A Taster

Been a while since I have posted here. I have been writing… Just completed the fourth of a proposed six-series set of book(lets). Below is the opening paragraphs, followed by the closing paragraphs, from the third volume and a chapter entitled, ‘A necessary chapter’. This volume seeks to engage with some practical areas of society, so the first chapter was on the Arts, others are on Health and Education, Business (as Unusual) and the Media.


A chapter on the arts was a nice gentle way to highlight how any communication needs more than words to bring about change. In that chapter I said that art has often been commodified, becoming the collector’s piece, sometimes because of a deep appreciation of the art but often because of the perceived investment value. One piece bought for monetary reasons while other artists, who put their heart and soul into something (not to mention many hours), cannot make a living from their gift to society. It leads me to this chapter, a necessary one, on money, work and value.
The archaeologists report that between the 10th and the 8th century BC there were many economic changes in the land of Israel. Over those two centuries a huge discrepancy grows between the size of houses. We might view it that prosperity abounded and that this was evidence as to how God had blessed, but the 8th century prophets viewed it very differently. This is the rise of the critical voices of the prophets who connected social inequality to a faithlessness to the covenant. A poignant example is in Amos 4:1-4,

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”
The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness:
“The time will surely come
when you will be taken away with hooks,
the last of you with fishhooks.
You will each go straight out
through breaches in the wall,
and you will be cast out toward Harmon,”
declares the Lord.
Go to Bethel and sin;
go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
your tithes every three years.

Continuing to tithe and sacrifice in the appointed way was exposed as a farce as there was no justice, no semblance of an egalitarian society. In the life of Israel the law stipulated an intentional levelling through the system of Sabbath, the seventh year Sabbath and a radical Jubilee every fiftieth year when there was a reboot to the whole of society.

Before wading in to some of these major issues a gentle proviso that I will try and pick up in a later chapter. The gentle proviso is, ‘but we have to be practical.’ Agreed! We are not looking for something that is perfect for we wait for the day ‘when the perfect comes’; we live in a fallen world and in that world we have to learn how to compromise. The compromises that we are to be involved in though are to be redemptive. Redemption does not bring us to perfection in the immediate but re-aligns us so that there is a before and an after, so that we are not left the same, and the after is better than the before. Jesus quoted the Scripture that ‘the poor you will have with you always’ (John 12:8 quoting Deut. 15: 11), and that surely is true.

However, we cannot use it as if Jesus intended us to be unmoved or inactive about inequalities. The Scripture that Jesus quoted, Deut. 15: 11 says:

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

There is a reality that there will always be those who experience poverty, and in the light of that there has to be a spirit of generosity, for such was the commandment God gave them. The wider passage exhorts us to be generous, to cancel debts, to help liberate and to truly work toward the goal of eradicating poverty.

The gospel sets out the eschatological focus, and then deals with the present in both real and redemptive terms. It does not call us to live with a utopian vision, nor does it allow us to be passive. The ekklesia is present in the world to bring about change, and we are in a world that is all-but a runaway train hellbent on destruction. The original sin of consumerism, of moving boundaries for personal gain has to be addressed. This chapter is focused on money (or maybe better put as Mammon), but it could equally address the ecological crisis which is yet another sign that we have, as a race, been consistently moving boundary markers for personal gain.

………

The age to come, the one we are preparing for, and the one that we are preparing the materials for, will not be an age when there will be segregation along financial lines. Yet this age has increasingly sown into that financial divide. In closing this chapter, one that had to be written, let me simply ask how we should best sow into that glorious future. If I am privileged to own my own house should I pursue an even bigger stake in bricks and mortar? Should I look to store up more for myself with a pension scheme that will only increase the money distortions of society? Should I look to leave money to my descendants so that they might have the potential of moving further up the scale than I was able to?

Hard questions? Or looking at the reality that there is an age to come and how should we live in that light of that?

What remains clear is the concept of simply encouraging believers to rise to the top 3% of the mountain of influence without any critique of the existence of the ‘mountain’, could indeed release an influence, but the influence might not be an influence for the kingdom. The mountain remaining is not a signpost of the age to come.

We do not live in a perfect world and we await the age to come. While living in the in-between time, while we inhabit this imperfect world, we have to make compromises, yet we cannot simply compromise while refusing to look at the issues that pollute our world. Mammon and consumerism have been here since the beginning, but will not be here at the end. We live in between those two points. If we allow ourselves to be dragged back then, for sure, we are not of those who are contributing to the transformation of this world, and the preparation of the next.

A re-set coming?

I made the mistake this morning of reading an aspect of what is taking place in the midst of this crisis. Tough when you have to look facts in the eye.

I read how the world’s richest person is some $5.5bn richer today than he was at the beginning of the year. We all know his company as being the supplier of books and all good things, while many of his employees will tell stories of their appalling work conditions. He also made a nice ‘generous’ donation into the current crisis. Money is only money but the Scriptures are so strong on their critique of the accumulation of the ‘m’ word.

The Sabbath re-set was in-built to the way of life. Weekly, 7-yearly and 50th year Sabbaths, although not always implemented were set in place to help facilitate a healthy society. Translating that from an ancient agrarian economy to our Western society would indeed be very challenging and shocking. A 50 year jubilee would probably come out as a 2 year cycle. Scripture is ‘stupidly’ radical.

I was glad to read the article though as it leaves me with the ongoing challenge of how do we contribute to change. We are at such a turning point in history (co-inciding with the ‘fourth turning’ in the cycles of four) and being a follower of Jesus holding to a view that our little lives have to point to a new world (and therefore a new world economy) and that how we live is the leverage point for the big picture. Yes, the ‘in’ but not ‘of’ the world scenario.

There are other articles that can be read that are using the ‘re-set’ word, that the next few weeks will hold the key to what kind of world comes through the other side of the crisis (and maybe we should be using the word ‘crises’ as this is not a health crisis alone, and not simply a financial one but something that is bringing to a sharp focus the crises of the past years – immigration, borders, globalisation vs. nationalism, ecological… and something hidden deep within it all a machoistic / misogynist culture that fights against the humanisation of one and all – hence something deeply demonic).

So many things in the balance – maybe the balanced see-saw is here now? My strong suspicion is post-this-crisis (there is a ‘post-‘?) there will be two worlds emerging. A few who make a 5.5bn increase in profits, and a majority who question where true justice is to be found. I maybe cannot make a difference to the 5.5bn group – though one of the strongest words I heard from the Lord a few weeks after moving to Spain was the challenge of learning how to ensure that world changed (a long story…) – I can though make a decision as to my direction. I just hope I am not too compromised.

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.

Owning everything and…

Paul states that he as an apostle was:

poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything (2 Cor 6:10).

Quite an apostolic worldview. He is not Mr. Successful but certainly he cannot be accused of a poverty mind-set. There is an incredible re-valuation taking place. How can one be poor yet make many rich? How can one have nothing yet possess everything? There is not a book on finance that can give that answer, and however it outworked practically it must have begun as a way of seeing.

I have a good friend who is an extraordinary example. He does not have a poverty mindset and so many assume he is wealthy. He has a remarkable gift to see money transferred from one place to another without profiting personally and many times the money never comes via his bank account. The money shifts and there is often an assumption he has great resources (he does but not simply ‘natural’ resources, he knows how to connect with heaven’s resources). He is not rich but makes many rich.

I have been wrestling with these Scriptures over the past 10 years and am probably not much further on today than 10 years ago in understanding them. I am also interested in turning them on their head. I can be critical of the top 1%, but am almost certainly in the top 5% globally in terms of wealth. The top 1% are filthy rich and oppressors, the top 5% are OK!! If Paul owned nothing but possessed everything, what about those like me who owns ‘everything’ (OK not quite…)? I think the challenge for some of us who are ‘rich’ and own ‘everything’ is to do so in a way that we possesses nothing. That of course was the result of the outpouring of the Spirit.

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had (Acts 4:32).

How feeble sometimes our attempts to live in a different economy. But I am encouraged that small feeble attempts are where everything begins. We have taken some steps with our friends (neighbours) where they have opportunity to ‘possess’ what we ‘own’. Now whenever the husband sees something of ours he (in good humour) says – ‘this then is for me too?’ And the answer has to be ‘yes’.

A short post as I am pretty ignorant on the outworking of the Scriptures and the turned on their head versions.

Which bag for my money?

Christmas time is here. I am sure there will be many presents given and received. Maybe someone will receive a present of a new wallet / purse to keep all their worldly wealth in. Apparently Scripture seems to be offering two options this Christmas. One that was modelled way back in time set in a garden, and the other proposed by none other than a self confessed ‘chief of sinners’ and called as an apostle.

The two bags are consumerism and contentment.

I have suggested that the original sin is that of consumerism. The garden gives us a very generous setting – eat of all the trees, except for one. Only one tree forbidden! That is minimal restriction, indicating that whatever restrictions we embrace when responding to the call to follow Jesus, the reality is that there is enormous freedom within that call. The language of:

  • I saw
  • I desired
  • I took

is the language of consumerism, and when set in the context of generosity is appalling, yet this is so common. When one has nothing it is understandable that someone should look and desire and seek to take, but when someone has so much there is that drive to obtain the one thing one does not have. I really need… Really need what? A bigger house, a newer car? We need?

The issue with the advertising world is that it suggests a lack that can only be filled with obtaining of something that we do not have. It comes close to robbing us of our dignity and identity only to sell it back at the price of the product. Consumerism does not open the door to growth because it works on the negative value of discontentment. In the garden there was the possibility of great growth provided we were willing to set contentment boundaries. So to the second money wallet / purse.

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Phil. 4:11-13).

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:6-10).

Contentment is not easy, and certainly comparison often leading to jealousy does not serve us well. Poverty is not seen as a blessing in Scripture, but to confuse financial prosperity with a sign of God’s blessing is likewise to miss the mark. Passivity is not to be equated to contentment, but thankfulness is probably the best and nearest companion to true contentment.

Contentment is the polar opposite to the consumerist spirit of this age. Maybe this Christmas I might just try one more time to look at the gift contentment might be to my soul.

And as I leave this post, I step back in amazement, realising that I was almost reflective in what I wrote.

Happy Christmas one and all!

Art – what is it worth?

A few years ago I prophesied that ‘when we learn how to value art, the housing market will be re-valued’. I have re-visited that word many times with perplexity. Many artists struggle to make a living; many of the high, high end earners will buy up art as an investment. The ‘art market’ is all over the place. The investment of time, effort and soul that some put in for little return is so wrong; storing art away from public view simply as a means for personal security is also so wrong…

What is the value of art? (And rightly by extension I include ‘the arts’.)

My perplexity I now realise (I got this insight by reading Deb Chapman’s comment on the last post) is that I have been thinking in monetary terms. As we know the vast percentage of money does not exist. 97% in most western economies does not exist, hence it is only confidence and debt that keeps the economy at the levels we find them. I should never have been trying to work out what the word meant money-wise. Driving as we do in our San Lorenzo (died 258AD in Rome) whose gift was to force a revaluation I should never have been trapped into the way of thinking I was in over art.

The value of art

It has to be given its rightful place. It is one of the means to connect heaven to earth. It touches the imagination (and therefore can also be perverted to connect hell and earth) so that speech can be made that releases heaven to earth. God made the trees and saw that they were good… If for a moment I overstate things. God saw what he had made and it impacted him. That is art. We are not talking about a rational function but of an inner transformation through a visual / auditory / kinesthetic experience. How do we value that?

Art challenges how we value everything. This is the challenge San Lorenzo presented to the emperor when he presented him with the blind, sick and poor. ‘These are God’s riches’, he said! The emperor had him killed… but he being dead still speaks. Jesus said that no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem, but he fulfilled that. From his time on the place of death is Rome / Babylon / the empire, the place that says we value things and you will not buy nor sell unless you bow to our value system.

Art is subversive. In art we learn how a new economy that is not based on trade, but on giving and receiving.

Now is the time. Yes the winds are adverse but there is a breath of the Spirit behind the arts right now. So vital as we are coming to another economic crisis. The last one was patched over when the body of Christ (the ‘authority carriers’ for the future) opted for an alignment with the familiar, lacking imagination for a different future. When we can only imagine change through getting to the top we have failed to imagine. Art can help us imagine change through the subversion of service and love. We owe you a huge debt, you artists.

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Ephesus – a big shift

I am very grateful for my evangelical roots, coming to faith when I was 16 and experiencing the reality of a ‘personal’ relationship with God. Likewise the impact of the charismatic expression of Christianity, healings, miracles, speaking in tongues and all that goes along with that… absolutely life-changing. Backgrounds are important and I know many of my peers have sought to re-position themselves with regard to those two definitions, as labels cannot ultimately define and certainly should not restrict us. My own trajectory has taken me, not so much to move on from them (post-) but to realise that they sit within a bigger landscape. That landscape being that of stewardship of this creation both to point toward the new creation and to draw that new creation ever closer. The body of Christ, is here to bear witness to that new creation and to create space that humanity can fill as less-than-perfect, yet real stewards of, that new creation.

Ephesus was one of the largest cities of Roman Asia Minor, probably pushing toward 200,000 inhabitants. It was wealthy and as per many cities was religious. Temples abounded but the pride of place went to the Temple of Artemis, it being one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The claim was that Artemis’ image had fallen from the sky and therefore the city had a unique relationship as steward of her presence. (This could be simple myth, or perhaps a meteorite had fallen in that vicinity.) Paul’s time in Ephesus was remarkable and I think incredibly instructive. There are a set of elements that are presented in the biblical texts there that are quite incredible. It is quite hard to know were to start and how to list them, but I will try and follow how Luke records them:

  • He found some believers there whose understanding was limited, but they soon became disciples of Jesus in a much fuller way. They seem to become the core of who Paul worked with, taking them with him when he left the synagogue as his focus.
  • Artemis was worshipped throughout Aisa Minor and Paul set up his base in the hall of Tyrannus. Of course what he taught and spoke of we all interpret through our own lenses. An early version of Alpha courses? A fully fledged Sunday meeting with band in place? I don’t think so!! The result though was manifold, one aspect Luke notes is that what he was proclaiming was heard throughout Asia Minor. Throughout her former domain!
  • This can only indicate that the rule of Artemis was seriously challenged, witnessed to by the insistent cry of the populace reacting to Paul’s message: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians’.
  • Not only was her rule challenged but it was seriously weakened and curtailed. Not only was the message heard but also miracles likewise took place throughout what we might call was formerly her territory. Handkerchiefs were carried to those sick, healings and deliverances occurred. Such was the clear impact that even Jewish exorcists employed the phrase ‘by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims’.
  • Occult books were burned, Ephesus being a centre for witchcraft and magic.
  • The economics of the city were challenged and threatened.
  • The hierarchy of government was deeply touched.

There is something there for all of us. Spiritual warfare – bind and loose those powers, go challenge those demons! Public proclamation; miracles, healing and deliverances. Ephesus certainly sets the bar high for us charismatics… But there is much more. for me too much takes place for Paul’s activity to be simply an ancient version of much of our activities today, none of which I am knocking, simply suggesting that God is raising the bar enormously for us. (I think he raised the bar way high when we consider the cross and the resurrection…)

My plan then is to take some of the above themes and try and develop them over a number of posts.

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Wealth or Money?

‘Money makes the world go round’… and round… and round… or so it seems. Pensioners were out in force this past weekend in most of the cities of Spain protesting. The government has used money from the pension fund on at least 3 occasions to bail out financial institutions, and other businesses the government wished to favour. A while back a woman working in the political scene in Madrid told us that anyone 55 and under should have no expectation of a pension at retirement, the money will be gone. Never enough money in the pot, until it seems it can be found for something more important than those who need it!

A few years back we heard an African preacher (Langton Gatsi) push hard on the difference between creational wealth and money. Money can be here today and gone tomorrow, creational wealth continues. The stock markets can ‘miraculously’ lose money one day and gain it another. This is why in most Western nations the amount of money that is real is about 3%. 97% does not even exist, and by that is not meant that only 3% is in the form of currency, something deeper is implied. 97% are figures on a spreadsheet. A run on the banks would be disastrous, and not surprising when the system survives through debt. Without debt the western economic system collapses.

‘Can’t buy and can’t sell’. So the beast says. Trading with money.

However, there has to be a pragmatism. Jesus even said as much with

I tell you, make friends for yourselves by your use of dishonest wealth, so that, when it fails, they will welcome you to eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9).

We live in a fallen (dirty?) world, and only at the extreme end does there come the call to ‘come of her’. So assuming we engage, there is an inevitability of our ‘feet’ becoming dirty and needing to be washed. Dirty feet seems to be unavoidable, but what must be avoided is having a dirty heart on these matters.

Here then are a few bullet point thoughts:

  • wealth cannot be defined by money. Wealth consists in who we are, wisdom, insight, humility.
  • the counterbalance to ‘buy and sell’ has to be ‘give and receive’. Gift is not blind charity but rooted in grace and mercy it will manifest generosity without any guarantee of return, but is given to make possible a person moving toward their destiny. Trade is based on the so-called ‘bottom line’; gift to release destiny.
  • If we can learn the ‘give and receive’ and seek to implement this maybe we can also ‘buy and sell’ without the numerical mark?

A few days ago I re-posted the material on Judas where I consider there is a strong element of Mammon running throughout that narrative. Jesus was not conquered at any level by Mammon, and the strategic victory takes place in the wilderness where he refuses the offer of ‘the kingdoms of this world’. Then on a daily basis the presence of Judas was where that battle continued. Never once did Jesus put money before Judas, always people took precedence over money. I suggest that en route to breaking the hegemony of religion the refusal to submit to Mammon was a necessary step. Money is neutral but the system locks money up under the spirit of Mammon, the result is the reward of some (but not their release) and an increasing captivity of a majority.

I consider that Jesus conquered the spirit of Mammon decisively. This gave him authority to break open the religious spirit that is so often twinned with Mammon. The Temple in Jerusalem, now had fallen to the extent of being a den of robbers. This did not mean that people could not meet God there, for God can show up in the most dark of places. Even Judas seems to unknowingly act out that severing of the tie between Mammon and religion by throwing the money back in the Temple! It is not his act that makes the break, that is done at the cross but his act is a powerful sign of what has been done at the cross. The lie of Empire continues (make Rome great and the world will be blessed) while the real flow is ever to the centre. Religion of all kinds, theist, polytheist or non-theist, can be seconded to the Imperial power to promote the well-being and continual existence of the Imperial powers. Indeed I suggest religion becomes more important to the Imperial powers at two phases: at a time when there is a push for even greater level of greatness or when there is the fear of losing control.

All three have something in common. They draw a line of who is in / who is acceptable. The language is different but the effect is the same.

Jesus, nor Paul in the ‘secular’ outworking of the Gospel allowed faith to become the support for the status quo, but considered that faith was there to challenge the world order as is. Surely that approach continues to be the call to those of faith?

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Judas to the rescue

I have been rescuing a few posts from years before, and thought that I had done enough when I remembered that I had blogged on Judas Iscariot, so went looking for those posts. I think they are worth rescuing. They were originally posted in March 2009, here they are in slightly modified form.

Why Judas?

WWJD – what would Jesus do? WDJDWD – not quite as catchy, and not likely to take off as a trend, yet I think an important question: why did Judas do what he did?

The conventional reading is of Judas as thoroughly evil, the betrayer from the beginning. And if one is of a Calvinist bent, one predestined to betray Jesus (and implications in that for choice / accountability?). There are always some tough Scriptures that clash against any and all viewpoints, but I suggest that there is another reading of the Judas narratives that fits better. I have long been provoked by the similarities between Peter and Judas. One denied Jesus – and not once but three times; the other betrayed him. One was heartbroken at his own failure – oh, yes, so was the other one and took his own life as a result. One lived to be restored – the other…

Is there really a great difference between the two?

Could it have been different? I think it could have been very different. It is that that gives me hope. Hope because there is a bit of Judas in us all – and dare I say it a little more than a bit. Perhaps also that same Judas ‘spirit’ has infiltrated so much of what we have done as church and our proclamation of the Gospel.

It was my good friend Johnny Barr who was the first one to speak about the connection of Judas’ weakness and the task Jesus gave him. The task: look after the money. The weakness: love of money, to the extent that he was called a thief!

A love of money and looking after the money bag. Great choice for a church treasurer!

Why the choice of treasurer?

What is taking place? I am sure there is a depth to this choice that we do not fully understand but there are at least three key elements:

  • Jesus is showing that he trusts his Father as his supply and that he was not relying even on ‘good stewardship’ for his provision.
  • Jesus is demonstrating that people are always valued higher than money. He is showing that people cannot be valued in monetary terms.
  • Jesus is discipling Judas. His discipleship is not through confronting his weakness, but enabling Judas to look at his weakness in the eye.

There is enough in those three points to bring about significant correction to my approach to life. Prophetic critiques of Israel were centred around two issues: you are not trusting God a) as your Provider nor b) as your Protector. Nothing has shifted at the level of prophetic critique that comes to God’s people.

The actions of Jesus are challenging for anyone professing to be a Christian and involved in earning money. The bottom line for a ‘kingdom’ business can never be that of money. Indeed maximising profits cannot be justified, not even justified by ‘we will have so much more to give’. The means cannot cleanse the final product. Perhaps a key element in business is a strategic plan where and how to lose money. Seems Jesus had that plan. Money is neutral, but the spirit that operates in that realm is not neutral and a radical response is what Jesus showed to that spirit. Of course he had first dealt with it in the wilderness when offered the ‘kingdoms of this world’.

If money is the bottom line, then people will fall by the way, they will become dispensable. If people are the focus money will find its place.

Jesus’ discipling I think reversed so much of what we do. We tend to confront weakness and cover sin. Jesus covered weakness and exposed sin through the person gaining self-perception.

Self-discovery

I have lived my life many times at a level of hiddenness. By that I don’t mean deep hidden sin, but at the level of not facing up to my reactions, such as fears, anxieties, anger or arrogance. Those reaciton that reveal what resides within. Discipleship, following Jesus, allowing him to shape us seems to begin with a healthy dose of self-discovery.

I suggest that there is never a breakthrough to a new level without self-discovery

So back to Judas and money.

Jesus deliberately gave him the money bag. I am sure that Jesus knew exactly about Judas’ weakness. In giving him the finances to look after he was provoking Judas to come to a place of self-discovery, and to go beyond that self-discovery to the place of honesty. He had the opportunity to come to Jesus privately, and say something along the lines of ‘I would rather not look after the money’ (but in Greek or Aramaic of course!). I am sure that Jesus would have been very happy to work with Judas in his weakness, making arrangements for Andrew (for example) to look after the money. Weaknesses, such as Judas had are not an issue to Jesus. They are simply an issue to us, and if not faced up to, that issue will have serious repercussions.

Here then is a root. The weakness is not the problem. Denying the weakness is the problem. Honesty is where it all begins. In the parable of the seed and the four soils, one Gospel writer describes the soil as good and honest soil.

I see the same principle in the thought behind the phrase in the Lord’s prayer: lead us not into temptation. Scripture says God does not tempt, but here we come close to the opposite of that belief. I read the phrase in the prayer as a cry for self-discovery and a level of honesty to what we discover. ‘I am weak, I am liable to go wrong, so I ask that you protect me so that my weaknesses are not exposed so that they are exploited. I humble myself…’

Honesty concerning our weaknesses and the clothing of humility is the path for the disciple. The path way of ‘never would that happen to me’ is not the way for the disciple to travel.

Judas and Peter might be similar in many ways. Maybe they essentially began on the same path but but at the level of honesty there was a divergence right there. We can have a weakness and seek to cover it, or we uncover it / let it be uncovered and find that there is a protection from heaven.

Judas carried with him an unresolved personal weakness. Maybe that weakness was a love of money, but the more serious issue was his inability to be honest about himsel. Self-justification becomes a major hurdle for him and for us.

A vision for the kingdom

Judas (and we, of course) know better. We have a kingdom vision.

Judas has an unresolved inner issue. That is serious but when this unresolved issue connects to a vision of the kingdom, then the problems multiply. Here then is the reading of Judas life that becomes so vital for us. Judas has a vision for the kingdom, for a different world, he connects to Jesus, believes in this Messiah. So far so good, but as time goes on can see things Jesus cannot see. He can clearly see the pathway of peace, of non-violent resistance will never bring in the kingdom, but rather it will crushed. Power, and the exercise of it is important. Getting to the place of influence is obviously the way to go. Judas can see that Jesus’ method and pathway is the pathway to captivity or even to martyrdom (and a futile martyrdom at that). It is not the pathway to confront the evil powers and put the world aright. So…

A plan is hatched. A plan that necessitates Jesus first receiving a gentle but rude awakening. Jesus will have to realise that to succeed he has to step it up a level and exercise his authority where and how it matters. After all, Judas believes in this Messiah. Judas, I suggest, believes he has a strong element of righteous care for the Messiah.

So he arranges for a group of captors to come and he knows how Jesus will respond. He has been with Jesus who has raised the dead, walked unharmed through hostile crowds. This will be the moment, and what a moment it will be. Right there in Jerusalem (God’s centre) with an exposure of God’s enemy (Rome). A climactic moment for the kingdom, for the moving forward of Jesus’ mission. Bring out the soldiers and Jesus will assert himself. Then truly the movement will move into the next phase, the kingdom will advance. Success, rather than failure, will result.

Jesus will take his place, visibly as the promised one. Of course the disciples will also have a place. Maybe even Judas will gain a key place for his catalytic role in bringing about the next phase. Israel will rally round, and on the movement will go from Jerusalem to Samaria, and on to the ends of the earth! Truly Judas to the rescue.

A likely scenario? I think what I present is a lot more plausible and makes more sense of the texts than the simple ‘Judas was evil and wanted to betray Jesus’ interpretation.

Yes, he betrayed Jesus. But maybe so much of what has been done in the name of Jesus, and done to help him, because we know better how the kingdom should come, has also betrayed him. Do we not hear again and again: Jesus, yes; but the church, no.

The kingdom comes, but how it comes is often a mystery. It comes in weakness. It comes when we feel we have been misunderstood, marginalised, and history records, even when we have been martyred. The first resurrection (John in Revelation), the better resurrection (Priscilla in Hebrews) was reserved in Jewish thought for the martyrs. [OK we are not quite sure if Priscilla wrote Hebrews, but then we don’t also know for sure if John, one of the 12, wrote Revelation either!!]

Judas is shocked. He cannot believe that Jesus is captured. Personal weakness and his vision of the kingdom, his ability to know what will help the cause, brings him to the point of despair. However this is not too unlike Peter, who cuts off the ear of the servant, and then goes on to deny Jesus, and to do it three times.

Another opportunity

Peter is given a fresh commission, in spite of his own mistakes and weakness. Three times he is asked if he loves Jesus, three times he is commissioned to look after the sheep. Judas is given no second chance, but had he stayed around? We’ll never know what might have been for him. He simply did not stay around long enough to be freshly commissioned.

His journey began with an unresolved personal weakness.It ended in suicide, but

Before he commits suicide he is delivered of his personal weakness. Money no longer holds him as he throws it back to the religious powers. The death of Jesus is a delivering death, and even Judas is an evidence of this.

He throws it back in the Temple. The place that stood, no longer as a house of prayer for the nations, but as a ‘den of robbers’, a place that stood as a sign of the compromising union of religion and money. What an uneasy truce was there. Religion offered support to the Imperial power, and the Imperial power gave them freedom. The money crashes back in there. A statement of Judas’ new inner freedom, and a prophetic sign that true faith will be freed from the domination of Mammon.

Inner freedom. Don’t be too quick to act Judas, you are free, free, free at last. You were not alone in betraying Jesus. I was there too. But…

He moves quickly, the regret and grief is too strong for him to handle, and takes his own life.

What would have happened if he had hung on another day or two? Maybe he could have been like the husband and wife on the way to Emmaus:

we thought he would restore the kingdom, and he has been crucified, and now it is the third day (my paraphrase).

What would a third day have done for Judas?

Judas never have lived to experience the third day, but he died experiencing the love of Jesus and the delivering power of Jesus. And yes… I do expect to see him in the age to come.

I am too like Judas – maybe this is why he is one of the 12. Maybe too much of Christianity has modelled itself on Judas. Hidden personal weaknesses, after all can we really be expected to be vulnerable? We accumulate knowledge that will help establish the kingdom; and if we do well, if we are those who believe for greatness then we can expect to gain a significant position as we help Jesus out.

But there is always a fresh opportunity.

Good-bye Judas… yet hoping one day I will say ‘Hello, and glad to meet you – I learnt a lot from you.’

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Move that money…

We can make too much of an event, and certainly we can claim too much, particularly if we are of the evang-elastic persuasion. (Count all the claims for salvation made in some places and the entire population has been ‘saved’ a number of times over!) But I think we can also miss the moments on the way when we do not note possible shifts.

I had not planned on writing about Mammon and about the stewarding of finances other than it has bugged me for a while, and after the previous two posts along came two emails to my inbox yesterday. I don’t write this to make great claims simply… come on let’s shift some money that is locked up by Mammon and see a few valleys raised up.

I am also positive about the emails as resources have come from city coffers to those with a kingdom vision – one of the key signs of a city moving to her destiny is that sign. Money always being a biblical sign of a shift. First disturbance, then re-balancing moving to a healthier distribution.

In June 2004 I was led to declare this to a community of believers:

“That incredible favour is on you in this city not just in answers to prayer but in buildings.” Then declared” You are going to see finance flow into you from this city, And I am declaring that whole projects, not part projects, will be paid for out of this city.”

The email was lengthy in content but the highlights in relation to that declaration:

  • Our former site valued at one million pound site was swopped for land valued at three million, plus 5.9 million pounds to rebuild and agreed to cover all our expenses (£1.5m)!! Only God could do this. It makes no sense by anybody else`s maths except the Father’s.
  • The new site has given us reach into one of the poorest areas of the city and into two adjacent schools as well as people of other faiths. We have hosted conferences particularly run by the NHS and The Police and we estimate that in the region of 15,000 people have been at a conference in 20 months!!
  • We are inundated with comments about the different attitude and atmosphere that people meet in the new building and have had many opportunities to share Christ.
  • Then in the past days the city has committed to put another 0.5 million to renovate the top floor of our building in order to accommodate more than 170 Roma Children for whom they have no other space!!

It is hard to work out the significance of all this in the BIG picture of stewarding of finances, but given that we have thought about what part can anyone play when Mammon has such a loud voice… at least let’s keep pushing… and laughing!

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Perspectives