Maria wept as she shared the story of Mary and Joseph when they sought a place to stay in the city of Bethlehem. They had found no room at the inn. Maria shared the tradition of Posada in which the parents of Jesus looked for someone who would offer them hospitality and finding no one, they moved on to the next house also finding no welcome. Her voice was raw with emotion as she shared that Jesus–the one who dwelt within real people continued to seek hospitality in a world that offered him no welcome.
I wondered why this story brought up so much emotion in my friend. I didn’t ask, we had a hard time talking with one another due to a language barrier. I spoke little Spanish, and she spoke little English. Nevertheless somehow the Lord knit our hearts together with a deep love. A few years later, there was an ICE raid in our rural town and I was supposed to meet with Maria’s daughter for discipleship. The two girls in the group had frightened looks on their faces as Maria’s daughter explained that her mom was undocumented. We cried together and prayed. I ached inside as I witnessed the trauma experienced by my young friends.
From that moment on, Maria and her family were in my prayers. I often noticed a shadow of shame fall on her face. As Maria gained more English, we began to talk together about her immigration status. Often we gathered to pray together. Continue reading Solidarity and Prayer: One Story→
A common objection to the claim that Jesus and the authors of the New Testament were opposed to all forms of violence is that neither Jesus nor anyone else speaks out against it. When soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do in response to his message, for example, he told them not to “extort money,” not to “accuse people falsely,” and to be “content with [their] pay” (Lk 3: 14). He didn’t tell them to leave the military. In a similar fashion, when Jesus encountered a distraught Centurion, he healed his servant and praised his faith without saying a word about his leadership role in the violent and unjustly oppressive Roman-governed army (Mt 8:5-13; Lk 7:1-10).
Along the same lines, without commenting on his military service, Mark reports that a Centurion confessed faith in Jesus when he witnessed how he died (Mk 15:39). And this same attitude gets carried over into the early church. Indeed, the first Gentile who came to Christ in the book of Acts was yet another Centurion. As Peter preached the Gospel to this man and his household, the Holy Spirit fell upon them and they were all baptized without a word being uttered about this man’s military service (Acts 10:44-8).
In 2015, 41,000 asylum-seeking Afghans came to Sweden. Many Christians opened their homes and churches and welcomed asylum seekers with open arms.
Many asylum seekers saw the love of the Christians, and they became part of the Christian community. In their desperate situation and dream of a new and better life far from war and poverty, they sought Jesus and found peace, forgiveness, and salvation.
Since a person who has left Islam cannot be deported to Afghanistan, the world’s second most dangerous country for Christians, the Swedish Migration Board needs to decide whether the converts are genuine Christians or not.
That pastors certify that the converts are genuine Christians, baptized, and active members of a congregation, is not enough to be regarded as genuine Christians.
When David became king of Israel, certain groups gathered around him, each faction precisely gifted in ways that contributed to his ability to rule with wisdom and integrity. Far from being threatened, David welcomed them. He held the position of king for the sake of the nation and wanted all the help he could get to encourage the wellbeing of his people rather than undermine it, as rulers can so easily do.
One key group to join him were members of the Tribe of Issachar, described in the Bible as ‘men who knew the times and understood what Israel ought to do’. (I Chronicles 12:32) It’s worth remembering that Issachar’s mandate was not contingent on David’s willingness to listen to them. Even if he’d rejected their insights they would still have followed through on their specific, God-given aptitude to recognize and understand the times they were living in, and look for ways to influence the culture of the nation.
After David died, the people of Issachar with their uncanny ability to see what was really happening underneath the hype, were no longer valued or utilised by succeeding kings. Continue reading The Perils of Group Think→
Some Christians believe the myth that those who are really Spirit-filled will always experience victory. This belief is a cousin to the idea that if you have enough faith you will always experience health and wealth.
Just as faith doesn’t guarantee a life free of disappointments and hardships, the Spirit-filled life is not a life free of disappointments and hardships. Jesus is the epitome of spirituality, but he never became an earthly king. Instead, “through the eternal Spirit [he] offered himself unblemished to God” so his death might give us life (Hebrews 9:14).
In the Bible, “the one who is victorious” (Revelation 2:11) may suffer and face poverty (v. 9). Their victory is that they resist their culture’s anti-Christian values and are “faithful, even to the point of death” (v. 10). And their “victor’s crown” is eternal life, not achieving success in the eyes of the world around them (vv. 10–11).Continue reading One Common Myth about Spirit-Filled Christianity→
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?→
The spate of recent headlines about sexual abuse and victimization in the Church have made clear the prevalence of these crimes. The revelation of decades of abuse by Southern Baptist pastors and complicity by denominational leaders is only the most recent example. Willow Creek Community Church is still addressing the reverberations of trauma surrounding accusations of harassment against women. Sexual abuse is rampant outside the church as well. According to statistics compiled by the Rape, Assault, and Incest National Network (RAINN), one in six women in the United States “has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted).”Much-needed discussion surrounding prevention and accountability in leadership is beginning to take place. Churches must also address how they treat women who have been sexually abused, both within and without the church.
In addition to these needed reforms, Christians must examine how our underlying theology may continue to damage victims rather than offer redemption. If what is preached from the pulpit, embodied in song and worship, and internalized by the congregation does not offer a message of hope and healing for those who have been abused, it is not the good news of Jesus Christ. In particular, our understanding of atonement—how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus brings us into reconciliation with God—must be examined carefully. Continue reading Atonement and Sexual Assault: Redemption for the Sinned Against→