From certainty to uncertainty and then…

Longing for certainty?

I have just completed the first round of zoom calls related to ‘Humanising the Divine’… (BTW I now hear an inner voice saying ask them why they have not yet bought this life changing piece of work? Quickly squashed by ‘Life-changing… really?’). OK no more advertising. Second BTW have you seen ‘The Social Dilemma‘? It is huge eye opening exposé of how vulnerable we are and how society after society is being manipulated to be polarised. It also fits with the preface with my confession that I am biased and believe certain things cos it suits me, and I can defend myself with the Bible… until someone comes along who knows a lot more than me!

I have been very moved by hearing the journeys that people have been on and the integrity with which they have responded to God provoked by crises or difficulties. It highlights what I suggest that the major ways in which we change is not simply through a ‘God-encounter’ but through how we respond (to God) when issues come up. A number spoke of the days (past) of certainty.

I have set out two aspects (borrowing from Robert Johnston) for certainty. The means of reconciliation to God is via the cross, and the authority for what we believe is Scripture. That faith cannot be expressed in a box, not in a statement of faith that someone signs. (Penal substitution, inerrancy, millennial rule etc., are all interpretations of Scripture, not teaching of Scripture, but are often written into statements of faith – on none of the above could I sign such a statement.) Those two certainties that I am settled on do not settle too much beyond that point. A Calvinist believing in limited atonement (Jesus only died for the elect) and a Universalist both tick the above two boxes… Not to mention the more challenging issues of ethics, such as a view on marriage or divorce.

If we have an evangelical background we will probably have come through to a place of confidence in a set of beliefs. That is such an advantage. However, there nearly always arise questions that push back against those beliefs. A common one of course is to do with justice and the ‘problem of evil’: if God foreknew… what about all the ethnic cleansing in the OT… etc.

The questions can of course be much more personal, particularly when we face issues that are very close to us relationally.

I have observed that there is a journey from a narrow certainty, to questions that lead to uncertainty (that is why I think the context for this uncertainty are the two ‘certain’ points above – cross and Scripture). It might be nice to think that there is a journey from certainty to uncertainty and back to a mature certainty. Nice thought!

I actually think the critical part of the journey is from certainty to uncertainty… and to a new place (and space) of openness. Not open to any wind that blows, but open in the context of non-defensiveness, humility, and less motivated by an anxiety to nail things down. Actually a healthy place to get to.

I know less now than I knew years ago. But I know more about myself, understand more about others, and although I still try to squeeze God into my perfectly formed box I am aware that there is a mystery in God and s/he is more outside my box than inside. A God I have found (cos s/he found me) so I have to on a daily basis get on my proverbial bike and go in search of the elusive God who is present everywhere.

Adding to Holy Writ

I like to write my own scriptures. I guess we all do a bit of that when we choose the ones we like and ignore the others. I am certainly guilty as charged. But I am not referring to my propensity to pick and choose, but to the times I see a text that is not there, but I think should be.

I mentioned one recently in a post, ‘owning everything but possessing nothing’. I made that up but I think it is pretty biblical, and (sorry Paul) more relevant to me than his inspired version of ‘owning nothing but possessing everything’. It is kind of the reverse of what is there, or better the mirror image. So here is another one drawn from Heb. 11 (thanks to Priscilla?):

Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

I think the writer would be happy to have that Scripture applied to the others in Hebrews 11 also. The ongoing voice of those who lived by and died in faith. Faith has a voice for Paul says (good to quote a male voice to balance the female voice above?):

Since we have that same spirit ofc faith,i we also believe and therefore speak (2 Cor. 4: 13).

So the made up mirror text reads something like this:

They though alive are not speaking.

That first makes the Hebrew writer’s words very powerful. Having a voice though having died. Second, it puts in contrast the tragedy of not speaking.

The creative act began with, ‘and God said’. True speech is more than words, it is deeply personal. It comes from somewhere / someone. It carries somehow substance.

A number of years ago I was looking for a recording I had of something I had been teaching, to make a copy for someone. I found the box, the disks were not labelled and I pulled out the one I thought was the right one. I pushed play. It wasn’t me on the recording, but Sue. She had passed away a year or so earlier. I instantly knew her voice, and her ‘presence’ filled the room. It was one of the most scary memories I have to date (and sacred memories too).

The sheep follow him because they know his voice (Jn. 10:4). The voice that brings the presence, the substance of God.

The first prophet in Scripture that Jesus refers to was Abel (Lk. 11:50,51). Yet Abel did not prophesy as far as we have it recorded. He spoke… His life, his actions they spoke.

He (they) being dead still speak. The list in Hebrews does not record what they said, but it does record that they spoke.

It is possible to say things, oh ever so possible to say so, so much. To say so many good, biblical words, to be extremely clever, even wise… But to speak? Maybe that is what we need to learn. To stop talking and to speak.

I seem to have, as far as we can test, a sound discrimination issue. This is not a lack of hearing, but a difficulty, a confusion in distinguishing what I hear. True physically which is a bit of a bug in the system when it comes to language. A while back I was listening to a recording in Spanish and a person said a common phrase, ‘todos las veces’ (every time). It made no sense to me so I played it back four times and eventually asked Gayle why are they using a phrase that means nothing in this context, ‘all the mushrooms’ (todas las setas)!!!

But what is a much bigger system bug is not to discriminate what we hear from heaven. God speaks and my discrimination is such that I repeat ‘mushrooms’! No answers in the comments please as to how many times I have done that!

The lasting impact of speech, true speech is presence. When I heard Sue’s voice it was her substance, who she was that impacted me. When God speaks it is the substance / presence of God that is the lasting impact.
There is a reason why there are those who have died but still speak. It is to do with their substance. There is a reason why there are those who are alive but do not speak. It is tied to their substance, who they are.

Light came from a voice. Substance came from the source of all substance, the speech was simply the bridge it came across.

Words can be cheap. True speech is not cheap. It comes from the substance of a life.

So I like to make up my own scriptures. I think one might even be biblical. I think Priscilla would approve.

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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Beyond mind to mind

Gayle found a little phrase that I said a few months back when ‘true north’ was a focus. It was:

This is not a time for mind to mind communication but for mouth to imagination inspiration.

Maybe the ‘mouth’ word needs some tweaking, particularly in the light of the previous arts post, but there remains something key in the quote.

The mind is to be honoured. Great thinkers, even some of whom have had inadequacies socially, have brought about change. We are told to love the Lord God ‘with all our mind’. We are given instructions as to what to think on in Scripture. I am deeply grateful for those who have abilities I do not have who have opened up whole new avenues of thought and insight into both the Scriptures and the world.

I appreciate the deep surprise when I say I am not of a Reformed persuasion (!) and I cannot square the passion some of those from that camp have to share their faith and by ‘all means win some’. I might be wrong but I cannot see how the theology and the passion connect. Those from the opposite viewpoint (e.g. Open Theology) could be viewed as surely being insecure about the future and God’s intervention. Regardless of camp we might think we can square all the corners that need squaring, even if how we do that is a mystery to those of an opposite persuasion. What is sure, regardless of doctrinal belief, is that passion transcends beliefs.

Mind to mind communication is not wrong, but it does appear that God does not put too much weight behind convincing others of how correct my beliefs are. I found that out a long time ago! Some people track with Gayle and I because they can see the journey we are on is consistent, others do not track because… Now if only God could recognise how important it is for all to embrace my beliefs!

Mouth (arts / imagery / sounds etc.) to imagination inspiration. This is what is needed. Once the imagination is inspired we might well need to examine the validity of the inspiration so as we do not simply embrace a fantasy (vain imagination in Scripture), but something has to begin in the imagination to bring about an inspiration that we might not even be able to square with our beliefs. It does not seem to me that there will be too many questions on the final exam paper concerning doctrine, and certainly none about how well we did in convincing others to accept the finer points of what we thought were our important beliefs. The ‘questions’ apparently will be over what we did. I hope I go beyond my beliefs.

I think we find out that true imagination transcends fantasy when we hit adversity, and the challenge of what we see around us. And one aspect that is hard to quantify is how much transformation will we see prior to the parousia. I am no scientific expert (and maybe the word ‘scientific’ was superfluous in that phrase) but the mess we are making of the planet and the pollution to the oceans, the waters, the land, global warming etc. challenges any imagination for a different future. To proclaim ‘I have a dream of the coming back to life of species, of clean water, of climates in balance’ would either take great faith or be simply the empty words of fantasy… unless we can see that what we sow now will carry through to the age to come. We are the ones preparing the material for what only God can put together. Maybe the original creation was ‘ex nihilo’, maybe God worked with some already existing material that was chaotic. The new creation though does not come about ex nihilo, but from material that God himself will, and only he can, work on to produce something beyond our dreams. That material will come from our works and our imagination.

It is not a time to pump out meaningless fantasy, but it is a time to allow our communication to focus on the imagination. Bless the mind and the intellect, but we have to elevate the imagination in this season. Not simply imaginations that will enable us to survive but that can set something in motion for our world.


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By the end of the year!

Friday the Spanish parliament passed a very important vote to exhume Franco’s body from the Valley of the Fallen. (For the objection to this for example: The Guardian.) In 2015 we prayed with Roger and Sue Mitchell at the Valley of the Fallen at at his tomb. Thursday this week past Gayle and I went to the house where he was born. We had believed there still was unfinished business… and Friday the vote!

We have realised of late that in a number of issues that we have given a good push to that we have to finish them, the ‘finishing straight’ can hold the biggest resistance. Tomorrow we will be in Madrid to put a push in prayer behind the move.

We have looked for this year to bring a few things through to a completion. The constitution was signed at the end of 1978 – 40 years ago. Although it was a remarkable constitution to move Spain to democracy, it also needs to be loosened up. At the end of Franco he proclaimed that ‘all things are tied up, well tied up’. So… A time to untie we think.

These past 2 weeks we have been off road – without electricity, only very occasional internet. So getting home (Thursday?) will be great, but also the slow process of working through emails. For those who have written and there has been no reply… either an apology or the gift of patience!!

I will probably put up in a few days some reflections. Particularly with reference to Burgos and to Ferrol. Two major cities that we spent time in.

We have travelled exclusively in the north of Spain. It is our break, but also to get our feet in the land, hence the off road camping. We are also in the process of getting sight on the next 30 years… Might not have another 30 years, but there are those who died in faith whose voice still speaks, and maybe there are those who are alive whose voice does not speak any more. So seems faith is important.


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Small and diverse

I have been using a phrase over the past two years or so that I want to try and expand here. The phrase is:

The multiplicity of the small and the richness of diversity.

Too often we have looked for the quick solution, hearing news of the latest ‘new thing’ and tried to replicate it where we are. The ‘new thing’, particularly due to our means of communication becomes a center and can be found and often connected to pretty easily. A center of that nature of course administratively is normally tightly run so usually comes with a ready shape to the content, thus a package can be imported.

Those centers have indeed helped open horizons for us, but maybe by default they have helped support the myth of what ‘success’ looks like. (An aside: I am not sure ‘success’ as defined by how we appear is a biblical criterion, I would rather suggest ‘effectiveness’ as a better criterion – and that will be measured much, much later.) If we were to look at the growth of the early church from where it started in Jerusalem we would come up with a figure of around 40% growth per decade. Not staggering growth, but growth that was not simply centered on people coming to faith but on the impact on society to undermine all societal divisions.

God so often grants us what we ask for. Israel asks for a king – he gives them one. (Beware what kind of leaders we wish for as the body of Christ. A strong leader that restores order might just open the door to all kinds of hierarchies and inequalities that we never thought possible. The rise of Hitler in Germany was not exactly because he was damaging the economy nor failing to make Germany feel good about itself again, as he set about reversing what he declared was unjust. For sure, we face this in Europe at this time and the church has to be so careful about simply supporting those who tout ‘traditional values’.) Maybe in response to the many prayers for ‘revival’ he has given us some wonderful ‘big’ new things, maybe though now is the time he wants to give us something deeper and longer lasting? If so it could be along the lines I am suggesting, of the small and the diverse.

Jesus worked hard to distribute, not simply delegate, authority. This seems to be one of the offences that Judas did not deal with, and combined with personal weakness and theological conviction set him on a path of betraying Jesus. The Last Supper, and every Eucharist or meal table since, was an amazing symbolic act of distribution. Jesus gave himself. There was no center to remain as he followed through on his words of ‘better I go away’. His absence will be better! The Holy Spirit from Pentecost onward has marked the same trajectory. The Spirit comes to ‘each’, the Spirit is for ‘you’. There is a distribution of the Presence of God and therefore of authority. This does not negate gifting to serve, but gifting must never practically negate this universal distribution.

Large centers inspire, help shape an atmosphere of faith, but can also draw everything back to that center. It is sad to meet people who have been in those centers at some point, but for whatever reason become disillusioned and then to become adrift in a sea of total uncertainty. In those situations apparently the big center could not help them sustain faith as they navigated the necessary growth environment of doubt. We all have to discover the glory of God that is present in the wilderness if we are to develop, we have to know that the wilderness is not cursed of God, nor the domain of the enemy but the place where miracles are born – for that is there the ‘wild beasts were with Jesus’.

One size does not fit all. If society becomes yet more diverse, culturally and religiously, there will be even a greater need for a greater diversity than ever before. Just as water fills the shape of where it is poured out, so the expression of the distributed life of God has to fill the space where it flows. Gayle and I are very fluid in our situation, but are not critical of other situations that are not fluid. Maybe the context they are in needs much more shape than we are comfortable with. Our conviction is it takes all shapes to release the life of God in the world.

I recently wrote in a newsletter about the need to find true north. That the issue facing the body of Christ is not to find the right shape, but to find the right direction – a direction that will lead the people of heaven to be ‘with’ the world and not simply seeking to do things ‘for’ (or worse still ‘to’) the world.

I look for a future that will be diverse. In diversity comes incredible richness. I look for the future to be the multiplicity of the small. The brave seem to me to be able to point the way to this possibility. Multiplicity and richness – centered on Jesus. Seems to flow from setting the compass to true north.


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Faith in who… not what

A couple of Scriptures in Romans suggest to me that we should not be thinking ‘only those who have received Jesus personally are saved, all others lost’, but rather we should be reversing that with ‘only those who have rejected Jesus are lost’. This has been the approach I have taken for many decades, using the (for me) helpful complementary statements of:

  • all who receive Christ are saved
  • all who reject Christ are lost.

This opens up a number of questions:

  • the above statements do not seem to yield two water tight categories that we can neatly divide humanity into. What about those who have neither received nor rejected Christ?
  • and what does it mean for a person to either receive or reject Jesus? Surely it means something different for those who have never heard about Jesus and those who have.
  • and what does even hearing about Jesus mean? (More on that later.) If I present (even with all the facts intact) ‘my’ Jesus but he is really not the true Jesus has that person truly heard about Jesus?

For all those above questions I think it is not too wise to take the hard-line of only a few will be saved. I am not a Universalist, just too many ‘if’ Scriptures, such as Col. 1:23, where Paul states that we were reconciled through death ‘provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard.’

Faith does not seem to be simply a ‘I believe x, y and z’ but to involve that of a commitment, an allegiance to a person. By this I do not suggest there can never be any wavering but if that core allegiance disappears we are instructed to view such people as those outside the family of God. The whole approach is messy, but for those who have been truly exposed to the Presence of God much is required.

On the one hand I suggest that the Scriptures raise a high bar for those of us who acknowledge Jesus at a personal level. Our behaviour is anticipated to be marked, as a true exposure to the living God does more than give us a forensic verdict in the law court. There is a deep interaction that leaves us different after the encounter.

On the other hand I am optimistic about those who do not see themselves as within the family of God in the way that we are accustomed to think. A high standard for those who have truly encountered Jesus, and an incredible generosity to those who have not encountered him in a deep personal way. I don’t think it is easy to reconcile those two ‘hands’. So to my two Scriptures.

The first of the two Scriptures, Romans 4: 24

It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

This Scripture is about Abraham who believed God’s promise that he would inherit the world (to focus on the Land as the promise is very sub-New Testament!!), and by implication that this would be for him and his descendants. His faith was so strong, in spite of all the hard facts he faced up to. Using Abraham as the example Paul says we too will be reckoned righteous by believing in him who raised Jesus from the dead. Although he is not addressing the issue of those who are not ‘believers’ his language is intriguing. He does not state that we who believe Jesus was raised form the dead, but believe in the God who raised him. Paul passionately believed and proclaimed that Jesus had been raised from the dead, the whole eschatological future depending on that event; but his language here is not about believing that event but is focused on the identity of the one who did that, the God who did this.

This opens up a window for me. At one level maybe we all have sub-faith, by which I mean faith (even strong faith/ believism) in a sub-Jesus-like-God is sub-faith. It is possible to be a Christian and have sub, very sub-faith. Who knows the final destiny of those who went out to conquer the world (and Jerusalem) for God through the many Crusades that took place, but I cannot see that their actions reflect faith in the Jesus-like God. We can judge their actions, though we cannot simply judge them. With their knowledge at that time, maybe we too would have responded in that way. Then moving on, those who do not have a ‘Christian’ faith might exhibit a faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Even for some of those who have been burnt by religion and its twin of control, who might even profess to be atheists, we might find out that they so believed in humanity that their belief was nothing less than also a belief in the God who so believed in humanity that he raised the human Jesus from the grave on behalf of humanity. A wild thought but one that I am more than open to. After all if presented with a God who controls, who enjoys punishing, the only faithful response would be that of ‘atheism’ to that God!

The second Scripture Romans 10: 11-17 (emphasis added)

The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

  • Jew and Greek alike have to call on the Lord.
  • Isaiah connects obedience and faith (as does Paul in this letter). Faith is not simply a hand up in a meeting, but is a relational and therefore a transformational term.
  • Then working back we have a) those sent b ) to proclaim, c) so that there can be a hearing, d) and from the hearing comes faith, e) and the faith produces a call for salvation.

Sent from heaven is the sense that Paul lived with, sent to represent heaven, to represent God, and with that sending came the responsibility to proclaim, and this is the important point, so that people could literally hear the voice of Jesus. Faith comes by hearing the word (rhema) of Christ (v. 17). I put in bold the NRSV translation which follows most others, and could be understood as the need to hear a set of facts (to hear ‘of’, in the sense of ‘about’ Jesus). As in a number of languages, Greek will use a different case with certain verbs when they are referring to a person in contrast to when the verb is used with respect to a thing. The verb ‘to hear’ is one of those verbs. To hear a sound (a thing) the case used is the normal objective case (I hear a sound), but if it is used of hearing a person the genitive (possessive) case is used (I hear a person – and a person’s voice is ever so personal). The genitive is translated ‘of / belonging to’ but it should not be translated that way when with the verb to hear. Hence my emphasis, that Paul is not suggesting faith comes by hearing about / of Jesus, but by hearing him speak, hearing his voice, and the later repetition with ‘faith comes… through the word of Christ’ underlines this.

This then is where I am headed. For faith to come people have to hear Jesus. Proclaiming facts might or might not enable people to hear Jesus. Proclaiming facts about Jesus, in a way that distorts who he is, or with an attitude that does not accord with Jesus, and it might even hinder the person hearing Jesus. They might reject the Jesus that was presented to them, they might reject the facts presented, they might never believe that Jesus was raised from the dead… but they might not have rejected Jesus. It always has be about a ‘who’ not a ‘what’, true for all of us, whatever stage of faith we are at.


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Casualties & Fear

I enjoy when I can get out and run, or at least the first two minutes or so! However, while out I often meditate and pray – other times I am as blank as I am at other times of the day. Whatever! Anyway while out a couple of days ago as I was thinking about the whole issue of preparing and researching for the prayer into the ReConquista (the military conquest to drive the Muslims out of Spain, culminating in 1492 and the fall of Granada), I remember the phrase concerning ‘needless casualities of war’. What follows is not a comment on the book of that title as it contains so much good material, but I was thinking about the issues surrounding kick-back and also – perhaps the greater element – of fear. The ‘fear narrative’ is so predominant and is feeding a surge of less-than-democratic processes that seem to be increasingly part of Western political world.

Fear or faith?

Fear is very real. I love the Psalmist when in subsequent verses (Ps. 56: 3,4) he makes two very important statements:

  • I trust in God and am not afraid (brave and courageous, the kind of leader we all want and need to follow!)
  • When I am afraid I trust in God – this I can identify with, or at least the first few words. Getting to the second part is not so easy.

The Psalmist reverses the order I put the two – probably indicating that his (probably a ‘he’) is further on than I am. However, apparently what we do with fear, and this will depend on the reason for the fear, is so important.

I have heard over and over again about the fear people have and therefore they want to withdraw to ‘safe’ boundaries. On the big stage I have heard that Europe (as in the EU) is an evil institution, Brussels being a platform for the antiChrist, with the following step being that of withdrawal. If I were to assume the former then what would be the appropriate response as a believer? Withdraw or be present? (I use the example purely as an example with no comment on the rights / wrongs of the Brexit.)

My point is about withdrawal and separation that is the response of fear. Or if we have strength we attack, maybe cloaked in doing the right thing but it is more often about self-protectionism.

What though is the faith response? It must be to take the presence of Jesus into the (perceived) darkness. I think someone once prayed along the lines of ‘I pray you do not take them out of the world…’

If I set my boundaries by fear I will not be involved in very much. If I set my boundaries by faith I might not be involved in very much as my faith is not so wonderful. In other words my outer life might look very similar, whether I set the boundary by faith or by fear. However, my inner life will be different. Also how ‘safe’ I am will be different. Fear is not a protection, but faith is called ‘a shield’.

If we have the life of Jesus we have a vital question to answer. He became through the resurrection ‘a life-giving Spirit’, hence we have to answer where are we to bring life. We might not have an infinite level of life but life in Jesus is present in order that we might become life givers. We have to discover what we have. We can say ‘silver and gold I do not have’ if we can also say ‘but what I have I give to you’.

We are focusing on the ReConquista with the belief that through repentance there can be a healing on the land that will help shape the future and open possible doors for the Spirit of God to work in the Muslim world. In the past we have certainly experienced some strange manifestations and maybe we will experience some kick-back. Jesus never promised we would never have kick-back. Avoiding kick-back is not the issue, doing what one needs to do with faith is what is important.

So we have a personal agenda in making sure fear does not shape any boundary, and the need to discover what we have faith for. If we are arrogant (a cover for false courage) we will receive more than kick-back and that we need to avoid. But beyond the personal agenda I am very concerned…

The fear narrative is reaching new levels. It is the necessary forerunner for levels of authoritarianism. That concerns me, so my appeal is we have to dig deeper. We as believers in the resurrection surely must find faith and be those who speak of faith. If we simply repeat a ‘Christianised’ (for that read a Christendom-inspired) version of fear we will live to regret it enormously, and in particular will fail to be what we need to be in this season of enormous opportunity. Retreating will give us respite – and great gatherings – but only for a season. And a respite with great gatherings is not exactly what the resurrection opened up for us.

Well a bit of ramble… and at whatever level there is value in this post here are the bullet points:

  • Set our boundaries by faith not fear.
  • Stop feeding off the fear narrative. Life is too short!
  • Discover what life we have to give so that we can say ‘what I have I give to you’.
  • Find the location of vacuum or darkness where we can become a place of entry for light.
  • Move forward with humility – it is the major cloak of invisibility.

So to those who like me that are often confronted with the small level of faith that we have be provoked. Even if our faith is as a mustard seed there are a few mountains to shift.


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Did you hear (of) him?

Romans 10:13 is a great promise regardless of being a Jew or a Gentile:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

And then Paul goes into his faith comes from hearing argument and working back from that he gives a significant role to the ‘one who preaches’, which was one of the works of the apostle – I suggest that contextually we should not think pulpit and neither should we limit the ‘preaching’ to three points but should include the political (small ‘p’ but a very real ‘p’) aspect of the gospel, particularly when the Isaiah beautiful feet passage he quotes is of the deliverance from the imperial powers.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom. 10:14-17.)

A justification for ‘telling’ people is Paul’s words ‘and how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard’. The most important aspect then is to get the facts (the gospel truth) across. We have then discharged our responsibility, and those who hear are then fully accountable. Of course the last statement has presented a dilemma for some: would they be less guilty if they had not heard, thereby being judged by the light they have, rather than by the gospel? (An aside: I think this springs from a negative view of salvation as if it is primarily salvation from hell, thus reducing salvation to a non-NT understanding of being safe, rather than the predominantly positive perspective of being saved.)

And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?

I think there is a major adjustment we have to make in our thinking on this aspect of discharging our responsibility, or that our responsibility is discharged once we have ‘told them the gospel’. The Greek language when using the verb ‘to hear’ uses the normal object when referring to something that is heard. For example ‘I heard a sound’ would take the object (known as the accusative case). But if we were to hear a person speak this would not take the accusative but would switch to the genitive (possessive case ‘of’). We have here the genitive case which I strongly suggest should not be translated as ‘hear of / about him’ but should be translated ‘hear him’ in the sense of ‘hear his living voice’. This is what we would expect as I believe it is the voice of the person that is being referred to, not facts about the person. This then makes sense of the closing part: faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. It is not hearing about Christ it is hearing Jesus that brings about faith, to hear his voice makes all the difference.

The goal is not somehow to communicate facts, to get people through the door where they will hear truth, nor even to get them on a course, it is to be faithful to Jesus so that those we live among hear, through words and lifestyle, the very voice of Jesus. Those who truly hear can begin a journey of faith. Those who speak need to speak in such a way that Jesus is heard and not simply a set of facts (even if those facts were correct). If our words are purely ‘spiritual’ perhaps we are not being communicators of Jesus. If only our words communicate maybe we need to think again.


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