Hungry for Peace

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No one wants to live feeling depleted and empty. We all want to live out of a place of abundance, satisfaction, and peace. We hunger to feel like our lives are on the right track and that everything is ‘right,’ in the best sense of the word. The biblical word for this is peace or, in Hebrew, shalom. Shalom means more than simply lack of conflict. Instead, it conveys a sense of completeness, success, welfare, and peace. A short definition for shalom is that all things are right in God’s world as they are supposed to be.

When Jesus begins His public ministry, he enters into an episode that would not be described as peaceful. Shortly after His baptism by John, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry” (Luke 4:1-2). This temptation is a power encounter between the prince of this world, the devil, and the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Messiah. From start to finish, the three temptations of the devil are classic temptations of humanity, described by Henri Nouwen as the temptation to be relevant, popular, or powerful. Hungry and tired, Jesus experiences all the raging temptations of a peace-less world thrown at Him.

Jesus overcomes the temptations of the devil, however, and we realize that He is a new sort of king with a new sort of kingdom that will move in ways different from the ways of this world. When Isaiah the prophet describes the Messiah as “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), we know this is exactly what we need. We need true shalom in the midst of our hunger for peace because we cannot ultimately satisfy it ourselves. This realization does not come quickly. Sometimes we must intentionally step back from some things, even normal things like the eating of food, to realize exactly what is going on in our lives.

It is no wonder that immediately before ascending to the Father, some of Jesus’ final words to His disciples are: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). The Prince of Peace has come to bring us peace, and that is very good news for us.

RESPOND THIS WEEK:
Each week’s practice will feature some aspect of the process Paul describes for us in Ephesians 4:22-24, where we are to TAKE OFF something from our lives that has become corrupted or distracting and PUT ON in its place something God wants us to do.

Take Off: Fast from food (in some form), perhaps for one meal a day or for an entire day. If you are physically prevented from completely fasting due to some health concerns, consider if there is a particular food, drink or “treat” you can deny yourself this week. Use the space below to take note of your experience this week.

Put On:In the place of eating the food you are fasting from, take time with God in solitude and silence to experience the peace that God brings. Consider how He provides for you all you need. Use the space below to take note of your experience this week.

[This a devotional I wrote with Jim Caler as part of the Eastbrook Church Lenten devotional, “Hungry for God.”]

The Weekend Wanderer: 16 March 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

Bishop of Loughborough“Church of England to hold first service in Farsi after a huge rise in Iranian converts” – “When the Bishop of Loughborough was 13-years-old, her brother was murdered for being a Christian. Born and raised in Iran, she was forced to flee her homeland in 1980 on the grounds of religious persecution – a story that is all too familiar for many Iranian Christians. Now, as the ordained Bishop of Loughborough, the Rt Revd Guli Francis-Dehqani is leading the Church of England’s growing community of Iranians who have found a home in the Anglican church. This unprecedented shift was yesterday marked with a “historical” service at Wakefield Cathedral in Yorkshire, where the Holy Communion scripture was delivered in Persian for the first time to cater for the growing – yet traditionally unusual – new Anglican congregation.”

 

china“China official says West using Christianity to ‘subvert’ power” – From Reuters: “Western forces are trying to use Christianity to influence China’s society and even “subvert” the government, a senior official said, warning that Chinese Christians needed to follow a Chinese model of the religion. China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but since President Xi Jinping took office six years ago, the government has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist Party.”

 

St-Patrick“Who was the real St Patrick: an evangelist or a tax dodger?” – “Few national saints have the global reach of Patrick: it has been calculated that church bells ring out in 800 worldwide locations to celebrate the feast day of this Roman Briton who brought Christianity to Ireland in the early 5th century. Jewish bakeries in New York sell green bagels and horses run at Cheltenham in his honour. And everyone knows the legend that he banished serpents, since no snakes exist in Ireland (the Ice Age may have helped the banishment). Patrick is legendary but he was also a real historical figure, and Roy Flechner seeks to review Patrick’s story in the light of historical evidence — examining Patrick’s own autobiographical writings, as well as other sources from archaeology and Roman and medieval texts — to make ‘educated guesses’ about Patrick’s life.”

 

reparations“The Case for Reparations” – David Brooks has come to an interesting conclusion about the tensions with ethnic tensions in our country: reparations are necessary. Admittedly, Brooks is a late convert to this point of view, which makes his article a very interesting read. Of course, he is responding to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ original article in the Atlantic of the same name, which is also worth reading.

 

article_5c847db41bee5“Evangelicals and Zen Masters” – In First Things, Matthew Milliner, associate professor of art history at Wheaton College, reflects in a beautiful personal essay on the intersections and disjunctions between Christianity and Zen Buddhism. He travels a wide stretch of roads toward his conclusion, but the journey is fascinating. Alan Jacobs writes a reflection upon and response to Milliner here, including some references to the meandering relationship that Thomas Merton had with Zen Buddhism, that is well worth reading.

 

Michael McClymond“How Universalism, ‘the Opiate of the Theologians,’ Went Mainstream” – Paul Copan interviews Michael McClymond on the nature of universalism, and how it has become so popular in mainstream thinking today, by Rob Bell’s Love Wins. McClymond’s recent book, The Devil’s Redemption, engages critically with the historical theology of universalism in Christian thought, and this interview gives a taste of where McClymond’s conclusions.

 

Obscurity

“The Disturbing Temptations of Pastoring in Obscurity” – I had the opportunity to write for Christianity Today‘s CT Pastors imprint this past week. In this article, I explore the ways in which temptations to celebrity is not necessarily remedied by hiding in obscurity. I hope it’s an encouragement to other pastors. Thanks to Kyle and Andrew from CT for working with me on this.

 

Music: “Were You There?”, Marian Anderson, from Marian Anderson in Oratorio and Spiritual, volume 1 (1936).

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Disturbing Temptations of Pastoring in Obscurity

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I had the privilege of writing an article for Christianity Today‘s CT Pastors imprint that was released today. There’s an excerpt below, but you can read the full article here.

Gregory the Great, so tradition tells us, was a reluctant pope. Well-educated and from a wealthy family, Gregory experienced inner tension between his longing for the contemplative life and his sense of calling toward secular responsibilities. After converting to the monastic life and transforming his house into a monastery—the happiest years of his life—Gregory often was called into service of the church in public ways, including serving as Pope Pelagius II’s legate to Constantinople. When troubles gathered around Rome, Gregory was called from his monastic life to the city to help. Soon afterward, Pope Pelagius died of the plague sweeping through Rome at that time, and Gregory was elected to succeed him. Gregory tried to refuse the office, preferring his monastic life, but once elected, he accepted his duties faithfully and worked hard to serve God in his new position. The best leaders, according to the old proverb, are reluctant leaders.

Of course, as my own story shows, reluctance is not an inherently laudable trait…[read the rest of the article here]

Praying for Deliverance [30 Days of Prayer]

Summer of Prayer Ads_Banner“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Matthew 6:13)

Within many cultures, and particularly here in North America, we seem obsessed with discovering who we are. Many times, it is suggested that in order to find ourselves we must leave behind all limits and throw aside all rules. The key, many say, is to give ourselves to the full range of experiences and desires, and by doing so we will find out who we truly are. In that approach to life, words like “temptation” and “evil” lose their meaning, unless interpreted as the temptation toward an evil of resisting our desire for anything that helps us become ourselves.

Jesus’ life, however, presents a different way. His public ministry begins with a season of self-denial marked by intense temptation in remote, solitary places (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). Three times in that story, Jesus resists temptation. It is the temptation to become less than God intends for Him by giving into various forms of desire. Each time, Jesus resists a very real enemy, Satan, and does so by the power of the God’s Word. Reaching out to God for victory as He quotes Scripture to the devil, Jesus walks through the time of trial and into God’s deliverance and care. Jesus models for us the great truth that we are more than our desires, and that the pathway to the kingdom of God involves denying what we often see as our very self.

Within Jesus’ teaching on prayer here in the Sermon on the Mount, He reminds us that we must call out to God to save us from temptation and also to deliver us when we find the evil one coming against us. If it is true, as the Apostle Peter points out, that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8), then the related truth is that we must “be alert and of sober mind” so that we might “resist him, standing firm in the faith” (5:9). The strength for this sober alertness and resistance of faith comes when God fills us with power by the Holy Spirit. As God strengthens our will to resist temptation, He will also reveal that there is a way out of temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).

May our prayers rise up to God so that we might resist temptation and find deliverance from God in the midst of a world set against Him and His ways.

Save us, Lord, from temptation,
and deliver us from evil.
All around us, Lord, we know
the snares of the evil one
and his minions are gathered.
Truly he is like a prowling lion,
hungry for the sweet taste of human suffering.
Lord, embolden us to resist him,
even to flee from him,
as we run into Your embrace.
Give us eyes to see the darkness around us
and the way out from temptation.
Also, grant us Your strength to stand firm
when the day of evil comes.
Lord, if we should fall, quicken us
by the grace of Your Holy Spirit
to turn around with holy repentance
and find forgiveness at Your throne of grace.

[This post is part of the “30 Days of Prayer” devotional. Read other posts here.]

Unseeing in Sleep

Pray that you will not fall into temptation (Luke 22:40)

Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation (Luke 22:46b)

the disciples
unseeing and tired
eyes sagging, bodies sore, sleep surges up,
engulfs vigilance at the vital hour.

Jesus’ question, ‘Why are you sleeping?’,
sounds strange to sleepwalkers,
whose ears fail to hear the rhythmic feet
marching to the Mount of Olives
with malicious intent.

they have no answer for such questions.
it is the silence of sleepyheads
who do not think straight,
lost in limbo between dreamworlds
and real worlds.

Lord, touch us who do not see or hear,
who fail to understand temptation
in the grey light of slumberland.
Lord, awaken us from sleep
that we may rise and pray
in the dark of this new day.

[This is the first in a group of six original poems composed for Holy Week.]