Momentous days

A few years back I contributed to a book regarding the shape of the future with respect to this decade. From memory I was the only European writer. The focus was the west but with a core perspective on the USA. That is a huge challenge to write with respect to a land that you […]

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A few years back I contributed to a book regarding the shape of the future with respect to this decade. From memory I was the only European writer. The focus was the west but with a core perspective on the USA. That is a huge challenge to write with respect to a land that you are not married to, and certainly in recent years I have tried to be restrained. I think we have limited rights to speak into anything that we do not have responsibility for (and I also think it is important to know what we are responsible for). So here I proceed with care and if truth be out if these days are momentous in the USA it is because of the huge shifts in the western world.

In that book as I focused toward 2020 I suggested we would have martial law implemented in certain cities and that the US$ would not be the currency for exchange. So we wait but such issues are not so far away as they seemed some 7 years ago.

These are momentous days with major changes all around us (e.g. the banning of people from 7 nations for national security’s sake when the number of terrorist attacks from those nations on US soil has been precisely 0 / nada / none).

Beliefs are important. I do not believe that Matt. 28 (all authority) nor Rev. 4 (exposing Caesar and all other Imperial thrones as but a parody of the throne of heaven) allows me to look to No. 10, Moncloa Brussells, the White House as being the key to change. I actually consider that a deception.

Of course legalisation is important, and the Hebrew Scriptures are evidence of that with so much of the (imperfect) laws of God being civil and legislative laws for society. But, if connecting with the throne room of heaven is the key and Jesus rose with all authority then we have to go much deeper.

Abortion, the treating of the unborn as non-persons, is a huge blight on society. Yet as Derek Flood sensitively wrote this week be is pro-life but not pro-law. A touchy issue and one we will probably always find disagreement over but we are up against something much greater and deeper than simply a law. Economic issues (when in scripture is the economic state not the heart of the issue?) are always a factor. But for me there is a deeper issue that is firmly our responsibility. What we sow is what is reaped in society. If we can dehumanise lives, and can even more seriously do so by assuming we are the goodies, and those of other nations and creeds are the baddies then we are feeding from, and feeding the spirit that dehumanises the unborn. Yes I am troubled that we don’t connect the dots. And deeply troubled when the line of good and evil runs between us and ‘them’. This is what feeds what is both a myth and anti-Christian, the myth of redemptive violence. That we can do to others what they cannot do as we are the good ones. Indeed Jesus said that we were to do to others what we desire them to do to us, and the others extended to include enemy love.

I am deeply concerned about our world. Terrorist attacks are so likely, indeed in Spain if not this year then next, unless…

Unless we ban them and build a wall? No. Unless we take responsibilty for what we have created. Christendom is the source of violence, at least my conviction. So it is not about a ban or a wall. There will be attacks unless we take responsibility. One by embracing those who are blanketed as the problems, and by traveling to such places as Granada to repent of what was done in history. 1492, a momentous time when Muslims were conquered by the cross (which cross?), Jews were expelled and Columbus sailed for God and Queen, again with the conquest justifying all kinds of violence.

Legislation? Indeed wise legislation needs to be put in place. But Gayle and I have a lot of focused work ahead. Gladly, for we take responsibility.

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Alternatives?

Alternative facts! We now apparently can look at two photos that show how many people were present but we can claim that the photo showing less people actually shows there were more people present. How? We are simply reporting it as an alternative fact. In the old days this was called ‘lying’ or at least […]

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Alternative facts! We now apparently can look at two photos that show how many people were present but we can claim that the photo showing less people actually shows there were more people present. How? We are simply reporting it as an alternative fact. In the old days this was called ‘lying’ or at least misrepresenting the truth. Yes, we have arrived at the era of post-truth. Maybe it is an inevitable move on from post-modernity… but I suspect we have gone a little further than a subtle shift.

In the simple days we could be very critical of dictators in a non-democratic situation who lied / presented alternative facts, and although we would be hard pressed to connect the two words ‘honest’ and ‘politics’ we were at least able to rest a little easy in the checks and balances that made our leaders accountable at some meaningful level. Yes we have had misrepresentation such as ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and whole courses of action that we (or not really ‘us’ but many good people across Iraq, Syria and beyond) are still still suffering from. Post-those events at least such misrepresentations remain as marks on the landscape. They are not photoshoped out under the guise of ‘alternative facts’. What we are now beginning to witness is something far greater reaching and much more sinister.

For some years we have been praying for a new media and I have posted on that in the past. We need a media that is free and critical. But maybe there is a twist… I write as a follower of Christ and as one who gives credence to the responsibility that believers have for the world we live in. Indeed I have oft-suggested that the test for how well we are doing is the health of the world. If we see control rising and the silencing of the press, and the refusal to accept what can be evidently seen, could it be that something went wrong upstream? (By upstream I mean within what the body of Christ has released into the world?)

Have we simply wanted alternative facts? It is not always easy to know when we take a stand ‘the Bible says so, so I believe it’ and when we are simply endorsing some alternative facts. In the current climate perhaps one of the great challenges is not simply to believe what is true, but to discover afresh the belief that truth is more than a set of facts and is personified in Jesus… and should be in his followers.

There is a biblical thread that suggests the good guys can do less than good things because they are good. There is enough evidence of that thread in Scripture. Slavery, offering up daughters to be raped, genocide, imperial control etc. However, the Jesus ‘thread’ annuls that. We are in trouble when we uncritically let the good guys use control.

There are worrying (in the extreme – think 1920s and 30s) trends among the leaders that are gaining traction in the West. To accept this trend uncritically will only speed the train wreck. Against this backdrop surely therefore there has to be a stronger responsibility than ever before on the body of Christ to step away from ‘control at all costs’ and to re-examine what a Jesus-like God looks like and how that totally re-defines governance. If we can do that we will also gladly be able to think again about what a Jesus-like Christian might look like.

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Another year – optimistic?

2017 – a year in our calendar… Not another year in the Lord’s calendar and he certainly did not set for himself some new year’s resolutions, such as ‘must do better this year!’ One year to the next is somewhat artificial yet to focus for each year as they come is helpful for us and […]

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2017 – a year in our calendar… Not another year in the Lord’s calendar and he certainly did not set for himself some new year’s resolutions, such as ‘must do better this year!’ One year to the next is somewhat artificial yet to focus for each year as they come is helpful for us and given that God works with us in our time-frames there is a sense we can look at the coming year to ask what is going to take place. Thank God we are called to live life and shape the future. We are not robots yet is helpful to have sight of what is to come.

The shifts in culture around is not easing up with extremes feeding from the fear narrative that has been nurtured. We are living with a post-truth culture. At the start of each year we can read of ‘the year of great breakthrough’ that is ahead and we have to continue to pull on words that speak of breakthrough, of heaven’s resources being available etc. If we do not pull on those words what are we feeding our spirits? Yet there is more to the coming year than that! I like the balance of the book of Revelation. The four key markers of being in the Spirit in the book revolve around:

  • seeing the Risen Lord
  • entering the throne room of heaven
  • then seeing the beastly whoring world system for what is is
  • and finally seeing the culmination of the redemption of heaven with the Bride

Four major visions – three of them so positive. That is not only a good proportion but a necessary one. Without those three there will be no inner ability to face the world system as it is and to sustain any inner stability. We will either be overcome or we will not see the world for what it is. Overcome by pessimism and cynicism, or live in denial. This world can be a hard place to live within and any optimism needs to be tempered by a realistic belief that we are to co-partner with heaven.

The 3:1 proportion (of the visions) is vital for the reality of the task is also present within those visions. Jesus is risen, Caesar does not shape the future (nor the White House, no.10, Moncloa nor Brussels) and there will be a final culmination… but along the way there will be set backs, persecution and martyrdom. I have no issues with ‘this is the year of breakthrough’ but this is not that that I want to focus on when making some suggestions about this coming year. I want to focus on what I see as being set before us as the body of Christ to grapple with.

I consider that the body of Christ is the means by which the government of heaven enters the earth, not in the sense of ‘taking power’ and implementing God’s rule but by enabling love to be present in the affairs of humanity. Some huge directions were set in 2016 that will be processed in this coming year. The test is not the ‘greatness’ nor the strength of the economy but the care for the marginalised that a society exhibits, how humanised the society the church is within truly becomes. So where there is not that care, or where we see segregation and people categorised in (negative) generic ways and therefore ‘other to us’ we know that the body of Christ has to step up another level. The health of the church in the sense of ‘church growth’ is not the test, but the health of the world is the test with respect to the health of the church. The amount of thorns and thistles in the land of course might be greater in one place than in another. The Western world is now living 500 years on from the Reformation and a Gospel presence so I think it is only right to assume that more is expected of us.

What is already under way will increase:

  • Polarisations not simply of ideologies but of demonising the other.
  • Adopting narratives that scapegoat and silence the voices for integration.
  • Protectionism and another wave of trade deals that protect the western way of life.
  • Hugely fluctuating currency exchange rates and manipulation of currencies.

In response then there are issues that will be acutely faced with this year. We have to sow for the future:

  • It is vital that we do not buy into the self-protectionism that is viewed as necessary. There will be many opportunities to cross fences and boundaries this year. Even former theological fences will be challenged. There will be reports of God moving among those who are ‘other’. We do not need to kiss our brains goodbye but we have to be slow to judge. Even in the imperfect God wants to break the church free. These aspects are preparations for days when the church will have to take a stand for the foreigner in the midst.
  • There are huge shifts and instabilities coming in the economic markets. Their instability will be seen for what it is. Again it is important that we learn ‘those who give to the poor lend to the Lord.’ Not as some talisman Scripture but as a way of life.

The resources that can help us:

April a month of unusual early Spring signs. Unusual bird migrations will be hopeful signs. Hope for the many who are forced into migration and a hopeful provocation for the body of Christ where there will be ‘migrations’ sparked this coming Spring. To counter the forced migrations there will be willing migrations, living as immigrants, that will rise for many. Spring 2017 will be noted by many as ‘that was when a whole new phase was begun for us.’

Laughter and friendship. There is hard work. There is play. Actively pursue the connections and re-connections that bring life and joy.

Optimistic?

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Post truth

The 2016 word of the year award has been given to ‘post truth’ apparently. A definition of post truth being: Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief: ‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and […]

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truth-300x200The 2016 word of the year award has been given to ‘post truth’ apparently. A definition of post truth being:

Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief:
‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’.

The philosopher AC Grayling in http://www.bbc.com/news/education-38557838 warns of the “corruption of intellectual integrity” and damage to “the whole fabric of democracy” that results from post truth. The connectability through social media and the power of ‘fake news’ is opening up a new world, one which many warn is not too dissimilar to that of the 1930s. In the article on the BBC Grayling does just this saying ‘the international landscape is more like the volatile, intolerant era before World War Two.’ If the thesis of Strauss-Howe (The Fourth Turning) holds then there is a more-or-less 100 year cycle which would also point to the dangers of the coming era.

Michael Shermer, author of The Believing Brain says that any challenge to one’s beliefs activates the same area of the brain that is involved in giving us our personal identity and raising an emotional response to threat. To consider an alternative belief is to be pushed to considering an alternative version of oneself. The power then of post-truth and of fake news plays into this. We all to readily accept what is said – and those in power are exploiting this – to believe something that resonates with our identity rather than question it. If it resonates then the ‘truth’ of it is secondary.

We are not yet fully to the end of the 100 year cycle, we are not quite at 1930, but the stage is set. The end of 50 years of peace in Western Europe seems unthinkable. Yet to suggest some 10 years ago that a post truth era would become established and politicians could run campaigns so blatantly based on that would have been equally unthinkable.

The power of the Gospel is that it challenges our identity. It challenges all belief systems, for it is foolishness to the Greek. It is contrary to what motivates our world system. It is a call to lose one’s life not find it. It is a call to believe in a God who will not bail us out but who will be crucified. We have an opportunity to sow now for the future, so that the 30s of the 21st century might not repeat the 30s of the 20th century. A handful of modest suggestions for the followers of Christ might be along these lines:

  • We do not swear allegiance to any power other than God. Surely by doing so we are taking on a measure of blindness. I appreciate that this could be viewed differently depending on one’s national background, however by being a member of the body of Christ I am by definition trans-national before any other national identity, and as Rowan Williams recently wrote about baptism that it does not set us apart from humanity but immerses us even deeper within it.
  • That whatever our political preferences we do not believe that the truth lies on the right or the left. That we are able to honour those who are politically of a different persuasion to us with genuine honour. If we do not then we are inviting powers to shape us that will exploit us.
  • That we are slow to believe everything critical, and refuse to tar all people of a certain category with the same brush.
  • That we listen to the opposite of what simply confirms us in our beliefs. If our identity is being renewed then there is likely to be something in the voice of others that God will use to help shape us. The Spirit works incarnationally.
  • We carry a generosity of spirit, and a passionate belief that God is at work on the big canvas and that we do not elevate our few pixels to being the whole image.

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Exile, aliens and home

Thanks to one an all for the comments on the previous post. Language can be such a challenge, and when analogies are used they often only describes a situation in part. Israel in Babylon were clearly in Exile, planted into a foreign culture away from the Temple rhythms, separated from their family inheritances. Exile was […]

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Thanks to one an all for the comments on the previous post. Language can be such a challenge, and when analogies are used they often only describes a situation in part. Israel in Babylon were clearly in Exile, planted into a foreign culture away from the Temple rhythms, separated from their family inheritances. Exile was not an analogy for them it was a reality. Exile is a living reality for the many who are currently fleeing their lands due to war or extreme economic hardship. I might have received words about going into Exile – but the result is not as acute as the examples above.

Using the term ‘exile’ might also suggest that there has to be a change of geography or of distance from a previous setting, or that without that someone is lagging behind. I certainly do not believe that. The richness of the call of God is amazing. My background has not been that of the sacramental approach to the faith, but I, along with most non-sacramentalists that I know, would not for one minute suggest that the current pope or archbishop of Canterbury are not standing exactly where God has appointed them. This is the richness of God. I have so many colleagues that I have met over the years, and continue to meet from time to time, who are serving God in what might be termed traditional church settings. And serving God they truly are. Are such people not in exile? If I assume they are not in exile I also have to conclude that exilic existence is one existence for the people of God. The benchmark is not that exile is the new criterion that elevates one over another. The test we all face is that of serving God where we are. And in relation to the world (as defined by consumerism and not religious legalism) we are all to live as aliens. The greater the distance between heaven’s culture and the one we find ourselves living and working in will be the extent to which we are in exile.

Yet relating to the previous post and the sense in which I was using the term ‘exile’ there, I do consider that there are those who have been thrust out of what they have known to explore living in a culture that is alien to them. I do not suggest that this makes them superior nor would I wish them to be seen as inferior. In the context of Europe we have for years been seeing that thousands, and probably 10s of thousands, will find themselves uprooted from the familiar and be scattered to new situations where they will initially feel isolated and have to come in as those in need of being fed by the people of the land (Luke 10). Just a couple of days ago I had an email from a couple now in Athens that I had no idea had been taken there to slowly learn the ‘language’ of the land and gain the right to sow into it. They are one more example of those who at that level have been exiled. However it is not primarily about geography, nor is it about one’s relation to what might be termed a congregation. It is about a repositioning within the world. Nigel in his comment on the previous post raised the helpful point that if we are where God wants us to be then at a very real level we will be at home. That has to be the reality.

So exile might or might not be a good term. The embededness in the world, even if that is a society that could be familiar to us, is where God wants us to be. Alongside that there will be many who find themselves in a setting that is less than comfortable for them. They will at times look back to the former days where God was found. If I am correct that the aspect of royal priesthood is central to the election of heaven, then it is vital that the body of Christ will be comfortable with exile as an experience, otherwise we should not be surprised to see national sovereignty raising its head, walls being built and no home given to the refugee. I made a huge leap in the last sentence, but I think this is what is at stake.

As we truly get into 2017 I consider that one of the continual challenges will be, regardless of the level we feel alienated, will be our ability to embrace the mess around us. God’s world is a mess, and there is no prayer that is there to take us out of it, but that with the presence of Jesus to live within it. As a result we will get our feet dirty, and if we not abide in him we will find our hearts also are tarnished.

In my experience of exile there is a necessary element of being weakened. Of discovering that what I was formerly able to do I am no longer able to do. I think that is probably an ongoing experience. It is great to quote Scripture: ‘I can do all things…’ but the all things are through Christ, not through familiarity. For those evidently called into exile then there is also a key Scripture that comes before the one I just quoted. It is the one that says ‘without me you can do nothing’. And if he is to be found where we have not yet fully entered, we will have to learn to grasp with both hands the exilic condition, then we will be with him, then we will discover even if we are not able to testify to being able to do all things, that at least we are doing a few things that carry the hallmarks of heaven!

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Exile becomes normal?

Well that has been a true break between posts. We have been in the USA for the Christmas and New Year break, bunkering down with family. First time all together since 2012 so been great. Long flights ahead for us and we will finally be in Madrid tomorrow night, maybe around 24 hours of travel […]

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Well that has been a true break between posts. We have been in the USA for the Christmas and New Year break, bunkering down with family. First time all together since 2012 so been great. Long flights ahead for us and we will finally be in Madrid tomorrow night, maybe around 24 hours of travel in total. Then we will have some days there and hopefully line up to see a few apartments.

All the above might or might not be semi-interesting, however what follows of course is highly interesting to one and all!

Around 2000 I received 5 different prophetic words from different people in widely ranging geographies in a period of about 3 months that I was going to enter exile. The language slightly differed, biblical illustrations varied from Ezekiel to Joseph but the message was clear. The interpretation of any word is of course always open to any number of possible outcomes. At the time I was at the height of travel with approximately 6 months in the UK, 3 months in mainland Europe, and 3 months in the USA and Brazil. My context was no longer that of denominational / network invites but invites that related to a geography. The strap line of ‘working together for the sake of territory’ summed up what shaped the invites. As I sit here (Sacramento) and type this post I remember that just over twelve years ago we had finished walking from the Oregon border to the original mission in San Francisco praying for a new Jesus movement that would come from the extreme (symbolised by the West Coast) and that it would rise with a new generation of parents who would position themselves within but not over such a movement.

So that was the context but also inside I knew that those days would soon come to an end. Immediately following the walk was when Sue became ill and within 6 months had passed away. From that time till Jan. 1, 2009 there were clear shifts in my situation with less and less high profile / size invites. I was probably slow to realise that whatever exile means it has to express a measure of significant separation from a previous familiar context. Separation and, in measure, dislocation is necessary before finding a relocation. In my experience a shift of geography was incredibly helpful in catalysing this process. I probably needed that to move more clearly into exile. When reading Jeremiah is seems that the people had moved to exile geographically but not mind-set wise. He needed to exhort them to buy land and seek the prosperity of the city. Their mind-set was locked into ‘how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land’. The mind-set had to change – and probably also the song. Church that is wrapped up in itself will be very insular and will shrink in size – even when the numbers in the pews increases; but a church that wraps the world in its arms through anonymity, hiddeness and by being deeply sown in the land will find ‘of the increase of his government there will be no end’, and only by doing so will there be the alignment for the answer to the ‘let your kingdom come’ prayer.

Can exile become normal? I think so. And in the first post of this year I dedicate it to those who in this year will discover that far from being away from the presence of God that he will be found increasingly in the exilic setting. These next few years will see many in our world experience exile. They will find that the society around them is not the one they can live comfortably within. It is important that there are those in the body of Christ who have been there and are comfortable with exile, they are the ones who can believe that there is a new world at hand.

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A holy day

OK I wrote a few days ago that I had posted my last one before Christmas. That truly was my intention, until our day yesterday. In the morning I had replied to a few comments and had been very struck by the different worlds that we inhabit as people. The world of those who have […]

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OK I wrote a few days ago that I had posted my last one before Christmas. That truly was my intention, until our day yesterday. In the morning I had replied to a few comments and had been very struck by the different worlds that we inhabit as people. The world of those who have everything and want more; the world of those fleeing war and having a hard job being welcomed to a new land… and everything in between. We had just come through a storm on the east coast, the day before the street was running with rain water and then yesterday afternoon it was soaked with sea water as the waves were pounding the front – only one other time in 30 years a resident told us he had seen it like that. During the storm other than rain coming in through one window we were pretty dry and warm, and in the midst of this Gayle prayed for anyone caught in the storm nearby who had no home… So the scene is set.

The weather yesterday turned and having been house-bound for a few days we went running. Along a route we have never run, in the light of the storm on a path as close to the water as we could run. About a mile we see someone sitting on a bench with two plastic bags. We stop, ask him if he needs anything. He looks blank then after three questions he replies with,

‘Do you speak English?’

‘What do you need?’

‘Food and to get to Barcelona.’

So we spend the rest of the day with Momodou. As I walk him back to our apartment I ask him,

‘Do you have faith?’

‘Without faith I would not survive’, he replies.

Born in the Gambia to a Muslim family he went to a Catholic school, knows the Scriptures, reads them and knows Jesus. Highly intelligent, well travelled (he has been to 38 of the US states, Canada, many places in Europe, lived in London and before coming to Spain in Ireland). He is one of those people who had fallen down the cracks through circumstances. Coming to Spain, he explained, was a major mistake. Without the language he had few opportunities for work, then he either lost or had stolen his British passport. Never did he think he would sink this low. So with some food inside him, a few fresh clothes (he did not want many as he had many miles ahead of him to walk), he left a message on facebook for his brother, we prayed with him.

We were overwhelmed with meeting Momodou. We will probably never see him again. A different world to the one we inhabit. A man of faith saying he trusts God to get him back to the UK, and that his part was to come up with a plan… to walk. We got him on the bus in Oliva with a ticket to Valencia, some money for the next ticket to Barcelona. If all went well he would have arrived there last night. From Barcelona he said the next part – walking to France – would be a ‘piece of cake’. There he planned to get work (he has a good command of French) and wanted then to get back to the UK with money so that he could get back to renting property and find work.

Once he was safely on the bus and we were back at home. We sat, having lived through a deeply spiritual encounter. An encounter where in the midst of it we had met Jesus. He was for real, he was not an angel. For him maybe we seemed like angels, but we were for real. In the meeting of the two worlds we all met Jesus.

It was as holy a day as we have experienced. Hugely humbling.

Somehow the small help we were able to provide is vital to our journey. We are trying to learn what it means to do our part. This year we sensed that God is not looking for the new big but for the multiplicity of small things. We cannot change the world. What is God looking for? To make the small acts. We were privileged to being part of Momodou’s journey yesterday. He had worked out that he was 40-50 days walk away from Barcelona. Last night, having verbalised he needed to get to Barcelona, he should have arrived there. He has a long way to travel yet. He needs other small acts of grace along the way.

For the past years we have been engaged with the understanding that God wants to give us leverage points, where we touch not the big reality, but the microcosm of the big (a sign) that points to the bigger reality. We are convinced that all we do is what we can do. Together we do the small… that is the leverage point for the big changes. It is in this way that no cup of cold water can ever be nullified by the raging fire of consumerism.

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Jesus’ family line

This will be my last post pre-Christmas… So to one and all who read and follow these rather random posts a thank you and trust that you will have some great reflections over this period. Maybe a time to re-centre. Matthew’s Gospel is one that has the oft-repeated phrase or concept of fulfilment of Scripture. […]

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This will be my last post pre-Christmas… So to one and all who read and follow these rather random posts a thank you and trust that you will have some great reflections over this period. Maybe a time to re-centre.

Matthew’s Gospel is one that has the oft-repeated phrase or concept of fulfilment of Scripture. The opening words that introduce us to the ‘genesis’ of Jesus Christ resonates with the first book of the Hebrew scriptures and so it goes on right to the final words of Jesus in the Great Commission and the echo of Cyrus’ words at the close of the Hebrew Scriptures and the normal last book of the Writings (2 Chronicles).

His account of the family line for Jesus is interesting with his setting of it as being in 3 sections of 14 generations, positioning the entry of Jesus as at the end of the Exile. Then in the genealogy we have the mention of four women. The inclusion of women in this way is highly unusual for biblical or ancient non-biblical records. Maybe Matthew does not appear as radically non-patriarchial as Luke, but he outdoes Luke at this point. Then consider who he includes.

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. Tamar subjected to incest, Rahab described as a prostitute (and non-Jewish), Ruth a Moabite and perhaps a seducer, and Bathsheba a married woman caught up in David’s adultery.

A pure line? Not so, neither pure racially nor sexually.

Of course one could argue none of that means anything as we go on to read of the virgin birth, but given the unusual element of including women in these ancient records their inclusion surely must be communicating something significant. Maybe well-beyond the three simple points I make here.

  • Jesus has enough crap attached to his genealogy to screw up his identity, but finds his identity in his heavenly alignment. (He also has the stigma of his own questionable legitimacy; the identity of a refugee; the probable loss of his father at an early age to contend with.)
  • Given that none of the women are described in any way as relating to any wrongdoing indicates something huge. (Even Bathsheba is referred to that she ‘had been the wife of Uriah’.) Identity flows from our direction rather than our origins.
  • Pure qualifications do not seem to be the channel that heaven needs to enter the world.

Christmas: God with us, but not any god, the God revealed in Jesus. Not a religious judgmental God, but one desiring to be tarnished with humanity’s mess. Good news and true peace that resolves inner conflicts.

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Lowest rate since 1971

This report came out a short while back that the USA now has the lowest abortion rate since the historic date of 1971. Statistics such as this are a huge challenge to those who hold to the sanctity of human life, and how we work with how Christian legislation and redemptive legislation might not always […]

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This report came out a short while back that the USA now has the lowest abortion rate since the historic date of 1971. Statistics such as this are a huge challenge to those who hold to the sanctity of human life, and how we work with how Christian legislation and redemptive legislation might not always coincide.

I am very glad that I do not have to make choices that politicians and lawmakers face. Is it possible to hold to a position personally but hold to a different position when wearing a hat within society? I think so. On the very tough issue of abortion the response to that from us believers I think is likely to differ enormously. I cannot buy into ‘it is my body and I have the right to choose’ – of course we all want to shout about the right of the unborn. But I think we also have to push far deeper. I consider that the way we can dehumanise others (war of course necessitates that) must have a direct bearing on how many can take it one step further and dehumanise the unborn.

I am not sure how I would respond with regard to having to vote on the abortion issue. An absolute ban (except in the obvious exception cases) is ‘right’ but I am not sure it is redemptive. I therefore have great sympathy with those who are against abortion when it comes to their personal decisions but have not imposed that on the wider community. Dirty hands, but I think in biblical imagery, better described as dirty feet – dirty because of the dust on the road we must travel.

Christian politicians – admiration for you as you wrestle with rights and wrongs in the context of seeking redemptive choices.

Christians in the medical field – another level all together. As a politician I might be able to come to terms with making a painful choice and taking a personally conflicting decision. So assuming for a moment I was able to make that choice. What about when I then took on a medical profession and had to sign papers for someone wanting an abortion. Could I simply refuse? Could I get round it by referring them to a colleague? If the latter does that resolve my issue?

Difficult choices, challenging pathways.

But for me today – from the luxury of blogging – I am thankful for the downturn shown by the statistics, and have to play my part in living redemptively. Seems the most major contribution I can make on that front is in humanising those I meet, and in seeing faces rather than statistics. That is an easier path than the one facing my politician or medic who is a believer. Their choices are more visible. Mine can be kept private – and for that I will have to be accountable one day.

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Predestined smoker ready for outreach?

Well a totally cheeky title, but as I have not posted for a while I am surely allowed to be a little left of field. Apparently in the Southern Baptist world there is some debate over the appropriateness of those from a Calvinist persuasion being among them or whether they should find a home among […]

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Well a totally cheeky title, but as I have not posted for a while I am surely allowed to be a little left of field. Apparently in the Southern Baptist world there is some debate over the appropriateness of those from a Calvinist persuasion being among them or whether they should find a home among Presbyterians. (See: Scot McKnight’s post.) There are, so I read, a number of New Calvinists who have made their way in to the fraternity, prompting this response from an objector:

Some New Calvinists, even pastors, very openly smoke pipes and cigars, just as they drink beer, wine. They may even home brew the beer themselves, attempting to use it as an outreach to identify with other smokers and drinkers.
Sin is not a form of outreach.

I don’t think the comment was made humorously but it did provoke just a little laughter in our household. Now though a little more seriously…

We all try and make sense of Scripture, the traditions of the church, and maybe even the creeds, so (Old or New) Calvinists are in the same boat as I am in trying to do just that. Theirs is a tradition that I have never been able to settle in. I have always thought that regardless of how nuanced the theology is that we end up with the inevitable of only the elect can be saved. At least Spurgeon got round that one emotionally by saying he prayed ‘God save the elect then elect some more.’ If that were how it worked that would be OK, but don’t really think that is how the theology was set out to work, with everything set from ‘before the foundation of the world’.

A huge divide for me is over how we understand God. Is he defined as omnipotent, sovereign… or is s/he defined as love, with all the implications of that, and maybe even the belief that such love is uncontrolling (Thomas Oord) and indeed that God’s will could (at least in theory) remain unfulfilled. I have read, but as I do not have a copy cannot confirm with certainty, that Calvin in his commentary on 1 John on ‘God is love’ comments that love belongs not to God’s essence, but only to how the elect experience him. If this is what he writes then ‘God is not love’ at his core.

I am not writing to refute old or new C’s but am struck by the huge challenge the ‘God is love’ statement makes. It seems to me that we cannot elevate any other character element to such a level that his love is simply something that we (the elect) experience. He is love, hence we are called to love our enemy. Loads of implications… two crosses, two ways of responding to God. And too aware that I can respond to God according to my own selfishness regardless of what theology I theorise over.

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Two crosses

I am considering that we have two crosses which, dependent on which cross is chosen, of course will reflects back somewhere into the nature of the Gospel. There is the Constantinian cross…

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caidosThe cross over Franco’s tomb provoked for me a serious question as we went there to pray in the Spring of last year. My question was whether if one uses the cross in a wrong way does it tap into the power of the cross and release that power, but release it negatively – a little like electricity (as a ‘good’ power) lights and heats a house, but if wired wrongly it does not serve well but is actually destructive. Some of that did not fit well with me as the power of the cross is not some sort of abstract power source. God’s rule is kenotic, is self-emptying love, not some sort of sovereign crushing power. But why the cross?

I am considering that we have two crosses which, dependent on which cross is chosen, of course will reflect back somewhere into the nature of the Gospel. There is the Constantinian cross (‘in this sign you will conquer’) that can be placed on the banners and it results in yielding evidence of its power by vanquishing all foes. As such it is aligned to an imperial power, and fits well with Christendom and all forms of getting the right person(s) in power. It was that kind of cross that manifested in the Civil War with Franco being a ‘son of Spain and a servant of God’. His conquering of the land was for the uniting of Spain and the uniting of it under God – a repeat of the ‘Reconquista’ that saw the Muslim rule in Spain end. A ‘Christian’ conquest that fitted with the wider context of the Crusades to rightly align Jerusalem to God. That cross gives us a right of power over and we are vindicated by it when we use force to establish righteousness, as that cross itself is a symbol of power.

The second cross represents a power of a different kind. It does speak of imperial power, but only when used against us. It is carried as an instrument that can be used by others – it is the same spirit as when Jesus sent out the disciples as ‘lambs among wolves’ (guess the favourite meat in the restaurants that wolves frequent?). There is no protection… unless heaven itself is involved. It takes faith to suggest that in the process of living for God that ‘no-one can take our lives from us’ but that the course we are on means we will ‘lay down our lives’ for others. It takes a whole load of faith to believe that such death is not the end, and in that death there is an undoing of imperial power.

The second cross is not the conventional sign of strength. Yet it is through that cross we are aligned to the God of heaven who give us a strength of courage that does not insist on one’s own will.

This (might) have implications for both the Gospel (good news) that we believe in and how we present it. Sovereignty will demand being appeased (Anselm: God’s honour to be restored; Reformers: an eternal debt to be paid). God will have to be bought off somehow. If we respond we will then be on the right side, all others on the wrong side. The cross as satisfying the wrath of God, that wrath being understood in personal terms. If the cross however fully satisfies the love of God, it becoming the symbol and act (when aligned to the resurrection) that fully shows us who our God is, then the work of the cross is to do a deep healing in us, to re-humanise us, to remove the scapegoating of the ‘other’, and to release us as reconcilers for the sake of others. This view of the cross will work more (note the word ‘more’) with alienation, shame and sickness than with ‘guilt’. It will see the necessity of Jesus’ true humanity being for our sake rather than for God’s sake.

The cross is to re-humanise us. The work that has to be undone is that of de-humanisation. The latter we all need to be delivered from. I don’t think the imperial cross can help at any level to re-humanise us and align us with the re-humanising God. Somewhere on the spectrum of the two crosses one seems to me to be a parody of the real one.

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An angel came knocking

This morning we read a headline about a certain politician who should have been facing trial for corruption but had evaded this by holding on to her seat as a Senator, thus giving her immunity, that she died suddenly of a heart attack. The Guardia Civil had announced that her administration had been involved in […]

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This morning we read a headline about a certain politician who should have been facing trial for corruption but had evaded this by holding on to her seat as a Senator, thus giving her immunity, that she died suddenly of a heart attack. The Guardia Civil had announced that her administration had been involved in nothing less than organised crime. A certain group of MPs did not respond to the minute of silence for her but walked out of parliament. Maybe I can understand their feelings but the good/bad line runs through us all and however guilty she and her administration was I don’t think the walking out was a good response.

It is though a reminder that all of us have a limited opportunity to stand in the gap between the past and the future. There are so many challenges that come our way and it does seem necessary every now and then to re-examine one’s integrity and authenticity in relation to the land. I have been doing so recently. On the one hand knowing that the land cannot evict us now (took us all-but seven years to get there) and yet facing the painful journey of regular reminders that my level of language, and inabilities with respect to learning, can raise the challenge for authenticity. Ah well, we all have a few battles I suspect!

Angelic OrangesThen last night just as we are about to eat, we can hear on our steps, very, very slowly someone coming up the stairs. Eventually our door bell rings. There is an angel on the doorstep. For sure. He appeared as the 40 something old man from a very humble family down the street. Struggling with health, strength and I am sure financially, he passed over a wonderful bag of oranges/satsumas, saying

This is what the land gives to us.

Truly an angel and a message from heaven gratefully received. It remains though the need to know that all gifts call us to a new level.

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