The tallest mountain?

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. (Isaiah 2).

Back in the day this was one of the proof texts that God would raise up the church in all her perfection and the peoples would stream in, hence restore the church to the biblical pattern and hey ho off we all go. And look – there it is ‘in the last days’. A nice one to tuck in to the armoury to show that restoration was the pattern – and how important we are!

Now with teaching on ‘x mountains of influence’ it becomes a Scripture to show the exaltation of the church mountain. (Mountains of influence being a ‘restorationism on steroids’, with a vision for the reconstructionism of the whole of society, sadly with an inevitable nationalism embedded within it.)

To push the Scripture to the millennium could at least make sense, but that whole system likewise is embedded in a nationalism (Jewish) that the opening pages, and all the ensuing pages, of the New Testament seem to put a very strong road block to journeying in that direction.

A few verses – and only a few – later we read that

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

It is interesting that for those who take the ‘in the last days the church…’ approach these verses don’t really feature… and when the reconstruction-type teaching is strongly propagated from the nation that has the most weapons of mass destruction, it kinda leaves a gap for me that I think would need one of the most creative bridges to cross!

No I don’t think there is going to be a ‘tallest mountain’, particularly when Jesus came to bring the mountains down.

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!

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.

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.

So which is it?

Oliva – Madrid – Cadiz – Malaga – Oliva and Wednesday back to Madrid. 2000kms in the last few days. Our time in Malaga was very enriching, connecting with a small group of artists from across Spain. It was stimulating and great to be with people who were not pushing themselves forward. If egos were present they were pretty hidden! It was also a great privilege to meet in Spain with David and Karen Underwood. I first met them 42 years ago. We have connected from time to time over the years since and to see how they have invested into Spain and into this arts group was great. (David is far right in the photo and Karen next to Gayle. Vicente and Amor, the other couple in the photo, live in Barcelona and were two among a number we connected with.)

While at the gathering a Scripture was quoted that if ‘you are not with me you are against me’. I said that there was a Scripture that said that and also one that said the opposite, both from Jesus. I had never looked at them before at any depth but was provoked to find them now that we have a few hours at home. Here are the two:

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9: 49,50).

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Luke 11:23).

It is great when we find contradictory statements in Scripture (another example from the book full of wisdom: answer a fool according to his folly… do not answer a fool according to his folly…). Contradictory statements challenge us about being so sure as to what is the right approach. What interested me in both these Scriptures was not simply the context but that both were related to demons being cast out. The first being of a, I suppose, Jewish exorcist using the name of Jesus to cast out demons. We assume successfully unlike the scenario in Ephesus with the sons of Sceva. The second passage is against the backdrop of Jesus casting out a demon and some responding that he did so by being aligned to Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons (11:15).

Both passages are about bringing deliverance and freedom to someone. The first passage concerns a person who was ‘not one of us’ but Jesus declares that such a person is ‘for you’. Jesus clearly came to destroy the work of demons and to set people free from their rule. Those who opposed that liberating work aligned themselves against him and it was those people that Jesus said were against him.

There seems then to be a principle here. Those who are working for and desiring a future where people find freedom from oppression, from powers that dehumanise, regardless of what faith boxes they tick are ‘for’ us. We should not try to ‘stop’ them nor see them as ‘not one of us’. Those who oppose liberation? They are not with Jesus. And what if they tick the right faith boxes?

One of the wonderful aspects of the days in Malaga with the arts group was that it was Jesus-based but not all those there had faith. They were open about that. There was clarity but no coercion. We were rightly provoked by all we saw and heard and have come home enriched because in and through it all Jesus was so present.

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.

If you build it?

‘If you build it they will come’ (Field of Dreams, 1989) is a powerful inspirational strap line. Go do something, set it out and there will be a response; rather than try to get the result consider the context. A truly motivational directive. At some level this is what lay behind the flow of the OT hope where something will happen in Jerusalem and the nations will be drawn to it. In the days when there was no visible centre there (Temple) the hope was for its rebuilding and the nations would then come to that place where the glory of God was and acknowledge the One true God. Such a strong motivational and eschatological hope.

Cyrus was proclaimed the Lord’s anointed and in the (normally) last book of the Writings (2 Chronicles for us) we read that he instructed the people to go (re-)build a temple in Jerusalem:

This is what Cyrus king of Persia says:
‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up, and may the Lord their God be with them.’ (2 Chron. 36: 23).

In Matthew’s Gospel with its focus on the fulfilment of Scripture we find such a clear echo of those words as that Gospel closes with the ‘Great Commission’:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28: 18-20).

The parallels are clear:

  • authority given
  • go
  • promised presence.

Fulfilments are not repeats but often transform the original hope. As inspirational as the ‘go build it’ was and a stretch to faith, the scope of the Jesus’ commission and the how to do it are in another league all together.

Build it somewhere becomes be everywhere; go to a place becomes go from a place; and the clear implication is that the Temple being built will not be with literal stones, nor confined to a specific geography but invisible and universal.

In Field of Dreams the challenge was to build something not knowing what the result will be. Build something and believe there will be a result was a clear challenge to faith. In the Jesus’ commission the challenge to faith is so much greater. Don’t even build something, but have a very clear focus, and something will be invisibly built. He also does not focus on ‘they will come’ but on ‘I will come’.

Everywhere can manifest somewhere: ‘where two or three are gathered together’; but the somewheres must never claim to be everywhere nor create borders that stop people going everywhere. (I hope that sentence makes sense!) Jerusalem is not the goal, the New Jerusalem is the goal, that image of the total transformation of the then known world, the presence of God being the light that fills everywhere. That presence can manifest in specific places at specific times, but when any wonderful expression of God is held on to it can eventually resist the very reason for the manifestation. This is why there is such a need for continued apostolic and prophetic ministry as new terrain is entered into. Any centres that are reproduced, in the big scheme of things, can only be temporary. The Revelation vision is not I saw a Temple, nor I saw many Temples, but I saw no Temple, the city without a Temple.

The Jesus’ commission is of the continual movement into new terrain by those imbibed by his Spirit, God building something where previously there was either rubble or nothing. At the core is a multiplication of ‘disciples’ (learners) and those who are walking in the light of the presence among them.

If we do not keep the big picture in front of us, the steps along the way will become the camp, the model to be reproduced. There is no model. There is only a journey and the step we take on that journey will depend on our context at that time. True north sets the direction; the Spirit calls for followers; followers are promised his presence.

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