Deep and deeper?

[No it is not an image of a wig, not even one underground… but of roots!! Roots that need to become visible… Now that is clear, read on.]

Gayle and I have just travelled door to door 21 hours, from our apartment to Valencia airport to Rome (yes wrong direction but cheapest flights), change of flights to Rio de Janeiro and to the home of Cesar and Nubia. Maybe disorientation, maybe clarity settled but a little revelation for our own situation and perhaps it will also connect to other situations. A background first.

It is amazing to tick off boxes of answered prayer when there is an evident shift. So on two aspects we were deeply encouraged as we have prayed into the ongoing legacy of Franco in the land of Spain. A while back a prominent politician was in trouble for having on her resumé (CV) a master’s degree. There were clearly anomalies with the award and eventually she had to resign when this was in the news and another issue came up that further compromised her. Gayle was adamant that if we could manage to push this one through there would be a knock on effect even to the resignation of the then President over corruption charges – mainly focused on his party. That seemed a little optimistic, or even a lot optimistic. Within a matter of weeks, when even up to the last hour it was not predicted, the President had to resign and there was a change of government. (Just to be clear, though I hope it is clear, no government is perfect, but what we are looking for are signs that what is hidden and should not be get exposed. That was why we were pushing in this way.)

The second aspect was the prayer – some 11 hour drive from our home – at the house where Franco was born and then on the following day the government passed that his body will be removed from the Valley of the Fallen. There are many reasons why it would be important spiritually for this to happen due to the geographic and historic nature of that area.

Two great shifts, that give one enough energy to jump like a big frog for at least a few minutes each day (figurative language there, not literal… though Gayle is able to jump quite well I have to admit. Not sure though she has quite got the frog action.)

Frogs aside, it is wonderful to get shifts, until…

  • The President is replaced but the rhetoric of the one replacing him is that the party needs to go back to its roots, turn the clock back before the last party leader and get back to the days of the transition – a whole area we have tried to get a handle on this year. A shift only for something more Franco-esque to come in.
  • Franco’s remains to be moved, but there is now a strong pull for this to be into Madrid (our focus) in a Cathedral by the royal palace and with full military honours!

Two shifts and then? Why bother when the shifts are so short lived, and it seems if anything the issues become larger afterwards. Ever been there? We have wrestled with this and although determined that we will not stop have been a little perplexed. So maybe just a flight or two later and a little clarity comes, but here it is for us at least:

We have seen something shift, shift does not mean completed but it will often mean that something then gets revealed at a deeper level. These two results are not set-backs, they simply push us to go a deeper level as there is a root being revealed. Or maybe we can put it that what was partially hidden becomes increasingly visible. So the frog-like jumping might take a back seat for a day or two but the sight that feeds perseverance now also has to fuel further sight as to what the deeper root is.

I am not prescribing the above as a recipe for success in every situation but I am sure it will resonate for some situations and if so take it as encouragement. I think also the clarity came in Brazil as it relates to the nation here. There have been wonderful moves forward. Around 20% of the nation would be charismatic/pentecostal evangelical with that increase coming over the past decades. Put that into a European context and we would be shouting ‘revival’ for sure. Yet the level of occult, societal disorder, corruption of power and all that goes along with those issues is ever so visible. Something deeper has to take place. Of course if one’s vision is simply of getting as many people born again as possible, although there is always more to be done, we would be saying ‘job well done’. I suspect that the next phase is that there will be apparent setbacks. We prayed this and this, we believed for transformation and this is the situation… The next phase – something deeper is being revealed. The deeper that is revealed in each place will depend on the context. Here power and the belief of a top down – get the right person in as the boss – will be revealed for the error and danger it is. Elsewhere it will be something different, but in each place it will be a further exposure of the roots that continue to pollute.


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How do you spell that?


One of those difficult words to spell but a very important word at this time. We can learn a lot as to what is on the agenda by looking at what rises in the world – both the good and the bad… and of course the mixed. God is at work in the whole world, not simply in the church, and I also consider that answers to prayer often take place in the world and we miss them because we have been looking for the manifestation in the church. We are here for the world, so it should not surprise us what rises there – and we should not be expecting some level of perfection either.

I appreciated the comments on the previous post which somehow has seemed to hit a resonance for many. I was interested that I had highlighted as one of the three aspects being exposed the sin of misogyny which has made me think a little since writing. When we track sin as outlined in the Fall we can see that a root and a manifestation is greed and consumerism – ‘I saw, I desired and I consumed…’ The classic gender war Scripture flows from there – ‘your desire will be for your husband but he will rule over you’ – and the patriarchal nature of society certainly bears witness to the accuracy of that statement. And from there we can read what follows as resulting in an increased protectionism and separation, with Empire building being the aspect that draws people together – we will make a name for ourselves. (Gen 3-11.)

The issue of male and female is not a side issue to the Gospel. It is the most fundamental of the ‘other’ relationships. Male and female together made in the image of the Tri-une God (who is neither male nor female but both feminine and masculine). Two in the image of God and not a triad of humans? In the right relationship to the other something is created that is distinct from the two yet dependent on those two. I am not talking about a third gender but of something intangible yet very real. Love for the other is created. Only when that organic and spirit to spirit unity is expressed can we say the image of God is present – that image is not defined by physicality but relationally. If misogyny is present a whole raft of demonising the other will arise. Jesus, the one truly human in the image of God, spelt out what is at the core of God’s being when he called us to love the enemy. The enemy, the one who is opposed to us, who sets out to intimidate, control, manipulate and put us to death. The enemy is beyond the one I create from my fear, and imagine to be my enemy. We will have to move beyond the fear of the immigration wave! It was this seed that Jesus was planting in us through his death on the cross ‘while we were yet enemies’.

If we cannot get the fundamental, and first base relationship, of male and female expressed in egalitarian ways we will really struggle to move forward to any real substance of shalom.

The lid has come off (façades?) in many situations. It does not mean that everything expressed is totally accurate (why do we expect perfection?) but there is something happening. The culture of sexual abuse and intimidation, unjust salary differences… The lid is not going back down. In the body of Christ we will need to example something clearly. If not then we can only expect to see an increase of language and action that demonises the other.

In the scheme of calling for big changes there is always something so simple, so small right at hand that we can respond with. We often miss it as it seems irrelevant. But the small and the at hand is the leverage point to shift something bigger. What can be shifted that seems so immovable if we go deeper and allow ourselves to be delivered (men) from the misogynist culture? What can shift when women faithfully inhabit their space even to the discomfort of those who resist?


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Will we make a difference?


If what I write below is close to what is here and coming then taking heed could really unlock some health into our world and for the next generation. If we do not heed it…

I have been very exercised about some of the significant global crises that are on the horizon. For the past 3 weeks I have been seeing a very serious economic upheaval. Then a few days ago the global climate report was published with the ‘we have twelve years to address this’. It would be crazy to dismiss this report, as crazy as if I had a group of credited medics in front of me all pushing for the same diagnosis but I argued for something different, someone with no medical expertise. The only, and invalid, reason for dismissing this UN climate report would be because of the economic ramifications to the world we have created.

We have entered a window of time when the façades are opening again, so I wish to repeat a dream I had at the beginning of the decade and in the same season as another dream that seemed to indicate that it was relevant for this decade. For those who have read this before feel free to jump ahead.

I was in a town square and simply standing at one side of it.. I was observing the buildings on the other side and knew that they represented every institution that had shaped the public space as we have it today: education, health, government, business, trade, church, etc. were all present. With no prior warning and all at the same time the fronts of the buildings came froward and then up as if they were on a hinge. Anyone could look inside the buildings. My first thought was I need to warn those on the other side of the square as buildings acting like that will soon become very unstable and fall over, so I considered anyone close was in real danger. I got ready to shout my warning but soon realised that the buildings were not going to fall over. I then held my warning as I tried to work out what was going on. I felt a sense of danger but knew it was deeper than ‘get away from the buildings’. While I am contemplating what the danger was someone began quietly to sing a well-known worship song that focused on the Lordship of Jesus. There were obviously enough people in the public square with Christian faith that a second person added their voice, then a third and so on. The volume of the singing rose some, and then when it reached a certain level, all the buildings simply closed up again. I was very disturbed by what had happened and did not know what I should shout out. While pondering this, trying to get a handle on the appropriate warning I heard an audible voice that came from just behind me (I never looked left nor right but simply focused on the buildings that were across the square.) The audible voice said:

It is the familiar that restores the status quo, that brings everything back to where it was.

Now I knew the warning I needed to get across. The warning was concerning pulling on the familiar, and the shock in the dream of course was that the familiar that caused the façades to close up was the response of singing by those of faith – but familiar is familiar however we define it.

Knowing what the warning now was I cleared my throat, took a deep breath and then shouted out: ‘It is the familiar…’ I got those four words out and a person from my right side stood right in my face, eye-balling me, to intimidate me. I was determined that I would not be put off, so stepped to my left, cleared my throoat, and then once more got the first four words out and the person repeated their intimidating action. This happenned one more time, so three times this person prevented me shouting out the whole warning. I stepped aside once more and again shouted the first four words. This time the person finished my sentence (‘It is the familiar…’) with the words

that brings things back to normal.

Similar but such a false representation.

Given that I consider Scripture calls the body of Christ to act priestly what takes place in the public square is our responsibility. There might be a battle, it might take time for a change to come, we might well also have ‘failures’ as we engage, but the point is we have to step up to our responsibility. We cannot control what happens there, but through our positioning in the world and our petitioning to heaven we can shift the spiritual atmosphere and create boundaries so that there is an opportunity for the growth of righteousness. In the light of that it is not surprising that in the dream it was the response of believers that short-circuited what was happening in the public square. There is evidently a time to sing, and there is a time not to. I say this as I am convinced that the façades are opening up again. We have to learn what the right response is in this season.

An aside on some current reflections – with the acknowledgement they might not be the most relevant and tomorrow they might not even be relevant. Many Western nations are not willing to engage in any level of sanctions against one of the main human rights violators (Saudi Arabia) because they purchase arms from us – this is certainly true of Spain, the UK and the USA. Economics triumphs over ethics. Mammon or God, Jesus said, and although we would be naive to expect some kind of ‘Christian’ standard in a nation we do have the right to expect a level of right action, and nation after nation are putting economics before any humanitarian perspective. In a few days we are in Brazil and will be there for the final vote for the presidency. A figure who seems to have huge support from many Christians is of course pushing a strong agenda that might increase their economy but at what cost to the environment and to the marginalised? No candidate is perfect but to get behind someone because they are pro-a-number-of-moral-issues and pro boosting the economy as if they are God’s candidate is extremely naive. Maybe we can suggest at times a particular approach better accords with our beliefs but it really is time to drop the idea of a God appointed candidate or a Christian nation.

The façades are opening. It is not simply that we will be able to see the bizarre nature of the Western economic system that only operates if there is debt (debt will always result somewhere in slavery and at some measure an inevitable eating tomorrow’s bread today) or the paucity of public political debate but we will be able to see some very deep roots… unless we close our eyes to what is being revealed. The familiar can close the façades down, although I wonder if we (believers) will even be able to do that this time round. And beyond the familiar there are factors that hamper our sight. Those will be found in our commitment to a shallow Gospel that does not challenge nationalism, patriotism, patriarchy and the deep inequalities in society. If we do not heed at this time that the Gospel is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, nor male and female we will find our eyes will not even see what is before us and we will simply look for ‘normal’ to be restored.

What is being exposed in the days that lie ahead (and I am sure much more can be added to this) are:

  • greed and consumerism
  • misogyny
  • protectionism that demonises the ‘other’

The inevitable result will not just be trade wars, but war. It will not simply be a major shift to extreme right wing policies (as we see rise in Europe) but the establishing of a neo-nazi totalitarianism that will eventually be seen not be favourable to faith, including that of the Christian faith.

I suggest we have the next two years, when either a level playing field will be established or we will leave the next generation a Herculean task to bring things forward to something that resembles a God shape for society.


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In or out?

Not sure if I need to reconfigure the words of the rhyme to make them mine or not, but they certainly have the potential to be a song that could inspire and define a generation. Stay with it I have not lost the plot completely…

We could apply it to the Brexit: in / out? But at least we have to shake IT all about. No change takes place without shaking and the in / out debate can miss the point if we are not committed to shake things. Only shaking releases what cannot be shaken, and that is described in kingdom terms in Hebrews. (An aside: Why is it called HEbrews if it was written by a woman?)

I am not writing though about the ‘B’ word but about our continual pursuit of social transformation. Change I have suggested is from the bottom up and a truly apostolic vision has to be marked by patience, knowing that the task is to sow the seeds and that it might take a generation, or even some centuries to grow, but the patience means that the process is not abandoned. True patience is not passivity but gives energy to persevere. In suggesting change is bottom up, beginning in the desert, this is not to say that a disciple of Jesus cannot be at the ‘top’ and occupy a position of power. What is done with the power is of course the key, but if the body of Christ continues to hope for appointments to the ‘top’ so that we can dictate behaviour it seems to me that we are aligning ourselves with a process that is alien to how the Gospel brings about change. A change culture is where the body of Christ changes the spiritual atmosphere so that space is created for people to grow up to fulfil potential (regardless of faith response), and with a change of atmosphere an openness to the salvatory elements of the Gospel message also.

In this post I want to open up the question of how do we engage the powers – is it from within or without? If we take a ‘powers are appointed by God’ approach we will be tending to look to reforming those powers, whereas if we emphasise the otherness of the kingdom of God we are more likely to look to stand outside the structures viewing powers as more or less necessary evils, but still essentially evil. As for the powers being instituted by God (Rom. 13) – a great text for those who believe Christians should not be out there causing havoc by protesting what their beloved leader is up to – we can see how Paul is relativising the authority of human leaders and not normalising their behaviour. It aligns with Jesus words to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. A relative response to Caesar, working out what he is ‘owed’ and an absolute response to God to whom we owe everything. What do we owe the powers? Submission or confrontation?

Engage or disengage? I think both can be prophetic, both are called for, both are powerful and both are subject to deception. There are OT prophets whose context was deeply inside the structures and there were those who were speaking and acting from the outside. To the extent that they both aligned their perspective to God’s they were being prophetic.

The two descriptions of ‘salt’ and ‘light’ also point in these two directions. The salt is immersed in and has a role to inhibit the growth of the negative and promote the growth of the positive; light illuminates and shines forth as an alternative so by implication is somewhat separate to what needs exposing. I consider then that it is not an either / or approach, and that some will be led in one direction and others in another direction.

An immersion in the structures requires a wisdom as to how to work with compromise. Structures are not perfect, even the best ones are imperfect and all structures have a default to demonisation (the biblical material on the city is key to understand this… and it is important to understand this not simply in relation to ‘secular’ structures). Some aspects of our western world (in particular parts of the economy) have been uncritically baptised by the Christian world, and we should be more suspicious of how we engage with such areas. If something can be redeemed then we have a reason for involvement. Redemption requires a connection, a connection will necessitate a compromise, but that compromise has to be redemptive to pull it toward a more wholesome position. I consider the test has to be how an area of society humanises (or not). To dehumanise is to act demonically.

How we approach this is so challenging. One organisation might be happy to draw funds from sectors of the financial world that facilitates the ever-increasing divide in our world and then use such funds for good – others might view the very source as untenable. This goes far beyond the rights or wrongs of drawing on, for example, lottery funds.

Different levels of faith probably are one aspect in how we respond, though sometimes I think an uncritical approach has silenced the questions that have to be asked if we are to discover what is truly a faith response. What is sure is for anyone dealing with change from the inside they will require two aspects of cleansing – a continual washing of the heart otherwise they will be soon in trouble, and the washing of their feet regardless of how clean the heart is. Our feet will always get dirty when seeking to walk through this world’s dust. That is not a problem as Jesus made clear to Peter. We cannot always make the right response, but we can seek to make the redemptive response.

Given that so much of our world has evolved on an economic myth (this does not mean that it is all therefore bad) there are those who will definitely be much more comfortable in stepping outside what is considered the norm. I have long advocated that for the sake of believers today and in the light of what is coming we have to find new (and really they are old) views of work. It has to be unhooked from monetary reward. Paul never said ‘if you do not earn you should not eat’, but it is hard to find anywhere that is able to define work other than in a monetary way. There is a very real place for the stepping to the (out-)side of society, of not conforming to the status quo. Maybe long live the hippie in all of us. The danger is of course of defending the non-taking of responsibility as being prophetic!

Dangers, dangers and more dangers. But if we are focused on change the direction our feet might take us could just surprise us.

Some opt to be in, some choose out… some will be in today and out tomorrow and vice versa. Whatever our response, let’s not forget to shake IT all about, or at least participate in the shaking that God is doing right now. The façades are opening again.


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Power or change?

I am not sure if the brief title is adequate but I wish to explore what our beliefs are concerning societal transformational change. The political scene across many countries and regions is changing quickly and radically. In Europe the polarisation is increasingly visible and unless bridges are built the result will be increased division, hatred and violence. What fuels this is a mixture of fear (real and fabricated), being blindly wedded to a party political ideology, and what is important for this post – a belief as to how change takes place.

I have written before of an appointment we had in a local bank. The person attending us had our account on the screen in front of us and when she saw that we had actually been donating a small amount to a particular political party she responded with obvious disapproval. We then spoke of their approach to the issue of corruption that is evidently endemic throughout the political system in Spain, to which she replied with, ‘I will tell you something that you need to understand. Corruption is here, nothing will ever change…’ A few more words to educate us, then it was obvious our time was over as she said using the nickname for the political leader, ‘Now you can leave with your…’

We did not donate the money because the party is God’s answer in the sense that we have to get them in power and all will change; we did not support them because we line up with their ideology at every point; but we did support them as they would not take money and be bought by power and had been calling for radical change particularly into the aspect of corruption. At this point of time they are the smallest of the four main parties in Spain and we watched with interest when the leader was asked a direct question a couple of nights ago as to whether they would ever be in power. The response was, from our perspective very mature. Whether they ever got into power was somewhat secondary, but that their presence and where they were currently positioned meant that they had been influential in change over a number of policies. The change taking place was not through power but through influence.

There is a very revealing text that I have oft quoted in Luke’s Gospel:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:1-3).

There is no indication in this that the Gospel is somehow non-worldly and non-political. Indeed far from it. In the context of the lock up of power, both politically and religiously there is outlined the process for change – the word of the Lord coming in the wilderness. Change not beginning in Moncloa, Number 10, Brussels, nor the White House. It was something along those lines that impressed us with this party leader’s response to the interview, where he explained about change through influence rather than through power.

The challenge at this time to the right and the left as things polarise is that both are committed to a change process which is effectively, get in power and change things top down. Maybe this is understandable for without a revelation of Jesus what alternative is there. Understandable for those without faith to take that approach, but what about those of us who are believers? Do we want power by aligning ourselves to those who have power, or are we looking for change?

John’s baptism was a preparation for a renewal of the people of God. He goes to the entry point to the land with a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We should not understand this simply as an evangelical baptism but as a baptism for a covenant people who had failed to live up to the commission of heaven. The original people had been delivered from the Imperial power of Egypt, they were walking away from those centralised power structures being shaped by the law of God. But they had over years succumbed to the same powers that they had been delivered from with the decisive shift being their demand for a Monarchy. The result was that they understood their great days through that lens but eventually had ended in submission to the power structures they had emulated, the latest Imperial structure being that of Rome. The baptism was to prepare a people to be renewed so as they could step up into the commission of being a royal priesthood for the whole earth.

I have always been blessed when I have met people who have stood in the gap for someone else or for a situation saying that their commitment was that they would hold the space ‘on their watch’. Corporately this is how I understand what it means for the body of Christ to be the salt of the earth. That salt that inhibits the growth of evil and promotes the growth of righteousness if truly present means certain things will not take place on our watch.

I view as an insult to the body of Christ that levels of corruption can exist; that cultures that blame women for how they dress is enough to justify men’s lustful behaviour. Protests against those things sometimes seem to rise up in spite of the body of Christ, but I think they also rise up as a sign that something is shifting spiritually. This is an aspect that Gayle and I take seriously. If a political party believes that change can only take place through becoming the ones in control so be it, but if we align ourselves to that conviction we will soon lose sight of, and belief in, the transforming power of the cross. We do not look for something to rise up that is perfect, but we also look to seek to be faithful during our watch. I am sure we have missed many aspects, but if Spain is to come to a place of freedom then there has to be evidence that what has been rooted in the land is unrooted and cannot take root to the same extent again.

The answers do not lie in the right nor in the left, and certainly not in either when they believe that change is through imposition. Neither will the solution take place through the agency of a church that is aligned to the same belief about the process of change, who align themselves to the person or party that will bring in some imposed form of morality, regardless of how they speak of and treat others, and meanwhile the marginalised are marginalised even more.

We live at a dangerous time, but a time of great opportunity. I do believe there is another financial crisis waiting to happen, but my main concern is for a shift to take place in the body of Christ. That we do not retreat to another cycle of conferences that strengthen (spelt ‘isolate’) who we are, but that we find a wonderful re-positioning, an alignment from having discovered true north.

Not called to have power over… but through a commitment and alignment to the cross to have such an influence, even if invisible, that visible change takes place. Dangerous times but times of such opportunity. Not a time to quickly align with the rising extremes but to the process of change that begins in the wilderness. I suspect when that day reveals all we will discover that the changes took place not through those who held power (though there is an accountability for them) but through the unknowns who had been faithful. We will discover that it was on their watch that change took place.


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Act humanly

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Rom. 3: 21-23).

All have sinned: one of those key texts I was taught to remember to prove that all are condemned and in need of salvation. The context to the text is the failure of both Jew and Gentile to attain righteousness. The core argument is not to present a proof text but to maintain universal failure, whether Jew or Gentile. We could translate ‘all’ as ‘both’ – both Jew and Gentile have sinned. And sin, Paul says, is to fall short of the glory of God. That is the part that interests me. ‘Glory’ so often taken to mean some transcendent place or experience that is somehow other than down here and visible. There are experiences that are out there; there are texts that speak of seeing the glory of God but it seems in this context Paul is suggesting that ‘glory’ is something very human and very visible. In line with this John says of Jesus that we saw his glory, full of grace and truth. We can use the term ‘glory’of something transcendent, but in the NT glory is incarnated and has content.

Both have sinned; they have failed to manifest the glory of God. Jews with all their advantages (Rom. 3:2) failed to manifest the glory. For this Jesus is clearly the Saviour of the Jew, and because of that, Saviour of the world, for Gentiles too have failed to reveal glory. Glory then is something that is very human and very down to earth – or was meant to be. In 1 Corinthians 11 in Paul’s writing about men and women, and however we work it out he certainly does nothing to limit potential function, he uses the term ‘glory’ applying it both to males and females. There are probably some quotes flying around there rather than simply Paul’s own teaching and wording but it again shows that glory is not simply an attribute of God. We are not simply meant to have an experience of entering into the glory but are called to manifest his glory. Failing to do so is to sin, to miss the mark (the word also being an archery term) not simply in terms of the guilt of not coming up to the legal standard required, but of failing to live humanly.

C.S. Lewis (an Anglican hence his sacramental context in the quote below) wrote of the holiness that is present in another human being:

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

God has invested himself into humanity, and perhaps we could even say divested herself into humanity. To live humanly, to honour humanity, to help create and hold shapes that allow people to live humanly is to reveal glory. Every time we do not do that we do not act humanly and as much as we prevent others from acting thus we act demonically. The demonic is not presented as the antithesis of God but as the antithesis of humanity. The crisis of the present, the imminent collapse of certain ways that have been constructed are the fruit of the dehumanising culture that has sadly been nurtured.

Big issues need big solutions. Yet those solutions probably begin closer at hand than we think. A commitment to humanity will both manifest God’s glory and pull others toward the same. Although salvation by works is rejected there is such a call to live rightly – to do good.

There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism (Rom. 2: 9-11).

For us who claim to have made a commitment to God there is an even stronger requirement on us that we also make a commitment to humanity. Let the glory return!


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Jesus and the Bible

The relationship of believers to Jesus and to the Bible is interesting. There are times there are conflicts that seem to come down to whether Jesus is subservient to the Bible or the Bible has to give way to him. At this time this challenge is very visible across the pond with the conflicting testimonies of a man being put forward for public office who is denying the claims of sexual abuse by a woman. There is the ‘he said, she said’ aspect to it. To be wrongly accused is a nightmare, to be disbelieved and blamed for not coming forward earlier is sadly too often the pattern. There is a further aspect that if this took place decades ago surely forgiveness has to apply and this cannot be held against him. Of course I cannot speak into the current situation as I do not know the ‘facts’. I do though want to take the opportunity to push into the inter-relationship of our faith in Jesus and our faith in the Bible as authoritative.

In Spain there is the now very famous case involving the self-named group ‘the Manada’ (wolf-pack) when the five men of the pack sexually assaulted a woman in a doorway in Pamplona in 2016. This was deemed not to be rape as there was insufficient evidence for violence and intimidation – so declared the judges, one saying she clearly did not fight back, there was no evidence that at any time did she, for example, try to bite any of the men on their privates to stop the attack. So the outcome pronounced by the (male) judges on the case was of no violence, no intimidation, therefore it was not rape! The woman in a dark doorway, five men, filming it on cell phones. Such a verdict normalises the objectivisation of women and the ‘what can you expect’ of the status quo. Indeed some people have suggested that if unwanted physical sexual advances that occurred in the context of school / college becomes the bar then so many men would have to rule themselves out of being fit for public office. Such a response unacceptably normalises the behaviour. Yes, forgiveness… yes people change… but there is a culture also that we have to change.

The challenge for believers is to get beyond the Bible to Jesus. If believers do not look to Jesus, how he treated women, his comments on lust, the inclusion of the divorce rights to women, the elevation of women to receive the same calling as men, his response to the woman caught in adultery etc., there will always be a pull to the default biblical culture, the culture of patriarchy. When we end there men will be cut a whole lot of slack, women will be disbelieved and in the majority of situations where they are brave enough to come forward they will still be labelled as they probably provoked it. Our issue with the Bible is it was written in a patriarchal context. Read the Bible without a Jesus-lens and we males win every time. Read it with a Jesus-lens and we have to critique what we read, for we have God speaking to us but the context of the writing is patriarchal. We must not allow the culture to dictate what the voice is saying or to silence the voice. Allegiance to Jesus demands this of us. Allegiance to Jesus relativises every other allegiance, he alone is the Lord exalted to the right hand of the Father. I can love my nation, marry the land and sow myself in but cannot swear allegiance; I can love the Bible, read it, devour it, but it is to the Jesus that the Bible bears witness to that I give my all. I cannot defend behaviour that is bibically-based but Jesus-denying.

I sympathise with anyone falsely accused. That is horrendous and even when acquitted the ‘there is no smoke without fire’ often remains. Finding a way through on the individual cases is not easy, but the culture has to change.

For the culture to change we have to hear Jesus, for only in hearing him does faith come. To hear him we have to hear those whose speech reflects his voice. In the situations I am writing about it will be all but impossible to hear him without hearing the voice of women. This is not tokenism, nor is it positive discrimination, it is to recognise that the clearest sound will be heard outside the established power structure.

In the Manada case the public outcry resulted in the government putting forward a commission that would review how rape should be defined (currently based on the two elements that have to be shown to be present: violence and intimidation). The members of the commission put forward – all males! Not a hope of there being anything other than a superficial shift in the definition.

Jesus did not come to bring about superficial shifts, but deep cultural ones. It is tragic when (male) believers are the main believers who speak up and the status quo is defended. We pray for transformation… that transformation has to include the diminishing of the patriarchal culture, the culture that is assumed and so defended in the Bible. That culture is what was carried to the cross by Jesus. The women at the cross saw a world coming to an end; the women in the garden saw a new world open up. And for us as Paul said ‘if anyone is in Christ there is a new world’…

A while back I was speaking to a Roman Catholic her in the Iberian peninsula and he spoke of his region that ‘even now there are some evangelicals being born again’. I laughed as one might expect. However, maybe that is what we all need, after all perhaps Nicodemus could be a type of the evangelical of his day and it was to him Jesus said you need to be born again (from above), for without it he would not see the kingdom. The Jesus of the Bible opens the door to new birth; the Bible without Jesus can simply confirm my acceptance of the unacceptable culture I contribute toward.


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Power: fear or love

A certain gentleman whose tweets can be followed with various gasps of ‘surely this time he is joking’ apparently when asked about power and how it works responded with the word ‘fear’. For him to be effective and get things done the best attribute to have is one that enables a climate of fear to be cultivate among those around him. Fear certainly enables the exercise of a certain type of power.

In some of the medieval religious art the fear of hell fire and torment was certainly a tool employed to keep everyone in line. There are consequences to choices and it is a ‘fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ so some measure of ‘nervousness’ is probably in order. That though is a long way from using fear to control and make sure that everyone complies with our will.

We head off to Brazil in a few weeks time after a pause of some 9 years. Back in those days I was travelling doing prophetic seminars and soon discovered that in the highly exalted prophetic world of that country there was so much abuse. Prophets who would give a word and say if it was not received the person would be ill or even die! It was no surprise that when we broke those literal curses off people there were significant outbreaks of instantaneous healings. That was a not so subtle means of using fear to control.

When Sue was ill with cancer I had a phone message left on my ansaphone. A person with great revelation who discovered that in the book ‘Impacting the City’ there was an error. I was to seek the Lord, re-read the book, discover the error, repent and lo and behold Sue would be healed. If only there was only one error in the book!! I am glad the call was so ridiculous that it was easy to dismiss.

Discerning where there is an effect from choices that we genuinely need to put right, and where we are looking (in vain) for where we have been wrong, and so things are not as they should be, can be a challenge. However, approaching any such question from fear will not get us any where positive. Even if we were to find the right ‘answer’ the underlying approach is so wrong that the answer is unlikely to produce the desired solution.

There are a couple of fairly strong Scriptures that have a ‘warning’ sign attached.

… but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

A couple of pretty strong ‘fear-inducing’ Scriptures those two, and two pretty strong life-giving Scriptures if we come close to lining up to them. Life-giving: forgive. Can be tough and thank God I have never faced tough situations where I have had to dig deep to forgive, so I want to be careful what I write. To forgive is to release, it is not to say what was done was OK, in fact it can mean to do the opposite of that. Forgiveness to be real is to accept what was done was not OK but I am not going to ask for my pound of flesh. Life-giving for that is what we will then experience ourselves. To experience forgiveness at a human level is wonderful but to expand that to the divine level is incredible. That is freedom, and the pathway is to forgive others. Be cautious about judging is a good bench mark. Religion likes to judge, but does not give life. I have been a happy advocate for Identificational repentance because identification is pretty easy. Repent for the crusades of 1000 years ago – easy as I too have wanted to conquer for God (= make life easy for me, prove me right, get God on my side, suppress all who challenge me).

When Jesus spoke the above words it was not to put the fear of God in us, but to outline paths of life. Imagine a world where forgiveness went up by just a few percent, and judging went down just a little. Wow!!

God does not control by fear. Indeed I would suggest that those who have something to fear are the religious… the very ones who try to control by fear. Oh and the power hungry as religion is just one more manifestation of power hunger.

The power that God exercises is power for change coming from love. That threatens us to the core. What if people do not want to change? Well apparently God is not so ignorant of that to be surprised and has not changed his ways. If he has not changed his ways I was simply wondering if it might be a good thing for a bunch of God’s people to get back to his ways?


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We are ever so radical, Gayle and I. We have taken part in protests, stood outside courts and made proclamations, blah blah blah. Ever so radical, or not. At this moment of time a man who protested over the Russian regime is currently in hospital in Germany probably having been poisoned. In numerous nations there are those imprisoned for their faith (spiritual and / or political). So how radical are we? At the global level not that radical in that our lives are not really put at risk. It is not to likely that you will read we have been imprisoned or tortured, for we are among the privileged.

We – not all but many of the readers of this blog – are privileged. The majority of us have an education, food on the table, we are not threatened with violence, nor persecuted for our beliefs. This is who we are and our context. It seems that the issue is what we do with our privileges. In Jesus’ society to be Jewish, male and free was to be privileged, and he totally undermined all of those privileges. Those within those categories being called to humility and those outside being elevated. Paul’s pedigree was impeccable and he was highly privileged, but when he met Jesus he came to the conclusion that it was all of no value.

Privilege means we have to do something. My issue with the capitalist idea of ‘trickle down’ is that it has not worked. The divergence has only increased. My issue with the equalisation of all things where the state is the master is that entrepreneurship is squashed, concrete becomes the creative norm and poetry is lost. Gifting, entrepreneurship, privilege is part of our world, but unless something is in place ‘trickle down’ stops trickling very soon. The OT law was not simply ‘religious’ law but also state / societal law and there is plenty in there that encouraged entrepreneurship yet limited the extent of the benefit to the entrepreneurial centre and made sure through legislation that any benefit and growth were available to those beyond.

We have to do something with the privileges we have. I am not sure if I can call myself a feminist (I appreciate there are many definitions to this word, but for the moment assume the positive meaning that egalitarians see in Scripture). I am pro-feminist, but can I really call myself a feminist? By this I mean can I really move beyond a patronising response to one of integrity? I am not inside, nor ever been in the skin of the person who has lived in and through a patriarchal world. I can empathise, I can be supportive and add my voice but can I authentically take an identity that is not mine? I can be pro-‘black lives matter’, but when does is it simply a hollow noise to say so?

We all have a context, and I am not writing with a downer on myself nor anyone else, but simply suggesting that we have to use our privileges with a long term vision and on behalf of those who find themselves in a non-privileged position. I cannot be as radical as those who oppose oppression in lands where freedoms are closed down, but I still have to use the context I am within to push for freedoms, even if I personally already experience those freedoms.

The world of academia is a privileged world. It is dominated by those privileged by class, previous education, world-view of home or society, money etc. Those wishing to change the world in the political realm often come from that background. Does change really come from the realm of the intellect? I love to write about a bunch of societal issues, and the word ‘write’ should be spelt beginning with a ‘p’ – pontificate – and ‘on things he is unqualified to write about’ added in parenthesis. I have sat recently opposite one of the main financial advisers in a local bank to say ‘money is not real, it is digits on a computer, only 3% of what you and your like claim exists can be substantiated’. But truth be out – what do I really know about changing the system. There are those (I presume) who can talk about these things and outline a genuine and just way forward. They are usually those with ‘Dr’ / ‘Professor’ before their name. I hate to admit it but the privileged have power.

Gayle and I have the privilege of being able to travel to places to seek to undo the effects of history. We can outline our (very impressive) vision for Spain and Europe. We can post a newsletter outlining how important we are to the future. The circumstances of others means they cannot do any of the above. Survival is their vision. If we (G & I) ever assume we are important in a way that others are not we have lost the plot, yet we have to live in our context. We have to be faithful to our vision and use any privileges we have for long term purposes of justice.

We have the context of being able to debate the implications of ‘true north’ for the body of Christ. Other contexts are simply trying to survive and they meet together for this reason. They are to be respected… but we in our privileged position need to push for new expressions, new positioning not to show how smart we are, but so that we help create something long term that re-positions the body of Christ globally for genuine societal shift.

We cannot compare our lives to those who are under the thumb of oppression. We can empathise but we cannot patronise with a glib ‘we understand’. We can look for shifts, small or large, believing that all shifts contribute to the future both pre- and post-parousia. For this reason whatever privileges we have we need to accept that they are of no value status wise, but place responsibility on us to live and act humbly from those privileges for the future. Privilege is ours to enable us to help level the field.


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Beyond mind to mind

Gayle found a little phrase that I said a few months back when ‘true north’ was a focus. It was:

This is not a time for mind to mind communication but for mouth to imagination inspiration.

Maybe the ‘mouth’ word needs some tweaking, particularly in the light of the previous arts post, but there remains something key in the quote.

The mind is to be honoured. Great thinkers, even some of whom have had inadequacies socially, have brought about change. We are told to love the Lord God ‘with all our mind’. We are given instructions as to what to think on in Scripture. I am deeply grateful for those who have abilities I do not have who have opened up whole new avenues of thought and insight into both the Scriptures and the world.

I appreciate the deep surprise when I say I am not of a Reformed persuasion (!) and I cannot square the passion some of those from that camp have to share their faith and by ‘all means win some’. I might be wrong but I cannot see how the theology and the passion connect. Those from the opposite viewpoint (e.g. Open Theology) could be viewed as surely being insecure about the future and God’s intervention. Regardless of camp we might think we can square all the corners that need squaring, even if how we do that is a mystery to those of an opposite persuasion. What is sure, regardless of doctrinal belief, is that passion transcends beliefs.

Mind to mind communication is not wrong, but it does appear that God does not put too much weight behind convincing others of how correct my beliefs are. I found that out a long time ago! Some people track with Gayle and I because they can see the journey we are on is consistent, others do not track because… Now if only God could recognise how important it is for all to embrace my beliefs!

Mouth (arts / imagery / sounds etc.) to imagination inspiration. This is what is needed. Once the imagination is inspired we might well need to examine the validity of the inspiration so as we do not simply embrace a fantasy (vain imagination in Scripture), but something has to begin in the imagination to bring about an inspiration that we might not even be able to square with our beliefs. It does not seem to me that there will be too many questions on the final exam paper concerning doctrine, and certainly none about how well we did in convincing others to accept the finer points of what we thought were our important beliefs. The ‘questions’ apparently will be over what we did. I hope I go beyond my beliefs.

I think we find out that true imagination transcends fantasy when we hit adversity, and the challenge of what we see around us. And one aspect that is hard to quantify is how much transformation will we see prior to the parousia. I am no scientific expert (and maybe the word ‘scientific’ was superfluous in that phrase) but the mess we are making of the planet and the pollution to the oceans, the waters, the land, global warming etc. challenges any imagination for a different future. To proclaim ‘I have a dream of the coming back to life of species, of clean water, of climates in balance’ would either take great faith or be simply the empty words of fantasy… unless we can see that what we sow now will carry through to the age to come. We are the ones preparing the material for what only God can put together. Maybe the original creation was ‘ex nihilo’, maybe God worked with some already existing material that was chaotic. The new creation though does not come about ex nihilo, but from material that God himself will, and only he can, work on to produce something beyond our dreams. That material will come from our works and our imagination.

It is not a time to pump out meaningless fantasy, but it is a time to allow our communication to focus on the imagination. Bless the mind and the intellect, but we have to elevate the imagination in this season. Not simply imaginations that will enable us to survive but that can set something in motion for our world.


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