Challenges…

A while back (2015 – 40 years after his death) we prayed at the tomb of Franco asking as a sign that ‘an earthquake would go throughout Spain’. Two months later in the biggest shake up in Spanish politics most newspaper headlines were ‘a political earthquake has gone through the whole of Spain’ with commentary that the results had never taken place in the period of the democracy. Then last summer we visited Franco’s birth place to cut off the roots. The next day the government passed that his body would be removed from the Valley of the Fallen. We rejoiced!!

We have just visited Madrid for 48 hours and one of our ‘projects’ was to visit the Cathedral where the Franco family want to have his body re-buried. This would not be good as the Cathedral is easily accessible and the tomb could become a shrine to Nazism. We have been very aware of the battle since the summer. One of the aspects we have discovered is that we can get a breakthrough and that the whole situation seems to come back around with a vengeance. It is a learning curve for us and we are seeing that we need to go to a level deeper each time.

The image is of Franco’s only direct offspring’s tomb in the family crypt that they purchased. How to go deeper? Well we prayed for sure, but placed a blade of grass on the tomb among the fresh flowers. A blade of grass! Grass has its time. Grows and withers. There is a time that is over… so we put down the blade of grass, prayed, then went to the entrance to the crypt saying not in here.

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By all means compromise

I am such a purist. Egaliterian, non-hierarchical, opposing the imperial spirit. I could go on with such an impressive resumé. (You know what I am writing is so true!) Yet when I come to how God works he is not the purist that I am. He has an amazing ability to compromise.

God shows up in the midst of Empire. Even the British Empire and the spread of missions went hand in hand… the Roman Empire with its one world government was useful for communication and the road systems for travel. The Gospel spread around the then known world at an amazing rate. (Bizarrely this was how some used to explain the phrase of Jesus coming at ‘the fullness of time’. Imagine it – God just waiting for the help he needed from those wonderful Caesars!) And the OT example of God not wanting a king (and by the third generation of kings, Solomon ‘the wise’ becomes just a new Pharaoh) yet he anoints the king. He did not want a Temple but his glory showed up… he did not want priests but… All of that just plainly narks me a lot… until I realise he has shown up once or twice with me too so I don’t complain too loudly.

Compromise. To connect we have to meet, and if for example I connect with a Roman catholic priest I do not assume they are wrong in the sense that God has not called them. But I do not kiss my brains good bye and go seek being ordained or changing my beliefs. There is an element where I have to decide what carries integrity for me, what are the lines I cannot personally cross, and at the same time I cannot draw those lines for someone else.

Here are some thoughts on where we compromise (I am not talking morally):

  • We have to keep our personal integrity. We know what our personal lines are.
  • We have to decide what we can do, or if there something we need to do, that is a compromise for the sake of the Gospel. (I was once challenged that I needed to take out my ear ring if I was to ‘minister’ – I simply had one internal question: for the sake of the Gospel do I refuse, or for the sake of the Gospel do I comply. The answer can differ in different situations.)
  • If we make a compromise it needs to be redemptive so that we help move things forward and not leave them there in the place where we connected.
  • If we put some structures in place they need to be as temporary as possible. Sadly it is easier to start something than stop it – hence I see the Sabbath, the 7 year fallow, the 50 year Jubilee being to force a break. Apostolic teams might be helpful at a stage but they quickly default to a set of churches ‘belonging’ to the apostle – Paul was clear that all ministries belong to the body of Christ, not the other way round. The default is to structural domination – as illustrated by the biblical material on ‘the city’ and exemplified by Babylon.
  • Empire is a spirit. Within empires there are good kings and bad ones. But kingship was not of God – it was a rejection of God! If we do not have our eyes open to the spirit of the empire and we do something that is birthed out of a desire for position we will end up coming under that spirit. My point in my initial paragraph is that God compromises functionally for redemptive purposes, and if we decide we need do this in a given situation we have to realise what we are doing is a compromise otherwise we will come under the spirit of compromise and lose our integrity today… or tomorrow.

Not great words of wisdom in the above but simply a few thoughts. We do nothing based on that what we do is better than someone else but that we have to live out of our convictions and then interact and work with others who have different convictions.

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Wrong sight and we might partner with demons

In a recent post I suggested that when we dehumanise people we contribute toward demonising them. The word ‘demonise’ is often used when, for example, politicians are accused of creating a target enemy through fear. ‘You are demonising them’, is the retort. I am, though, meaning something beyond that, in that I give credence to the work of demons. Maybe I have blogged enough on this but I think there is a little more in this post that I will explore. So first a step back to lay out where I am coming from.

I have been seeking to find a way of looking at sin not simply as law-breaking. It is law-breaking, but I am not convinced that is what is at the root. The law-breaking is a result not a definition. Sin starts through not seeing God as who s/he is. In the Garden the generosity of God is seen through only restricting the wonderful risky adventure of life with only one prohibition. ‘Eat of all the trees except…’ There has to be a restriction to determine choice, and God makes the restriction as small as it could be. The temptation begins with a questioning of God’s character, of how s/he is perceived. The serpent paints a picture of God as restricting to limit growth, whereas God’s restriction is to enable growth. Sin is to fail to live up to the revelation of who God is, not to break some arbitrary law. The temptation successfully distorted the image of God.

Likewise Israel is not a nation called to live by laws but in response to the gracious call of God she is to live out her life in a certain way. This way will reflect her faith in God, an ordered society with room for the ‘widow, orphan and alien’. She is defined not primarily by race but by faith. Her failures are witnessed when they fail to see who God is. Law breaking can be catalogued but the root issue is their loss of true sight of God.

If we then move away from law-breaking as defining sin and to another approach to understanding the ‘missing the mark’ sense, we can come up with a connection to the second half of Paul’s statement in Romans 3:23. After he writes ‘all / both have sinned’ he goes on to write: ‘and fallen short of the glory of God’. If sin is tied to glory we can then understand it is to fail to live out the glory of God. Glory is revealed in the tabernacle and in the temple but ultimately and completely in Jesus who ‘tabernacled among us.’ That glory was seen, and it was seen to be full of grace and truth. Glory was seen in a human.

In 2 Cor. 3:17-19 Paul says that we might not be getting a totally clear view of the glory of God but the sight we do get is transforming us into the image we see ‘from one degree of glory to another’. Likewise John writes

When he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is (1 Jn. 3:2).

Clearer sight transforms, and ultimately when we see him with total clarity (‘as he is’) we will be like him. We will be glorified. Before that time there is the call to be transformed from one degree of glory to another, and the increase of glory is in relationship to how clearly we see the ‘image’.

It is the spirit of antiChrist that denies Jesus came in the flesh (1 Jn. 4:2,3). This statement is a huge affirmation of humanity, but also a huge declaration about who God is. Jesus, God in the flesh, reveals God. The glory of God was seen in Jesus, the human. The spirit of antiChrist has a God different to the one revealed by Jesus. He is the starting point, the central focus; he is not simply the lens for Scripture, but the only lens through which God can be clearly seen.

That which does not elevate humanity is on the spectrum of aligning with antiChrist, it is to demonise others as there is an agreement with the work of demons and it is human partnership is what empowers the demonic.

Humanity is elevated in creation – so much so that the Psalmist asks ‘what is humanity that you are mindful of them?’ (Ps. 2). Humanity is elevated through God’s identification with us in the Incarnation. He declares that humanity is the body through which God can be revealed. Humanity is elevated in the resurrection as it is not a spiritual declaration that there is life after death, but that a human body is raised from the dead, being declared to be the firstfruit of all creation. The final resurrection will indeed elevate humanity, and before that event the body of Christ (‘those in Christ’) are raised to a new level of sight.

John says in the passage following his comments on the spirit of antiChrist that ‘no one has ever seen God’, but then goes on to say, but ‘if we love one another, God lives among us’. I prefer to translate it as I have done, ‘among us’, rather than in an indivudal sense that he lives ‘in’ us. John uses the same phrase that is used in John 1:14 – he tabernacled ‘among us’ (ἐν ἡμῖν in both texts). God becomes visible among us when we love one another. When we live out what Jesus lived out his glory becomes visible.

Following this John goes on to say that as we love one another his love is perfected. That is the ‘perfect love’ that casts out all fear. It is not through someone’s hands and a prayer so that we are filled with the perfect love of God that casts out fear, but to live a life of love. That life lived out casts out all fear. Hence the fear narrative cannot be listened to by believers. The fear is used to dehumanise / demonise, and as we dehumanise we line up with the work of the demonic and increase their authority to oppress. If the ‘others’ react in a way that justifies our fear we have to ask if we have contributed to their behaviour.

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Wisdom and optimism

The mayoress of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, at 74 years old is an amazing woman. She was the co-founder of the labour law office that saw a massacre in 1977 of 5 lawyers and assistants. The response to the massacre was one of the factors that enabled Spain transition peacefully from the era of the dictatorship to democracy. She came out of retirement to run for mayoress in Madrid and many social changes have taken place. On Monday this week she met with the mayors of London and Berlin. She says perhaps because she is older she is more optimistic than they are! Older, wiser and more cynical? No… Love it!! I also love the ‘govern from below’. Wisdom from the street. (Rough translation below.)

Hoy he estado debatiendo con los alcaldes de Berlín y Londres sobre los retos que afrontan nuestras ciudades, desde las consecuencias de Brexit hasta el ascenso del racismo y la extrema derecha. Quizá por tener más edad que ellos, yo soy optimista: he visto a España salir de una dictadura sin violencia y he visto cómo se ha arraigado el pacifismo, que es una idea relativamente reciente que va ganando espacio.

En las ciudades, no debemos olvidar que la única manera de conseguir mejoras es que haya solidaridad entre la ciudadanía (como estamos viendo por ejemplo con la contaminación y la movilidad sostenible). Y para ello, los políticos deben gobernar desde abajo y no desde arriba, relacionarse con los vecinos y vecinas en su vida cotidiana en lugar de colocarse en una situación de privilegio, y nunca convertir los problemas en un teatro.

Today I have been discussing with the mayors of Berlin and London about the challenges facing our cities, from the consequences of Brexit to the rise of racism and the extreme right. Perhaps because I am older than them, I am an optimist: I have seen Spain emerge from a dictatorship without violence and I have seen pacifism become established, which is a relatively recent idea that is gaining space.

In cities, we must not forget that the only way to achieve improvements is to have solidarity among citizens (as we are seeing for example with pollution and sustainable transport). And for this, politicians must govern from below and not from above, interact with neighbours in their every day lives instead of placing themselves in a privileged situation, and never turn problems into a theatre.

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O Pano de Fundo

Agradeço a Levi, que traduziu a primeira das postagens refletindo sobre o Brasil. Eu escrevi outros quatro posts. Neste momento eles são apenas em inglês. Aqui estão os links:

(Graças ao Google Translate para as frases acima! Você pode querer usar isso para dar uma tradução menos que perfeita das outras postagens.)

O Pano de Fundo

Nos próximos dias eu planejo fazer algumas postagens no blog sobre alguns dos temas dos quais tratamos quando estivemos no Brasil. São apenas perspectivas, mas é claro, muito próximas da verdade! O contexto em que estávamos ministrando era um país que testemunhou um grande crescimento da igreja, mas ainda tem altíssimos níveis de corrupção e ocultismo, e o tempo em que estávamos lá foi o período crítico das eleições presidenciais. Essa série de postagens também foi motivada pela colocação que fiz há algumas postagens atrás sugerindo que a misoginia é uma fortaleza maléfica da qual precisamos nos arrepender e que precisa ser derrubada. O conceito de “cavar” até atingir os alicerces tem estado em nossa perspectiva já por algum tempo e também vai contribuir para o conteúdo dessas postagens.

Interpretar a bíblia… há muitos princípios na hermenêutica e um dos principais é o de que precisamos descobrir a intenção do autor ao escrever. Isso parece muito claro, mas… e se Deus houver posto um significado “escondido” que só eu pudesse discernir (não estou dizendo isso de forma totalmente séria, mas talvez a ideia seja de que pode haver mais no texto do que o autor planejou inicialmente). Há também o elemento da interpretação do leitor. Ler a bíblia num idioma que não é o seu nativo é sempre interessante. As frases soam diferente e provocam novas ideias. Essa experiência me deixa mais aberto para novas leituras do texto.

Essas postagens serão um misto de pensamentos sobre o contexto, entendimentos das escrituras e algumas consequências decorrentes disso. Talvez não seja uma leitura fácil, mas espero que seja recompensadora.

Preparativos para ir ao Brasil

A Gayle foi ao Brasil com um desejo de ver mais espaço sendo aberto para a voz feminina, não simplesmente para demarcar uma concordância teológica baseada na bíblia, mas para que as profundas estruturas masculinas (e algumas vezes misóginas) fossem desafiadas. Mesmo que teoricamente as pessoas concordem com isso, é possível que não haja espaço para a voz das mulheres. Discussões e diálogos podem acontecer de uma forma que a voz feminina (e isso não se restringe à “mulher” em si) não seja ouvida.

Na Espanha há alguns grandes exemplos de feminilização da política. Ada Colau e Manuela Carmena, as prefeitas de Barcelona e Madri respectivamente, têm abordado algumas questões de forma não confrontadora, buscando o diálogo baseado no respeito e em ouvirmos uns aos outros. Contudo, no Brasil, os movimentos feministas têm se posicionado quase sempre de forma agressiva em oposição ao status quo e aos homens. Foi difícil transmitir essa perspectiva aos diversos ambientes onde estivemos, mas as mesas onde nos sentávamos para comer eram o lugar onde havia espaço e onde ganhávamos terreno, e a partir dali, conseguimos atingir contextos mais amplos.

Esse aspecto de ouvir a voz da feminilidade e abrir espaço para ela, não estava sendo enfatizado por acaso, mas na medida em que fazíamos o esforço de cavar as camadas mais profundas, o que começou a se desenvolver foi um grupo de ideias que pareciam se conectar entre si. O que vou dizer é um tanto inusitado, mas pouco antes de viajarmos para o Brasil Gayle teve um encontro com o anjo de Cádiz chamada Gadir, e ela foi conosco para o Brasil. Há um grande contexto por trás desse fato, mas nosso primeiro encontro com ela esteve conectado a uma situação onde ministramos libertação sobre as jovens de Cádiz e da Espanha. Recentemente em Cádiz tem havido algumas escavações e, sendo ela uma das mais antigas cidades ainda habitadas tendo uma história muito antiga, percebemos que sua atuação era a liberação da feminilidade e isso seria realizado através de um sério esforço de escavação.

A Jornada de Jesus encarnado começou nas alturas, foi até o lugar mais profundo, e voltou a subir. Ele fez isso para que pudesse preencher todas as coisas para o seu corpo, que é a igreja. A igreja então é a plenitude dele que preenche todas as coisas em todas as circunstancias (Efésios). Muitos de nós temos estado confortáveis com o conceito de guerra celestial e embora as práticas sejam diferentes, o que buscamos ao fazer guerra espiritual é impor limitações aos poderes celestiais hostis. Devemos ter foco nas coisas “do alto”, mas e quanto as coisas “das profundezas”? Embora não estejamos falando de alto e profundo num sentido literal, começamos a ver que havia um trabalho a ser feito para escavar as camadas profundas das estruturas que têm sido os alicerces da sociedade. Se o evangelho de fato diz respeito à transformação social (“há um novo mundo”) então esses alicerces precisam ser transformados espiritualmente.

Algo fundamental na criação foi a formação da humanidade com os gêneros masculino e feminino, segundo a imagem de Deus. Quando o relacionamento de um com o outro é distorcido, o resultado é uma falha nos alicerces. Por extensão o relacionamento entre um e outro, homem e mulher, deve ser posto no contexto da relação com todos os “outros”, sendo que o nível mais alto de cura é o amor pelos inimigos. O amor precisa ser descoberto e o que resiste ao amor, resistiu.

Pecado – não de acordo com a lei

Nossa herança teológica vem principalmente do período da Reforma, onde se enfatizava que o pecado é a quebra da lei. Normalmente compreendemos a Torá como sendo uma apresentação dos padrões de Deus, sendo Jesus o indivíduo perfeito que sofreu a punição pela culpa do mundo. Deixe-me sugerir uma abordagem diferente.

Em Romanos, Paulo parece desenvolver o conceito de que o cerne do pecado é excluir Deus, e como resultado, viver todo tipo de comportamento errado. Valores errados (enaltecer e adorar coisas erradas) foi o elemento principal da queda. A generosidade de Deus – coma de todas as árvores, exceto UMA – foi rejeitada com a insistência de que obteríamos frutos da árvore proibida. Isso foi é uma quebra de lei, mas o aspecto central desse ato é a transgressão dos limites no sentido de insistir em afirmar nosso direito de tomar coisas para nós. “Eu vi, eu desejei, eu tomei e comi”, esse é o testemunho do estado de um mundo caído. Na Torá há muitos mandamentos para não se remover os limites das propriedades, não tirar vantagem sobre os outros, não colher a safra completamente, ser contentado, dar espaço àqueles que não têm espaço… e havia implícito na lei um programa para que quando as coisas se desenvolvessem de forma errada elas fossem postas de volta em seu lugar com a libertação do sétimo ano e o jubileu a cada 50 anos.

O pecado se manifesta quando tomamos um espaço que limita o espaço do outro. Esse foi o resultado no relacionamento entre o homem e a mulher, com o homem “dominando” sobre a mulher. Eles foram comissionados para dominarem juntos, mas o resultado do pecado foi o domínio do homem sobre a mulher. A missão compartilhada se tornou desigual, e ainda pior, o foco que era cuidar do espaço se tornou domínio sobre o outro. A batalha por espaço é a história do conflito, contada pelos que estão embaixo e é a história da escravidão; contada do ponto de vista do vitorioso e é o militar e a vitória que vem em troca.

Paulo não constrói a ideia de que simplesmente “todos pecaram e por isso são culpados”, mas que tanto o judeu com a lei e o gentio sem a lei pecaram:

Não há diferença entre judeu e gentio, pois todos pecaram e estão destituídos da glória de Deus (Rm 3.22-23)

O significado não mudaria se trocássemos “todos” por “ambos”. Tanto judeu quanto gentio pecaram e esse pecado é definido como ser destituído da glória de Deus. A questão principal não é a quebra da lei, mas não viver de acordo com o chamado criacional de Deus. Esse chamado era para sermos verdadeiramente a imagem de Deus. Somente Jesus veio nessa forma. Somente Jesus cumpriu verdadeiramente o chamado e João nos informa que contemplamos sua glória, cheio de graça e de verdade (Jo 1.14). A verdade tem que vir num pacote de graça. De outra forma não haverá glória.

O Deus triuno é revelado quando um ser humano vê outro ser humano nessa mutualidade e abre espaço para que o outro cumpra o seu destino – sem amarras, mas através de um amor generoso. Esse é o chamado no casamento, mas não apenas do casamento, e Jesus, sendo solteiro, cumpriu esse desígnio em totalidade entregando a si mesmo em amor irrestrito não por um “outro”, mas por todos os “outros”. Somente nesse lugar de abnegação é que a glória é revelada. Falhar em fazer isso é ser destituído da glória de Deus e Paulo diz que não há distinção, judeu e gentio foram destituídos da mesma forma. Uma passagem muito importante com relação à transformação que Jesus gera em nós e em nosso mundo está em 2 Co 5.16-17:

Então a partir de agora não consideramos ninguém a partir de um ponto de vista mundano. Embora tenhamos considerado Cristo dessa forma anteriormente, essa não é mais nossa atitude. Portanto, se alguém está em Cristo, a nova criação chegou: O velho se foi, o novo está aqui!

Estar em Cristo é ter uma mudança na visão. Não podemos ver as pessoas da forma como elas normalmente são classificadas: por causa de seu contexto de vida, educação, dinheiro, gênero, orientação sexual; mas de acordo com seu destino. As pessoas são vistas de forma diferente porque – para os que estão em Cristo – há um novo mundo. Há um novo mundo que ainda virá, certamente. Mas a visão é tão clara que já podemos ver um novo mundo – através das palavras de Martin Luther King, “Eu tenho um sonho”.

Há um clamor na criação, que é o clamor por libertação (Rm. 8). Esse clamor nem sempre é bem articulado e muitas vezes se expressa por meio de frustração e ódio. O clamor vem das ruas e se o que está sendo ouvido puder ser interpretado para além do gemido doloroso então estaremos ouvindo a própria sabedoria clamando. Em Romanos 8 vemos o clamor da pessoa que encontra liberdade na união com o Espírito de Deus e clama “Aba Pai”. Da mesma forma que nosso clamor foi direcionado a Deus, o clamor da sociedade é direcionado àqueles que vêem um novo mundo, aqueles que estão em Cristo. (Ao utilizar o termo “Em Cristo” não estou dizendo que o clamor da sociedade não pode ser respondido por aqueles que “não” estão em Cristo, mas enfatizando que nós que pertencemos a Cristo carregamos uma responsabilidade maior).

O clamor, até mesmo das feministas agressivas do Brasil, ou o clamor dos grupos marginalizados (LGBTQ, #Eu Também, Vidas Negras Importam e muitos outros) é no fundo o clamor da criação por libertação, mesmo que seja abafado ou distorcido. Não podemos silenciar esse clamor, pois se pudermos ver de forma diferente, ouviremos a voz do Espírito em meio ao barulho e à gritaria. O clamor vem “de baixo”.

Visão e som

No parágrafo anterior eu sugeri que precisamos ver de forma diferente para ouvir de forma diferente. Essa dinâmica é apresentada no livro de Apocalipse, onde a visão esclarece ou corrige o que foi ouvido. João ouve que o Leão triunfou, mas quando se volta ele vê um cordeiro. A linguagem do poder pode ser e é distorcida para justificar a dominação. A visão é vital se quisermos ouvir o som de forma precisa. Nunca ouviremos o clamor da criação se não pudermos ver o “outro”. Há um som se levantando – estamos conseguindo ver aqueles que estão gemendo, gritando, e até mesmo usando palavras de ódio?

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A visit to Palestine

Geoff Daplyn has just returned from a visit to Palestine. He wrote a while back to me that he was travelling there to see and feel first hand what was on the ground. Be assured that is not writing with a pre-bias in the sense of having made up his mind before he went. I know Geoff and he has an honest integrity. Neither is he, nor anyone else that I know, saying that there is not a uniqueness about the Jewish people. The complications of our hermeneutics and the inter-section of historical events are immense. I chose to publish this as it is a first hand report by a friend. I am aware that someone else might have met other people, other situations and the report would be different.

Here is what Geoff wrote:

I can’t think that God can be pleased with Israel right now. There, I’ve said it!

I returned from a trip to Palestine a few weeks ago and I’m still processing the experience. It’s not that I knew nothing about the situation that the Palestinians are in, but rather that what I knew was from newspapers, TV and books. The experience is rather deeper, more thought provoking; indeed just more provoking!

Of course when anyone talks about Israel and Palestine, especially in a Christian context, there are facts, myths, opinions and propaganda. One person’s facts are another person’s myths and passionate opinion easily becomes powerful propaganda. All I can offer is a personal perspective based on people I’ve spoken with, and things I have seen with my own eyes.

The burden of centuries of guilt felt by the West towards the Jewish people can’t, it seems, be assuaged. It’s not just the Holocaust, but the endless pogroms, deliberate discrimination and broken promises. It’s a European history of the confining of Jewish people within ever tighter boundaries, identity cards that shouted ‘second class’ citizen, military rule, restrictions on movement, jobs, housing etc. It was an anti-Semitic, dehumanising policy of which the vast majority of us are ashamed.

So ashamed in fact, that we have allowed Israel the freedom to do exactly the same to the Palestinians. It’s like, “we are so sorry we allowed this to happen to you….please feel free to do it to someone else. Hope you feel better soon.” Ah, but these are just opinions, maybe even propaganda.

Quick itinerary: we started in Nazareth, then to Jenin. Blocked at first military checkpoint, but managed the second. Next day on to Nablus, then Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron in the south. A hectic day walking around Jerusalem as well, seeing the sites and the thousands of people from every nation on earth, it seemed.

For the last few nights we stayed in one of the Bethlehem refugee camps. As everywhere on the West Bank, we were welcomed and cheered. They don’t see many people visiting. We saw the Wall with military watchtowers reminiscent of Berlin in the ’80s. We talked with some who had their homes demolished with 24 hours notice. (The group we were with had actually rebuilt one last year, but it could get demolished again.) We saw18yr olds looking they had just come out of school, with M16s slung over their shoulders. We saw settlements with walls which encompassed Palestinian olive groves. Yes there was an access gate, but it was welded shut. After 3 years of no activity, the land automatically reverts to the state. Facts, or just myths?

We met many articulate and highly educated Palestinian leaders, Christian and Moslem, leading community projects expressing real hope, which considering the map (above) was astonishing. Few, however, had any ambition to lead at a higher, more political level. The view was expressed that the Palestinian Authority is corrupt (not substantiated), and uses grants from various governments around the world to build grandiose municipal buildings for their ministries. I guess it provides employment of a sort, but not the wealth-generating, job-generating, self sustainable sort.

There’s always more to say. But after initially being surprised, then shocked, I think I’m now just sad. Of course, there’s another side to the narrative which focuses on security (and there was plenty of that), but if Martin is right, and spiritual powers gain authority from what has been sown, Israel could well be into reaping a whirlwind!

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Letter to Diognetus

This post ‘Christians as the soul of the world’ is an anonymous letter to a cultured unbeliever called Diognetus, written around 140AD. It is an early Apology using terminology that would have communicated in the world shaped by philosophers such as Plato and the Stoics. There are aspects I would change. It is a little too dualistic for me, but it keeps with the theme of the body of Christ being in the world and related to it as the animating element.

 

Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. Their teaching is not based upon reveries inspired by the curiosity of men. Unlike some other people, they champion no purely human doctrine. With regard to dress, food and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labour under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not expose them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law.

Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonour, but that is their glory. They are defamed, but vindicated. A blessing is their answer to abuse, deference their response to insult. For the good they do they receive the punishment of malefactors, but even then they rejoice, as though receiving the gift of life. They are attacked by the Jews as aliens, they are persecuted by the Greeks, yet no one can explain the reason for this hatred.

To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world. As the visible body contains the invisible soul, so Christians are seen living in the world, but their religious life remains unseen. The body hates the soul and wars against it, not because of any injury the soul has done it, but because of the restriction the soul places on its pleasures. Similarly, the world hates the Christians, not because they have done it any wrong, but because they are opposed to its enjoyments.

Christians love those who hate them just as the soul loves the body and all its members despite the body’s hatred. It is by the soul, enclosed within the body, that the body is held together, and similarly, it is by the Christians, detained in the world as in a prison, that the world is held together. The soul, though immortal, has a mortal dwelling place; and Christians also live for a time amidst perishable things, while awaiting the freedom from change and decay that will be theirs in heaven. As the soul benefits from the deprivation of food and drink, so Christians flourish under persecution. Such is the Christian’s lofty and divinely appointed function, from which he is not permitted to excuse himself.

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Digging down

With this post I finish the material we sought to share in Brazil and the earlier part will also summarise some of what I have already written about. Hope it is not too long to read right through. Tomorrow I will copy a writing from around 150AD – who said I was not a traditionalist?

We are not sure exactly how different the focus ‘up’ to limit hostile powers differs from digging down to the depths as the two have to be related. The spiritual powers gain authority from what has been sown (history affecting geography, down establishes up) and likewise the hostile powers shape what can grow and multiply (up solidifies what is down). They both affect each other. The dimension of digging down though has a very earthy element to it and it is necessary to hear the cry of the land to respond, even if that cry is at times twisted or inarticulate. The response to the cry has to be through us seeing a new way of freedom, proclaiming it and relating to what is around us as far as is possible as if the new way is the reality. This emphasis of digging down coincided with a dream we were sent for our work in Spain about finding the shape that held up false structures. That shape was like an arch and in the dream the person had Gayle said the shape reminded her of a boomerang. The challenge with the boomerang is that one can throw it away and it returns. This has been our experience of late, when we have had a verifiable significant shift witnessed reflected by a news item, but only for it to be replaced by something perhaps even stronger. This pushed us to consider how we need to go deeper.

We consider that this is becoming very necessary in the context that many of us are finding ourselves. We are to be pressing in for a ‘whole new creation’ and at the same time we are experiencing that being challenged as we are in danger of losing the good that has brought us thus far. Democracy is not sacrosanct but the shift to control and silence the voice of the people is a huge danger sign. The use of the term ‘fake news’ does alert us to manipulative elements and biases in news reports, but when it is used now in a popular way so that it becomes a blanket term to silence criticism and control the work of the free press, we should recall that this was one of the ploys of the Nazi movement in the 1930’s with their term ‘Lügenpresse’ (=fake news) to attack journalists who were trying to report the facts.

In the previous post I wrote of Paul’s apostolic message and how we need to get to the starting line with respect to his message. Paul’s summary sentence about the result of the community of God in Christ is very informative when it comes to the shapes that are deep in the land that hold up false structures:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28).

It is this that has pushed us to look again at a deeper level on the issue of gender: neither male and female. Interestingly Paul changes the language from neither… nor to nor… and. A clear reference back to Genesis (God created them, male and female) suggesting that the destiny of humanity is not through going back but forward. We cannot underestimate how deep the gender issue is for the release and fulfilment of God’s future vision. We have to go deeper than simply ‘can a woman teach / have authority’ etc. Thank God for the work done on that to show the reading of Scripture (the ‘difficult texts’) do not need to be read at all in a limiting way. But pressing deeper to something very insidious, to the foundations of patriarchy takes us to another level, and opens up that Scripture is not simply written in a historic context (it is written, for example, pre-science as we know it) but also it is written an underlying patriarchal context – the context of the Fall. Scripture is God’s word to us but contextualised; it is a narrative that means we have to read it in context. If not, there would be a very strong argument to revert back to days of slavery and to defend that position, as did evangelicals at the time, on the basis of the clarity of Scripture. We do not have the right to change Scripture but we are compelled to free Scripture to be the word from God.

Likewise class issues (neither slave nor free) means we have to change how we see people. They cannot be seen according to the labels society put on them. Seeing people according to their destiny also necessitates relating to them in that way. The ‘fear’ narrative dehumanises people and what dehumanises is rooted in the spirit of antiChrist. I consider that perhaps dehumanising even leads to demonising, not simply in the figurative sense of the word, but by releasing demons to their work in that context… and certainly those who dehumanise open themselves up to demonic blindness and oppression, for there is in some measure an alignment with the spirit of antiChrist in the dehumanising response. More is being required of us, and given the wonderful outpourings of the Spirit and the release of gifts within the body this should not surprise us. The level is going up and so we are to go deeper, and our prayers for the glory of God to be revealed means how we relate to the ‘other’ will determine the level of glory seen. When glory comes it will come full of grace and truth with the evidence it has been manifest will be that the person we are relating will find their head has been lifted up (‘You are my glory and the lifter of my head’).

There still is something very deep to be worked through on Paul (a Jew) who says ‘neither Jew nor Gentile’ both in the specific context of how Israel is viewed and related to and the wider issue of nations and borders. We must always hold out, as Paul did, for those who are Jew by race to come to true faith. He saw that coming through a jealousy of what was taking place in the body of Christ. Jealousy is the fear or realisation that one is losing one’s place. Is there sufficient evidence that the church is marked by the presence of God? That is the pathway: through provoking jealousy to salvation, and so ‘in this way all Israel will be saved’ (καὶ οὕτως – ‘in this way’, not a temporal clause as sometimes translated ‘and then’, thus Paul is looking for a continual process not a one off end time event). ‘All Israel’ of course is a challenging phrase, but we have to remember that the debate in Israel was who was Israel, and it was defined by those who had true faith not had proven genealogy. How many of genealogical Israel can be part of ‘all Israel’ was a burden for Paul so he worked hard among the Gentiles to be an answer to his own burden.

A blanket support for Israel will I think blind us. After all they were not to be a nation as the other nations were, and so maybe we should be careful in simply wanting to help them become that. We should anticipate some very creative ways for the borders for the peoples being resolved there. And I consider that the body of Christ should be at the forefront of praying and working for those creative, reconciling paths. (I am aware that life in and or Israel is not easy with many who wish their annihilation. I am not suggesting an easy solution. If ever there is a geography that needs deep digging then that land is the place.)

Beyond Israel and the Gentiles though lie something for most of us much closer to hand. The deep nationalism that many of us have been taught to embrace has to give way to understanding the unity of all humanity. We are all from one source and within that God has given boundaries and times for the peoples to live:

From one person he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17: 26,27).

Yes there are boundaries but they are not fixed for all time. They are fluid and are the place where angels are often encountered in Scripture. We are living at a fluid time in history, perhaps the time of greatest change. A time when many people can find God, and find him in a new geography. We cannot simply respond with fear to what we see nor with an appeal to sovereignty lest we find ourselves opposing what God is at work doing. The challenge is when God is at work there is also a great presence of the demonic seeking to pervert and suffocate what God is doing. There are no easy answers to the many challenging global and national crises but we have to be careful as the body of Christ that we do not fall quickly into the trap of finding the quick solution. If we lift our eyes we see him, then we see others in the context of a new world.

The body of Christ… What a call. Thank God there is variety within the body, but there also has to be an increasing connection to the world beyond. This leads me to the final aspect we shared:

We are not to resort to God is in control

I overstate things somewhat but in order to bring in a corrective perspective. We sing God is sovereign, but he gave that responsibility to us. He reigns in the heavens and one day his reign will be complete throughout all creation. The question is how is that accomplished? We can consider the commission in the Garden and from that understand that the responsibility was given to humanity. God was freely available for review and advice at the end of each phase of work – he came in the evening time. That commission came to rest on Israel’s shoulders, to be a light to the nations, and a priest before God on their behalf. At the fullness of time, the time of great darkness, the Light came into the world and the darkness could not overpower it. He, as the Second Adam, showed us the pathway, with the disciples saying ‘what manner of human is this?’. Raised as the eschatological human he becomes something for the body. Having gone down to the deepest place and risen to the highest place he filled all things.

The world is not out of control and God is deeply involved, but the key issue is that there is a major role for the body of Christ. Stewards taking responsibility. Maybe one day people will say, ‘we did not recognise you we thought you were the Gardeners working to restore all things.’ We await the parousia for the fullness of that, but can live now as a prophetic sign that is visibly pointing to that great day.

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Sequential door openers

Jesus is unique at every level. He is no mere human teacher, not even simply divine, but the incarnation of God, so in what I write below I am not suggesting that Peter, Paul, et al., are on the same level. I say that as there is a pattern of sequential door opening at the human level that takes place.

Jesus once and for all opened the door for the restoration of all things and only he did that, Revelation 5 states clearly that only he is found worthy to break the seals and open the book of destiny. His work is completed and unrepeatable. We must not though mistake the work of Christ as meaning there is no work for us to do. Scripture makes that clear, as he was sent into the world to compete the work the Father gave him, so he commissioned his followers to go into the whole world to fulfil the work he gave them to do (Matt. 28, the Great Commission). That commission is a renewal of the Creation mandate to Adam and Eve and carries a clear understanding that the purpose is creation-wide resulting in the whole of creation becoming a Temple for God: hence I do not see any place for the rebuilding of a Temple in Jerusalem. (Likewise the rebuilding of the tabernacle of David might be a good analogy to raise up 24 hour worship, but the fulfilment in Acts 15 has to do with the inclusion of the Gentiles into the body of Christ.)

Jesus opens the door for Peter

There are different understanding on what it meant when Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom, and maybe it carries different levels of meaning. His revelation as to who Jesus was is certainly one of the foundations for the future, and the keys given to him were not his exclusively. However, as apostle to the Jews, he plays a key role in opening up the pathway of salvation in Christ to the ancient people. He is the one who stands up on the day of Pentecost to make proclamation

And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ (Acts 2:40).

Very strong language (‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation’), the implication being clear for those who reject the message. According to the book of Jubilees we read that when a Jew who refused to circumcise their child they were committing the ‘unforgivable sin’ by declaring that they did not belong to the covenant people:

And now I announce unto thee that the children of Israel will not keep true to this ordinance, and they will not circumcise their sons according to all this law; for in the flesh of their circumcision they will omit this circumcision of their sons, and all of them, sons of Beliar, will leave their sons uncircumcised as they were born.
And there will be great wrath from the Lord against the children of Israel. because they have forsaken His covenant and turned aside from His word, and provoked and blasphemed, inasmuch as they do not observe the ordinance of this law; for they have treated their members like the Gentiles, so that they may be removed and rooted out of the land. And there will no more be pardon or forgiveness unto them [so that there should be forgiveness and pardon] for all the sin of this eternal error (the Psuedopigrapha book of Jubilees 15: 33, 34).

In the same way Peter uses language here that comes close to this. His language echoes the language we find in the Torah, and later in Acts 3:22,23 quoting the promise of a prophet like Moses being raised up and says that those who do not hear the voice of that prophet will be ‘cut off from their people’.

For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people.’

Peter’s message is that Israel can be restored, but the restoration is through Jesus. (It is possible to cling to the Scriptures that speak of Israel being loved because of the patriarchs and a hope that there will be a future turning to God, but this cannot muddy the waters that Peter is proclaiming to Jews that the only way to salvation is through Jesus.)

Peter opens the door for Paul

Peter continues his work among the Jews and in Gal. 2: 7,8 Paul contrasts his calling with that of Peter’s. Peter being commissioned to the Jews while he was commissioned to the Gentiles. One an apostle to the Jew, the other to the Gentiles. Yet it was Peter who was chosen (ambushed?) to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. The door was then opened, so I suggest there is a sequence: Jesus who died to break the curse of the Law opens the door for Peter to bring the message to the Jews that the time of the fulfilment of the OT prophetic had arrived, so calling them to enter the eschatological people / Israel of God. Peter later reluctantly went to the Gentiles and witnessed that

And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. (Ats 15:8-11).

That was a strong revelation. There is no distinction, there is no second class level – and this is the apostle to the Jews who is saying this. Indeed the final sentence is more than a little provocative. He does not say they will be saved the same way as we Jews, but we Jews will be saved the same way as they are. There is such a shift in Jesus, the whole world is turned upside down. There might be a backstory to the work of Jesus, but truly he is the starting point, destiny is in him, he is the Chosen one from before the foundation of all things.

The door that was opened to Peter to work in the Jewish context is further opened by him to the Gentiles. Jesus not only took the curse of the Law (hanging on a tree, Gal. 3:13), but died at the hands of the Gentile Imperial powers, judged to be a rebel and a criminal thus opening the door for all who grasp that his death is for them to go free of the powers. His death is for all; restoration is for all; one new eschatological people being built into a Temple fit for his Spirit. I suggest, therefore that in some way Peter is used of God to open the door for Paul. Jesus to Peter; Peter to Paul; Paul to…

Paul opens the door to…

At the very least we have to recover the Pauline Gospel, and maybe there are implications of that Gospel that were hidden to Paul. In the same way as Peter did not clearly see the door that had opened to the Jews meant it was also open to the Gentiles, maybe Paul did not understand where this Gospel would take him. Peter certainly did not understand the full implications of what had been released at Easter and Pentecost, so is it possible that Paul didn’t see all the implications? That is somewhat irrelevant at this time as I am not sure we have even got back to the starting level of what he was up to. While in Brazil I posed the question to Gayle:

Do we have any idea what Paul was up to in his travels, lectures and proclamation across the Empire?

I suggest that whatever ideas we have do not come close to what was in his mind.

A final footnote: if ever we consider that Paul did not see the full implications of what he opened up anything we will understand has to accord with the narrative authority of Scripture. It has to be true to the story line from Creation to New Creation. What a provocation, first to find the starting line and then follow the trajectory.

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One world government

Big bad world, global organisations paving the way for a one-world government. Do we escape? How do we avoid the mark of the beast? We have probably all heard those lines, maybe we even subscribe to a variation of them. Over the centuries there have been many candidates for the post of antiChrist. Famously Napoleon was one as troops advanced across Europe to implement his vision for the increase of his empire and as he rapidly put one relative after another on the various thrones of Europe he quickly became prime candidate for the supposed end-time role. Maybe those who thought so simply got it wrong and we still need to watch… or maybe the whole approach is just simply wrong.

My real issue with that type of teaching is it tends to produce a fear of the world and a withdrawal from, rather than an engagement with, the world. Maybe there is a one-world government to come (although I don’t think that is taught in Scripture) but even if there is to be such a situation we surely know what response to make. It is the same one as ever: get stuck in. Jesus specifically prayed that the Father would not remove the disciples from the world and I see no reason to suggest that prayer has been changed over the centuries since it was prayed. If we were to withdraw how could there ever be a redemptive presence in the world? Withdrawal would only mean one thing, the situation would deteriorate. The self-fulfilling prophecy that the word is an evil place, therefore avoid it, is not prophetic but simply self-fulfilling. The two elements of petitioning heaven and positioning within society are key for the future, and a de-positioning will not enable any petitioning to be effective.

However, back to the one-world government theme. Whatever the future holds I consider it more helpful to look to the past, the time of the NT, and to see the faith response at that time, as the faith response then might well be instructive today – and tomorrow – for our response.

The one time that the world was all-but under a one-world government was the time of the Roman Empire, and the contrasts of the Roman message and the Gospel message are quite incredible. A quick summary should suffice, starting with the term ‘gospel’:

  • A common use of the ‘gospel’ in the Imperial context was the good news of the ascension to the throne of a new emperor, who was proclaimed to be a son of the divine Caesar, being proclaimed as both saviour and lord.

    In the Roman imperial world, the ‘gospel’ was the good news of Caesar’s having established peace and security for the world (Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and Empire).

  • The proclamation that Caesar is lord is in obvious direct contrast to Jesus is Lord.
  • The Pax Romana established through military conquest contrasts the peace that Jesus established through the blood of the cross.
  • The ekklesia already existed in cities, the assembly that ran the city. We can read in Acts 19:39 that the city clerk’s response to the riot was to tell them that, ‘If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly.’ The legal assembly is the word ekklesia. Each city had an ekklesia, but Paul came to establish an ekklesia in Jesus Christ. It is hard not to believe that this raises the provocative question of who will shape the city, Rome’s appointed ekklesia or the one not made up by the mighty and powerful but established from heaven?
  • Then there is the Roman term for the Empire: basileia – the same term used for the kingdom (basileia) of God.

There are OT backgrounds to the various terms used in the NT but those take on new levels of significance when they clearly clashed with Rome’s preferred terminology. Paul and the apostolic proclamation did not change terminology in order to avoid any misunderstanding. He did not change so that people would clearly understood that the Gospel was non-political but spiritual. Indeed the refusal to change language, I suggest, was precisely because the Gospel was actually understood to be political. Not political in the sense of ‘if you follow Christ you will vote for a particular party’, but in the sense that ‘if you follow Christ your values will set you in conflict with all ideologies that call for your allegiance.’ As I heard someone once say: ‘Christianity will never make a good state religion!’

At a simple level those were the reasons why I would not take an oath when serving on a jury in court, nor swear allegiance to a flag or nation. The Lordship of Christ, then and now, absolutely relativises all other places where we serve, our ‘no’ having to mean ‘no’ so that our ‘yes’ to Jesus keeps us on course.

Life in the Empire was not easy for believers. As early as Nero Christians were blamed for the fire in Rome, and persecutions broke out from time to time. Believers lived in the squeezed place of not causing undue issues, seeking to follow practical advice such as: ‘If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’ (Rom. 12:18)’ while realising that the Empire always rewards those who comply, they being the ones with the freedom to ‘buy and sell’. (Revelation makes total sense in the context of the world at the end of the 1st Century, and has to be manipulated to make the imagery carry relevance for the 21st Century.)

Caesar’s rule was classically imperial. A few shape the future, promising benefits to all who comply, but the benefits simply flowed from the margins back to the centre. This is the critique we read of in Revelation with 28 cargoes (7=fullness x 4=creation / world) being carried back to Rome, cargo that included human life (Rev. 18: 12,13). The contrast of that life-consuming rule to the ecology of Jesus with life flowing out to the margins, life through the Lamb slain.

We shared on these subjects in Brazil in the context of their very divisive election. Choosing which way to vote in any election is a difficult decision for a believer, and we neither encouraged a vote for one candidate nor another, but wanted to put the task of the church in context. One candidate might be considered better (more redemptive) than the other, but the task of the church is to position itself for the future and protect a shape where those who enter the political sphere will serve the people. A huge element (for me) is whatever humanises people is pointing toward the liberation of the Gospel – for that reason a blanket support of capitalism (and in particular neo-liberalism) nor extreme socialism can receive our endorsement: both of which feed from the lives of people, the fodder of the beast.

Rediscovering the socially transformative nature of the Gospel has to be a major ingredient involved in a recovery of the apostolic message.

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