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 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 Brussels, 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 responsibility 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 travelling 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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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 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.



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Get a sword

I have seen a little bit of to and fro on the ‘get armed / right to have guns’ scenario and this little problematic verse from Luke 22:36 thrown in:

But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.

The issue with the Bible is that it does not give us a set of rules, a checklist that we can tick off. Checkbox with ‘buy a sword’ is not how it works. We have to wrestle with the Bible, and eventually these issues are issues of faith. How do I read it in the light of the call to follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

So what thoughts on this verse? I am not swamped in books here so cannot even say ‘the Bishop says…’

1. The times are changing is the context of the question. Remember when I sent you out – no sword, no provision and all that? Did you come out of it OK?

“When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” (22:35)

That was then… now you need to expect something different (‘but now’). This is not a time of being accepted but of being rejected.

2. The immediate reason for the instruction is in the verse that follows the sword instruction:

For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”

So a very plausible explanation is that there was a necessity of having some weapons among the arrested band of disciples so as there was guilt – transgression (and certainly transgression of the Sermon on the Mount) – that could be put on them. If this is the reason once Jesus found out that they had two swords he said – ‘enough we don’t need any more than that’. Just enough evidence but certainly not enough to respond in violence to the accusers.

And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”

Jumping forward when Peter did use the sword, presumably one of the two, Jesus very quickly responded with his rebuke of Peter:

And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:49-53)

The rebuke in Matthew is even stronger

And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. (Matt. 26:51-56)

So if Jesus is literally saying we have enough swords so don’t go and buy any more (‘It’s enough’) the reason for the swords could well have been on let’s give them some evidence. The rebuke when the sword was used was absolutely clear. ‘Put your sword back in its place’.

In John 18:36 we have:

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

So again it is clear that violence was eschewed by Jesus. Whatever he meant by the sword was not ‘get armed’ and certainly not ‘the kingdom is under threat so be armed to defend it for righteousness’ sake!’

There might even be one more possible way in to the Luke passage. What if Jesus was provoking the disciples to a higher understanding? What if they were to make a response of ‘but we take your teaching seriously and we are not planning on buying a sword’? Maybe that is why Jesus is not simply saying two swords are enough, but maybe in response to the ‘we have two’ that he is somewhat exasperated with their lack of kingdom response and he comes back with a ‘That’s enough of your nonsense’.

Anyway… no way can I consider this verse the endorsement for possession of weaponry.


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Post Truth

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 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 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 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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