My Salvation Army Funeral
Blessed are the peacemakers.
You never know who will show up at a funeral. Men who normally didn’t attend church listened as I eulogized Scottie, one of the regulars at our daily homeless ministry before he drank himself to death. His buddies were scattered throughout the Salvation Army chapel for the memorial service, along with my clergy colleagues in the community.
Scottie was of infinite value to God and to us, I explained to the group. Suddenly, Sam’s drunken hollering interrupted.
“Scottie was nothing but a worthless piece of … !” The comment was so loud it was impossible to ignore. Could it become a teaching moment?
Praying for that, I stepped around the pulpit and walked down the center aisle to where the commentator was slouched.
“Why would you say that about Scottie?” I asked Sam. His reply was even louder and more belligerent.
“Because he was nothing but a drunken son of a #$%*.”
Our summer intern looked at me horrified, her eyes wide with shock. Sam’s brazenness caught me unprepared as well. How could God’s Spirit turn this demonic distraction into an opportunity to communicate salvation in Jesus? Praying silently for that, I pressed on.
“Would the fact that Scottie had a drinking problem make him any less precious to God — or to us?”
That was a life-and-death question for many attendees. Their snickering ceased. The Spirit was on the verge of a breakthrough.
Sam, however, cleverly dodged my question. “I don’t believe in God,” he snarled.
Instantly the answer dropped onto my tongue: “Maybe you don’t believe in God, Sam, but God believes in you.”
Sam was stunned. The grace of God hit home with him and others that day at the Salvation Army chapel. What stirred in their hearts was shalom.
Shalom Through Jesus Christ
As explored previously in this column,[i] the Hebrew word shalom is typically translated “peace.” Shalom in Scripture seeks more than our own well-being and God’s blessings for families and friends. Shalom feeds the hungry, visits the lonely and seeks social justice. Shalom makes us priests on Earth in the service of our great high priest, who declared, “Blessed are the shalom-makers, for they shall be called ‘children of God’” (Matt. 5:9).
Heaven’s Messiah is known as “Prince of Shalom” (Is. 9:6). On the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the punishment that brings us shalom with God (53:5). Such is the gospel of grace and peace with God through Jesus Christ.
How ironic that Jesus was despised and crucified by religious leaders from Jerusalem, purportedly the “city of shalom.” And except for a few fleeting months recorded in the book of Acts, the Christian church that survived the ruins of old Jerusalem has likewise failed to experience and communicate shalom.
Finally, in Earth’s last days, a community of priests will arise under the leadership of our great high priest in heaven’s sanctuary. This will be the long-awaited remnant of God’s saints throughout the ages. They will celebrate shalom and share it throughout the Earth. At last the work of God will be finished and the Great Controversy ended.
Shalom of the Final Remnant
Shalom in this world and the age to come was God’s gift through Jesus for Sam, Scottie and everyone at that Salvation Army funeral. Seventh-day Adventists also need shalom — now more than anytime before in my lifetime of serving this church. Global Adventism is struggling with doctrinal, lifestyle, gender, racial and relational issues that threaten to divide us.
In this crisis hour, let us trust in God, not in the familiar cheap and cheery platitude: No matter what we do, the church is going through! “Once-saved-always-saved” denominational patriotism will not save us. What will ultimately prevail is God’s message and mission for the last days—with or without you, me, or any ordained official or institution.
God will have a final remnant who do more than merely preach God’s commandments. End-time saints will actually keep them, in the spirit of grace and truth through Jesus. “If you love Me,” He says, “you will keep my commandments.” “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 14:15; 15:12). So if we don’t truly love the Sams and Scotties in our neighborhoods — or fellow church members who believe or dress or eat differently than we do — let’s not pretend to be law-abiding members in good and regular standing.
The end of all things is at hand. God’s New Jerusalem will then descend from heaven, and universal peace on Earth will reign as the Prince of Shalom dwells among His people forever.
[HERE IS MORE ABOUT SHALOM:]
Shalom After the Ordination Vote
By the time you read this [written summer 2015], the General Conference Session in San Antonio will be history, and world church delegates will have voted on perhaps the most explosive Adventist issue of our lifetime. I’m referring, of course, to the ordination of women — whether to allow our 13 global divisions to decide within their own territories what is best regarding women in ministry.
So now, one way or another, the decision is sealed. Where do we go from here?
Anyone who thinks the official vote in San Antonio will bring happiness ever afterward for worldwide Adventism may be due for a rude awakening. I pray that some will not now launch a campaign to defrock local female church elders. These godly women have nobly and ably served their congregations for the past 40 years. In my opinion it would be cruel and unreasonable to rob them and our churches of their volunteer ministry.
That’s my conviction. You may love the Lord as much as I ever will, yet totally disagree. Even if our mindsets sincerely conflict, however, we can share the same heart of Jesus. God can help us move forward together to finish His work “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:2–3, ESV).
That won’t happen automatically. We must “seek peace and pursue it” (1 Peter 3:11).
So let’s talk about peace. What does it mean in practical terms? In a word, shalom.
Shalom in the Old Testament has a deeper, richer meaning than peace as we usually envision it. Christians often think more like Buddhists about peace than the ancient Hebrews saw it in Scripture. We view peace superficially and passively — the absence of negativity such as strife, guilt, shame and anger. By contrast, shalom in Scripture is positive, energetic and proactive, fulfilling God’s eternal purpose for this planet — and for our church.
Recently I read all 236 verses where shalom occurs in the Old Testament. It seems that shalom starts with one’s personal relationship with God and ripples ever outward in seven all-encompassing circles.
1) Personal Shalom with God
Shalom begins in the heart of each believer who discovers peace in God’s forgiveness and acceptance through Jesus. Unless we personally experience this peace, every attempt to share what we don’t know ourselves will be dysfunctional.
2) Shalom at Home
Personal peace does no good to the world if it stays under the pine tree in my backyard where I sit with my Bible, happy in Jesus as my “personal” Savior. Shalom calls me back into the house where I argued with my wife, compelling me to seek peace with my family. This might even require apologizing to the kids — and why not?
3) Shalom to the Church
Shalom extends beyond a peaceful home with biological kin to our faith family, so that we deeply care about our brothers and sisters with whom we worship — even if we interpret the weekly lesson study differently and have opposing convictions on worship styles (and who qualifies for ordination).
4) Shalom in the Marketplace and Classroom
Shalom is not satisfied with a weekly blessing at church. It ripples outward to the marketplace, so that we seek win-win business deals. For students, shalom goes beyond not cheating. They might take notes for classroom colleagues sick at home.
5) Shalom to the Whole World
Shalom extends past the marketplace and classroom to people we might rather not associate with. Even our enemies, Jesus insists.
6) Shalom to the Animals
Shalom in Scripture is so expansive that it goes beyond the human to the animal world. Ancient Jacob wanted shalom for the flock (see Gen. 37:14). We too should care about God’s nonhuman creatures, refusing to abuse them. This provides motivation beyond personal health to become vegetarians.
7) Shalom to the environment
Biblical peace extends even to inanimate creation: “peace for the seed,” so that the land will yield its produce (Zech. 8:12, literally translated). This biblical truth provides a connection point with unchurched neighbors concerned about the environment. Our creator God is “green” and expects us to be responsible stewards of this world, polluted as it is, even as we anticipate His Earth made new.
All of the above, and nothing less, Jesus envisioned when He pronounced, “Blessed are the shalom-makers, for they shall be called ‘children of God’” (Matt. 5:9).
Finally, let’s wrap up our study of shalom in the context of our concern about women’s ordination. For us — as individual believers as well as a global church community — to move forward in shalom will require a deeper experience of Jesus. He “Himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).