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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.

God vs. Billionaires

Originally posted at PCPJ.

Ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Oxfam has released a devastating report that unveils the extreme economic inequality of our world today. The report shows, among other things:

  • The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa.
  • Women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day —a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry.
  • Getting the richest one percent to pay just 0.5 percent extra tax on their wealth over the next 10 years would equal the investment needed to create 117 million jobs in sectors such as elderly and childcare, education and health.

Oxfam India CEO Amitabh Behar commented on the report by saying:

“Women and girls are among those who benefit least from today’s economic system. They spend billions of hours cooking, cleaning and caring for children and the elderly. Unpaid care work is the ‘hidden engine’ that keeps the wheels of our economies, businesses and societies moving. It is driven by women who often have little time to get an education, earn a decent living or have a say in how our societies are run, and who are therefore trapped at the bottom of the economy.

“Our broken economies are lining the pockets of billionaires and big business at the expense of ordinary men and women. No wonder people are starting to question whether billionaires should even exist”.

(more…)

Pentecostalism May Have Done More for Africa Than All Aid Organizations Combined

adult africa backlit color

Originally published at the Christian Post.

The vast majority of Pentecostals and Charismatics around the world deeply care about social work and poverty alleviation. Research even indicates that Pentecostalism is the largest movement for social justice that has ever existed.

Pentecostal studies are booming. While it used to be the case that Spirit-filled Christians stayed out of academia and scholars viewed the movement as a bit too much “out there”, this is not the case today.

Pentecostal scholars like Amos Yong and Craig Keener are leading experts in their respective fields and there is a massive academic interest in why Pentecostalism has grown so fast and how it impacts society. The social sciences are no longer ignoring how 600 million Spirit-filled believers shape the world. (more…)

What About the Good Rich People in the Bible?

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Guest post by Stephen Waldron. Originally published on his blog at Theology Corner.

In some parts of the Bible, rich people are portrayed as the worst kind of criminals. They grind vulnerable people into dust, and they are the enemies of all that is good and holy. But wait…

Surely you’ve heard there are also good rich people in the Bible. So the problem of wealth must relate to some sort of internal sin, a “problem of the heart.”

It is true that one thing that Jesus points out is that people’s hearts are often in the wrong place. They are. But the point Jesus was making by linking hatred to murder and greed to wealth wasn’t “The tangible expression of wickedness isn’t all that bad after all.”

Rather, his point was that the moral sickness runs much deeper than his listeners might have suspected. The wealthy are not off the hook just yet. Their greed only compounds an already unjust situation. (more…)

“Acts 2 is the Solution”

Originally published at christiancommunity.org.uk.

Erika Akimana from Kigali, Rwanda, has been living in the New Humanity Mission Community since 1997, founded just a few years after the genocide. I interviewed her on what made her make such a commitment, and what a central African Christian community is like.

IMG_20170320_130731 (1).JPGWhat is your community like?

We are 16 adults and 16 children. Half of the adults live with me and my husband Rukundo in Kigali, while the others live in a community house on the countryside. We come from both middle class and poorer class backgrounds, sharing all possessions and praying together every evening. Since 2013 we have a business, selling porridge, which some members from the Jesus Fellowship recently helped us with.

Why do you live like this?

I personally grew up in a divorced family and was very unhappy, I wondered why there were so many problems in the world. People are selfish, some are rich and others poor, there are orphans and divorce. I wanted to stop these problems, but I didn’t know how. (more…)

How to Save a Church Movement from Extinction

hutterit

Originally published at Jesus Army.

Andreas Ehrenpreis is not a well-known name in church history, but what he managed to do is truly astonishing. Born 1589 in Illingen, Germany, Andreas was brought up as an Anabaptist – a persecuted, radical Christian movement that emphasised faith, peace and justice. At seven years of age, his family joined a Hutterite community in Morovia, modern-day Czech Republic.

The Hutterites had been founded by Jakob Hutter (1500-1536) as a church that believed that community of goods is something all Christians should practice. However, as Andreas Ehrenpreis was commissioned as a minister of the Word in 1621, things had changed drastically.

Community was not practiced the same way as before – people usually laid aside money for themselves and stored various luxuries. Some bought weapons to defend themselves against persecutors, despite the church’s official, pacifist stance. As the Mennonite Encyplopedia puts it, “moral slackening was observable everywhere”. (more…)

The Hunger Argument for Veganism

avocado

When people hear veganism, they think about animal rights activists or people who care for the environment. It is less known that skipping meat and dairy also is the single most effective thing one can do to fight global hunger.

My fiancée Sarah and I recently talked about this in MennoNerds video (above), and last month, Sarah contributed to PCPJ with an article on the hunger argument for veganism:

I have discovered that few things are so controversial among Christians and met with such incomprehension (and ignorance) as veganism. “Do you eat only salad?” is a question I often get, or “you don’t eat wheat flour, right?” Not to mention all the extremely hilarious meat jokes (sarcasm intended). But I have discovered that most times people have preconceptions about what it means to be vegan and the reasons behind it.

When I tell people that I’m vegan, most assume that it is due to the animal ethics. And to be honest, it was probably how it started. Twelve years ago, I became a vegetarian because I loved animals, and felt like a hypocrite towards them when I ate meat. But over time I began to think about whether this really was a sufficient reason. As a Christian, I believed that humans have been appointed to manage creation and that we have a higher value than animals. If an animal’s death would be the prerequisite for human life, it would be a morally acceptable thing to do (as it turns out this is not the case today, as I will explain below). (more…)

Jesus Church: Selling Everything

money

This was originally posted on Jesus Army’s Forward Blog.

In this third and final blog post of my Jesus Church series, I’d like to talk about money. Twice, John points out that the ‘Jesus Church’ had a central fund that Judas was responsible for (John 12:6, 13:29). The income that the church received, probably from donations (Luke 8:3), seems to have been pooled, and the surplus given to the poor.

This was an obvious practical expression of Jesus’ radical economic teachings.

“Blessed are you who are poor”, he said, “but woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” (Luke 6:20, 24). It’s clear that Jesus didn’t want us to be rich.

This is also evident when he said that we should not store up treasures on earth:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21).

(more…)

Generosity in the Midst of Poverty

Article written for the Multiply Network.

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In late November and early December last year, a group of youth from the Jesus Fellowship went to Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh, in India. They visited Berachah Children’s Home, a ministry led by pastor Kiran Paul that houses and helps 180 children. The Home is supported by the Multiply Network.

15123125_1521609821199483_5989671886325040443_o (1).jpgHonor Hunter was really impacted by being in India for the first time. “When we arrived I was really tired but I was amazed how beautiful it was,” she says. “It felt like a completely different world. Rice fields and really bright blue birds. The people from Berachah were so welcoming. Kiran Paul, the pastor, was sick in meningitis but still came to the airport to greet us.

“They have hardly anything so they put God first, not possessions. When the children prayed and were so emotional and desperate. Over here, kids don’t get too involved with God. Wealth is too much of a distraction for us. But in India they go through horrible things and they see that God is love and that they need him as an anchor point.” (more…)

Modern Civilisation is Collapsing – What to Do?

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It probably won’t look as cool as this, but the Great Collapse will still be very damaging

All complex civilisations in human history have eventually collapsed. As the complexity of the Babylonian, Roman and Maya empires increased, their administration eventually became to costly and inflexible, leaving the whole system vulnerable to any famine, war or social uprising that would tear it totally apart. The inevitable collapse were seldom instantaneous, it could take decades or even centuries. What it always produced however was decreased complexity with more decentralised governance, more poverty, rural living and a smaller population.

I am fully convinced that if Jesus doesn’t return to end history soon, we will see modern civilisation collapsing. With modern civilisation I refer to the political and economic structure that is based in the “Western”, white part of the world but that influences all nations of the earth and use their resources. It is totally impossible for its complexity to remain on this level or even higher; sooner or later most of our societies will be thrown back to pre-industrial times, and millions will die.

This gloomy prediction of course contradict the myth of eternal Progress that has been a dominant paradigm in the West. Just like in the early days of the Roman empire, increased wealth, health, education and technology made people believe that the future will be eternally bright, everything will get better and more efficient.

This is very different from a Biblical worldview which predicts that the sinfulness of man will constantly follow and eventually consume us. The book of Revelation talks about how the pseudo-glorious city of Babylon, representing power, wealth and civilisation, will collapse: (more…)

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…)

Why Do You Want Richness?

Guest post by Taruna Rettinger

mountain-view-1183364_640

Blessed are the poor and blessed are the poor in spirit

*

Blessed are the poor

Why do you want richness?

Blessed are the poor

Why do you keep slaves for your comfort?

Blessed are the poor

Why do you seek wealth on earth?

Blessed are the poor in spirit

But you want to feel rich

Blessed are the poor in spirit

But you want to be served by others

Blessed are the poor in spirit

But you want wealth here and now

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

So feel your poverty in spirit and cry for Heaven

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”

So strive for poverty and long to live with God

Charismatics Have a Hope Nobody Else Has

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Village of Hope, Iris South Africa

Lucy Peppiatt, principal at Westminster Theological Centre which is an awesome British school, has written an excellent piece on why all Christians should be charismatic and why the risk of “charismania” shouldn’t put us off from seeking the gifts of the Spirit. One of the reasons she gives relates strongly to what I call charismactivism, the fact that Spiritual gifts ought to promote peace, justice and a better world:

I think that most of us feel overwhelmed by the world’s problems. It’s enough to deal with our own and our family’s problems let alone terrorism, unemployment, war, addiction, crime, disease, homelessness, abuse, etc. etc. I’m always astonished and deeply moved by how resilient human beings are in the face of horror, and this seems regardless of whether they have a faith or not. Sometimes humans are just extraordinarily strong. All Christians should carry a hope that good will triumph over evil in the end, because that is the promise of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.

But charismatics share stories all the time about change here and now, about how when God gets involved, people locked in conflict are able to forgive each other, bodies are healed of life-threatening or debilitating conditions, families are reconciled. Hope stirs. Charismatics expect God to change things around them and through them for the better. Sometimes this takes much longer and is more painful that you would know from what we teach or would wish, but I love the hope of concrete and visible newness that characterizes a charismatic worldview. Hope for restoration, new life, and healing infuses the New Testament and I couldn’t imagine a church that didn’t expect God to be willing and able to change the worst of situations.

(more…)

New Podcast from Iris Global

Heidi Baker’s amazing missionary organization Iris Global has recently started a new podcast, called Iris After Hours. It is hosted by Join Nathan Kotzur and Crystalyn Human and its first guest is no other than Heidi herself. She gives a lot of details on how God called her and Rolland to Mozambique and shares, as always, many testimonies about miracles and love to the poor.

To make sure that you catch future episodes of the pod, follow Iris Global’s YouTube channel or search for Iris After Hours on any podcast app.