I was introduced to Stu G at The Justice Conference in Chicago a few years back. If you’ve been anywhere near the global church in the last two and a half decades, you will have sung his songs and heard his music, but that day as he placed a book and CD in my hands, I sensed there was something different about this man, a passion for the life and words of Jesus to be lived out in our chaotic and divided time. Instead of talking about his own songs, he talked about songs from men and women he had befriended in his travels. Instead of telling his own stories, he told the stories of people who’d been abused, forgotten, marginalized. Stu is a man who uses his voice to lift people up, who is using his talent to draw out the talent of others, who is using his influence to tell a story of hope. My prayers for this hurting world resonate deeply with Stu’s heart and vision to help us live our stories through the lens of The Beatitudes. It’s an absolute grace to welcome Stu to the farm’s front porch today…
How on earth are you doing?
How are you inside this ache, lack, and longing called 2020?
You’ve made it to another day, another week, and that’s worth celebrating!
It breaks your heart, though, doesn’t it?
What are we supposed to do with all the noise? All the division, brokenness, anger, hatred, racism, protests, conspiracies, and election news that jumps from our screens to our brains every day?
If you’re like me, then it isn’t easy to know how to respond, so often, I don’t know what to say or if I should say anything at all.
So many are hungry and thirsty for love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
But the Spirit’s fruit appears to be missing in action in 2020.
We want to make a change, but we don’t know where to start.
If you have a few minutes to spare, I’d love to offer some hope in the chaos of this life.
You see, this feels a bit familiar to me and reminds me of a time when it felt like the world stopped turning. At that moment, I felt like I’d reached the end of my rope, but God opened my eyes to see some truth I’d never seen before.
It was 2009, and the year that a huge part of my life was over.
I’d spent the previous 16 years with a band of brothers called Delirious? (yes, with a question mark). We started life writing songs and playing music at a youth worship event on the south coast of England with 70 kids. We went on to play in stadiums around the world. We took our blend of rock and pop-infused worship music to some unlikely places: The UK pop charts, Glastonbury Festival, a stadium tour supporting Bon Jovi, to name a few.
It was more than a band and music. It was a movement of history makers where the folks who came to our concerts, who bought our records, and sang our songs, felt like they were in the band themselves.
All that purpose, unity of vision, and how we made our living came to an end in 2009. I got as much help and advice as I could. I wanted to do all I could to help us “end well.”
Indeed, all seemed well on the outside, but it turned out I was not a good listener, and on the inside, I was sinking fast and didn’t know what to do. I isolated myself, which is what grief does.
I turned my eyes and reliance away from God, and I tried to control everything myself.
What followed was a tough couple of years that we (my wife and girls) made it through but not without some pain and bad decisions on my part.
The very next year, my family and I moved from England to Nashville, Tennessee. It felt like the right next step to continue in music and to begin to thrive again as a family.
Transition is a funny thing. Endings need grieving, and beginnings need celebrating.
But what do you do in that bit in between—you know, the bit where you feel a bit lost and feel like everything’s out of control?
I needed to change my behavior, get my vision, and focus back on God, and eventually, it hit me like a train. There I was in my self-induced-bottom-of-life-moment, and I had this sense that God was not far away. Indeed the Spirit of Jesus had been with me all along because that’s what Jesus does. He takes on the flesh and suffering of the world and joins us inside it.
I began to read The Beatitudes.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
How can that be? What are you on about Jesus? The Message version says, “You’re blessed at the end of your rope.”
Jesus, via Eugene Peterson, had my attention.
I read on:
“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”
“Blessed are the Meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice for they shall be satisfied.”
I was shocked at how upside down, counter-intuitive, and provocative, these ancient announcements are.
Surely the crushed in spirit and those who mourn aren’t blessed, are they? What about those without power or who are unseen? Or those who lack justice and ache for it, surely they aren’t blessed?
That’s when I began to realize that I had the idea of blessing all wrong.
I discovered that the blessing in these announcements is Presence. When life doesn’t follow our instructions, and we get knocked off track. When all gets flipped upside down, and we find ourselves at the end of our rope or the bottom of life. We want certainty and answers, a way out of our mess, but what we are offered is Divine Presence. God is on our side.
Seeing blessing this way changes everything. Perhaps we’ve grown up asking for nice things and seeing these as blessings, you know, like when we need a parking space and one “miraculously” appears (I’m laughing here).
But Jesus wants us to know what God is already blessing with His Presence and invites us to push alongside these things.
The first four “poor” Beatitudes are about Grace. The Presence of God for those at the bottom of life.
The second half or “help” Beatitudes are about the invitation to live a different way.
“Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown Mercy.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, and justice for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
There is so much to unpack here. What does Mercy look like in the twenty-first century during a pandemic? What is a pure heart? Is this about moral purity, or is it about a divided heart? What is a peacemaker? And how do we find peace within ourselves as well as in our contested spaces?
We know that persecution happens in other countries, but what does this “persecution announcement” mean to someone like me in a town with 900 churches? I’m not going to be persecuted for my faith.
I have a curious and artistic mind, and I began to create. Songs, writings, prayers, meditations…
I sought out a community of people who somehow embody The Beatitudes, and I wanted to find a way to tell their stories. The Beatitudes Project was born.
The Beatitudes Project is an album of songs, a documentary film, a book called Words From The Hill, painted art, poetry, a podcast, and a study for groups and individuals wrapped in an easy to access online eCourse.
Our objective is to see what life could look like if we live through The Beatitudes’ lens.
Are you overwhelmed by all that’s happening in the world?
You are not alone.
Together we can see what the View From Here looks like—a world with more compassion and kindness, where engagement is greater than tolerance.
Where the poor find help, the grieving find comfort, the meek acknowledged, those who ache for justice find justice.
A world where Mercy flows and extends in every direction, hearts become whole, and peace is the norm.
Check this out: The Beatitudes Project is an album of songs, a documentary film, a book called Words From The Hill, painted art, poetry, a podcast, and a study for groups and individuals wrapped in an easy to access online eCourse.
In The Beatitudes Project eCourse, they begin by learning how to listen. Then we hear stories from the poor in India and “the poor” on Wall Street. Stories from refugees and those we see as “other.” Stories of Mercy from a woman who spent 27 years on death row and survivors of prostitution, addiction, and trafficking along with a song about Mercy from Amy Grant. We went to The Holy Land to learn from Israeli and Palestinian Peacemakers. We learn from some Holy Troublemakers about swimming upstream against the dominant powers in the world. There are many other stories, and you’ll see some folks you will recognize who so generously came alongside and collaborated with me both in story and songs.
Teachers, artists, musicians, poets, and activists, such as; Hillsong United, Shane Claiborne, John Mark Mcmillan, Becca Stevens, Matt Maher, Audrey Assad, Amanda Cook, Jeremy Courtney, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Martin Smith, Propaganda, Terrian Bass, and All Sons and Daughters to name a few. Many more incredible people contributed to this project.
Here’s your invitation to join Stu on the Mount of The Beatitudes. He encourages you to look at The Beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew, Chapter 5, and listen to Jesus’ words with fresh ears. Stu’s prayer is that you would hear the invitation to a different way of being in the world and that these words of Jesus will become your anthem of hope.
Please visit TheBeatitudesProject.com and see all the resources they have in the eCourse. In regards to the beautiful Beatitude art prints in this post – they are in integral part of the project, but not available for purchase. The prints are part of the eCourse, available to download on your device.