A Christmas Podcast

Of course you are interested in this ‘Off Grid Christianity’ Christmas podcast, Noel Richards and I (never know when it is a ‘me’ or an ‘I’) with Martin Purnell as host. A bit of fun but also a little bit in there about the Imperial world that Jesus entered… Here is the blurb from the site:

Another year over! Martin and Noel re-join me for this special festive podcast with yet another quiz before we tackle some questions that might tax your brain cells! So please sit back, enjoy and listen to some laughter along with some silly facts plus serious statements in which to ponder. If you’re feeling lonely over this Christmas period, you are not forgotten and we trust that this episode will make you feel part of the conversation.


A poem: Gaza/Israel

We focus on this Christmas as in every Christmas with the words: ‘Peace on earth and good-will to all’. Our era (BC/AD BCE/CE) begins with that sound from the heavens. Challenging the words from the Imperial centre: ‘Peace – to all who submit’ – the Pax Romana. We are challenged by which words do we consider are eternal; one declaration is backed up by the cross; the other demonstrated and celebrated in the temple honouring Peace (the goddess being Pax / Eirene) constructed (literally) on the field in Rome dedicated to the god of war (Mars).

We enter this season and before us in the very land where the heavenly proclamation was made that proclamation is being deeply challenged in the current conflict. Joanna, a regular contributor here,sent me this poem. Gutsy, raw… but can we see a dawn?


I stand and I turn
I look back down the tunnel of catastrophe
At the murder machine that screamed for justice
At the ashes of generations gritty underfoot
Further back
Throughout the ages
The blood of the innocents
Staining the land
Crying out, shrieking out
Avenge, avenge, justice, justice!
Who is the ‘other’ in this land?
Who claims a moral high ground?
When children scream
When women weep
When men lament
The grief moves like a flash flood
Across the land until it engulfs and destroys
Turned inward it becomes a reservoir of muddy hatred
Rising in it’s vicious, rancorous enmity
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’
It destroys the ‘enemy’ and destroys hope too 
Dehumanising filthy slurs unleashed
That consent to the evil and death that stalks the streets
The demons laugh hysterically
The glee etched on their faces
Reflected in the eyes of people
Who commune with them
They create a tsunami of death
With fire, swords, guns, tanks and bombs
And hate, hate, hate is planted in the soil
The roots are watered by the flowing blood 
And the rotten tree of loathing grows
At supernatural pace
Those that eat of its fruit must absorb it’s poison
But there’s not much to eat in that defiled land

Yet blessed are the poor in spirit 
Blessed are those who mourn
For in that land, once before 
In the bleakest of times, hope was born.
Be reborn there today peace man, light Lord
End the agonising clamour of war
Lift the faces of the broken
Until they can see the dawn.

A positive – and challenging – translation

An old translation of Rom. 8:28 goes like this:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

This can indicate a kind of fatalism and acceptance of ‘all things’ as being a positive and therefore to be a welcomed experience to passively submit to. A much better translation (such as NIV) indicates that God works all things, that the all things are not initiated by God but that as we experience all things, God is deeply involved with us, God being the redemptive God. So in the NIV we get:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

It is not simply a better translation theologically but also linguistically. God gets in the all things with us, and refuses to accept a setback as simply coming with an inevitable negative outcome. There is no sugar-coating of the setback but there is a personal commitment (God becoming the subject of the verb ‘work together’) so that at the very least the presence of the Living God is with us.

However, recently I have come across a further push with regard to the verse. This takes it further than simply at a personal level, but into the cosmic level of bringing the whole of creation to a fitting conclusion, to the liberty experienced by those who have been set free from the powers of this world. (A little technical) it is all to do with how the ‘dative’ cases of ‘those who love God’ and ‘those called according to God’s purpose’. It can be as we have it ‘for those…’, in other words for us. Or it can be translated as ‘with those…’ If the latter, and it is the context that suggests this as the actual words used could indicate either translation. So using the ‘with’ (known as the instrumental dative) translation we have:

Οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγαπῶσι τὸν θεὸν πάντα συνεργεῖ εἰς ἀγαθόν, τοῖς κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοῖς οὖσιν.

Literally: We know that with those who love God all things s/he works into good, with those being called according to purpose. (So maybe something like:)

And we know that God works with those who love God toward what is good (for the whole of creation), [working with] those who have been called according to his purpose.

Maybe a little clumsy but the idea is that there is a partnership in the – wait for the big word – eschatological activity in the earth. Backing up in Romans, creation is in bondage in the same way that Israel was in bondage to the Pharoah of the day until they were set free. The ‘sons/daughters of God’ have found freedom, crying out with inarticulate sounds as the expression of freedom… but set free in order to be agents of freedom for creation. Christ as firstfruits of all creation releasing those who have responded to the freedom that comes through the resurrection to join with the groaning of creation, to engage the ‘all things’ that so often work to bring a yet further bondage… In partnership with God, and there is no hope without God, but in partnership with God, those who love God who are called according to God’s purpose line up alongside God… and even in the midst of all things something good is manifest. The future is not hopeless, creation is not doomed, humanity is not sentenced to nothing but bondage… freedom calls, and that freedom calls for partnership.

I think the shift of emphasis makes better sense of the chapter and remains as a challenge for us, but places redeemed humanity as the stewards of creation, as those who see the new creation and in seeing that come into partnership with heaven.

Pretty close

So Jesus came proclaiming ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ – really close.

I said recently that the solution to the Gaza / Israel conflict is not difficult. Of course by that I did not mean it is likely to be solved or that I have any skills to offer into the mix, but that the Jesus-way is always close. It is the way of reconciliation, the way of peacemaking, of meeting – whether that is at the ultimate level of meeting in Jesus name, or simply in the name of humanity, for humanity (and ultimately true eschatological humanity) is in the midst.

The kingdom of heaven ultimately comes down – and the Greek for ‘at hand’ is translated metaphorically well with ‘at hand’ but it is the verb ‘come near’. It does not simply arise from the earth, though the land groans for it, it has to arrive from heaven, and one day it will arrive in fullness from the throne of God out of heaven and ‘descend’. The trauma that the earth holds and we tap into releases memories that hold the past so that they repeat in the present; our eyes have to go higher and in doing so our sight horizontally changes. Palestinians (many of whom of course have Jewish blood) and Israelis are family at the ‘big’ picture of ‘one ancestor’ and ‘one God’. Can they see one another? Sit in a room and hear the story, the trauma that they relate to, sit where the other sits. In that sense we are always so close to the kingdom coming.

Of course I am not suggesting that the solution is simple, but I am struck by how close the kingdom is, and how close the ‘non-kingdom’ is. The history, the guilt, shame and trauma of course does not give way easily. The good news of the Gospel is that the cross which occured at the low point (the fullness of times) makes it possible. I am continuing to pray into ‘God is waiting for a human movement’ as we need to move beyond something that is transcendental, and something that is beyond human, to something that is incarnational.

So close. And as we approach Christmas – demonstrably close.

Different approaches

I have been reflecting (arguing within my own head?) about how there are different approaches to engagement and focusing in on the business world, as that is where Gayle is focused in at this time. I don’t know if it would be helpful to put it on a spectrum though one approach I consider is dubious / out of bounds so to put it on a spectrum would not be helpful, but for a moment let me suggest we might use that as a way in.

  • Involved in business but it is a ‘trojan horse’ as the real issue is the spread of ‘the Gospel’.
  • Kingdom business that has a different set of values toward mammon, employment, fair wages, working condition, effect on the planet, thus the business is explicitly Christian.
  • Involved in business and immersed not with the agenda of evangelising, but of helping create an environment for healthy inter-relationships, that promote humanisation and each person becoming the best (a better?) version of themselves.

No guess for which one I remove from the spectrum! The first gives me enormous difficulties as the real motivation is hidden. Of course in situations where one is called to be involved in a geography where there is no freedom for Christian expression of faith business might be the only way in. And in every situation, regardless of the approach, we should always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us. If our hope is not ‘I go to heaven and not hell’ (not the hope of the NT) we need to work out what our hope is and how we express it. Assuming we can get beyond life is evangelism to good news is living energised by the Spirit, then of course all of life becomes sacred and nothing we are involved in becomes ‘secular’.

There is significant space for the second approach, but sticking the adjective ‘Christian’ or ‘kingdom’ in front of business is not enough. By our fruit we are to be known. As indicated in the bullet point on some very key issues there has to be a difference. Maximising profit was always prohibited in Scripture; marginalised benefitting from what we are involved in, at no cost to them, was always desirable; and we need to add – though biblically it was always there – the improvement of the planet is highly necessary. If such a business is ‘Christian’, truly kingdom (not perfect, but redemptive within all aspects of the world God has made, thus moving things in a ‘New Jerusalem’ direction) then we might be able to use the metaphor of ‘light’ to describe it. That certainly was a metaphor to describe the calling of Israel and one that Jesus used of himself and gave to the disciples. Light to light up a path, to show the way. So I think there is a place in God’s economy for this approach.

The third approach is a challenge. Salt enters (for salt would be the metaphor for this) and is largely unseen. But the purpose of the salt is to bring about change, and if the focus biblically is on the salt of the dead sea it was to promote good growth (high in phosphates hence a fertiliser) and to hinder disease (used to protect the environment from human excrement). If that was the central purpose of salt (we can add the savouring of food etc…) then what we have here is the binding and loosing activity – what is permitted and what is forbidden.

No surprise that I favour the last two. All of the above challenges our world-views, our eschatology and our views regarding the good news of Jesus. Or maybe we can reverse that: our world-view, eschatology, and our view of the good news of Jesus will help us critique how we consider we should be involved in the world.

One of my perplexed questions

For a long time I have pondered concerning the actions and prayers of ‘believers’ – if we are pushing in a wrong direction does that cock things up, does it even work against a godly resolution – I will come to Gaza and Israel before I finish this post, but maybe start a little back from that. Of course what I write are ‘perspectives’ but they are based on certain presuppositions (I hesitated to write ‘truths’!!):

  • I do not believe that God controls the future in the sense of exercising omnipotence over all things. For sure God works in all things for a good / the best outcome. God is love, and that love is non-controlling (although I struggle with certain aspects of Oord’s ‘God can’t’ I certainly go with the premise of ‘Uncontrolling Love’). To believe in ‘sovereignty’ in the sense of control runs up against the justifiable ‘problem of evil’ objection.
  • There is no divide between the God of the OT and the God of the NT, but we are not invited to read OT genocidal commands as coming from heaven… we are invited to continue to read and in reading discover that the God who is one (Old and New Testaments) is the ‘Christlike God’. We must engage with the intra-canonical dialogue and disagreement of Scripture. Scripture disarms us as much as parts of it need to be disarmed.
  • (Relevant to Gaza / Israel – surely it is remarkable that there are no NT Scriptures that seek to pull on Ezekiel-type passages concerning Armageddon, the land as promise etc… The only way to get there is to start with a system and then fit the passages into that – something completely absent in the NT… and I include Revelation as apocalyptic (and certainly far from literal) literature in that assertion, which of course does mention the mythical place of Armageddon.)

We spent much time praying into the effects of the Civil War in Spain – and into some of the underlying history from centuries prior to that. A big concern was the burial of Franco inside a huge ‘cathedral’ hewn inside a mountain with the largest cross of its type above the tomb – some 200 metres high. That raised the question as to whether by placing the cross there corrupted the meaning of the cross but co-opted some of the power it symbolised. That is a huge assumption and if true (I think so) indicated why it was such a battle to see Franco’s body exhumed and moved. That experience and journey left me with a conviction that when something that is genuinely ‘of Christ’ is used (abused) it is not something neutral but co-opts what should be present for transformation and reconciliation for something that stands against genuine transformation and reconciliation. Moving on…

This then has given me my perplexed question. What happens if I as a believer in Jesus start to pray for (say) judgement against my enemies – does that in some way release something spiritual that has an outworking against my ‘enemies’, all the while Jesus is saying ‘Martin, love your enemy, bless those who curse you’?

What if, prayers that are ‘wrong’, in the sense of not flowing with the Christlike God and for the kingdom to come on earth as in heaven, actually frustrate the coming of that kingdom or indeed go further and they actually resist the kingdom of God coming? This is the heart of my perplexed question… and if (as I suspect I am partly on to something) it really troubles me.

My guess is that since so much of evangelical Christianity is shaped by (a modified) form of Dispensationalism there are huge amount of prayers that are along the lines of ‘give Israel victory, restore the boundaries to them’ being offered up to heaven in the current war scenario. If not prayers, then I doubt if from that quarter there are prayers being offered up for peace and reconciliation, or if peace is viewed as a good outcome it is as per Rome who built their temple dedicated to the god of peace (Pax) literally on the field that was dedicated to the god of war (Mars). Peace but how? Through war and subduing all the enemies – the way of all Imperial kingdoms / basileia . So different to the path of peace forged through the blood of Messiah – the way of the kingdom / basileia of heaven.

Into Gaza and Israel we have generational trauma on both sides; both groups have been wronged, and of course until we are healed of such wrongs we tend to believe that any wrong that we are now involved in comes under the heading of ‘justice’ – two wrongs making a right / a justice.

The kingdom does not advance and rejoice when blood is shed – blood shedding being one of the primary actions that pollute land and polluted land draws demonic strongholds to it in increasing measure.

I wish I could resolve my perplexed question with the answer that God does not listen to ‘wrong’ prayers, but sadly and painfully I have not been able to do that. If I am only partly right I pray God have mercy on us, forgive us as we do not know what we are doing. I have to increase my faith that God works in the midst of all the mess we have helped create.

God have mercy on… Israel, Jews, Gaza, Palestinian Arabs (many of whom have Jewish ancestry), God have mercy on us who claim to follow the Prince of Peace.

Shadow boxing

I read a post this morning and in it was the following sentence:

The other instigates a secular political war against imaginary enemies.

Imaginary enemies! For the likes of me who live with an oppositional viewpoint to everything the danger is that when I come to peace with something I will have to find something else to be in opposition to, and can of course just come up with something totally from my imagination. ‘Binding’ something imaginary of course needs a very tight noose indeed!!

The post was looking at how evangelicals can paint a picture of what is ‘evil’, signs of ‘decadence’ in society, the ‘loss of Judeo-Christian’ values (and of course terms such as ‘pro-life’ becomes tightly defined into the abortion issue while being able to support one of the biggest anti-life industries – that of the various war-machines, including never questioning where their pension fund is invested…) We can easily do this either by stating what the ‘enemy is / enemies are’ or create an environment of general fear so as we lose sight on the real issues threatening our future.

It reminds me of a dream I had recently, the first part of which might be relevant here. I walked with Gayle into a large auditorium where someone is holding forth on the various prophetic insights they had, and as they did this they noted the presence of someone from a different background who held to different perspectives. An acknowledgement was made, and a welcome, with ‘we need to hear later from xxx’. However no space was made for this person and once all the prophetic revelation was given out the person holding forth simply began to shadow-box around the stage and the auditorium. Realising that this was going to be the ‘content’ Gayle and I left.

Shadow-boxing – looks impressive, but there is no opponent. To shadow-box is simply to pretend there is an opponent there, to duck, to weave, to jab, to punch. It is all for the show, for the watching crowd…but it has no reality to it. Hence the post today and that sentence that caught my attention.

What are the true enemies? what is the enemy doing – after all Paul said he was not unaware of such scemes 2 Cor. 2:11? how do we foster what – even if imperfectly – is moving humanity forward? How do we avoid the shadow-boxing? Loads of questions for you and me.