Explorations in Theology

The series explores a theology that is human friendly! Jesus as the true human shows us who God is, and because of his consideration for us ('who are we, that God should make note of us?') defines who humanity was created to be. The nature of sin is to fall short of the glory of God. The glory of God as revealed in the truly human one - 'we beheld his glory full of grace and truth'. This volume is a foundation for the other volumes. And there are ZOOM groups available...
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No more marriage

‘Till death us do part’ – we are well aware of those words in the marriage covenant… and wonderful when they are fulfilled (way beyond the bounds of this post, but I believe in (shorthand about to follow) ‘difficult’ marriage and ‘easy’ divorce – the opposite to the practice of much of what seems to be advocated… My point is for the sake of this post, big grace on anyone who has found themselves at the point where the above clause of ’till death us do part’ was not fulfilled).

For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven (Matt. 22:30). 

No more marriage! There are two elements where God is certainly not like us – no death and no sex. And in the age to come those two elements cease to be part of human expression – both giving way to something far greater. The age to come is not about loss, but about everything good finding a deeper and eternal (and I suggest growing) level. Marriage – intimacy, covenant faithfulness will be our experience with everyone who is in Christ. There might be specific people with whom that is deeper than with others, for there is continuity with this age, but covenant faithfulness will be there with everyone.

The breaking of bread is a sign that in Christ we are in covenant with all – we do good to all, especially those of the household of faith… but as far as expressing covenant and seeking to live that out faithfully it is between two – married – people. I think to express it beyond that is to enter into territory that is at best challenging and at worst inviting significant issues. David and Jonathan are quoted as a ‘non-marital’ relationship. And the outcome / fruit?

David seemed to have issues at being committed to one person. He had 8 wives and into the mix we have adultery (and in modern parlance it would be deemed abuse due to the power differential); his son, Absalom, slept with David’s concubines (so we have 8 wives plus concubines); Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines… Did the love expressed between the two that was greater than the love of a man for a woman cause him commitment issues?

I have to act in a way that is faithful to one and all so that what I reflect is that ‘I see no one according to the flesh’, in that sense I act in a way that points to the covenant, but to ‘make a covenant’ with someone is to enter into solemn territory (something that at one stage and in some New Church expressions was semi-encouraged) and is to go where angels fear to tread! Till death us do part… Hence I think, in this age, there is a covenant between two people (marriage) that points forward to the covenant that we will all enter into and benefit from, one that death will not end. A level of intimacy, honesty, being known and where fully reciprocated pure love flows. Marriage ends. Covenant beyond any experience of marriage continues.

The challenge of the covenant meal is to pull us back to a place of forgiveness, a place of adjusting any attitude to one another. It is not an eternal state, but a regular check up. We need that. If we don’t all kinds of problems are released – and not simply for us, but for others. We proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes.

A non-apology?

I recently posted on the pope’s apology to native Americans in a Canadian context. Experience shows that such an apology is part of a chain of events, there being responses that precede and further, deeper apologies that will flow subsequently. Today I read a response from a native American (Lori Campbell) who called the apology a ‘non-apology’. Wow and does she make some points… oh yes.

Here is the link to her article: https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2022/08/05/pope-apology-indigenous-canadians-catholic-church

I still maintain that the pope’s apology is significant, it is part of a chain, but the article highlights major shortfalls, and I think a comment such as:

Money flows where priorities go, and the Catholic Church clearly prioritizes renovations over reconciliation.

opens up the difficulties all institutions have. Survival is the name of the game for institutions. Having life taken from someone / (maybe I also thnnk from something?) is named as a sin, and Jesus did not allow that to happen to him… but the day came when he lay donw his life. Nature, with diverse plants growing together, the end of one set in its right season provides life to the plant growing next to it; maybe during the life cycle it also provided shade. Diversity co-habiting space… but not one of dominance and survival at the cost to others.

Yes I remain positive about the apology… but sobered at the journey we have to make. I wonder will we ever make it back to a major root apology – an apology to the planet / creation? And apparently Lori would suggest that money, apology and reconciliation have to journey together.

Just a few thoughts

We have a lot going on, not least of which is seeking to avoid too much sun, for at 34+° each day with a heat wave to come (so what was the last 10 days?)… anyway as an outside observer to the UK here are a few thoughts.

Churchill has reluctantly gone, and might try to re-appear (Boris as ‘Churchill’); we are about to get a reincarnation of a former Prime Minister, the one ‘who was not for turning’. (I have been convinced for some time that the next was going to be a woman.) The England football team have won the Euros with the help of a certain Dutch woman: Sarina Wiegman. As one smart person responded to the suggestion that she become the next English men’s coach – why would she want to do that and take a step down? (And on the game, apologies to our European German family – I think that was a hand ball not given…) But my comments this day are not about football so moving on.

I am thankfully not a politician and of course it is very easy to criticise from an armchair, so my comments are not personal to those involved, simply noting that they seem to act as signs. So much hope / hype from certain Christians about Churchill back in the person of Boris; and I am sure that our next will act (hopefully a little tempered) Maggie-esque. Male commentators will come along saying ‘I have always supported the women’s game’, thus getting in on the act…

It all illustrates the issue we are currently seeing in many places, the battle for true humanity, with a true balancing of the masculine and feminine; without it toxic-masculinity and also toxic-femininity manifest.

I have a chapter in one of the books I wrote about the ‘new creation’ being feminine. Or at least I went on to qualify that statement that it will appear ‘feminine’ as it is in contrast to the patriarchial one that is around us (a fallen creation). One of the Scriptures that I hold as central is the transformation that takes place for those who are in Christ:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Cor. 5:16,17).

A new creation is our context, and that affects sight. Old categories prove inadequate, with ‘a human point of view’ falling away. Indeed Paul uses stronger language – has passed away… everything becoming new.

Looking in from the outside there are signs in the UK around the masculine / feminine. Paul looking in on that one-world-government anti-Christ system challenged them – and challenges us – with regard to our sight.

Sometimes something (someone) inadequate holds space, but there has to come a time when that space is filled. Perhaps the creaks and groans will give way to substance. It is a time (when was it not?) for imagination, for a way of seeing that registers a new reality though it remains invisible if one holds to a human point of view. Imagined, responded to with repositioning, so that it truly rises.

‘From now on…’ That is a time reference if ever there was one.

Foundational Story / Stories

At a personal level we all have stories, some of which we would love to have a measure of amnesia over. The young Martin is an embarrassment – ‘did I really say… no surely that was not me’. (Thankfully I have a birthday soon so will on that day no longer be young… never again to make a mistake. I am ever hopeful that one day soon I will enter the ‘second half of life’.)

Pragmatism. I am where I am today because of the journey I have taken, mistakes, wrong turns included. I am not suggesting ‘fate’ (or predestination!) but I do believe there is a God who works in all things, through all things for redemptive purposes. Some of my foundational stories I have outgrown. They were in Chapter 1 of my book, and I am now in Chapter 10… however, in this post I am going to press into the corporate area.

Many corporations (if they claim to have purpose that does not have money as the bottom line) have a foundational story – the why for which they are doing what they are doing. As time develops (thank you Walter Wink) changes take place, the corporation takes on a personality that if left unchecked is increasingly separate from the founders / foundational story. I have tracked with three organisations where I consider this is the case. I have noted in one of them that around 25 years after the start the foundational story had become unknown by those who joined from that time on.

We can legitimately move on from a foundational story, in the sense of ‘that was the young Martin’ and thankfully I have matured. We can move on by saying – that was at the core but I could not live up to that, so no longer am pushing for that. I have no issue with that. Honesty counts high in the kingdom of God; probably counts higher than getting it right (but what do I know?).

We can move on… but I consider if we move on by simply ignoring it we will find ourselves with a movement / corporation that decides the future, a future that does not fulfil the foundational story but deviates from it.

I am pondering if boards / leadership teams / eldership / blah blah blah have a couple of functions: to ensure the foundational story is alive (even if it has developed and been adapted) so that any movement does not veer off from the foundations (not a good idea for buildings… look at the Temple built on sand: although the claim was it was rock, Jesus spoke of the flood coming and the true foundations would be revealed). And maybe the second aspect is that such a board / leadership is there to hear the voice of the practitioners and seek to ensure that as much as possible is in place to help provide a decent shape for the river to flow. The foundational story brought to a suitable next level but through some centralisation but through the ‘practitioners’. In Ephesians language: growth; filling; built on the foundation of.

Yes! An apology

The pope has travelled to Canada and to lift a few sentences from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-62296834

In his first public remarks in Canada, Pope Francis has asked indigenous residential school survivors for forgiveness.
“I am deeply sorry,” the Pope said on the grounds of a former residential school in Maskwacis, near Edmonton.
He said his apology is a first step, and that a “serious investigation” into abuses must occur to foster healing.
The pontiff is in Canada to apologise for the Church’s role in schools meant to assimilate indigenous children.

A start.

And that is what apology from the heart does, and when it comes from someone / a group who are in relationship to the original perpetrators it is so powerful. This, I know, is not the first work done on apologies into the first nations people of Canada (who of course do not recognise the artificial border).

Plenty of Old Testament passages that can be pulled up – forgive us our sins and the sins of our forefathers / mothers. And all of it seems to undergird the work of Jesus, from his baptism that launched a movement. John was very reluctant to baptise ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ in a baptism for the ‘forgiveness of sins’. Understandably so! But once Jesus said it was to fulfil all righteousness, into the water John plunged Jesus. Jesus, confessed sin – for that was the baptism of John – not his own sin, but the sin of the nation. Going all the way back to the wanderings in the wilderness, for therein lies the background to the 40 days in the wilderness and his meditations on those passages of Scripture. A door was opened, not all came through it, for to do so they had to separate themselves from this perverse generation.

First nations peoples. We need this start that the pope has taken on in and through his apology. The land is crying out for it. Talk to anyone in our neighbourhood who is over 60 years old and they will verbalise (in non-scientific language) the earth / climate has changed beyond all recognition. Sit as we do in 39°C (98°F) heat without air-conditioning and we do not need much to persuade us of the changes! Ask first nations people and they without scientific language will tell us.

I wonder what might happen if the start gets momentum. In Canada a nation of mercy, then beyond?

Beni Johnson

Many of you will know Beni Johnson, married to Bill, where with many others they have dedicated themselves to a ‘culture of honour’ amidst a pursuit of the miraculous. Yesterday, Beni, passed away having battled with cancer in recent times.

I first met the Johnson family in April 1998 as they graciously invited me to address the church on a Sunday evening. Flowing on from that I had many visits there and had many private conversations with Bill. A public figure, and as such will always attract criticism; I think though there is never a higher accolade than ‘what a person is in public that is what they are in private’. He never promoted himself, and held to a line based on his convictions when many others would have deviated.

Of course there will be many questions and insinuations that will now come their way. I wrote to Kris, at Bethel, earlier this year that since March 2021 I had been praying for them, as a number of attacks were being set up against them. There are ‘days of evil’ or ‘opportune times’; not all of life moves forward at an even pace.

The global body of Christ. The multiplicity amidst diversity. I honour the partnership that I have observed close up as well as at a distance. They held to a true line. 2009 was my last visit (with Gayle) to Bethel. We had to personally dig into our new geography and be more hidden than before. The occasional communication has taken place, but nothing face to face.

A few years back I had a tattoo placed on my spine. It simply reads ‘TRUE NORTH’ with an arrow and a compass for the ‘O’. I sometimes wish it was more visible for me to see, but up my spine it has to be.

I honour what I have seen in the Johnson family, holding to their true north.

Beni has entered her rest. We will all follow. In the in-between time we too must hold to the line of our convictions.

Boundaries and inheritance

A number of years ago I was in Sacramento, maybe some 20 years ago and I was with a group of people who were looking at the ‘Church beyond the congregation’ (Thank you Mr. Jim T). At one point the person hosting asked someone to share her story. She worked in a Credit Union and was part of the department that had to follow through with people whose debt was a significant problem, making contact by phone. The sharp end for some unpleasant conversations. She explained that she began to realise that she could not view being in work as simply so that she could earn some money. After all God was her Provider. She then came across Ps. 16:6,

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage (NRSV).

The boundary line so have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance. (NIV)

The clear implication is that within the boundary lines there is an inheritance. She began to thank God for her boundary lines at work, and began to ask for the inheritance within those boundaries. She went on to explain (humbly) that recently they had had in-house training for her department, and at the end of the session the trainer said, ‘But if truth be out, and you really want to work well here, talk to Rose (not her real name) for we have so many commendations from our clients about her work.’

She had called people as they were planning their suicide and averted that giving them hope, she had contacted people and had been able to share wisdom that had saved them from yet more debt; the bank had received calls and letters saying what a credit she was to them and how much she had helped them.

That story has stuck with me. First, a move to acknowledge the boundary as coming from heaven, then seeking to uncover the inheritance there, that inheritance always will involve what we can be for someone else, how we can at some level become a ‘life-giving spirit’.

Our boundaries will always be challenged. I suggest two of the main ways is through jealousy or through intimidation. Jealousy will always seek to displace us, to dislocate us (and one of the reasons why a percentage of joint issues are rooted in jealousy that has been unleashed against us, Proverbs informing us that though anger is cruel, jealousy is at another level and asks if we can even stand against it). Jealousy results in an encroachement on our boundaries, that piece of land that is indeed ours. This encroachement is warned against:

Do not remove the ancient landmark that your ancestors set up (Prov 22:28).

Do not remove an ancient landmark or encroach on the fields of orphans, for their redeemer is strong;
he will plead their cause against you (Prov 23:10,11).

You must not move your neighbor’s boundary marker, set up by former generations, on the property that will be allotted to you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess (Deut. 19:14).

Cursed be anyone who moves a neighbor’s boundary marker.” All the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deut 27:17).

The princes of Judah have become like those who remove the landmark; on them I will pour out my wrath like water (Hos. 5:10).

God does not take too kindly to it when we get involved in boundary moving and seek to encroach on another’s sphere. It was there in the original plan for the land, and thankfully even when there was bad stewardship the boundaries were to be restored in the year of Jubilee.

Jealousy and also intimidation to push someone back from their allotted place.

We can stand, even if Proverbs says ‘who can stand’. And stand we must, being the one central instruction in the ‘spiritual warfare’ (for this read ‘life’) passage. When the day of evil comes, stand, stand firm, withstand… That is important as the demonic (opposition in life) has a limitation on it location / territorial wise and time-wise. If we hold our boundaries then we restrict the location aspect and if we hold in the time frame will change.

In the middle of the passage on Gideon’s army we come across a statement that, ‘While each person held their position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled’. Their position. No comparison, no competition, no jealousy, no intimidation, no inordinate fear of inadequacy, no seeking to comply to someone else’s view of us, etc… Just here are my boundaries (one day they might increase) and in them I am something for someone else as I have an inheritance here.

Mount of Olives

I am pretty convinced that most of us will be somewhat surprised if we hang on too tight to our convictions about the parousia of the Lord (literally meaning ‘presence’, and used in the Graeco-Roman world for the arrival / presence of the emperor upon visiting the city, so the opposite of ‘absence’). If the expectations among Jews at the time of Jesus was diverse – one Messiah, a kingly one, a priestly one, two Messiahs, no Messiah – not to mention how do we bring in the kingdom – hence the sects, the debates as to who was Israel, and the classification of ‘the sinners’ was not as a result of a quoting of Rom. 3:23 evangelistic style, but a classification that ‘birth certificate says Jewish’ but cos you don’t fit with our approach, you are not viewed as ‘a true Jew’ but a ‘sinner’. OK point of that convulting sentence was that the ideas and practices surrounding Jewish expectations regarding the kingdom of God was varied. Turned out none of them were right… hence ‘repent’ was the first requirement, a change your mind, not a repeat after me ‘I am a guilty sinner and a very bad person’.

The likelihood is none of us have it all right either. There are some views that just seem so untenable, others such as mine that I don’t think distort Scripture, but who knows? Anyway been thinking about an OT Scriture so want to put a spin on it today. OT Scritures relating to the future are so challenging, for once they are read through the NT lens the meaning they seemed to have carried gets significantly changed (yes I am in Ezekiel in my readings this morning… wow not even sure where to begin with a NT lens at times on that one!).

Jesus is coming back to the MOunt of Olives, the mountain splits… blah, blah, millennial rule from Jerusalem etc:

On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward (Zech. 14:4).

The kingdom… future, past, ongoing? Or to put it another way how many horizons are there in reality? For me some big ones: the Incarnation through to Ascension; the outpouring of the Spirit; the Jewish wars of 66-70AD; some final parousia and maybe a few smaller horizons in between and among all of those when the kingdom comes in some way, where we ‘see the Son of Man coming in the clouds’.

At Passover time Jerusalem became ever so crowded, those with money and connections and got in there early could get accommodation in the city, but a sizeable number, certainly in the thousands made camp on the Mount of Olives and slept there overnight. This is why the authorities needed Judas to guide them to Jesus as his group was one of many on the Mount, as it would have been an incredible task to find someone amidst that number.

So ‘on that day’ his feet did indeed stand on the Mount of Olives, and the thousands of Jews there were split (and split representatively of the nation as a whole) as a result of the ensuing events, some for Jesus, a crucified Messiah (getting over the offence of such an idea), and others who could only see such a figure as a blasphemer who was judged by Rome, Jewish Torah obedience and ultimately by God.

I throw this concept out there. Might not be right but I think (if we are looking for a ‘fulfilment’) fits much better than the idea of Jesus descending to the Middle East at some future time.

Roe v Wade: all simple?

Roe v Wade – so many rejoicing… and personally knowing some of those who have prayed over years it must be amazing. On this site many of you will have met Michele Perry, a friend of Gayle and mine for years. We first met the end of 2011 in Cádiz when she came to stay with us, five flights later we met her in Jerez airport. In those days we had no car and so had to run to catch the train… running… I had asked Michele ‘how will we recognise you in the airport?’ She laughed, ‘I think I will be the only woman of 4’6″ with one leg in the airport’. True to her word she was, and then we ran for the train, followed by an all but 2km walk back along cobble streets in the wet.

That is a small insight into her bravery. Before coming to us, she lived in a literal war zone, pioneering mission work in South Sudan. Brave is an understatement… and other understatements are ‘sharp’ and ‘always willing to pioneer’.

She is ‘pro-life’. Please read her article in response to Roe v Wade being overturned. Here is simply one quote:

I came to see the Pro-Life Movement in the United States wasn’t about the preservation of life as I once thought. It was about preserving political power

What a complex world we live in. Michele said to me ‘I will probably get in trouble for what I have written’. Well that won’t be the last time for sure.

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