2020… what a year

A before and an after

At the start of the year as we gave ourselves to get some idea of shape into it, we realised that we were unable to do so. Sensing strongly that it was a year of disruption… how understated that conviction will prove to be!

It is unlikely we will have many people out to see us this year. Last year we hosted people for around 120 days and nights… this year? And we are not convinced we will be travelling outside either with the various restrictions. This week we had some restrictions lifted. We can now be outside during the day at any hour (previously it was before 10.00am and after 8.00pm). Yesterday no COVID deaths were recorded in Spain so the hard line has produced fruit, but for so many who have no income, or reduced income for weeks / months, so much has changed. There will be a before and an after.

Looking forward, I still maintain that this year will not be as shocking as 2022. There are ripples and major shocks this year, and currently the street voice in the US is being responded to globally (Photo at the top is of Liverpool FC taking a knee while training. Liverpool has a call to be a city of reconciliation… Cities can follow where we go.)

I am deeply grieved by what is exploding in the US. And given that north America is the child of Europe there is no way that we can look and point a finger. What we see is an image of the fruit of the past 500 years of exploitation from Europe. What is for sure is that there are crises that come to all dominating systems, and in spite of not believing in wrath in the sense of ‘personal’ when applied to God the biblical usage of the term might well be applied into this phase of Western history.

The biggest challenge is seeking to understand what it means to be those who see a new ‘creation’. That is the gift of the Spirit (pertinent as we celebrated Pentecost Sunday) and the challenge from the Spirit – what do you see?

Easy to say, not easy to embrace, but we have to look to see what God is making beautiful in this season. I, for long, have considered that we prophesy without having much clue as to what it means. The Bible is full of it, and we should not expect to do much better. I have read some of the words about ‘Passover’ and ‘Pentecost’ for this year. My only comment is that words like that are not given to confirm us to stay on the merry-go-round. I wrote a few days ago about the Exodus from where (Passover) and I believe there is a before and after this Pentecost – but the after is going to be as shocking as the fulfilment of Peter’s prophecy on the day of Pentecost. In my great and awesome writings (as if!!) I wrote that before every shift forward there is a conversion of the church to the world. Such a conversion is preceded by traversing the ground of breaking with the good that has brought us thus far.

I have been ever so tempted to write some of the prophetic statements I have made in the USA since 2001, particularly concerning presidential terms (I spoke of a time-line appointed in 2001 that was tied to the Bush presidency and that a second term would indicate extended time to idea with a root issue; in 2005 I spoke of the outcome in 2008 and 12). I have held back and will continue to do so as the Lord made it clear that we are not ‘responsible’ for that land; there are others who have to take that stand and bring the land through to a different future. Same as we have to do here. Suffice to say through that what is taking place now is a pretty natural follow on from those words.

Finally, not aimed where it might seem to be aimed. When we hold up the cross, or a Bible in certain contexts (Spain and the Valley of the Fallen) we disempower and nullify the very reality that lies behind the symbol. That is deeply worrying. It is the lie of Imperial power – the altar to peace was established on Mars Hill in the days of the New Testament in Rome. Altar to peace established on the mountain of war.

The signs are there for those who wish to look, and this is not about left or right in politics. I still hold out that when we understand the good/bad line does not run between me and you but THROUGH you and me that we can pull something incredible out of this time.

Breaking news…

Stock market crisis over the impending threat.

Hyped by the media or for real? We are told the stock market is reeling due to the crisis that could be a pandemic. It is what we don’t really know that is the issue. How many are fleeing war; how much extortion is there that is behind how many of those created in the image of God who are dying – in the Mediterranean and beyond. We can close borders but the stock market is rocking because we just don’t know how many people are dying and how big a threat it all is.

OK… made all that up. Sadly made it up. The markets are reeling not because of how many are dying but because the coronavirus does not respect wealth, and does not respect how we can ‘make’ money. There are so many more deaths that have occurred these past years to those who have desperately come to seek some measure of freedom, than is likely to come to the globe as a result of this current threat. Yes… money makes the world go round… round and round the old mulberrry bush.

I had a round-robin letter from our Spanish bank about a week ago. ‘No need to panic there will be no significant economic downturn’. I like to read between the lines – you have no need to panic because we are doing all the panicking that is needed. We have no clue where this will go, but please do not panic otherwise we are in trouble.

Having arrived home last night at the sweet hour of midnight, I only had time to send the bank adviser a piece of personal advice this morning – and I am so sure she was just waiting for my incredible wisdom. No worries, we all know money is ‘una mierda’. So I wrote a short little piece on her wall ‘Things are not stable… they will bottom out but the real crisis is not immediate but will increase in the autumn… We’ll drop in to see you in a couple of weeks… Yours ever so lovingly…. Martin’.

It is my bit of fun for the day. Here I am pontificating about the global economic scene, without any real understanding… maybe she was justified in using the ‘f’ word and ask me to leave the premises (with some humour) a while back. She has her job to do, and I told her anyone wanting to grow a business would employ her – she can sell the proverbial ice blocks to those living in Siberia in the deepest, darkest winter.

She has her job to do… and the rest of us have our convictions to live by, and to try to hold on to the legitimate money bag, the bag of contentment. Not always easy, and so hard for so many in the world. But for the rest of us the 5% who pull in three figures a month we do need to try to remain centred.

For any follower of this blog I have been saying for the past few years that come 2020 we will hit another financial crisis. I see 2020 – 22 as two years of great instability. But even that is a western, middle class perspective. And the past decades? They were full of instability to countless non-western, non-middle class people.

We will see at every level the façades opening again. My dream exposed how we – body of Christ – can just shut them all up. How about this time – cos I asked for volunteers last time but had none – ask for a major rebalancing of the economic world. For our fictitious wealth to go down so that we can see a shift. Maybe that will keep the façades open and see a shift. I do consider we missed so much in 08.

So no apologies for the fake breaking news. The crisis is not here because of the coronavirus, it is here and always has been because of mammon / Babylon. Time to see again the New Jerusalem that John saw. There are investments we make that have a great and guaranteed return. They come in the form of a cup of cold water given in his name.

What on earth are we to do?

The photo is of a piece of art in Palma de Mallorca. A replica of the original created by Dennis Oppenheim, and called the ‘Device to Root Out Evil’. The original was objected to due to its choice of a church being turned upside down, but what better image to use? I certainly do not consider it to be sacrilegious but highly appropriate.

The sculptor chooses a very traditional shape for the building and with the spire driven into the ground it speaks volumes. The top becoming the bottom and the building not simply sitting on the land but into the land.

Paul might not have recognised the traditional shape but I think he might well have approved of the overall image. In Imperialism there is always a very clear ‘top’ or ‘centre’. From there all is shaped and controlled. Promises are made, with the clear framework that where there is compliance there will be reward, though the real beneficiaries are located at the centre. Other centres can develop, but they remain subservient to the main centre. Such centres only have carefully delegated monitored authority, certainly no authority is distributed. In the Imperial world of Rome there can be other ‘kings’ but Rome will remain the ‘city that rules over the kings of the earth’ and Caesar will continue unchallenged as ‘king of kings’.

The language of the NT Gospel is unmistakably political. Caesar is not only not acknowledged as ‘lord’ but Jesus is proclaimed as ‘Lord of lords and king of kings’. This is not because the Jesus message is a mirror of Rome’s, but rather Rome is being exposed as a pathetic parody of the real. The same words are used but the effecting of the reality is perverted by Rome with peace no longer coming through the life laid down, but through lives taken; the power overcomes, and if necessary through violence, rather than a submission to the violent powers. At the heart the contrast is of power enforced and of love extended.

The evil to be rooted out is indeed deep in the soil. It is an evil that enslaves one and all to a system, and the evil is so pervasive it is personified in Paul’s writings as ‘sin’ (singular) or in Revelation it manifests as a beast or beasts in union. An alternative structure, but one that is mirrored on the Babylonian top-down will not root out evil. Such a structure will eventually be used by evil as and when it proves helpful to do so, as it will not bring about a shift to the deep evil embedded in the soil. The church can never therefore be a comfortable bed-partner to the status quo, the subversive nature of it has to be present.

I propose then that Paul was crazy – truly crazy! He went to a place that already had an ekklesia, whose purpose was to serve the Imperial centre of Rome, and he went there with a conflicting message concerning the kingdom of God (basileia being the Greek word for kingdom, the same word equally used by Rome of her own ’empire’). On first hearing he must have sounded as a political insurrectionist whose time on earth was going to be limited. Yet there was some strange elements to the message. There was a ‘religious’ tone to it, and at the centre was a dead Jew whom Paul proclaimed was not simply ‘alive’ but risen from the dead.

His message was certainly political, but it could not be pressed into serving a particular wing (‘party’). What was clear was the message did not serve the status quo, for he was declaring that all hierarchies were not recognised ‘in Christ’. Not surprisingly the result was that ‘not many wise, not many noble’ were those who responded to the message! This irrelevant group should have been no threat to Rome’s order, and yet amazingly there were riots. Riots inspired by Jews were expected, for if Jesus was Lord he was not the one accursed of God but his name was now the only name through which salvation would come. (Acts 4:12 – ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’ The ‘we’ both linguistically and contextually are Jews. No other name – not even the name of Abraham!) Jews reacting could be predicted, but a riot inspired by silversmiths (Acts 19)? This shows the extent of the impact (and understanding of the implications) of his message.

To narrow the work of Paul down to one element, such as he is creating a political movement, would be to be in error, but to avoid the obvious implication of the central political sound would be (in my perspective) to shift where the core of his message was.

Complex, complex, complex! To simply take the teachings of Jesus, the understanding of Paul’s Gospel and to proclaim them as shaping a new politic would not do justice to his Gospel, but to ignore that would be criminal!

We probably cannot give a simple answer to what on earth was Paul doing, but we cannot ignore his context of a one world government complete with its 666 mark of the beast; nor can we diminish his passion for a whole inhabited world (oikomene) to have opportunity to hear the message of hope.

It is very difficult to add the word ‘para’ to what followers of Christ are involved in, if they are motivated by something of this political (small ‘p’) vision and purpose. It is also quite difficult to give the word ekklesia to any group of those who want to use the term ekklesia in a way that only legitimises themselves.

We live at the end of the Christendom era. The apostolic calling is very strong whenever there is a shift. Perhaps we are in what will be viewed as the biggest shift in the civilisation of humanity. We might never know what on earth Paul was doing, but we will certainly have to figure out between us all what on earth are we to do. If it does not carry a political element with a vision for a transformed society it will be very hard to show that our message is faithful to the one Paul received from heaven.

The apostolic of every generation or situation have to rework the application of the Gospel without ever changing the Gospel itself. If we want to be faithful we will have to renounce hierarchy, be personally upended and immersed in the soil. Could there be a people who are called to root out evil? Could that be possible? If not, could there be a crazy gang who rose up (and went down deep) who were committed to a seriously thought out attempt to do so?

An offer – with a twist

Imperial power is deeply embedded in culture, manifesting in different ways. At times hidden (though always present) and at certain key moments in history manifesting very clearly. Reading the book of Revelation from the point of view of it being an exposure, a ripping back of reality through the world of surreal imagery, I suggest, will give us back a book to critique the world we live in. The Imperial spirit has always been present, but never more clearly than in the times of the NT – the fullness of times. Our own times might just be coming close to that reality.

A simple definition of the Imperial spirit would be something along the lines of:

The Imperial spirit is present when there are a few who sit at the centre shaping the future. They promise benefits to those who comply, but the real benefits flow back to the centre to them, and their connections. There being an implicit (and at times explicit) claim to a divine mandate for the activity.

The divine mandate can be as non-theistic as secularism right through to a monotheistic sovereign God perspective. Probably the non-theistic approach is when there is less threat against the imperial life. If this be so we have to be very careful when there is a seeming advance of certain values. Are they as a genuine shift of powers and the advance of the Gospel, or are they being subtly co-opted, and thus eventually lose the power; maybe in biblical words that the latter stage will be worse than the former, with 1 demon replaced by 7?

The West has manifested this Imperial spirit very clearly with a dominance and exploitation of the rest of the world. There can be claims of how benefits have come to other places, and at a Christian level there can be claims that the Gospel has travelled along the routes that Imperial trade has opened up. Benefits to a level – yes, but the end result is not a shift toward an equalisation and empowerment.

Since the turn of the millennium there has been a great focus on shifting the imperial spirit, of ‘rolling up the Roman road’, and inevitably there was a big kick back into ecclesial structure. Maybe more so on the ones claiming a biblical shape(?), where however much body ministry was emphasised, inevitably teaching on authority bought into the ‘sovereign’ perspective of authority from above.

The shaking (madness) of the current time is very sobering. When the imperial structures shake there will always be a searching for divine approval. What better place to go searching than to some form of the Christian faith? In exchange for a bigger place at the table, a bigger opportunity to influence the future, that injection of life, indeed the very life itself, can help give resurrection to the Imperial spirit – in the words of Revelation, though the head received a mortal wound, the beast lived again.

These are very dangerous times indeed. There are many words spoken of family values, Judaeo-Christian values and the like. When that happens there will always be a compromise if believers somehow believe the kingdom of God arrives through the exercise of power. Inevitably in all situations of imperial power there will be persecution, it will always be against those who disturb the status quo. It would be very sad if in seeing the opportunity of the place at the table the result was a strengthening of the imperial arm to persecute those who are fleeing from real danger in other lands. Currently many are dying, or being sent back to die. Such a response begins rationally but if not opposed it will become ratified by means of legislation… and this would be very sad if this was found to be supported by many traditional Christians.

For those with a touch of Anabaptism or alternative to mainstream ecclesiology about them, we are coming out from under the ‘blessing’ of Constantinianism. The work of years could either take a step back or we could see a whole new landscape appear.

One world government

Big bad world, global organisations paving the way for a one-world government. Do we escape? How do we avoid the mark of the beast? We have probably all heard those lines, maybe we even subscribe to a variation of them. Over the centuries there have been many candidates for the post of antiChrist. Famously Napoleon was one as troops advanced across Europe to implement his vision for the increase of his empire and as he rapidly put one relative after another on the various thrones of Europe he quickly became prime candidate for the supposed end-time role. Maybe those who thought so simply got it wrong and we still need to watch… or maybe the whole approach is just simply wrong.

My real issue with that type of teaching is it tends to produce a fear of the world and a withdrawal from, rather than an engagement with, the world. Maybe there is a one-world government to come (although I don’t think that is taught in Scripture) but even if there is to be such a situation we surely know what response to make. It is the same one as ever: get stuck in. Jesus specifically prayed that the Father would not remove the disciples from the world and I see no reason to suggest that prayer has been changed over the centuries since it was prayed. If we were to withdraw how could there ever be a redemptive presence in the world? Withdrawal would only mean one thing, the situation would deteriorate. The self-fulfilling prophecy that the word is an evil place, therefore avoid it, is not prophetic but simply self-fulfilling. The two elements of petitioning heaven and positioning within society are key for the future, and a de-positioning will not enable any petitioning to be effective.

However, back to the one-world government theme. Whatever the future holds I consider it more helpful to look to the past, the time of the NT, and to see the faith response at that time, as the faith response then might well be instructive today – and tomorrow – for our response.

The one time that the world was all-but under a one-world government was the time of the Roman Empire, and the contrasts of the Roman message and the Gospel message are quite incredible. A quick summary should suffice, starting with the term ‘gospel’:

  • A common use of the ‘gospel’ in the Imperial context was the good news of the ascension to the throne of a new emperor, who was proclaimed to be a son of the divine Caesar, being proclaimed as both saviour and lord.

    In the Roman imperial world, the ‘gospel’ was the good news of Caesar’s having established peace and security for the world (Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and Empire).

  • The proclamation that Caesar is lord is in obvious direct contrast to Jesus is Lord.
  • The Pax Romana established through military conquest contrasts the peace that Jesus established through the blood of the cross.
  • The ekklesia already existed in cities, the assembly that ran the city. We can read in Acts 19:39 that the city clerk’s response to the riot was to tell them that, ‘If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly.’ The legal assembly is the word ekklesia. Each city had an ekklesia, but Paul came to establish an ekklesia in Jesus Christ. It is hard not to believe that this raises the provocative question of who will shape the city, Rome’s appointed ekklesia or the one not made up by the mighty and powerful but established from heaven?
  • Then there is the Roman term for the Empire: basileia – the same term used for the kingdom (basileia) of God.

There are OT backgrounds to the various terms used in the NT but those take on new levels of significance when they clearly clashed with Rome’s preferred terminology. Paul and the apostolic proclamation did not change terminology in order to avoid any misunderstanding. He did not change so that people would clearly understood that the Gospel was non-political but spiritual. Indeed the refusal to change language, I suggest, was precisely because the Gospel was actually understood to be political. Not political in the sense of ‘if you follow Christ you will vote for a particular party’, but in the sense that ‘if you follow Christ your values will set you in conflict with all ideologies that call for your allegiance.’ As I heard someone once say: ‘Christianity will never make a good state religion!’

At a simple level those were the reasons why I would not take an oath when serving on a jury in court, nor swear allegiance to a flag or nation. The Lordship of Christ, then and now, absolutely relativises all other places where we serve, our ‘no’ having to mean ‘no’ so that our ‘yes’ to Jesus keeps us on course.

Life in the Empire was not easy for believers. As early as Nero Christians were blamed for the fire in Rome, and persecutions broke out from time to time. Believers lived in the squeezed place of not causing undue issues, seeking to follow practical advice such as: ‘If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’ (Rom. 12:18)’ while realising that the Empire always rewards those who comply, they being the ones with the freedom to ‘buy and sell’. (Revelation makes total sense in the context of the world at the end of the 1st Century, and has to be manipulated to make the imagery carry relevance for the 21st Century.)

Caesar’s rule was classically imperial. A few shape the future, promising benefits to all who comply, but the benefits simply flowed from the margins back to the centre. This is the critique we read of in Revelation with 28 cargoes (7=fullness x 4=creation / world) being carried back to Rome, cargo that included human life (Rev. 18: 12,13). The contrast of that life-consuming rule to the ecology of Jesus with life flowing out to the margins, life through the Lamb slain.

We shared on these subjects in Brazil in the context of their very divisive election. Choosing which way to vote in any election is a difficult decision for a believer, and we neither encouraged a vote for one candidate nor another, but wanted to put the task of the church in context. One candidate might be considered better (more redemptive) than the other, but the task of the church is to position itself for the future and protect a shape where those who enter the political sphere will serve the people. A huge element (for me) is whatever humanises people is pointing toward the liberation of the Gospel – for that reason a blanket support of capitalism (and in particular neo-liberalism) nor extreme socialism can receive our endorsement: both of which feed from the lives of people, the fodder of the beast.

Rediscovering the socially transformative nature of the Gospel has to be a major ingredient involved in a recovery of the apostolic message.

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