(written 23 July 2016)
“Selamünaleyküm” is an ubiquitous greeting in Turkish. Actually it is from Arabic and it, roughly translated, means “peace be with you” (peace/health/safety/success be yours). When the greetings is extended, it is customary to return the greeting to the first speaker.
That is what the words means, but, it is used much like our English “welcome” – rarely do we stop and think about and mean that the person we are greeting is fully “well come”. It is something that is said and we say, but without a lot of thought going in to it.
Nevertheless, this common Turkish greeting highlights that ‘peace’ is something that comes up frequently, well at least linguistically. It is something that resonates with the heart of man – we all desire peace.
Often our actions, our decisions, our words, conspire together to render peace an impossibility, regardless of the high regard and primordial imperative that it is to us.
We all desire, want, long for, peace. However, often we seek peace on our own terms and according to our specified conditions. This, in practice, puts us in competition with those around us, who, like us, seek peace on their terms and conditions.
Most often, our desire, our longing for peace is an unrequited passion…
Now, by the middle of 2016, I’ve written about the inherent dangers of living in an active earthquake zone, living near an active war zone, living amongst IS and IS supporters, living in a country that is institutionally anti-Christian, living in a country experiencing ethnic strife and violence, living through an attempted military coup d’état, living under a declaration of a ‘State of Emergency’….and we are just at the mid point of the year.
Observers, if they contemplate our continuing to abide in this land, at this time and under these conditions may presume that surely we must have a ‘martyr complex’ or a ‘death wish’ or must be ever so slightly ‘mentally unbalanced’ to continue as we do.
Let me firstly dispel any notion of a ‘martyr complex’ – like most of mankind, I’m in no hurry to die – I enjoy living and there are things I still wish to do, places I wish to see and relationships I wish to grow in. Yes, I know I will die, we all do, and I am ready, but, at the same time, I’m in no rush to transition through that particular door.
I think the preceding paragraph addresses the question of a ‘death wish’ as well, but if not, we have no ‘death wish’ – a ‘live wish’ yes, but a ‘death wish’ absolutely not.
As to the third suggestion, as to our mental competency, well what could one ever write to adequately respond to that. You, the reader, will decide in your own mind if we are mentally challenged or not and nothing I can say in my defence will dissuade you if you have decided that we are, hmmm, mentally deficient.
There is a fourth reason for us to live here and to continue to live here, and this reason, some will reject it out of hand simply because it is born out of faith and belief in God.
If that is you, then, you wI’ll decide for yourself why we have chosen and continue to choose to live in this environment and under these conditions.
‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ – is a challenge that is recorded in the historic text we call the Bible and is extended to all mankind. This is not a doctrine, nor a dogma, nor a ‘statement of faith’, but, simply, Almighty God challenging His creation, the creatures of His making to, if you will, put Him to the test.
So much has been and is done in the name of religion. So much is established in the name of ‘faith’. So much, that in practice and reality, can get in the way of that which is essential – a relationship, interaction between man and God.
This tension between ‘religion’ and ‘relationship’ sums up the conflict that Jesus Christ had with the religious leaders of His day. They were people who were very religious, spent their time reading, discussing and arguing about the very words which should bring people into a relationship with God Almighty. They studied the book, were consumed with the book and their understanding and their interpretation of the book which was their goal, their life and this became their functional relationship – with the book but not a relationship with God Almighty Himself.
What has this got to do with us living here, at this time, in these conditions?
Well, very simply, we have ‘tasted and seen that the Lord is good’ and very good indeed. We have experienced a change in who we are – where old, entrenched and fundamentally harmful and unhelpful aspects of my character and life are being changed to something beautiful, healthy and peaceful. Let me hasten to add that I am a ‘work in progress’. You will still see areas in need of repair, replacement and demolition – thankfully, He is not done with me yet – but the work has commenced and is on-going.
In the past, before I entered into a relationship with Almighty God, there were things which, when I was confronted with them, I was basically helpless to do anything save succumb to the passion or desire, fulfil it and then be filled with the guilt and shame that naturally follow. Before you immediately declare it is my ‘religion’ which provided the basis for my guilt and shame – again, I am referring to the time in my life when I was fully ignorant of religion and religious teaching.
Before, when I was ‘just living’ and unschooled and unknowledgeable in morality and ethics – I still knew when I did wrong, I was still aware when what I did or approved or said or how I acted was not correct.
I knew when I had broken a law – a law that I did not even know existed.
But, there came a time, a point in time when I, confronted with the morass that I had made of my life, through my own desires and choices I hastily add, and I came to a point where I knew I had a decision to make. I could decide to run away from the mess that was my life, go to a new community and start over, try to do a better job, have a clean slate….. I considered that option….
The other option was to acknowledge Almighty God – by faith – and to submit to His Overlordship in my life.
As you are anticipating, this, latter choice, is the one I took. It was a free-will choice. I was alone, on a desolate mountain road at the time. There was no music, no crowd of people urging me forward, there was no ‘powerful speaker’ challenging me. I had a choice to make, and the choice was mine.
It is a choice I made – and some will be upset by what I am about to write – and a choice I continue to make, daily.
As I free-will decided to submit and follow, so, daily, I, using my (still free) free-will, recommit to that choice. I am not a robot. I am not a puppet. I still have choice.
Of course, now I have ‘tasted and seen that the Lord is good’, now I have experience His Grace and His Love in my life. I have seen the power of God in me. To turn my back now would be to deny so much that has happened, that is real, that I have experienced and has been demonstrated both to me and in me. Yes, ‘by faith’, and yet not ‘blind faith’ for I have first hand experience with the unseen, but faithful, All-Powerful, loving God of creation.
You see, I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good – very good indeed. He is changing me – for the better. He gives me the Grace and power to be different, to break habits, to overcome my mistakes, to be set free from my past, to be liberated from my weaknesses.
When there are setbacks, and setbacks there are, it is because I have raised my head against what He is saying and I have refused to go His way and insisted on doing things ‘my way’ with the natural and I must confess, disastrous, results.
God has provided for me. Yes, this is very true, and I am profoundly grateful. But it is ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us, God interacting with me – with such a one as I, and changing lowly, little, me into a better person – this is what I am most grateful for.
Jesus said ‘forgive’. Jesus said ‘love your enemies’ and ‘do good to them’. Jesus said ‘do not worry’. One of the fruit of the Spirit of God is ‘patience’. These things, not as ideas, or doctrine or dogma or beliefs or as statements, but these things actually being expressed and lived in my life provides a wonderful, powerful, PEACEFUL, life.
It is the hope, it is the love, it is the grace, it is the peace that I’ve tasted and seen and experienced that I want to share with my fellow man.
That is why we are here. Not to teach religion. Not to convert people to our denomination. Not to debunk bad teaching and provide good teaching.
No, we are here because of God in us, changing us, giving us the power to live differently, to act differently, to rise above circumstance and events and threats and powers and principalities, to actually ‘be’ different and hence, being a ‘new man’ and living the ‘abundant life’ that Jesus said He came to give and thus giving hope to those without hope…
According to this base line, and walking in a daily relationship with Almighty, Sovereign God, who has adopted me into His family and invites me to address the all-powerful, Deity as ‘abba, father’, we can daily, peacefully and happily live in a place and in a situation such as this.
Earthquakes? They happen. They happen in many places in the world and if you are in a building that has been poorly constructed, with bad materials, or bad workmanship or plain ignorance of sound construction, then you may die or be injured.
Terrorism? In our modern world we have seen terrorism raising its ugly, bloody head all over the world. Profoundly selfish individuals, killing themselves and as many others as they can for their personal hope of eternity and a perverted notion of Heaven – there is precious little you can do to prevent this, regardless to where you live. Recently, in Nice, France, an extremist in an articulated lorry killed 84 and maimed and injured countless more in his selfish quest for heaven and peace.
Economic collapse? In what country, in our now tightly integrated world, is anyone immune from the effects of the global economy? Such a place doesn’t exist in our modern world – we are all inter-dependant.
Global warming? Where, on God’s green earth are the dramatically changing effects of weather not evident? These changes are often violent, with diverse places experiencing hotter temperatures and more unpredictable and powerful storms. Where, on this terrestrial ball can you go and be free from these effects – whatever their cause – and where can you find refuge from these effects? No where.
So, the only hope, the only ‘real’ hope, lays in the ‘hollow of His hand’ – the hands of Almighty God – in the One who challenges us to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’.
He gives grace – unmerited, unearned, undeserved favour – to those who trust Him. He is faithful.
Does this mean there is no suffering?
Let me say that again: absolutely not.
Quite the contrary, Jesus promised us difficulties. There is suffering, there are difficulties, there are very unpleasant circumstances, there can be sickness, there can be untimely death – but – but, God ‘with us’, never leaving us, always with us, giving us inner strength, grace and power to live ‘rightly’ in it all and through it all.
The goal isn’t a perfect life with perfect circumstances with perfect health – that is not the earthly goal. When we transition to Heaven, into the physical presence of Almighty God and faith is put aside and we see, face-to-face, yes then, in that moment, our bodies will be changed. But here, on earth, in this physical tent, for this life, in this sin-soaked world, no… perfect circumstance or perfect health is not the goal….
The goal is to be like Jesus – the man of Galilee, who had no home, no place to rest, who became tired and weary, whose closest friends and followers did not understand Him and what He was teaching. Our goal is to be like Him who did good and was reviled, who taught the way of God and was accused of working with the devil, who did no wrong, and yet was accused, and abused and tortured and finally, unjustly, put to death.
Our goal is to be like Jesus, His life living in us, showing patience, and grace and forgiveness and peace in all circumstances, wherever we may be found on this earth.
Where can we go where we are safer? What circumstance will be easier or better for us. Surely, in the centre of His will, endeavouring to be Light in a dark place and Salt in a sinful place is the best place to be.
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 NIV