The fullness of times

Why did Jesus come when he came – why not much earlier, circumvent Abraham, Moses etc.? Assuming – based on Scripture which helps with assumptions!! – that God’s intention was always that of Incarnation, why the ‘delay’ in coming? In Galatians there is the phrase ‘when the fullness of times had come’:

In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal. 4:3-5).

An inadequate interpretation (and a very modernistic one) was that when there was the Pax Romana, effective transportation and communication in place and so the gospel could spread easily as a result that Jesus came at that opportune time. So the fullness of times is reduced to a pragmatic issue! However, writing to the ‘we’ (Jews) the fullness of times was when there was a bondage to the elemental principles (ta stoicheia). He goes on to strongly chastise the Gentile converts in Galatia for being influenced by the Judaisers and through their influence turning to the Jewish law. Before conversion they were enslaved to non-gods and now in turning to the law they were only going to be enslaved again to worthless elementary principles (ptocha stoicheia – same as before with the derisory ‘poverty stricken’ added). Jews and Gentiles alike in bondage to these ‘elemental spirits’.

So the fullness of times seems more related to a level of bondage than to anything practical. It was when there was domination at a level that enslaved the whole world, with even the Jews subject to the law in a non-liberating, enslaving relationship.

Jesus came, I suggest, at a time when there was the maximum amount of slavery to binding principles (elemental spirits) that manifested to dominate and crush all, Jew and Gentile alike. In coming at that time, Jesus, came to redeem the slaves at their low point in order to not simply set the slaves free but to destroy the yoke of slavery once and for all. Had he come earlier this slavery would not have reached a level of fullness whereby it could be fully broken. Jesus was born under the law (Jewish), born of a woman (human so not only for Jews but also for Gentiles, for all of humanity) at a time when all things were in place for the total domination of humanity. That domination is maybe best described as ‘bio-power’ – the consuming of human life itself (yes I am listening to, and maybe learning from, Gayle as she writes up her dissertation!!!).

Consuming is where it all began to go wrong, and that initial consumption of the forbidden fruit leads eventually to the inevitable consumption of human lives. Jesus the only true human allows himself to be consumed, rather than consume. He is consumed by the powers – religious, political, economic, demonic – for in eating him they can become like God, or better they can dispossess God and fully set in place a rebel government based on ‘might is right’. The submission of Jesus, to death, even the death on the cross is what breaks this power, it establishes love within the world and throughout all of creation. Love proves to be the currency that opens the door to freedom. Not power, not appeasement but love.

The presentation of the atonement as satisfaction to God (his honour as per Anselm, or the law and justice as per the Reformation) falls far short of the NT presentation. What is missing in the world is the presence of God, and at the cross ‘God was in Christ’ going to the depths so as from the lowest point to the highest point there could be a filling of all things with his presence.

The fullness of times – the hold that the powers had is gone.

Could we again be coming to a fullness of times? Could there be the complete re-imagining of the body of Christ in and through the earth to stand redemptively so as humanity does not totally self-destruct on the forbidden fruit?

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The gift of isolation?

Community is in the heart of God. Trinitarian belief, the corporate ‘my people’, ‘it is not good for the man to be alone’… all point to community as not simply beneficial but healthy existence. When community is denied a person there is loss and pain. Given the norm of community and the lack of it that many experience I write cautiously what follows. I also write from our personal context here.

We have a strong conviction that over these next couple of decades many will find themselves uprooted from their former setting. We believe that thousands will re-locate to the cities and regions across Europe as the continent is re-seeded not simply with a gospel of words but an incarnated gospel of people (Mk. 13 parable #1 ‘seed’ = ‘word of the Lord’; parable #2 ‘seed’ = ‘people of the Lord’). In the relocation some will go with distinct purpose and vision, others will go by ‘circumstance’. If we come from a background of (Christian) community there are a few surprises waiting for us.

‘Clubs’ give us ready made friends. Many believers do not need to connect to others, the construct is what provides the context where they find the friends. This is not a bad thing in itself but all clubs by default insulate, they separate, and more so when we have no need of connecting external to that club. This is also accentuated if one held a measure of leadership within that club context. Friendship-making outside that context and with those who do not share the same world-view is a challenge – Paul, even with an incredibly developed world-view, achieved this (Acts 19: 31).

Appreciating beliefs that are different are wonderfully challenging. A gospel that is insulated can make sense when one is also isolated… but against the context of other beliefs can be deeply challenged. This, from what I understand, is what brought Steve Chalke to describe penal substitutionary atonement as ‘cosmic child abuse’. Our gospel is ‘foolishness to the Greeks’ but this does not mean there is no coherence to it. To re-examine the gospel is no bad thing. And certainly when one realises that the Western Protestant versions do not have a monopoly on interpretation opens up a few healthy doors.

Separation from the known, entering the liminal spaces, are so necessary for growth. Richard Rohr apparently recently described fundamental evangelicalism as ‘religion in its early phase’. He, being a Catholic, might indicate where development should take such a fundamentalist, whereas I would go in a totally different direction!

In transitioning into adulthood in many tribal scenarios there is a commonality to many of the rituals. What is in common is the removal of the known surroundings and boundaries, and the entering into a disorientating world. This is necessary for growth.

Yesterday we (Gayle and I) speculated that perhaps there is now the possibility of a fresh (Christian) movement, not one simply based on guilt and forgiveness at a personal level though probably with deep roots within that, but one focused on the body of Christ as the ‘soul’ of the world, the priesthood in the earth. If so I think that isolation will be one of the gifts from heaven to act as a catalyst for the conversion that is needed. Maybe Christian community will have to become (for a period, or maybe permanently) less of a defining element? Community, acceptance and accepting, is vital for healthy human existence, but those who have a vision for healthy community probably need to experience some measure of isolation along the way. To those much further down the road than I, thank you.

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The day to begin all days

He is risen!

There would have been no controversy if the disciples had decided to proclaim that ‘He is alive’, in the sense of life after death. The very concept of resurrection is so foundational to the Jewish / Christian faith and it was the claim that he was physically risen that caused the ensuing conflicts.

‘Life after death’ is such a popular concept as many cultures find it hard to believe that what we get in this life is all. Remarkably it is hard to know if Jews or Christians believed in life after death (the Scriptures are vague, though I tend to go for ‘yes they did’) but what is clear is they believed in resurrection at an appointed future date (OK, exception: Sadduccees).

Of the many implications of the resurrection here are a couple:

Time is no longer simply linear. This does not have a bearing on ‘God in time / God is an eternal now’ but it does mean that events can happen out of sequence. Not only was Jesus raised – as firstfruits – but a whole bunch of saints also were raised (Matthew 27:52,53 – NB after his resurrection). OK, Jesus we understand but the others? I hesitate to say where this thought really helps me, but it is the only explanation I come up with for the trauma that is found in certain places and why I am very happy to help move on the unquiet dead in those situations.

The resurrection is the affirmation of God over humanity. Jesus is raised human. The Psalmist might have been blown away meditating on ‘what is humanity that you are mindful of us’ but when we meditate on the resurrection it pushes everything into another dimension. ‘What do you think of humanity, Lord?’ and the resurrection has to be the central evidence brought forward. Mind-blowing in the extreme. The resurrection is what guarantees the future. He did not let his body decay, and he will not let us be destroyed, nor that which is physical creation. There is a future day… and if patterned on the resurrection a future climactic day, not one we will simply evolve toward.

There is nothing more central to our faith than an open tomb, historically set in the context of other tombs that were not empty. As we stare in the empty tomb we can begin to see dimly, and at a distance, what gradually becomes clear, we see a mass of humanity and God’s creation also in the tomb and the hope rises that one day they too will be ‘risen’. If this be true we have hope.

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Reminders

Passion week, Good Friday… never having come from a tradition with a church calendar those terms don’t mean too much to me as dates, yet I guess letting them act as reminders and prompts to remember and focus on the events behind those dates can only be helpful.

If you are from that tradition then you will have material to help you focus. I submit three articles today.

Francis washing feet
Pope Francis washing and kissing ‘human’ feet

I put as the caption ‘human’ feet. Jesus, the truly human one washed feet. In all the conflicts of the world we have to see people. Francis says we are all ‘children of God’, and our views of redemption cannot obliterate that creational reality.

In a powerful gesture of interfaith embrace, the pontiff knelt down before a group of eight men and four women, among whom were Muslims, Coptic Christians and one Hindu. (Source: Huffington Post

Carrying on the issue of conflict, which ultimately is the theme of Easter, not one of conflict between God and people, but one between Jesus (the truly human One) and the powers, I read a very well reasoned article by Omar Almatour on why he as a ‘proud American, raised in Texas… a college student… a humanitarian… an aspiring physician… someone who hopes to revolutionize access to medicine and healthcare in the United States and in war-torn countries across the world’ and a Muslim pleads that to be asking Muslims to apologise for terrorism is wrong. If you find yourself reacting to this, read the article. We can speak once we have listened. I appreciated the tone of his article, my only counter would be from the standpoint of that of Identificational repentance – something that I have had many believers tell me is meaningless! So maybe I have some ground to stand on when I suggest that apologies are appropriate, but it seems many of us in the West are sinning twice (my Easter meditation!) when we do not take responsibility for the aweful sins committed in the name of Jesus, and yet demonise a whole host of people who distance themselves from and are themselves as a group are the biggest victims of the atrocities. (Article.)

My third ‘meditation’ is from the Anglican Giles Fraser on Iraq and the huges challenges that the Christian population there face. In 2003 there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. Now it’s about 300,000 and still dropping fast. (http://theguardian.com.)

No, none of the above are easy meditations. I don’t know how (theory of the atonement) but I do believe that in the fullness of time, Jesus came, and absolutely drained all the God-opposing (and human-opposing) forces of their authority, not through might but through submission, through death, even death on the cross. His claim through the ages is that ‘It is finished’. His work is done. He did it all, once for all, and one for all.

Now what remains is the apostolic gospel both of proclamation and of ‘work’ to ‘make up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ’.

I am eternally grateful for the cross. I am deeply grateful for all whose lives, words and actions that communicate the reconciliation that took place at the cross. Before we come to Easter in a year’s time there will be many more whose lives will have been surrendered for the sake of reconciliation. We long for the new creation that resurrection signals is coming.

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Do not vote for the believer!!!!

I read a text yesterday that caused me to stop and think, as well as it amusing me:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler — not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:9-12)

So reading this text yesterday it caused me to think somewhat tangentially. An old line thinking was a straight line to church discipline and removal from fellowship. Easy, though defining what is meant by ‘guilty of greed’ or ‘is an idolator’ is always going to be somewhat more problematic than ‘guilty of sexual immorality’, but then even with that description we have to assume that it only relates to sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage. ‘Assuming’ and bringing definition to these injunctions indicates that it is not always as easy as appears at first reading. However laying that on one side, I had both a funny and an interesting thought…

There is a myth that if we get the right person (God’s person) to the top of government we will then move in the right direction. I describe it as a myth – it seems to fly totally in the face of Luke 3:1-3 and Rev. 4,5 and also the whole thrust of the following-Jesus subversive movement that I see in the NT. Here is the funny thought. So often we, or at least Christians with the conviction of ‘get the top position’, want to know if the person has made a confession of faith. If they have, even though they might exhibit some elements of racism, biggotism, excessive exploitative life-style, they are worthy of the ‘Christian vote’. But in the light of the passage I thought, but how are we to respond if the person has made a confession of faith but is ‘greedy’ (to pick one item from Paul’s example list)?, Does the instruction not to eat with that person mean I need to distance myself and that they of all people cannot get my vote. For once they ‘bear the name of a brother / sister’ I am supposed not to associate with them. While maybe if they were not a believer they could get my vote?

Amused me. The deeper issue remains – Caesar’s throne or heaven’s? Greatest of all or servant of all?

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Lord have mercy?

The horrendous scenario in Brussels yesterday is the reminder of the change in our world that took place since 2001. On that morning in September a friend pulled into a garage to fill his car with petrol and heard ‘today the world changes forever’. From there he joined some fellow church leaders to inform them of what he heard. Not able to explain what would unfold they prayed. Later that day (UK time zone) they saw what we all saw with the Twin Towers.

Madrid

How do we respond? In Madrid a right wing group hoisted a sign by a main mosque on the major ring road ‘Today Brussels, tomorrow Madrid’. Then threw flares to the mosque. Thank God they did not try to set fire to it, but now imagine how threatened those minority Muslims in Spain feel, and how incensed those with a middle eastern memory are at having lost Spain through violence.

If the church is the priesthood and a holy nation where does the gospel require us to stand?

If 9-11 indicated that the world has changed forever amd we have been touched by a redemptive God there are now opportunities, in this new context, to discover how God will work to manifest a new creation. The prayer is maybe not ‘God have mercy’ but a call to one another in the body of Christ:

Put away any militancy of spirit, do not let fear and anxiety cloud your mind, and learn again that the Lord requires, needs us to show mercy.

The world has changed. The body of Christ has an unprecedented opportunity.

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We now have all the answers

We are just in process of tidying up from a few days together where we shared our stories, passions, difficulties and aspirations all within the broad canvas of ‘what is the gospel?’ The ‘we’ were: Craig and Kate (Oliva – been in Spain for 10 years); Noel and Tricia (Palma de Mallorca); Simon and Amy (Cádiz); Rachael (Tenerife). It was a privilege to hear from each other, and to be part of the openness and the willingness to listen to each other.

One thing is for sure is that we do not have all the answers as a result of being together. Yet I think the desired outcome of being strengthened and encouraged to follow whatever God has put in each person’s heart was more than achieved. Being present over these days illustrated to me that we desperately need situations where the open-ended questions can be asked. Truth is there to be discovered

I cannot possibly summarise all the discussion and prayer, but I think for me the conviction was strengthened that the overall proclamation of the gospel is that Jesus is risen from the dead and that there is a new way of being the world that is now possible in the here and now and will be manifest in fullness in the future. From that flows everything about economics, politics etc. Within that big picture proclamation there is the invitation to forgiveness and to be endued by the Spirit to enable participation in the Jesus-mission. The world needs the church – the salt within society that promotes kingdom growth and hinders the growth of evil, domination and destruction.

Those who do not respond to the personal message within the gospel can still be released to contribute kingdom activity, they can contribute to the future. And our perspective would be that the church over the past decades have opened space for less-than-perfect expressions more appropriate to the new humanity than before.

As I have increasingly embraced this wider view of the gospel it has left me with unanswered questions also, yet I think those questions are healthy. The church becomes at one level less about the community of the ‘saved’ and more about a movement for change in the wider community that it is connected to / is responsible for.

We did also look together at Brad Jersak’s presentation of ‘the gospel in chairs’. Well worth a look:

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Is this the gospel?

Our friend, Elly Lloyd emailed me a poem she wrote a few years ago, saying ‘I wrote this about three years ago,I didn’t really understand it then, but I knew it wasn’t the time, so I held it. I dug it out of my rusty old trunk today knowing I should send it to you and Gayle!’

Well the timing is great… so go ahead read:

Is this the gospel?

 

 

it’s more about trusting than knowing

it’s more about becoming smaller in the worlds eyes

    than growing

  it’s more about losing

    than gaining ground

  it’s more about letting go

    than holding on

    it’s more about weakness

    than staying strong

      it’s more about walking with others

        than going ahead

            it’s more about listening

            than what’s being said

            it’s more about giving than taking

          to where more becomes less

                and poor is rich

              it’s more about revolution than revolt

              to humbly live with the questions

                and ask

              is this the gospel?

 

 

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Ada Colau – mopping floors

The mayoress of Barcelona (Ada Colau) was recently criticised that she was uneducated and disrespectful to a particular institution, saying that in a healthy society she would be mopping floors. Her reply: “ser alcaldesa y fregar suelos es compatible; ser machista y concejal, no.” To be a mayoress and to mop floors is compatible, to be a chauvinist and a city counsellor is not.

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