This post is from a good friend of mine, Bryce Lansdell. Bryce is studying music at Western University here in London, Ontario, and is involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). In the Summer of 2013, Bryce went with members of IVCF to serve for over six weeks in Bangladesh. The following are his reflections on the missions trip, and how it has challenged his own understanding of money, Church, and God’s presence among us.
Take the time to read through what he says. I am especially challenged by the three main parts of his reflection: shalom, community, and poverty. Bryce’s thoughts point to areas often neglected by our Western churches in the ways that we understand peace, sin, and money. I think he shines some light on the direction the church needs to go in order to more fully embrace the holistic vision of God’s Kingdom on earth that Jesus called his disciples to see. He challenges our individualistic me-and-Jesus perceptions, and provides real, practical ways to see right relationship as a way of life infused and inspired by the love of Jesus.
As you are reading, take his questions seriously! Are you pursuing a holistic and deep shalom with your neighbour and world? Are you truly seeing your walk with Christ as a walk with his body (the Church), or on your own? Are you seeing your money as a gift to give or an entitlement to keep?
I have edited the post, and sacrificed some of its length and detail. If you want the full copy, or if you want to get in touch with Bryce, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I can hook you up!
Though at first I experienced panic and culture shock, I was humbled at the warmth and hospitality that we were often shown, not only by Christians, but by Muslims who we just met on the street. One day, we were caught in the rain, and a family we didn’t know let us in and gave us some of their most expensive food items! It made me think, “what would my reaction be if some Bengali young people or children were caught in the rain in my subdivision?”
My team had a chance to volunteer at a centre for abused, abandoned, and street women who are pregnant, and orphans. The women were relationally starved, so we often could be most helpful if we just spent time with them and played with the children. Many women were around my sisters age [early teens], and many orphans were the same age as my toddler niece and nephew. My niece and nephew have two loving parents; these orphans have none. My niece and nephew have rooms full of toys: these orphans own 2 cloth diapers. When one or both of them are in a room there will often be 8-10 adults giving them attention and showing love to them; for these children there are 8-10 of them in a room, with one nurse giving them attention. This caused me to pray in a new way for redemption and reconciliation for both the women and children
It also caused me to ask, “what can we do?”, “why is there this suffering?”, “where is the hope for these people?”, “what is the answer?”
In turn, I approached scripture with fresh eyes, looking to truly see what God says, and I feel that I found the gospel. What I saw was a picture of a God who made himself nothing and came to earth to be among us in our suffering and to call us his family. Christ saw pain and wept with us; he said blessed are the poor; he said “this sin and suffering is not OK, and I’ve come to do something about it.” He took all of our sin and suffering on his shoulders, and it wrecked him. That’s what sin does. He was crucified and buried.
And when there seemed to be no hope, on the third day he rose again! He conquered the grave and defeated death itself. That’s the hope! That is the gospel that I found: in my heart instead of just in my head. Because of that, we can look at even the worst of suffering and say “where, oh death is your victory? Where, oh death is your sting?” Not because sin doesn’t hurt, and not because there is no longer suffering, but because death does not have the final word. We can engage with situations where there seems to be no hope, and say “this is not the end, Christ has risen, and one day he will wipe every tear from our eyes; he make all things new.” There is power in his name to break even the greatest chains of oppression. That’s the good news. That’s the answer.
But it doesn’t end there. That hope is not just for the future, but Christ says he wants to bring his kingdom now. God wants to bring about peace, righteousness and justice today. For whatever reason, the story of scripture; from Adam, to Israel, to the new testament, to the modern church, is that God has chosen to bring about his kingdom, his peace, and his will, not on his own, but in partnership with us.
During the trip and the proceeding months, I’ve grown to love the term peace. In Hebrew, it’s the word shalom. We follow a saviour named the Prince of Peace, who when he rose again stated “peace be with you.” Often times we define peace as the absence of war, or when everything is “peaceable”. That isn’t the peace of scripture. Shalom means the same thing as righteousness, or right relationship. It is a deep and abiding peace, where everything in creation is the way it was intended to be in the beginning. It is a peace where hurt and brokenness isn’t covered over, but is brought to the surface, identified, healed, and redeemed: where all things are made new. That’s the Kingdom.
For me, going to Bangladesh started a journey of being satisfied with nothing less than full shalom and right relationship in every aspect of my life. I have very few answers, and still have a lot to learn, but I can say with confidence that it is so good and life-giving to pursue it, even though it is challenging. We were created to have that in our relationship with God. We were created to have shalom in our relationship with each other, our relationship with society and social issues, and our relationship with creation. It’s a very holistic and physical, not just spiritual, thing. I don’t have time to share with you about all of those areas, so instead I have decided to focus on what I learned about the most in my mission trip: our relationship in community as the body of Christ, and our responsibility to bring peace to those in poverty.
Before we can even consider pursuing true shalom, or “the way God intends our life”, we need to address the following:
How many of us when we’re asking how we are, instinctively respond “busy”?
Friends, that isn’t shalom, that isn’t at all how we were meant to live our lives, and Satan uses busyness to make us float through life and progress little in becoming like Christ. We should stat to view busyness as a sin.
See Matthew 4:19-20 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.”
That was the start of their discipleship: not something they did after knowing Jesus for 10 years. I believe that the disciples dropped their nets, not because fishing was sinful, but because they recognized that to genuinely follow Jesus, spend time with him, adopt his priorities, and become more like him, they would need to free up their schedule by letting go of something good. Friends, we aren’t meant to be “busy” people. We aren’t meant to be like flies, who frantically buzz around, but don’t ever get anywhere. I feel that, like the disciples, our walk with Jesus can’t truly start until we give up things in our lives to make room for reflection, change, and transformation. What “nets” do we need to drop in order to truly follow Jesus? If you take anything away from this message, let it be this: stop being busy. Adopt a rhythm that God intends: allow God’s presence and priorities to shape your lives by leaving some nets and making room for him.
Shalom and Community
On the trip, I had a deep experience with community: our team broke bread together, we prayed together, we confessed sin to one another, we fought, we worked conflict out instead of running from it, we inspired each other in our walks with Christ, and showed each other Christ like love. I learned a lot about what it means to be vulnerable with sisters and brothers, and to be committed to our community the way you’re committed to your family.
God designed us to share life together and to be family: to have real, life-giving, and life shaping relationships. Isn’t it crazy that we’re called the body of Christ? For me, that means that one of the main ways that we are to experience God’s love and healing is in his body: in community. One of the main ways we’re refined to become more like Christ is through the body, with all the conflict and frustration that true relationships bring. We’re meant to share his love with others, not on our own, but as a body. The way we show love to one another is actually meant to be the greatest testimony we can give. It’s huge that we’re called the body of Christ. God isn’t satisfied with us living isolated lives: If we feel that something isn’t right between us and God, I submit to you: maybe it’s because we aren’t truly sharing life together the way he wants us to.
Here are some self-check up questions that I use to test and determine whether I’m in real, Christ-centered relationships with others; whether I’m actually living as a member in the body of Christ:
When was the last time I was frustrated or annoyed with one of my sisters or brothers?
One metaphor for Christian community that I love is a rock tumbler: where we all come in with our rough edges, and smash against one another, making each other smooth. Isn’t that cool? If we aren’t bonking heads, it’s probably because we aren’t actually living in community or we aren’t staying in community once the honeymoon phase is over and things become real. Either that, or none of us have rough edges.
Is there any sin that I haven’t confessed to a sister or brother?
I know it’s scary, but God calls us to confess our sin not only to him, but to each other.
John 3:19 “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light…”
For me, I don’t think this is saying that people were devious and preferred evil; rather, they preferred the dark where things could be kept secret. People preferred simply trying to forget about their past, to try to hide the ways they’ve hurt others or been hurt, to try to just “move on” and have a fresh start. Friends, some of the greatest lies that Satan uses to keep us caught in sin is to tell us that sin is personal, that it will do less damage if kept in secret and in isolation, and that grace is an easy way to run from our problems.
Those are lies, they aren’t shalom, and they aren’t the way to peace. Sin is not personal: regardless of whether anyone knows about it, all sin affects others. We aren’t our own: we intimately impact one another. Whatever the sin is, keeping it in secret or trying to cover it away will only do damage and keep you trapped in that sin. Finally, grace was not given to run away from problems.
The picture of a disciple isn’t one who receives healing in secrecy and whose sin is never brought out from below the surface. Friends, the picture of a disciple is one who holds nothing back, but has brought their sin and baggage to the light, and is working through it towards true peace with God, with community, and with those who have been impacted by their past. God promises us new life, but the more we hide or run from our past and from our sin, the more our new life gets contaminated by our previous one.
We are called to live lives of transparency and integrity, not white-washed lives of secrecy. If we want to have real, shalom relationships, our sisters and brothers can’t have the perception that we’re perfect: they need to know what brokenness we’ve gone through, and what brokenness we’re currently struggling with. I feel that openness and vulnerability are necessary requirements to conquer sin.
A phrase that came to be popular on our team was “when you go on a mission trip, you bring both your luggage and your baggage.”
We learned as a team pretty quickly that to follow Jesus in our present, we needed to deal with the ugly parts of our past and bring God’s love into the brokenness.
Is there anyone in my life who when I think of them, my first thought is either about how they’re hurt me, or how I’ve hurt them?
Is there any sister or brother who I would find it awkward to pray with?
If the answer is yes to either of these, choose peace. It is a slap in the face to God, if after receiving grace we feel that it’s better to let brokenness remain un-restored. If we truly think that the way of shalom; the way that God intends, is the best way, we need to have faith that bringing that shalom into our past is far better than simply trying to run and let sin remain the defining factor. In Matthew, Jesus says that if you aren’t at peace with a sister or brother, leave you gift at the altar and first be reconciled: He is saying that reconciliation, not only with him, but with each other, is more important than worship. God wants to see lives transformed and brokenness healed: that’s true worship. Don’t put it off or ignore it. Choose the hard and slow way of shalom, reconciliation and redemption. And friends, I can assure you based on personal experience, that it is good and life-giving and incredibly freeing, even if it seems incredibly scary and uncomfortable.
Shalom and Poverty
Finally, God calls us to not only bring peace into our lives and relationships, but bring peace to the world.
This is a huge topic, and it requires your whole life to continue figuring out what it looks like to be an instrument of peace. I would like to focus on the specific area of bringing peace to those in poverty.
Because of the trip, for me, poverty is no longer an abstract idea. It is now faces and names of people I met and spoke with. It’s real. I can say from experience that the conditions that many people live in are not OK: it does not reflect the Kingdom, and if we claim to follow Jesus, we can’t sit back and idly let it continue. In my opinion, serving the poor is an integral part of following Jesus: you can’t separate serving the poor from the teachings of either the Old or New Testament. It is one of God highest priorities: in turn, it should also be one of ours. We can’t claim to truly be in right-relationship with God, nor can we call ourselves the body of Christ, unless we are actively seeking to bring about peace to those in poverty.
Please, read this scripture with me:
“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
What happens is a beautiful picture of Christ working: It’s a picture of God choosing to work in partnership with us, and then using what we have to bring about far more good than we could imagine
Friends, what if that is what God is calling us to when we approach poverty? What if he is giving us a responsibility that we wouldn’t have if we weren’t following him, and is saying “you feed them”? What if he wants everything, and simply tells us to trust in him?
I don’t have the answer to how to fix large world problems. I don’t expect you to either. However, I do believe that we’re called to wrestle with the question of how to fight against injustice, death, and oppression. Here are some things I’ve started asking myself that I’d like to share with you:
Am I friends with anyone who is significantly poorer than me?
Christ showed his love to us by moving in with us, making us his people, and bringing life to us. He then tells us to follow suit: if we’re following Jesus, we need to be reaching out to the poor in Tillsonburg first and foremost by befriending them, and putting in the hard work of learning to love people who we normally wouldn’t associate with.
Do I view wealth and consumption as being at the expense of others?
Simply because it’s true. We’re wealthy because we use and degrade people from other cultures, whether we realize it or not. Before we can change our actions, we need to see our possessions and our wealth for what it is.
How am I praying about poverty?
I believe that God answers prayer. I often used to pray, “God, should I give this money away?”, and if I didn’t clearly hear his voice, I would assume that the answer to my prayer was that I should keep it. I realized that maybe I wasn’t actually listening to God though. Since then, I’ve made a practice of taking a larger amount than I’m comfortable with, and asking “God, should I keep this money?” Now, I act on a different paradigm, which is far scarier and I’m finding requires more real trust in God: if I don’t clearly hear God’s voice, my default is to in faith believe that God is wanting me to give it away. I encourage you to use that paradigm: give unless called otherwise.
There is so much more to what it means to let shalom come into our lives: I don’t have the answers, but I would encourage you: live lives transformed by Jesus: lives where we don’t settle with shallow existences, but pursue real and life-giving shalom with God; pursue real relationships with each other, where we both encourage and refine one another; and seek to bring it to those who are hopeless. Let our lives be a reflection of our prayer “thy Kingdom come:” in our schedule, our priorities, our past, our relationships, our care for the poor.
When I was in Bangladesh, our team ended every day with the following prayer: I ask that you would pray it with me now.
God, who is our hope, we return this day to You.
Sort out our hearts in the midst. Place Your heart in us again.
God, who is our strength, we thank You for Your presence.
Be near tonight to Your children. Come close and save.
God, who is our truth, we long to hear Your voice.
Speak and we will listen, send and we will go.
Forgive our small visions of who You are and what You do
Help us choose the way of your kingdom, until shalom is all there is.
It is in the name of Jesus, crucified AND risen, that we pray, amen.