Love Doesn’t Stop at the Border: The Problem with Patriotism

Shane Claiborne

Shane Claiborne

I’m not American, but due to the enormous cultural impact US imperialism has brought unto the rest of the world, their national day is one of the few that I actually know the date of other than the national day of my own country. Today’s that day, and according to my WordPress statistics, many of you who are reading this blog live in the United States. I have a challenge for you: before you wave the banner of your empire and enjoy billions of dollars being blown up in fireworks, pray that God will help you love all people, including all those harmed by American consumerism, militarism and racism, and that He will help you pledge allegiance to His Kingdom first and foremost. After all, Scripture says that we are foreigners and strangers on earth (Hebr 11:13) and that we are citizens in Heaven (Phil 3:20). We are called to love all people as ourselves (Lk 10:25-37) and while the early Christians didn’t revolt against the Roman empire, they were known for pledging allegiance to another king than the emperor, namely Christ (Acts 17:7). I think Shane Claiborne nails it in his altar call on Red Letter Christians about celebrating interdependence day rather than independence day: (more…)

Miracles Make Churches Less Boring

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Örjan, an ordinary guy who has experienced tons of miracles

“The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.” – Acts 15:12

I love this little Bible passage! At the apostolic meeting in Jerusalem, where it was to be decided what rules and customs should be followed by Gentile Christians, those who have assembled take a testimony break to hear about some miracles. This I believe was both because they illustrated a theological point given by Peter – that God is already working among the Gentiles even before they had been circumcised – and because miracles are very cool to hear about. Seriously, not many grow tired of hearing about miracles.

Right now, I’m at a Pentecostal conference in the northern parts of northern Sweden, where the sun never sets and penguins ride around on polar bears. I’m helping  the aid organisation of Swedish Pentecostalism, PMU and collects money for Denis Mukwege’s Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Congo. It’s my first time at the conference and it’s nice, the vegetarian food is a little meh and the topics being talked about at the meetings and seminars aren’t always that radical, but overall it’s OK.

I guess that for an outsider, at first glance, the conference is like any conference or festival – people drinking coffee and eating ice cream, chatting and laughing, going to concerts and lectures. Of course, the topics are Christian and the songs are to God, but that wouldn’t matter much for a nonbeliever. The real game changers I believe are partly the eternal issues about the afterlife and salvation, and partly signs and wonders telling us about the truth of these eternal issues. And God is working through many in Swedish Pentecostalism hallelujah, so testimonies about amazing miracles can pop up anywhere.

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What is Holy Laughter?

holy laughter

The church is often accused of being a boring place. Not for those who have experienced holy laughter.

The phenomenon caught widespread attention in the 90’s, as it was a sign mark to charismatic meetings associated with Rodney Howard Browne and the Toronto Blessing. Holy laughter was described as a “manifestation” of the Holy Spirit, along with shaking, crying and falling down. The practice received lots of criticism though, as some pointed out that holy laughter isn’t mentioned in the Bible and to a large extent seems plain weird – why would the Spirit want you to laugh?

One of my Youtube subscribers, Justus Tams, asked me for a video on this topic, so here it is:

My take on the phenomenon is that it isn’t a manifestation of the Spirit but rather a human reaction to the Spirit filling the person with joy, which He is fully capable of (Rom 14:17, Gal 5:6). Alternatively, it is just a person laughing at a church meeting, no Holy Spirit involved. Sometimes someone laughs because a demon freaks out in the presence of the Lord. It all depends on the person’s history and character and on the context and focus of the meeting.

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Fighting Terrorism Like Jesus

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France has once again been subject to an attack which the president has dubbed “terrorist”. A man has been decapitated and the aggressor has been said to wave a black Islamic State flag. Meanwhile, over 40 people have been killed in bombings at a hotel in Tunisia and a mosque in Kuwait. Some believe that the attacks have been coordinated.

The threat of violent extremism shouldn’t be diminished. The Islamic State has an ideology very similar to Nazism – a belief that they’re superior and have the right to kill people who don’t look like and believe like them. Much like the 21-year old boy who went into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week and killed nine people because of the colour of their skin. He wasn’t labeled a terrorist that quickly as the guy in France was – instead we got to see childhood pictures of him and speculations about his mental state.

It is ridiculous how common this media logic is: dark-skinned aggressors are politically motivated terrorists, while light-skinned aggressors are confused lone-wolves with mental problems. Even Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is not very often described as a terrorist, although it has been stated in court that he isn’t a psychopath but had a xenophobic ideology as the basis of his crime.

Speaking of xenophobia, Europeans who lean towards those ideas will most surely use the recent attack in France as an argument for deporting more Muslims to countries like Syria and Iraq, where there is war and terror fully operating. Now, that’s a horrible solution to the problem. The attacks in Tunisia and Kuwait today are illustrative: most victims from Islamic terrorism live in the middle east. Most of the Islamic State’s victims are Muslims! “Solving” Islamic terrorism with deportations is like “Solving” the holocaust and world war two with deporting every Nazi and Jew to Germany. It only gets worse if you do that.

So what is the solution then? Let’s look at the Bible. Did you know that one of Christianity’s greatest missionaries was a terrorist? His name was Saul.

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Community of Goods: the Best Way to Eradicate Poverty

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To share everything is commanded in Scripture and eradicates poverty better than anything else.

Last week I was attending one of the bigger Christian conferences here in Sweden called Torp, where I was speaking on the topic of how to combine miracles, evangelism and social justice. I pointed to the fact that Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 does not just include signs and wonders but also community of goods, i.e. having all possessions in common so that nobody is rich and nobody is poor (Acts 2:44-45). I argued that if we want to resurrect the spiritual power and evangelism of the Biblical Pentecost we ought also want to resurrect community of goods. I developed my thoughts on community of goods and how it relates to Jesus’ command to sell everything one has in this MennoNerd video:

These thoughts were new and radical to several of those who were listening. Some were curious, others sceptical. One pastor in particular raised two objections. Firstly, he said, community of goods cannot be equated with using Spiritual gifts or doing evangelism because there is no command saying “practise community of goods”, just a description of how the early Christians did so. Secondly, the pastor thought that the Swedish evangelical church was already very generous when it comes to giving alms to the poor, so he saw no need of preaching community of goods as something we should resurrect in evangelicalism.

My direct response to his first question repeated what I had been saying in the lecture, and that I briefly talk about in the video above, namely that community of goods is the practical application of Jesus’ command to sell everything one has and give the money to the poor – which he gives not just to one rich young ruler (Mk 10:21) but to all his disciples (Lk 12:33). Jesus himself practised community of goods with his disciples (Jn 13:29), and he told them to teach their new disciples to do everything he had commanded them to do (Mt 28:20). To sell everything one has doesn’t mean to live completely without possessions, for then the early Christians would have been nudists, instead we see how the community of goods in the book of Acts is described as being the consequence of the early Christians selling everything they have (Acts 4:32-35).

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Why Did the Early Christians Go to the Synagogues?

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Was it really just to pray and worship with their Jewish brothers, or had they something else in mind?

I had a discussion with a friend the other day about church buildings; while I think that they are unnecessary for the most part and that we should focus on planting house churches instead, he enjoyed church buildings and saw no reason to diminish their role. One of his arguments for using church buildings was that the early Christians went to the temple and synagogues. My response was that they went to the temple and synagogues to evangelise.

Perplexed, he asked “Where in the Bible do Christians evangelise in synagogues?” Well, here’s a summary.

Jesus in the Synagogues

Let’s start with Christ. Luke 4:15 says that Jesus “was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.” Later, in verse 21 of the same chapter, we read: “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.'”

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Justice and Equality According to God

In this sermon, I talk about what the Bible says about justice. You rarely find someone who says that s/he is against justice, but you do find a lot of different definitions of justice. Here are five definitions of economic justice, together with my comments on which is the best from a Christian perspective:

1. Same for All

This is the idea that in a just and equal world, everybody has the exact same amount of money. There are hints towards this perspective in Lk 3:11 and 2 Cor. 8:13-15. However, this definition has received a lot of criticism simply because different people have different needs – people in poor countries without social safety nets need more money than people in rich countries, for example. This why not so many actually agree with this definition, even if we who try to promote equality are often accused of this while we really mean definition no. 2:

2. According to our needs

This is how the early church viewed economic justice: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2:44-45) We can also see this in Ex. 16 where the people collect heavenly bread every day, and since the greedy are unable to store up a lot for themselves, everyone are able to collect what their family needs for that particular day. The socialist motto “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is based on the same line of thinking, but it was a biblical idea long before Marx was even born.

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The Audible Voice of Jesus Saved Omid’s Life

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Fire of God, Stockholm

Omid was saved after he heard the audible voice of Jesus Christ: “I’m real. Don’t take your life.”

Yesterday I was attending the Fire of God Revival Conference in Stockholm. I’m not a big fan of the setting (giant auditorium with coloured spotlights and smoke machines) but the Spirit and message was awesome. Three ordinary guys – Patrick, Charles and Omid – have together with Nigerian pastor Francis Anene arranged the conference. At this first meeting they shared their testimonies, and of the four Omid’s testimony touched me the most.

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Omid Seppänen

Omid Seppänen was born in Finland, raised in a family with a Muslim father who taught him the Qur’an and a Christian mother who brought him to church. Needless to say, he became religiously confused. As a teenager, he rebelled against his parents and became an atheist. He went to parties every weekend for two years, drank and used drugs, and started to become very depressed.

One night, he saw the devil himself, physically, standing in his room. He was shocked, not the least since he didn’t believe that the devil existed! This vision terrified him, and his depression increased.

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Church Leadership Should be Small-Scale

My pastor Lotta (left) reads the Bible with some new visitors at a Sunday meeting in our house church Mosaik

My pastor Lotta (left) reads the Bible with some new visitors at a Sunday meeting in our house church Mosaik

Why do most churches train their leaders to take care of groups of hundreds or even thousands of believers, when Biblical pastors trained groups of 20 or 30 people?

I talked to an associate pastor some time ago, and he shared with me the burden of him having the pastoral responsibility for families in his church. Since that meant 80 people, he had constantly work to do, and he felt pressured for not spending enough time with each family. There were two other pastors in the church, but they were also overloaded with work concerning the youth and the congregation as a whole (which includes over 400 people). I asked the associate pastor if he could delegate some pastoral care to cell group* leaders, but he was unsure whether they would accept the challenge. Many Christians just expect the pastor to do the work for them.

It’s biblical to delegate. Exodus 18 tells us about how Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, saw how Moses was being worn out with all the judging work, and so he recommended him to appoint God-fearing men to help him out, some having responsibility for a thousand people, other for one hundred, fifty and ten (Ex 18:20-21). When the apostles realized that they didn’t have time to help the poor, they appointed some other Spirit-filled people to do it (Acts 6:1-8). Leadership isn’t about doing everything yourself, but to inspire and give mandate to others so that they too can serve the Kingdom of God.

The Biblical church had various different types of leadership roles: apostles planted churches and had most authority in doctrinal disputes, evangelists preached the Gospel publicly and trained other disciples how to share their faith, prophets heard the voice of the Lord and brought important messages to the church, and teachers taught theology. And then we have presbyters, or pastors. (more…)

The Desperate Need for Christian Hospitality

Have you ever wanted to meet an angel? If so, let some homeless people into your home.

Scripture says: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebr 13:2). And even if the person we’re hosting turns out to be mere human, that’s not a very big problem since we are then simply doing a very good deed: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (Rom 12:13).

Homeless people getting a home§

Homeless people getting a home

In Sweden where I live, almost 50% of all the households are single households, meaning that only one person lives in them. We have almost half a million vacation houses standing empty most months of the year. And yet, so many – even Christians – are arguing that we don’t have space for more immigrants, that we should send Syrian refugees back to war and Romanian beggars back to misery. How about showing some hospitality instead?

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Summer Plans

holy spirit summer

Yesterday I defended my paper on the Isreli-Palestinian conflict and since it seems to have gone pretty well, this means that I know can graduate with a bachelor’s degree in peace and development studies. And it’s summer break! Now, I will get much-needed time to work on some really cool projects that I’ve felt God wants me to do.

First of all, I will spend more time writing on my book. An American publisher has given me the opportunity and honor to publish a work on church history through them. The main thesis of the book is that Christian movements that have emphasized evangelism and miracles have almost always also emphasized peace, justice and social activism. I hope to get the project finished by the end of this year.

Secondly, I will release my very first documentary film. It’s about how the Jesus Army in the UK practice community of goods, and will hopefully give insights on how it’s not only possible but also really nice to share all one’s stuff with others. Half the movie is already edited, and I hope to get this thing done this summer.

Thirdly, I will of course continue to blog here as well as publish videos on my Youtube channel. I have an unfinished blog series on a Biblical, non-Zionist perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which could be suitable to pick up now that I’ve studied the actual conflict a bit more, and when it comes to the Youtube videos I’m thinking about perhaps posting some theological sketches that could be fun to do, and perhaps reboot my old God vs Wealth series to some better quality. We’ll see, God knows :)

Away from keyboard, I will visit and speak at some Christian conferences here in Sweden, travel to the Jesus Army together with some friend as well as rest, enjoy God’s creation, evangelize and help the poor.

So, what are you up to this summer? And would you like to help me out in some of my projects? Let me know in the comments!

The Importance of Both Preaching Healing and Eternal Life

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My church evangelising, telling people about both healing and eternal life

Why are not everybody healed when they receive prayer? Why was that person healed but not this person, even though they both believed in Jesus? Charismatics are often asked these questions, and as they are related to theodicy and the problem of evil and suffering, they take some time to answer. I have appreciated the Kingdom theology response to why not everyone are healed developed by John Wimber, which can be read in his great book Power Healing.

In this blog post I want to address a particular type of healing theodicy, where one points to the death of a loved one as an argument for the strange selectiveness of God’s healing. I have several times heard friends describe how a dear relative was very sick and they prayed and prayed, bit eventually they died. Several of those who have told me this have then said that because of this they have some problems with the healing message; some of them have been mad at God for healing others but not the one they prayed for.

Such a scenario reminds me of how Martha questioned why Jesus didn’t heal Lazarus while he was dying:

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;  and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:21-26)

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Christians Caused Climate Change – Now it’s Time We Fix it!

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Many of those who invented and fueled industrialism and capitalism were, or claimed to be, Christians.

Sure, some Muslim oil sheiks and Confucian factory workers have also played their role, but Christians are responsible to a very large extent to the inequality and environmental destruction which this economic system has brought. Now, followers of Jesus around the globe need to step up against the biggest beast that global mass consumption has birthed: climate change.

Climate change – isn’t it a weird term for a phenomena that may very well kill hundreds of thousands of people, ruin cuties and destroy whole countries? It’s like naming a genocide something like “population change” or, as the Guardian’s excellent podcast The biggest story in the world pointed out, calling a bomb an “unexpected delivery”. Human emissions of greenhouse gases is, according to 97% of scientists researching the matter, destroying the system and will eventually crush civilisation. What we’ve created is Creation Destruction.

The sad thing is that while this catastrophe is caused primarily by rich people, most of those that will get hurt from it are poor. This is often called “climate injustice”. What our hyper-consumption has caused harms not just polar bears, but human beings living in poverty. To stop this, we need to act quickly.

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Why Testimonies Are Important

Every time my house church meets, we share Jesus stories – testimonies about what God has done for us during the last week. It’s always very encouraging and often pretty amazing; we’ve heard about cancers getting healed, people receiving visions as well as evangelistic opportunities, prophetic insights and ordinary Jesus trot. In my latest contribution to the MennoNerd vlogging relay race, I talked about testimonies and some testimonies that have impacted me:

The Gospels are testimonies, Acts is a testimony, Revelation is a testimony. Church history is filled with testimonies. The Psalms encourages us to share testimonies (Ps 145:11-12). Testimonies rock, basically. When I was a younger Christian I refused to read any Christian books besides the Bible, ’cause my experience was that most of them deradicalized the Bible. But when I discovered Christian biographies and testimony accounts by saints that have encountered the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, I became a Christian book nerd.

My fellow MennoNerd Allen Green followed up my testimony vlog with talking about martyr accounts and testimonies of sufferings for Christ, which I agree are also very important and encouraging in a way to read – not in a happy-clappy sense obviously but as a reminder of that Jesus is worth suffering for, faith in Him stands in the midst of hardships and injustice. In fact, the most powerful testimonies I’ve read both contain miracles and suffering, which I think was noticable in my video where I mentions some books that I recommend.

God, let us experience both the cross and the glory!

Why is there Something Rather than Nothing?

galaxy
Why does existence exist? If life came from water and water came from chemistry and chemistry came from stars and stars came from the big bang, why do all these things exist in the first place and why do they work the way they do? Why does not the universe just consists of black cubes bumping around without the complexity of electrons and light? And why is there not just pure nothingness?

I was listening to a TED talk the other day on this topic by philosopher Jim Holt. In a detailed manner he described the puzzle of existence and explained why it cannot simply be “pushed back” one level by saying “big bang did it” or “the multiverse did it”, because the question is more fundamental than so: it is not just about why this or that happened but why anything happens, why there are whys.

As an atheist, he quickly also excludes God from the equation, saying that we then must explain what created God and that the universe is way to non-perfect and mediocre to have been created by an all-powerful, intelligent being.

What solution does Holt then himself have to the puzzle? I waited curiously to the end to hear it, but it was a bit of an anticlimax. Holt says that we can theoretically imagine three types of realities: (more…)

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Micael from Sweden. A charismatic Jesus hippie

Micael from Sweden. A charismatic Jesus hippie

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