Digging down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are not to resort to God is in control

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

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

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Can we hold the space?

The European project that has been a gift to create peace among nations is under great threat. That project, with such Christian people as Robert Schuman (1886-1963) at the foundation, has been criticised as it developed into the EU. Certainly far from perfect, but if any demise will lead to a pulling back into self-protective borders, we might be regretting the jettisoning of the imperfect. I do not simply refer to the Brexit, but to the responses and tensions within the EU over how the humanitarian crisis is faced. And of course this is not just a European issue but one that is affecting the USA very acutely also.

I live as a privileged immigrant. We have food, we have legal, if not full status. Yet we have come not too different to many other immigrants who are arriving for external reasons. They are forced to come and many wish to make a contribution to the land. We are not here for external reasons, but by inner conviction and seek to make a contribution to the land. We pay our taxes here, and as a result pay significantly more than if we remained registered in the UK. Many come here as privileged immigrants, do not pay taxes and call themselves ex-pats. Those who act in that way are not under any great threat of expulsion from Spain or another similar country. They are, after all, only doing at a personal level what major institutions do at the global level. Finances and power give them the right to live / exploit where they want and when. We do not want that right, and many cast adrift on the Mediterranean of course do not come with finances or power… but if given the opportunity would make a home in the European lands and seek to make a contribution.

The EU is more likely to collapse as a result of the shutting up of borders to the outsider than it is simply post-Brexit. A number of years ago, long before the Brexit we were sent an open vision someone had while praying. She saw that a hand came and took the UK out of a European map. Then colour and light drained out of Europe. This was long before the Brexit and at a time when there was no-one predicting that the referendum would go the ‘leave’ route. We held it as the track record of the person is exceptionally high and noted that she said the Brexit referendum would be about the future of Europe. A number of us have travelled to the place where the colour and light disappeared in the hope that we could sow into the future. There was a second part of the vision also.

While in Prague we were told that most of the Eastern European countries are looking to tighten their borders. We were told this by believers who did not seem to see this as an issue. However, it is not just Eastern Europeans. There are very real issues that Italy and Greece face as most immigrants arrive in those lands and it is easy to criticise their actions of turning away mercy ships. If they turn away ships and other European nations turn away we have a problem.

We are grateful that Spain (Valencia) welcomed the Aquarius (and two other ships) with 600+ rescued from the Mediterranean. Grateful that into a port that brutally shipped Spanish born Muslims in the 1600s it now welcomed some 400 years later others in return. This we have prayed for, ending in Gibraltar last year, and curiously the ship arrived under a Gibraltar flag!

There are very real issues being faced in the so-called developed West over immigration. However, we have contributed to the problem over decades. The supply of arms to these nations where the conflicts exist have meant countless thousands have been made homeless and lives put at risk is down to us. The wealth we have accumulated at the Southern hemisphere’s expense has likewise driven people this way. (And when in Prague, an ex-communist city, it was easy to see that there is no difference between capitalism in its dominant neo-liberal expression or communism. Both are servants of the evil of bio-power. Human resources are their fodder.)

We are not politicians, and they certainly need prayer for wisdom as to how to move forward as so much is at stake. We are not politicians but the Gospel does not allow us to think of the message of Jesus as non-political. We, as the body of Christ, and therefore some individuals within that body will have to step up, have to somehow hold open the space for the future. And in holding the space begin to speak some content into that. God created through holding space (to counter the ‘without form’) and then filled that space (to counter the ‘and empty’). We likewise have to hold space and this is vital at a time when there is the desire to collapse borders. The shape of the EU is not the issue but living as family across Europe is. The Pauline Gospel seems to drive us that way. Living in the one-world government era his one passion was to get to the extent of the borders. The Jews in Exile had a great opportunity to live out life in the imperial world of Babylon – but they hankered for the land and created the synagogue!

Can we hold the space? The lands are changing, and need to change. We have utterly failed in our stewardship of the lands, failing to be a resource to the rest of the world. We can only anticipate that there will be wholesale shifts of population. Can we hold the space for the new? This is not a time to allow small borders to shape the future. And in holding it can we begin to prophesy what will fill that space?

I hope, as a Brit, that the Brexit did not sow something into Europe of closing borders that is now being replicated in other nations. Maybe the Brexit had little to do with political shape and more to do with how open we will be to the other. If so something must begin in the body of Christ as we are called to be the salt of the earth. We will have to step up to hold back the pollution that rises so easily.

We can do so little. Gayle and I can live here as immigrants, love the land, refuse to live with a border mentality. We can begin there in response, but we know that will not in itself be enough. There will be more we will have to do, but we must start with what is in our hands.

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No denial – he was human

Often evangelicals will fight the battle over the divinity of Christ. And too many times pulling on material that is not as strong as it might at first appear. ‘Son of God’, for example does not necessarily mean divinity, as this was a term applied to Israel. Divine qualities do not necessarily imply an identity of deity. The early followers came at things from the other end. This Jesus was human… and came to terms with ‘what kind of person is this that even the winds and waves obey him?’ Human but at another level all together. This extraordinary human then is seen as the Messiah, the Promised deliverer. But I suggest they did not see him as ‘divine’ and certainly not as ‘the second Person of the Trinity’. They had a journey from knowing that he was (truly) human to in what sense was he ‘God’.

The journey of the evangelical is often the other way. He is ‘God’, but in what sense is he human? The early followers seemed to make their journey, I am not convinced that all evangelicals make their journey.

It is interesting that John in his letters strongly argues for the humanity of Jesus as an acid test:

This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world (1 John 4:2,3).

If there is a denial of his humanity (come in the flesh) that is a manifestation of the spirit of antichrist. Not if there is a denial of his divinity! Of course John is pushing back strongly against the Docetist heresy, but nevertheless the emphasis is incredible.

The humanity of Jesus is so key. God affirms humanity at every point. The resurrection, where the rebirth of the Universe is initiated, with the refusal to leave the physical body in the tomb is the greatest ever affirmation of humanity’s value to heaven.

His humanity means…

  • that any maturity I will reach is through the path of becoming yet more human. Of moving from humanity being created in my image to being shaped by his image, the only truly human one.
  • I need to sacrilise all of life that enables humanity to live life.
  • I need to demonise anything that dehumanises.
  • I need to see people, no longer after the flesh.
  • I honour all who work for humanity’s future, as expressed in this life, for it is this-life expression that will determine that-life expression (see my last post).
  • I do not see my identity along the lines of any elitism, be that ethnicity, class or gender.

This aspect of the humanity of Jesus is what has caused us to understand that if someone can truly see the value of people, they are ever so close to seeing God. They might be a professed atheist – and on that we have to ask what is the ‘God’ they do not believe in – but they might have more sight on God than the person who ticks all the ‘Jesus is God’ boxes but can only see others as objects. Maybe to see, and truly see, humanity is to see God… to see Jesus is to see who this God truly is. ‘If you have seen me you have seen the Father’.

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