Shalom Revisited

This season, Christmas season, is a time when each year we celebrate that pivotal moment in all of earth’s history. This is that singular event that God had planned from the first audible and visible beauty of creation. This moment, Jesus’ Nativity, is when God moved into the neighborhood and became like us so we could become like Him. A few years later, He invited a rag-tag group of guys to join him in learning about his world to teach them how to change ours. He called this new environment the Kingdom of God.

This blog is based on exploring what Shalom and the Kingdom of God might look like. Today I want to flesh out that continuing adventure a little and maybe process for myself, what I imagine the Kingdom could be. I have only a misty, vague image of what this might look like. You probably have some additional insight which I would love to hear.

When I read scripture that explicitly states such amazing, prophetic words such as “I will pour my spirit out on all flesh” (humanity, of course) or, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” and “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” and “all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord,” then I have a hard time with the purveyors of spiritual doom.

Reminds me of a scene in the animated movie, Khumba, which I have watched more than any adult needs to with my granddaughter. On the trail up to see the eagle on the mountaintop for some direction, Khumba encounters some small, furry animals who are beating on rocks and chanting, “Doom, doom, doom,” warning him not to go up there. (Of course, they are fearful of an imaginary, self-created problem.)

But, back to the future. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) There is an amazing word in Isaiah that foretells what I see to be the Kingdom government in full force; and as I understand it, yes, this will be here on earth.

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever….

Wow! How will that happen? Well, this describes what I see as an environment of Shalom. Peace, justice, mercy and righteousness rule. Jesus is in complete control and we, the saints of God will rule with Him. The enemies of God have been crushed and all people will come under and into the Shalom of God.

Remember, all people will be included. That means Western/European cultures, Muslim and Asian peoples and their cultures, African, Indian and all other people groups will be under His influence. But they will not be unwilling subjects, for there will be no conflict nor resistance from anyone.

What we see in our world now; chaos from competing religions and contentious politics, greed from corporations driven by evil covenants to control the world and a religious spirit that has fomented more wars on this planet than any other motivation, these will all be subsumed and brought to submission under a loving and righteous God. (Whew, take a breath, doc!)

OK, think about this theological boondoggle. For over a hundred years the church has had an escapist mentality. We talk and preach about heaven and how we want to leave here and go there. We sing songs about the glorious streets of gold and evoke tears of joy and anticipation from our hearers as they long for a better world than this evil, self-indulgent one they despise.

But I think we have had it wrong. We have been escapists alright, but what we have been escaping from is our calling as children of the living God.

“We confuse our destiny with our assignment. Our destiny is to go to Heaven; our assignment is to bring Heaven to earth.” -Bill Johnson

If, in some twisted sense of theology, we rejoice when things in this world get worse, our charge to bring his kingdom into this world becomes improbable and pointless. This mindset is rooted in our wrong-headed perception that “this is just a sign of the times.” What this does is give our world, the world we have condemned, a wrong view of His world.

God doesn’t despise this world; He hasn’t given up on it like we have. He loves each and every human as well as the earth He created. Yes, it has become blighted by sin but because of love He provided redemption and gave us the keys to His Kingdom (likely not a ring of skeleton keys but prophetic keys of insight and revelation). I believe He will bring to pass all of the prophetic scriptures that promise He will restore and redeem all, including making a new heaven and a new earth. And He plans to establish a righteous government right here!

Our mission, our assignment in this world is not to get ready to leave it; it is to save it.

Over many years and because of a false view of God we have completely abdicated our calling and sought the self-centered satisfaction of saving our own skins to the loss of the lost. So we need to get back to making way for the Kingdom and pursuing an environment of Shalom. We must start loving all humanity into a community of faith and back out into a world that cries for redemption and healing from pain.

Unless you want to spend your time beating on rocks.

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Storied Past – 4

Becky and Ramona walked down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk. They said nothing as they crossed the street and over two blocks to a storefront. Becky stepped inside and Ramona followed cautiously. Inside it smelled of breakfast but there were no cash registers or menus in view. They walked past a line of people Ramona would describe as losers. Street people, she determined. Not the kind of folks she was used to socializing with. She sure didn’t like the prospect of eating breakfast with their ilk.

“Good morning, Marcy,” Becky greeted a heavy set woman in line. She returned the salutation in a loud, raspy voice.

“G’ morning, Becky. Who’s your friend?”

“Her name is Ramona. Everyone say hello to Ramona. She is hanging out with us this morning.”

“Hello, Ramona.” Several folks called out. “Welcome to City Reach, Ramona,” said someone else. City Reach? What was that?

“What’s this place all about, Becky?”

“Well, the mission group I am part of started a program here to help folks who are homeless and hungry. They come Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings for a free breakfast and someone to talk to. We are a little short on staff right now but usually there are 7 or 8 who come and eat with them and listen to their stories.”

“Hmmm. That’s a little different, listening to their stories. Usually missions try to cram Jesus down their throats along with the oatmeal. How is it working for you?”

“Well, it isn’t always easy, listening to other people share their life stories. Sometimes they ramble on but it’s usually because nobody wants to take the time to listen to them. There are some amazing stories of God activity here, though. Our challenge is to listen and gently point out to them how God has been there, present in their lives, even in the pain and disappointment of living. Sometimes they can see it, sometimes they are oblivious but we have to try.”

“There are some success stories, though. Eben over there, the guy with dark hair, is a Muslim. He started coming about six weeks ago. One of our staff started a conversation while eating with him. Eben was very skittish at first but he was hungry so he stayed and eventually shared his story. He and his family grew up in the Sufi tradition. Our staff guy, Jeremy, told him about Jesus’ non-violent teaching of love, even for the woman who was caught fornicating and was condemned to die by the religion police. Jeremy told him some other stories of Jesus and finished up with the statement that God loved all people, Jews, Arabs and Gentiles alike. Eben was thoughtful. Of course, he had heard stories of Jesus. Muslims think Jesus was one of the five greatest prophets the world has ever seen but not Messiah.”

“Wow, that’s interesting,” Ramona said.

Yeah an’ Eben loves Jesus now!” Raspy voice Marcy butted in. She had snuck up on Ramona’s blind side. “He loves Jesus now,” she repeated for emphasis.

“Yes,” Becky confirmed. “And we are excited about that, aren’t we Marcy?”

“Yep,” Marcy said triumphantly with a big smile. Ramona noted the two missing teeth and the remainder quite deteriorated. “I’m gonna find a place for you guys to sit and eat,” Marcy offered.

“Sounds good . . . I think,” Ramona said hesitatingly. “Thank you, Marcy,” Becky cheerfully returned. Becky steered Ramona over to the end of the line which was now much shorter and closer to the food.

“Uhhh, Becky, what’s her story?”

“Marcy? Oh she was a meth addict for many years. She lost all of her family because of it. You can probably tell she lost her health, too. She came in here a few months ago. We were able to work with Social Services to get some help for her. They allowed her to stay with us during treatment so we could coach her. Four weeks and many hours of conversation and praying later she asked if she, too, could be a disciple of Jesus. Want some pancakes?”

“Oh, uh yes, of course. I guess I’m starving.”

After taking the pancakes and some scrambled eggs she turned to look for Marcy. Marcy waved way too much for the situation, which kind of embarrassed Ramona but she signaled that she saw her and started over. Becky had paused to answer someone’s question so Ramona was left to Marcy’s mercy.

“Do you love Jesus?” Marcy boldly and loudly demanded. “Well, I . . . I used to,” Ramona admitted. “I don’t know what happened but I think I lost him somewhere back there.”

“Oh don’t worry, Marona, he’s still there. I know because I found him when I turned around and went back home,” Marcy said reassuringly. “He’s still there.”

“It’s Ramona, Marcy.” Becky quietly reminded her as she sidled up and sat down next to Ramona. “Oh yeah, I’m sorry, Ramona, I forget things sometimes. I forget.” Marcy said more quietly now.

“I was telling Ramona about how you have changed since you have been coming down here, Marcy.”

“Oh yeah, I changed a lot, haven’t I? Want some ketchup for your eggs Ramona?”

“Thanks, no. Uh, Becky where is the restroom? I’m feeling a little noxious.”

When she returned, the three women visited until most everyone had left the room. Becky rose to take her dishes to the back kitchen area and Ramona followed. The small space was sparse but clean. Ramona asked, “Can I help wash up?”

“Sure. If you can rinse those plates I will put them in the washer.”

“Marcy has had a pretty tough life, hasn’t she? It really is amazing she is still alive after all those drugs and stuff,” Ramona said thoughtfully.

“Yes, it is amazing. But God’s love is more amazing because He still loved her even when she was at her worst. She had nothing to bring to the table, so to speak, but God saw beyond her hurt and physical condition and steered her here one morning. She was hungry and we met that need. She was in an emotional and mental state that prevented her from being in close proximity to the others here. We called the county Human resources and they assisted us in getting her help. If you could only have seen her before . . . oh, my goodness, I have to scoot! But you could come with me.”

“What’s up, Becky?”

“I have to look for a new scarf. Brad invited me out Saturday night and I really have to wear something different. He’s seen everything I have in my closet! Won’t you say you’ll help me choose?”

“I’ll try. I . . . I haven’t been shopping for a while. I guess I’ve been hiding from people.” Ramona looked tentative.

“Oh, sweet!” Becky said. “I need to go by the house to grab the blouse I’m wearing first. They hurried back to the little apartment chatting all the way. When they arrived, Ramona waited just outside the door.

As she recalled the past twenty-four hours, Ramona felt Becky was one person she could like—could have as a friend. Why hadn’t she met her before? Why did she seem like a real person, not fake, like she was the same person in real life as she was when she was helping people. That was a change from her social circle at church. It was like they all wore masks. Even people at the bar she frequented seemed fake; like they were always trying to con the opposite sex with clever seduction techniques. Well, she had to admit, it worked on her. That’s why she was in this fix now. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” she told herself. If only she could turn the clock back!

On Main Street they found the mercantile store and headed to the back where the clothing section lived. The smells in that store were so familiar to Ramona. As a little girl she used to come in with her parents for weekly items. Her father liked the hardware department with the tools that seem to attract all men everywhere. Her mother gravitated to the fabric section with the large bolts of variegated material. Ramona breathed in the mixed odors of the past reminding her of days when life was more peaceful and more predictable. Closing her eyes for a minute she silently wished she could return to that time. Suddenly, her reverie was smashed to pieces by a familiar voice.

“Ramona? What are you doing here?” her father said.

Kiss on the Cheek

Answering a “why” question from my 4 year old granddaughter rarely can be The Final Answer. She always seems to want to know more. Unless in your answers you build dead ends to all possible further questions, it could go on and on.

There is something about the way we are wired. Whether it is a movie, storyline, music or relationship, we need resolution. Don’t you just squirm with anxiety when a TV series stops an episode or season leaving you hanging? And music without a resolving chord seems as unsatisfying as a kiss on the cheek. Why is that? Why does a dangling participle evoke a craving for correction? Why does a story told without ending in justice disturb one’s peace? Why will it tear us up when the one we love walks out seemingly unfazed about how you feel? But there I go down the “why” trail like my granddaughter.

A lasting peace requires a resolution of the initial subject of conflict. You see, we will never have peace in the Middle east until original issues are faced and resolved. We have tried the non-conflict standoff many, many times. But much closer to home are many examples of the same long term clashes. The governed against the government, churches against each other, management vs. the worker bees, straight vs. gay, spouses at odds, you get the picture. Mediation and counseling services are in demand more than ever. Some aim at getting each to respect the other in their right to be who they are. Others are advised to hold their position while giving just enough to pacify the other.

The right to remain polarized rarely results in re-solution (returning to pre-conflict harmony, or a solution). Even if the other side is conquered there remains a latent anger and hatred that can seethe for generations. One day the Hatfields and McCoys, the Arabs and Jews, the war of the Roses or the Repubs and Demos will resurface and the brawl will resume.

What is needed is a spirit of shalom: in our homes, in our communities, in churches in our country and globally. There will be no peace until the Prince of Peace, the Messiah, has brought his Kingdom aroma into the arena. Meanwhile, those who are committed to seeing his Kingdom come bring their piece of peace to bear in everyday life.

Shalom is infectious and satisfying. An atmosphere of gentleness, grace and love, though difficult, is worth the energy and time and will reap a “harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18) In context, righteousness means justice, a resolution of former conflict. This brings a sigh of joy and fulfillment as peace is re-stored.

However, here is much more to shalom than peace. The historical use of the concept evokes the idea of an environment that closely resembles many biblical descriptions of heaven. Wikipedia shares the following insight; “Shalom, as term and message, seems to encapsulate a reality and hope of wholeness for the individual, within societal relations, and for the whole world. To say joy and peace, meaning a state of affairs where there is no dispute or war, does not begin to describe the sense of the term. Completeness seems to be at the center of shalom.” This idea certainly connotes a happy, satisfying and resolved existence.

In the book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, author Cornelius Plantinga described the Old Testament concept of shalom:

“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”

There is, deep within each of us, a knowing/feeling that there should be much more to life than we presently experience. Like there is still another shoe waiting to be dropped. There is a hunger for the “not yet” to arrive when we can finally breathe in and exhale with complete joy. Is it possible before we assume room temperature? I don’t know. I do know that Jesus said the Kingdom is within us so there is a measure of shalom inside. If we could let it out and allow it to spread by building relationships with authentic Jesus character traits, our culture and communities would experience shalom. Know anyone that seems too tightly strung and needs a breath of peace?

The atmosphere and character of shalom is deep and deserves exploring and pursuing. I believe it is the heart of the coming Kingdom. Why? The Bible tells me so.