Sent out blind

Apostle coming our way… is the caption for the above image!

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi,who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing (John 9:1-7).

Another crazy story with a sweet confrontation with the religious world at the end. The Pharisees claimed sight and Jesus, ever so gently, and ever so firmly, told them ‘hey just claim a lack of sight and you might just be allowed a little leeway.’ It starts with Jesus commissioning a blind man, maybe John is hinting that this is an apostolic sending (‘Go’; the pool means ‘sent’).

Those commissioned by God claimed sight and Jesus advised them to go easy with the claim! The blind man is sent, and is sent blind, not healed and then sent. After going, blind, he comes home seeing.

That was not an easy journey for the gentleman in question. Where are you going? ‘To the sent pool’. Who sent you… Jesus. How much easier if Jesus had just given him his sight first then imagine how more effective he could have been in his witness. He could have told so many along the way, he could have arrived at the ‘sent’ pool with all the credentials that he had indeed been sent, but no, that is not the way it happenned.

When we push out, the issue we will either ‘see in part’ or be blind. Sight is not the first element – obedience is. As with Abraham – go… and I will show you. Go leads to sight. Paul had an inward journey to make, through his three days of blindness, until he could get some sight. Three internal days. Always three, the three days of grave type experience.

I guess that there are a bunch of people who have not received sight within the religious scenario, but have tentatively heard something of a commissioning, are stumbling along without too much sight, but there is a pool, a ‘sent’ pool that has water in it. Don’t stop now.

And a little footnote… neither his parents nor he had sinned, and I do not think this was also done so that God’s power could be revealed. The clause here is a probably an ‘imperatival hina’ clause… ‘but let the works of God be displayed…’ The response to Jesus is don’t look for fault, here is an example of God’s sending!

Demotatorship

A new word for me this week… meaning ‘democratic dictatorship’. It came into my inbox this morning inside Jeff Fountain’s latest weekly word. A MUST READ word as it hits head on something we are all having to grapple with:

http://weeklyword.eu/en/viktor-the-champion/

His letter is focused on a response to Viktor Orban of Hungary, but is applicable much wider. Later today I have a Skype to a country where the president has just publicly in a huge Christian gathering acknowledged Jesus is his Saviour and that the nation belongs to God. Something rejoiced over in many different Christian periodicals. And which of us have not been praying for the transformation of nations?

Relevant in country after country. Here in Spain VOX espousing family values, anti-abortion are pulling the traditional Christian card, and I am sure are pulling in votes from evangelicals and Catholics alike… yet just again this week the main leader was on a national TV channel putting out statistics, images and videos that have been proven to be wrong, but used to create animosity toward immigrants. (And do I hear the cry ‘Christian value?’)

What an era we have entered into. Presidents and leaders who will defend ‘Christian’ values, profess faith… yet produce material that stirs up hate not love for the neighbour. Answers to prayer? Or huge deception?

And probably a sign of where we have come to. Democracy, I have suggested many times, is in serious trouble. In the West we have a shell left to us currently – the democratic process, which is the context in which democracy is supposed to operate, but when huge levels of finance, vested interest groups and the like have a much larger say in what takes place than the ballot box we no longer have democracy. When money perverts what is true so that we no longer know the reality of what we are voting for, we have lost democracy. When politicians themselves create a ‘them / us’ and magnify it so that it becomes a ‘look after ourselves / they are enemies to be resisted’ a very perverted form of society can only develop.

Maybe on the issue of abortion we might feel it is such a huge issue that we have to vote for the party touting that ticket… but please do not defend the party, and also find a way of grappling with the huge complexities that lie behind the abortion statistics (which have often been at the lowest when, for example in the USA, a president who is not waving the ‘anti-abortion’ ticket has been in power… legislation not being the simplistic answer that we think).

There is no such thing as a ‘Christian party’ nor a ‘Christian nation’ and to reduce ‘Christian values’ as they are being currently reduced is to remove any real significance to the word ‘Christian’. Politics is messy. Any partnerships we end up in will result in our feet being dirty. Seemingly that was not a problem for Jesus, though it caused Peter to have a crisis of faith.

I am not looking for the ‘Christian’ ticket, the Christian profession of faith at the highest level. I am looking for dirty footed believers who occasionally have crises of faith, but walk again on a redemptive path at personal cost for the sake of the marginalised. (Is there another path we can walk?)

We are in danger of substituting a nationalised-introverted self-protectionised culture for the Jesus of Israel who died to Jewishness and to maleness.

Maybe he is too challenging for us. It will be a sad day if that proves to be the case. We have prayed, people have gathered in stadiums the world over for a new day to come. I just hope we do not eclipse the sun that is rising, and as we walk in darkness proclaim how much light has come. A light to the nations, not those who bring darkness while proclaiming light. If we continue to cover over the lies that are being spoken, we will soon have to come to terms with what we cover that should have been uncovered will cover us… That covering will become what we proclaim. Then democracy will not simply be under immense strain, but the Christian faith will again be co-opted as the voice of oppression.

Seriously?

“Neither,” he replied

We know the story well. ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ Makes a good sermon foundation (rightly so). But yesterday on reading this again it hit me hard. My God gives the answer – for you of course, never for your enemies though I love them… But the God representative that Joshua encountered did not pad out the answer. And it is the not-padded out answer that I object to!

We can be so clear who God is for, and where s/he stands. We can in theory hold that the God path is above us all, but we so often reduce everything down to ‘my perspective is right’.

God is so for justice, my perspective on justice. And what I have to learn is s/he is not about to come down on my side, just because it is my side.

OK… that’s the post for today. Not long, but.

And how do you ‘read’ that

Reading anything is interesting. Back in the day I was told ‘authorial intention’ had to be adhered to, and as a semi-writer I would be a little put out if people read what I wrote in whatever way (‘reader response’) that they wished. But…

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit (Judg. 21: 25).

At that time there was no king in Israel. People did whatever they felt like doing (The Message).

Author’s intended meaning. I strongly suspect he (and pretty sure this one is a ‘he’) is we need a king, then everything is sorted, enough of all this independence-caused chaos. Yet how challenging Scripture can be. Yesterday I was reading:

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,”  be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite (Deut. 17: 14,15).

A bit cheeky! Written as if it was written by Moses and looking way ahead, yet almost certainly written in the form we have many centuries after the people had asked for a king to be like the other nations (1 Sam. 8). So if Scripture can be cheeky, maybe we can follow suit with our interpretation, particularly if we also consider that there are two authors – a human one (or ‘ones’, perhaps a number of post-exilic editors?) and a God breathing author. I am pretty sure that the human author in Judges is writing as a monarchist, but I am also pretty sure that the divine author intends us to be king-free and for the people are to do ‘what is right in their own eyes’.

It has so much to do with what we see. If we see God and see people in the image of God then to do what is right is a necessity. If we see ourselves at the centre of all things, the world revolving around me then whenever I do what is right in my own eyes will be idolatrous, disastrous and full of greed. Greed, that which desires more than my share, consumerism gone mad, Paul ties to idolatry (Col. 3:5).

So I have my reading of those monarchic comments, and do not see the establishment of authority as the way forward but the opening of eyes. My eyes, and to hopefully live as if I see something different, so that others too might gain some sight.

Glory in the desert

Trinitarian theology. Even the creeds have not quite done it for me. Never been great at this aspect of theology… Maybe I am more of a tri-theist (heretic!) than I like to admit; maybe more of a let’s just simplify it all and Jesus is God, touches of the old ‘Oneness’ theology there. Ontological trinity, economic trinity… OK I am just about settled on the social trinitarian model.

The Trinity is important for the ‘unity amidst diversity’, the diversity being both difference / distinctiveness but certainly not separateness; and the unity not denying the distinctiveness. Anyway as I wrote at the start, never been too good at this aspect of theology.

So I need to move on as I am such an expert in almost every other realm – as if!! But moving on. The Trinity certainly somehow is a pattern for humanity, after all humanity is in the image of the Tri-une God. Unity and diversity.

The glory of God is not simply something other, but also relates to humanness – true humanness, that true humanness that to a large degree evades us all, that is tarnished because of sin, for ‘we have all fallen short of the glory of God’. I essentially understand this to mean that the essence of sin is to fail to be truly human, to fail to reflect and represent God. Hence only Jesus is truly human, the one in whose face was revealed the glory of God, full of grace and truth.

Jesus remarkably said that the glory he had received he had given to the disciples (I think therefore this maybe also includes us?). And he gave it so that:

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one (John 17: 22).

Glory is not a reward for being one, it is the essential means by which we will be one. We do not work on our unity and then God says ‘good people have some glory’… We need his glory to be one, and s/he has given that glory to us, whether we are one or not.

If we have the glory of God, even if that glory is veiled, what does that gift look like? And one more ‘if’ clause… if glory is tied to humanity, of being truly human, we have to know that more glory is revealed when I am truly myself, not in some individualistic self-attainment state, but in a fullness of relationship. Unity then is truly possible the more I am distinct.

A lot of unity is an expression of uniformity. We are already alike and so more or less get on. Glory releases difference, distinctiveness, and so glory can only be seen as difference becomes visible. To pull into a narrow base reduces the visibility of glory.

So back up to the Trinity. I veer toward Tri-theism and to Oneness. Tri-theism because Jesus is not the Father and not the Spirit (etc…) and Oneness because Jesus is the fullness of revelation of the Trinitarian God.

Now I really need to get back on track here or this post will be truly drifting off into the cyber world. Glory, humanity, social relationships. Yes the need is for diversity, for distinctiveness in the context of unity. Or to tie this down, we need a context in which unity is found. That context needs to be that of ‘the whole of creation’. In the beginning God – God is not creation – but the context in which s/he is described, discovered and appears is that of the whole of creation, for in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

The diversity of humanity is essential. No person, no group can be the revelation of God in the earth, but together there is so much potential. It is not simply ‘no size fits all’ when we look at church, it is that every aspect, of the ekklesia being the ekklesia that will reveal glory.

Unity, that they may be one, can only be possible in the context of a wholeistic desire and working toward transformation. Unity is not a religious framework but a political one, the tragedy being that if the followers of Jesus do not get this where can we go? The body of Christ should be at the forefront of promoting diversity within the context of a whole world creational perspective. From there unity is a possibility. Take away the context and uniformity and smallness is possible; glory defined in a religious way.

All the above can be summed up in:

The multiplicity of the small and
the richness of diversity.

God save us from the next ‘big thing’; save us from ‘humanity has to be created in my image’.

And save us so that we can become and in becoming open up possibilities that there will be multiple becomings all around us. In the desert place we look to see the glory of God arise. Hope in the desert – oh yes.

Leviticus… just read!

OK… so I don’t really enjoy reading Leviticus. Plain hard work and tedious, but that’s where I am at the mo. Laws, laws and more laws. Obscure laws – don’t plant two types of seed in the field; don’t wear clothing made of two types of material. Really?

OT law was essentially unitary. Previous attempts to divide them down into ‘moral’, ‘ceremonial’ and ‘judicial / civil’ might be semi-helpful, but in reality the law was one. Debate might be over, as Jesus was asked, what is the greatest commandment, but they were all commandments, and as such marked out the people from other peoples. They were the boundary lines that marked the people, and the contrast is not between law and grace, but between law and Spirit for the followers of Christ. ‘These are the children of God – the ones led by the Spirit’, was a Pauline perspective, in contrast to how one knew that the person was a practising Jew – they were the ones led by the law. (Anyway my simplistic take.)

In Leviticus there are some tough old laws that either seem to have no significance for us, or back up patriarchy (a woman is unclean for 7 days after the birth of a male, but 14 days after giving birth to a female child), or ownership of another (a man sleeping with a betrothed female slave has to make some reparations but basically gets away with the abuse).

There are however some crackers in there. How we move from OT to New on issues of law is pretty difficult. Neither the ‘all apply except for those rescinded’ or ‘none apply except for those re-worked’ both fall down the large gap inherent within either approach. Something like – ‘all have to be taken seriously, but none applied directly without coming through the cross’ seems the only way. So back to the crackers (if reading in a second language, ‘really good ones’!)

Do not maximise profits

I am certainly not a communist – the state is god!!! OH no. Neither am I a neo-liberal with the ‘invisible hand of the market’ being the controlling principality. There has to be scope for entrepreneurship and gifting but the controlling element cannot be that of maximising profits. Indeed this is expressly forbidden:

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second times or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God (Lev. 19: 9, 10).

So we have a field, but the context is of stewardship, not ownership. We love Paul’s words ‘owning nothing but possessing everything’. We, though have to think in reverse. Here Gayle and I own almost everything, so how do we live so that we own everything but possess nothing, or at least make it easy for others to possess what we own. (We do try and outwork this…)

A very generous immigration policy / commandment

A second cracking law I read this morning comes a few verses later:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God (Lev. 19:33).

Maybe not easy to apply as a straight line into all immigration policies, but certainly does not allow us to suggest the godly thing to do is to go out of our way to have legislation that marginalises them. (I write of course with vested interest, being a first generation immigrant.)

Love them as yourself – ring any bells? A foreigner as our neighbour. Now that would make for an interesting immigration policy.

We were, probably pretty much all of us, foreigners at one time or another, and that is one of the points the law makes. Maybe our ancestors moved when it was easier to find space in the land they emigrated to, how much more then should there be a leaning toward generosity to those who are emigrating in a harsher climate today.

The ‘foreigner’ is expected to live in such a way that they make a contribution to the land – that comes through in other verses, but how easy is that in today’s climate? Opportunities for education, training, access of health care…

Maybe Leviticus is just a bit more of a resource than I thought. (Or if you would rather just have a little light entertainment check out these laws:

Transformation?

Way back in the day, when I was not so grown up (!!) I loved to talk of transformation, of city-shifting (not easy to say, and did on more than one occasion got it wrong… though we do need to see a whole lot of that sifted and shifted!) influences. A straight line from strategic prayer that would change the effects of history and open up a new spirituality where the church would prosper was my focus. As the years go on beliefs are refined, honed, and even sometimes abandoned. In my case a core continues unabated… Jesus poured out his Spirit redemptively on a growing number of followers, not simply so as those followers could grow in numbers, and certainly not so as they might have a ticket to somewhere else, but so that they might take responsibility for the world around them. So that that world might change.

I have been away for the past week engaging with two interesting scenarios. Both in the South West of England. Both with a focus on entrepreneurship so that there can be a societal, an environmental change. The first, based in a city and focused on that region looking to re-open what had been abandoned, looking to spark leading-edge technology. The other coincidentally meeting in that area of the UK but with a strong emphasis that all of us, that is us communicating animals, carry the image of God, and that we are to be changed in order to bring about change. I resonated very strongly, with no emphasis on the financial outcome being the bottom line, but health and well-being being the gauge of progress.

Two environments, both looking for transformation.

I am deeply grateful for the strategic (and sometimes in my case I am sure un-strategic prayer) that has gone on. I consider that it has opened up so much space during these past decades. It has also contributed to some of the crises, for the Western house that has been built, at least in part, on sand was never going to be fit for purpose.

My vote is for those who are engaged beyond the congregation, those who take the call to business, health care, the arts etc., seriously. There is space now. Space that is visible, sometimes space in the midst of the mess for engagement.

I am aware that every scenario is different. We might not always see those situations correctly. Some we might be over-optimistic about, others where we have despaired might be the very ones where there is hope.

Over the past 5 years we have taken responsibility to pray for the political scene in Spain. We are not those who believe that change takes place through legislation, through influence from the top down (a christendom value). Yet we are looking for that political realm to come into health, to create a shape where there can be true prosperity. A kind of ‘we hold a shape’ so that there can be a ‘healthy political shape’ so that people can prosper, with great grace for the marginalised being expressed. An unhealthy political shape then is an offence and we take it as a personal insult.

2019… they shall not pass!

There are times we are caught out, not seeing what is coming and as a result we end up playing catch up. However, in 2019 it seemed that we were so ahead of what was coming. We saw the patterns of history and understood the geographical ground where that was expressed, were able to go there and be ever so strategic (!) with our timings, actions, prayers and declarations. Then… what a set of blows came our way as one aspect after another went against us. History just seemed intent on repeating itself with intent. We saw the number of fascists in parliament go from 0 to 24 to 52 in the course of 7 months. We saw divisions appear and hostility against one another be vehemently expressed by those who should have known better. I could go on… To be honest it proved pretty tough and insulting. Seemed almost personal when the ultra-right proclaimed ‘we have passed’ when entering the parliament. I still ask – could we have done more.

2020… a level see-saw?

It has been a battle to see something healthier come through. Just as the year turned a promising coalition, the first in 80 years, where a level of maturity has been shown., has been voted in. It made it in by 2 votes – had one person gone the other way (and there was huge pressure on those sitting in the middle) we would have been headed to yet another election, and with the growth of the ultra-right this would not have been something we would have been optimistic about. In the government, one of the ministers is a card carrying communist! Neither Gayle nor I are of that persuasion (as if!!), but given the history of Spain what a sign. (Ultra-right and ultra-left carry the same spirit – people are subject to a centralised and depersonalised power, a true principality or god.)

I am not suggesting that where I started – the business realm, nor where I am now focused – the political realm – is where it is at. I simply find it interesting that there are evidences of a level playing field appearing. Not everything is reversed, indeed one could suggest the political scene, for example, in Spain is worse than ever. Perhaps. Or perhaps game on. I consider it is the most dangerous yet with the most potential in the past 80+ years.

Let’s look for the gaps, the places where we can squeeze in, or make space through some spiritual elbow work for others to enter that space. I am convinced we are not going to see things just shut down, keeping the space open though will require our engagement.

Chips in hand

So thousands of Swedes are getting chips inserted in their hand, through which they purchase goods, gain access where they are authorised. This has been covered in so many national papers that it is probably not news. Here is a faith based site reporting:

https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/mark-of-the-beast-thousands-of-swedes-become-microchipped

My response… OK cut right to the chase. I do not see Revelation as predicting this. The book is far too incisive and insightful to do that. Yet I accept this could indeed be (a sign of) the mark of the beast, and yet again I consider that the euro, the dollar, the yen… or at least our relationship to them could also be a mark.

Before writing about ‘the mark’, maybe we should consider what precedes that in Revelation. The sealing of the servants of God, who were numbered as both 144,000 (the number heard) and a multitude that could not be numbered (the people seen). Is the seal literal? Is the mark literal?

Well the seal could be considered literal, but only in the sense of being so marked that we belong to God, that we are indeed his servants, that there is a visibility. That kind of visibility is normally seen when there is the very real threat of persecution as was the increasing case as the first century ended. In that sense the mark (of the beast) can also be literal… sold out so that there is no restriction on buying and selling.

I consider a couple of aspects are so key here. 1) the original sin is couched in consumerist language (saw… desired… took… gave… all focused on what was beyond a legitimate boundary); 2) Jesus set the polar opposites as mammon and God. (We might add to this the issue of trade, with the king of Tyre, and the trade / economic theme that runs through the book of Revelation.)

Chips in hand could be a sign of the mark of the beast, but is not the mark of the beast. There are many, many signs now and right through the ages of the mark of the beast. The mark has always been present, and always will be. AntiChrist has always been present, in plural forms and at times focused more in one person than others. The era of the one world government was the time when the Gospel was birthed, the ‘fullness of times’.

Avoiding a chip will not mean I am clean! Following Jesus bites a little deeper than that for sure!

The issue is there are signs everywhere, and there will always be a push of society toward a dominating centre (Revelation again!). In the midst of it all though Babylon / Babel will never be complete, it will always be an unfinished tower seeking to reach to the heavens, determining one’s own destiny – hence 666, humanity tripled, or as one manuscript has it 616 – a clear reference to the manifestation in the NT era in and through the emperor Nero.

If offered a chip in the hand we might think twice. But really I need to think deeper about my commitments, my relationship to the Babylonish aspects that are nearer to home offering whatever might appeal to my desires.

Better put the apple back on the tree, I guess!!

Stop stealing, but don’t stop there

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin” Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Ephes. 4: 25-28).

Where to begin? Ethics for the believer. If Paul believed in simple imputed righteousness he certainly expected a lot of co-operation with grace, as the transformation in life-style he was looking for was quite significant. I suspect though that he saw beyond a ‘forensic declaration of forgiveness’ over the believer to a transformation of character through an encounter, an experience.

I find the ethics of the New Testament very challenging. Way beyond what is right and wrong, beyond legalism. Take the first one here in v. 25 where Paul writes of falsehood. This is so beyond ‘don’t lie’. It is easy not to lie but much more challenging to live, speak and act so that there is self-disclosure. Religiosity (or pride, and are they very different?) never wants to admit to reality. ‘Put off falsehood’ requires that there is personal vulnerability, that what is seen and heard is in line with who the ‘I’ really is. I can avoid lying, but give the impression of being someone better than I am. I can do so but will not be ‘putting off falsehood’. I am not sure that even to say ‘I will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ would even get me there. ‘So help me God’ (without hand on Bible please!) will certainly be required.

The transformational aspect of faith is very clear when Paul addresses the issue of the person who was stealing. The shift from ‘taking what was not theirs’ is complete. The challenge is not to stop stealing, but to give what they have to those in need.

If we place stealing at one end, then ‘not stealing’ is in the middle of the spectrum… but working to give is at the other end. Transformation. The radical opposite. Not surprising when we know that Jesus died, but did not simply come back to life, but through the Spirit became a ‘life-giver’. The radical opposite of being dead.

I suspect we are just so sub-New Testament in so many aspects.

Here’s to a discovery of the power of transformation.

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