A tale of remotes

I feel a story coming on…

Last summer when we travelled in the north of Spain we had enormous issues with the remote control to lock and unlock our van. The key worked in the door manually but only with great difficulty, twisting it this way and that. But we got there and back and were able to lock and unlock our personal transport when we needed to – even if it took a little longer than one would wish.

Not everything is a sign, but there are times when you have to slow down and ask. Our journey was preceded by hearing ‘You need to take the manual key with you’. I ignored that – no comments about my stupidity please!! So when the remote proved an issue we did slow down and sought to see if there was a significance in it all. The manual key was the one that we should have brought along, so the one you use in situ was going to be important.

It was of course in the season when we knew we had to be in Madrid. We had been turned down by the power of Mammon and then by the power of the legal system. I had had a (tentative) sense for some while that we would offer on 3 properties and would get the third. On our way back home we went to the centre of Madrid where there is a statue of Madrid’s symbol (a bear) and we took our key, placed it on the bear to declare we are coming. We understood the Lord was saying we could not simply lock and unlock from a distance and that now we needed to be in the city to do things on site.

Fast forward… We have TV in Oliva through a company called Orange. A large number of the buttons on the remote control for the TV stopped working. So I phoned them a few weeks back and they agreed to send a new one. A week or more went past. I phoned them again, and again, and a third time this Tuesday. Other than the annoyance of the waste of time I quite enjoy such calls, but the issue was ‘get it here quick cos we are going to Madrid and on to Malaga and won’t be back for 2 weeks’.

Eventually I tracked it down – they were trying to deliver it to Cadiz. We left there 5 years ago and never had Orange provide a service to us there in Cadiz. They had even been trying to call me on a cell phone we had in Cadiz (not an Orange phone), not on the cell phone that Orange gave us and have on their records as our phone number!! Go figure!

We will get it from Cadiz to you, they said. I said, well we won’t be here!

Next day we leave, off to Madrid. As we drive out of Oliva, I see a delivery van – I have no idea how many come in per day but there must be hundreds. ‘Gayle turn around and catch him, I am going to ask him if he has our package!.’ A three point turn later and no sight of him. A few streets later I see the delivery van. Pull over. ‘Tienes un paquete para Scott a la playa?’. What street…? Yes I do! So 10 minutes later we have the remote for our TV in Oliva as we continue to drive to Madrid.

The story continues… If you are lost remind yourself it is about remotes and the story has an ending and a purpose – at least in my little head!

We are renting an underground parking space in Madrid as there is now a red zone inside of which you cannot drive your car. When we were given the remote for the garage back in January he said – it does not always work, you might have to use it manually. That was certainly true – probably 90% of the time it would not work when we were here previously. This time we turn up, immediately it works, and has done every time since!

Remotes. Here we are in Madrid. We could no longer affect Madrid remotely and have to be on site. But we have remotes that work in Madrid now and remotes from elsewhere for other places. Sweet!!

Of course we have authority over all the works of the enemy, but that is not a universal truth in the sense of I pray today and all demons world wide are paralysed. It applies to our personal lives and what we have responsibility for. In taking responsibility we have to find the leverage points that means our authority is effective.

A tale of remotes!!! Change things from one place for others. So off now to the Supreme Court. Put the manual and personal presence key in as representing Jesus and maybe a few remotes will also be pressed for elsewhere.

OK, but when?

Evidently not May 21, nor October 21, 2011!! So many miscalculations so now it is my turn… I am soliciting a little help from 2 Peter 3 and his three-fold reason as to why the parousia was still future for him, and as it turns out for us too. (Before looking at his perspective, it is worth noting, as an aside, that although he uses language that could be pressed, if taken literally, to mean the destruction of creation this is not likely his meaning. Two reasons – he uses typical apocalyptic language (strong metaphorical and physical language to describe the significance of an event, not to describe the literal result); and the second reason for not taking it as literal is he has already stated that the flood had ‘destroyed’ the world of that time. It did not physically and literally destroy that world.)

Peter seems to list three reasons in response to those who mocked about his ‘coming’ (2 Peter 3: 3, 4; parousia, the common word related to his coming, and carries the meaning of ‘presence’). The three factors are laid out in verses 8-12.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.

  • A perspective of time – what seems to be forever to us is not viewed the same way by God.
  • Any ‘delay’ means more people can be rescued. This is a very interesting perspective and challenges the pessimistic view that ‘only a few will be saved’. The longer the delay the more that will perish is the result of the pessimistic view. (A much longer discussion needed here, but I suggest we need to reverse ‘only those who receive Jesus will be saved’ to ‘only those who reject Jesus will be lost’. Maybe one day I will post on that… maybe…)
  • It is the third reason that pushes me again to underline the unfinished work of Christ. How we live, what we look forward to speeds (brings it closer in time) the parousia. There is a work for us to do. There is a future and we align our lives in the light of that, we focus on the future, that vision burns of a new just world and as a result the future will take place sooner rather than later. I take that literally, and as I have written in the past, the work we are involved in is in the preparation of the material that God requires for the New Jerusalem. We cannot build it – an unfinished Babylon is all we can achieve, but a finished New Jerusalem is what comes down from heaven, from the throne of God. Only God can do this; the perfect cannot rise up; it has to come down to transform what is here.

But the jewels, the gold, the precious stones? They originate here. Wood, straw and the like are not part of the materials God will use, and Paul acknowledges (in the context of ‘temple’ construction) that there are apostles whose works are simply that. How they work will not survive the fire, it will be considered of no eternal value. In that light he provokes us all to consider what our works consist of. God will and is building with the material that we supply that passes the fire test.

When will he come? When the work of Christ is finished… the aspect of his work that he is now doing through the body. Jesus explained to his disciples that his food was to do the will of God who sent him and to ‘finish the work’ he was given to do. And in like manner so he sent us… to finish the work.

It is time to get an eye that sees the world that is to come, the world that is the other side of the fire that destroys all unrighteousness. What world do we see? If we are to hasten that day then we need to align our lives with the values of that world, not this; we must sow seed now that is the seed for that harvest. Small acts now, but vital ones. The mockers mock, but the seers work.

Maranatha – but when?

Old Testament hope can be reduced to a big picture vision of a future day (of the Lord) when God will show up in our world righting all wrongs with rewards to the righteous and punishment for the unrighteous. That coming might involve a Messiah (by the time of Jesus probably a majority opinion), two Messiahs or sometimes without the intermediary of a Messiah. The vision was to a future horizon, perhaps preceded by certain events but essentially one horizon. It was this hope that underpinned, and maybe ‘created’ the belief in the resurrection of the dead. They did not entertain some Hellenist (Greek) form of life after death in some other realm, but believed the transformation was to take place here and that bodily human existence was necessary to enjoy it. That issue then raised the problem of what about those who had died but had lived righteously? If they are not present when that future day comes but were counted worthy they would never receive their reward. The solution was that God would raise them bodily. The clear signs that the day of the Lord had come then was two-fold, the abundant presence of God (the outpouring of the Spirit) and the resurrection of the dead. The proclamation of the early disciples was highly controversial: everything has changed! The Spirit is outpoured, his body is not in the tomb. That turned the Jewish world upside down, and subsequently held major implications for the inhabited world.

When we turn the pages to the NT inevitably the first followers of Jesus held to a similar vision of a one-horizon future. This fuels Peter’s rebuke of Jesus when he ‘corrects’ Jesus declaration about his own future death at the hands of the Jewish authorities. ‘This shall never happen to you’, was his response. The one horizon perspective meant that Jesus would enter Jerusalem triumphantly and clearly inaugurate the day of the Lord. The disappointment for the disciples is palpable, and we read that the married couple on the road to Emmaus respond to the unrecognised Jesus with the words,

but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21).

Jesus explains to them that their one horizon vision was not accurate. The son of Man must first suffer, Jesus explained. The Cross (and we include here the resurrection and Pentecost) becomes a horizon not previously seen.

Pentecost does not bring the hope to a completion. There is more for Jesus to ‘do and to teach’ (Acts 1:1), not now in bodily form among us, but present by the power of the Spirit through his body. A theological truth is that the work of Jesus is the finished work, but this must not obscure the unfinished work of Jesus, the work to be carried out in his name through his disciples.

The one horizon perspective of the future gives way to a two horizon perspective – classically expressed as the ‘first and second comings of Jesus’. However, Jesus added another dynamic to the scene that brought another horizon in view, and to this one he attached a time frame. He laid out events that would take place within a generation. In the run up to the end of that period (40 years after speaking) the world enters a momentous time of crisis. With 4 emperors in an 18 month period, involving civil war, significant earthquakes, famines, wars and many rumours of wars, and with the genocidal war against the Jews and the circling of Jerusalem by armies, those final years in the 60s threatened the survival of the world, the end of the then known world was imminent. Little wonder the head of the beast had been mortally wounded, but when Rome survived, it took on this immortal aura. Such is the nature of all beasts / empires.

We move then from a one-horizon (the great reversal and redemptive day of the Lord), through a two-horizon (first suffering, then glory), to a three-horizon perspective that included the sun being darkened and moon turning to blood years culminating in the sack of Jerusalem in 70AD. We now live post AD70 with – unless there are some other major surprises – one horizon set before us: the parousia of Jesus.

I consider that all NT Scriptures, except Revelation, were written pre-AD70, hence the ‘man of lawlessness’ and such Scriptures that were future for the original readers are now past for us. There then is very little in the Scriptures making predictions into the timeframe post AD70 – the time in which we live.

When will the parousia take place? The final horizon that wraps up this chapter of ‘heaven and earth’ and inaugurated the ‘new heavens and earth’. That event that is so fully eschatological but perhaps not teleological? (I am referring to the two Greek words eschaton and telos, both can be translated as ‘end’. It is the former word that is used of the events that the parousia marks. It is the ‘end’ but maybe also a beginning – it might not be the ‘telos’ which carries more of a sense of final destination. Just a thought / possibility.)

The next post will look at the when of the parousia, the horizon that we are looking to.

An open heaven

Just give me an open heaven then everything will be resolved, no more battles, onward and upwards. Or not… Here is Mark’s account of Jesus baptism, the open heaven and what follows:

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:9-13).

The Spirit comes from the Father to the Son with the voice of divine approval. The result is life in the sweet place ever after? No, for we read that the days following were

  • in the wilderness
  • tempted by Satan
  • with the wild animals
  • angels attending to him

The first result was the wilderness. The dry place, the place where in Jewish mythology we might describe as the headquarters of evil. This is why I have never understood the (in my opinion) senseless prophecies that sow fear and disengagement: ‘Such and such a place is an evil place avoid at all costs’. The result is Christians avoid it and ever so surprisingly it gets even darker. It has nothing to do with the fulfilment of prophecy. By all means let us exercise wisdom, but let us ask the question as to what we have faith and grace for rather than listen to the voice of fear. To set one’s boundaries by fear does not place us in a safe environment, but when the boundaries are set by faith – even if they are the same boundaries as we would have set by fear – we are provided with protection.

If we wish an open heaven then either we need to look for it with the willingness and openness to moving from our comfort zone, or when we find ourselves in the wilderness we should understand it is not likely to be a sign we have missed it but we are right on target. Exodus 16:10 is both a challenge and an encouragement:

While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

Look toward the desert, there the glory was appearing. In the desert. How will the presence of God ever come without someone carrying that presence, seeing the desert differently (‘if anyone is in Christ…’)? There is no redemptive purpose in prophesying the evils of (e.g.) Europe. If there are prophetic words about the future they need to be shaped from a passion for ‘your kingdom to come, your will to be done on earth as in heaven’. The fruit of the doom and gloom kind of prophecy is evident – disengagement, back to the safe zone and, from there, continue to pray for an open heaven. About time for many of us to make a 180° turn.

The wilderness is where we get the context for the focus for the temptations and confrontation with the ‘prince’ of the wilderness. Just as Israel had succumbed to temptations over 40 years so Jesus lived the narrative out over 40 days. The impact of one person in days shifted the events of years by a corporate people. What is here today might be the result of yesterday, but today’s location can undo those effects and set up something new. We are not the people of today but the people of tomorrow, compelling us to prepare today for tomorrow as we pull the present from the captivity of the past.

An open heaven is not to lead us to a nice, successful life that can be written up in a book and read by the ever-so-eager people gagging for one more read. It is to set us up for confrontations, and some of that is not for our sake but to shift what is here now. (And I think ‘set us up’ might just be a good phrase to use.)

Mark, although he writes succinctly at many points when Matthew and Luke spin the stories out, has got a great eye to add details that are easily missed. Here is one such detail – ‘with the wild animals‘. Nature was being impacted from this open heaven and re-positioning into the wilderness. The sign of an eschatological time shift was visible: the wolf will lie with the lamb (future hope) was taking place in that present moment. The result of an open heaven is not witnessed to by my experience but by the shift external to me.

And of course we love the angels coming and ministering, but it is added last. The context of their ministry was at the end of the list that included the repositioning, being met by the ‘actor’ named Satan, and the visible shift in the external world. Angels really want to show up, but they like the liminal places, the edges, not the centres. They also respond to wherever there is true hospitality, and learning to give hospitality in the wilderness ensures that the hospitality given is genuine.

Bring on the open heaven… and what follows on from it.

Friend of sinners (not!)

Jesus was a friend of ‘sinners’ and for that we should be grateful, otherwise what hope was and is there for us. The other day I thought I wonder if he really was a friend of sinners, for it was not something he claimed for himself but what was said about him:

 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7: 34).

Labels

‘Sinners’ is a label, and of course a true description, but it can be easy to use labels. I doubt somehow if Jesus labelled people or saw them according to the label given. I suggest he was a friend of people, and cut across all the societal and religious labels. In the Lucan passage the next story is of Jesus being invited by one of those who specialised in labels (a Pharisee) and asked Jesus to come and eat with him. We read:

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table.

He eats with people! Those with labels and those who can dish the labels out. While eating at Simon’s house a ‘woman who was a sinner’ came in to the house. The interaction that follows is more than a little inappropriate by the custom of the day, and Simon is understandably offended, saying to himself that this woman is a ‘sinner’ and any prophet would have seen that, even if blindfolded. Two ways of seeing the person who has interrupted the meal – a ‘sinner’ or a ‘woman’. Jesus asks the penetrating question:

Do you see this woman? (Luke 7:44)

Simon had only seen the woman, but in seeing the woman as a sinner he had not been able to see either the woman or the activity of God in his own front room.

Was Jesus the friend of sinners? Well he ate with the righteous and the unrighteous. He saw beyond labels.

The label put on Jesus, ‘friend of sinners’ is partially true, but one that if I attempt to follow him should be aimed at me too.

It is important who we eat with (angels are very interested in this but that is another topic) but it is more important how we eat with them. As friends.

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