January, the month of hope: the hope being that the rest of the year isn’t January. But perhaps we can add meaning to our trudging through the cold and snow.
Slow mission starts with where we’re going – that in the fullness of time (lovely phrase) everything will be headed up or summed up or brought together in Christ.
When time has filled its cup to the rim, as it were, Christ will be in and over everything.
We can’t actually make that happen. But in the interim we do what can, where we can, with whatever we have. We try to subject ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus, and try to extend his influence into whatever we touch. So all of life matters. This puts meaning into every day.
I am reading a series of devotional books by F B Meyer (1847 – 1929), one page on each chapter of the Bible.
From an entry on Psalm 62:
‘[Abraham] was left waiting till nature was spent… till all that knew him pitied him for clinging to an impossible dream. But as this great silence fell on him, the evidence of utter helplessness and despair, there arose within his soul an ever-accumulating faith in the power of God…
‘This is why God keeps you waiting.’
(From My Place in God’s World)
Jesus lived good news as much as he preached it.
Though Jesus gave teaching a very high priority, it wasn’t all he did. Among other things, he healed, he averted a natural disaster or two, he enforced justice and he cooked fish for a men’s breakfast.
Nor was his time on earth an action-packed frenzy of spiritual activity, praying, healing and teaching. He first lived a good life, thirty years in a single village.
He set the pattern. That leads to two forces pulling on us: the urge to slip our moorings and head to do great things on some wide horizon; or the urge to stay where we are and live well. For each of us, the blend will be original.
Home and hearth; or follow your dream. I think for those of us lucky enough, life has enough seasons to do both. Happy Christmas.
(From Your place in God’s world)
‘The time has come.’
These were Jesus’ first recorded words–as we have seen–as he started work on his Messiah start-up project.
He was capping the well of history: everything before was now ‘Old’ testament; from now on it was new.
How to summarize what he so neatly ended? Old Testament history can be read as picking out shapes in a stormy landscape.
The storms are the squalls of judgement and mercy, of alienation and return that sweep across history. The shapes underneath are the outlines of God’s coming kingdom: a King, a Shepherd, a healing of waywardness, a heart transplant, the flow of ‘living water’, peace being made, a people flourishing, a spreading multitude of followers.
Then the storm clears, and Christ, the Kingdom embodied, steps into the waiting sunshine.
‘Of the increase of his government and peace, there will be no end’. And so it proves….
Having got my eyesight back after two years of drug-induced cataracts, I am enjoying some heavy-duty reading again. Steven Pinker’s book is getting me very excited. His thesis is that violence in the human species is continuing a dramatic fall, stretching over millenia, dating indeed from the agricultural revolution. Because this is so counter-cultural, he needs the book’s 900 pages to prove it and hypothesise about it. Bill Gates’ cover blurb (‘one of the most important books I’ve read — not just this year, but ever’) is for once more than the polite puffing of friends.
The book is so counter-cultural because those of us who read the news in the 60s, 70s and 80s saw a world going to pot; Pinker shows this was just a counter-cultural eddy against a much longer flow, and the fall in crime in the 1990s and beyond is merely a resumption of that old norm. Totally fascinating.
So much to think about! (This is me speculating, not Steven Pinker)
1. So history has a direction after all and ‘human progress’ means something? The twentieth century rather left that 19th-century view bleeding in the street.
2. Here is evidence-for me–though certainly not for the convinced non-Christian Steven Pinker–that Christ is King and ‘of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.’ It is not the case that the world was going bad until Jesus came and fixed it. But it can surely be argued that here we have the ‘left hand of God’ and the ‘right hand of God’ working together. God guides human history generally into a more fruitful and less violent place; and at the epicentre, accelerating this trend and filling it out with revelation, is the life, death and resurrection of Christ and the peace-making activity of his people. I don’t think Prof Pinker would enjoy this conclusion (I would like to write another blog about his so-called humanism and measured disapproval of the Christian faith) but I find it a bit stunning– a large body of unsuspected social-science evidence that beautifully complements natural theology, not completely unlike the body of physical evidence that leads physicists to conclude the Universe began in a moment of creation at the Big Bang.
You gotta read the book.
(From My Place in God’s World)
Jesus began his ministry on a beach.
Four words that changed everything: ‘the time has come.’
No moment was like that moment. It was like a plane at the beginning of the runway, or two armies gathered for battle, or a bride stepping into the aisle. It was the moment of silence; the indrawn breath; the kiss for luck before stepping onto the stage.
The long preparations are all done, Jesus was saying. Creation of the universe. Creation of the Earth. The shaping of homo sapiens after many earlier drafts. Abraham and his descendants meeting with God over two thousand years, a stormy relationship, wave after wave of revelation, judgement, return, of questions and answers and more questions.
Now the fulfilment has come, on the beach.
History is happening: feel it.
Recently heard a talk by the chaplain of the Robben Island prison during Nelson Mandela’s time there. Apparently Mandela said to himself, when he finally regained his freedom, that unless he left the hate and bitterness behind, he would remain in prison, but this time in one of his own making.
(From My Place in God’s World)
A command to ‘preach the good news to all creation’ (which as we know is the last command Jesus gave on earth) can, for the Christian, awake our inner geographer. Where has the gospel not yet gone? How is it that people not been offered this meal, this treasure, this healing oil?
Yet at the same time the New Testament seems more devoted to how we live than where we preach. The church should ‘grow to become in every respect the mature body’ and this sends us deep rather than wide: caring for our own souls and for the souls of those around us.
So: spread good news through the world or try to foster justice and compassion in ourselves and in the community around us? Wide or deep? Obviously both, and both elements are covered by the word ‘disciple’ which Jesus used when he left us with the command to ‘make disciples of all nations’.
Slow food is about seasonal ingredients, patiently nurtured, carefully prepared, lovingly cooked.
The ingredients of ‘slow mission’ are people and the Christian gospel; and also, seasons, brokenness, diversity, giftedness and time — things we need to keep reminding ourselves of.
Slow mission is about trying to make the world better by applying the whole gospel of Christ to the whole of life. It’s about using what gifts we have for the common good. It moves at the pace of nature. It respects seasons. It is happy with small steps but has a grand vision. It knows of only one Lord and one Church. Making disciples of ourselves is as important as making disciples of others. Diversity is embraced. Playfulness is recommended.
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(From ‘My place in God’s world‘)
As if it were a cure for cancer, we Christians are urged, as far and as fast as possible, to spread the news of Christ’s resurrection and the new hope it fires up.
Or are we?
WEC International, the NGO in which I serve, has in its foundation documents ‘the evangelization of the world in the shortest possible time’. This is a Biblical idea: ‘run … the race marked out for us’ says the Book of Hebrews; ‘make the most of every opportunity’, wrote Paul. Jesus told us to pray that workers would be ‘cast out’ into the harvest field. ‘Look forward to the day of God and speed its coming’ says 2 Peter. It is scandalous that the Universe has changed—Christ is risen— and many people have yet to hear.
At the same time, slow mission is also scriptural. Seeds take time to grow. Harvests await their season. No Christian has ever matured overnight. However much we try to speed things up with discipleship courses or fast-track leadership, God takes his own sweet time with our souls, and with his work. God’s kingdom seems to move forward not like an army, but like a family, at the pace of the youngest child. Most of us spend ordinary days doing ordinary things. Are we just marking time? Or is the collective quiet goodness of God’s people in itself a force for transforming the world?
To understand our place in God’s kingdom, probably we have to appreciate both ‘fast’ and ‘slow’, in a mix that is unique for us.