OffLine and OnRoad

Thursday – tomorrow – we are off… off line pretty much but… much more important off on the road. Not totally sure when we will be back – early September. Hoping to drive north through Zaragoza, on to the north coast, then into France, back across the north coast to the extreme West to Galicia (Pontevedra), then Madrid and home again. The north of Spain holds some keys to new ways of thinking so we hope to pray into that. Immediately after our visit there last year and praying into the constitution we noted a level of discussion around the constitution that we had not observed before. We will visit Pamplona – again – and give the bull running issue another good old kick. After being there last year we noted, either, more coverage on the protests or more protests this year. Could all be coincidental but following convictions seem to be key.

We have been praying into the request of Caleb’s daughter (Judges) for the upper and the lower springs. The lower springs, the place of refreshment and meditation is where we are now, and are literally at sea level and in a place where there is a high water table due to underground rivers. Madrid – the high land – is the place we are requesting. Interesting as well that we have been focusing on one of the higher parts of Madrid in our prayers. And on the road… this time last year we visited Huesca the birth place of San Lorenzo. Had some interesting aspects there as we were met by (Saint – not really) George, but came away with we need to get mobile, sleep in a van and drive wherever we need to drive to. Well tomorrow is the first day we go off with bed in van. So we are expecting to see some shifts.

If not? Just will be good to be on the road and maybe good for us to be pretty much off-line.

We are convinced that Spain holds some undiscovered – and almost certainly some surprising – keys that ultimately will be related in some way to the Pauline Gospel.


Evangelise or bear witness #2?

I was very provoked by Geoff’s comment on the previous post about the challenge the ‘evangelists’ have in the West and whether their task is to teach the church to witness. And this post is one in process. I was brought up to either take every opportunity to share one’s faith, even carry a tract, or maybe feel a little guilty afterward about missing an opportunity. Now a few disclaimers (or disclosures) that will reveal a process I have been on for decades.

I have covered in the series on eschatology why I do not believe the Bible teaches the eternal punishing of ‘sinners’. In summary: the soul is not immortal; God alone has immortality; the tree of life was barred to humanity so that ‘they might not live forever’; the imagery drawn is from Sodom and Gomorrah, they being destroyed by eternal fire and all that remained was the smoke of their torment, and from the closing verses of Isaiah where ‘their worm did not die’, the fire was not quenched but the result was non-existence. This is the difference between eternal punishing and eternal punishment. One is unending and ongoing, the other (at some stage) final and irreversible. I also consider that many of the warnings in the Gospel are concerning the ‘hell’ of AD70, so not relevant to the issue of eternal destiny.

Then I lean to the blurred line position of ‘all who receive Christ’ are saved (we then have to wait to see what it means to receive Christ – what about those who received an image of Christ, and how perverted is an image until it is no longer a Christ but an anti-(replacing the authentic) Christ?), and all who ‘reject Jesus are lost’ (again what does it mean to ‘reject’ Christ). This is not a Universalist position but holds solidly to the universal inclusion through the Cross. This gives room for those to be included in the age to come who have not come through the narrow door that those from an evangelical / fundamentalist background have been (implicitly) taught to work with. Though it needs to be noted that the above is well within the boundaries of evangelical faith.

This takes some of the angst out of the ‘one opportunity so quickly discharge your responsibility’. Other issues I have with the hard line ‘one opportunity’ scenario is that we can treat people as objects to be saved, preached to, or whatever. Something I think is far from the scenarios we find in the Gospels with Jesus or in the Acts with the Gospel mission. There was a ‘I-Thou’ relationship (to take out of context a quote) that seems to me to be about the encounters we read there. In many of the scenarios a giving in relationship was the context, and that takes time.

Then we come to look at the Pauline Gospel with some central elements concerning the death and resurrection that proclaim a new foundation for the world. A new creation is on its way because he is the ‘firstborn of all creation’, and (I think) by implication there was a new way to be society in the light of that. Paul could proclaim this in the market place alongside the other philosophers. The huge added dimension was a transcendent one, witnessed to by the inbreaking of heaven’s realities with miracles and the expulsion of demons. Immediate signs of another dimension, and subsequent signs of a different dimension evidenced socially if someone took a focus on the transformation among the marginalised.

For me then the proclamation of the ‘kingdom of God’ was not a three step 1) all sinned; 2) Jesus died for all; 3) receive him and you are saved. Hence I think our call and Paul’s preaching was ‘to bear witness’. This seems to accord with his desire to come to the Roman church to proclaim the Gospel, not to reduce this to work with them to ‘evangelise’.

Now the flip side. There is wonderfully more than enough evidence throughout the letters that personal salvation is a reality. Paul spoke of wanting all to be in his situation (minus the chains) when addressing the royal court. He wished for them to be as he was personally bonded to Christ.

This is why we need to be very sensitive to the ‘in the next five minutes I need to get across the deeply core aspect of the cross that Jesus was present to reconcile all to God’. If we call that evangelism, then let’s be very sensitive to evangelise. I simply think that is one aspect of bearing witness, and an aspect that if forced in another situation might not be a bearing of witness.

Praying for a sick person without explaining the four spiritual laws, digging someone’s garden or whatever might be the most powerful witness we can bring at a given time. Our witness is not to how good we are, nor to how bad someone is who is not a ‘believer’ but our witness is to Jesus, that there is a new creation here and coming.

So my tentative position is that we are to bear witness. We must resist the temptation to evangelise at all costs. We have to be passionate about Jesus so that we see people as he saw them. Perhaps to the religious person we might have to insist that without them being born again they will not even perceive the kingdom; maybe to the rich person we might need to exhort them to sell everything for without it they can never be free to enter bondship to Jesus; perhaps to the financial cheat we should go eat with them and only when they look to put right waht they have done do we take the liberty to proclaim that salvation has come to their household; maybe… Yes all gospel stories and ones centred in on Jesus’ ministry to Israel so they have their limitation, but maybe they also have enough provocation to bring me to repentance over the situations where I have opted to evaneglise when I should have born witness, or have missed on out on that specific opportunity to ‘evanglise’ when I opted to avoid it.


Evangelise or bear witness?

Yesterday I read the blog post from Scot McKight on Rethinking: Evangelism, and alongside reading Brian Zahnd’s book ‘Water to wine’ found them both very helpful.

McKnight starts by the push back on his own writings of (I summarise):

‘so now then how do we evangelise… what do we say in that 3-5 minutes when that might be the only conversation we have.’

This is a push back when we think beyond a person ‘going to heaven and needed the entry ticket’ – what then is evangelism?

Zahnd’s book is deeply moving as it is his personal journey of integrity. I cannot make the journey he has made (deeply sacramental and – my perspective – a staunch believer in the institution and liturgy of church) but he presented a similar scenario albeit by a different route in the pages we read together yesterday.

Both carry the label of ‘evangelical’, and although I sometimes question the validity of that label, in as much as it means having a centre in Jesus, salvation through his atoning death as revealed through the authority of Scripture then I too am probably happy with the label. The label describes some core beliefs for us all, and it is in that context the question of ‘then what about evangelism’ becomes important. The question becomes a relevant question when the Gospel is seen as broader than the four spiritual laws. And it becomes harder and harder to reduce the Gospel to those (or similar) kinds of laws / statements. The 3-5 minutes under the former viewpoint was easy, now what?

For Gayle and I we live deliberately missionally. In our opinion the call to follow Jesus necessitates that. I appreciate that the first call of Jesus to the apostolic band was to be with him (Mk. 3:13), the apostles were those who ate and drank with Jesus (Acts 10:41), so maybe I miss something in all this. Being (with) before doing and acting. However we think purpose. We think that way because we think all believers are called to live that way. However, we have stopped using that (missional) language because far from seeming to help others find purpose two things happened. A view that it is different for us – ‘you live in Spain’, as if an address makes a difference? (And it does at times – try living in Saudi Arabia, Syria etc… or in some Western nations that have all-but sold out to materialism.) And secondly, it seemed to carry an expectation that because we are living in Spain there are certain things we are / should be doing. So we use the phrase ‘living life’. This might become a less than useful phrase too. What we mean by the phrase is life centred on the values, teaching and person of Jesus, so the whole of life is shaped by that viewpoint, and I hasten to add ‘imperfectly’. Now we all live life – whatever our address, but a follower of Jesus has to be guilty of living life shaped by the One who died for their redemption.

Long paragraph there, but the reason is, McKnight, Zahnd or Scotts, who all see the Gospel as broader than the four spiritual laws have to answer the question of evangelism. We are not Universalists (too many Scriptures there for me), but neither do I automatically submit to all are off to hell at death except for the born-again ones, and partly as I see the ‘hell’ Scriptures as both having an AD70 application and that where they do not the issue is eternal punishment not eternal punishing. So maybe there is an easier, softer-edged approach to my theology, that avoids me living with the imagery that all are in a burning building and our task is to get as many out as possible by whatever means (evangelism that treats people as objects therefore is not too objectionable under that imagery). I still hold to ‘those who receive Jesus are saved’, so I want the whole world to receive Jesus. What then about evangelism?

McKnight used the word ‘witness’ in his post. I found a resonance in that. We are called to be witnesses to Jesus – we read this of course regarding the promise upon reception of the Spirit, where Jesus explicitly harnesses the Israel calling to the nations, as in Isaiah, conferring that on the disciples (Acts 1:8). The Acts 10:41 scripture I referred to above says:

but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

We are witnesses and perhaps all the better witnesses if we eat and drink with him. Lifestyle witnesses. That was why when the bank assistant swore at a reasonably high volume asking me to make some kind of monetary response, I had made a witness. She then said to me ‘I know money is not important to you’. Did I evangelise her, rebuke her for her use of the well known ‘-er’ verb? No but I bore witness. Off the back of that one day, maybe… But I am not about to exploit the situation.

Witnesses to values, based on following Jesus. He is the centre, not some facts about sinfulness and ‘wrath’. We can connect with people, we can confront racism, sexism, abuse, unfettered capitalism (note ‘unfettered’) all on the basis of our Jesus’ discipleship. We can resonate with activist groups that care for the poor, and when there is an opportunity we can explain the reason is ‘this so closely resonates with what our teacher instructed us‘. The witness is to him.

So I commend the post by McKnight – it gives us some language that we are finding helpful. Living life is missional, witnessing is evangelism (good newsing). Living life is eating and drinking with Jesus. If he is important the occasions when we encounter the restricted 3-5 minutes might contain some verbal communication in summarised form about sin and the cross, but more likely the challenge will remain as to how we live life. That is the core element of witnessing, and the only way to effectively plant seeds where people can ‘hear him’ and not simply some approximate truths about him.


August 10th. then and now

Today is actually the day – a new rubik’s cube (last one did not survive a fall from the balcony) a book of Celtic prayers and… all very content. Was not planning on blogging but our friend Andrew Brims blogged this morning on San Lorenzo, so need to scribble a few words. To get a feel for this saint (who died Aug. 10, 258 aged 33) here is an extract from Andrew’s blog:

They ordered Lawrence, who was the deacon in charge of church finances, to hand over all the church’s assets or face being killed along with all his colleagues.
He asked for three days to get everything together, which he then spent distributing all the church’s goods amongst the city’s poor.
When the moment came to hand over the assets to the state, he simply presented the the blind, poor, disabled, sick, elderly, widows and orphans with the assertion, “These are the treasures of the church!”
The authorities decided a simple beheading would be too soft an example to set in Lawrence’s case. So they cooked him to death on a grid iron.
It’s alleged at one point during the ordeal he said to his executioners,
“you can turn me over, I’m done on this side.”

Our encounter with San Lorenzo goes back a couple of years. We were with good friends Roger & Sue M in Madrid showing them what we were connecting with when Rog said – we will soon find a sanctuary in this area that will hold some keys. A couple of streets and we came to the church of San Lorenzo. We went inside (not our habit) and read the above story with the connection to Lorenzo. His death date – my birthday. Also it stated there that he was born on Aug. 10th, though research says his dob is unknown.

Last summer Gayle and I took a trip to the city where he was born – Huesca, up toward the Pyrenees. We had an interesting time there praying. The city has this amazing historic source of faith and though there was some evidence of Lorenzo the larger (non-)saint that was was present was that of George!! The so called St. George has always proved problematic and not surprisingly we had quite some conflict there in the Spirit. Glad to have been there and spent the night, not sad to leave.


The above photo? In June this year a flock of more than a 1000 sheep were wandering the streets of Heusca during the night, due to the shepherd having fallen asleep. Maybe coincidental, maybe a sign that we have sheep without a shepherd, maybe a sign that the ‘sheep’ (us lot) are being loosed to be in the streets.

Whatever the sign or non-sign, here’s to you San Lorenzo. How much of the stories are myth surrounding him we might never know, but we are grateful for those who have gone before who have lived out an authentic discipleship.

I do have more on our encounters with Lorenzo and we will probably re-visit Huesca in November en route to the French side of the Pyrenees where a vital group (for us) will meet to pray. With a European focus we will also push into the Knight’s Templar. Those crusaders were one of the foundations of the banking system, so if we do get there through Huesca that will be a good route. God’s treasures always found among the marginalised. A different economy!


Maturely immature?

I have been ever so reflective now for the past few days. If I carry on I will either need to repent of this trend, accept I am maturing at a rate that could frighten me, or simply take a break so as I do not over-exhaust myself.

I am no expert on the Enneagram, I have belligerently sat through a most-beneficial course, never read a book on it from cover to cover, secretly find enough in there to be very helpful, but can still maneuver enough to keep it at bay. Personality types! Some people benefit from certain contexts, certain expressions of Christianity. It is not simply ‘heaven came’ and the rest is history. We connect with God through who we are, and we connect with ‘our’ God through who we are. Both the real God and the God I believe in comes to us in that way. For the Anabaptist the Gospels are the key hermeneutic to the Scriptures, for Jesus is the image of the invisible God. So that settles things… but those who hold that Jesus will return as ‘the ultimate Slayer’ also maintain that Jesus is the lens through which we know God. For them the Gospels simply reflect a portion of who Jesus is, hence God is love, but he is also wrathful etc., and will return to slaughter all enemies. We have our perspectives because of what we have been taught, what we read and consider for ourselves, and without doubt because of our personalities.

I like to find what I can object to. I value all the material on how conversations can be hosted. Pick up an object to contribute, listen when the person is contributing. Been there. Does not work for me. Surface reason? It is presented as a tool to facilitate conversation. I want them to say ‘we are doing this to control the situation’. Just be honest, I say on the inside. Just say ‘because we have people like Martin here we have to put some levels of control in as he can be a pain in these situations’. Now I am happy as we have set up an oppositional setting. At the surface level I claim it is now operating at an honest level so I affirm I am happy. At a deeper level it is not really revealing the issue with the object to be picked up, but as to what is going on inside. I still have not resolved that kind of situation. Not sure either that I want to. After all maybe it is controlling. Personality types.

I did OK in the charismatic context. Increasingly though I found there were some things that worked for me but I became less convinced they were working. Prophesying over individuals while we were together, picking people out who were under the anointing. A huge blessing to many, but I all-but stopped doing that as it became in danger of people more desiring another word than hearing God speak, of certain people receiving and others not. Is there a place for personal prophecy? A huge place. But how it is done can have a down-side.

Travelling to conferences, bringing in a ‘moving on word’ – worked for me. Eventually I found that I had choices. Be commodified or be true to oneself. The incompatibilities came when there were ‘green rooms’ and undue preferential treatment. Message – the release of the body, all are servants, there is no centre. Yet the symbolism was not always consistent with the message. There are always practical issues that surround conferences and the like, but there comes a line that we have to know is a line for us. My message meant I had to move away from the majority of conference scenes. Not because they are bad they simply became a not for me scenario. Exile is only exile if one has a promised land perspective.

I am incompatible with a number of church situations. They are too healthy for me and my presence will make them unhealthy. My agenda is not for them, so why should I try and make it important for them? For this reason I do not look for invites. God has connections for all of us, and we have to discover who we are to be the connection to in order that those people truly benefit from what God has placed in our lives.

I think as another number will quickly be attached to my age I will leave all this self-reflection on one side.


The second context

I posted yesterday about one reflection in two contexts. But before I go on to the second context – HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JUDITH.

The first was that of education – I did OK, for others it was probably a prison that did not train them in the way they should go but by default put limitations on their self-worth and value. The second I am more tentative about reflecting on, as my reflections are more recent (and many of the reflections come as I wake in the morning, not while I am in control during the day!).

The context is that of the charismatic, new church, progressive, call-it-what-you-want expression of the Christian faith. Wow did I benefit from my experience within that kind of movement. Enormously. It has shaped me like nothing else has. Yes I love to claim to be Anabaptist, even to be influenced a bit by the Eastern strand of the historic faith, but the reality is gifts of the Spirit, prophesying, slapping on of hands, prophetic vision – all of that is inside me to this day. I love the rhetoric. I met a while back with a Brit pastor who was out here and he asked me about the EU and any thoughts I had about it and ‘end-times’. After pontificating that it had nothing to do with the end-times went on to proclaim and if it did, and the antiChrist was about to manifest in and through the EU that would be the very reason why I would vote to stay in. I love all of that. I love it when Gayle and I get to Madrid. Walk the streets of the city, the capital, the big one, praying. Even if it is fantasy I love it, it is somewhere in my bloodstream.

Strong leadership, definite direction, God has spoken and we are the ones who know what he has said. I did OK in all that and I am not about to rubbish it. I have witnessed too many incredible changes in health – many instantaneous, prayed into situations and read newspaper headlines that are verbatim what was prayed into, to rubbish it. I am very grateful for the background. I am not about to rubbish it either for I am an unashamed charismatic when I read the NT. Paul in Galatians does not appeal to a date when they believed but to an experience they had, with a continual working of miracles in their midst as his appeal that they do not abandon their direction and come under legalism. Charismatic experience is central to me, and I don’t think I just read it there – I actually think it is there to be read.

Yet I have learnt (yes I think I have learnt something) over the years that some people prosper in certain situations and others do not. Some people prosper for a time and then later find the situation to be not so prosperous, indeed the situation might become a negative context for them.

So this is my second context. I wish I had not fitted in so well. I wish I had challenged us (and this was an ‘us’ not a ‘them’) to give people more space, more room not to fit in. More room not to be committed so intensely, to explore other avenues, other expressions of the wonderful faith.

Maybe I really am maturing. I am more appreciative now of difference than ever before. I appreciate the liturgical – so much so I did it for 5 whole days! I also have to be true to my roots, believing it is the way God led me, and it is how the Scriptures resonate with me. Being true to my roots is to try and live outside the box, with more respect than before for those who are being true to where they find life. I want to be a more objectionable voice to the self-assured structures that promise life, rather than release people to their destiny. When I do hit 61 at least I will have a focus.

I was quite happy the other day. I had to visit the bank. In discussion with the person behind the desk, eventually letting them know that money is not what motivates us, she let out a good strong Spanish swear word at quite a volume, calling on me loudly ‘just do something’. A small success, frustration that I would not do something that indicated that we could fit in. All structures, gifts and ministries are here to serve the people not the other way round. That is my voice that if true will be objectionable.


August – how many have there been?

August is a fun month. A month that supposedly honours Augustus Caesar – so that in itself is enough to make one either laugh or respond with a good healthy ‘no way’. I’ve always enjoyed August and have had a few of them now in my life. Somewhere in this month is a date when I mark one more year on the planet – yes a birthday comes round. I’ve said before that when I was 39 Sue asked me what I wanted to do when I was 40 – ‘I don’t want to mark that as 40 is almost nothing. What can one do by the time one is 40? Maybe ask again when I am 55,’ was my response. Of course once I did get to 55 I didn’t feel a lot different!

Anyway I thought maybe I would not blog during the month of August – time out, but here I am 6.00am with keyboard being bashed away. This post might not connect with many, and probably will not connect with those who have made the shift from immaturity to maturity by the time they reached 40, or even earlier. Richard Rohr writes about the two halfs of one’s life (or is that halves?). By now I apparently should have entered the second half. Not having read the book – like why would I want to do that? – but my guess is I am not yet too close to making the transition. I think transitions are better made if there is a measure of reflection. Learn from the past, make some adjustments and the future direction is on a better course.

I have many memories (and I think some are probably bad and some are probably good). I just don’t remember them. No that is not meant to be funny. I simply do not remember them – I don’t think about them, I don’t recall them, if they seek to rise up I move on. I don’t have time for that… maybe then the second half of life is still a long way off? In the midst of all this immaturity, first half of life orientation, I have had two reflections, or maybe better one reflection into two phases of my life. One reflection and I am about to hit 61… well one reflection is better than none.

I appreciate the reflectors. They have a gift that I do not have. Last week Gayle and I did a week (we managed 5 days so almost a week) of following a liturgical pattern of prayer – creeds, book of common prayer, and a good one in there from St. Francis. Beneficial, but tough. That way of doing things requires reflection, contemplation. Contemplating concerning God also ties with self-reflection. After 5 days maybe we (I) need to move on. ‘Move on.’ Now that is a good mantra. Give your energies to that, to the days you have never yet had. Apparently the downside is that we are meant to learn from the past, and again apparently, that requires self-reflection.

So what is the one reflection on life I have now that I have completed part of the first half of my life? It is I did pretty well in the contexts where I found myself but was not enough of an objectionable voice to the status quo on behalf of those who did not benefit from the system. My first reflective context is the educational system. Learning (now there is a euphemism) Spanish has been good for me. Not making the grade, not connecting… everything I did not experience within education, but probably that is exactly what a number of others did experience, as they found that for them education was anything but an enjoyable experience. If we could go back in time with what we know now, I would love to go back and be an objectionable voice on behalf of those that the system did not bring life to but imprisoned.

Rabbie Burns wrote:

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

I think I would write (with adjustment to the language):

And would some Power (God) give us the gift
To convert the system to seeing others!

(Almost had another reflection there, but quickly moved on… Almost thought that maybe I see the systems as being the problem, that they need changing, and of course through a good well aimed kick in the Spirit, rather than I need to change and see others. Glad it was only a momentary thought.)

Anyway less than a week to go to the birthday and I think I must be getting ever-so-close to the second half of my life – after all I have had a reflection. So maybe the second half of my life will be about being an objectionable voice and not fitting in. Or maybe that refection marks I am about to enter the first half of my life? Either way, the reality is once the reflection is over, life is there to be lived and off we go again, though I do hope that over the past 7 years a greater level of not fitting in, of kicking against the self-assured structures have marked whatever half of life I am in.