Referendums

Just before we left Spain on Friday the result was in. It was always going to be a close result. I have made no secret of which was I voted – not because it was the right way to vote – and knew many (maybe more) who were voting out. So first, a big respect to those of you who voted by conviction ‘out’. I am aware that it was possible to vote ‘out’ for selfish, xenophobic reasons but that not every ‘out’ vote was for those reasons. One of the challenges with respect to voting, which can be increased on a simple in / out referendum such as we have just had, is that all the issues are subsumed under that binary.

Normally we have to acknowledge that our vote is not the right one. We can and should make the one we consider is the most redemptive one. The one that can help facilitate the best future for society, and making that choice is not an easy one. My view of what is redemptive and the best future might well not align with someone else’s call on that.

Today Spain goes to the election box again and hopefully before we go to bed tonight we will have some idea of where that result is going to land. We cannot vote in a national Spanish election but if we could we would put our cross in the box we think is the most redemptive one. Challenging… some of those in that party were in their youth members of the communist party, and the party has formed an alliance with another party (IU) that was a catch-me-all party for the left, so had pulled in what was the communist party of Spain.

Politics, and in particular, political parties are never going to bring in the kingdom of God. We might never be able to cast the right vote, but we can always think redemptively. The jury is out on the Brexit from a redemptive point of view – and it would also be out should the vote had gone the other way. What remains (no pun intended) is the positioning of the body of Christ within the UK in relation to Europe, and the response to the Gospel mandate of openness to the alien, orphan and widow.

If the Brexit marks the end of an era for wider European co-operation under the EU umbrella that will be sad, unless in the messy aftermath it provokes a new way of co-operating together and serving one another. It will probably be difficult for that new way to surface in the immediate future, but the trans-national, alien present body of Christ holds the keys to that. It will have to begin, as always, with a response to neighbours, and the embrace too of the ‘other’ that is close to hand.

Now, of course, back on the table comes the Scottish possibility of a ‘leave / remain’ referendum. Maybe Scotland needs to lay down her rights to serve in the current instability? However, the parallels are remarkable.

In all of this at a family of God level we have to go to a much higher level. If we bow at the foot of nationalism as our identity, or in signing up to make our nation great again then I do not think we have considered at any depth the new identity that we have in Christ. I would love to see a new style of politics arise, not a putting down of the ‘opposition’ but a journeying together for the common good. A new media that does not shut down the minority voices but speaks from and for the margins.

So still with hope for Europe, still looking to the first century seed in the ground to spring up. If it does we know that there is healing for the nations.

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Fear masquerading as a warning

I have just been scribbling some replies to people who kindly dropped us emails after our latest newsletter. In replying to one I began to write about the encouraging signs when things that have previously been untouched begin to enter the conversation and even headlines in a land. With the forthcoming election in Spain in mind I wrote to this person:

Such unbelievable fear of the unknown – all couched in language of avoiding the dangers of the past.

As I wrote that I thought – now that is an insight worth getting hold of. I wonder how often we seek to control the unknown and to do so we pull back holding on to the wisdom we have learnt and the dangers that were so present but we managed to avoid them (or so we claim!). I consider this is very true at this time in Spain, and probably across many other lands where the old way of callibrating things has gone, but the new proposals are not being welcomed or even considered. The real reason being a fear of the unknown, but the reason given for the pull back being that the proposals are the past radical ideas simply re-surfacing that we managed to avoid.

Seems to be the situation as we listen to the ‘sensible’ voices in Spain in the run up to this election. Paint something as extreme, make it implicitly reference civil war type language (1936-39) and an appeal to avoid the dangers that Spain managed to escape then and we can pull things in the sensible direction. Of course those sensible voices might well have much more insight than I have, but I do think the issue remains.

The people called to ‘boldly go’ is the church, the people whose orientation is not shaped from what is, nor what has been, but from what is not and what has not yet been. For them the fear of the unknown is a snare that has to be avoided. Thank God for the wisdom voices that can reflect on the past, but now is the time for the voices of those who are dreaming of a future that has not been.

If we lay aside the fear of the unknown we might have to embrace the resulting very real dangers to be encountered on the new path. If we hide the fear of the unknown we might appear wise and avoid repeating the dangers of the past… however, we will repeat the past but now in a different context.

A strange PS: In this final week in Spain opinion polls are not legitimate to publish. So? Andorra (an independent principality in the north) can publish opinion polls which are then released in Spain, but released as emoticons reflecting the weight of various fruits, but in the colours of the various parties!! A smart and amusing way round the legalities. So who knows what kind of fruit we are gong to get elected to parliament this time round?

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1 in 113 displaced

The UN estimates that 1 in 113 people on the planet are either refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of 5m in a year. Same report says spirit of xenophobia has taken hold of Europe.

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Sovereignty, suffering, and a little comment on the Brexit

Been a while since I have posted, and no real reason and no excuses. Certainly cannot blame God – ‘he stopped me blogging’ will not quite stack up!! A little trivial example but we can so quickly suggest God’s deep involvement in our activities. So with that as a terrible backdrop I am putting a few things together in this post that all suggest an involvement from heaven that might be beyond what is justifiable.

A few days ago I read a tweet along the lines of ‘Power and patriarchy means that to have a God in control we have to insist on a God who controls everything’. I have not quoted it exactly as it is from memory, but that was the content more or less. I would change the wording a little as ‘control’, even in the sense of ‘in control’ is too strong. However, it remains that too often we resort to a God of power and a sovereignty backed up by (all-mighty) power as being the means by which God will achieve ultimate order.

I think on a number of fronts there is a divide between two gospels, or at least two divergent approaches to the one gospel, that makes for a small and uncomfortable overlap where working together can be achieved, and by uncomfortable I mean on both ‘sides’. One of these fronts is on the sovereignty / love approaches. Language is one of the primary means by which meaning is expressed and the words ‘God is sovereign’ almost always carry with them the concept of a God in control by nature of his might and power. The love stream rejects such a view of sovereignty, and can even question whether God is ‘in control’ certainly in the sense of everything reflecting his sovereign will. (I will come back to this below.)

I did eventually learn how to spell the surname of the man with the first name ‘John’ who had a connection to Geneva, but even having mastered that I never did quite get to the point of submitting to the contents of his Institutes – hey at least I bought my own copy!! So not being a great fan of that theological approach, it will be no surprise that the people over at the Gospel Coalition have not really won me over either. It is amazing that given how sincere and godly they are that my approach and their’s are poles apart. Here is a short clip on suffering. I respect their faith, indeed what might be seen as their unquestioning belief which is founded on their approach to Scripture. To be able to say that the death of a one year old brings glory to God even if we cannot understand that shows a level of faith that is incredible. I simply question if this is reflective of biblical faith.

That God works in the midst of suffering is a given – the cross tells us this. That Scripture over and over connects suffering, time and glory is another given. Maybe when I have no answer I, even in my despair over Syria or the continual bombings in Iraq since ‘we’ went to bring about a new order, think that maybe in the age to come God will put things right for those who have been caught up in that suffering, whether they have faith in him or not. I like to think there has to be some answer from the cross for those people.

Rom. 8:28 is quoted in the video:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

This verse is applied by Paul to believers – not just from the phrase ‘those who love God’ but from the wider context of the Spirit within us groaning (parallel to the Spirit’s groan within creation). We can have a confidence that whatever comes our way as we respond to God, he will enter into our situation as a redeemer, there is in that sense a level of eternal purpose and value. We are those who God values as being instruments for a good outcome for the whole of creation. This does not mean that God sends those ‘all things’, nor that those ‘all things’ are either good nor are they the ‘will of God’. Translation wise we can either translate it with ‘God works all things’, in the sense of he is involved within our space regardless of what comes up, or that, as above, the ‘all things work together…’ We can go either way as the verb has no direct subject, either way it seems that Paul’s point is not about a sovereign God who ordains all things but a God deeply involved with us even in our weaknesses. So I con’t go to the place where the video goes. No that path from divine sovereignty is not the one for me.

Suffering in Scripture is predominantly about suffering for the Gospel’s sake, and that is not through being confrontational in our presentation but accepting that to live godly we have to stand with the oppressed against the power of the status quo. Death does not bring glory to God, how one handles the issues surrounding death are where glory is brought to God or not. Death is a statement not of the will of God but of the state of creation, but when we look to the cross we see that death is not the final word – there is hope beyond.

So a final little angle. The ‘brexit’ vote. Right or wrong? Not being one who sees any substance to a ‘revived Roman empire’ and consider that is missing the whole issue of imperial rule that far from being defeated by withdrawal only empowers it. To resist sovereignty with sovereignty!!?? And as one who sees ‘one world government’ and the like as the very thing Jesus came to undo then so as we can work for a new future now, all the fear of losing a Christian heritage does not connect with me at all. (I also think we confuse a so-called Christian heritage for an imposition of Christendom values.)

For those who are coming at this with a sovereign hat on… if that hat is placed on God’s head then we have to be careful not to resist his will – as if we could!! What if the EU us all about the rise of antiChrist? To resist his rise might be to resist the will of God. To aid his rise does not seem right either. Paralysis, normally spelt fear, anxiety and let me repeat what others have said so as I am not alone in my paralysis. And for those who insist on ‘take back our sovereignty’, how far do we take it back – Scotland, maybe Orkney needs to go free from the loss of sovereignty too? Or are we to look to find a new place to serve in a wider context – all for the sake of the other?

Well the vote will take place in a few days time. Before and after the vote God will work within whatever is given to him for the sake of his world. If we suffer as a result let it be for the sake of the Gospel, and let us not lay the suffering ticket at God’s door.

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God led me

Been thinking, but my thoughts are not always so deep and profound, so here are a few reflections on the above title. We believe we are doing what the Lord wants us to do – at least most of the time we can affirm that. It shapes our response to invitations, personal and corporate. It shapes our time and what we give ourselves to, what we prioritise. And in all that there are times we simply do whatever comes up without a great amount of consideration to the ‘why’ of doing it. My guess is that is pretty much how we all approach life.

So we can say ‘God led me’ with some measure of conviction – but what does that really mean? I am reflecting on the set of posts with respect to the trajectory from corporate priesthood through to Temple (which I obviously found were so good that I put them together as an e-book: A Redemptive Trajectory!!). In that reflection where God goes with the people where they go. He ‘leads’ them in the choice of a king (both Saul and David). But what does that mean? He leads them on a course where the very base of it is out of kilter.

That is the humbling part of ‘God led me’. Yes he probably did, but it does not mean that I would be on the same course had I been in a different, a better a higher place in God and the understanding of the kingdom at the time of decision making.

God leads but it seems he leads within our limitations, within our understandings, within our weaknesses – the ones that are obvious and ones that are hidden. Likewise we prophesy and God is in it. This is also what we see in Scripture. The law does not reveal the will of God, but it points toward his will, his will being revealed in personal not propositional terms in the life of Jesus.

We can be confident that God does and will lead us. We should also be somewhat humble in our affirmation that we have heard God and are ‘at the centre of his will’ even when he is showing up all around us and in what we are doing – after all where else is he going to show up?!!

Thank God he leads us. Thank God he is with us, and by the grace of God his leading will change over time – as I change.

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Did you hear (of) him?

Romans 10:13 is a great promise regardless of being a Jew or a Gentile:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

And then Paul goes into his faith comes from hearing argument and working back from that he gives a significant role to the ‘one who preaches’, which was one of the works of the apostle – I suggest that contextually we should not think pulpit and neither should we limit the ‘preaching’ to three points but should include the political (small ‘p’ but a very real ‘p’) aspect of the gospel, particularly when the Isaiah beautiful feet passage he quotes is of the deliverance from the imperial powers.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom. 10:14-17.)

A justification for ‘telling’ people is Paul’s words ‘and how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard’. The most important aspect then is to get the facts (the gospel truth) across. We have then discharged our responsibility, and those who hear are then fully accountable. Of course the last statement has presented a dilemma for some: would they be less guilty if they had not heard, thereby being judged by the light they have, rather than by the gospel? (An aside: I think this springs from a negative view of salvation as if it is primarily salvation from hell, thus reducing salvation to a non-NT understanding of being safe, rather than the predominantly positive perspective of being saved.)

And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?

I think there is a major adjustment we have to make in our thinking on this aspect of discharging our responsibility, or that our responsibility is discharged once we have ‘told them the gospel’. The Greek language when using the verb ‘to hear’ uses the normal object when referring to something that is heard. For example ‘I heard a sound’ would take the object (known as the accusative case). But if we were to hear a person speak this would not take the accusative but would switch to the genitive (possessive case ‘of’). We have here the genitive case which I strongly suggest should not be translated as ‘hear of / about him’ but should be translated ‘hear him’ in the sense of ‘hear his living voice’. This is what we would expect as I believe it is the voice of the person that is being referred to, not facts about the person. This then makes sense of the closing part: faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. It is not hearing about Christ it is hearing Jesus that brings about faith, to hear his voice makes all the difference.

The goal is not somehow to communicate facts, to get people through the door where they will hear truth, nor even to get them on a course, it is to be faithful to Jesus so that those we live among hear, through words and lifestyle, the very voice of Jesus. Those who truly hear can begin a journey of faith. Those who speak need to speak in such a way that Jesus is heard and not simply a set of facts (even if those facts were correct). If our words are purely ‘spiritual’ perhaps we are not being communicators of Jesus. If only our words communicate maybe we need to think again.

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Sovereignty and walls

As I still wait for my postal vote re the EU referendum to come I read two articles this morning that I want to give a heads up on.

I recall someone I have got to know in the past couple of years on the morning of 9-11 many hours before the events at the twin towers hearing the Holy Spirit say ‘today the world will change for ever’. We live in a world that is changing rapidly. In such times there are incredible pulls back to an old way (Jesus said no one drinking new wine wants it – the old being considered so much better) and there is also a supply of new thought to sustain change.

‘The EU will mean a loss of sovereignty’, so goes a common argument. And there is a sense in which this makes sense if we are objecting to decisions being made by unaccountable and un-rooted office bearers that dictate life on the street. With that I have sympathy and wrote a few days ago about friends in Romania who had to supply water within a narrow temperature spectrum to kids on a rubbish dump. Such bureaucracy is ‘demonic’ as it is not enabling the release of life. However, too often the sovereignty word is used with theological baggage that defends an insularity and a closing of doors. Roger argues that the way of love is to see sovereignty weakened not upheld.

Giles article in the Guardian… well better just read it. Here is a challenging quote:

In this era of advanced globalisation, we believe in free trade, in the free movement of goods, but not in the free movement of labour. We think it outrageous that the Chinese block Google, believing it to be everyone’s right to roam free digitally.

The world has changed for ever. It did way back at the Cross, but I suspect that the manifestation of that Universal impact manifests in specific historical time-spans in the most incredible ways. In our era it changed so significantly. As Giles points out globalisation on the one hand is pulling us together and polarisation is keeping us more separate than ever. What kind of globalisation do we want to be involved in? One that further polarises or one that breaks down the dividing walls.

Last night on a news program Varoufakis was speaking concerning Spain. He said that Spain is not Greece (size of economy in particular) and can in and through these next elections (June 26) move in a direction to save Europe from itself. I commented to Gayle – the apostolic Gospel is in the soil of this land, could it be that he is unknowingly pulling on that?

The world has changed… the gospel has not, but our understanding of the implications and potential impact of the gospel is changing. The gospel speaks into globalisation and economics and has the power of salvation within it – even to the saving of a continent that (in myth and reality) is the child of rape.

While I wait for my postal vote to come I also read that apparently, by mistake, some EU (but non-UK) citizens have been sent papers to vote! A little ironic… yet sometimes others see what is best for us!

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