A little more theology

Power is an interesting word. For sure there is a power dynamic witnessed by the disciples being instructed to stay in Jerusalem until they received power. Likewise authority. Jesus received all authority in heaven and in earth, and he gave authority over the works of the devil to the disciples. I consider that authority was never intended to be over others but was for others to enable them to find their destiny – hence the requirement is to submit ourselves rather than subjugate others.

In a world that has perverted the beautiful order of making space for others (using authority rightly) and retreating from space that was wrongly taken it is not surprising that we have many voices calling for their space. And all the while there is the inequality produced of occupying the space of others we should not be surprised that the cry from creation is mixed. In Scripture there is a redemptive principle where those with the power are addressed while the from-below-voice is heard. God hears the sound of oppressed Israel but addresses the Imperial power of Pharaoh with a command to repent, by releasing Israel from their captivity and giving them their space.

The redemptive principle exposes those with power as the ones who have to repent and lay down power. They have to retreat and allow space for the other. The history of the world is that there is a continual movement to take yet more power, to make ourselves even greater than before. The Christ example is to make the other greater. ‘Better I go away… you will do the works I do and greater.’

The Cross

Jesus came at the fullness of time, at the time when there was no hope in the world. It was the time in history when we have had an all-but one world government complete with a ruling antiChrist, something that the history books portray and the book of Revelation exposes in techicolour. (This is one of the reasons I do not see the Bible predicting a future antiChrist. The eschatological horizon of AD70 being the fulfilment of Jesus’ Olivet discourse and the fulfilment of the ‘man of lawlessness’ for Paul. There is a horizon beyond that of the end of all Imperial rule, which we work toward and will be fulfilled at his parousia.)

Jesus came when the demonic was at its greatest, when Israel had so lost her calling as a corporate priesthood for the nations that not even the Temple was a house of prayer for the nations, being identified as a ‘den of robbers’ by Jesus (robbery – to steal space?). At the time of no hope he came as human, specifically as a male human and as a Jew. Men, women, Jews and Gentiles – all have sinned – but the human who has taken space (male / patriarchy) and the people who did not open space for others to know God (the Jew) are specifically incarnated in Jesus. He dies to maleness for all humanity, and he dies to Jewishness for all peoples. Dying as a male he dies for all humanity, and he takes the curse of the Jewish law for the release of God’s glory to all people. Paul insists that Jesus, and those in him, are the new humanity hence

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 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. 3:26-28).

The old distinctions have gone, there is a new world. This does have huge implications for an Israel theology, but we positioned this understanding for the male / female or more specifically for the voice of the feminine when we were in Brazil.

A few interesting Scriptures

Mary came to the tomb, to the Garden where there was a proclamation that he is alive. This is in contrast to the Garden of Eden and the Fall where death was proclaimed. She saw Jesus believing him to be the Gardener. Her sight was correct, the original commission was being restored in him. The ‘Last’ Adam was ready to work for the renewal of all creation. She might have doubted the validity of her belief but there is something very profound to be gained from her sight. If Jesus is not seen as the Gardener any view of his Lordship will be perverted. He is not coming to take space but to make space, to shape an environment for redeemed humanity. He does not come with the spirit of Caesar to enforce every knee to bow, but when he is revealed every knee will bow. There will be space for one and all, not simply privileged and precarious position for those who comply to the Imperial spirit.

The first revelation was to a woman. In response to that testimony Peter and John ran to the tomb but as Cleopas said:

Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus (Luke 24:24).

They – the men – did not see Jesus. Mary did see him. They will later see him but before that occurs Jesus reveals himself on the road to Emmaus to a couple (Cleopas / Clopas and his wife Mary – John 19:25). We read the story in Luke 24 and the obvious redemptive re-enactment of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden is present. The original couple had left the Garden despondent knowing that they had lost destiny for humanity. This couple left Jerusalem despondent believing that even the One they followed was not able to get things back on track. Adam and Eve left not knowing that God was walking with them. Their exclusion had implications for his journey with humanity. Just as God had come in the evening time so Jesus appeared to Cleopas and Mary at the evening time. He walks with them on their journey, and later promised to continue to do just that, and not just for them but promised to walk with all who believe in his name.

There is a movement from a woman to a couple. There is something taking place that is the restoration of the male / female relationship. Unless there is room given to the feminine sight we run the risk of perverting the sight of the Lordship of Christ. If we do not welcome the sight of the Gardener we will not understand the apostolic task ahead. For only after there is a healing brought through prioritising the feminine sight does Jesus appear to the apostolic band.

When the early disciples all joined together waiting for the Promise of the Father Luke records that the eleven were with the women.

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers (Acts 1:14).

Maybe it is just a simple record of who was present but maybe there is a deeper sense contained in that phrase (σὺν γυναιξὶν καὶ Μαριὰμ τῇ μητρὶ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ). Maybe the sense is that disciples were with (σὺν) the women, more that than the women were included with them. They were together, but there is perhaps an indication that they had to position themselves to the women. Equality and certainly space preserved for the feminine sight.

Restoration is not about reversals to the point where the imbalance is put to the other extreme but where there is equal space. Space for one and all, but to see restoration the voice and sight that has been absent has to be focused on. It is not simply added to the current voice and sight but corrects and adjusts that perspective.

These are the deep foundations, and we were very glad to have Gadir with us to dig down, to dig deep.

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Backstory

The next few days I plan to blog concerning some of the themes we pushed while in Brazil. Perspectives, but of course ever so close to the truth!! The context for what we shared was a land that has seen so much church growth, yet still has very high levels of corruption and occult, and the time we were there was a very divisive time of the presidential election. It also followed on the back of suggesting a few posts ago that misogyny is one of the strongholds that needs to be repented of and broken. The concept of ‘digging’ down to foundations has been with us for a while and that will also contribute to the content of these posts.

Interpreting the Bible… so many principles in hermeneutics, a main one being to discover the author’s intended meaning. That seems pretty clear, but… what if God intended a ‘hidden’ meaning that only I could discern (not totally serious about that suggestion, but maybe the point is there could be more to the text than the author initially meant). Then there is an element of reader interpretation. Reading the Bible in a second language is always interesting, phrases sound different and provoke new ideas. This experience makes me more open to fresh readings from the text.

These posts will mix background thinking, understanding of Scripture with some of the practical outworking. Not always an easy read but hopefully rewarding.

Getting ready for Brazil

Gayle came to Brazil with a desire to see space be made for the feminine voice, not simply to gain agreement with a theological tick of ‘the Bible agrees’, but that the deep masculine (and at times misogynist) structures be challenged. There can be agreement at a theoretical level and yet no space be made for the voice of the feminine. Discussions and dialogue can be done in such a way that the feminine (and this is not simply restricted to the ‘female’) voice is not heard.

In Spain there are some great examples of the feminisation of politics. Ada Colau and Manuela Carmena being the mayoresses of Barcelona and Madrid respectively have taken approaches that are not confrontational but dialogual based on respect and listening to one another. In Brazil, however, the feminist movements have mainly positioned themselves aggressively in opposition to the status quo and to men. It was difficult to get a perspective into the various settings, but the meal table was the place where room was made and ground taken, and from there we were able to sow into the more public settings.

This aspect of the voice of, and space for, the feminine, did not simply sit there by itself but as the push was to dig into the deeper layers what began to unfold was a group of ideas that seemed to interlink. A little out there, but in the lead up to the trip Gayle had an encounter with the angel of Cádiz called Gadir, and she came with us to Brazil. There is a long background to this but our first encounter with her was in connection to the release of the young woman of Cádiz / Spain. In recent days Cádiz has been undergoing some ongoing excavations and being one of the oldest continually inhabited cities with an ancient history, we realised that her partnership was the release of the feminine and this would be accomplished by some serious digging.

The journey of the Incarnate Jesus was from on high to the lowest place and back again. He did this so that he could fill all things on behalf of his body, the church. The church then is the fullness of him who fills all things in every way (Ephesians). Many of us have been comfortable with the concept of warfare in the heavenlies, and although practice might differ we look to see limitations placed on those hostile heavenly powers. If I suggest that is to focus ‘up’ what about the focus ‘down’? Although not literally up and down, we began to see that there has to be work done to dig down to the deep structural layers that have been the foundations for society. If the Gospel is indeed about social transformation (‘there is a new world’) then those foundations have to be changed spiritually.

Foundational to creation was the creation of humanity with male and female in God’s image. When the inter-relationship of this ‘other’ is skewed then it results in a fault in the very foundations. By extension the male / female ‘other’ relationship has to be pushed to the inter-relationship to all ‘others’, the ultimate healing being the love for the enemy. Love has to be discovered and what resists love resisted.

Sin – not defined by law

Our theological inheritance is mainly from the Reformation period with an emphasis on sin as law-breaking. Usually we have understood the Torah as presenting God’s standards and Jesus the perfect One taking on the punishment for the guilt of the world. Let me suggest a different approach.

In Romans Paul seems to put forward the concept that the heart of sin is to shut God out with the result being all kinds of wrong behaviour. Wrong values (wrong worth-ship / worship) was at the heart of the Fall. The generosity of God – eat of all the trees except for ONE – was rejected with the insistence that we will take fruit from the forbidden tree. This is law-breaking, but at the heart of it is the over-reaching beyond boundaries in order to insist on our right to take. ‘I saw, I desired, I took and I ate’ is the testimony of the world’s fallen state. In the Torah there are many commands not to move boundary markers, not to take what disadvantages others, not to harvest to the maximum, to be content, to make room for those who have no space… and inbuilt was a program that when things did expand in wrong directions to put it all back with the 7 year release and the 50 year Jubilee.

Sin expresses itself in taking space that shuts out the space for the other. This was the result in the male / female relationship with the man ‘ruling’ over the woman. Commissioned to rule together the result of sin was the rulership of the male over the female. The shared commission became unequal, and even worse the focus which was to be a rule (care for) the space became rulership over someone else. The battle for space is the story of conflict, told from the underside and it is the story of slavery; told from the victor’s side and it is the military and trade victory.

Paul does not simply make the point that ‘all have sinned and so all are guilty’ but that both the Jew with the law and the Gentile without the law have sinned:

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:22,23).

It is not changing the meaning if we were to change the ‘all’ to ‘both’. Jew and Gentile alike have sinned and that sin is defined as falling short of the glory of God. The primary issue is not law-breaking, but not living up to the creational call of God. That call was to be truly the image of God. Only Jesus came in that way. Only Jesus truly fulfilled that calling and John informs us that we beheld his glory, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14). Truth has to come in a grace package otherwise there will be no glory.

The Tri-une God is revealed whenever one human being sees another human being and in that mutuality give space for the other to fulfil their destiny – with no strings attached but through self-giving love. This is the call in marriage but that call is not restricted to marriage, and Jesus, as single, fulfilled this call in totality giving himself in outpoured love not for one ‘other’ but for all ‘others’.

Only in this self-giving way is glory revealed. To fail to do so is to fall short of the glory of God, and Paul says there is no distinction, Jew and Gentile alike have fallen short. A very key Scripture concerning the transformation that Jesus brings to us and our world is in 2 Corinthians 5: 16,17:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

To be in Christ is to have a change of sight. We cannot see people how they are often classified: by their background, education, wealth, gender, sexual orientation; but according to their destiny. People are seen differently because – for those in Christ – there is a new world. There is a new world to come for sure, but the sight is such that a new world is already seen – along the lines of MLK’s words ‘I have a dream’.

There is a cry from creation which is a cry for liberation (Rom. 8). That cry is not always articulated well and is often expressed in frustration or anger. The cry is from the street and if what is heard can be heard beyond the painful groan then wisdom itself can be heard to be crying out. In Romans 8 there is the cry of the person that finds freedom in God’s Spirit coming to them and they cry out ‘Abba Father’. In the same way as our cry was directed to God the cry of society is directed to those who see a new world, those who are in Christ. (In using the term ‘in Christ’ I am not saying the cry of society cannot be responded to by those who are ‘not’ in Christ, but emphasising that we who belong to Christ carry a primary responsibility.)

The cry, even of aggressive feminism as in Brazil, or the cry of the marginalised peoples (LGBTQ, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and a whole host of others) is at its core creation’s cry for liberation, even at times if muffled or distorted. We cannot silence that cry for if we see differently we will hear the voice of the Spirit in the noise and clamour. The cry is from ‘under’.

Sight and sound

In the last paragraph I suggested we have to see differently to hear differently. This is something that Revelation presents with the sight either clarifying or correcting what is heard. John hears that the Lion has triumphed, but when he turns he sees a Lamb. The power language can be and is distorted to justify dominance. The sight is vital if we are to hear the sound accurately. We will never hear the cry of creation if we cannot see the ‘other’. There is a sound rising – can we see those who are groaning, shouting, screaming, even using words of hate?

More to come…

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Brazil (and…) elections

Tomorrow we fly back to Europe. I have a few hours gap and with the Brazilian presidential election tomorrow night I have a few minutes to write and put up this video extract together with a comment regarding the church, this election and the wider issue in country after country. This election in Brazil is important, but it is important as a sign that the country has entered a very important season. The election is the sign… the challenge is for the body of Christ to participate in the season that is opening up.

I spoke into a conference in Brazil by Skype back in 2015 and spoke about a number of the things that have taken place since that date… That input was videoad and put on YouTube (not the video below). Crazily two of the presidential candidates in the earlier rounds used material directly from that input in their campaigns! Using it to manipulate votes… I understand they were Christian candidates or at least seeking to gain the Christian vote. The video below is from the recent few days. In it I seek to expose the major flaw in why the (normally) right wing strong law and order candidate is pulling the Christian vote. The serious nature of this is not whether they are the right / wrong or better candidate but the error that change comes top down… Much more to say on this, and this is not a comment about right / left politics – the extremes on both sides are experts at ‘biopower’, eating up lives in the process. There is though a major deception that is being exposed at this time, that of the understanding of power and the selling out of the church to the power paradigm. No surprise that with 22% evangelical the church of Brazil has still not shifted the presence of the occult. Thank God for the MANY and growing number of those who are clear on this.

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Deep and deeper?

[No it is not an image of a wig, not even one underground… but of roots!! Roots that need to become visible… Now that is clear, read on.]

Gayle and I have just travelled door to door 21 hours, from our apartment to Valencia airport to Rome (yes wrong direction but cheapest flights), change of flights to Rio de Janeiro and to the home of Cesar and Nubia. Maybe disorientation, maybe clarity settled but a little revelation for our own situation and perhaps it will also connect to other situations. A background first.

It is amazing to tick off boxes of answered prayer when there is an evident shift. So on two aspects we were deeply encouraged as we have prayed into the ongoing legacy of Franco in the land of Spain. A while back a prominent politician was in trouble for having on her resumé (CV) a master’s degree. There were clearly anomalies with the award and eventually she had to resign when this was in the news and another issue came up that further compromised her. Gayle was adamant that if we could manage to push this one through there would be a knock on effect even to the resignation of the then President over corruption charges – mainly focused on his party. That seemed a little optimistic, or even a lot optimistic. Within a matter of weeks, when even up to the last hour it was not predicted, the President had to resign and there was a change of government. (Just to be clear, though I hope it is clear, no government is perfect, but what we are looking for are signs that what is hidden and should not be get exposed. That was why we were pushing in this way.)

The second aspect was the prayer – some 11 hour drive from our home – at the house where Franco was born and then on the following day the government passed that his body will be removed from the Valley of the Fallen. There are many reasons why it would be important spiritually for this to happen due to the geographic and historic nature of that area.

Two great shifts, that give one enough energy to jump like a big frog for at least a few minutes each day (figurative language there, not literal… though Gayle is able to jump quite well I have to admit. Not sure though she has quite got the frog action.)

Frogs aside, it is wonderful to get shifts, until…

  • The President is replaced but the rhetoric of the one replacing him is that the party needs to go back to its roots, turn the clock back before the last party leader and get back to the days of the transition – a whole area we have tried to get a handle on this year. A shift only for something more Franco-esque to come in.
  • Franco’s remains to be moved, but there is now a strong pull for this to be into Madrid (our focus) in a Cathedral by the royal palace and with full military honours!

Two shifts and then? Why bother when the shifts are so short lived, and it seems if anything the issues become larger afterwards. Ever been there? We have wrestled with this and although determined that we will not stop have been a little perplexed. So maybe just a flight or two later and a little clarity comes, but here it is for us at least:

We have seen something shift, shift does not mean completed but it will often mean that something then gets revealed at a deeper level. These two results are not set-backs, they simply push us to go a deeper level as there is a root being revealed. Or maybe we can put it that what was partially hidden becomes increasingly visible. So the frog-like jumping might take a back seat for a day or two but the sight that feeds perseverance now also has to fuel further sight as to what the deeper root is.

I am not prescribing the above as a recipe for success in every situation but I am sure it will resonate for some situations and if so take it as encouragement. I think also the clarity came in Brazil as it relates to the nation here. There have been wonderful moves forward. Around 20% of the nation would be charismatic/pentecostal evangelical with that increase coming over the past decades. Put that into a European context and we would be shouting ‘revival’ for sure. Yet the level of occult, societal disorder, corruption of power and all that goes along with those issues is ever so visible. Something deeper has to take place. Of course if one’s vision is simply of getting as many people born again as possible, although there is always more to be done, we would be saying ‘job well done’. I suspect that the next phase is that there will be apparent setbacks. We prayed this and this, we believed for transformation and this is the situation… The next phase – something deeper is being revealed. The deeper that is revealed in each place will depend on the context. Here power and the belief of a top down – get the right person in as the boss – will be revealed for the error and danger it is. Elsewhere it will be something different, but in each place it will be a further exposure of the roots that continue to pollute.

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How do you spell that?

Misogyny

One of those difficult words to spell but a very important word at this time. We can learn a lot as to what is on the agenda by looking at what rises in the world – both the good and the bad… and of course the mixed. God is at work in the whole world, not simply in the church, and I also consider that answers to prayer often take place in the world and we miss them because we have been looking for the manifestation in the church. We are here for the world, so it should not surprise us what rises there – and we should not be expecting some level of perfection either.

I appreciated the comments on the previous post which somehow has seemed to hit a resonance for many. I was interested that I had highlighted as one of the three aspects being exposed the sin of misogyny which has made me think a little since writing. When we track sin as outlined in the Fall we can see that a root and a manifestation is greed and consumerism – ‘I saw, I desired and I consumed…’ The classic gender war Scripture flows from there – ‘your desire will be for your husband but he will rule over you’ – and the patriarchal nature of society certainly bears witness to the accuracy of that statement. And from there we can read what follows as resulting in an increased protectionism and separation, with Empire building being the aspect that draws people together – we will make a name for ourselves. (Gen 3-11.)

The issue of male and female is not a side issue to the Gospel. It is the most fundamental of the ‘other’ relationships. Male and female together made in the image of the Tri-une God (who is neither male nor female but both feminine and masculine). Two in the image of God and not a triad of humans? In the right relationship to the other something is created that is distinct from the two yet dependent on those two. I am not talking about a third gender but of something intangible yet very real. Love for the other is created. Only when that organic and spirit to spirit unity is expressed can we say the image of God is present – that image is not defined by physicality but relationally. If misogyny is present a whole raft of demonising the other will arise. Jesus, the one truly human in the image of God, spelt out what is at the core of God’s being when he called us to love the enemy. The enemy, the one who is opposed to us, who sets out to intimidate, control, manipulate and put us to death. The enemy is beyond the one I create from my fear, and imagine to be my enemy. We will have to move beyond the fear of the immigration wave! It was this seed that Jesus was planting in us through his death on the cross ‘while we were yet enemies’.

If we cannot get the fundamental, and first base relationship, of male and female expressed in egalitarian ways we will really struggle to move forward to any real substance of shalom.

The lid has come off (façades?) in many situations. It does not mean that everything expressed is totally accurate (why do we expect perfection?) but there is something happening. The culture of sexual abuse and intimidation, unjust salary differences… The lid is not going back down. In the body of Christ we will need to example something clearly. If not then we can only expect to see an increase of language and action that demonises the other.

In the scheme of calling for big changes there is always something so simple, so small right at hand that we can respond with. We often miss it as it seems irrelevant. But the small and the at hand is the leverage point to shift something bigger. What can be shifted that seems so immovable if we go deeper and allow ourselves to be delivered (men) from the misogynist culture? What can shift when women faithfully inhabit their space even to the discomfort of those who resist?

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Will we make a difference?

HEALTH WARNING attached!!

If what I write below is close to what is here and coming then taking heed could really unlock some health into our world and for the next generation. If we do not heed it…

I have been very exercised about some of the significant global crises that are on the horizon. For the past 3 weeks I have been seeing a very serious economic upheaval. Then a few days ago the global climate report was published with the ‘we have twelve years to address this’. It would be crazy to dismiss this report, as crazy as if I had a group of credited medics in front of me all pushing for the same diagnosis but I argued for something different, someone with no medical expertise. The only, and invalid, reason for dismissing this UN climate report would be because of the economic ramifications to the world we have created.

We have entered a window of time when the façades are opening again, so I wish to repeat a dream I had at the beginning of the decade and in the same season as another dream that seemed to indicate that it was relevant for this decade. For those who have read this before feel free to jump ahead.

I was in a town square and simply standing at one side of it.. I was observing the buildings on the other side and knew that they represented every institution that had shaped the public space as we have it today: education, health, government, business, trade, church, etc. were all present. With no prior warning and all at the same time the fronts of the buildings came froward and then up as if they were on a hinge. Anyone could look inside the buildings. My first thought was I need to warn those on the other side of the square as buildings acting like that will soon become very unstable and fall over, so I considered anyone close was in real danger. I got ready to shout my warning but soon realised that the buildings were not going to fall over. I then held my warning as I tried to work out what was going on. I felt a sense of danger but knew it was deeper than ‘get away from the buildings’. While I am contemplating what the danger was someone began quietly to sing a well-known worship song that focused on the Lordship of Jesus. There were obviously enough people in the public square with Christian faith that a second person added their voice, then a third and so on. The volume of the singing rose some, and then when it reached a certain level, all the buildings simply closed up again. I was very disturbed by what had happened and did not know what I should shout out. While pondering this, trying to get a handle on the appropriate warning I heard an audible voice that came from just behind me (I never looked left nor right but simply focused on the buildings that were across the square.) The audible voice said:

It is the familiar that restores the status quo, that brings everything back to where it was.

Now I knew the warning I needed to get across. The warning was concerning pulling on the familiar, and the shock in the dream of course was that the familiar that caused the façades to close up was the response of singing by those of faith – but familiar is familiar however we define it.

Knowing what the warning now was I cleared my throat, took a deep breath and then shouted out: ‘It is the familiar…’ I got those four words out and a person from my right side stood right in my face, eye-balling me, to intimidate me. I was determined that I would not be put off, so stepped to my left, cleared my throoat, and then once more got the first four words out and the person repeated their intimidating action. This happenned one more time, so three times this person prevented me shouting out the whole warning. I stepped aside once more and again shouted the first four words. This time the person finished my sentence (‘It is the familiar…’) with the words

that brings things back to normal.

Similar but such a false representation.

Given that I consider Scripture calls the body of Christ to act priestly what takes place in the public square is our responsibility. There might be a battle, it might take time for a change to come, we might well also have ‘failures’ as we engage, but the point is we have to step up to our responsibility. We cannot control what happens there, but through our positioning in the world and our petitioning to heaven we can shift the spiritual atmosphere and create boundaries so that there is an opportunity for the growth of righteousness. In the light of that it is not surprising that in the dream it was the response of believers that short-circuited what was happening in the public square. There is evidently a time to sing, and there is a time not to. I say this as I am convinced that the façades are opening up again. We have to learn what the right response is in this season.

An aside on some current reflections – with the acknowledgement they might not be the most relevant and tomorrow they might not even be relevant. Many Western nations are not willing to engage in any level of sanctions against one of the main human rights violators (Saudi Arabia) because they purchase arms from us – this is certainly true of Spain, the UK and the USA. Economics triumphs over ethics. Mammon or God, Jesus said, and although we would be naive to expect some kind of ‘Christian’ standard in a nation we do have the right to expect a level of right action, and nation after nation are putting economics before any humanitarian perspective. In a few days we are in Brazil and will be there for the final vote for the presidency. A figure who seems to have huge support from many Christians is of course pushing a strong agenda that might increase their economy but at what cost to the environment and to the marginalised? No candidate is perfect but to get behind someone because they are pro-a-number-of-moral-issues and pro boosting the economy as if they are God’s candidate is extremely naive. Maybe we can suggest at times a particular approach better accords with our beliefs but it really is time to drop the idea of a God appointed candidate or a Christian nation.

The façades are opening. It is not simply that we will be able to see the bizarre nature of the Western economic system that only operates if there is debt (debt will always result somewhere in slavery and at some measure an inevitable eating tomorrow’s bread today) or the paucity of public political debate but we will be able to see some very deep roots… unless we close our eyes to what is being revealed. The familiar can close the façades down, although I wonder if we (believers) will even be able to do that this time round. And beyond the familiar there are factors that hamper our sight. Those will be found in our commitment to a shallow Gospel that does not challenge nationalism, patriotism, patriarchy and the deep inequalities in society. If we do not heed at this time that the Gospel is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, nor male and female we will find our eyes will not even see what is before us and we will simply look for ‘normal’ to be restored.

What is being exposed in the days that lie ahead (and I am sure much more can be added to this) are:

  • greed and consumerism
  • misogyny
  • protectionism that demonises the ‘other’

The inevitable result will not just be trade wars, but war. It will not simply be a major shift to extreme right wing policies (as we see rise in Europe) but the establishing of a neo-nazi totalitarianism that will eventually be seen not be favourable to faith, including that of the Christian faith.

I suggest we have the next two years, when either a level playing field will be established or we will leave the next generation a Herculean task to bring things forward to something that resembles a God shape for society.

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In or out?

Not sure if I need to reconfigure the words of the rhyme to make them mine or not, but they certainly have the potential to be a song that could inspire and define a generation. Stay with it I have not lost the plot completely…

We could apply it to the Brexit: in / out? But at least we have to shake IT all about. No change takes place without shaking and the in / out debate can miss the point if we are not committed to shake things. Only shaking releases what cannot be shaken, and that is described in kingdom terms in Hebrews. (An aside: Why is it called HEbrews if it was written by a woman?)

I am not writing though about the ‘B’ word but about our continual pursuit of social transformation. Change I have suggested is from the bottom up and a truly apostolic vision has to be marked by patience, knowing that the task is to sow the seeds and that it might take a generation, or even some centuries to grow, but the patience means that the process is not abandoned. True patience is not passivity but gives energy to persevere. In suggesting change is bottom up, beginning in the desert, this is not to say that a disciple of Jesus cannot be at the ‘top’ and occupy a position of power. What is done with the power is of course the key, but if the body of Christ continues to hope for appointments to the ‘top’ so that we can dictate behaviour it seems to me that we are aligning ourselves with a process that is alien to how the Gospel brings about change. A change culture is where the body of Christ changes the spiritual atmosphere so that space is created for people to grow up to fulfil potential (regardless of faith response), and with a change of atmosphere an openness to the salvatory elements of the Gospel message also.

In this post I want to open up the question of how do we engage the powers – is it from within or without? If we take a ‘powers are appointed by God’ approach we will be tending to look to reforming those powers, whereas if we emphasise the otherness of the kingdom of God we are more likely to look to stand outside the structures viewing powers as more or less necessary evils, but still essentially evil. As for the powers being instituted by God (Rom. 13) – a great text for those who believe Christians should not be out there causing havoc by protesting what their beloved leader is up to – we can see how Paul is relativising the authority of human leaders and not normalising their behaviour. It aligns with Jesus words to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. A relative response to Caesar, working out what he is ‘owed’ and an absolute response to God to whom we owe everything. What do we owe the powers? Submission or confrontation?

Engage or disengage? I think both can be prophetic, both are called for, both are powerful and both are subject to deception. There are OT prophets whose context was deeply inside the structures and there were those who were speaking and acting from the outside. To the extent that they both aligned their perspective to God’s they were being prophetic.

The two descriptions of ‘salt’ and ‘light’ also point in these two directions. The salt is immersed in and has a role to inhibit the growth of the negative and promote the growth of the positive; light illuminates and shines forth as an alternative so by implication is somewhat separate to what needs exposing. I consider then that it is not an either / or approach, and that some will be led in one direction and others in another direction.

An immersion in the structures requires a wisdom as to how to work with compromise. Structures are not perfect, even the best ones are imperfect and all structures have a default to demonisation (the biblical material on the city is key to understand this… and it is important to understand this not simply in relation to ‘secular’ structures). Some aspects of our western world (in particular parts of the economy) have been uncritically baptised by the Christian world, and we should be more suspicious of how we engage with such areas. If something can be redeemed then we have a reason for involvement. Redemption requires a connection, a connection will necessitate a compromise, but that compromise has to be redemptive to pull it toward a more wholesome position. I consider the test has to be how an area of society humanises (or not). To dehumanise is to act demonically.

How we approach this is so challenging. One organisation might be happy to draw funds from sectors of the financial world that facilitates the ever-increasing divide in our world and then use such funds for good – others might view the very source as untenable. This goes far beyond the rights or wrongs of drawing on, for example, lottery funds.

Different levels of faith probably are one aspect in how we respond, though sometimes I think an uncritical approach has silenced the questions that have to be asked if we are to discover what is truly a faith response. What is sure is for anyone dealing with change from the inside they will require two aspects of cleansing – a continual washing of the heart otherwise they will be soon in trouble, and the washing of their feet regardless of how clean the heart is. Our feet will always get dirty when seeking to walk through this world’s dust. That is not a problem as Jesus made clear to Peter. We cannot always make the right response, but we can seek to make the redemptive response.

Given that so much of our world has evolved on an economic myth (this does not mean that it is all therefore bad) there are those who will definitely be much more comfortable in stepping outside what is considered the norm. I have long advocated that for the sake of believers today and in the light of what is coming we have to find new (and really they are old) views of work. It has to be unhooked from monetary reward. Paul never said ‘if you do not earn you should not eat’, but it is hard to find anywhere that is able to define work other than in a monetary way. There is a very real place for the stepping to the (out-)side of society, of not conforming to the status quo. Maybe long live the hippie in all of us. The danger is of course of defending the non-taking of responsibility as being prophetic!

Dangers, dangers and more dangers. But if we are focused on change the direction our feet might take us could just surprise us.

Some opt to be in, some choose out… some will be in today and out tomorrow and vice versa. Whatever our response, let’s not forget to shake IT all about, or at least participate in the shaking that God is doing right now. The façades are opening again.

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Power or change?

I am not sure if the brief title is adequate but I wish to explore what our beliefs are concerning societal transformational change. The political scene across many countries and regions is changing quickly and radically. In Europe the polarisation is increasingly visible and unless bridges are built the result will be increased division, hatred and violence. What fuels this is a mixture of fear (real and fabricated), being blindly wedded to a party political ideology, and what is important for this post – a belief as to how change takes place.

I have written before of an appointment we had in a local bank. The person attending us had our account on the screen in front of us and when she saw that we had actually been donating a small amount to a particular political party she responded with obvious disapproval. We then spoke of their approach to the issue of corruption that is evidently endemic throughout the political system in Spain, to which she replied with, ‘I will tell you something that you need to understand. Corruption is here, nothing will ever change…’ A few more words to educate us, then it was obvious our time was over as she said using the nickname for the political leader, ‘Now you can leave with your…’

We did not donate the money because the party is God’s answer in the sense that we have to get them in power and all will change; we did not support them because we line up with their ideology at every point; but we did support them as they would not take money and be bought by power and had been calling for radical change particularly into the aspect of corruption. At this point of time they are the smallest of the four main parties in Spain and we watched with interest when the leader was asked a direct question a couple of nights ago as to whether they would ever be in power. The response was, from our perspective very mature. Whether they ever got into power was somewhat secondary, but that their presence and where they were currently positioned meant that they had been influential in change over a number of policies. The change taking place was not through power but through influence.

There is a very revealing text that I have oft quoted in Luke’s Gospel:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:1-3).

There is no indication in this that the Gospel is somehow non-worldly and non-political. Indeed far from it. In the context of the lock up of power, both politically and religiously there is outlined the process for change – the word of the Lord coming in the wilderness. Change not beginning in Moncloa, Number 10, Brussels, nor the White House. It was something along those lines that impressed us with this party leader’s response to the interview, where he explained about change through influence rather than through power.

The challenge at this time to the right and the left as things polarise is that both are committed to a change process which is effectively, get in power and change things top down. Maybe this is understandable for without a revelation of Jesus what alternative is there. Understandable for those without faith to take that approach, but what about those of us who are believers? Do we want power by aligning ourselves to those who have power, or are we looking for change?

John’s baptism was a preparation for a renewal of the people of God. He goes to the entry point to the land with a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We should not understand this simply as an evangelical baptism but as a baptism for a covenant people who had failed to live up to the commission of heaven. The original people had been delivered from the Imperial power of Egypt, they were walking away from those centralised power structures being shaped by the law of God. But they had over years succumbed to the same powers that they had been delivered from with the decisive shift being their demand for a Monarchy. The result was that they understood their great days through that lens but eventually had ended in submission to the power structures they had emulated, the latest Imperial structure being that of Rome. The baptism was to prepare a people to be renewed so as they could step up into the commission of being a royal priesthood for the whole earth.

I have always been blessed when I have met people who have stood in the gap for someone else or for a situation saying that their commitment was that they would hold the space ‘on their watch’. Corporately this is how I understand what it means for the body of Christ to be the salt of the earth. That salt that inhibits the growth of evil and promotes the growth of righteousness if truly present means certain things will not take place on our watch.

I view as an insult to the body of Christ that levels of corruption can exist; that cultures that blame women for how they dress is enough to justify men’s lustful behaviour. Protests against those things sometimes seem to rise up in spite of the body of Christ, but I think they also rise up as a sign that something is shifting spiritually. This is an aspect that Gayle and I take seriously. If a political party believes that change can only take place through becoming the ones in control so be it, but if we align ourselves to that conviction we will soon lose sight of, and belief in, the transforming power of the cross. We do not look for something to rise up that is perfect, but we also look to seek to be faithful during our watch. I am sure we have missed many aspects, but if Spain is to come to a place of freedom then there has to be evidence that what has been rooted in the land is unrooted and cannot take root to the same extent again.

The answers do not lie in the right nor in the left, and certainly not in either when they believe that change is through imposition. Neither will the solution take place through the agency of a church that is aligned to the same belief about the process of change, who align themselves to the person or party that will bring in some imposed form of morality, regardless of how they speak of and treat others, and meanwhile the marginalised are marginalised even more.

We live at a dangerous time, but a time of great opportunity. I do believe there is another financial crisis waiting to happen, but my main concern is for a shift to take place in the body of Christ. That we do not retreat to another cycle of conferences that strengthen (spelt ‘isolate’) who we are, but that we find a wonderful re-positioning, an alignment from having discovered true north.

Not called to have power over… but through a commitment and alignment to the cross to have such an influence, even if invisible, that visible change takes place. Dangerous times but times of such opportunity. Not a time to quickly align with the rising extremes but to the process of change that begins in the wilderness. I suspect when that day reveals all we will discover that the changes took place not through those who held power (though there is an accountability for them) but through the unknowns who had been faithful. We will discover that it was on their watch that change took place.

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Act humanly

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus (Rom. 3: 21-23).

All have sinned: one of those key texts I was taught to remember to prove that all are condemned and in need of salvation. The context to the text is the failure of both Jew and Gentile to attain righteousness. The core argument is not to present a proof text but to maintain universal failure, whether Jew or Gentile. We could translate ‘all’ as ‘both’ – both Jew and Gentile have sinned. And sin, Paul says, is to fall short of the glory of God. That is the part that interests me. ‘Glory’ so often taken to mean some transcendent place or experience that is somehow other than down here and visible. There are experiences that are out there; there are texts that speak of seeing the glory of God but it seems in this context Paul is suggesting that ‘glory’ is something very human and very visible. In line with this John says of Jesus that we saw his glory, full of grace and truth. We can use the term ‘glory’of something transcendent, but in the NT glory is incarnated and has content.

Both have sinned; they have failed to manifest the glory of God. Jews with all their advantages (Rom. 3:2) failed to manifest the glory. For this Jesus is clearly the Saviour of the Jew, and because of that, Saviour of the world, for Gentiles too have failed to reveal glory. Glory then is something that is very human and very down to earth – or was meant to be. In 1 Corinthians 11 in Paul’s writing about men and women, and however we work it out he certainly does nothing to limit potential function, he uses the term ‘glory’ applying it both to males and females. There are probably some quotes flying around there rather than simply Paul’s own teaching and wording but it again shows that glory is not simply an attribute of God. We are not simply meant to have an experience of entering into the glory but are called to manifest his glory. Failing to do so is to sin, to miss the mark (the word also being an archery term) not simply in terms of the guilt of not coming up to the legal standard required, but of failing to live humanly.

C.S. Lewis (an Anglican hence his sacramental context in the quote below) wrote of the holiness that is present in another human being:

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

God has invested himself into humanity, and perhaps we could even say divested herself into humanity. To live humanly, to honour humanity, to help create and hold shapes that allow people to live humanly is to reveal glory. Every time we do not do that we do not act humanly and as much as we prevent others from acting thus we act demonically. The demonic is not presented as the antithesis of God but as the antithesis of humanity. The crisis of the present, the imminent collapse of certain ways that have been constructed are the fruit of the dehumanising culture that has sadly been nurtured.

Big issues need big solutions. Yet those solutions probably begin closer at hand than we think. A commitment to humanity will both manifest God’s glory and pull others toward the same. Although salvation by works is rejected there is such a call to live rightly – to do good.

There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism (Rom. 2: 9-11).

For us who claim to have made a commitment to God there is an even stronger requirement on us that we also make a commitment to humanity. Let the glory return!

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Jesus and the Bible

The relationship of believers to Jesus and to the Bible is interesting. There are times there are conflicts that seem to come down to whether Jesus is subservient to the Bible or the Bible has to give way to him. At this time this challenge is very visible across the pond with the conflicting testimonies of a man being put forward for public office who is denying the claims of sexual abuse by a woman. There is the ‘he said, she said’ aspect to it. To be wrongly accused is a nightmare, to be disbelieved and blamed for not coming forward earlier is sadly too often the pattern. There is a further aspect that if this took place decades ago surely forgiveness has to apply and this cannot be held against him. Of course I cannot speak into the current situation as I do not know the ‘facts’. I do though want to take the opportunity to push into the inter-relationship of our faith in Jesus and our faith in the Bible as authoritative.

In Spain there is the now very famous case involving the self-named group ‘the Manada’ (wolf-pack) when the five men of the pack sexually assaulted a woman in a doorway in Pamplona in 2016. This was deemed not to be rape as there was insufficient evidence for violence and intimidation – so declared the judges, one saying she clearly did not fight back, there was no evidence that at any time did she, for example, try to bite any of the men on their privates to stop the attack. So the outcome pronounced by the (male) judges on the case was of no violence, no intimidation, therefore it was not rape! The woman in a dark doorway, five men, filming it on cell phones. Such a verdict normalises the objectivisation of women and the ‘what can you expect’ of the status quo. Indeed some people have suggested that if unwanted physical sexual advances that occurred in the context of school / college becomes the bar then so many men would have to rule themselves out of being fit for public office. Such a response unacceptably normalises the behaviour. Yes, forgiveness… yes people change… but there is a culture also that we have to change.

The challenge for believers is to get beyond the Bible to Jesus. If believers do not look to Jesus, how he treated women, his comments on lust, the inclusion of the divorce rights to women, the elevation of women to receive the same calling as men, his response to the woman caught in adultery etc., there will always be a pull to the default biblical culture, the culture of patriarchy. When we end there men will be cut a whole lot of slack, women will be disbelieved and in the majority of situations where they are brave enough to come forward they will still be labelled as they probably provoked it. Our issue with the Bible is it was written in a patriarchal context. Read the Bible without a Jesus-lens and we males win every time. Read it with a Jesus-lens and we have to critique what we read, for we have God speaking to us but the context of the writing is patriarchal. We must not allow the culture to dictate what the voice is saying or to silence the voice. Allegiance to Jesus demands this of us. Allegiance to Jesus relativises every other allegiance, he alone is the Lord exalted to the right hand of the Father. I can love my nation, marry the land and sow myself in but cannot swear allegiance; I can love the Bible, read it, devour it, but it is to the Jesus that the Bible bears witness to that I give my all. I cannot defend behaviour that is bibically-based but Jesus-denying.

I sympathise with anyone falsely accused. That is horrendous and even when acquitted the ‘there is no smoke without fire’ often remains. Finding a way through on the individual cases is not easy, but the culture has to change.

For the culture to change we have to hear Jesus, for only in hearing him does faith come. To hear him we have to hear those whose speech reflects his voice. In the situations I am writing about it will be all but impossible to hear him without hearing the voice of women. This is not tokenism, nor is it positive discrimination, it is to recognise that the clearest sound will be heard outside the established power structure.

In the Manada case the public outcry resulted in the government putting forward a commission that would review how rape should be defined (currently based on the two elements that have to be shown to be present: violence and intimidation). The members of the commission put forward – all males! Not a hope of there being anything other than a superficial shift in the definition.

Jesus did not come to bring about superficial shifts, but deep cultural ones. It is tragic when (male) believers are the main believers who speak up and the status quo is defended. We pray for transformation… that transformation has to include the diminishing of the patriarchal culture, the culture that is assumed and so defended in the Bible. That culture is what was carried to the cross by Jesus. The women at the cross saw a world coming to an end; the women in the garden saw a new world open up. And for us as Paul said ‘if anyone is in Christ there is a new world’…

A while back I was speaking to a Roman Catholic her in the Iberian peninsula and he spoke of his region that ‘even now there are some evangelicals being born again’. I laughed as one might expect. However, maybe that is what we all need, after all perhaps Nicodemus could be a type of the evangelical of his day and it was to him Jesus said you need to be born again (from above), for without it he would not see the kingdom. The Jesus of the Bible opens the door to new birth; the Bible without Jesus can simply confirm my acceptance of the unacceptable culture I contribute toward.

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