Rat Smelling

Sacred agents need to be alert and ready for action. This is the fourth in a series on having our senses heightened by God’s Spirit. So far we’ve discussed Peripheral Vision, Eavesdropping and Iocane Tasting. Stay tuned for Detonator-Touching still to come…

There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. Sacred agents, more than anyone, need to be alert to the fishy business that happens everywhere behind the scenes.

We’ve all seen movie scenes when a character takes a phone call and says everything’s fine, trying to keep their voice level and casual while a kidnapper actually has a gun pointed at them. Will the friend on the other end of the line smell a rat?

Nothing smells rattier than the phrase “Fine, fine, everything’s fine”, don’t you think?

If we only engage with people on a surface level, we can quickly get the impression that most people are “fine, fine” and not interested in God. We then attribute that straight to their character – they should be interested in God, and, well, I guess it’s their loss if they’re not. But t hey seem to be going along OK, so, well, shrug.

Don’t we smell a rat?

God’s rescue mission is not so simple and straightforward. People are not so free as they pretend to be. Powerful hidden forces are in play – ‘principalities and powers’ as Paul puts it; ideologies and paradigms too are in play that bind and blind the people God is seeking to set free.

So when our surface-level witness (let’s not give that up) seems to come to nothing, let’s not shrug and move on. Instead, what if we moved in closer and took a good whiff, asking the Lord to show us what’s happening behind the scenes and how he’s wanting to rescue that hostage?

Iocane Tasting

Sacred agents need to be alert and ready for action. This is the third in a series on having our senses heightened by God’s Spirit. So far we’ve discussed Peripheral Vision and Eavesdropping. Stay tuned for Rat-Smelling and Detonator-Touching still to come…

If you haven’t seen The Princess Bride, then you must immediately, not least for the classic Battle of Wits scene between Vizzini and the Man in Black. It’s a challenge: To the death! For the princess! Which of the two goblets of wine has been poisoned with Iocane Powder? (It’s odourless, tasteless, deadly, and apparently an Australian export.) *Spoiler alert* Our hero in Black prevails only because he has built up immunity to Iocane over several years.

I don’t have to remind you sacred agents that there’s a lot of poison going round. On your journey of rescue you’ll face many battles-of-wits, where the binary options of fight and flight look equally unpalatable. Do you keep your head down and avoid the hostility? That doesn’t seem like Jesus. But nor does weighing in with hostility of your own. That’s where we need to be alert enough to see and select a third option Jesus offers us.

This is the option of engaging with hostile people with radical love that turns the other cheek and goes the extra mile. It’s a lot easier for me to type this than practice it, because cheek-blows and pack-carrying are both quite painful. But it’s the only thing that will really progress our journey of rescue and redemption. It’s God’s chosen way to change the world.

If following Jesus means getting up close and personal with a fair bit of poison, then we need to build up our immunity to it. Our first battle-of-wits is unlikely to be face to face with IS terrorists or the panel of The Project (not to compare them). It’s in the small barbs we’ll face each day from those we live and work with that we can practice Jesus’ redemptive presence and gradually build up our immunity to evil. It’s as we take to God in prayer the insults and pressures we face that we’ll build the capacity to absorb more.

Every day we can build our cross-carrying muscles, and thus stay in the adventure to rescue the princess and see True Love prevail.

Eavesdropping

Sacred agents need to be alert and ready for action. This is the second in a series on having our senses heightened by God’s Spirit. Last month we discussed Peripheral Vision. Stay tuned for Iocane-Tasting, Rat-Smelling and Detonator-Touching…

My teenage daughter has a black belt in eavesdropping. She won’t come down for dinner when we yell for her, but lower our voices in the kitchen for an adult-to-adult conversation, and suddenly she’s hovering just nearby.

Our brains have a way of filtering out so much information, of excluding lots of sounds and voices. But it’s amazing what you can hear if you tune in rather than tune out. God, in his wisdom, seems often to speak in such a way that only those who really want to listen can hear. Sacred agents certainly need to practice this. Are we leaning in to God to the detriment of other voices, or is it the other way around?

But we also can learn – must learn – how to really lean in and listen to the people to whom God has sent us. What are they saying? And what are they really saying? People usually speak with more than one voice. There’s their clear, audible voice, of course. But sometimes they say something else with their body language, or with their actions – but do we hear it? Are we tuned in?

This is especially important because in our culture it is very difficult to speak directly about spiritual matters. You can talk about the weather, about sport, about TV, about politics even, but not about God. This doesn’t mean that if your friend or workmate or family member never mentions or asks about God, that He is the furthest thing from their mind. So often people are thirsting and all-but crying out for a God they do not know – but the cry comes in different forms and in other words. Even when a person says they don’t believe in God, what God don’t they believe in? If it’s an aloof or capricious or impersonal ‘force out there’, well, we don’t believe in that either.

This doesn’t mean we should twist or reinterpret people’s words in any way that suits us. But perhaps we can ask better questions and listen more carefully to understand the hearts and underlying stories of those we’re sent to. You hear me?

Peripheral Vision

Sacred agents need to be alert and ready for action. This is the first post in a series on having our senses heightened by God’s Spirit. Stay tuned for Eavesdropping, Iocane-Tasting, Rat-Smelling and Detonator-Touching…

Effective sacred agents need to have great vision, more than anyone else. Racing drivers? Meh. Heart surgeons? It’s right there under lights, the pumpy thing. Sports stars? Don Bradman had lousy eyesight. But sacred agents need constantly to know what’s going on around them. We need clarity of focus, and we especially need peripheral vision.

In the movies, an agent can be surrounded by eight thugs and yet win the fight because only one thug attacks at a time while the others usefully dance around looking aggressive. Real life isn’t like that. Agents have a lot going on all around them. And novices fall for the old look-over-here-while-I-attack-from-over-there trick.

We need peripheral vision to avoid such hits. We can get lured down the alley-way of debating what’s right and wrong, and suddenly realise we’ve been duped into Pharisaism. We can dive into serving the poor and only later realise we’ve unwittingly reinforced a cycle of dependence.

But we need peripheral vision in a positive way, too. Sometimes we wonder why God doesn’t seem to be doing much, but it’s just that he’s not moving where we’re looking (ahem TV & Facebook). God’s always up to something, but so often on the margins, among people we don’t even see and in ways we don’t even notice.

We need better peripheral vision to see and respond to opportunities and dangers all around us. Holy Spirit, heighten our senses! Prepare us for action!

Stop for a moment and think: Where are you looking? What are you focused on? What has taken up most of your attention this week? And then ask: Is there something else going on?

Social Focus is Your Frenemy

Many churches have two mission contexts: A local neighbourhood (mostly strangers who happen to live close to the church building) and a social network (friends, family and connections of church members, most of whom live a long way from the church). In my observation, churches have increasingly neglected the local and rested their hopes on the social.

Here are six reasons to pursue strong local connections – finding effective ways to be present with, partnering with and inviting in the local community.

  • It makes your church more Christian. If you love those who love you … do not even pagans do that? If your church is a church just for you and people that you like, it’s becoming a country club. Why pay a pastor when you could have a greens-keeper?
  • It keeps your gatherings public. If your church only meets in your suburb, and doesn’t interact with it, it will be perceived by them as a private group, and Sunday content will drift towards sustaining long-term believers, reinforcing a ‘members only’ culture.
  • It diversifies and so strengthens your church. A church where everyone else is the same ethnicity/wealth/education/personality is not heaven, it’s hell in disguise. God has something far better and far stronger in mind, but if you don’t love strangers you’ll keep Him out.
  • It builds local community. The church is meant to operate as one interdependent body, which is hard when you’re spread all across the city, doing ‘life’ over here during the week and ‘church’ over there on Sundays. Facebook’s OK, but we’re called to more than just comment on our neighbours’ meal or lawn. The Word became flesh electronic and lived liked among us?
  • It grows your church by conversion. Churches that deliberately reach out to, love and invite strangers grow by conversions. And And social invitations. Ironically, members are more likely to invite a social contact to a church that is focused on welcoming locals.
  • It sifts your leaders for you. You want your church leadership to be more of the pull-over-to-help Samaritan type and less of the swerve-to-avoid Levite type. When a church focuses locally, the difference between those who roll up their sleeves and those who turn up their noses becomes obvious!

Flat Pax and Take-Away Nuggets

We have lived through an era of unusual peace, compared to the rest of human history. These patches of peace across history have usually occurred when a superpower looms so large that no-one dare rebel. We’ve had Pax Romana, Pax Britannica and more recently Pax Americana.

During Pax Mongolica a common saying was “A maiden carrying a nugget of gold on her head could safely wander throughout the realm.” Whilst a beanie may have been more practical, that short saying does reveal how the fruit of lasting peace are prosperity, security, trust, freedom of migration, freedom of women, and gap years.

But these empires come and go. Each seems invincible and permanent at their climax (before being undone by little things like germs and Facebook). It all reminds me of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a great statue (another fruit of empires) and Daniel’s interpretation. The statue represented a succession of empires (Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman) – and the prediction that none would last. A tiny rock “not cut out by human hands” would strike the feet (Romana), reduce those empires to dust and “become a huge mountain and fill the whole earth.” A very different superpower would emerge, and now has.

So amidst all the consternation that peace, security, justice, freedom and prosperity are all teetering, sacred agents have a role to remind people that these treasures have never been reliably built on the sand of military empires. It’s been a dream all along. Only when the lasting Pax Christi conquers our hearts and dissolves our violence will our daughters be truly safe to hitchhike in cash fascinators.

But it is happening. Still the mountain grows. It will outlast Americana and whatever faux pax comes next. And its borders are open now.

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