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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We still dream

In looking at Pentecost and the background of the tower of Babel narrative there is the implicit message of a boundary being removed. God inserted a boundary at Babel so that there might not be a level of unity whereby ‘whatever they put their mind to they will accomplish’. He did this through the confusion of the languages. At Pentecost where everyone heard them speak in their language there is the gift of languages so that there might be a working, a planning together so that what was in their hearts might indeed be accomplished. Pentecost unlocks the imagination so that possibilities open up.

The imagination is so important. The ‘I have a dream’ speech of Martin Luther King resonates because there is something so strongly of God’s character in it. The dream is of a different future:

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.

As believers this is what we bring to the table. Something not based in the Enlightenment ideal of progress, nor in the Marxist ideology of change through conflict, but based on faith in an ‘optimistic’ life-giving God who demonstrated this in Jesus. What we bring is more than a good idea, or simply an ‘imagine all the people’ that Lennon invited us to. We are to bring a faith that true imagination unlocks the activity of heaven. Paul put it like this:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us (Ephesians 3: 20).

God can do, but we have to do something too – it begins in the imagination, in the asking. What God does is in proportion not to his power, but in proportion to his power that is working among us. That power is not simply measured by how many miracles we can testify to (though that is important) but how much the power of God is transforming our lives from self-centredness to God- and world-centredness. As that takes place and there are imaginations fuelled by God’s loving, redemptive agenda so God shows up. I am convinced it was that intangible, yet very real presence of God that provoked non-believing, with a lot to lose, people, the Asiarchs, to connect to Paul in Ephesus.

If we can move beyond that of ‘saving souls to get them their ticket to heaven’ and see that God is in the business of rescuing people from life as it has been sold to them, to enabling them to engage with his dream and activities of aligning the world with a visible manifestation around us of heavenly values. This is what Luther King articulated.

There is now an incredible battle on for the soul of the world. Conformity, monochromeness that obliterates difference has incredibly become an agenda that wins votes. We were made for difference and it is fear that is the fodder that turns those votes. When the media is in the control of the elite it should not surprise us that it can quickly be labelled the ‘enemy of the people’. Any activity that challenges the status quo becomes sidelined and illegal.

There is something bigger at stake than Britain leaving the EU… the bigger is the reshaping of Europe regardless of levels of government. For any reshaping to be redemptive I consider that the wonderful body of Christ needs to dream again. The future context (and the one that is already here and has been for well over a decade) is so different to the one in which ‘Toronto’ occurred. But ‘Toronto’ prepared us for this. We have been prepared to go places we have never gone before, to no longer exercise in the playground at the set time, but to live with a soul bared, wind in face, looking the conflicts in the eye and proclaim – we still dream.

A while ago I declared a new media is here. It will come. It cannot be silenced, for God is a communicator. I declare today the dream is on. It cannot be stopped. A shift of time is literally now on the EU agenda. From the shift of time comes the setting of ‘true north’. The setting of direction for journey. People have been moving at an alarming and unprecedented rate these past years. The issue now is the setting of true north for people movements in Scripture indicate a great shift in time. There are political and economic decisions that will have to be made… but first has to come the unlocking of the imagination about a future that has not yet been shaped. For this we make room for the artists, the cartoonists, the graffiti-ists, the writers. They will both articulate and make room for the imagination.

The adverse winds are blowing… but I think the dream is still on.

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Can we see in colour?

I have referred to an open vision that someone sent us – along with others – many, many months before the UK referendum on EU membership. In it she saw, and no one was even close to predicting this at the time, that a hand would come and withdraw the UK from the map of Europe. The result was that light and colour drained out of Europe, she saw it going down something like a hole in the south of France. We did endeavour, with those she sent the vision to, to close the hole by travelling there some two years ago.

I appreciate that for those within the UK there is divided opinion on the merits of the (less than perfect!) EU. I voted to remain as an embracing of the continent has always seemed very important to me spiritually – and of course one could vote ‘leave’ and still hold the importance of being together relationally. I also voted that way as I see NO reason from Scripture to suggest the evil beast of Europe – if only it was that easy!! The beast is a lot more subtle and more widespread than anything Brussels could ever compete with. Anyway enough of that and back to the vision…

In these past weeks I have been thinking about what a draining of colour would mean, and realised that colour is diversity. In the diversity of the light spectrum came the promise of God’s commitment to the world. In the diversity of the oft-four times repeated (and varied) phrase in Revelation: ‘every tongue, tribe, peoples and nation’ we find that God is glorified.

The history books that will be written of this period of time will I suspect reflect on a battle for the future of Europe and its identity. Either the future could be more diverse (with the wonderful challenges presented by that) or there could be a shutting down and an exclusion of what looks different. Colour or monochrome?

I think it is very rare that God says, close the door!! It seems he usually says open the door and make room. To do so necessitates that we come out from under the fear narrative. Many in Germany have done just that and we hear wonderful reports of those who have fled there, with no faith or with faith in a God other than the Lord and Father of our Lord Jesus, who have come to faith. It would not be the first time in history that God has revealed himself to those fleeing imperial power.

While reflecting on the vision it becomes apparent that the response of the UK is very important. More important than a referendum on the EU, important as that was and is proving to be, is the willingness to embrace at a deep level diversity. Easier said than done, but an open heart to travelling unknown paths is a starting point.

It is interesting living life in a land that is not one’s birth land. I cannot claim to understand being an immigrant – I am probably a hypocritical one. (Hypocrite was ‘actor’ in Greek.) Gayle and I have privileges. we can live here legitimately. We are not in fear of someone banging on the door and we are deported – and even if we were we are not being sent back to a dangerous situation. We refuse to live as ‘ex-pats’. We are immigrants. I was told by one of my more honest neighbours recently – so you have lived here 10 years and your Spanish is a disgrace (OUCH!). We are immigrants, but only slightly on the outside. I guess all we can do is continue at the hypocritical (acting) level and maybe we will so get into the character that we become more genuine. We can only give what we have and what our situation allows us. That is our very small contribution into the plea for colour to be present in Europe.

Our contribution is small – all our contributions are small, but maybe in the context of the future of Europe those living in the UK might just have a big say. Bring on the colour!!

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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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An Open Future

Uncontrolling LoveI have for long leaned toward what is termed ‘Open Theology’, and perhaps Thomas Jay Oord’s book ‘Uncontrolling Love’ is one of the best presentations of it, presenting some fresh perspectives even beyond those of Pinnock et al. Of course there are always Scriptures that can be quoted with a loud voice that will denounce any opposing theology. This post is not to defend Open Theology as a theology but to suggest that we are at least to live as if we can shape the future.

Narratives (beliefs) shape the world we live in. I have no doubt that the Western world is going through a major shift, and the one who can predict what it will look like in 15 years time either has some incredible insights or are rather naïve. I have many times written about the predominant spin of the fear narrative as something we must reject. We see this so strong at this point in time: create a fear scenario which then allows / legitimises an authoritarian response which leads to the ‘state of exception’. The political realm is awash with this, in some places so visible, but in other places just under the surface. And sadly the extremes are pulling what was once more moderate increasingly in that direction.

At a time of crisis (the 30s) the oft-repeated phrase of ‘We have nothing to fear except fear itself’ was spoken in the inaugural speech of Franklin D. Roosevelt. I am suggesting (as I write as a believer) that maybe now we need to say:

We have nothing to fear except a church that has bought into the fear narrative.

There are those who draw on the research of, for example, The Fourth Turning, which suggests a cycle of 80-100 years, the final stage being that of crisis which opens the door to war and then a rebirth. This writing is apparently fuelling the ideas being fed into the current administration in the USA. War – inevitable in this stage? Dayesh (ISIS) holds to the eschatology of a Middle Eastern Armageddon so the drawing of the major powers into that arena is not something to be avoided as eventually once that takes place this will precipitate the return of Jesus… and not on the side of the ‘Christians’. Others of the Christian faith also hold to such an eschatology, so the idea of working for peace is to be avoided also. Interestingly ‘Woe to those who say peace, peace’ would have been a reference to the Pax Romana, the false peace that was offered to all who complied and was implemented and sustained by war. No different to the current peace and safety being offered in the West.

There are myths that abound, and narratives that sustain the myths. We have been instructed to be armed! I was once told in no uncertain terms that ‘Pacificism will not cut it these days!’ (BTW pacificism is not the correct term for a non-violent position.)

We have to live from a different narrative. Here is where at least the outcome of an Open position should help us. We do not have to adopt that view theologically. Even if we are of the most hard line ‘all things have been predestined’ we are still to live from faith in God and live out our lives trusting God and living as though we can affect the future.

I believe we are responsible for the politics, but we are never to put our faith in the political system or those elected. We are responsible for the world we live in – the buck stops here!

So back to where I started. The fear narrative is linked to a fatalistic one. It is pessimistic in the extreme but with a twist – there is a human / political saviour who will steer us through this. Believe the narrative, let increasing authority and therefore power flow to the top and we will get through this. Such a narrative is sadly antiChristian.

The crisis in the West is secondarily a political crisis. It is primarily a crisis of faith. This season will polarise things increasingly with respect to what it means to follow Jesus. Either the cross will be emblazoned on the sword or we will recognise it as the symbol of a life laid down. ‘As often as you do this do this in remembrance of me.’ Amidst all the narratives we cannot afford to forget him.

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