital. I ended this day by joining Christians from all over Malta and Gozo both Catholic and Protestant to pray for reconciliation and healing in the broken body of Christ. There is a wonderful network of Christians developing here that has the same heart and mission as John 17.
The next day God gave us the joy and challenge of bringing these three children to live with us once again. Our children have been wonderful in opening up their spaces and hearts to these children again. Recently, we watched the Gospel of John movie together, they had never heard the gospel or understood the love of and sacrifice of Jesus. The sheer wonder and amazement they had to the power and beauty of Jesus stirred us afresh. Mikele, asked Noleen where Jesus is now and she shared with him the mystery of Jesus in heaven but also in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, He responded, "This is the most amazing and scary story ever." Such a genuine and innocent response!
Three Things We Have Been Learning Lately
1. Everyone is hungry for love and thirsty for grace. As Hebrews exhorts us, see to it that no one misses the grace of God.
2. The home might just be the most important place on earth. As James K.A. Smith writes, the home is a deeply formative space that teaches us how to love. As a family, we are seeing with new eyes, the important role we have in helping shape one another. We are also learning as a family how to identify and affirm each other’s gifts and how to work together to serve God.
3. Reconciliation is needed now more than ever, as the world appears to be rapidly growing more divisive. The message of reconciliation is more relevant and appealing than ever to a world deeply anguished because of broken relationship with God and with one another.
**You can read more about our past nine months in Europe by clicking this link.
by Jeff Skeens
The last few post I’ve written have been building a path towards understanding what kind of people we must be for renewal to be a reality in the Western church. I want to remind us of the two borders that are holding the contents of our trail: peaceableness and justice. These are the foundational elements that help us structure our path so that it isn’t just a bunch of loose gravel being laid down with no purpose or order. With those as our outside borders, we can continue unpacking the contents that help make up the rock we are laying to complete our path, which has led us to the virtue of hospitality.
When some of us think of hospitality, the phrase “entertaining angels” comes to mind. Believe it or not, this idiom comes from the Bible. The book entitled Hebrews in the Bible says this in chapter 13, verse 2: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Entertaining angels, hospitality, can refer to the practice of treating all guests, whether they’re sojourners, kings, or common folk, as if they were visiting angels
There is a movie that was made about Dorothy Day in 1996 called “Entertaining Angels.” Day was a Catholic social activist starting in the early 1930’s, and was the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, which began by Day (also a journalist) starting a newspaper called Catholic Worker. In the first issue, it was clear that the Catholic Worker’s chief aim was to get the word out that the Catholic church was there to help those who have suffered the most in the heart of the Great Depression. A famous line from the first issue by Day says this: “…the Catholic Church has a social program… there are men of God who are working not only for their spiritual but for their material welfare.”
This movement has been tagged in a negative way as a “social gospel,” meaning that they were “Christians” wanting to help the suffering without caring for their souls (sharing the gospel with them). I am not going to get into the theology of that argument for now, but I do want to use this analogy to build a case for hospitality.
When people seek to care socially for a stranger who is weak, suffering, poor, hungry, sick, or in some other kind of great need, we ought to be slow to write them off as merely activists with no care for souls. Scripture has many calls for hospitality that has been neglected by a vast majority of Christians who are too worried about being labeled a “social-gospel Christian.” May we be reminded briefly of our biblical call to social action, and that the gospel is thoroughly social and spiritual at the same time:
“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” Hebrews 13:3.
“Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” Galatians 2:10.
“Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” Romans 12:13.
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” 1 Peter 4:9.
“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” Matthew 25:37-40.
We could go on and speak of Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, the rich man giving all he has to the poor, and on and on. Entertaining angels, hospitality, is meeting physical needs. When you see a stranger, welcome her in; clothe him, feed her, help them find shelter. Many people take this call to hospitality and put their own spin on it, and they say, “I only help those who want help,” or “It’s not right helping someone if they are going to take advantage of the system,” or “I will only help them if they’re willing to listen to me preach the gospel to them.”
Let me be clear, the gospel is word ‘and’ deed. The gospel is never detached from doing justice ‘and’ preaching grace. If we are to help a stranger, we do not have to try and cram the gospel into their brains, for the gospel is also seen and heard in our deeds.
As far as the concern of giving to those who deserve it, Jesus is clear that we are to give to strangers often, even before we learn if they are “worthy” of our help. This passage from Matthew 25 is clear that it’s the stranger that we are called to be hospitable to, because Christ is present in the un-welcomed “alien” and the naked stranger.
But still, hospitality is a very controversial endeavor. How far do we go to help the stranger? When does the stranger stop being a stranger and become someone who is known? After the first time you help them? Second time? What makes a stranger “worthy” of our help? Is there a litmus test to find out? Does giving to someone who is not “worthy” of help make someone a social-gospelist, on the verge of breaking down the Capitalistic structure of our nation? Many Christians don’t agree on what hospitality is, even though Scripture, throughout the Old and the New Testament is very clear.
I didn’t site any Old Testament references above, but it is filled with commands for Israel to display the heart and character of God through being especially hospitable to widows, orphans, and aliens. In the New Testament, Jesus modeled hospitality to a ragamuffin band of social outcasts, spiritual rejects, and political losers. Jesus showed hospitality to all of us by entering into our vulnerability and suffering and giving us an invitation to feast at his table. He, a God who knows us, came close to us in our despair, and made Himself knowable, touchable, and shared His resources when we were totally unworthy candidates, who selfishly took advantage of the system.
The late Henri Nouwen says that hospitality is welcoming the stranger and allowing him to “lay aside his strangeness and become a friend… That’s what true hospitality is all about, to offer a safe place, where the stranger can become a friend.” Reaching Out, 66.
Hospitality allows one to belong before they believe or behave properly. In our religious systems we often require right belief and behavior before someone is ‘allowed’ to belong. This is not God’s idea, but man’s. When we were strangers and alienated from God, Christ came near and was hospitable to us. Before we believed in Him or behaved properly, He showed us that we belong with Him. God created space for us to belong with Him; that’s divine hospitality, and church renewal depends, in part, on the hospitality of the citizens of heaven. Belonging precedes “right” belief or “proper” behavior.
We need more Catholic Worker type movements within our churches. We need more Dorothy Day’s willing to be persecuted and called social-gospelists because they are passionate about being hospitable to those suffering, even unworthy sufferers, or maybe angels who are looking to be entertained.
Jeff Skeens is a friend of A2J! You can read more of his writings here: jeffskeens.com
By Amber Jesse
Hey friends! Amber Jesse here again.
Yesterday, my big brother Cliff shared a song that he wrote and recorded to celebrate his bride of 14 years! His beautiful lyrics and melody inspired me to share more of their story with you, today. I’ve also posted their song on the blog page.
Cliff and his wife (my sister-in-love) Tara are very dear friends of our little “A2J” community, and they’ve given me permission to share a little bit more about them. Their story is my absolute favorite example of how God can heal a marriage and make it shine with such radiant light that it leaves no doubt of the reality of Jesus. Cliff and Tara would be the first to tell you that their marriage did not have an easy start. This story is long and multifaceted, as most good stories are, so today I'll just try to give you some highlights!
Cliff joined the Army at 17! He was sent to Iraq while his beautiful young bride was left behind to give birth to their first baby. Cliff returned for a short visit to meet his baby boy, Aiden, for the first time, and also to say goodbye to our Mom who was just one day away from dying of cancer.
The very painful circumstances of Cliff's early life, along with his years spent in war-torn Iraq, left him wounded, weary and hard-hearted. Tara and Cliff suffered for many years in a marriage largely devoid of the love that’s needed to thrive and grow. I watched my brother struggle with his own inner agony and angry outbursts. Tara shut down in many ways to try to survive. She became a sad, wilted flower.
I knew in my heart that Jesus was the One who could restore their hearts and their marriage, but Cliff had a strong aversion to God, and Tara had very little experience with even the idea of prayer or having a relationship with Jesus.
I remember a time when Cliff said to me, point blank, "I don't want God!"
In 2008, during my summer in Southeast Africa, I sensed God's strong invitation to fast and pray for Cliff and Tara, and to speak life over them and their marriage. I sensed the Holy Spirit filling my heart and I wrote these words:
"When I get home, I will speak over Cliff that he WILL be a man after God's own heart. He will have a revelation of
the depth of God's love for him... He will be a carrier of God's glory. He will come to the end of his rope, and no longer be a slave to anger or bitterness or anything of this world. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit. A burning flame, an unending fire will fill him… Cliff will be filled and overflowing with the joy of the Lord.
He will walk in radical faith. His family will also be radical lovers of God... Cliff will honor his wife and their
relationship will be an example for others. He will not walk in bondage. He will not walk in addiction. Cliff will walk closely with the Lord. He will hear God's voice and listen. He will not harden his heart… Cliff will be my teacher. He will lead me down the narrow road. He will lead his family and thousands more down the road of life. Aiden will follow his lead... Cliff will be consumed with love… He will use his gifts for proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven… He will be transformed!”
When I returned home, Cliff drove to Phoenix (from Ajo, where they were living at the time), and we met up for lunch. As we waited for our food, I confidently read these words to him, telling him I was absolutely sure they would happen. He looked puzzled and maybe a little intrigued. I remember him saying, “Hmm, I guess we’ll see...”
Over the next few years, Cliff continued to struggle. He continued to malfunction emotionally. He and Tara continued in unhealthy and damaging patterns of communications. They knew it was hurting Aiden and their baby girl Adeli, but they couldn’t seem to make any lasting changes. All the while, God was wooing and pursuing their hearts.
Whenever Cliff would come to Phoenix, he’d end up around our little band of Jesus lovers called “Apprenticeship to Jesus”. As he encountered the beauty and love of Christian community, he became more and more intrigued. “Was this whole Jesus thing even real? Could God really change my life?”
After one really bad argument between Cliff and Tara, he called me up. He seemed to have hit rock bottom- depressed, angry and in immense pain. He was planning to get into his car and drive off indefinitely. My heart ached. I had been here with him and Tara before, but this felt different. I worried that something terrible would happen.
In that moment, I gave Cliff a challenge. “Please! Come stay with with us here in Woodland for a while. Then you can decide what you want to do next.”
He took the chance, accepted the invitation and came! A couple of our guys in the neighborhood took him in, and then I witnessed what I’d call the miracle of community. Over the course of a few weeks, a whole group of amazing men of God, one-by-one, came around Cliff and poured into him… their friendship, their insights, and their love!
All the while, there was this beautiful, faithful couple in Ajo who had consistently been praying for them.
Long and amazing story short, Cliff returned to his family significantly changed. He was invited to a Christian men’s retreat with some guys in Ajo and shortly thereafter I got a phone call from my brother that I will never forget.
“Amber, these guys were getting baptized and… I can’t explain it… Something came over me and I wanted to run into that water! I gave my life to Jesus! I’m putting my hand to the plow, and I’m never looking back!”
So, that was the beginning of a brand new Cliff…
Tara kept a close eye on him for a whole year to see if this new “fad” would stick. Once she realized that Jesus had indeed started to form a new and beautiful heart in Cliff, she came wholeheartedly on board. This woman who didn’t even really know what it meant to have a conversation with God, became what I’ve often referred to as a “sponge for truth.” Tara is a wise soul, full of grace and beauty. Her heart is the loveliest. She is a flower that has BLOSSOMED.
And Cliff… Oh man! I could go on and on about what an amazing person he is! Early on in his journey, he asked me how he could expedite his spiritual growth. I told him to read the words of Jesus and do exactly what he says. Cliff really took that to heart. He has, in many ways, become my teacher. I look up to him and admire how passionate, kind and teachable he is. He is truly a man after God’s heart!
So, Jesus has done it again! His passionate, sacrificial love has won them over.
And I’m the one who can tell you! I’ve been with them all along the road. I knew them before and I know them now. They are not the same. They have been and continue to be dramatically transformed. And how sweet it is to my soul to see my nephew and my niece growing up and thriving in this love.
Those words I sensed God leading me to speak over them nine years ago, while I was in a little town in Southeast Africa… those words become more true each and every day.
Now, I’d like to encourage you to click the link below to hear the song Cliff wrote for Tara. It’s called “Dearest One.”
by Chris Schutte
It’s quite common to hear friends, neighbors, and co-workers (though not so much my co-workers) describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” What does one mean by that? Generally, one means that there is, indeed, more to life than the physical world, and that there is some kind of transcendent meaning to be found. For a “spiritual but not religious” person, however, that “more” and that “meaning” are not the exclusive domain of traditional religious communities. In fact, being “religious,” in “spiritual but not religious,” is often seen as a liability in seeking transcendent meaning, inasmuch as “religion” means keeping a proscribed, and, in many cases, seemingly arbitrary, set of rules, fixating on who is “in” and who is “out” based on those rules.
Interestingly, many people who identify as spiritual but not religious are deeply attracted to Jesus. On the surface, this may seem counterintuitive, as Jesus is intimately associated with the largest “religion” in the world – Christianity. However, as one reads through the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, it becomes clear that Jesus had little patience with “religion” per se, reserving his harshest critiques for those religious leaders who, in his words, “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:4). In this, Jesus is squarely in the tradition of Old Testament prophets like Micah, Amos, and Isaiah, who spoke against Israel’s rulers – both kings and priests – in the eighth century BC when they had moved away from God’s intention for them to be blessing to the nations (cf. Genesis 12:3).
The difference, however, between Jesus and the Old Testament prophets is that, rather than simply announcing the coming of God’s judgment on human sin – sin deeply embedded in the religious life of the people – Jesus took the consequences of that sin, the very judgment of God, on himself, thus opening the way of freedom to all under judgment, meaning each one of us. In other words, Jesus came to set us free from the burdens, and the pitfalls, of religion as commonly understood.
However, Jesus also came to help us to be “spiritual,” although in a very specific way. When Paul speaks to the Corinthians about a “spiritual person” (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:15), he means someone who has been filled with the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. To Paul, when one is filled with the Holy Spirit, he or she inevitably begins to bear the fruit of the Spirit, which Paul describes as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). My guess is that among our friends and neighbors who identify as spiritual but not religious, a life marked by the fruit of the Spirit, a life that looks like Jesus, would be deeply compelling. The question is just how to offer this kind of spiritual life in a way that it might be received.
One of the most urgent missional challenges we face today is distinguishing between an authentic Christian life – rooted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit – from the traps of “religion,” which are predictably judgment, self-righteousness, and control. This requires paying serious attention to the failures of ancient Israel and the prophetic critiques of their leaders, meditating on the words and actions of Jesus, especially his rebuke of the religious authorities, and, finally, an unapologetic embrace of the Holy Spirit, who makes us “spiritual” people capable of living lives marked by the Spirit’s fruit. I hope and pray that we at Christ Church might become a community marked first and foremost by Jesus and his Spirit, sharing the fruit of that Spirit with a world longing for its beauty.
Father Chris Schutte is the pastor of Christ Church Anglican in Phoenix and a friend of A2J
by Jeff Skeens
When many of us hear the word compassion and we are filled with good feelings and thoughts of love and joy by the mention of it. We like to think of ourselves as compassionate people, after all who wouldn’t have compassion on a “poor” old man whose body has broken down, a malnourished child, a woman who has been sold into sex slavery, or a family on the streets.
The problem we have here is a semantic one. What Western Christianity understands compassion to be and what it has always truly meant are worlds apart. Compassion isn’t the same as having sad feelings for someone’s situation, or thoughts of pity for those who are poor or oppressed. Those thoughts are just that; thoughts of pity. This is not compassion. For many of us, when real opportunities of com-passion present themselves, we are too gripped by fear of loss and pain, or frozen by feelings of not being able to do anything about the situation, so we often never enter into compassion.
At the root of the word compassion are two Latin words, pati (with) and cum (to suffer); meaning “to suffer with.” Compassion is when love intentionally moves you into the suffering and brokenness of others; it is to allow your love to meet someone’s worst moment. “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts… to be weak with those who are weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless.” Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, Nouwen, McNeill, and Morrison, 3-4.
Feelings and thoughts of sadness and pity is not compassion, however, they can be the beginnings of us moving into compassion.
This is fully seen and realized in the New Testament account of Jesus’ final week before he was crucified. Many people call the week before the crucifixion, “Passion Week.” We learn in the gospel narratives that Jesus turned his face towards Jerusalem, the very place where he would suffer intentionally, where he would move into our place of sin and brokenness, so that we would receive the fruits of his compassion; light shining out “of the darkness”, offering a divine presence in the midst of our brokenness. Maybe we should call the Holy week, “Compassion Week,” since his suffered was for our sake.
Thus, compassion is not a natural human virtue as is sometimes understood to be. If compassion were to be seen as a front and center virtue of the Christ follower’s life, we might begin to question the fruitfulness of compassion because of the cost it would place on our lives. A society governed by compassion may very well be seen as a foolish and weak society, and indeed, Christ was seen as foolish and weak. Nationalistic movements among Christianity have historically not cared for the weak or foolish within their societies, and view the call “to suffer with” as a death wish that destroys healthy progress in society.
Many people may even say or think to themselves, “Our world will not survive if compassion is a chief virtue.” This thinking would be especially true in a society like ours today, where our greatest ideals are to maximize our satisfaction and limit the amount of loss and pain we experience. We see this is in our business ventures, in start-up ministries/churches, in the way we pick neighborhoods to live in, how we choose to raise our children, in the laws we legislate, etc.
This is not all bad. In fact, much good comes out of limiting loss and pain, but in the process of longing for a better society, we forget that there is still suffering, and those who are on the margins of society likely do not have the ability to choose differently. In our pursuit of our own “right” to happiness, we have lost sight of those who have been robbed of theirs. Thus, on this side of redemption, compassion is a necessary and central virtue among God’s people.
We would do well to turn our ears on to the moment Jesus calls us to compassion: “You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate” Luke 6:36. This, in the context of real compassion, is a daunting call to sacrifice. This is a call to renewal within a “Christian” system that seeks to protect number oneself or one’s nation as “first” priority. This is a call that we ought not take too lightly.
As Jesus has first died to offer us life within these decaying bodies, he is now our example and leader in sacrificial living. Salvation for the Christ follower is not merely a cognitive belief that places them in the security of the heavenly realms with no earthly commitment to good. Salvation is a call to a whole new way of being human; a call to living out the upside down economy of God’s kingdom on earth; a call to be willing to lose it all for the sake of God’s kingdom being realized and embraced by those who are in darkness; a call to be the liturgy of the church and not merely partaking in liturgical acts.
To the Christ follower, Jesus’ life is not the exception, but the norm. My prayer is that Christ followers would begin to take seriously the implications of the life of Jesus and allow God’s Spirit, who lives in his people, to move them into compassion, not for approval’s sake, but for obedience’s sake. After all, Christ, our savior and leader, learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8), and we are not exempt from this learning method. The renewal of the Western Church is dependent on the compassion of Christ followers. No compassion, no true renewal.
“In a poem entitled ‘The Good Samaritan,’ Mark Littleton captures the essence of compassion”:
The stoop of a listening father.
The touch and wink of a passing nurse.
The gnarled fingers of a grandmother steadying a swing.
The clench of a surgeon’s teeth as he begins his cut.
The open hand and pocketbook of a traveling Samaritan.
The dew of heaven on dry lips.
–Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Prediger and Walsh, 221.
The call to compassion, to suffer with others, is not a call to induce suffering in your life, but a call to courageously stand, sit, walk, or crawl with those whose lives are fragile, broken, in tragedy, emotionally distraught, hopeless, diseased… you get the point. Christ came to us in our death moment, we are called to presence ourselves to others in their death moments.
Jeff Skeens is a friend of A2J! You can read more of his writings here: jeffskeens.com
By Amber Hunter
Hi friends! I'd like to share a song I've written called Wounded Healer. Jesus is the ultimate wounded healer. He was wounded to bring healing to our broken hearts, and he has this beautiful way of transforming our wounds and painful stories into healing for others.
“Nobody escapes being wounded. We are all wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not, 'How can we hide our wounds?' so we don't have to be embarrassed, but 'How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?' When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers." -Henri Nouwen
"He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:3-5 about the coming Messiah, Jesus)
by Amber Hunter
I’m a tortured soul, and I don’t rest easy
I’m an aching soul, and I can’t find relief
I’m a beating heart, and I get this feeling
I’m a bleeding heart, and I hurt for healing
come Wounded Healer, calm and quiet me
I am a desert dry, you have turned out the light
this is the season of my soul
will you remind me stars are brighter in the night
and I’ll be purified like gold
hold me like a child to your chest, let me rest
by Jeff Skeens
Peace. What do you think of when you hear this word? It’s a loaded word, full of millions of ideas about what it is, what it looks like, and how it would work in a world full of division, dis-integration. There’s no sugar-coating one could do to cover up the lack of peace that we have on earth. Sure, we could speak of all the good, beauty, love, and sacrifice that exists and has been demonstrated, but just as all the hate can’t cover up the goodness, so all the goodness can’t cover up all the hate. This is true for the Church as well, and this is where my heart breaks and feels the tension of a people who have been reconciled to God, but we can’t figure out how to be reconciled to one another. I know one major reason is because we all have a different idea of peace, which actually effects how we see justice at work.
We can’t minimize our situation, no matter how painful it is, in an effort to try and make our lives feel better. We are dis-integrated and dis-membered. Maybe one of the only ways forward at this point is to re-integrate and re-member (or in many instances, to integrate and member for the first time). I hope to speak of peace in such a way that helps you long to be re-integrated and re-membered to your brothers and sisters whom you’ve been dis-integrated and dis-membered from. In the narrative of Scripture, the prophet Isaiah refers to the Messiah (the promised redeemer) to be born in years to come, calling him, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6).
Later on, the Apostle Paul refers to Jesus as being “our peace.”
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace… (Ephesians 2:13-15)
Jesus is our peace, Paul says. He’s the one who broke down the wall of division between Jews and Gentiles by becoming the curse of mankind and absorbing the wickedness of humanity into himself. That’s why his death is so important, and powerful. His death is not some sick celebration of sadistic people who glory in pain and suffering. His death is a celebration because it is God himself (John 1:1), who became human, to put to death the consequence and finality of death and wickedness. In his death, all the evil and wickedness on earth now has a chance to be made into life-giving goodness. This is also why his resurrection means so much. In his resurrection, we see not only a God who has power over wickedness and death, but a God who invites us into his resurrected life, indeed to be the ones who walk out of the tombs and be Christ to one another.
But Jesus also says something in Luke 12 that stirs the pot and moves us into more questions regrading peace: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).
What’s Jesus doing here? Is he contradicting himself? I thought one of His names was “Prince of Peace”? Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the One who often said, “Peace be with you,” knows that for true peace to be made in a world full of dis-integration and dis-memberment, there must be a stirring, a shaking of the pot, a realization that we are not alright and all right. Peace then sometimes entails bringing to light that which others want to corruptly keep hidden… this will cause division and anger, but peace will prevail, eventually, even if in death. In many cases the death that must take place among those who are Jesus’ people, is the death of pride, of the desire to self-protect and be right, of the desire to payback and be with only those who think and act similar.
Maybe an understanding of shalom will help in this discussion. Shalom is a Hebrew word that has been translated in English as the word peace. But shalom is a loaded word in the Hebrew language. Shalom does mean peace, but it means more than that. It means peace with justice, universal peace, flourishing of all creation, the way things are supposed to be. So when we speak of peace, we could think, “the way things are supposed to be.” This is how Cornelius Plantinga Jr. puts it. He calls sin a perversion against God’s gracious plan, which is “not the way it’s supposed to be.”
Shalom was seen in the Garden of Eden, and sin “vandalized” shalom, says Plantinga. On this side of the Garden, maybe shalom is one of those concepts that we learn what it means more by seeing/realizing the absence of it. Where shalom is absent, we begin to grieve the way things were supposed to be, and then maybe we receive a new set of lenses with which to view and interpret life because of that experience. This is why the disruption must take place for peace to become real in the hearts of God’s people. To be re-integrated or re-membered to people you don’t think you belong to or are separate from, means we need to be re-minded that things are not the way they’re supposed to be, and in this re-membering, our hearts would break that we have been the ones who’ve contributed to the dis-integration of our own people.
Being a presence of peace when things are chaotic and full of injustices, will always disturb first. It’s like turning on really bright lights in a dark room when people are sleeping or just waking up; angry shouts are hurled at the one who turned the lights on. “Turn them off!” as a pillow or a shoe flies across the room at the one who turned the lights on. And if that person keeps the light on, you are sure that there will be a confrontation. The sleeping ones who’ve been awakened will often get out of bed and turn the lights back off. Now what to do? Do you take the risk and turn the lights back on, or do you get the point and move on? I’m not here to answer specifics as to what to do, but I do know a stirring must take place for peace to be real.
The late Martin Luther King Jr. is famous for his peaceful protests amongst his enemies. In one of his essays, “Non-violoence: The Only Road to Freedom,” King says that the way to shalom “will be accomplished by persons who have the courage to put an end to suffering by willingly suffering themselves rather than inflict suffering on others.” This is one way of turning on the lights. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says, “for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). In the book Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger say this about contentiousness (which is the opposite of peaceableness): “Like a parasite living on a host, contentiousness feeds on rage and rancor, antipathy and animosity, to fan the fire of discord and accelerate the spiral of violence.” (214).
To confront the lack of peace in this world takes courageous sacrifice, because where it is absent, there will be hostility towards those who want to make it present. So this is where we are at. We have a church filled with different ideologies, different commitments, and allegiances, and different passion that move us and motivate towards the idea of peace we have been taught to seek. I hope in reading this, you may be re-centered to the peace God longs for his people, peace that puts nothing above Christ, peace that seeks first the Kingdom of God over every other kingdom that presents itself as the answer to peace. I hope that you may be stirred to confess kingdoms you’ve loved more than God’s Kingdom and begin seeing your call as a child of God as a call to be a peacemaker, a reconciler, a re-memberer. Allegiance to a way of life different than that of God’s way of life in his kingdom will not suffice, and will never see peace.
And may this work begin within the household of God so our witness of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection be proclaimed without hypocrisy and with great love, a great love that loves all the peoples of all the nations and not just the peoples of our of own nation. This is the work of peace that will change us, radically, and I warn you, if you like your life, this will be a dangerous work, for it will not leave you as you are, and life as you know it will be disrupted, but praise be to God, for it will be for the sake of our God and our Christ being known in the world as a God of peace who radically loves and longs to restore shalom, life the way it’s supposed. Life where all men and women are seen and valued as equals.
This will certainly take death if it is to come to pass.
Jeff Skeens is a friend of A2J! You can read more of his writings here: jeffskeens.com