Once a year

Ever wanted to get to see the notes that were made as a result of that annual appraisal you had? Or rather not see it at all? Of course not all appraisals are 100% accurate but I have checked out with the person in question and have their permission to highlight here some of the key notes. This appraisal was always going to be fairly significant as it was not simply an annual one but it marked the end of their 9th season of 7.

Some glaring weaknesses came out. A tendency toward arrogance marked by an assumption that they already know better, or already have enough knowledge, compounded by an over-developed independence produced at best some strong convictions and at worst a slowness to learn. It is clear that not all people find working in team easy!

I had to mark their communication skills down mainly because of what seems to be an inability to really listen. This was disappointing as they should be able to make a bigger contribution to conversation and been a greater encourager. It seems also that they have moved on too quickly from their mistakes so have not learnt as much as they could resulting in less wisdom that could have been helpful to others.

Positively they remain focused seeking to keep distractions at bay and giving priority to activities that are at the centre of their vision statement. I hope that aspect remains and if they can embrace the critique of their weaknesses their continual small contribution should prove valuable.

I had one suggestion to make to them and that was to consider the next 30 years and what they might wish to focus on: people, places, historic events and current situations. That if they drew up some big brush strokes it would give a greater clarity to the immediate. I am aware in giving them the challenge of 30 years there might not be another 30 years of annual appraisals for them, however I suspect if they can do this it could well open up space for others.

Appraisals are a mixed bag! This person could be discouraged (I hear them say ‘surely there is something more on the positive side?’), they could argue their case, blame others… It will be interesting to see how they respond.

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The definite answer

For many of us with our evangelical background we have been intuitively taught to believe that there are answers (not so bad a concept) and that we have them (not always a good concept!). This is also compounded if we also have a personality that is biased toward the black and white approach of there being an absolute that is knowable in every situation. Maybe add a little bit of youthful energy and we will always be looking to receive or to give the definitive response. ‘I’m glad you asked me, and even if you didn’t ask me I am more than capable of telling you the answer. So pin back your ears…’

I suggested in conversation recently that when we are younger in our faith and in our stage of life that we are often ready with the answer, but as we develop we move away from being equipped with the quick answer to seeking the slower and less easy task of trying to help find solutions. An answer based approach will say ‘this is right, that is wrong, I know that because…, and so this is what you need to do.’ A solution based approach might even say ‘I don’t have the answer, and I am not sure there is an answer, and probably what you are experiencing will be an untied loose end and won’t even be resolved.’ A way forward (a solution) can consist in ‘there is no answer.’ Strangely knowing that there is no answer can help us find the solution, whereas holding on to an answer can leave us vulnerable to the many turns and twists of life.

I listened recently to a part of a video where the person said, in effect, that he had come to them with questions for their answers. That is not something we like when we want certainty! Yet doubt and uncertainty is not the enemy of faith, but are the companions that enrich our faith.

There are answers to many of our situations, it is not as if all of life is a loose end – thank God! But a premature answer can also sell us short, so that we avoid the journey in waters unknown, and do not discover what needs to change within us. Maturity is not marked by finding all the answers (becoming a human ‘wikipedia’) but in meandering ever closer to the God who does not always deal with rights and wrongs but in redemptive solutions that move life forward. (Life is a meander because we do not always know in what direction we should head, but somehow as we walk in humility our meander takes on a distinct direction.)

We can see this kind of meander in Paul (an apostle meandering – whatever next?). We read:

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygiaz and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas (Acts 16:6-8).

They were headed toward Asia, presumably because they felt clear to head in that direction, but hit a block; they tried to enter Bythinia but were prevented. Not exactly clear apostolic direction at this point. There must have been a relief when at last Paul got his act together announcing he had had a clear dream of where they should go – Macedonia. The dream of the man calling for help clearly restores faith in his ability to receive apostolic direction! So off to Macedonia (Philippi) they go and ever so quickly they walk into the fulfilment. Or do they? It is not a man of Macedonia that features but a woman – Lydia! Of course there might be ways of resolving it all (the jailer and family respond later) but I like that there is not a clear – ‘and as a result of the dream this is what came about and all the boxes were ticked.’ The Bible helpfully leaves things unresolved – it is a book of God’s solutions not simply his set of answers. It is not a codified text of a way to live but a narratival account of the meanderings of those who were not among those who were mighty, highly intelligent and lived happily without a doubt again ever after.

I suspect God is not scratching his head seeking to find the answer but is willing to open his heart to us and help us find a way forward. And the way forward just might be a messy one.

Solutions are not always the answer, but answers are not always the solution. Solutions open the future; answers try and explain the past. They might be related, and maybe one day we will receive all the answers to the questions we had, but I suspect when we fully live the other side of the solutions we probably won’t be interested in the answers.

PS: You can present all the answers in the comment section should you wish!!

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To, for or with?

For the past couple of months I have been mulling over these three words in the context of our relationship to ‘the world’. Here then are a few of my not totally formed thoughts (partly provoked by a video clip of Dr. Sam Wells that I watched). My guess is this is an extension of contemplating how to be ‘in’ the world but not ‘of’ it. The application should be into a much wider context than evangelism (and I think the primary biblical paradigm is ‘witness’ not evangelism as defined by modernism) but will use that as my means of dialogue.

In the TO the world, my approach is shaped by a view that I am over here, the world is over there and there is a gulf in between the ‘washed’ and the ‘great unwashed’. I have an obligation to do something to them, but in taking that approach I enter into a I-it relationship (Martin Buber’s usage to describe something that falls far below a true encounter). I do this to someone as we are very different, they are truly the other, and other in the sense of inferior. Evangelism is done to in order to convert, if there is a conversion then they can move over here to where I am, and then together we can act to do more ‘to’ those who need conversion. If there is no conversion then necessity means I should move on with the hope that someone else I do this to will be more responsive.

In the FOR mode, I recognise how much I have that the world does not have, therefore am moved to share what I have with them. The invitation is to come to my ground as I have something for them. This normally moves beyond a simple I-it relationship, but can prove very problematic when there is no response leading to conversion. Does the relationship continue or is it now unprofitable as there are others who I can relate to in a ‘for’ them relationship. The hope is that they will convert, join me in my ground and together we invite others across to hear what we have for them. If they do not convert I am in a bit of a dilemma as I only have so much capacity. If it was a true I-thou relationship do I drop them and use my energies with others?

In the WITH mode, I recognise that there is a commonality between us all. I do not abide in some separate piece of ground, but live, move and have my being as all others do in God. This commonality means I am seeking always to relate to anyone, regardless of how ‘other’ they are in a I-Thou relationship (Buber’s term). I see we have much in common, this commonality is not based on a specific response of faith – and Paul’s relationship with the Asiarchs is a powerful example on this (Acts 19). We are not simply coming with our projects, but with our gifts, calling and faith to discover ways of being ‘with’ people. There will be a very strong ‘with’ whenever there are those who dream of a different world, for if anyone is in Christ they do not simply dream of a different world – there is a different world.

(The above I have applied to ‘evangelism’, but it needs to be applied to so much of Christian charitable work also. It might be a great experience to go and work in an underprivileged place, and there might be many reasons why we cannot simply go and live there, but the deepest relationship is the ‘with’, not the ‘for’, and certainly not the ‘to’ relationship.)

The believer in Christ lives in two places: in Christ / heavenly dimension and geographical / horizontal relational level. (‘To the saints in Christ in Corinth’ was a typical Pauline greeting.) We have to be faithful to both settings, and both settings are lived in simultaneously. Our faith determines how we live in the second setting. We live there to humanise others, to be full of hope, to bear witness that our world view is shaped by the Transcendent one who entered into a I-Thou relationship with us. Tangible signs also accompany us: the signs that Jesus gave marking the change of time, those of supernatural healings and of the marginalised hearing the sound of good news.

To be in the world but not of it necessitates living in both spheres simultaneously, of determining to be shaped by the ‘with’ mode. A new day is always being offered; a new day should have been our habitat given the resurrection. Maybe the sound of a new day has been muted because the body of Christ has not been too quick to live out the new day in the ‘with’ mentality.

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Maybe no connection

When we were in Prague with a focus on prayer for the Czech Republic and for Europe one of the central focuses (plural = foca / foci / focuses???) was that of praying into time being unstopped and moving forward. The symbol of the metronome overlooking the city was helpful to us, provoking us to pray that time will not be marked with a ‘keep in step’ rhythm but by the imagination of a new future.

Now maybe there is no connection at all but so often there are signs that accompany prayer and a few nights ago I woke to remembering that I had watched a short news clip on a European community-wide survey that has been opened on changing the clock in Europe. A survey has been opened from July 4 – August 16th as to whether citizens want to retain the practice of summer time change. (An example article.)

A few weeks later Gayle and I were in the north of Scotland and a focus there was on setting true north. If that is set then we can know how to navigate. So two key issues – time being unlocked, and direction being set. On the latter it is not about getting the shape of the church correct (this was such an emphasis back in the day when the apostolic and prophetic foundations, 5-fold ministry etc., was our focus) but of the positioning of the church. That positioning has to be for (and set by) the world. I say set by as perhaps I should not have used the word ‘for’. If we are set by the world, then it will determine we are ‘with’ and even ‘in’ the world, and only in that sense ‘for’ the world. The day of doing things ‘for’ has to be superseded by doing things with, which can only result from being with.

I wonder… will there be something coming on the radar, short news snippets on ‘true north’? If there are maybe it will bear no connection to what we have prayed, and yet so often there are gently encouraging signs. Just wondering…

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Spirit & Power: religion set the rules

Glad I call this site ‘Perspectives’ as it gives me an opportunity to write from time to time some musings that enter my head. Today’s musing began when Gayle read me concerning a lawyer who used to play on his home beach in Mumbai as a child but when he returned as an older adult it was covered in trash. He began with one other person to try and clean it up and eventually engaged the wider community. It took over a year till they began to see the beach restored. When the beach had been in good condition all those years ago turtles had come and laid their eggs on it, but none had been seen in the previous 20 years. After cleaning it up the turtles returned. Although there is ‘no more sea’ in the new heavens and earth this surely is a theological statement concerning the imagery of the sea as the source of chaos and not a material statement about its non-existence. If what we do now is providing the building material for the age to come (our good works) maybe what this community is doing is making some sort of provision for that age. (Perspectives / musings!!)

The story did get me thinking about something that many religions have in common. They seem to elevate ‘spirit / spiritual existence’ above physical existence in a way that denigrates humanity. Thus embracing the ‘soma sema’ of Greek philosophy (the body is a tomb, the real me is inside this tomb… real life is non-physical, death is an escape, etc.). Or they embrace the exercise of power over as being the mark of righteousness. We see this with Paul as a ‘righteous’ Jew. Persecuting those who were renegade to the faith, viewing them as enemies and deserving of the expression of his zeal. The Crusades and some aspects of current terrorism are religiously motivated with the desire to impose what is ‘right’, and what is right takes precedence over the lives of others. In the realm of legislation we see this in a desire to express ‘sharia law’ over a society, and also the Christian variety of that where we wish legislation that imposes Christian values.

I, as do most believers, oppose abortion except for some very few cases. As far as I am aware this was also the personal position of Obama in the USA although his position on legislation was that it was a personal choice. Abortion is one of those very difficult areas for believers who are in public office. Personal beliefs and public legislation cannot always line up. The arguments are very far reaching, but the fact that the abortion rate was lower at the end of Obama’s time than before the famous Roe v. Wade ruling indicates the complexities involved.

Faith has a huge impact on the public life of a society and rightly so, but a religion, any religion that seeks to impose on the wider society often draws on the concept that righteousness is aligned to power over. Add to that the elevation of life that is a removal from society (spirit is superior) and maybe we can suggest that (most) religions have those two elements in common. The two elements result in a withdrawal from the wider society and an engagement that is an imposition of a change from above.

The Jesus way I think is different. Righteousness cannot be about expressing zeal against people. Paul concluded that what he formerly considered was an expression of righteousness he now saw as excrement and that he was indeed the chief of sinners. Righteousness has to be centred on enemy love. Zeal has to be a zealousness for the ways and character of God to infiltrate society: love permeating all relationships and actions. A spirituality that is life-affirming, that sees the (eternal) good in the actions of all around us.

Does such an approach compromise the message of the Gospel? Yes, if the Gospel is about power and the denigration of human existence. But if the Gospel calls all those who have heard the voice of Jesus to follow him and lay down their lives for others, and then ‘go’ with a focus on discipling all peoples there is no compromise, particularly when on that journey there is no elevation of self over others.

I end my musing with the question as to what contribution religion, in all its forms, has made to the world as we have it today when shaped by the twins of spirit above matter and power over others for righteousness’ sake. And what might happen if there was a genuine Jesus revolution by a new apostolic wave that was willing to work for the future with patience, knowing that the multiplicity of the small and the richness of diversity could yield a future so different to the one that will be ours if we continue on this current pathway.

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He is everywhere

Someone once said to me ‘Omnipresence is not all it is cracked up to be. Imagine Sunday morning worldwide… you have a choice, but God has to be present week after week… That’s the downside of omnipresence.’

Probably not the joke that is about to win the Edinburgh Festival best joke award, and pretty irrelevant to this post anyway, so moving on quickly. God’s presence and the evidence of it is a strange phenomenon, and by that I mean the places where he shows up. Not looking to offend anyone, but assuming most of the readers of this blog are not full out and out Catholics who regularly pray for the pope, we have this strange aspect where (I guess) most of us do not have a firm theological conviction that he is indeed the spiritual descendent of Peter and that unique representative of Christ on the earth. Yet most of us see him as so representing God, and appointed by him. I think we have a way of handling that without too much difficulty. God is present with him, present in the system, yet the system is not ordained by and therefore ‘of God’.

Maybe though we do not do the same thing with ourselves. Someone is healed, thus God is with us and approving of us, what we do and how we do it. God’s presence and his activity does not endorse who he is active with or the context in which his activity manifests. A very clear example of this is with the appointment of the king. The context and choice made by Israel is a rejection of God, yet God shows up to anoint the king. It does not go well, but rather than command Israel to abandon the cray (Pharaonic) idea he promptly sends Samuel out to find another king.

I write this post while in Prague. Been great today to walk in the city and see such a beautiful city, but also to think of its history. Walk past churches that perhaps have at times not represented God too well, which normally happens whenever we become complicit with power, but maybe at times they have been the means of grace and people finding a future and hope.

We are ever so grateful for everyone who seeks to serve God in whatever capacity and in whatever context. God is a real compromiser, entering into situations that we are ready to be critical of (‘wouldn’t touch that with a barge pole’ kind of response!). That is grace.

I don’t think God is looking for the perfect, the NT based community in order to work. He is more likely going to call people into situations that are not perfect, to wrestle with what is compromised within those situations, but in that to imperfectly align with God so that God’s presence might manifest.

Walking around Prague today we asked each other, what would one do if one were living here to facilitate people finding faith. (An interesting thought given that the Czech Republic seems to come bottom of the statistical pile in Europe for a lack of interest in faith among younger people.) I am sure there are models of church that could come in here and see some quite impressive growth. The temptation would be to assume if that were to happen that indicates God’s approval. Maybe and maybe not. (The real issue of change of course is not to simply look within four walls, but in the context of the wider city and location.)

We do not have easy answers, but remain convinced that the way ahead is through a multiplicity of small actions, within imperfect situations, by imperfect people. None of us have the approval of God in the sense of what we are involved in being a total reflection of heaven’s activities. That should not condemn us, but encourage us to give it our best shot, and to be very uncritical of others who are doing it so differently and in a different context to us.

Glad God is omnipresence, not in the theological sense but in the grace sense of him showing up in all situations. I think omnipresence is everything it is cracked up to be – and a whole load more.

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Have you seen my feet?

Not sure how your feet look today, but mine? Really bad and not sure what I am going to do with them. Filthy, so filthy, and hope that there is some way I can get them cleaned up – otherwise it will be so embarrassing.

Actually my feet have been dirty for a while. Dirty because I am so privileged. And that is the heart of the issue. How to keep some semblance of cleanness on those feet when privileged.

Gayle and I are actively pursuing an apartment in Madrid, and although there are many complications with the purchase such as the possibility that we could end in court concerning the issues on the whole block, we are actively making drawings of what we can fit in there. (Did I write ‘we’? I should have put Gayle, she is the expert on that, seeking to work out what can go in to an apartment of 18 foot x 14 foot (5.5m x 4.3m).) Property – such a great investment. Put your money in bricks and mortar, prices go up, particularly in a city – so goes the advice.

Now that is where the dirty feet come in. Madrid, like most major cities, has so many properties that have been bought up simply so as they can be rented out with the result that rental prices are going up, many locals no longer being able to afford to live in the area. This is no exception in the area where we have for years prayer walked and homed in on.

We can lay out all the reasons why we want to live there, the prayers, the prophetic words, we can lay out our finances etc., and we can do so with a clean conscience. We have stood in front of Madrid when Mammon spoke loudly to us and said ‘you cannot enter here’, and we spoke back saying that we are not coming to make money or to exploit. We have simply asked for a place to enter, somewhere small, somewhere from where we can make space for others to find their place in the city. Yet, assuming we get this property, just by moving in we will contribute to the rise in prices.

Hopefully then we have a clean heart but in the very act of pursuing this apartment our feet are already dirty. That of course was the issue that Peter had to face up to. He did not need to be washed throughout, just his feet. Maybe as a reminder to us the barrio where we are looking to move is ‘Lavapies’ – feet washing!

How do we respond? With humility has mark the start of any entry, and we probably have to do something in the early days that is not simply counter-cultural but counter-spirit. Money makes the world go round (often in the wrong direction), so to turn the rotation, something always has to be done. Jesus, with choice of treasurer, did that in a big way. Sabbath and Jubilee ensured there was a jolt to the ever present ‘invisible hand of the market’, and the entry to the land was marked by gaining nothing materially at the first point of entry (Jericho). I have sought to do that in certain places. I had books published in Korean, Swedish, German, Portuguese and in the USA. In each situation I decided to take no royalties. A small response as sometimes one can only make a small response.

Once we get this apartment it will be eminently rentable, but we will have to, in the first season make choices that do not benefit us financially, otherwise even if our hearts remain clean we would be making no real contribution to the rotation of the city. Hopefully as we walk the city our feet will not get too dirty, in fact the very act of walking will help them be a little cleaner than they would be otherwise, but for sure they will never be spotless. And seemingly that is the way it is meant to be.

The percentage share of global wealth

Comparatively, our wealth, puts us in the top perentage of those considered wealthy in the world. We have food, we have a roof, we even have a car, both of us have cell phones. Wealth.

How then do we live with privilege? That is the issue.

Years ago the discussion about ’emerging church’ and the like could be seen as a luxury that many in the world could not afford to engage in. Live in a favela, or to be living under constant scrutiny for one’s faith in certain countries, and then suggest that what they should do is hold a conference on the nature of emerging church would be an insult. That was the privilege (luxury) of living in the west with our resources and heritage.

University education, the world of academia… In Spain so many of those who are pushing for political change are university graduates, some having been professors. A privileged world seeking to bring a difference to those who have been silenced. Does one have to go into academia to make a difference? (For me part of the attraction of Liberation Theology was the privileged interpretation of Scripture by the poor. The suggestion was that they could understand Scripture in a way that no academic theologian could, being one of the outworkings of the ‘preferential option for the poor’.) I write from time to time about money, but I do not understand economics. I probably do not have the ability to grasp the issues surrounding economics, so some of what I write those with greater understanding could probably drive the proverbial bus through. So is real change only effected by those who can study and intellectualise at that level?

In theory I do not like the world of privilege, hence I am not a royalist, and I find it easier to spell the word ‘socialist’ than ‘conservative’, yet I am privileged and if I had one regret in life it would be that I have not always rocked the boat when I should have. Ah well – learn from past errors.

With all my questions over the privileged worlds of home ownership, academia and the like, I remain convinced that amidst that luxury there is space to use that for the sake of others. Discussions on ’emerging church’, ‘the nature of Imperial power’, or ‘how church and theology have been subsumed by sovereignty’ are not simply luxury discussions. I think they are also essential so that something is sown into the wider world. If we can have those discussions and seek to influence one another there will be substance stored up also for those who, in the future, move beyond living in survival mode (where the society is hostile to the Christian faith) or move beyond the heady days of revival growth.

We have to live in at least two worlds. The small world where we find ourselves, and in our situation that small world is a highly privileged world. And the bigger world of the world the corporate ‘we’ have created. We cannot simply live in one of those worlds. In our world we have to use any privileges we have to undermine those very privileges and to contribute to the shift in the rotation of the big world. Probably we will only make a small contribution. Maybe that is all we are meant to make, and to ensure that the small contribution has eternal value, we probably have to look quite often at our feet.

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A straight line? Of course

I am where I am because of the journey I took. Now that is so profound I almost need to take a breather. It is, of course, an obvious truism, but what we do not always own up to is that we could not have predicted back then where the journey would lead us. Steve and Kathy Lowton are here with us for a week with their two youngest, and meeting with them seems to always bring about a sense of ‘this is where we have come from’. One year ago we met them in Madrid, there over Gayle’s birthday, praying into the politics of Spain and Europe we coincidentally met a British political journalist. It was when we there that Steve’s statement that ‘Scotty still believes what he has always believes’ came out, provoking a few posts on that theme.

Twenty years ago I travelled to Leeds (the Lowtons home city) and met with a group of church leaders from across the city. I had been praying for weeks for invitations to come from the cities of the UK. I saw that there really was ‘the church in the locality’ that had been positioned there for the wellbeing of the locality, for its transformation. One morning while both asking for cities to open and also expressing my frustration with nothing shifting, I sensed the Lord prompt me with the thought as to how many cities I could travel to at one time. Obvious answer ‘one’. So my prayer changed that morning to ‘Lord open up one city to me.’ Within a short period of time Steve called me and invited me to come meet with those leaders. Something connected, and Leeds opened her door. From there I never asked for an invite, but from that city one after another opened, and for the next 10 years I travelled with others in that way.

Calendar

Twenty years ago (March 1998) I donned sackcloth, as one would, and clothed in that way was graciously invited to address a conference. I knew that something catalytic was taking place in those years. Convention had got us to where we were, but the ‘train’ was terminating there. If we wanted to move forward we would have to get off the train, put on new clothing, the clothing of humility, step beyond the walls we had built and we would find travelling companions that we had not met before; that we would move beyond relationships birthed out of common identity and discover relationships for the sake of territory.

Those months were formative for me, but far more formative than one realised. Looking back there was a ‘before’ and an ‘after’.

I can see how I am where I am. I can see that ‘Scotty still believes’, yet so much has changed. Back in 1998 as cities began to open I could see a straight line. Prayer and the prophetic would open things up, salvations would abound and a new manifestation of ‘mega church’ would come, church across a region, not necessarily mega in the sense of mega congregations but mega in the sense of the united body of Christ across an area. I no longer expect nor hope for that. One interpretation could be that I have lost hope along the way… another is that virtually all expectations are misplaced, that the fulfilment is different to the expectation.

Ten years ago in this month I was making a crazy mental mind shift. I was working much more in mainland Europe and anticipated that at some level I would make a move in that direction. I had travelled just a little to Spain; then because of a relational commitment I tentatively committed myself to a one year (temporary) change of address. To a place I had never travelled to – Mallorca. Within weeks I had visited Holy Island and maybe connecting with the ancient Celtic saints as clear as any audible voice could be I heard – you are not going for 1 year but for 3. Stepping outside my geographical setting was one aspect, but a three year move meant the acceleration of the process of stepping outside my easy-to-define church work. Twenty years ago dressed in sackcloth I could not see what would be my changing context of 10 years ago. And from that vantage point I could not have seen our focus of today. Looking back – a straight line. But this has been no predictable straight line.

There are always key relationships and influences along the way. Change comes from heaven and our response but human interactions and also the contextual situations are the means through which changes are provoked, catalysed or confirmed. Steve & Kathy represent two people among scores of others who have been very important. But Gayle has been more than a travelling companion, and a while back I had a dream that I was to receive an impartation of youthfulness ‘because I was with Gayle’. The important part for me was not that the final phrase was incidental, but that I had to ensure I was with her. Of course we are with each other, but the key for my future was to be with her. The priority was the ground she was standing on, and I know that she has helped catalyse more changes in me these past (almost) 10 years.

Not really a straight line, and at the times of unexpected curves on the road, and particularly the times when the wheels come off, it seems ultra important to respond to what the Lord is doing inside us. Even if those times are well represented by the Jonah and the sea monster experiences. Those three days of change in the belly of the whale so prepare us for the 3 days of walking our Ninevah with the message the Lord has given.

Expectations of 20 years ago have given way to expectations of ten years ago. Today those are manifesting as a hope for the transformation from the effects of the deep history of this land, the opening of Europe for something that will resonate deeply with the Pauline gospel. Helping lead people to finding faith in Jesus, prayer for shifts, prophesying to the powers – all remain central… but the context has enlarged beyond anything I could see 20 years ago. It seems the ‘train’ of 20 years ago terminated, and other transport became available, but those methods of transportation likewise have come to a stop. This is the time to walk, let the land rise up to greet us, look the Babels in the eye, for if humility has been embraced at any level, we will not be seen so easily in return, and through the multiplicity of the small at grass roots, and the richness of diversity that results from journeys of 20, 10 or 2 years we can gain sight that will give us energy in return for this next phase.

By the end of 2020 our expectation is that there will be much more of a level playing field. That the contexts in which we will find ourselves will not be so weighted against us due to the excess of historical buildup, that we will not be pushing up hill but the pushes will move something forward.

Twenty years ago as a young 42 year old I stepped out; now as a only-slightly-not-so-young 62 year old I can still hear the passion of heaven for this world. Expectations are still present for these next 10 and 20 years. I will of course claim yet again that I arrived there following the ever-so-obvious straight line. Then a slight pause for reflection will show there were some amazing curves in that road, and will also reveal that some old connections and some people I have not met to date were incredibly influential in provoking just enough flexibility to change.

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1 billion and rising

I wrote these few lines in February, 2013 just after the population count had passed the 1 billion mark. That is a lot of people and the number is rising. Many within the global population are simply a number lost within the crowd. The privileged ones, such as myself, can either live life oblivious, or seek to grapple inadequately with their pain. In doing so we will always hit the self-questioning as to whether we are having an effect or not. We have just had Adrian and Pauline Hawkes with us for 5 days. A truly extraordinary couple who are making a difference to many lives, yet they too at times have their self-doubt. That is the mark of honest and committed people to the task in front of them. (See the amazing work of Phoenix Community, to see the heart of what Adrian and Pauline are involved in.)

But Heaven reaches Lower

So much to say
                but cannot speak
Places to travel
                but cannot move
People to help
                but unable to connect
Heaven to reach
                but head that is down
Setting a goal
                but without a horizon
Trying to breathe
                but losing space to live
Having some doubts
                but ready to fight
Fighting an illusion
                but feeling better
Everything will work out
                but not today
Today is not important
                and losing a gift
In the midst of a storm
                that is not as big
Having fears that are
                as big and
                more real than the fight
Yet not able to name
                the fears lest they too
                silence the traveller
                mock the warrior
                and bind the seer
In a world that is created in days
                a world of chaos
                that owes its existence to
                whatever created it
                the question shapes the Universe
Can this be the way it is?
                It is but it will not be for it cannot
                be all that it claims to be
Not all that glitters is gold
                and not all that casts a shadow
                is bad nor can it hide
                the light that finds cracks
                that creates shapes and reveals textures
So maybe today a word spoken could begin
                with a word heard
                and the gift of life
                could release the breath
                and restore the world to
                its true size and beauty
Could the miracle be already present within the space
                that is so small and there be a voice when
                there is no sound.
So cannot speak
                but a lot to say
Cannot move
                but a lot of travel
Cannot connect but
                people to help
A head that is down
                but heaven reaches lower.

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Where will this path lead?

Stephen Bullivant, St Mary’s University in London has authored a report on the state of Christianity in Europe with a focus on those aged 16-29. It seems hard to argue that the future does not look so good. (Article based on this report can be read at The Guardian.) Here is a sample o the findings.

Those between 16-29 who identify as having no religion:
Czech Republic 90%
UK 70%
Spain 55%
Poland 17%

Those who never attend a religious service:
Czech Republic 70%
Spain 60%
UK 59%
Poland 12%

Those who never pray outside of a service:
Czech Republic 80%
Spain 64%
UK 63%
Poland 19%

In Europe among that age group the Czech Republic was the least religious and Poland the most. The UK and Spain featuring high on the non-religious spectrum. According to Bullivant, many young Europeans

will have been baptised and then never darken the door of a church again. Cultural religious identities just aren’t being passed on from parents to children. It just washes straight off them.

the Muslim birthrate is higher than the general population, and they have much higher [religious] retention rates.

In 20 or 30 years’ time, mainstream churches will be smaller, but the few people left will be highly committed.

Not a rosy picture and one that is sobering. Post-Christendom for sure, but these figures point to something more than simply the demise of the Christendom paradigm. Ancient Rome was of course a challenge to the Gospel’s progress so we should not lose heart, though the level of religious affiliation within that Imperial setting would have been so much higher. (I guess there could also be statistics produced that counter-balance a little the non-religious aspect indicating a percentage involved in spirituality.)

I am not dismayed by the post-Christendom era that has been present for a while and is increasingly the reality. We might not be alarmed if we simply suggest that the Christianity that younger people give no affiliation to is purely institutional and not a reflection of personal faith in Jesus. However, the vacuum that is being let will be filled,and dark controlling powers relish such a situation.

The task is clear. As much as I am an advocate of making the shifts, such as witness rather than evangelise, or seeing fulfilments of the prophetic in liberation, pro-humanity movements, etc., the presence of those with faith, who know the Lord is so necessary. The secular context maybe means we do not need to compete with other religious views and it does present the opportunity for a presentation of Jesus without baggage, but the report clearly says the future will not be an easy one.

If ever there was a time and a context for ‘the multiplicity of the small, and the diversity of expression’ the report indicates this. What an opportunity in Europe! Not the time to import something. The Gospel is in that third phase. From Jerusalem to the Gentile world, embedded in Europe, from there clothed in Imperialism to the ends of the earth. Now there is a return. But the return cannot be back again with the same clothing. Hence something has to be recovered from within, while not ignoring the help coming from the ends of the earth. Back to Jerusalem too, not with a Zionist push (for in Christ there is no Jew nor Greek) but to enable the reconciling Presence of Jesus to show in that very contentious place there is only one humanity.

The statistics are challenging. The focus remains the same. False hope will disappoint. Hope that remains and even grows among a grass roots movement though? That is what makes Europe an exciting place to live.

An end of an era is signalled in those statistics… The beginning of a new era beckons.

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