The US is on fire right now. Yet another black man has been killed by police brutality: George Floyd in Minneapolis, who died after a policeman sat on his neck, charging him with paying with a false 20 dollar bill.
Many of you have already seen the horrifying footage: Floyd groaning and screaming, saying that he can’t breath, and later becoming unconscious. He was later confirmed dead.
This has caused a huge uproar across the country this Pentecost weekend. While many protesters are nonviolent, there are also reports of destructive riots and even fatalities. And it doesn’t help that President Trump writes “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” on Twitter, echoing Walter Headley who said this exact thing in 1967 when he threatened to order his policemen to shoot black people.
At PCPJ, we care deeply about racial and social justice. We also believe in nonviolence and enemy love. So while we encourage those who make their voices heard, we cannot stress enough that it needs to be done without any violence. Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. shows us that it is indeed possible to stand up for the oppressed without causing any harm to others. Continue reading George Floyd and the True Meaning of Pentecost→
Earlier this year, 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery was killed by two men who approached him with their pickup truck while he was jogging. These men were not arrested until a video of the murder went viral.
Our friends at the Vineyard Justice Network has posted a statement by a group of black pastors in the Vineyard USA. Among other things, they write:
How long, Lord, must [we] call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make [us] look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before [us]; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. Habakkuk 1:2-4
Written on 5/8, what would have been Ahmaud Arbery’s 26th birthday.
We’re angry. We’re tired. We’re tired of being angry.
There is nothing different about this time except that we are in a pandemic. A pandemic that disproportionately affects Black and Brown bodies, due to unequal access to healthcare, food and other life essentials. A pandemic that has us saying goodbye to our parents, grandparents and relatives at an alarming rate. A pandemic that compels us to wear masks when we know what the consequences could be – dangers that run deeper than the risk of infection.
Besides that, what’s different?
A Black man’s life taken by a family affair: a father and a son.
A Black man’s life taken by a family affair: a nation stuck in cycles of racialized violence and death.
This isn’t new. It’s history.
Lynchings were public gatherings — spectacles where human bodies, still alive, were stripped, tortured, dismembered, sometimes burned, and left to die. Community is not supposed to be like this. Our churches, too, are public gatherings — a place where the Body, however broken, can seek healing from the One with pierced hands. And yet, as pastors, we can simply feel responsible for informing the church about these tragedies, even as we hurt inside, barely having had time to process them ourselves. The Church is more than a place to announce Black Death, it is a Body meant to uplift Black Life.
This uplift involves looking sin and evil in the face and standing against it. As Jeannine Hill Fletcher says, “If Christians desire a world of racial justice and religious integrity, understanding the sin of white supremacy and Christian theology’s role within it is our only way forward.”
God does not look away from the pain and affliction of his people.
Within the span of weeks, the United States has gone from having a handful of cases of COVID-19 to leading the world in cases of infection. This has left much of the world bewildered. Seeing how the virus was affecting other nations, with months of notice, we were still left unprepared. What is it about the structure and function of our country that left us so vulnerable to what should have been a more manageable situation?
For two millennia, in times of turmoil Christians have turned to the Revelation of John for insight. The text has wisdom to share in this time of pandemic as well. By understanding the nature of apocalyptic literature—a type of writing that would have been familiar to the earliest church who experienced Pentecost but is strange to us—American Christians can begin to address difficult questions about our nation’s response. More importantly, we can turn to the biblical text to learn how the church can faithfully respond in this time.
The translation Revelation in the book’s title comes from the Greek apokalypsis, which literally means uncovering or revealing, like removing a veil. In the case of the Apocalypse of John, Jesus Christ has opened something up to the Seer that is meant to be shared. When Pentecostals share a dream or vision with the church, they are engaging in the continuation of this tradition. Paul uses the same Greek term to refer to the spiritual gifts when he writes that “each one of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (1 Cor 14:26, NIV). In the same verse he names the purpose of these gifts: “that the church may be built up.” And if there was ever a time the church was in need of building it up, it is now.
As the new coronavirus spreads across the world there is a big risk of it becoming a full-blown pandemic, killing tens of thousands if not millions of people. The complaint of the World Health Organization is that many countries are ill-prepared for handling this.
It’s not hard to see why.
Two things are crucial for stopping an infectious disease before it transforms into a pandemic: international cooperation and universal health care of good quality. When these are missing, the likelihood of certain areas around the world becoming infection hubs increases, which in turn spreads the disease uncontrollably.
While there is some debate about the identity of the 144,000 in 7:1-8, everyone agrees that the innumerable multitude in the next vision refers to believers from all peoples—a vision that ultimately includes all of us who believe in Jesus.
These people are “from all nations and tribes and peoples and languages” (7:9). Revelation uses this fourfold formula, in varying sequences, seven times. The formula echoes the book of Daniel. Daniel has the threefold formula six times; the Greek translation of Daniel makes the first instance (Dan 3:4) fourfold, as in Revelation. That context applies to Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian empire.
By the time of Revelation, however, people would no longer think of “all nations” as part of the Babylonian empire. Another passage in Daniel predicted an innumerable multitude from all nations serving the Son of man (Dan 7:13-14). Yet despite the hyperbole of Roman imperial claims, most people in John’s urban audience in the Roman province of Asia knew about many other parts of the world beyond the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire had trade ties with India, China, parts of Africa as far south as Tanzania, and northern Europe perhaps as far west as Iceland. The idea that members of all peoples would stand before God’s throne would have been unthinkable! Continue reading The Multicultural Multitude of Revelation→
Sweden is known for its coniferous forests, catchy pop songs and cheap furniture, not for deporting people to persecution, torture and death. But sadly, that’s what the Swedish government is doing to many Christians.
I recently wrote in the Christian Post about the ridiculous questions that the Swedish Migration Board asks asylum seekers who claim to have converted from Islam to Christianity. For example:
What does Matthew 10:34 say?
Which things are forbidden according to Christianity?
Can you describe the sacraments?
Together with some friends, I designed a test and let Christians all around the country respond to these questions. More than 100,000 people took the test. Less than 300 people were able to get more than 60 % right.
One can question the very premise of letting knowledge-based questions be proof of one’s faith. But when most Christians fail to recognize these questions as relevant or even answerable, you should really stop what you’re doing.
Unfortunately, these questions have been used quite extensively, and when converts fail to answer them they often get deported. Obviously, deporting converts to countries where they are persecuted, such as Afghanistan, oppose Swedish law and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Migration Board walks around this by claiming that the converts’ faith isn’t “genuine”. Continue reading Why Is Sweden Deporting Christians to Persecution?→
In my research, I am always delighted to discover one of God’s “unknowns” who achieved great things. One such was ethnic evangelist and church-planter, Elias Letwaba.
History failed to note him, and for two main reasons. First, he wasn’t active in the cities; his ministry was out in the remote bush of the Transvaal, South Africa. And he was black, but belonged to a denomination (the Apostolic Faith Mission) which practised racial segregation, even holding separate baptism services for blacks and whites.
Letwaba’s very birth had the supernatural about it. His mother, a nominal Christian, was visited by a man in white robes who prophesied that she would bear a son who would “carry my gospel message to many places” but suffer many trials. She didn’t stay nominal after that! The Letwaba home was a house of prayer. Elias was born in 1870 and even as a boy was sensitive to God and felt tinglings in his hands when he read in the Bible of healings and deliverance. One day he prayed over a lame girl in Jesus’ name – and only found out five years later that she had been healed.
He tried several churches but knew something was missing. His heart yearned for the New Testament “signs and wonders”, and a people joined in their hearts. In 1908 he travelled to Doorfontein to hear the American evangelist and healer John G Lake. The power of God was very obvious in the meeting, with people being healed and set free. Lake sensed something in Letwaba and invited him on to the stage. This caused outrage among the white Christians, who were all for throwing Letwaba out. “If you throw him out, I will go too“, said Lake, which stilled the storm and Elias remained on the platform. The two men became brothers from the heart; Lake invited him into his home, where Letwaba received his personal Pentecost, the ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit‘.
When Lake and his team left for Bloemfontein, they invited Letwaba to go with them. Under Lake’s training, Letwaba began an itinerant ministry, walking hundreds of miles between far-flung villages. He was often beaten, kicked and verbally abused, but when he prayed for the sick, many were healed. From time to time, Lake would come to Letwaba’s home in Potgietersrus and the two would minister to people together – always attended with remarkable divine happenings.
After Lake returned to America in 1913, people began to recognise that Letwaba had, in some special way, inherited his mantle in ‘power ministry’. On one occasion, during a heavy drought, he prayed for rain for one village, prophesying that it would happen that night (there were no weather forecasts in those days!). And the rain came.
In time, Letwaba spoke seven languages, founded and headed a Bible College with a reputation for depth and godliness, and had an apostolic circuit of thirty-seven churches. He insisted that his congregations be tribally mixed, which required up to three interpreters at every service. It has been roughly estimated that 10,000 people found healing as a result of his prayers. For all this, he remained a humble man, writing sermons pleading for personal holiness and humility, and leading by example in those areas. He died in 1959, aged 89, a father of the African church – yet surprisingly unknown outside his beloved Transvaal.
Trevor Saxby is a mentor, friend to many, with a PhD in church history. I love learning from the ‘movers and shakers’ of the past, as I want to be one today!
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Every great leader has a mission and I believe that Jesus is no different. No, I’m not talking about Jesus CEO, I am talking about the focus of Jesus as he lived his life on the ground. And I believe as followers of Jesus, we are invited to join with Jesus in the mission.
Very often churches that are in decline have a singular focus that revolves around its own interests, its own needs and its own preferences and the mission is mostly lost. Churches in decline also tend to find themselves having their beliefs defined by a favorite news source that they perceive as “Christian” rather than the actual Bible. Often the church has become more like the world in the ways it colludes with power. And we lose our focus on the real mission of Jesus. Continue reading The Mission of Jesus→
In 2016, I released a book in Swedish together with pastor Stefan Swärd called Jesus Was Also a Refugee. We commented the recent migration debate, providing the biblical teaching on loving, welcoming and blessing strangers (Lev 19:33-34, Mt 25:35).
I was not at all prepared for the huge amounts of Christians who would object to the book title. “Jesus was certainly not a refugee!” The same thing happened as the Christian Post published my Christmas reflection, inspired by Shane Claiborne, urging people to welcome refugees as they would welcome Christ. The comment section on CP’s Facebook page overflooded with arguments against the asylum status of our Savior and his parents.
Most of these arguments are bad. I mean, really bad. Here are the five weirdest ones I’ve come across so far:
1. They were not refugees, they were traveling LEGALLY for a CENSUS!