A little Scripture helps the ‘medicine’ go down

I have been provoked by the quoting of Scripture in the mouth of ‘the adversary’ when confronting Jesus in the temptations. Three intertwined temptations related to mammon, religion and power. Interrelated because they impinge on one another, and are seldom ever totally separate. The Scriptures are a dangerous set of writings as can seemingly bend them for my own purposes. The three take place in three separate locations: the wilderness (the journey through with enough but not an over-abundance) hence a good place to throw the temptation of abundant provision; the high mountain to see whatever oikoumene (imperial domain) might be appealing to us to be the king of the castle over; and then the Temple (religious context) – the context in which the Scripture was quoted by the adversary.

In Revelation (the book that corrects our sight) the wilderness was the place where Babylon was manifest (Rev. 17:3) to John; unless we learn how to navigate the wilderness it is unlikely we will see Babylon manifest. Likewise it was at the top of the mountain that John saw the New Jerusalem come down (21:10) and we are going to be tormented by the seemingly eternal existence of Babylon unless we can refuse status, domination and hierarchy.

So to the temptation where Scripture is quoted:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
    and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”

This is the temptation in the temple. God is with you in a unique way. Always this is what seems to be the signs that surround those who can tell us the way to go. God is with them, thus proving they are beyond me. Or… God anoints the person who is embodying the great rejection of heaven (the king); the disciples (not the 11 but the 12) come back with ‘even the demons are subject in your name’. Says a lot about God; does not speak about the approval of deviant behaviour or position.

There are those who carry the presence of the Lord in unique ways – that is the nature of the anointing… but super-stardom is not the way of the kingdom.

One of the big concerns I have is when the three temptations come together in a way that ‘a three-fold cord is hard to break’… Economic promise, political power and religious uniqueness, then add to that the quoting of Scripture. Warning bells sound!

Power or… weakness

Simon Swift wrote me a few days ago with what follows that I have published as a post with his permission. We might react when we read ‘the weakness of God’, but we struggle (or should) when we read about ‘the power / all-powerfulness of God’. Simon wrote:

Over the last few weeks I have been drawn to the idea of the weakness of God as an alternative to the power of God. This is the idea that Jesus went to the cross in powerlessness.


In church we often sing of the power of God and there are lots of images of a small child with a large lion behind them in a kind of, ‘My Dad is bigger than yours’, way. I wonder if we miss something important when we fall into this type of thinking.

Recently I watched a news article in which a middle aged Palestinian woman on the west bank while attending a protest march was asked if they should continue an armed struggle. In her answer she stated that, ‘The rest of the world only knows power.’ This is the power of empire is about domination and control with the ultimate sanction of death for those that oppose it.

The best definition of love I have ever heard is: Making room in your own life for someone else to be themselves. This does carry a risk and makes you vulnerable; a weakness that can be exploited for sure but it is also the way of freedom, creativity and growth without the control that power tries to exert. It is I believe what Jesus practised. A good example is the woman who anointed his feet at the dinner party; talk about an awkward moment but Jesus loved her enough to let her do it and even defended her.

Jesus seems to have refused to side with power. At the forty day fasting he refused it; When arrested he refused to use the power he had (legion of angels); His sermon on the mount included teachings on what to do when someone had power over you (turn the other cheek etc.) All seems to show he chose, and invites us, to walk the narrow path of weakness. Ultimately the cross is the best expression of this; allowing death to take him but not hold him. Not so much he defeated death but went through death and came out the other side; now death cannot touch him.

I feel that we should not confuse power and weakness. In a lot of action films there is a cliche where the hero is fighting the bad guy. At some point the hero seems to be losing and the evil dude stops to monologue on how weak the hero is, usually because he has loved ones or friends he cares about and in his attempt to defend them he has made himself vulnerable. Of course as usual in Hollywood, the hero then finds some extra strength and goes on to defeat the bad guy so we can have a happy ending to the film. This seems to nicely show what weakness is about: love and caring for others.

The Church unfortunately has often opted for the easy option of power and has been corrupted by it. When it has done so it has joined in with empire, tragically losing its way off the narrow path. No wonder there has been so many reformation and revivals! As Christians is power all we know? Perhaps in these troubled times where we see power being used in devastating ways, we should stop calling ourselves Christians and instead become the People of Easter choosing not sides but becoming instruments of reconciliation. That though invites misunderstanding and persecution and we will have to decide if we are ready for that.


A Reflection That Asks a Question

An image so clean, so pure, we sing
Dressing him in clothes of white and gold
With strength to wield a sword
It hides the wounds we give him

Do you dream of being a courtier
To a king sat in grandeur
With jewelled crown and silver sceptre
An aura of majestic power

Look in the mirror, ask your reflection
Are you a thief who would be courtier
To a king lifted up naked and bruised
Who’s crown draws blood for you to drink from

Would you hear his invitation
To share in his glorious pose
Or mock in indignation at his critique
Of power and its grotesque exhibition

A king… one after God’s heart

I am reading in 1 Samuel at the mo and of course have been reading of the institution of the monarchy with 1 Sam. 8 being ever so central. There were good kings and bad ones, but it is not too difficult to draw a line that by the third generation of kings (Solomon) the people have not left Egypt but headed back that way. The Queen of Sheba might have been very impressed, but we don’t have to go too far behind the public face to see the cost. The hierarchy is impressive – if one is impressed with hierarchy. Not surprising that the king who comes up to take on the northern lands comes up from Egypt and sets up some golden calves! Three generations.

Saul starts well, but it is ever so hard to occupy any seat of power and to continue well. Into that context Samuel says,

The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, but now your kingdom will not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart; and the Lord has appointed him to be ruler over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you (1 Sam. 13:13,14).

God goes where we go. You are rejecting me, you want a king… I will anoint a king for you. (This of course has consequences, but in line with the series on the cross, God will take the consequences, Jesus dying as ‘the king of the Jews’!) Into these seats of power that God never instituted and that tend to corrupt, s/he looks for someone after her/his own heart. What does that look like?

It must look like a foot washing servant who is among us.

There are many seats of power in our world that will work to corrupt anyone who is appointed to sit in them (could it be that the seat ‘the Messiah’ was no different?). We can be realistic, for God is realistic. The seats are there. And always God looks for those who will occupy those seats but with God’s own heart.

I am not a Catholic, and so no surprise that I am not convinced that the papacy has anything to do with a ‘seat’ that Peter sat in! I am not suggesting Pope Francis is perfect, but when I read of his involvement with the first nations people in Canada recently I think maybe in that aspect we have God finding someone after his heart to sit in the seat that should never have been.

And I need to take to heart the seats offered to me… white, privileged male. The seat is there – how do I sit in it, or maybe do I get up from the seat (down from the seat?) and put a towel round my waist…


Pope Francis, the Catholic church and the First Nations peoples

I had an email at the end of last week letting me know that this had taken place in Canada. Might be a long time coming, but great to read.

I don’t know if you have been aware of this but First Nations peoples here in Canada, as a part of Truth and Reconciliation, and the journey of healing, have finally had a meeting with the Pope. We have been dealing here in Canada with a very violent and sad history of institutional abuse of children. Children were taken from their families and put into church run schools, often funded by the government. The government has apologised and paid out billions. The Protestant churches – Anglican and United – also apologised years ago. But the Catholic church held back. Would not apologise and has not paid what it agreed to pay.  It was even difficult to schedule a time for delegates to meet with the Pope, though some of that was Covid.

This week delegates from Inuit, Metis and First Nations had private meetings with the Pope. They invited him and the church to walk with them on the journey of healing noting that the Church needs healing. They spoke about land and told their stories of trauma. They explained they have a shared Creator, this to a Church that had declared them non-human back in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Today the Pope apologised. He spoke of coming to Canada to visit their land and homes. He spoke a lot of land and intergenerational trauma. He hugged delegates. He spent way more time with them than was scheduled. Delegates danced, sang and prayed in their languages which had been banned in these residential schools. They gave the Pope gifts – a book of their stories, a cradleboard that symbolized all the children lost, an Inuit worked cross made of baleen, and other things.  They have asked that the Pope renounce the Doctrine of Discovery that declared the lands as empty of humans and free for Catholic nations and the church to take over. It was put out in the 15th century and fueled how Europeans treated indigenous peoples.

A big moment for Canada and the world. It makes way for a larger shift.

‘Seven mountains’

I am enclosing a link to a recent post that a friend of Gayle and I put up. If the language of ‘Seven Mountains of Influence’ doesn’t mean anything it is still worth a read, for the language and theology is gaining much traction. I write about it in the preface of the book that is due out next week. I have wondered if it is just language and if the language can be used without the underlying theology of domination. I know people who use the language and are far greater servants that I am… but ultimately I am not convinced the language is redeemable. And Michele makes this clear – ‘words create worlds’.

Michele has her convictions as I have mine. Even if you do not share ours I do suggest a read of her post will be highly insightful. [I would certainly consider that the underlying theology has had a big part to play in the all-but unbelievable activities in the USA these past years… and writing as a European, I am very aware that we can think we have a window on the USA… it is not a window it is a mirror.]

Michele Perry was our first visitor to Cádiz. We had boxes still to unpack and she arrived in our first week there. She stayed for a week or so and we have stayed in touch since then. She is a remarkable and a courageous woman in the extreme. It took 5 flights to get to us, travelling with a suspected form of malaria. She was a pioneer missionary in a war torn land (including AK47’s pulled on her). I could multiply comments about who she is. I am certainly humbled to connect in a small way and observe her authenticity. (Her wider blog is worth following.)

Here is the link:

WHY THE 7 MOUNTAIN MANDATE IS TOXIC THEOLOGY

Power and politics

Corrupting Power

The well known adage by Lord Acton:

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.

In writing about the choice of king, the first one being Saul, there are some very interesting aspects about the move to kingship. First Saul was a humble chappie, hiding in the baggage. What if Saul had never been selected as king? Would he simply have been a friendly giant wandering the land? God then instructs Samuel to tell the people what the king will do, not what Saul will do, nor what a bad king will do! Is there the indication that once we give someone an exalted title and with it authority we really are setting them up (Lord Acton quote)?

Christendom…. Here is a great article I have just read:
https://www.redletterchristians.org/christians-dont-understand-how-horrible-christendom-was-as-is/

A quote from it:

Whenever the name of Jesus is invoked to vilify any group or nation, and whenever a pastor spiritualizes hate or weaponizes scripture to oppress others, and whenever biblical rhetoric is used to inflame nationalism and spread partisan fear, we must recognize these forms of spiritual manipulation for what they are: evil. Because throughout history, Christendom has been a favorite tool of dictators, authoritarians, and countless others who selfishly used it to harm others.

The dominant place afforded to institutional Christianity in Europe is over, resulting in either a hankering back with a cry of ‘we are being marginalised’, or a re-appraisal of what was done wrongly in the name of Jesus (without writing off the genuine missionary / humanitarian work). But now…

Is there a fresh offer coming to the fore in certain places not only to give Christians a place at the table, but to sit at the right hand of authority? If ‘Christendom has been a favorite tool of dictators, authoritarians, and countless others who selfishly used it to harm others’ is there a dangerous proposal that will simply empower dictators and autocrats to bring about oppression legitimised by the use of the name of Jesus (not to mention how lies can be first ignored, but left ignored for a length of time, falsehood will become ‘truth’).

With no offer on the table in Europe we are so privileged. No need even to hide in the baggage. Yes, probably some detox still needed as the hankering after power is so strong and insidious. Add to this the COVID-19 forced break, a call to re-positioning and I hear the word H-O-P-E. Ears and heart open I think is the right response.

Demonic power accessing the cross

So the answer was ‘yes’!

Of that I am convinced, just not quite sure how to get there. However, I think that if we use a symbol such as a flag there might be power in what it is calling us to, but if we use the (false) cross there is another added dimension.

The demonic realm love to invade human space as that is the connecting point of heaven and earth. Humanity, made in the image of God is very key to the demonic strategy. Once that space is invaded a process of dehumanising can take place, so that as that increases in scope the connection between heaven and earth decreases. This is why I see sin primarily not as ‘law-breaking’ and subsequent guilt but as falling from the glory of being human.

The demonic then want to invade and pervert every access point between heaven and earth, and it is the cross that in time makes that access point eternal. It is no surprise then that the cross is a focal point for such an invasion, not the cross that becomes the pathway to life, but the cross that oppresses all enemies, the cross as symbol through which we conquer by power.

In all situations to change the meaning of something is key in nullifying the original meaning. This happens all the time organisationally. When a new challenging message comes, the institution seeks first to understand the new language, then the nature of institutional power is that the language gets converted to mean something different to what was the initial intended meaning.

I consider something similar happens with the change of meaning in the cross. (Maybe we could also consider the shift in Israel from a call to the nations as servant, to being superior to the nations demonising them in the process, but in reality just opening themselves up to the demonic!) By changing the meaning probably what takes places is an emptying of the symbol of the cross of its transforming power. It is not then that by pulling on the symbol of the cross that God is pulled in to serve evil, but by perverting the symbol of the cross, there is space for the advance of evil at a frightening level. In the same way that the power of sin (singular) dehumanises, so the perversion of the cross de-crosses the true cross.

Redemption re-humanises. But to do so there has to be a repentance. Maybe we too can re-cross the cross, but through the path of repentance. Confessing the wrong allegiance to power might be a start.

I often follow the Catholic (and early church) practice of crossing myself, but normally only when passing our local church of San Lorenzo. It is a reminder that Jesus asked that I carry the cross. I am happy to do so outside the building dedicated to the one who on August 10, 258 was burnt at the stake in Rome by command of the emperor. He seemed to be committed to the implications of picking up the cross and following Jesus.

There are two crosses. The false one is here to pervert and thus seriously remove the reality of the true cross being the bridge between heaven and earth. Reduce but can never obliterate. If we can recover the true cross, be marked by it, the ugliness of oppressive power will be revealed, the tie between religion and politics will be broken, so that the followers of Jesus can help hold space where a politics (simply meaning the shaping of society) of love can grow. There is a new world we are called to see as a result of the cross of Jesus, and as embrace the cross a new world that is to become ever increasingly visible.

Brazil (and…) elections

Tomorrow we fly back to Europe. I have a few hours gap and with the Brazilian presidential election tomorrow night I have a few minutes to write and put up this video extract together with a comment regarding the church, this election and the wider issue in country after country. This election in Brazil is important, but it is important as a sign that the country has entered a very important season. The election is the sign… the challenge is for the body of Christ to participate in the season that is opening up.

I spoke into a conference in Brazil by Skype back in 2015 and spoke about a number of the things that have taken place since that date… That input was videoad and put on YouTube (not the video below). Crazily two of the presidential candidates in the earlier rounds used material directly from that input in their campaigns! Using it to manipulate votes… I understand they were Christian candidates or at least seeking to gain the Christian vote. The video below is from the recent few days. In it I seek to expose the major flaw in why the (normally) right wing strong law and order candidate is pulling the Christian vote. The serious nature of this is not whether they are the right / wrong or better candidate but the error that change comes top down… Much more to say on this, and this is not a comment about right / left politics – the extremes on both sides are experts at ‘biopower’, eating up lives in the process. There is though a major deception that is being exposed at this time, that of the understanding of power and the selling out of the church to the power paradigm. No surprise that with 22% evangelical the church of Brazil has still not shifted the presence of the occult. Thank God for the MANY and growing number of those who are clear on this.

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Positions of power

Following on a little from the previous set of posts I have a few tentative comments to make about holding a position of power as a believer. The Anabaptist background, when pushed to an extreme, repudiated all positions of secular power, and certainly the critique that comes from those quarters about the corruption that is inherent within many positions of power carries weight. The opposite viewpoint is the classic expression of Christendom. We need believers who can rule justly, and this is often expanded to mean along ‘biblical lines’. I, of course being a moderate, would wish to avoid all extremes!

History tends to show that the ‘good’ people once in power become corrupt. Gayle and I have followed closely the journey of a protest party that is the second largest political party in Spain by membership. We have asked if such a party can ever healthily become the governing party, or is the purpose of their being in existence to be a protest, an opposition? Being in power is not as easy as one thinks, there are powers that rule beyond the rulers (‘the great city that rules over the kings of the earth’). Of course in the light of the previous posts this would be a whole aspect that I believe we as believers are called to shift. There are powers that rule, and once we receive a mandate the outworking is almost always top-down and rather than decentralise power it seems to pull resources back to the centre.

However, governance is not wrong. A head teacher, the management in a hospital, and many more examples are needed. So I do not believe the extreme end of the Anabaptist type approach is feasible, while at the same time seeing the Christendom approach to be the very source for many of the global issues today. Here then are some tentative thoughts:

  • By nature most positions are fallen. We do not need to idealise them, nor demonise them. Any engagement has to be with the purpose of redemption. That redemption could lead to the very position disappearing, or being radically transformed, but either way the flow will be of resources and benefits to the marginalised.
  • To engage redemptively means there will be compromises. This is particularly true of any form of legislation. There is not a perfect legislation. Read OT laws!! They are not perfect but culturally moved Israel as a people in a better direction.
  • Probably women are better equipped to occupy any seat of power. We see this in Spain with the two mayoresses, one in Madrid and one in Barcelona. The shift away from the centre and top-down is remarkable. We also see in Spain a former expression of power held by women that was anything but de-centralisation. So it is not women per se, but a feminisation of power, a way of handling it that is probably needed.
  • There are wonderful examples of people sitting in a place of power but the direction set, by design or default, is of emptying the seat of its power. The current pope or archbishop of Canterbury seem to be there in that way. I have a good pastor friend who is so set on empowering those in the congregation he openly said to me that ‘of course this will not serve the growth of the church’. Well perhaps not by traditional ways of counting.
  • Alongside compromise there is probably also a rhythm that has to be adopted of taking initiative and then release. Of tentatively pulling on the power and generously releasing it.
  • If God releases to us and we have not grabbed it, a position that has power invested in it,
    we should not shy away from it, but receive it cautiously and work within it so that the maximum benefits can flow to the margins.
  • If such a position is not opened up, we also can learn how to help shape those seats to carry more potential for redemption through how we live and pray.

In contrast to Caesar’s (Domitian) throne with him seated at the centre and 24 advisors around him, John records in Revelation 4 that he saw:

At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.

And the one worthy to open the future was none other than the Lamb slain. A pattern in Revelation is of hearing something (I heard… ‘The Lion’) is clarified by what is seen (I saw… ‘A Lamb’). The challenge to our involvement is that of following Jesus. The western world is in crisis. Probably in part brought on by prayer. The opportunities are enormous. I do not see the pathway as down either of the two extremes I started with, but the messy and sacrificial path that the Lamb pioneered.

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Perspectives