This time of year

As we move quickly toward the last month of the year I normally have a focus toward what does the soon-to-come year have to bring. Assuming I can I will post some perspectives at some point, and I hope I can expand on the following also, though acknowledge we either do not see, see inaccurately or simply in part. Ah well – I assume we see enough to enable us to be stronger in faith than before. And before I write what follows, there is no ‘magic’ turning of a page on the stroke of midnight as one year ends and another begins, but I am also convinced that the nature of God is incarnational, s/he comes to live in our world and so communicates within our time frames.

Big picture: we all have a tension of living one day at a time – this is my last experience of being alive within the date we term 28th November, 2023… we live this day. Tomorrow comes and I will either be here to experience it or not… and the tension is that (again not a ‘magic’ date) we live out this phase in the context of the next 16+ years, to 2040. Within this time-frame we should anticipate what (from our perspective) will be a new move of God… however!

We are waiting for a ‘move of God’, but God is waiting for a ‘move of humanity’.

There will be a number of prophecies coming forth that will be proclaiming the great and final outpouring of the Spirit is about to break, and there will be what we can term ‘outbreakings of the Spirit’ in numerous places, but they will not be the centre of activity.

For those of us (like me) who grew up inside the four walls, and then add to that with a revival down the road (Lewis) talked about, having walked many miles of the land of Wales, held gatherings inside Loughour Chapel, been deeply impacted through the Pentecostal church, the charismatic and Toronto… blah blah blah… any concept of God moving is quickly pulled into a context that then shapes expectation, hence I think I add, for my sake, a health warning – not as you expect, Martin.

So back to a move of humanity. Messy. It ties a little bit to the previous post – where two or three gather together there is humanity in the midst. For us to ‘see’ this move we will have to make some adjustments away from a them / us mentality, and if we wish to participate within it sight will be necessary. What will it look like? Here I can only give a few indications:

Opposites meeting where defences go down and old hostilities are resolved. (Leaving us(??) with the question but where is Jesus in this?).

Some very key land resolutions – 2024 is a pivotal year when we can see a major shift with regard to literal warfare – and this could pivot also in a negative direction. (I think the passivity over Israel by Christians, or worse the ‘need to destroy the enemy’ is causing enormous problems to seeing wider resolutions.) ‘Occupation’ is the claim on both sides. Words such as stewardship, joint-participation, sharing should be the kind of words and concepts, for the WHOLE EARTH is the Lord’s and the gracious choice was to share it with us.

I personally think enough has been done (with more yet to be done) to create a shape for an outpouring of the Spirit among humanity. This has always been the desire of heaven. God waiting (impatiently?) for the fullness of times in order for the Incarnation to be released. Among us / with us. Not all responded to the Messiah then, but into conflict over land, over Imperial rule Jesus came. This is our context now – increasing conflicts over land / boundaries, changing of Imperial rule – and indeed a change of what (not simply where) Imperial rule is exercised.

I hope over this coming month I can expand on the above… And I hope even more that I can contribute to what is coming, or at least participate in it, and certainly I hope my expectations do not hinder it.

Humanity in the midst?

I finished with a small group that have journeyed through the four books on ‘Explorations in Theology’. I always benefit a lot, and as a result began to think about the Jesus’ phrase ‘where two or three are gathered together in his name then he is present between them’. Given that the first book was on Humanising the Divine, thus emphasising the similarity of God and humanity, that God was fully present in the muman manifestation of Jesus, then maybe we can explore something…

If two people who do not profess faith in God genuinely meet each other and ‘see’ each other then what manifests is something that approximates to true humanity. If in their coming together they objectify / dehumanise the other then what manifests is that which we term ‘demonic’.

If we were able to facilitate in the current climate a Palestinian and a Jew meeting and truly meeting so that hopes, fears and story can be heard by each other then in the space in between humanity would be manifest – the image of God not simply being indivdual but corporate (make ‘them’ in the image of God). That is how close we are to genuine transformation… and why we are so far from it.

While we were enemies of God (‘love your enemy’ not simply being a command but a way of life that God has manifest since the beginning) God sat ‘opposite’ us – not objectifying us but seeing us… we however, unable to see God (eyes of our heart blinded) there was no reconciliation. So God, in Christ, becomes human and incorporates us in Christ through the cross, swallowing up all death, sin and the powers.

If we meet into (eis) his name, come toward his name, representing / manifesting Jesus, to the extent we can do that is the extent that Jesus is manifest. This is much more than a prayer ‘we meet in the name of Jesus’ for we can meet and proclaim that but not manifest the name / character of Jesus… and conversely those without faith could meet, not proclaim any such thing, but there be a manifestation of humanity, Jesus being the fullness and trueness of humanity. This concept of Jesus as the fullness / trueness seems a sensible way to go… loving friends is a genuinely good thing, the fullness is loving one’s enemy; not committing adultery / murder is a genuinely good way to go, the fullness is the total humanising of the other, seeing the other (I-Thou of Martin Buber), not obejcitfying them.

So trying to summarise my babble… all genuine relationships manifest something of what it is to be humanity. Where that which is expressed is not genuine the space is created for the demonic to manifest. We should encourage all relationships to move toward being genuine (not all that is expressed by humanity is unclean and as filthy rags – the ‘righteousness’ provoked by religion is that which is ‘as filthy rags’). Then if we claim to have been reconciled to the Father through the Son the huge challenge is to move into the very character of Jesus (to gather into his name) for humanity will be manifest in that space, but not simply humanity as we know it, but humanity as expressed in Jesus; the fullness and trueness of what it means to be humanity.

No regret

A small reflection on what a word might indicate.

As regards the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their ancestors, for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

‘Irrevocable’… carries such a sense of permanence. I have yet to come to ‘Israel’ and eschatology in my video series, and that will probably be way down the line maybe by the end of next year, but Paul seems to walk a challenging path of centring everything in Jesus, hence only has been one olive tree (not two ‘peoples’) but drops in some encouragement that although there is neither Jew nor Greek / Gentile (eschatological perspective) that there is a big ‘thank you’ from heaven because of the doorway opened for salvation of the world that came through the patriarchs. That is deeply encouraging beyond the Israel scenario – children are so blessed if there can be found a doorway from heaven to earth back somewhere in a generational line. God has wonderful soft-heart… Paul pushes this situation with children and an unbelieving spouse in 1 Cor. 7:

For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

God can find a way for inclusion that goes beyond personal faith – personal faith is so important, but we are not the final arbitrators regarding any in/out line!! No way. And Paul with regard to the Rom. 11 passage above is indicating a wonderful extension of grace that covers generations. Once we remove the need to determine ‘who is God’s people?’ we can live with ambiguity and keep the centre as Jesus.

And the word ‘irrevocable’ is somewhat intriguing. It only occurs here in Rom. 11 and again in 2 Cor. 7:

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.

‘No regret’ (ἀμεταμέλητος ametamelētos – translated as ‘irrevocable’ in Rom. 11)… now that might give us a little different approach to the ‘gifts and calling’ on Israel. Maybe Paul is indicating that God has ‘no regret’ in choosing Israel. I kinda think so… and maybe we should take a similar approach to things that have not worked out as they could have. What ‘could / should / might have been’ and did not come through as we thought… no regret. I would do it differently now – for sure!!! – but I am where I am because of all of that journey and into that God is committed to ‘work all things together for good’ – not the author of the failure of Israel, nor my failures / disappointments, but if we stick in there there is much more to come.

Not irrevocable… but definitely not wallowing in ‘what should have happenned’, the future with a ‘no regret’ sign posted on any looking back!! I guess that goes with a God who promises the day to come when there will be not a tear in sight. Gets my vote.

Dream and cry

I read this article this morning:

In it I read of Maoz Inon:

Maoz Inon — who swims every morning to keep from drowning in grief — says he’s experienced this other reality of peace. He and his wife opened a guesthouse in Nazareth in 2005 that serves both Israeli Jews and Palestinians. And he’s seen these two groups “not living next to each other but living among each other based on equality” in what Inon calls a shared society…

Inon says he had something of a vision after this war began. It was the middle of the night, and he awoke in tears.

“And I saw an image of everyone crying,” he recalls. “Just we all cry — you cry, your daughter cry, everyone. And our tears are healing the wounds from Israelis and Palestinians. And our tears wash the blood.”

He says we shouldn’t have more weapons, build higher walls and create better security systems. “That’s the old world, OK? You want to start a new world? We need to cry.”

“And then,” he says, “we’ll see the path for peace.”

The old world and the new. So provocative, for that is the language of the New Testament.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… e will wipe every tear from their eyes.

This vision is what has inspired countless thousands of those we know and many more of those we do not know, those who could echo those immortal words ‘I have a dream’. We can intellectually discuss the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of that fulfilment but any discussion has to be connected to current hope and faith.

Maybe, and I say maybe, we could globally be moving toward a turning point. I wrote, earlier this year, about the season where boundaries will become visible, with all that is written in Scripture on the area it is not a small side-issue. Gaza is a bloody reality that sadly is causing division among many who are no-where near the situation, more division than tears and a call for a peace path. The Roman pax-Romana was by the sword (hence Paul’s ironic critique of the sword in Rom. 12), peace by blood; the Jesus peace was by his own blood. There is all-but no hope currently – such was also the time when Jesus came, at the ‘fullness of time’ – when there was no hope for Jew nor Greek. What about now? I am sure we have entered a level of unprecedented crisis (many crises), and a big global sign is ‘no hope’. While out this morning I was praying realising that we pray for the transformation of the world – and indeed we must persist – it is not in God’s hands, but if we cry s/he will partner with us, partner with Maoz (regardless of faith nor ethnicity).

I have a dream, and maybe we wake up amidst the dream to tears and pain. Both have to co-exist.

Tough old book

Reading Scripture? Love doing that. Imagine doing that though as a Palestinian (and currently when both Netenyahu and certain nationalistic prophets equate Palestinians with the Amalekites!!!)… or reading certain parts as a woman… or as a host of other people. What if one grew up with the pain of definitely not being the ‘favourite’, then go on to read about choice within family, such as God being quoted as saying:

I have loved Jacob,
but I have hated Esau.

Yes it is a tough book at times.

I love to think (and sometimes love to say a little tongue in cheek, ‘the author of Hebrews, she says…’) that a woman (Priscilla) wrote Hebrews. It certainly does not seem that any of the other New Testament books are likely to have been written by a woman so let’s at least claim this one. (Paul does not seem an option – the style and content is just not like his. Maybe Barnabas?)

A woman? Maybe… but we read,

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel… (Heb. 11:32).

Who was ‘Barak’. In Judges 4, we read of Barak:

At that time Deborah, a prophet, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Position yourself at Mount Tabor, taking ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand.’ ” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”

The hero(ine)? Deborah. The ‘judge in Israel?’ Deborah. The one who gets rebuked? Barak! Yet we come to Hebrews 11 and not a mention of Deborah, and Mr. Barak is promoted to the list of heroes of faith. What on earth do we do with this? A re-writing of the history? A deliberate erasure of a woman’s part in the story?

This absence of Deborah’s name probably means Priscilla was simply not the author, but it also further highlights that there are biases in Scripture.

Scripture written in another era and not written to us. Not to be judged by our era, and for us not to live in that era. Live within the story but do not be confined to that time as if the story has been fully written, with nothing further to be said. The letters are typical of that era (genre wise) but they are ever so radical. What about Paul’s claim that we are ‘letters’? Ever so radical in our era or nothing to say?

I appreciate why people bang the drum of ‘back to Judea-Christian values’ by which is meant ‘back to the Bible’… but what if we began to think backwards to our day from the future rather than forward to our day from the past? That just might make us highly creative, provocative but deeply relevant to the situations aruond us.

It is a tough old book; but the story being told (even when the wrong names appear and Deborah does not get a mention) if we follow that story will make the book difficult to read but the rewards will be incredible.

Commands to commit genocide; damning whole people groups; gender divisions… all of that is present within what we read… but let’s read about the past and read from the future.

Sight… till we see

There are a number of Scriptures that provoke us to see and to hear what is there to be seen and heard, such as:

Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear? (Mk. 8:18).

In numerous settings, and maybe initially in the political and church setting, we have entered a phase of ‘wake up, open your eyes and ears, for it is now visible and audible’. It is not a time to cover over what is being uncovered, the weaknesses in the ‘babylonic’ nature of certain structure and institutions are there for anyone with sight to see. Let fall what should not be supported.

Today I was reminded that some 2 years ago I said to someone – leave before the trouble comes. If not they will be drawn into a ‘you can really help and even bring reconciliation’ endless cycle that goes nowhere. Tempting? Maybe for some the flattery and profile might pull them in, but the outcome for all is to be trapped. There are cover ups in many of the areas where we see politics being exposed – maybe I can refer to the COVID inquiry in the UK – but we can easily add trials of former leaders, the corruption that lies behind pleas of ‘we did not know’ when certain attacks took place; add to those aspects of current church investigations and I suggest there is a lot that is visible – can what is visible be seen?

The issues are not so much to do with personal failings, sad as those things are. It is the whole structure that feeds of a power dynamic where in a ‘dangerous’ world there are a few who can expound how dangerous the world is but they can assure us who are fear-oriented that we simply need to go along with them and we will be safe!

The world is not always a safe place, but I have discovered that the words and actions of those who claim the name of Jesus can be far more dangerous than any danger that is present in the ‘unsafe’ world.

Uncovering of what those with power wanted to keep covered is here. Don’t prop it up, let sight come so that more can see and hear. In a previous decade I realised that a backing away at this point of time into a naive and repetitive response of God is in control reversed what was being uncovered. Now what I believe is possible is for sight to come that will see not just what is becoming visible but to something beyond, to the realm of what can be: ‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth’. That is what I want to see. It comes first with seeing what can be seen when the uncovering takes place, then sight, then sight. Sight in two phases – seeing something that grips us, then seeing it around us. Bring it on through what is being brought before our very eyes now.

Family? Who is your mother?

Ever been in a situation where you meet those who are ‘born again’, quote the same Bible, but something troubles you? Probably troubles you about how they talk about those who ‘need to be saved’ and in their approach to evangelise treat such people as objects, not seeing the other as a person and someone to walk with regardless of their response to what is termed the ‘gospel’. Or perhaps in the current scenario of Gaza / Israel? I have been there many times and often leave asking the question – are they my ‘brother / sister’? Do they know the same God (acknowledging that we all have a ‘sub-God’… for the one and true God is the one who ’emptied himself’ as the one who manifested that did so ‘being in the form of God’).

Recently with some major perspectives from VIctor Lorenzo I understand that in Abrham’s family there were a number of descendents. Ishmael and Isaac we are well acquainted with, but after the death of Sarah there were another ‘batch’ born:

Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, while he was still living, and he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country (Gen. 25:1-6).

At least another 6… same father, and at least 3 different mothers; descendents from a different womb.

In John 3 Jesus has a dialogue about being ‘born again’ (the only time recorded he had such a dialogue so the context is important) with Nicodemus. He was a significant person within Israel, a member of the Sanhedrin, and over the course of John’s Gospel we can see how he moves from visiting Jesus ‘at night’ to being one of two men who bury Jesus’ body, surely a path to clear discipleship. Nicodemus asks if he has to enter his mother’s womb again… To enter the same womb again (physically) is impossible but to enter the same womb again metaphorically would not bring about a birth from above.The womb to be entered is the womb of the Holy Spirit. [The virigin birth is just that – there is nothing in common with ancient mythological gods having intercourse with a woman, such as in the founding story of Europe; the Holy Spirit comes upon / overshadows suggests the concept of two wombs – that of a yielded young woman and a nurturing protective Spirit of God.]

Unless one enters the womb of the Holy Spirit one cannot see nor even enter the kingdom of God. To come from another womb might not mean we are not of the same ‘Father’ but we might not see the nature of the kingdom of God. Surely that is what we often encounter when we meet fellow ‘believers’. Even when the talk is of the ‘kingdom’ the nature of what is described is different. Maybe all of us are ‘children’ but perhaps many of us are related to one another as ‘half-brothers/sisters’. And of course, as always it has less to do with others than it has to do with ourselves, with our visit to Jesus ‘at night’ and we find ourselves entering not the womb of our mother again, but the womb of the Holy Spirit again. I need to see the ‘upside kingdom of God’ more clearly than yesterday… if I am to be transformed from glory to glory then the process has to continue.

I certainly do not need to be arrogant, labelling others as ‘half-sisters/brothers’, but neither do I have to accept when others speak of those who are ‘outside’ as less than ‘us’ that this is family talk. And in the current situation in Gaza where there is little pain displayed when we read of Palestinians losing their lives, but there is plenty of noise made outside an abortion clinic, surely even I can see the discrepancy. We must be within a different ‘segment’ of the family at that point – and to each ‘segement’ there are gifts available, for Abraham gave to each offspring from the concubines ‘gifts’.

As always it seems less about salvation from, but far more about salvation for, which always is about what I manifest… Manifesting a family likeness?