Blessed are the peacemakers

“What will we say when our grandchildren ask us where we were?” Gary Haugen

The recent outbreak of Xenophobia that has gripped the attention of our nation, while tragic, should not come as a surprise to us.

“A Riot is the cry of the desperate” Martin Luther King

Xenophobia is a symptom of a far deeper brokenness that affects our country. We cannot hope for peace without working for justice. They are two sides of the same coin. The disparity between the minority and the masses in South Africa is an injustice that has yet to be effectively addressed. Many of us live under the false assumption that our current system is sustainable. It is not. We cannot continue to gather as small sectors of our society around banquet tables that the vast majority of our nation are not invited to. Current political and social constructs may have silenced the voice of the desperate for now, but they will not stay silent forever. If we continue to build our castles on the backs of Mothers and Fathers who can “serve in our kitchens but not sit in our livings rooms” the burden will become unbearable and they will shake it off.

I am guilty of this and I am determined to change. Can I invite you to do the same? 

The response of our people to offer relief and support to those who have been affected by the xenophobic violence has been phenomenal. It is a testament to the people we are, to the nation we are. But it is in the aftermath of the crisis that the real work begins. We must allow these tragic circumstances to shake us out of apathy. We must imagine a new society, write a new narrative, build a new world where the table has room for all.

If we do this it will cost us. It will cost us time, comfort and convenience. It will cost us our illusions of safety as we step into abandoned places to bridge social divides. It will cost us our pride as we listen and learn asking for forgiveness from those whom our indulgence has affected.

If we do not do this the cost will be far greater.

I pray that each of us would find the courage to change so that the tragedy of the past few weeks never happens again.

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9

Much Love
Matt

Xenophobia

reconciliation

Please be careful as to how you engage with the issue of Xenophobia on social media.

I have not been to Durban or other regions of our country recently and so cannot speak about those places. I can speak with some degree of authority about what is happening in some parts of Johannesburg.

I live in Fairview, only a few blocks from Jeppe town. While the situation is tense and there have been various incidence of unrest and opportunistic looting, I have not personally witnessed the kind of violence that is receiving so much attention in the media. In speaking to many of my neighbours, they too are unsettled but have not experienced anything as severe as what is being portrayed. I am always amazed at the resilience of people.

We are a courageous people and even in the hardship there is hope.

Please check the accuracy of anything you share on social media and ask yourself why you are sharing it. It may only be a status update for some, but in my neighbourhood this volume of unverified here-say has actual implication. It increases tension unnecessarily and contributes to creating an environment which is primed to respond out of emotion when any violent element is introduced.

It is challenging enough to deal with the facts as they are. We do not need the added struggle of exaggeration.

I know we feel the need to have a voice on the matter. May I suggest that we do so in a responsible and empowering way? Instead of propagating rumours of unverified atrocities through the powerful medium of social media perhaps we could research ways and means to get involved in bringing aid and relief to those who are affected and share that. I know this requires more effort than a status update but In this way our desire to have our say can find its expression in social action rather than social commentary.

To that end here is one way you can be a part of the solution.

Primrose Church is situated opposite the Primrose police station.  Many foreign nationals have gone to the police station in search of protection. The church is caring for these people. I spoke to them on the phone this morning and asked them how we could help. They emailed me the following list of items.

Catering Tins of Mixed vegetables
Catering tins of Tomatoes
Lentils
Rice
Oil
Soya Mince
Oros juice
Long Life Milk
Containers to serve food in Eg. Hamburger take away – (double sided we halve them.)
Toilet paper
Margarine
Bread
Jam
Nappies

If this issue of Xenophobia so deeply affects you can I ask that you act. If you are unable to help with this work there are others who are working to offer relief, join them. If there is nothing in your area, start something. A further challenge would be to step out beyond charitable donation. Charity is often a buffer between the rich and the poor. Rather than simply dropping off a donation consider sharing a meal with those who are suffering. In this act of solidarity perhaps all of us can take a step in the direction of freedom.

Much love
Matt

Changed

Change

I’m writing this on a plane headed for Cape Town. As I sit here I think about the many stories that fill this cabin of crowded anonymity. Beyond the appearance of the well-groomed people who fill airline cabins on Monday mornings I wonder what joy and sorrow sits in the seats around me. What is the burden of the airhostess who brought me water with a forced smile and troubled eyes? What drives the two businessmen sitting behind me passionately discussing their meetings for the day? What scars does the grey haired man sleeping two rows in front of me carry?

People are not what they appear to be?

Most of us feel the gap between who we are and who we pretend to be. Sadly, rather than trying to narrow that gap, we settle for managing it. We hide in whispered conversations or behind cell phone and computer screens. All the while we smile and wave in boardroom meetings and at civilised dinner tables, grateful for the duplicity that the sociological “closed doors” of our time allow us. We are a Jekyll and Hyde generation worn down by the internal chaos of a soul in conflict with itself.

Jesus sees us as we are, not as we pretend to be.

In Christ we find an ocean of redemption that brings relief to our conflicted souls. In Christ we find love at work, bridging the gap between our intended nature and our fallen state. Management will not do when transformation is possible. And transformation is possible in Him. This is why Jesus sets the standard so high in passages like Matthew 5: 27-30.

 “You have heard that it was said… but I say to you…”

It seems as if Jesus raises the stakes from difficult to impossible. Why? Does he mean to burden us beyond what we are able to bare? Of course not, He sets the standard beyond our ability to eliminate any hope of self-salvation. Jesus holds us to a holy standard because He is the holy provision in whom we find a holiness of our own.

You have heard it said that suppression is the norm; but I say to you, redemption is possible.

Much Love
Matt

Reconciled

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The bare minimum. I’m tempted to settle for it all the time. So are you. So often we are more interested in what is convenient than in what is authentic.

When it comes to the state of our hearts we settle for the appearance of transformation because actual transformation is costly.

Religion does this too. Always has, always will. When faced with the brokenness of the human heart the best religion can offer is legalism. A set of rules to shape us up. Rules like “do not murder, do not steal, do not…”. The problem with a “do not” ideology is that it aims to control what is broken, rather than to actually change it.

Fortunately, in Matthew 5:21-24 we find that Jesus sees the flaw in this kind of religiosity and invites us to something more.

It’s as if Jesus looks on at his audience with a quiet desperation saying “Do not murder? Is that the best you can do? You refrain from murder but still hold anger against one another, still insult one another, still call one another fools. You ritualistically ‘bring your offering’ sabbath after sabbath but your hearts remain the same. I want more for you than that. Please! Leave your sacrifice, leave your religion, and step into something better.

Be reconciled to your brother. 

The Kingdom of God is about more than just the absence of sin. It’s about the presence of Holiness. The absence of one does not necessarily mean the presence of the other. The invitation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is so far beyond the religious conformity that preceded Him that it actually becomes an entirely different prospect to the religion with which it is so often associated.

As other worldly as it may seem, Jesus’ intention is actually the transformation of the human heart.

I pray that we wouldn’t simply settle for the bare minimum. I pray that we wouldn’t miss the invitation of Christ by living a life of sin management. I pray that we would be reconciled to God and, through Him, be reconciled to one another.

Perhaps then we will understand that what is impossible for man really is possible for God.

Much Love
Matt

Fulfilled

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Failure is not an option, it is a guarantee. From failed attempts at walking as a child to failed pick up lines as a teenager and failed business ventures as an adult.

Failure is part of life.

But not all  failure is the same. Failure to wash the dishes is one thing, failure to remain faithful to your spouse is another. Intuitively and experientially we know that sometimes the cost of failure is significantly higher than it is at other times.

Of all failure, perhaps none is as absolute and enduring as the failure of the human will to obey the law of God. And of all costs none are as high.

Why? Because the law of God is less a list of Gods’ expectations and more a reflection of Gods’ nature. Thus to live in contravention of God’s law is to oppose the very nature of God. Those who oppose God are estranged from Him and because He is our origin, estrangement is tantamount to death.

A post Christian society dismisses this position as irrelevant and narrow-minded. But we only need to read the tabloids, twitter feeds and news headlines to see what happens to the world when God is dead and His Law is irrelevant. More than that, the consequence of our disobedience is not only external, it is internal as well.

There is a longing of the heart that no amount of sex, money or power can ultimately satisfy. 

And so we find ourselves in need of rescue. God is unchanging, His Law is unchanging and our inability to obey seems to be unchanging. Thank God for the message of Matthew 5:17 where Jesus simultaneously affirms the indispensable nature of God’s Law while providing the means by which our disobedience can be accounted for. 

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” 

In Jesus we find the strength of God accounting for the weakness of man and satisfying the Holy demand of a Godly law. Jesus has fulfilled the Law of God and in so doing offers us the reconciliation that our weakness prohibited us from attaining. The Law remains, not one iota, not one dot will pass from it until all of it is accomplished.

The wonderful news of the Gospel is that all of it is accomplished in Jesus.

Much Love
Matt

Fame

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Our world longs for fame. To know that we are known. The incredible success of reality TV bares witness to this. X-factor, Idols, bachelors and bachelorettes, MTV with no music and excess teen angst, all of this rooted in our need for acclamation.

As I think about this, its our enduring pursuit of fame that confounds me. We observe fames’ inability to satisfy in the lives of those who attain it and yet still pursue it with such devotion.

Why?

Significance. Each of us hopes that our lives will count for something, that in some way the world will be different because we were here. Dreams are not built on aspirations of meaningless insignificance and all of us have dreams.

But not all fame is significant and this is the heart of the issue.

In Matthew 5:14 Jesus calls us the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. These are not insignificant titles. Evidently, in the mind of Christ, hoping for a life of significance is a Godly desire. What is critical is not our desire but our motivation and Matthew 5:16 shows us what right motivation looks like.

“Let your light shine before others SO THAT they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”(emphasis mine)

Our freedom is found in those two little words… “so that”.

With fame as with everything else our motivation needs to be the Glory of God. Our longing for fame is not only acceptable it is essential. What matters is whose fame we long for.

 The great privilege of the Christian life is not to be known but to make known.

I pray that our lives would be deeply significant as we abandon our own fame and leverage our lives for His.

Much Love
Matt

Blessed

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When I was a young boy my desires were simple; a warm bed, a teddy bear and a steady supply of candy. While admirable in their innocence, these desires were hardly revolutionary. Few lives would be changed by my sugar addiction. Of course, this was to be expected because desire is very often rooted in perspective.

As a child I hoped for so little because I knew so little.

I have come to believe that, as adults, our desires change by name but not necessarily by nature. While our lives may not be governed by candy any more, our longing for cars, houses and wardrobes filled with clothing are hardly revolutionary ideals. Few lives will be changed by my pursuit of status (at least not for the good). We have not left the sugar barons of our youth behind.

We still hope for so little because we know so little.

In Matthew 5 Jesus uses a word that we are well acquainted with. Blessed. However, unlike the “blessedness” of our limited perspective, the blessedness of Christ is found with the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who long for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted. (Matthew 5:2-11)

These blessings are a far cry from the possessions, positions and processions we so passionately pursue. Is this because Jesus has a warped understanding of blessing or because we do?

Jesus sees blessing from the perspective of eternity.

Because of this He understands the futility of a life enslaved to temporary treasure. In love He urges us to change our desires, not only by name but by nature as well. Jesus invites us to trade in our petty “grand ambitions” for the eternal prize that is the Kingdom of God. In love Jesus calls us to a radical transformation of the heart in which we will know blessing in pleasure or pain because we have left our reality and stepped into His.

I pray that our eyes would be opened to the eternal so that in seeing more we would hope for so much more and find Christ.

Much Love
Matt