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Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

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Why We Should Not Portray Jesus’ Birth as Something Cute and Cosy

by Greg Boyd, originally published on his blog and in the Minnesota Christian Chronicle, Volume #28 No.21, December 3, 2006.

Greg Boyd

Few things capture the spirit of Christmas better than a traditional nativity scene for many people. The star shines down on the serene baby Jesus, sleeping in a nice little manger with golden straw spilling out from the edges. He’s surrounded by Mary, Joseph, three wise men and several shepherds. They are all radiantly peaceful as they gaze in wonder at the newborn Christ child. Even the animals lying in their nice clean hay seem almost Spirit-filled as they look serenely upon the infant Savior. As the song goes, even when the cattle start lowing and the poor baby wakes, the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes. It’s a cute, quaint scene, capturing the spirit of a cute, quaint holiday.

Now, I don’t mean to be a scrooge, and I’m not suggesting there’s anything heretical about this cute, quaint scene. I’m all for tradition – our family sets up a nativity every year. On the other hand, I think it’s important to realize that this scene is not completely accurate.

Try to imagine for a moment how things most likely unfolded the night Jesus was born. Mary and Joseph were probably teenagers when they traveled to Bethlehem, for in first century Jewish culture girls were usually engaged around the age of 12 or 13 and boys around 16 or 17. The two were undoubtedly exhausted from their long journey when they arrived at the inn, but all the rooms were taken. The two decided to bed down with the animals in the inn’s stable, which must have been an act of utter desperation (was Mary beginning to have contractions?). They really had no choice, since the possibility of Mary giving birth in public was (especially in first century Jewish culture) completely unthinkable.

Plus, an early church tradition tells us that the stable was a cave, a suggestion many scholars find plausible. So the young, unwed mother and her fiancé make their way to this cave, which was probably animal-packed if the inn was full. We should probably imagine these two exhausted and desperate teenagers squeezing past livestock, stepping over animal droppings, making their way to a corner of an unventilated, smelly, dimly lit cave so Mary can have her baby with some degree of privacy.

Suddenly the manger scene is beginning to look a bit less cute and quaint.

Nativity scene in an Iraqi refugee camp

Now try to imagine what the actual process of giving birth might have been like. Even with the best preparation and medical assistance, the birthing process is painful, “messy” and, at times, terrifying. Yet, Mary and Joseph would have had little preparation, and likely no medical assistance. They were alone.

When the child was born, they placed him in a manger – which in this context can only refer to a trough the animals ate or drank from. This certainly couldn’t have been their first choice! It’s hard to imagine anyone remaining calm and serene given these circumstances.

If even half of these assumptions are accurate, they suggest a nativity scene that was much less cute and quaint than what we traditionally picture. We should imagine two desperate, exhausted teenagers passed out on bloody, manure-filled hay in a crowded, smelly, dark cave while their baby sleeps – and sometimes wails – in a slimy feeding trough. The original audiences of the Gospels would probably have imagined something like this, and it would have shocked them. I believe this is a central point of the story.

Our God uses his almighty power to dive into the worst this world has to offer. He dives into the shame of an unwed Jewish mother. He dives into the rejection of an already-full inn and the darkness, odor and inconvenience of an overcrowded stable. He dives into the desperation and fear of a young, ostracized couple. He dives into our humanity; and not humanity at our best, but humanity at our worst. He’s not a God who gravitates toward the cute and the quaint, but a God who immerses himself in our mess, our manure, our pain, our fear, our sin and our shame.

He is a God who takes on himself everything that is shockingly ugly and redeems it all – and by doing so, he reveals himself to be a God who’s shockingly loving and beautiful.

This Christmas if you set up a nativity scene, don’t worry too much about what it looks like. There’s a place for tradition, and I doubt many stores sell “realistic” manure-filled caves to put on your end table! But remember that our God isn’t cute and quaint. He is a God who’s beautiful because he takes on our shocking ugliness and lovingly transforms us.

And I’ll take that Christmas story over cute and quaint any day.

Kenneth Copeland Wants Money to Buy a Fourth Private Jet – Or Else Jesus Doesn’t Return

Originally posted on PCPJ.

The prosperity preaching televangelist and multimillionaire Kenneth Copeland has stirred a lot of controversy lately. He tried to blow away the coronavirus, was one of the first pastors to deny that Joe Biden won the election (in an extremely bizarre way) and now he is begging people who are millions of dollars poorer than him for a new private jet.

Now, if you’re familiar with Copeland you know that he already has a private jet. In fact, he has three. He stores them at an airport called Kenneth Copeland Airport, right next to his million-dollar mansion in Texas.

The motivation he recently gave at the extremist Christian show Flashpoint is that he can’t fly commercial because he refuses to get vaccinated for Covid and many airlines require vaccination these days. “That’s the mark of the Beast”, he said.

This is clearly not the real reason Kenny is begging for your money, as there are several airlines in the US that does not require vaccination (even though it definitely can be argued that they should), and we know that Copeland argued against flying commercial long before the pandemic in order to motivate his love for private jets. Then, the reason was that that commercial planes are “tubes full of demons“.

The real reason Copeland is acting like this is, I think, that his self-worth is in those jets, they communicate success to himself and to a huge part of his audience. Practically, he doesn’t need four private planes any more than you and me, but on an existential and spiritual level he they are like oxygen to him. He is terrified of the thought of not being able to buy luxuries and status objects with other people’s money, since he himself has been preaching for decades that such a lifestyle is the ultimate evidence that God is with you.

It is just as the apostle Paul expressed it thousands of years ago:

“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. But you, man of God, flee from all this!” – 1 Timothy 6: 9-11

Kenneth Copeland is stuck in this trap of wealth, and it is consuming him. Like most other preachers, he has likely lost a lot of income during the pandemic—he warned his audience early on that even if they lose their jobs, they should continue tithing.

I’m guessing most of them didn’t.

And as Kenny has become one of the primary laughing stocks on the internet due to his bizarre statements and performances, he has a hard time attracting a younger audience. His empire is crumbling, and it destroys his self-worth.

That is why his friend Jesse Duplantis lied about how gifts to Copeland’s will “speed up” Jesus’ return. In their world, that’s true. Now, I’m not defending this craziness. It is unbiblical, catastrophic spiritual abuse. But my point is that these men are broken, afraid and have plunged themselves into ruin and destruction, and they’re so addicted to their wealth that they think that only more wealth can solve their problem.

We need to pray for them, for healing and repentence. But whatever you do, don’t give these millionaires more money. That’s just like handing a bag of cocaine over to a drug addict.

Why Churches Should Abandon Stage Lights and Fog Machines

stage

Are there any reasons to believe that colourful stage lights and fog machines are anything else than the toys of Christian stage technicians and a compensation for lack of Biblical revival? No. The global trend of churches investing billions of dollars in superfluous show equipment has increased dramatically over just the last few decades, but not many have asked themselves why we do it and what happens to church when we do it.

Of course, if someone dares to question this unbiblical practice that person is easily dismissed as someone who doesn’t understand young people or who isn’t into culturally relevant evangelism. So hi, I’m a young evangelist, and I hate stage lights. And fog machines, those horrible, stupid fog machines! How painfully obvious isn’t it that modern, Western churches lack God when they literally try to fabricate something which the Scriptures describes as a manifestation of the Lord’s presence?

As I’ve explained in my God vs Wealth series, Jesus doesn’t want us to be rich but live as simply as possible so that we can give as much to the poor as possible. This applies not just to individual disciples but to churches as well. There are hundreds of millions of Christians around the world living in poverty. If we truly think that they are our brothers and sisters, we can’t ignore their suffering by spending loads of money on superfluities.

As John puts it: “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (1 Jn 3:17) (more…)

God vs Wealth, part 7: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar

Image from theepottershand.com

Image from theepottershand.com

In the previous parts of my God vs Wealth series, I’ve explained why I’m convinced that Christians neither should be rich nor spend money on unnecessary stuff like luxury, beauty products and entertainment. There’s a common counter argument against this though: the woman with the alabaster jar.

In Matthew 26, Mark 14 and John 12, we read about this woman who poured out really expensive perfume from her alabaster jar on Jesus’ body. The disciples get upset and tell her that that perfume could have been sold for a lot of money, which could have been given to the poor.

However, Jesus’ defends the woman and calls her act “beautiful”. Countless (rich) Christians have told me that this is the proof that there are times when we don’t have to give our money to the poor but spend them on luxury instead. If it was okay for Jesus, and He was sinless, why would it be a problem if we from time to time enjoyed some extravagance and glamour?

My answer to that is that this text cannot be applied to any situation today whatsoever. I’ll show you what I mean. Firstly, we have to realize that the disciples are doing something very logical if we think about the teaching Jesus already has given them. He commanded them in Lk 12:33 to sell everything they have and give the money to the poor – of course they get upset when a woman refuses to do the same with an extremely expensive perfume (it says that it was worth 300 denarii – a year’s wage for the avarage worker).

(more…)