Church of Elsewhere

Much of what I pick up on the soles of my feet is something to be washed off, but at times the dust, the residue of history and kingdom moments I pass through I want to accumulate, I want to bring this with me so that it colours where I go, who I meet and what I do. This is not something you can do with the stuff you need to wash off, it wont be appreciated.

Sometimes we feel a need to visit places, touch the land, meet the people in the hope that pollination takes place. That we become infected with what has infected them and in so doing become transformed, progressed, better enabled to be what we are meant to be, in the service of others.

I had a lovely friend called Zoe who signed up for a discipleship and missions programme where you could make suggestions of where you would want to be for a period of active mission. She wanted to join a dynamic bunch doing education in schools on England’s south coast, instead she woke up to see a cow outside her window in Wales. Amazingly, a place she would stay for more than a decade.

The Jesus followers there were a prayerful prophetically, sensitive bunch called Antioch in Llanelli. At times their prophetic insights were put into video format to be passed around the country like yeast. I liked their symbolism a lot, one of these was the sole of a boot saying ‘dreams with tread on for new terrain.

I think this notion resonated with people, rejected any idea that they had arrived. It suggested that the journey was ongoing and that we needed to prepare for new things.

Perhaps the boots with fresh tread indicated that it was going to be a long walk out, in and through the creation.

I felt I needed to connect with and touch what they were about. I loved it when we got to pray together, I also loved walking down the steps of a local river where hundreds would have queued during the historical revival, to be immersed in the makeshift baptismal. I wanted some of the history to be carried on my feet.

However it was one of the prophetic, poetic videos which would impact me the most and adhere itself to my journey.

The premise was that God had placed Jesus as head of his church, his body, which was the fullness of him in and through the creation. (“And God put all things under [Jesus’] feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

It was a visit to that verse which brought out the sense that the body was the mobile, integrated aspect of himself through all things, through the creation and through the life and work spheres. This imagery seemed to be the opposite of the church I knew and the one that dominates the landscape. What I saw all around me, I had for a long time referred to as the church of elsewhere.

Perhaps, I can qualify that statement a little more by saying I had experienced several group settings where I would ask those gathered what they considered to be the spheres of society and each time it would be the same, education, healthcare, business, family and church.

The problem for me here is that it was my firm belief that “church” was never to occupy a sphere of its own, but instead have fully embedded itself in all of the actual spheres of life and society. The challenge or should I say challenging question in the video was ‘what does it mean to be the fullness of him in and through education? (cue teachers voice), healthcare? (cue doctors voice), gypsy sites (cue roma) etc

To be honest, because of our occupation and strong orbit around church as a sphere, as church of elsewhere, this is actually a question that still, 2000 years on, we are unable to fully respond to.

I used to be involved in church networks and pastors networks, which I foolishly felt was a gathering of those charged with reaching and transforming our locality.

After the ritual of the male voice choir worship session at one of these, I was allowed to ask a question:

  • Do we believe that our missiology informs our ecclesiology…
  • That those we wish to reach and serve in ‘the mission’, shapes and informs how we ‘do church’?

Almost everyone nodded, in that ‘but of course’ kind of affirming manner.

I asked ‘Who of us has inherited an established ecclesiology which greatly limits or inhibits our missiology’ … cue less enthusiastic nodding.

It is problematic that we are operating out of something, which even to our own thinking I so foundationally conflicted.

The leader of the pastors network, a much respected man once gave me a sound-bite which I have quoted in a multiplicity of settings, ‘If we do what we always did – we get what we always got’ – which isn’t enough. His softly spoken Scottish accent still survives as a formative voice in my head. As someone who was working hard on the impossible task of bringing our institutions closer together, I am not sure he realizes what a critical role he played in my moving away from said restraints.

Once over a cup of tea and some shortbread, we had a philosophical conversation where I was saying that I don’t have any more energy to invest in changing a seemingly immovable object.

My heart had always been to see the church change, but I had seen little of this. Mostly, the church as a whole was pinning its hopes on the next acceptable book to read , which would help them see the changes the previous book had promised but failed to deliver.

I remember saying that I was guessing he had seen the church go through 40 years of incremental, manageable adjustments, instead of significant change to itself, so that it could finally become an agent of change in society.

I said that if this was the case, I’m not going to be sticking around. His answer I felt was deeply honest ‘ yes, I am afraid that I agree with you, the church is likely to opt for another 40 years of minor adjustments’.

Do we have an inherited system that is capable of the kind of change, which can sees its primary function as supporting the saints to come to fullness in all the spheres of society? Has it managed this so far?

When church occupies its own sphere, a physicality and a geography we visit, it can only truly focus energy on perpetuating its own existence, equipping a small percentage of the saints for works ‘in’ the service instead of serving the majority who are unsupported as they stand in and through the creation (perhaps still waiting for a call to the seemingly sacred roles of pastor, youth worker, community worker, house group leader).

The thing that excites me most about a different paradigm is that, if there is no separated off from life ‘church of elsewhere’, then there is no leadership and no ministry gifts of elsewhere.

Instead, we find those abilities helping people come to fullness in all the glorious diversity of where God has placed them to be lovers, servants and agents of change. Suddenly, I feel hope that we can actually find ourselves engaged in systemic change in the world around us, more than topically treating the suffering those broken systems create.

What makes me nervous, is it takes that misplaced sphere of church to take on a John the Baptist mantle and become willing to decrease so that, what is coming can increase. I don’t mean more manageable, incremental, minor adjustments.

It has to be significant mind-blowing paradigm exploding change.

Equipped to serve…

With all my great abilities (!!!), or with a mediocre level of ability, I have over many years been involved in helping teach on courses that seek to equip people. Most of that was aimed toward helping people be more effective in evangelism or in taking responsibility within the (local) church. I have always enjoyed that and think a few people have also benefited. Thankfully this has not just involved helping develop skills but also in highlighting life issues and attitudes as being vital.

In this current stream of posts, writing about ekklesia it seems to me that there has to be a shift to helping equip people to serve the ekklesia, the body of people called to enable the world to find her right alignment. This is not to negate the need for all of us to be better equipped to share our faith or to hone pastoral and other skills, but once we consider that the setting for our faith to be outworked is the world, any element of training will be differently focused. Probably one aspect that will develop in these coming years will be networks of training that are not simply focused as previously, but on the implications of the ekklesia in the world. This is certainly one aspect we see for Spain.

Training people for ekklesia! That opens a wide scope and is so challenging. Many of the practical skills will be honed in the traditional settings, and in – sorry for the language as it is desperately shorthand – secular settings. But surely a commitment to Jesus should mean there are specifically Christian aspects to be developed.

We sat yesterday in an hour’s political gathering that had a focus on the environment. Two contributions stood out. One speaker named those who are (or were) prominently involved in politics within Spain and who are directors of, or financed by, the energy sector (gas, oil, electricity etc). The extent of the list was mind-blowing. Into a debate on climate change one realised just how ‘bought’ are the policy makers. Even where such politicians are not involved so much of their financial support comes from those sectors. (An aside – the reason we perceive that no coalition could be formed here in Spain and we are headed back to the electorate is that the banks stated directly who they would accept. This was both undeliverable and blocked all obvious other coalitions.) The speaker went on to say that democracy’s voice has to temper the economic world, or if not then that (economic) world will temper the voice of democracy, indeed it will all-but silence that voice. The other speaker that made an impact on me said in all the push for change in this crisis area of climate that if we ever resort to violence and move away from love that the means will never achieve the desired end, indeed it will block the path to the desired outcome.

I was deeply moved with the insights. (Interestingly as we sat there, listening and praying, we both saw behind one of the speakers an angel with him. This person is soft in heart, has been grossly maligned and professes to be an atheist… challenging paradigms, but we have to discover afresh who God is standing behind.) Those insights were so right on… and the challenge is that anyone following Jesus should be able to give those perspectives. Challenging as it leaves one thinking maybe there is no need for the ekklesia, with the voice of Jesus being so clearly heard… Or the bigger challenge of how different would a follower of Jesus be in those settings? We might have to learn some new language but as carriers of heaven there has to be something unique. The need is there to help followers of Jesus understand that they do carry something different, something beyond street-level enhanced wisdom. Equipping carriers of heaven to be an effective part of ekklesia.

We have to move beyond some old discussions. There are crises on almost all sides, with thankfully the climate crisis getting some front page space. We might as believers have been known for being pro-life, sometimes known for campaigning outside clinics, but the climate issue? To be pro-life is to look to the future so we cannot ignore it. To ignore it and claim to be pro-life seems every so empty. We drove to Madrid a few days ago and to see in spite of the levels of rain a few weeks ago that in October the land is parched (hence photo of Spain’s crisis attached to this post). Water, water everywhere (climate change flooding)… but increasingly for more people, but not a drop to drink.

Gayle and I are full of (self-examining) questions at this time. We are no experts. Here are a few of our musings (OK our confusions):

Where does change come from?

We are opposed to the idea that as the top 3% influence society so we need Christian people to get to the top of the mountain. Yet we carry some written words for those in the public eye who we believe God has placed there. Are we also believing the top 3% are the ones to be addressed?

We try to approach this with, the person who gives a cup of cold water is key to change the world. Change takes place through the smallest of acts. Yet there are those with influence for change, but if they seek to impose change top-down and do not flow from love they will not have contributed redemptively to the future. It is not simply structural change that is needed but a heart shift.

The early ekklesia is a challenge. Not many important, wealthy, wise etc. And chosen not to become the wealthy and wise but to bring to nothing that which is. (Now where did I put that Bible that told me my faith was a private thing that I can keep locked up in the world of my own spirituality. Better find it quick as the one I have now is causing me a lot of trouble.)

Are we too embedded in the system?

How does one look to see a shift in the economics of this world? Can it be done by buying in to the safety net of what do we do when we retire? Does wisdom (dependence on pension schemes) mean we are simply filled with hot air? In the scheme of white middle class we are not well set up, and having made the choices we have made our joint incomes are now 1/4 of what they were before our move to continental Europe… But in the big world of 7+billion we are maybe totally guilty as charged. Following Jesus is not a hobby, nor are prayers for global shifts ever without personal implication, yet I suspect that many current disciples are contributing to a future of greater inequalities as they put away their monthly contribution and are going to leave their offspring some serious resources. I don’t know if that is wisdom or building on sand. What we do know is we cannot answer for others, that we live in a world that is not clean… but we have to make sure that our actions, plans, hopes and securities line up with our prayers.

Are we contributing members of the ekklesia?

Are we effective, the measurement of which is not to be made by who we are but what happens around us. Life for the NT believer was measured by the presence of the life of the Risen Lord who became a ‘life-giving Spirit’. Life by NT definitions is measured by what happens through us. Is Spain different because we live here? One can have a house but a home in a place is very different. A home is a place where God is present and when s/he is present there are some very clear evidences.

Have we been able to make space for others to rise? We have certainly seen too many aspects go in the wrong direction to pat ourselves on the back too much!

Being an effective part of the body of Christ will make a difference to the world we live in. We seek to do that as we did yesterday, sit and pray. It is unlikely that an atheist is going to shift the spiritual powers that need curtailing, so at least we can do that for someone like him, who is better trained than we are and talks hope for the future. Then there is that family who we gave keys to our apartment so they can use it when they wish. If we want keys to Spain surely the least we can do is give them keys to here? Or is this to be our private property… in a land with many crises in housing.

Are we effective in helping those who do follow Jesus align themselves to the call to be witnesses to the Easter event and heralds of the coming parousia? I spent many good years with a focus on helping people align to be effective members of the local expression, and to evangelise so that expression might grow. But the future has to be increasingly provoking people to be witnesses so that the presence of Jesus might increase within the world. For all of us we will need to respond to the challenge of enabling people align to ekklesia, that body of people who self-consciously have taken on responsibility for the future of the world.

I just hope our musings / confusions, along with a few faltering steps, as we have tried to self-consciously align to ekklesia is taking some responsibility for the future of the world.

An open heaven

Just give me an open heaven then everything will be resolved, no more battles, onward and upwards. Or not… Here is Mark’s account of Jesus baptism, the open heaven and what follows:

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him. (Mark 1:9-13).

The Spirit comes from the Father to the Son with the voice of divine approval. The result is life in the sweet place ever after? No, for we read that the days following were

  • in the wilderness
  • tempted by Satan
  • with the wild animals
  • angels attending to him

The first result was the wilderness. The dry place, the place where in Jewish mythology we might describe as the headquarters of evil. This is why I have never understood the (in my opinion) senseless prophecies that sow fear and disengagement: ‘Such and such a place is an evil place avoid at all costs’. The result is Christians avoid it and ever so surprisingly it gets even darker. It has nothing to do with the fulfilment of prophecy. By all means let us exercise wisdom, but let us ask the question as to what we have faith and grace for rather than listen to the voice of fear. To set one’s boundaries by fear does not place us in a safe environment, but when the boundaries are set by faith – even if they are the same boundaries as we would have set by fear – we are provided with protection.

If we wish an open heaven then either we need to look for it with the willingness and openness to moving from our comfort zone, or when we find ourselves in the wilderness we should understand it is not likely to be a sign we have missed it but we are right on target. Exodus 16:10 is both a challenge and an encouragement:

While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

Look toward the desert, there the glory was appearing. In the desert. How will the presence of God ever come without someone carrying that presence, seeing the desert differently (‘if anyone is in Christ…’)? There is no redemptive purpose in prophesying the evils of (e.g.) Europe. If there are prophetic words about the future they need to be shaped from a passion for ‘your kingdom to come, your will to be done on earth as in heaven’. The fruit of the doom and gloom kind of prophecy is evident – disengagement, back to the safe zone and, from there, continue to pray for an open heaven. About time for many of us to make a 180° turn.

The wilderness is where we get the context for the focus for the temptations and confrontation with the ‘prince’ of the wilderness. Just as Israel had succumbed to temptations over 40 years so Jesus lived the narrative out over 40 days. The impact of one person in days shifted the events of years by a corporate people. What is here today might be the result of yesterday, but today’s location can undo those effects and set up something new. We are not the people of today but the people of tomorrow, compelling us to prepare today for tomorrow as we pull the present from the captivity of the past.

An open heaven is not to lead us to a nice, successful life that can be written up in a book and read by the ever-so-eager people gagging for one more read. It is to set us up for confrontations, and some of that is not for our sake but to shift what is here now. (And I think ‘set us up’ might just be a good phrase to use.)

Mark, although he writes succinctly at many points when Matthew and Luke spin the stories out, has got a great eye to add details that are easily missed. Here is one such detail – ‘with the wild animals‘. Nature was being impacted from this open heaven and re-positioning into the wilderness. The sign of an eschatological time shift was visible: the wolf will lie with the lamb (future hope) was taking place in that present moment. The result of an open heaven is not witnessed to by my experience but by the shift external to me.

And of course we love the angels coming and ministering, but it is added last. The context of their ministry was at the end of the list that included the repositioning, being met by the ‘actor’ named Satan, and the visible shift in the external world. Angels really want to show up, but they like the liminal places, the edges, not the centres. They also respond to wherever there is true hospitality, and learning to give hospitality in the wilderness ensures that the hospitality given is genuine.

Bring on the open heaven… and what follows on from it.

A pre-Christmas post!!

This post will not have much to do with Christmas, just flagging up that I have made it well through December and hardly posted at all, but this will be in cyber space before Rudolph and his partners are in the air.

I am sure I could have posted these past days, but we have been ever so busy. Twelve days in the UK. Probably the longest stint there in these past 10 years, taking in Chester, Leicester, North London, Leatherhead (family) and Ashburnham Place. It was a really great time and I probably won’t be able to do it justice in this post.

The diversity of the body of Christ is always a joy to touch, and there is, I am sure, more to come of the diversity. In Chester I had some personal time with Andy and Sue Glover who have faithfully held in at many levels for the health of the city. I was also there (unplanned) for the last prayer breakfast before one of the key families relocated to France. An expansion of boundaries for sure.

In Leicester I was privileged to address in the morning and early afternoon church leaders, followed by an evening in a prophetically orientated Anglican church. And down in Ashburnham Gayle and I met with 20 others over 3 days to pray into the future European shape, partly in response to the ‘Brexit’.

The above is a brief ‘what’ and ‘where’. It would not be possible to recount blow by blow each place so I will rather summarise a few points below.

In the various times of coming to the UK over the past 10 years I was convinced this time that there is something ‘brewing’ in England. There is an increasing apostolic call and mantle. This will manifest in a diversities of ways. Encouragingly I was given very positive statistics of growth in London, mainly among Afro-Caribbean and Anglican churches. There is a new wave of activity there. There will also need to be a turning to society where there is an apostolic release also coming (more below). When in Chester Andy asked Sue (as I was coming silently down the stair case so that we could leave): ‘I wonder if he is ready?’ I jokingly said that was such a penetrating question! But I quickly sensed the Holy Spirit was saying that England is ready. (We will also feel unready, things not done that we should have done, and of course that is the case, but there is a real readiness in the nation.)

Before coming over I had a dream in which I went to a place where there were many good things happening including miracles. I was told of the clarity of voice and direction. However, when I looked out I saw that the people were all pretty much the same colour of skin and of ethnic background. I had to then say that God can speak through a donkey, or a white faced person, and that what was said was the word of God, but that the richness of his voice is as the sound of many waters and that until there was a reflection of the diversity of ethnicity there will never be the fullness of God’s voice. His fullness comes when the diversity means we cannot easily hear but are deeply impacted. (In Leicester I also prophesied that there was coming now an increased move of the Spirit among the Asian community.)

The second aspect was that of being called to ‘straighten the spine’ of England. I did not realise that in Leicester the discovery of King Richard’s body was confirmed by the fact that the skeleton’s spine was twisted. The spine must become straight but flexible. A strong but flexible spine will mean that the body can extend further than ever.

I will post another time to reflect a little more on our time in Ashburnham, but will simply note one element here that has been something strongly on my heart for some time. It is that God is not simply looking for forerunners for the church, but that there will be those who will open up space for true forerunners to rise up in all the areas of society. Gayle and I have come home with the increased provocation to pray for their protection. They are vulnerable. If we (believers) have some understanding of spiritual opposition we might be able to withstand some of the attacks, but for those who do not know Jesus we now sense we have a greater responsibility to stand for them. There is an apostolic (foundation laying) mantle coming for society. In the chaos of Brexit and the European scene this might not look likely, but of this I am convinced. Those with a wisdom who see a third way through the extremes, deeply practical but with vision. They are coming… and as many of them will not profess faith we can be the ones who raise a shield around them.

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Wisdom and optimism

The mayoress of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, at 74 years old is an amazing woman. She was the co-founder of the labour law office that saw a massacre in 1977 of 5 lawyers and assistants. The response to the massacre was one of the factors that enabled Spain transition peacefully from the era of the dictatorship to democracy. She came out of retirement to run for mayoress in Madrid and many social changes have taken place. On Monday this week she met with the mayors of London and Berlin. She says perhaps because she is older she is more optimistic than they are! Older, wiser and more cynical? No… Love it!! I also love the ‘govern from below’. Wisdom from the street. (Rough translation below.)

Hoy he estado debatiendo con los alcaldes de Berlín y Londres sobre los retos que afrontan nuestras ciudades, desde las consecuencias de Brexit hasta el ascenso del racismo y la extrema derecha. Quizá por tener más edad que ellos, yo soy optimista: he visto a España salir de una dictadura sin violencia y he visto cómo se ha arraigado el pacifismo, que es una idea relativamente reciente que va ganando espacio.

En las ciudades, no debemos olvidar que la única manera de conseguir mejoras es que haya solidaridad entre la ciudadanía (como estamos viendo por ejemplo con la contaminación y la movilidad sostenible). Y para ello, los políticos deben gobernar desde abajo y no desde arriba, relacionarse con los vecinos y vecinas en su vida cotidiana en lugar de colocarse en una situación de privilegio, y nunca convertir los problemas en un teatro.

Today I have been discussing with the mayors of Berlin and London about the challenges facing our cities, from the consequences of Brexit to the rise of racism and the extreme right. Perhaps because I am older than them, I am an optimist: I have seen Spain emerge from a dictatorship without violence and I have seen pacifism become established, which is a relatively recent idea that is gaining space.

In cities, we must not forget that the only way to achieve improvements is to have solidarity among citizens (as we are seeing for example with pollution and sustainable transport). And for this, politicians must govern from below and not from above, interact with neighbours in their every day lives instead of placing themselves in a privileged situation, and never turn problems into a theatre.

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A little more theology

Power is an interesting word. For sure there is a power dynamic witnessed by the disciples being instructed to stay in Jerusalem until they received power. Likewise authority. Jesus received all authority in heaven and in earth, and he gave authority over the works of the devil to the disciples. I consider that authority was never intended to be over others but was for others to enable them to find their destiny – hence the requirement is to submit ourselves rather than subjugate others.

In a world that has perverted the beautiful order of making space for others (using authority rightly) and retreating from space that was wrongly taken it is not surprising that we have many voices calling for their space. And all the while there is the inequality produced of occupying the space of others we should not be surprised that the cry from creation is mixed. In Scripture there is a redemptive principle where those with the power are addressed while the from-below-voice is heard. God hears the sound of oppressed Israel but addresses the Imperial power of Pharaoh with a command to repent, by releasing Israel from their captivity and giving them their space.

The redemptive principle exposes those with power as the ones who have to repent and lay down power. They have to retreat and allow space for the other. The history of the world is that there is a continual movement to take yet more power, to make ourselves even greater than before. The Christ example is to make the other greater. ‘Better I go away… you will do the works I do and greater.’

The Cross

Jesus came at the fullness of time, at the time when there was no hope in the world. It was the time in history when we have had an all-but one world government complete with a ruling antiChrist, something that the history books portray and the book of Revelation exposes in techicolour. (This is one of the reasons I do not see the Bible predicting a future antiChrist. The eschatological horizon of AD70 being the fulfilment of Jesus’ Olivet discourse and the fulfilment of the ‘man of lawlessness’ for Paul. There is a horizon beyond that of the end of all Imperial rule, which we work toward and will be fulfilled at his parousia.)

Jesus came when the demonic was at its greatest, when Israel had so lost her calling as a corporate priesthood for the nations that not even the Temple was a house of prayer for the nations, being identified as a ‘den of robbers’ by Jesus (robbery – to steal space?). At the time of no hope he came as human, specifically as a male human and as a Jew. Men, women, Jews and Gentiles – all have sinned – but the human who has taken space (male / patriarchy) and the people who did not open space for others to know God (the Jew) are specifically incarnated in Jesus. He dies to maleness for all humanity, and he dies to Jewishness for all peoples. Dying as a male he dies for all humanity, and he takes the curse of the Jewish law for the release of God’s glory to all people. Paul insists that Jesus, and those in him, are the new humanity hence

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-28).

The old distinctions have gone, there is a new world. This does have huge implications for an Israel theology, but we positioned this understanding for the male / female or more specifically for the voice of the feminine when we were in Brazil.

A few interesting Scriptures

Mary came to the tomb, to the Garden where there was a proclamation that he is alive. This is in contrast to the Garden of Eden and the Fall where death was proclaimed. She saw Jesus believing him to be the Gardener. Her sight was correct, the original commission was being restored in him. The ‘Last’ Adam was ready to work for the renewal of all creation. She might have doubted the validity of her belief but there is something very profound to be gained from her sight. If Jesus is not seen as the Gardener any view of his Lordship will be perverted. He is not coming to take space but to make space, to shape an environment for redeemed humanity. He does not come with the spirit of Caesar to enforce every knee to bow, but when he is revealed every knee will bow. There will be space for one and all, not simply privileged and precarious position for those who comply to the Imperial spirit.

The first revelation was to a woman. In response to that testimony Peter and John ran to the tomb but as Cleopas said:

Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus (Luke 24:24).

They – the men – did not see Jesus. Mary did see him. They will later see him but before that occurs Jesus reveals himself on the road to Emmaus to a couple (Cleopas / Clopas and his wife Mary – John 19:25). We read the story in Luke 24 and the obvious redemptive re-enactment of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden is present. The original couple had left the Garden despondent knowing that they had lost destiny for humanity. This couple left Jerusalem despondent believing that even the One they followed was not able to get things back on track. Adam and Eve left not knowing that God was walking with them. Their exclusion had implications for his journey with humanity. Just as God had come in the evening time so Jesus appeared to Cleopas and Mary at the evening time. He walks with them on their journey, and later promised to continue to do just that, and not just for them but promised to walk with all who believe in his name.

There is a movement from a woman to a couple. There is something taking place that is the restoration of the male / female relationship. Unless there is room given to the feminine sight we run the risk of perverting the sight of the Lordship of Christ. If we do not welcome the sight of the Gardener we will not understand the apostolic task ahead. For only after there is a healing brought through prioritising the feminine sight does Jesus appear to the apostolic band.

When the early disciples all joined together waiting for the Promise of the Father Luke records that the eleven were with the women.

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers (Acts 1:14).

Maybe it is just a simple record of who was present but maybe there is a deeper sense contained in that phrase (σὺν γυναιξὶν καὶ Μαριὰμ τῇ μητρὶ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ). Maybe the sense is that disciples were with (σὺν) the women, more that than the women were included with them. They were together, but there is perhaps an indication that they had to position themselves to the women. Equality and certainly space preserved for the feminine sight.

Restoration is not about reversals to the point where the imbalance is put to the other extreme but where there is equal space. Space for one and all, but to see restoration the voice and sight that has been absent has to be focused on. It is not simply added to the current voice and sight but corrects and adjusts that perspective.

These are the deep foundations, and we were very glad to have Gadir with us to dig down, to dig deep.

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Deep and deeper?

[No it is not an image of a wig, not even one underground… but of roots!! Roots that need to become visible… Now that is clear, read on.]

Gayle and I have just travelled door to door 21 hours, from our apartment to Valencia airport to Rome (yes wrong direction but cheapest flights), change of flights to Rio de Janeiro and to the home of Cesar and Nubia. Maybe disorientation, maybe clarity settled but a little revelation for our own situation and perhaps it will also connect to other situations. A background first.

It is amazing to tick off boxes of answered prayer when there is an evident shift. So on two aspects we were deeply encouraged as we have prayed into the ongoing legacy of Franco in the land of Spain. A while back a prominent politician was in trouble for having on her resumé (CV) a master’s degree. There were clearly anomalies with the award and eventually she had to resign when this was in the news and another issue came up that further compromised her. Gayle was adamant that if we could manage to push this one through there would be a knock on effect even to the resignation of the then President over corruption charges – mainly focused on his party. That seemed a little optimistic, or even a lot optimistic. Within a matter of weeks, when even up to the last hour it was not predicted, the President had to resign and there was a change of government. (Just to be clear, though I hope it is clear, no government is perfect, but what we are looking for are signs that what is hidden and should not be get exposed. That was why we were pushing in this way.)

The second aspect was the prayer – some 11 hour drive from our home – at the house where Franco was born and then on the following day the government passed that his body will be removed from the Valley of the Fallen. There are many reasons why it would be important spiritually for this to happen due to the geographic and historic nature of that area.

Two great shifts, that give one enough energy to jump like a big frog for at least a few minutes each day (figurative language there, not literal… though Gayle is able to jump quite well I have to admit. Not sure though she has quite got the frog action.)

Frogs aside, it is wonderful to get shifts, until…

  • The President is replaced but the rhetoric of the one replacing him is that the party needs to go back to its roots, turn the clock back before the last party leader and get back to the days of the transition – a whole area we have tried to get a handle on this year. A shift only for something more Franco-esque to come in.
  • Franco’s remains to be moved, but there is now a strong pull for this to be into Madrid (our focus) in a Cathedral by the royal palace and with full military honours!

Two shifts and then? Why bother when the shifts are so short lived, and it seems if anything the issues become larger afterwards. Ever been there? We have wrestled with this and although determined that we will not stop have been a little perplexed. So maybe just a flight or two later and a little clarity comes, but here it is for us at least:

We have seen something shift, shift does not mean completed but it will often mean that something then gets revealed at a deeper level. These two results are not set-backs, they simply push us to go a deeper level as there is a root being revealed. Or maybe we can put it that what was partially hidden becomes increasingly visible. So the frog-like jumping might take a back seat for a day or two but the sight that feeds perseverance now also has to fuel further sight as to what the deeper root is.

I am not prescribing the above as a recipe for success in every situation but I am sure it will resonate for some situations and if so take it as encouragement. I think also the clarity came in Brazil as it relates to the nation here. There have been wonderful moves forward. Around 20% of the nation would be charismatic/pentecostal evangelical with that increase coming over the past decades. Put that into a European context and we would be shouting ‘revival’ for sure. Yet the level of occult, societal disorder, corruption of power and all that goes along with those issues is ever so visible. Something deeper has to take place. Of course if one’s vision is simply of getting as many people born again as possible, although there is always more to be done, we would be saying ‘job well done’. I suspect that the next phase is that there will be apparent setbacks. We prayed this and this, we believed for transformation and this is the situation… The next phase – something deeper is being revealed. The deeper that is revealed in each place will depend on the context. Here power and the belief of a top down – get the right person in as the boss – will be revealed for the error and danger it is. Elsewhere it will be something different, but in each place it will be a further exposure of the roots that continue to pollute.

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Will we make a difference?

HEALTH WARNING attached!!

If what I write below is close to what is here and coming then taking heed could really unlock some health into our world and for the next generation. If we do not heed it…

I have been very exercised about some of the significant global crises that are on the horizon. For the past 3 weeks I have been seeing a very serious economic upheaval. Then a few days ago the global climate report was published with the ‘we have twelve years to address this’. It would be crazy to dismiss this report, as crazy as if I had a group of credited medics in front of me all pushing for the same diagnosis but I argued for something different, someone with no medical expertise. The only, and invalid, reason for dismissing this UN climate report would be because of the economic ramifications to the world we have created.

We have entered a window of time when the façades are opening again, so I wish to repeat a dream I had at the beginning of the decade and in the same season as another dream that seemed to indicate that it was relevant for this decade. For those who have read this before feel free to jump ahead.

I was in a town square and simply standing at one side of it.. I was observing the buildings on the other side and knew that they represented every institution that had shaped the public space as we have it today: education, health, government, business, trade, church, etc. were all present. With no prior warning and all at the same time the fronts of the buildings came froward and then up as if they were on a hinge. Anyone could look inside the buildings. My first thought was I need to warn those on the other side of the square as buildings acting like that will soon become very unstable and fall over, so I considered anyone close was in real danger. I got ready to shout my warning but soon realised that the buildings were not going to fall over. I then held my warning as I tried to work out what was going on. I felt a sense of danger but knew it was deeper than ‘get away from the buildings’. While I am contemplating what the danger was someone began quietly to sing a well-known worship song that focused on the Lordship of Jesus. There were obviously enough people in the public square with Christian faith that a second person added their voice, then a third and so on. The volume of the singing rose some, and then when it reached a certain level, all the buildings simply closed up again. I was very disturbed by what had happened and did not know what I should shout out. While pondering this, trying to get a handle on the appropriate warning I heard an audible voice that came from just behind me (I never looked left nor right but simply focused on the buildings that were across the square.) The audible voice said:

It is the familiar that restores the status quo, that brings everything back to where it was.

Now I knew the warning I needed to get across. The warning was concerning pulling on the familiar, and the shock in the dream of course was that the familiar that caused the façades to close up was the response of singing by those of faith – but familiar is familiar however we define it.

Knowing what the warning now was I cleared my throat, took a deep breath and then shouted out: ‘It is the familiar…’ I got those four words out and a person from my right side stood right in my face, eye-balling me, to intimidate me. I was determined that I would not be put off, so stepped to my left, cleared my throoat, and then once more got the first four words out and the person repeated their intimidating action. This happenned one more time, so three times this person prevented me shouting out the whole warning. I stepped aside once more and again shouted the first four words. This time the person finished my sentence (‘It is the familiar…’) with the words

that brings things back to normal.

Similar but such a false representation.

Given that I consider Scripture calls the body of Christ to act priestly what takes place in the public square is our responsibility. There might be a battle, it might take time for a change to come, we might well also have ‘failures’ as we engage, but the point is we have to step up to our responsibility. We cannot control what happens there, but through our positioning in the world and our petitioning to heaven we can shift the spiritual atmosphere and create boundaries so that there is an opportunity for the growth of righteousness. In the light of that it is not surprising that in the dream it was the response of believers that short-circuited what was happening in the public square. There is evidently a time to sing, and there is a time not to. I say this as I am convinced that the façades are opening up again. We have to learn what the right response is in this season.

An aside on some current reflections – with the acknowledgement they might not be the most relevant and tomorrow they might not even be relevant. Many Western nations are not willing to engage in any level of sanctions against one of the main human rights violators (Saudi Arabia) because they purchase arms from us – this is certainly true of Spain, the UK and the USA. Economics triumphs over ethics. Mammon or God, Jesus said, and although we would be naive to expect some kind of ‘Christian’ standard in a nation we do have the right to expect a level of right action, and nation after nation are putting economics before any humanitarian perspective. In a few days we are in Brazil and will be there for the final vote for the presidency. A figure who seems to have huge support from many Christians is of course pushing a strong agenda that might increase their economy but at what cost to the environment and to the marginalised? No candidate is perfect but to get behind someone because they are pro-a-number-of-moral-issues and pro boosting the economy as if they are God’s candidate is extremely naive. Maybe we can suggest at times a particular approach better accords with our beliefs but it really is time to drop the idea of a God appointed candidate or a Christian nation.

The façades are opening. It is not simply that we will be able to see the bizarre nature of the Western economic system that only operates if there is debt (debt will always result somewhere in slavery and at some measure an inevitable eating tomorrow’s bread today) or the paucity of public political debate but we will be able to see some very deep roots… unless we close our eyes to what is being revealed. The familiar can close the façades down, although I wonder if we (believers) will even be able to do that this time round. And beyond the familiar there are factors that hamper our sight. Those will be found in our commitment to a shallow Gospel that does not challenge nationalism, patriotism, patriarchy and the deep inequalities in society. If we do not heed at this time that the Gospel is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, nor male and female we will find our eyes will not even see what is before us and we will simply look for ‘normal’ to be restored.

What is being exposed in the days that lie ahead (and I am sure much more can be added to this) are:

  • greed and consumerism
  • misogyny
  • protectionism that demonises the ‘other’

The inevitable result will not just be trade wars, but war. It will not simply be a major shift to extreme right wing policies (as we see rise in Europe) but the establishing of a neo-nazi totalitarianism that will eventually be seen not be favourable to faith, including that of the Christian faith.

I suggest we have the next two years, when either a level playing field will be established or we will leave the next generation a Herculean task to bring things forward to something that resembles a God shape for society.

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In or out?

Not sure if I need to reconfigure the words of the rhyme to make them mine or not, but they certainly have the potential to be a song that could inspire and define a generation. Stay with it I have not lost the plot completely…

We could apply it to the Brexit: in / out? But at least we have to shake IT all about. No change takes place without shaking and the in / out debate can miss the point if we are not committed to shake things. Only shaking releases what cannot be shaken, and that is described in kingdom terms in Hebrews. (An aside: Why is it called HEbrews if it was written by a woman?)

I am not writing though about the ‘B’ word but about our continual pursuit of social transformation. Change I have suggested is from the bottom up and a truly apostolic vision has to be marked by patience, knowing that the task is to sow the seeds and that it might take a generation, or even some centuries to grow, but the patience means that the process is not abandoned. True patience is not passivity but gives energy to persevere. In suggesting change is bottom up, beginning in the desert, this is not to say that a disciple of Jesus cannot be at the ‘top’ and occupy a position of power. What is done with the power is of course the key, but if the body of Christ continues to hope for appointments to the ‘top’ so that we can dictate behaviour it seems to me that we are aligning ourselves with a process that is alien to how the Gospel brings about change. A change culture is where the body of Christ changes the spiritual atmosphere so that space is created for people to grow up to fulfil potential (regardless of faith response), and with a change of atmosphere an openness to the salvatory elements of the Gospel message also.

In this post I want to open up the question of how do we engage the powers – is it from within or without? If we take a ‘powers are appointed by God’ approach we will be tending to look to reforming those powers, whereas if we emphasise the otherness of the kingdom of God we are more likely to look to stand outside the structures viewing powers as more or less necessary evils, but still essentially evil. As for the powers being instituted by God (Rom. 13) – a great text for those who believe Christians should not be out there causing havoc by protesting what their beloved leader is up to – we can see how Paul is relativising the authority of human leaders and not normalising their behaviour. It aligns with Jesus words to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. A relative response to Caesar, working out what he is ‘owed’ and an absolute response to God to whom we owe everything. What do we owe the powers? Submission or confrontation?

Engage or disengage? I think both can be prophetic, both are called for, both are powerful and both are subject to deception. There are OT prophets whose context was deeply inside the structures and there were those who were speaking and acting from the outside. To the extent that they both aligned their perspective to God’s they were being prophetic.

The two descriptions of ‘salt’ and ‘light’ also point in these two directions. The salt is immersed in and has a role to inhibit the growth of the negative and promote the growth of the positive; light illuminates and shines forth as an alternative so by implication is somewhat separate to what needs exposing. I consider then that it is not an either / or approach, and that some will be led in one direction and others in another direction.

An immersion in the structures requires a wisdom as to how to work with compromise. Structures are not perfect, even the best ones are imperfect and all structures have a default to demonisation (the biblical material on the city is key to understand this… and it is important to understand this not simply in relation to ‘secular’ structures). Some aspects of our western world (in particular parts of the economy) have been uncritically baptised by the Christian world, and we should be more suspicious of how we engage with such areas. If something can be redeemed then we have a reason for involvement. Redemption requires a connection, a connection will necessitate a compromise, but that compromise has to be redemptive to pull it toward a more wholesome position. I consider the test has to be how an area of society humanises (or not). To dehumanise is to act demonically.

How we approach this is so challenging. One organisation might be happy to draw funds from sectors of the financial world that facilitates the ever-increasing divide in our world and then use such funds for good – others might view the very source as untenable. This goes far beyond the rights or wrongs of drawing on, for example, lottery funds.

Different levels of faith probably are one aspect in how we respond, though sometimes I think an uncritical approach has silenced the questions that have to be asked if we are to discover what is truly a faith response. What is sure is for anyone dealing with change from the inside they will require two aspects of cleansing – a continual washing of the heart otherwise they will be soon in trouble, and the washing of their feet regardless of how clean the heart is. Our feet will always get dirty when seeking to walk through this world’s dust. That is not a problem as Jesus made clear to Peter. We cannot always make the right response, but we can seek to make the redemptive response.

Given that so much of our world has evolved on an economic myth (this does not mean that it is all therefore bad) there are those who will definitely be much more comfortable in stepping outside what is considered the norm. I have long advocated that for the sake of believers today and in the light of what is coming we have to find new (and really they are old) views of work. It has to be unhooked from monetary reward. Paul never said ‘if you do not earn you should not eat’, but it is hard to find anywhere that is able to define work other than in a monetary way. There is a very real place for the stepping to the (out-)side of society, of not conforming to the status quo. Maybe long live the hippie in all of us. The danger is of course of defending the non-taking of responsibility as being prophetic!

Dangers, dangers and more dangers. But if we are focused on change the direction our feet might take us could just surprise us.

Some opt to be in, some choose out… some will be in today and out tomorrow and vice versa. Whatever our response, let’s not forget to shake IT all about, or at least participate in the shaking that God is doing right now. The façades are opening again.

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Pentecost: let’s speak

‘They all spoke’ and if there is a creational pattern we can also look at what God spoke into in Genesis as there is a pattern there. Creation has two issues, namely it is without form and it is empty. For three days God deals with the issue of the formlessness, he puts in boundaries so that there is shape, then for three days he fills the shapes he has prepared. Given the creational background to Pentecost this pattern is something we would be advised to follow.

The first aspect then is to create a shape in a hostile environment. When we do this we should not be expecting great success! The powers (institutional and heavenly) are hostile to the plan of God. The heavenly powers hostile by nature and the institutional ones hostile by default as they are hijacked by spiritual powers. If we enter those spaces assuming all we need to do is fill them we should not be surprised if at times we are overcome. Simply sticking the name ‘Christian’ or ‘kingdom’ to it will not make the difference. I have heard too many times (and also from Christians) ‘that’s the way it works’ when referring, for example, to business practices where an unfair offer is placed on the table and that is used to manipulate a deal. Really? A kingdom approach? I appreciate that we work from where we are to something more redemptive and there is compromise in the kingdom as we engage the powers, but there is redemptive compromise and there is being sold out to unethical and dehumanising practices.

What kind of shapes should we be pressing for in politics, medicine, health, education, farming / animal walfare etc.? In the current political realm it seems we have moved beyond simple lying, through denial to the predominant culture of denialism (Denialism what drives people to reject the truth.) The battle to enter that arena as a redemptive politician is enormous. Coming at things from a bias of prayer is there a pushing back in the spirit so that the spirit of denial does not take root? If we, the body of Christ, are responsible for the world we live in what world are we complicit in allowing to take place? The examples can be expanded to cover all the bases of our society.

If we embrace the implications of pentecost I will continue to speak in tongues, exercise the gifts of the Spirit, but will also need to push for something beyond that – or at least some within the body of Christ will need to do so. Into a business / financial culture of profit is the bottom line (and one that is normally aligned to the idolatry of the ‘invisible hand of the market’) what definition do we need to bring as those who embrace a pentecostal paradigm? The bottom line for us believers has to be some level of effort to provide a shape where the majority possible can be helped to see and step toward their destiny. How about a bottom line financially being a response to the question of how many people that we are able to benefit from our services… for free!! Maybe I am pushing it here, but that was an OT stipulation.

If Pentecost is about an imperfect people being empowered by heaven’s perfection so that there can be a transformative agent in the earth, we have a lot of ‘speaking’, of drawing lines in the midst of chaos and mixture. Only once God had drawn the shapes did he begin to fill them. And there is so much need for a filling of the shapes in society. This I understand to be the body of Christ’s responsibility, not a responsibility to fill the shapes but to ensure they are filled.

I am glad that at one level we fail, that is if we set perfection as the level. If however God is not expecting perfection but redemptive signs we have a lot to pull for with optimistic hope.

(Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash).

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