To, for or with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Post PermaLink

A well is opened

In a recent newsletter I managed (with no special effort on my part I add) to misspell the (ex-)President of Catalonia’s name (Puigdemont) as Puidgemont. Samuel Rhein who was praying into the situation and working with the French language he could hear in Puidgemont’s name both ‘well’ and ‘can I?’. Making no suggestion that Mr P was good or bad he suggested that in some way a well of demons had been opened. So here comes a nice light post!!!

I am in agreement with Sam’s suggestion. I have been struck by Puigdemont’s demeanor, his openness while in Brussels and I have no doubt his passion for what he understands as ‘the nation’ of Catalonia. At best some of what he has initiated has been unwise, aspects certainly have been illegal, some of the narrative of course not accurate. I have sympathy with their ’cause’ but am convinced that Catalonia belongs within Spain, though Spain has to be re-configured significantly. It is not right to deny a distinct people their right of self-determination. That right is contained both within UN and EU statutes – but explicitly denied in the Spanish constitution. Spain aligns itself with both those institutions.

A well of demons has been opened, or maybe a host of demonic powers have been revealed. This issue is not really on who is right (Spain’s central government or Catalonia’s elected government) but on undoing the demonic strongholds on the nation. Prior to the death of Franco he put a process in place that ‘tied everything up, tied it up well’. The shift of the reigns from the dictatorship to the king, and then into the transitionary period (75-78) with the establishment of the Constitution saw to that. This week the head of the armed forces spoke out that ‘history shows us in Spain that the army knows how to defend the nation’. The context is of the threat to the nation by Puigdemont and his colleagues action. That is the language that undergirded Franco’s coup d’etat, as he set out to reconquer Spain for God and for Spain. The current crisis is probably the biggest crisis in Spain’s democratic period of existence, and underlines why the praying into the ReConquista which conquered Spain for God and established Spain as Spain was so important.

Now we come to a well of demons, a time when things will become visible. For some time we have focused on the re-working of the Constitution but only now this past week realised that next year will be 40 years since it was established. In 2015 we prayed at Franco’s tomb asking for an earthquake to go through the land as a sign. Two months later many of the main press carried a headline that a major political earthquake had gone through the land, with the biggest shifts in the political scene in Spain since democracy had begun. There was also a headline that Franco had died for the third time. Something began in 2015 and as we enter 2018 we will soon be 40 years on in the final year of the transition. What was tied up has to be untied. We do not anticipate Spain will have an easy path this next year, but it will be a necessary one.

Seven years ago European airspace was totally closed down due to the eruption of a volcano in Iceland. Scientists are watching that space again. Almost certainly there is coming another major impact from Iceland. Eruption or not, what is certainly coming is huge disturbance to the spiritual air space over Europe next year. A bumpy ride is ahead!

To see permanent change there seems to be a pattern. What is on earth has to shake. And if something shakes on earth then it is because the heavens are shaking.

I do not believe we can hide behind a theology of ‘God is in control’ but we can participate with a God who will work in and through all things. What amazing opportunities we have in this season. We are looking for political change, a different kind of politics, not a change of political party in charge. The real change comes as the body of Christ partners with heaven so that society changes. So the well is open… what has been invisible is becoming increasingly visible and obvious. Painful but fun times are ahead. Discussions of taking back sovereignty can give way to servanthood: true convivencia. And there lies a challenge. I do not believe Islam is another way to God… but in the cross there is a whole aspect of protection of the other. The cross preserves the right of those who so choose to reject the Jesus’ way. That is convivencia – co-habiting the same space. If we wish to see society changed another level of Christendom will unravel. A well of demons in Spain… maybe a few demons will also be unveiled that have invaded the ‘church’ space in this next phase. And probably a few will also be unveiled that have invaded the ‘Martin’ space.

We look for a shift in the politics, for a shift in the inter-relationship of nations within the European framework. We look for a greater manifestation of convivencia. And we think in doing so we are aligning with heaven. But it will be important to remember that all demons are first pushed back at a personal level. So all in all we probably have a focused season ahead!!


Post PermaLink

Optimism is the first option!!

Half full or half empty? There is a lot to be pessimistic about such as climate change and seemingly endless conflict across the world. No person in their right mind can be naively optimistic given the unbelievable human capacity for stupidity. Yet on some issues and situations I am optimistic. The EU with all its failings has one of its major sources in the vision of Robert Schuman, who pulling on his Christian take believed that we had to find a way of being together across the continent where the (world) wars had ravaged, in order to avoid such conflicts again.

Since moving to Spain our focus has been on the healing of the land. (So glad that there are things that are not main stream for us and those things are down to others to pick up. We all have whatever focus is given to us.) We have touched on the civil war and on some of the prayers could pinpoint newspaper headlines where a straight line could be drawn from what we have prayed to what they have printed. This past year has been very profound for us with the Muslim rule and subsequent ReConquista and expulsion being the focus. Few things have impacted us so much as giving ourselves to that. Now there is a serious conflict not simply brewing but bubbling up with hard to predict consequences. The Catalonian situation (and even what spelling to use is a challenge – Spanish, Catalan or Anglicised spelling?).

How do we read this? Well I am opting for an optimistic response, and not simply because it is easier and less painful but I do believe somehow that these conflicts are the consequences of prayer. By that I do not mean ‘we’ (how important are we!!!) have prayed and now look at how powerful our prayers are(!!), but that the Lord is way ahead of the game and there has been much prayer focused to bring the nation to this point.

Prayer into history does not lead to our straight line of answer. Wounds that are there are to be healed but the first step is that of exposing what is there. Seems to me there is a pattern – a handful pray, probably naively expecting everything to be sorted, then what they have prayed into surfaces (in the land and in them too). What happens at that stage is important. If it surfaces in them – or in the wider community of faith – how they deal with the issues will be very important. Every big issue has a leverage point in the community of faith. The leverage point is not at the same scale as what is manifesting in the land, but is of the same spirit (cf. Jesus words on adultery and lust; murder and anger). In the current situation it is a ‘Spain / Madrid’ is correct; or ‘Catalonia / Barcelona are in the right’. In other words it is a taking of sides. However both with Joshua at Jericho and his ‘are you for us or for them?’ kind of question, or our core prayer instruction from our Teacher – ‘let your kingdom come’ there really is no ‘Madrid is right’ or ‘Barcelona is right’. Of course there might be a ‘I lean this way because it is more redemptive’ but the idea it is right is a myth. This is the fault line that is being exposed in the West at this time. I see many appointments not being the answer to prayer in the sense of we now have our ‘person in the WH / #10 / Moncloa’ or wherever. Where did we get that idea from? However I can accept them as appointments to expose the lies the faith community that owns the name of Jesus has bought into – that faith community that has been claiming a kingdom vision for years!!

What is manifesting now in Catalonia is a divisive spirit. What is manifesting from central is a divisive spirit. One manifests as separation, the other as control but they are one and the same. We have focused on the Muslim expulsion – this was Spain controlling Spain (excuse the anachronistic nature of those words), Spain evicting Spain… we began our journey praying into the first Christian martyred by fellow Christians pulling on Imperial power, the death of Priscillian. One could be pessimistic. After all that prayer now what has changed?

What has changed is what was simmering below the surface and therefore would never yield to healing is above the surface. I referred to a pattern above. Something begins with believers who pray. Then things seem to get worse – NO they become very visible. In the current generation the issues get flushed right to the surface there being nowhere to hide. There are no political solutions, but there is a solution which begins with a pathway of humility. The humility leads to dialogue and through the dialogue solutions are found.

I have no doubt that Spain has a calling now to lead the way to find a path of humility for the sake of Europe. Maybe the EU has had its day? But Schuman’s vision of being together has definitely not had its day. That is a vision of convivencia, of co-habiting / co-stewarding the same space.

There is so much more I could write on the current situation, suffice it to say that the struggles will not go away quickly – and for there to be healing they really cannot. Conflict will be here in Spain for the next years. We have to engage with it, calling for the third way of the cross.

A few years ago we had a very helpful dream sent to us. Gayle and I were standing at our table looking at invites and situations from across Europe. We did not know how to respond to the person standing there waiting for our response. Eventually I looked up and said to him ‘We will go and talk with the man of Spain and he will help us make our response’. This past year we have met the man of Spain – Al Azraq, Al Avez, Priscillian and many others we could name. People of the land – and from that era the majority were men. We are now needing to open space for a new manifestation of the ‘man of Spain’ to rise. This will not be one person, nor male, but a new humanity occupying space, regardless of faith, with the humility and grace that will be recognisable as containing heavenly qualities.

Amidst all the conflicts, Spain and Europe is such a wonderful place to live. Conflicted space, at the small level we have here, is a creative space.


Post PermaLink


We watched the unfolding of the Catalan (non?) referendum yesterday appalled at the violence with over 800 injuries some serious. Glad to see that those who resisted did so (in the main) non-violently. It is never easy to be a law enforcement person in those situations, but the way the Catalan police behaved was very moving indeed confronting unnecessary force by police from outside Cataluña. The intransigent stances of central government and the separatist movement in Cataluña and the resulting clashes was at a level beyond what would be expected in any Western country. The video below will give some indication of the level of tension on the day:

No one is the victor after such a day. It was Wellington who was credited with the statement that the only thing sadder than a battle won is a battle lost. Yesterday highlights the deep wounds in the land, and (being optimistic!!) those wounds have to be exposed for there to be healing. We anticipate a few years of unrest and tension. Into that has to come the good news of Jesus that is intensely political. Not political in the sense of party politics, but in the sense of how we live together.

‘Convivencia’ was a term used to describe the era when there was majority Muslim rule in Spain and those of the three faiths: Islam, Judaism and Christianity, were living together. Whenever we look back we can often romanticise about a past era, and I am sure it was not perfect, but there was something taking place that was good. The repair of the damage caused to the land and the corporate memory of the (re-)conquering of Spain for the Christian faith and the subsequent expulsion of both Jews and Muslims is what Gayle and I have given ourselves to this year. If there has been any shift in that then what is beneath the surface will become very evident. As we travelled we became convinced that the Pauline Gospel has a message for society that is well summed by the word convivencia.

Words have some measure of intrinsic meaning but they essentially carry the meaning that is injected into them. In that way a word can change meaning over time, or be used in different ways by different people. We want to use the word ‘convivencia’ to express that the Gospel gives space to one and all to live together, with their differences honoured, and with a specific watchful eye to make sure that those who are marginalised have space to live. I would not consider that Paul was looking to ‘christianise’ but that he understood the church as royal priesthood for the wider world.

So we have been using the word as a shorthand way of expressing our desires for society. Maybe the word has always been in the vocabulary of the politicians in Spain, but over the past days, and yesterday in particular I don’t think a politician has talked into the Cataluñan / Spanish situation and not used the word. In the few speeches we listened to yesterday it must have been mentioned 50 times. Maybe we are now hearing it and it was always there, but I have my suspicions…

The word is now in the spiritual realm to re-shape hopes and release substance. At that stage the next element that happens is a strong attempt to colonise a word. In colonisation something is owned, redefined and rendered as a result powerless. It seems that when the word was used yesterday convivencia was fought over to mean, you have to live the way we say and that is convivencia!! Control and conformity, and certainly any confrontation or opposition has to be resisted otherwise convivencia will be broken.

Convivencia can never be shaped that way. It is something given away; it will result in messiness, difference, tension, conflicting ideas… but in listening and dialogue. It is a Gospel gift, for it is in God that we all move and have our being.

One huge aspect that first placed Spain on the map for me was in 2001 when in response to a question I made a totally non-pre-meditated response that Spain has no need for a revival history and that it was the only nation that on biblical authority could claim that there were first century apostolic unanswered prayers in the land.

If convivencia is a useful word, and if it is the outworking at a societal (political) level of the Pauline Gospel then we should anticipate a battle both over the word and the reality these coming years. And if there are a handful of believers who will see their faith as calling them to seek the true welfare of the city (polis / political space) these next years might just yield some very interesting results that could just smell a little like heaven. Not a Christian country (where did that myth come from!!??) but an environment where all can dwell – where the gates are never shut.

Yesterday was a catalytic day. Maybe this week Cataloña could declare independence. The narratives spun by central Madrid and by Barcelona will continue to gain traction. But there is another narrative, and we expect that narrative also to be spoken. It is not down to the church to speak it but to take responsibility for it to be spoken. The word is now in the the spiritual realm ready to re-shape hopes and also release substance.


Post PermaLink

Animals together

Jesus might have had a little twinkle in his eye when he sent out the disciples imparting an identity to them:

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. So be as wise as snakes and as harmless as doves.

Apparently on the ‘wolf restaurant’ there are all varieties of dishes with lamb as the star of each dish: roast lamb, boiled lamb, barbecued lamb, lamb in salsa… They seem to just love eating lamb! Just a tad vulnerable I think.

It struck me the other day that if Isaiah has a value as a backdrop to so much of the New Testament we have two passages there that tie in: Isaiah 11:1-9, and the shorter passage Isaiah 66: 25

Wolves and lambs will eat together.
Lions will eat straw like oxen.
Serpents will not bite anyone.
They will eat nothing but dust.
None of those animals will harm or destroy
anything or anyone on my holy mountain of Zion.

For those who have followed our journey through the ReConquista we have come to understand that Paul’s Gospel had at its heart ‘convivencia’, and that the body of Christ as royal priesthood carries a catalytic responsibility for the society where it is located so that the society might be a place where at a real level convivencia is manifest. This is indeed a tall challenge when we look at the state of the world as we have it, but we would also contend that society has been hampered from experiencing anything approaching convivencia by the invasion of empire into the church. Imperialism draws on (supposed) external authority to legitimise its behaviour as the ‘good’ manifestation of power so as they can at least give benefits to those who comply if not punish those who do not comply. In Christendom terms it means we can name some nations as ‘sheep’ nations and expect increasingly for some kind of Christianised laws to be applied, allowing us to purify the land through increased border controls.

This is why we are convinced that there is a revolution (a turning around) that is at hand. 500 years after the Reformation there is a rooting out of imperialism. For empires to really shift there has to be a shift in the church. The breaking free from the paradigm of ‘the few at the centre who shape the future, promising benefits to those who comply, while in reality the benefits make their way back to the centre.’ At the last supper Jesus set the pattern of breaking the centre. He gave himself away, including to Judas, thus any former centre had been dissipated. Pentecost follows the same pattern – on all flesh, and with an emphasis on the margins. The margins became the new focus – hence not a hope of a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem!

In these days something has to be pioneered, and maybe the place where this could take place is in ‘secularised’ Europe. I consider it is certainly easier to see such a shift in a place where the church is already marginalised. Easier never to dream of being a centre when without power, than of having a key place at the table of power (early church vs. post-Constantine). All that has to be dealt with is ‘fear’ and all that needs to be increased is faith.

Lambs among wolves – that is a fear inspiring identity, and requires a faith increase.

Convivencia – the lamb and the wolf lying down together, eating together. The vision of the kingdom, a vision of convivencia. Sadly, as we have seen in the ReConquista, the wolf identity was too often taken by those who claimed to follow Jesus. At best we end up with wolf against wolf (war) and at worst the followers of Christ place on the table their ‘enemy’ to eat: a complete reversal of the Jesus’ paradigm.

This next phase will require faith at a new level, and with it many changes of paradigm. It will require mission being understood as relocation. Sent among. It will require witness more than evangelism. Or maybe evangelism will not be something done but something proclaimed – a new order of being and relationship, and that will have to be witnessed to. It will require an understanding that we are not here to get as many out of the world into the church, but as much of heaven into the world.

There are many ways this can be expressed. Of late the understanding of Israel and then the church as royal priesthood has been illuminating. The pursuit of the path toward nationhood by Israel marked her failure, and the alignment of church with Imperial power so that there was a mutual endorsement of each other likewise marked her failure. But if we can recover the vision of this being God’s world, and that there is a redeemed people so that the presence of heaven might be beyond that redeemed people (‘the two hands of God’ as per the early church fathers) we will see a profound shift and progress. Maybe if we can embrace new paradigms more opens up than is closed down. Of course we will lose something – our specialness in the wrong sense; an understanding of grace as salvation as opposed to a gift-calling to serve and to lay down one’s life; a shift from power to love; from the taking of life to the giving of life.

Royal priesthood as calling, or maybe we can suggest it will manifest as a true convivencia. Space opened up where all can live together, where hospitality reigns, where it is not dependent on age, gender, race nor religion. Holding that space in humility with the clarity that Jesus alone is the way to the Father is a challenge. He exhibited what it was to create convivencia. Those who set themselves against that were the religious exclusivists, those who would not give hospitality would find that their future would be harsher than that of Sodom. The way of Jesus is not one way among many, but it is the way for the many to live together.

Challenging days ahead. But as lambs we have to be.


Post PermaLink

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!