Refugees welcomed

We have been travelling hence the silence on the blog. But changes are here! In Prague we were very focused on the shift of time, moving from the metronome which simply marks a rhythm, keeping everyone in line, to the clock, and not the mechanistic clock but the beat of the heart. We prayed for acceleration. Came home to Spain and in a few days the entrenched government was overturned, something that was certainly not predicted.

Then came the boat(s) into Valencia with over 600 refugees rescued from the Mediterranean. Spain a nation with a mercy, hospitality gift opening the doors and heart. A wonderful reversal too of history as through the port of Valencia many were brutally exiled in the Muslim expulsion (the focus of our prayers last year).

Now there is discussion concerning the removal of Franco’s body from the valley of the fallen, and o exhuming other bodies that were forcibly buried there in an act of conquest that proclaimed reconciliation (!!).

We might never know if any of the above was catalysed by the prayers of the team in Prague but there has certainly been an acceleration here. Our prayer is it will be a marker for Europe.

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Paradigm – love not power

The power God who can do anything, and does do what he sovereignly pleases, who is in control of all things. A nice God to believe in when he is on your side, but leaves a lot of questions when his power is not displayed to bail out those who need it. With that kind of God either all things are being done according to his will and then in what sense is that will ‘good, pleasing and acceptable’, or we simply do not understand the higher purpose in what he does (does not do); prayer somehow becomes our part in persuading him to be a bit better than he really is. ‘Save my relative’ because we want that but it seems he is not so sure. The only way through those predicaments is to offer the fallback of ‘mystery’… or?

If love becomes the central paradigm and that love is non-controlling, that freedom is something that God deeply respects, and that this world he has placed into the hands of us, not so capable, humans there is a shift in understanding. Our lives are pulled into co-operation with him, of desiring what he desires (that all are saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, for example). Prayer becomes our responsibility to shift those principalities (and that word can be understood in a variety of ways) so that the angelic can partner with humanity and people discover a measure of freedom where choices can be made. Prayer is twinned with action to make space.

Once we move away from God’s choice being of ‘to salvation’ or ‘to damnation’ and understand choice to be an invitation to partner with him the responsibility for the mess we are in does not lie at God’s door but at ours. Surely that is the story taught concerning the original humans?

We really need to stop moaning about the lack of God’s intervention but find where we need to be positioned so that God can intervene where he so desires to. In the wilderness Jesus overcame the ‘strong one’ with the result of many interventions by God during those years till his death, then at the cross he did the same for us.

If love is the key, then we need to be touched by his love for us and for what and who are beyond us, as we do we will inevitably find ourselves in power conflicts where we have to resist the devil and then coming out the other side will make room both for the love and power of God to manifest.

Allah is simply the word that translates our English word ‘god’. If ‘the sovereign will of Allah’ is a belief held by some, and there are Christians who ave an all-but identical view of the sovereign will of God, can we really find a legitimate way of suggesting that they believe in two different gods? The Jesus-like God is the one who has to fill out the meaning to the word ‘god’, and those who follow Jesus will surely increasingly manifest love that is for the enemy not against them, with the power they carry being primarily the power of love.

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Paradigm – we can fail

Promised success or called to be effective?

Words do have some measure of intrinsic meaning (etymology) but meanings change over time and in different contexts, so the real meaning of words is to do with what they communicate. In seeking to contrast the words ‘effective’ and ‘successful’ I need to explain the meaning I am seeking to inject into them. There has been a lot of emphasis on being an overcomer, being successful in both the Christian and non-Christian world, with very little critique on how that personal success impacts on others. One of the great challenges, for example, in the world of commerce and business is how to analyse the impact a business is making. Success might be measured in terms of the market share or the so-called bottom line, but how does one measure the resulting shift in the health of society? For this reason I consider that the better term to use is effectiveness. Success is measured by what I have achieved, effectiveness is measured by what I enable others to achieve, how I enable them to both discover who they are and what their contribution to the future is. I am not suggesting it is easy to measure, but what it does mean is I am not driven by a success measurement, but by a desire to see a shift beyond me for the sake of others.

Steve Lowton has recently put out a set of videos on ‘authenticity’. They carry a real weight and I recommend them. In the fifth in the series he explains a little about his journey of seeking to make a difference to the global trade routes, a journey that meant he lost considerable amount of money. Here is that video:

‘Failure’ pushed him into gardening (the original call on Adam and the way in which God first revealed himself). His first contract came from a place called Follifoot!! Given that Steve was instrumental in a walk to Rome (and beyond) the name was indeed a challenge. I have been glad to know Steve over years; he and Kathy have been a huge influence on our lives and values. Success makes us feel better but a desire to be effective makes any assessment over out lives on hold, waiting for the only fully true (and very generous) assessment that will come our way in the future.

I think one of the paradigms we have to shift from is the super-hero mentality. I fear where we have been driven to succeed, to tell the ‘success’ story that we could end up denying the very Gospel that calls us to align with Jesus to effect the wider world and those around us.

I am convinced that the many unknown people who have stumbled through life but motivated to serve, who have that tendency not to think of themselves too much will be the ones rewarded greatly, for no cup of cold water will be forgotten. Perhaps those who are sure they have accomplished so much for Jesus maybe should take a time out to ask if their personal assessment comes close to his.

I am glad we can fail. We can aim high, give it our best shot and come up short. We can re-assess, try again, do it better, or just realise for whatever reason we are not going to make it the way we thought we were. There is something so much bigger than our success at stake, and the time frame is not limited to our three score years and ten. The apostolic, Paul suggests, is marked by great patience. Waiting for something to change that might not shift for a century or two ahead, that is great patience, and into that shift the wonderfully encouraging stories of success play their part, as also do the ‘follifoot’ stories.

And finally – any resemblance to Gayle and I in the accompanying image is purely coincidental.

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Paradigm – the witness challenge

We are called to witness not evangelise

Careful!! I am not saying do not evangelise, but I am challenging the core of what we are called to be. I also promised to write a little tersely so do not want to nuance what I write too much. I do write though with a conviction that we are first called to be witnesses, and in particular witnesses to another world, or maybe we could say to the true calling of this world. Summed up in 2 Corinthians 5: 16-19 (emphasis added):

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! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

Good verses to read while also looking in a mirror… Everything is new, not will become new, and not simply the born again person has become a ‘new creature’ but there is a whole new creation. What a challenge to live bearing witness to the new creation. Talk about a tension that affects all of life. We often say, for example, ‘money is rubbish’ yet we, like our neighbours buy our food, pay our bills through the rubbish that money is. How do we live having to use it, but to live in such a way that we bear witness to a different world?

Evangelism is challenging. When to say something, and how many times have we all kicked ourselves afterwards when we missed an opportunity. Yet evangelism can become an excuse not to live the life of witness, and even worse it can treat people as objects, thus effectively demonising the image of God. Evangelism in the sense of sharing the realities of sin, Jesus death on the cross, forgiveness etc. fits into the context of witnessing, but witnessing cannot be reduced to evangelism. It is a much bigger concept, and a much more demanding one. Come follow me as I follow Christ is much more demanding than ‘do not look at me but let me tell you the facts I have distilled from the Bible’.

The need for witnesses of the new creation is so needed, and if we took it more seriously would affect so much of what is taught and practised.

The body of Christ as royal priesthood

This has been a strong theme for us over the past few years but I do not apologise for the repetition. Losing sight of this is what caused Israel to lose her way, and is probably behind what gave rise to the synagogue life. In Babylonic exile because of sin can both be seen as a punishment and an opportunity. The opportunity being to live in the context of alienship within a strange land, but deeply connected to that strange land to help it move forward.

I grew up with only a pejorative understanding of the word ‘world’. It was not simply fallen but essentially evil and to be avoided. However, reading the Gospels it is evident that Jesus embraced that world. His work in Israel was both to bear the sin of Israel and to get the calling of the redeemed people back on track, restoring ‘witness to the nations’ as royal priesthood.

There are two ways in which a community of people, or a defined society / group can be seen. They can be seen as a community that is shaped by a concept of being there for one another. That clearly is an emphasis in Scripture concerning the church. Some 30 or so times we read in the Pauline letters the phrase ‘one another’ (love, encourage, rebuke, care for etc.). The other way of understanding a defined group is that their core raison d’être is as a movement. A movement is not in existence primarily for one another, but is motivated with a vision for the society beyond the movement, the society of which they are a part. MLK’s ‘I have a dream’ speech is a very clear articulation of a movement’s inner core. The dream is not that the Civil Rights movement will pat each other on the back but that they will catalyse a future day that is in line with the movement’s core convictions. A movement lives and acts to see the wider community transformed, and once the vision is fulfilled the movement no longer has a reason to exist. Community in the sense of being there for one another is present within Scripture but is subsidiary to that of movement. Israel was a community but had a calling that gave their ‘one another’ element a context. They were not to be a ‘I’ll pat you on the back’ kind of people but were to carry the Creator’s image into the whole world. The idea that an embassy in Jerusalem is fulfilling prophecy seems so sadly missing the point of prophecy… embassies of heaven in every locality, not found in a building with a plaque on the wall but living stones thorough whom the presence and values of Christ are shown. Buildings might be present but the real issue is the spiritual building fit for God’s presence.

If we grasp the royal priesthood call of God’s-through-redemption-people we will see that God has commissioned such a people to impact the world of God’s-through-creation-people. God is not coming to condemn the world but to redeem the world, the church and all that is in it is not the sum total of God’s belongings, the Scriptures pronounce that the earth and all its fullness is God’s.

God is at work in the church so that he can be at work in the world. This was the call of Israel all along as a special chosen people, chosen to be uniquely aligned with God so that the world might come into her destiny, so that the nations (Gentiles, not ‘nations’ in the narrow and modern sense of nation-state) might live out their destiny. We have to work out what means, the same as ancient Israel was to work it out. Were the nations to become subsumed under Israel, were they to live out all the same laws, even the ones that instructed them to avoid mixing the materials that their clothes were made from! Likewise we have to work it out, and I don’t think the direction is toward a ‘Christian nation’, but to enabling a nation to fulfil her destiny. Destiny seems always to be defined by something outward, hence a nation reaching her destiny can only be measured by the level to which they serve others, others outside its borders and all others within its borders.

The church in the land then has to serve in such a way as to limit the influence of the dominant principalities that resist the true destiny of a nation manifesting. In that sense the church will never make a good state religion! But is there to enable the nation to serve and facilitate values that are Jesus-values.

We could also write that God is involved in the world and there are areas where the church has to get her skates on and catch up, and in catching up get on board with some Jesus-values also.

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Paradigms – there to here

In a few hours I pick up a new set of glasses, Gayle insisting that I get a new pair, saying that it is time to see things differently post our time in Prague. (Maybe given that the current pair lenses are scratched meaning I have to take them off to read small print might also be a factor?) It is certainly good to get one’s sight checked up and get any prescription upgraded from time to time, and just as with physical sight so with spiritual. The lenses that we see things through and what we see as central change over the years. In a few posts that follow I reflect on what I think should be more central in our focus. It does not necessarily mean that is all we see but what else we see will be in the light of what we consider central. I will seek to write tersely and pointedly as I realise my own perceptions have changed when I have become uncomfortable, and often after a defensive reaction.

Heaven and earth not heaven and hell

If we ran a simple experiment of giving the Scriptures to someone to read who had never read them and then did a word association asking what word would they put with ‘heaven and…’ I am convinced they would put the word ‘earth’. There might also be a contrast between heaven and hell in Scripture, but I think we only get there by suggesting many of the narratives, prophetic Scriptures or apocalyptic imagery are referring to heaven and that the ‘fire, wailing and gnashing of teeth’ references are to something akin to Dante’s inferno. Regardless of how we understand life after death, or life post-parousia the primary comparison and contrast in Scripture to heaven is earth. Land issues are not a periphery topic with the very term used some 1200 times. Many references are to the land of Israel but those also can point beyond those boundaries as Paul makes clear that God’s promise to Abraham’s seed was the whole earth.

‘This world is not my home I’m just a passing through’ is an understandable song sung by those caught in the evils of slavery, but the lyrics are not easy to root in the pages of our holy book.

If we make the ‘heaven and earth’ the primary way of seeing and not ‘heaven and hell’ this will have immense ramifications. We can add to this the Scripture that affirms that the heavens belong to God, but the earth he has given to humanity. Here becomes our responsibility, ours to pray that your kingdom come… your will done here as in heaven.

Movement is from heaven to earth

Right from the creation narratives onward all (permanent) movement is from heaven to earth. The creation narratives have three elements – the heavens, the waters and the earth. What is in heaven has to come to earth, with the language suggesting that creation is some sort of cosmic temple. The last element placed in the ancient temples being the image of the deity. The task for this image (humanity), is not only to represent but to act on behalf of the deity, cultivating the land so that what is in heaven is on earth. The waters can be seen as a divide between heaven and earth, that which resists the coming of heaven to earth, that which has to be subdued in order for heaven to manifest. In John’s final visions he sees all things renewed, ‘a new heaven and a new earth…’ but no waters. That unruly, resistant element has gone.

There is some movement from earth to heaven in Scripture but this seems to be a temporary movement. Even with the resurrected Jesus, we are told that the ‘heavens receive him until’, The most astounding part of the eschaton is that God moves his location. It is not the end of ‘heaven’ but it again expresses that God-movement is from heaven to earth.

Death is a reality, and there is a rest that comes with it, but in this expression of earthly life before-death we are making a contribution to the coming of the age when there is no more death. Life after death does seem to be a NT expression, but it is peripheral, with the real hope being resurrection from the dead enabling earthly life to be expressed post-parousia. It seems humanity’s task is to get all things ready now for then, and to prepare those things so that there can be a transformation here.

[‘Caught up to meet him in the air’ and such language is every day Imperial culture language and I do not believe can ever be used to suggest what J.N. Darby and others taught. Such an emphasis has been very damaging to the task of the church, resulting in a damnation of creation, non-humanising salvation, and demeaning all earthly activity.]

What happens here and what happens now is vital. In one sense more important than what happens then – in the sense that what is now prepares for then, Then is dependent on now, hence Jesus did something here as a human in the midst of history in order to transform the final outcome. In the same way as the Father sent Jesus so he sends us, and the final words of Matthew’s Gospel being familiar temple language. The ‘Great Commission’ to go into all the world is with the message of this world’s destiny, that the world is indeed a cosmic temple.

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Forty Years – personal and political

Always interesting how God does things, and I guess pretty individually tailored too. Certainly for Gayle and I our personal lives and circumstances have often mirrored what we have focused on. The last two days have been historic with the sitting PM being ousted through a no-confidence vote. The first time such a motion has been ‘successful’.

I have reflected before the occasion when a professional banker sitting at her desk told us in no uncertain terms that we should forget any dream of seeing levels of corruption change. ‘This is how it is in Spain, and this is how it will always be.’ Really? Forty years ago Spain put in place the constitution that stands to this day. It marked some amazing changes from the Civil War and its aftermath, and many in public office did exceptionally well, but the levels of corruption have remained. Increasingly political problems are transmuted into legal issues. The constitution does stipulate that any referendum (as per Catalonia) is illegal, but the response to the situation has been to strongly police the situation rather than handle it with political mercy and dialogue. So we have set ourselves to pray into the constitution, and have been focused on that for some 3 years, and this has led us to push into prayer for the judiciary.

Back to signs and personal circumstances. Our apartment also is, more or less, 40 years old. Forty years on and the sewage pipe could no longer function. Crap is a fact of life, getting it flushed out is our task. Our entry to Madrid is (apparently) up a sewer pipe and against the flow. And yesterday, maybe the first signs that the sewer pipe is beginning to function. This is not about raising one political party above another, but of noting the signs. And what a sign we witnessed in January 2015 in fulfilment to the vision of the square filled with 100,000 people, the empty platform one end with the people waiting for the ‘word of the Lord’. That word was ‘tick tock, tick tock, the clock is ticking in Spain…’ Just a few days ago we returned from Prague and the symbol of the metronome on the hill where we began each day, the metronome that simply marks a rhythm but does not indicate that time has moved on, was very strong. We prayed for the clock to move forward, for there to be acceleration across Europe. We have certainly seen that! Just after we returned Gayle said ‘Thursday, we have to watch for a clear sign’. She thought the sign would be in Prague (and maybe it has been) but Thursday was historic here in Spain, a clear sign.

Will we see corruption out of Spain? Probably not. But I think all we need is to make sure the sewage pipe is functioning.

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A shock to unlock the future

(Image sourced at: 20minutos.es.) When in Prague one of the things that struck us was the ‘sign’ of the metronome, a tool not to measure time but to repetitively maintain a rhythm, I suggested that truth (and that always has to mean ‘my understanding of truth’) can anchor is to the past. There is of course great value in that and the alternative of being blown by every wind that comes is far from a viable alternative. However, there has to come moments when the we move from simply being anchored to the past to embracing the future. This is done when the imagination kicks in , often in the context of a shock to the system.

Yesterday the Spanish parliament was in session all day debating a no-confidence motion against the president, following on from one one of the biggest cases that exposed huge financial irregularities and illegal payments in his (PP / conservative) party. Rajoy (current president) put up a strong fight in the morning, then was absent for the remainder of the day. After a few hours it was discovered that he was in a nearby restaurant, where he remained for some 7 hours! Headlines said ‘bunkered in’ which we found very interesting as these are the very words we have been using when praying with regard to getting the institutional injustices exposed.

A common word used throughout the day yesterday was ‘shock’. A shock to the system indicates the possible break of the institutional memory and default behaviour. We are on the verge of something new opening up, though at any time of change unless there is sufficient true vision to fill the vacuum there is only one possibility and that is a change of faces but no real change. This now is where we are at. The best part of yesterday was a measure of reconciliatory language toward the Basque and Catalan communities.

We are optimistic… and ever so watchful. A shock is where it begins. It can also sadly be where it ends.

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Home after 17 days!!

We arrived home late last night from Prague, having been away from our home for 17 days. Not our intention, but the sewage pipe in our block of apartments had broken (gladly now fixed), so we were without water, toilets, showers etc, so no real choice… off we went. I appreciate that in the heady days of the Latter Rain movement there was even some who suggested such issues as body odour would not exist, but we did not quite have the faith to buy into that level of over-realized eschatology, and I cannot find any writings that suggested faith to end all toilet needs… so left us no option but to leave for the past days. There is so much to say about these days, re Madrid and apartments, Prague and four ever so significant days there, and also some apologies for not replying to emails etc., while without normal computers, internet and the like.

I will now try and catch up these next few days, before we head off again for two weeks in Scotland (Orkney – first time there in 8 years, and just over 10 years since Gayle and I were engaged there) to partner with ORCAS – a group working together across Orkney, Caithness and Shetland. We will also be in the UK. But back to the sewage!!!

We were sent an impression / image from Adrian Lowe who has been a faithful friend over 12+ years that our entry to Madrid was up the inside of a sewer pipe. It bore witness with us, and all-but immediately the sewage pipe here evicted us from this home. When we (finally!!) obtain the apartment in Madrid, assuming we have the time and energy, we will seek to put down our journey to get in there (we have been aiming to get there since 2011, and intensely since 2015), but we have been so close on different occasions only to have what would seem to be a massive flushing of the toilets above us over our heads (do not imagine this!). Back to square one… but we also have seen the flushing out of issues that need to be exposed each time. We have seen some firsts, such as resignations of key people who formerly would have just ridden through the scandals. Currently there are 12 of 14 from the cabinet of a former government being indicted. And when the toilets flush in such a way there is a mess that lands on people. Rap singers put in prison (as well as political prisoners), another singer being arrested yesterday for his lyrics: the same lyrics in his songs for 40 years. Free speech is being clamped down on. But the sign is that there is a flushing out of corruption.

So home to catch up, to prepare, but to be glad that all we had was some inconvenience to our pattern of life, and that our personal experience was an image of our spiritual journey at this time. The inconvenience was nothing compared to those who have been uprooted permanently from their lands.

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PS: Infant Jesus?

We have just completed our final day in Prague… A whole load to process and try to put down on paper some time soon. Gayle and I with Annie Bullen had a little PS to the prayer with a trip to the ‘Church of Our Lady Victorious’ where a statue of the infant Jesus is stored behind bullet proof glass. It began life somewhere in Spain and was brought over to Prague by Spanish nobility, and has been venerated here in this church and subsequently in many places throughout the world. Thankfully a lot of prayer has gone into this before, and necessary prayer. Those who had been taken on the issue of the ‘Lady of Guadaloupe’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Guadalupe) around 10 years ago came to Prague as they discerned that the actual power behind the Guadaloupe situation was the ‘infant Jesus of Prague’. No small issue then!!

Our ‘commission’ was a simple one. Go in and cut off the Spanish roots. If that can be cut then we would expect there to be a draining of power. As we approached the statue we were so aware that so much of the power had already gone… So quietly we positioned ourselves in the middle aisle, and began to pray while there was some measure of buzz around. There was no loud praying, for sure… A priest / monk with a small tour group walked past and said ‘Shhh!’ Then spoke first in Italian (I am pretty sure) then English – where are you from? I replied ‘De España’. He then said: ‘Podaís hablar en Español, pero no en francés ni en ningún otro idioma!’ (You can speak in Spanish, but not in French nor any other language!!!) Unreal… first a confirmation that the authority relating to the statue was Spanish and we took it that we had authority to go for the Spanish roots.

Not a bad PS!

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Wednesday, May 23

A date in the calendar in Prague. The second ‘defenestration’ of Prague took place on this day (and date) 400 years ago. We were there today beneath the window where it took place on the same day and date, just separated by some 400 years. A small event when protestants took into their own hands dealing with ‘justice’ and throwing the three Catholic lords out of the window. Unbelievably all three survived, put down to the luck of falling on manure that broke the fall (the protestant version) or saved by the virgin Mary (Catholic version). This event is what sparked something much bigger, the outbreak of the devastating and continent-shaping thirty years war. This has been our focus for today.

A focus on the past is so important to deal with, and getting the focus ‘right’ between past and future is perhaps more important and also extremely challenging. In Prague there is a real sense that the city and nation should be setting the right time for Europe. We began today, and will on each successive morning, by meeting at the metronome on the hill overlooking the city. Marking a rhythm this large metronome replaced where the statue of Stalin was previously, and only placed there temporarily until they knew what to put there. If ever something spoke and cried out for something to fill it… and that is the issue, what will fill this space, where time is being marked?

That is the question for Europe. Leave it empty and there can only be a reversion to what has been before, so there is the necessity to call for the future reality to press in and fill the gap. This is a pressing issue for us in these days, as Prague is a clock for Europe, and it is some hours behind.

In Prague there is a gift / a pride / a knowing who they are of valuing truth. Both from a Christian point of view with the heritage of Jan Hus and others who held on to truth, and at a national level they too see themselves as founded on truth. But yesterday’s truth only gets us so far. Our last place to pray this morning was in a strategically placed jewellery shop whose owner is a believer. It was as we stood in the shop I saw that:

  • Truth can anchor us in to what we have inherited, but
  • only the imagination can open up the future.

Truth is important. It stimulates us but does not by itself lead to the future. It can anchor us but to move beyond, it is the imagination that has to be engaged. Truth says ‘do not let go of this’, but the imagination has to see a new community, a new way of living, a new value system. Once the fresh future is seen truth that we once held has to adapt, for we only ever see and believe in part. Fresh revelation is always waiting to break forth, and having held on to truth that both anchored us and got as far as we are now, we then find that that element of truth was (only) ‘truth as we understood it’. Fresh understanding has to update our truth. We can never update the Truth (a Person) but we can certainly update our understanding of truth.

Artists, the artistic community, the arts are vital for this to happen. They help the imagination grasp other possibilities, even other realities. If that can happen then not only what we once held on to so strongly gets adjusted, but there is the potential in the community to shift values that have been attached to things, to products and the like. There can be a revaluation. So a two-fold shout. Come on San Lorenzo! Come on you artists!

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