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  • Hatred – a response

    “Hate – It has caused a lot of problems in the world but has not solved one yet.”
    Maya Angelou

    In the early hours of Monday morning, our country witnessed another terrorist attack. This time though, the suspect was white and the intended targets were Muslims leaving a mosque after prayers. Using a van to drive into a group of worshippers, the suspect was then taken down to the ground and held by witnesses until the police arrived.

    This attack is different for obvious reasons, but no less an act of terrorism. Let’s get that fact straight from the start. This bares so much resemblance to not only what we have seen in the UK this year, but to countless atrocities that happen across the world. Every. Single. Day. But right now, even as the police tape still surrounds the area, the world is already looking for someone to blame. To establish the reason. To find the answer to the biggest question of all – WHY?

    And, so, social media platforms are filled with finger pointing links to hate-fuelled films and newspaper headlines. Self-appointed voices literally spitting angry propaganda into the camera lens. As the forensic teams go through every inch of the van and surrounding areas, our leaders and politicians are releasing statements of condemnation and sympathy. Jeremy Corbyn almost perfectly echoed the Archbishop’s words, saying “An attack on a mosque, a synagogue, on a church…is an attack on all of us.”

    We are reminded by these two statements that we are all in this together. An idea found in the pages of scripture, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it” 1 Corinthians 12:26. We are, as a community, as a nation, hit hard when these atrocities happen, and not just acts of terrorism.

    The pain of today’s events are compounded into the ache and anger left by the fire in a London tower block last week. As we consume the words of the survivors, feast on the battle between sides apportioning blame, as we are roused by the community leaders calling for justice, we are at great risk of being taken over by one of the strongest and powerful emotions of all: HATE.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am really angry. My prayers to God in the last few days were not softly spoken platitudes, well measured and cordial. I shouted to my Father. My hands are shaking with anger as I type. So much so that I don’t quite know how to direct it. But what I have had back in return is a reminder that anger, well directed, can lead to powerful change. Freedom can be won when captives and captors are angered by their chains. I am not angry at God, as such, but I am angry at the injustice, and pain, and poverty, and hatred I see in our world today. I am angry for our world today. That it isn’t the beautiful place painted perfectly at the end of a Disney film. All is not well with the world, true, but I don’t ‘hate’ it.

    Because anger is different to hatred.

    Anger is about displeasure, fury, gettin’ vexed. An emotional response to an event or situation.

    Hatred is about hostility, resentment, contempt, animosity. It is much more targeted, most often at a person, or people, or group.

    There is a reason why Zuckerburg decided to add an ‘ANGRY’ button and not a ‘HATE’ button to Facebook.

    But I believe God is calling us to go down a different path. To avoid jumping into the cycle of redemptive violence.

    The vitriolic shouting of hate preachers has reminded me today that anger can quickly turn to hatred if allowed to fester unchallenged. But I believe God is calling us to go down a different path. To avoid jumping into the cycle of redemptive violence. To channel our anger into something that looks a bit more Kingdom like.

    Jesus said this (strap in):
    “You have heard it said ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” Mat 5: 44-45

    JK Rowling was ‘brought to tears’ on Twitter as she heard how an Imam protected the suspected terrorist from being harmed by the mob. He chose to protect his ‘enemy’ from harm. His actions were of love, not hate. His actions were massively counter-cultural.

    In the short term, it meant that the suspect was safely arrested, in order that justice can be done through the law of our land. In the long term, the suspect will live with the knowledge that he was protected and saved by the very target of his hatred. He will go to sleep each night knowing that the one he went to kill, may well have saved his life.

    I’m reminded by Proverbs 25: 21-22 which says “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.”

    Wow.

    Jesus showed us how to love those who hated him. To disarm our enemies by taking away the reason for hatred. He told stories of the Good Samaritan, he forgave and ate with those who were universally ‘hated’ by popular society. He healed a Centurion’s servant – a member of the occupying forces. He looked on his executioner with love and compassion, and forgave a convicted criminal who was slowly dying next to him.

    Could it be that the Imam destroyed any reason for hatred, and with it the term ‘enemy’ itself?

    This week, as attention in the UK turns on home-grown terrorism, many will look to blame hate preachers and the daily papers that create an ‘us and them’ society. However we are reminded and encouraged by the thousands, no, millions of followers at home and around the world who, living in the direct line of hatred and persecution, choose to live by loving their enemies.

    Here are just three incredible stories of people who have chosen to love rather than hate.

    1. North Korean Christians pray for Kim Jong-Un
    North Korea’s economy lies in ruins; its labour camps are full with disfigured workers; and its people are starving and building monuments and worshipping idols at the same time. North Korea’s future looks as bleak as ever. In the midst of this twisted, survival of the fittest society there is a secret praying community. The underground Christians plead with God that He will lead them through this ‘wilderness period’ and will purify them. They also beg God to save the ‘Respected Comrade’ Kim Jong-Un.
    “They don’t pray that God will depose him or gets rid of him. They genuinely ask God to save their leader for the eternal life.”

    2. Egyptian Christians take breakfast to Muslims breaking Ramadan fast
    At huge risk, Christians are reaching out a hand of friendship to their Muslim brothers and sisters and are making a stand for love by delivering ‘love gift’ boxes to them as they break their fast.
    Read more here…

    3. Nigeria clinic serves both Christians and Muslims
    “This clinic is not only helping the people who were attacked, but it is helping the people of more than 20 communities,”
    Read more here…

    Across the world, Churches are being planted in prisons, blood feuds are ended, the poor are cared for, and battles are won without the use of a gun. These are people who risk losing it all because they have found something they cannot lose – salvation from a world of cyclic redemptive violence, an eternal hope in Jesus Christ, our Prince of Peace.

    Let’s choose love today.

  • Given up on Lent?

    I’ve never fully understood lent. OK, so I get that it’s the six weeks before Easter, but the whole giving up stuff has me stumped. What I’ve actually seen of lent in my generation hasn’t been, well, very Lenty. As I see it, Lent has, in my circles, been more of an excuse to give up chocolate, to lose a bit of timber, or an attempt to resurrect those resolutions that were dead and gone by the 3rd day of January.

    Lent has perhaps become a convenient excuse to shed a few pounds, or fast from digital life for a bit. Once all the pancakes are gone, people enter into a test of mental strength – a mastery of will power. And if we do actually make it through Lent, we more often than not absolutely trough ourselves when Easter comes – back to square one, like nothing happened.

    Am I being a touch cynical? Perhaps. Not the whole picture? Definitely. What all this does (apart from make everyone a bit grumpier) is put the focus straight on the self. Which is kinda the opposite of Lent’s purpose. Lent is actually about taking the focus from our desires and back onto Jesus and his Kingdom.

    Tradition would say that Lent is 40 days of prayer and self-denial. Sounds super scary. But the opportunity we have is not to just make it about the self-denial bit, but also add prayer into the mix too. And as we do, we join millions of Christians around the world who absolutely know the value of fasting and prayer. Especially those who are facing extreme persecution where they live because they have chosen to follow Jesus.

    That’s why we’ve cooked up a new, tasty resource, Fast Food, to help you put proper prayer and fasting right back at the heart of your build-up to Easter.

    Fast Food is centered around a series of weekly meals, and during each meal you’ll get to focus on a different country where Christians face persecution. You’ll eat food that’s eaten in that country. You’ll hear stories of incredible faith and dedication. You’ll be moved to pray and act for those who share our faith, but not our freedom. And lastly, you’ll be challenged to act out a weekly fast. These secret challenges will give you a taste of what life is like for Christians in the country you’re focusing on. It’s not a gimmick. This is about getting back to the basics of Lent – it’s about seeing how much Jesus gave up for us at Easter, and being inspired by Christians around the world giving their lives back to him as a response.

    It’s not about giving up the chocolates to shed a few pounds… Nope. True fasting is about creating space and time for God to work.

    You see, the persecuted church gets that fasting isn’t actually about us. It’s not about giving up the chocolates to shed a few pounds. It’s not about a digital detox that helps us feel more grounded in reality (and less addicted to our mates IG profiles). Nope. True fasting is about creating space and time for God to work. It’s about saying, like John the Baptist ‘You must increase, I must decrease’ (John 3:30). It’s about refocusing our priorities and being inspired by Him to love more, to live more and to take more risks. It’s about seeing how much Jesus gave up for us and realising that he asks us to give our whole lives back as a response to him.

    So, lent and fasting? It’s not about giving up, but giving back. (Meme!)

    Get your free Fast Food resource

    Can’t do something every week?

    You don’t have to do all the sessions – you could just do one or two. Start with a pancake party or end with an Easter Sunday breakfast. Grab the pack, check out the session suggestions and tailor it to suit you!

  • We support people who are beaten, tortured,
    imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.