Yesterday I met a very friendly brother from England, Mike O’Leary, who is in Sweden for two weeks on a short missions trip. We’ve been in contact for at least a year on social media, and it’s evident that he’s on fire for Jesus. Yesterday when we went back to my place for some tea (my experiences from the Jesus Army has taught me that Brits like that drink), I asked him something that I often try to ask brothers and sisters I don’t know well: how did you became a Christian? His story was truly amazing, and I asked him if I could record it when we got home:
Mike used to be an atheist who found belief in God ridiculous. As he says in the video, he loved to debate with theists and show them how wrong they were. However, in 2007 he heard the external, audible voice of God three times, saying “Follow Me”, when he was out in his garden. That changed things.
We have this wonderful little missions organization in Sweden called Go Out Mission, which regularly organizes evangelistic campaigns in Africa and Asia. The following report is from one of their local leaders, Oury Sow, who shares about a campaign they recently had in Guinea-Bissau, where the lame walked, the blind saw and Muslim leaders gave their lives to Christ. Here’s his report, translated to English:
First, we had the opportunity to hold a campaign in a small town inside the country. Already at the first evening there was about 1,500 people gathered during the sermon, and during prayer it increased to about 2500 people. 300 responded to salvation when I made the call, and after we prayed for the sick was three people who had the courage to come up to the stage to testify. A Muslim man from Gambia contacted me after the meeting and told me that he had come to Guinea-Bissau in order to get money, but now he said: “I have found Jesus instead and I feel so rich!”
The campaign continued to grow; many children were there early and were quick to the scene to respond to the invitation. A little girl who was now five years old had been born both deaf and dumb, but after prayer she both heard and she spoke her first words in life! What joy for the mother to hear her daughter say her name. What a Jesus we have! One woman who came to the first meeting had had problems with bleeding for 32 years, but after prayer the night before, she had gone home and all the bleeding had stopped! The woman and her husband were so thankful to God.
The third evening there was over 3000 people on site who heard a clear Gospel. The atmosphere then exploded when a 15-year-old girl who was unable to walk since birth, suddenly stands up, causing such a joy chaos that we had to let go of control and could not give testimonies from the stage. The girl’s mother fell to the ground in fear of God and people danced completely wild with joy just everywhere!
I’ve understood that people currently talk a lot about migration in the United States; Donald Trump has brought up the issue in his presidential campaign and I have seen many Americans on social media and in the commentary section of this blog. They often express severe xenophobia, particularly towards Latin American migrants from Mexico whom they emphasize are “illegal aliens.” My very conservative friend Rick Lamascus who is a very faithful reader of this blog even though he disagrees with most of what I write, has argued:
“Controlled Immigration is not a problem. What is a problem is illegal aliens pouring across the US border. It is like poison to our schools, hospitals, and jobs.”
“We have at least 30 million illegal aliens. Our schools systems are flooded and the hospital emergency rooms are flooded with illegals who pay NOTHING. Our sorry politicians are such prostitutes. They constantly pass legislation to give the illegals more and more.”
As you can see, to him “illegal” is not just something you do, it is something you are. Instead of talking about “people” or “neighbors” (which Mexicans obviously are to US Americans), Rick talks about “illegals” – as if it was a job or ethnicity.
Benjamin Corey has written a very good article on why Christians should stop talking about “illegal immigrants.” His reasons are:
We’ve now taken the train home to Sweden after an incredible Jesus Army week in the UK. One of the last things I got to do was to organize a little round table with Huw and Mike who both have lived in Christian community for almost 40 years, I brought up seven arguments against community of goods that I often hear when I discuss the topic, and asked them to counter them. You can enjoy it in the video above, and below are the seven arguments along with a brief summary of what we said:
1. There’s no command to have everything in common
Yes, the process of having everything in common – and thus eliminating poverty – starts with people selling what they have according to Acts 2:45 and 4:34. And to sell everything one has is exactly what Jesus commanded not just one rich ruler to do (Mt 19:21), but all His disciples to do (Lk 12:33)
2. Community was practised because the Jerusalem church was persecuted
They started to practise it before persecution, and the reason given was not that they excepted persecution but that they loved each other and didn’t want anyone to be poor. Besides, since “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12), ought we not to live a life like that today?
3. Community was practised because the apostles errantly thought that Jesus would come back in their lifetime
Again, there is no reference in the Bible to any other reason for community of goods other than that the early Christians loved each other and didn’t want anyone to be in need. They also clearly wanted to follow the commands of Jesus, including the one in Lk 12:33. Besides, shouldn’t we have even more reason to expect Jesus’ soon return now 2000 years later? (more…)
As you probably should know by now from reading my previous posts, I think that a certain British church called Jesus Army is amazing. Since it combines Bible-believing, charismatic discipleship with community of goods and care for the poor, it is one of the most Biblical churches I know of. The more people who join this church and/or adapt its model of charismatic community building, the better. But how, then, can it grow? Here are my three suggestions:
1. More Public Evangelism
The apostolic church in Jerusalem didn’t just experience miracles and practise community of goods, they also evangelised every day in the temple courts (Acts 2:46, 5:20, 42) as I’ve written about several times before. This can be adapted in various ways today: evangelism on the internet, in shopping malls, outside of mosques, on the streets, handing out leaflets, preaching, showing a drama, serving free pancakes, offering prayer for healing… God loves when we present the Gospel creatively!
However, since the evangelism of the early church was public and corporal, it cannot really be equated with private evangelism that an individual performs to his or her friends and family. I often meet the idea that this would be more effective than public, corporal evangelism, but it is very problematic to view Jesus’ and the apostles’ model for evangelism as ineffective, and it mostly has anecdotic rather than empirical support. Research shows that evangelistic activity is one of the most important things churches can do in order to grow, which is about as surprising as the scientific discoveries of fuel promoting vehicles to drive or consumption of food promoting human survival.
Since corporate, public evangelism is not just about reaching out but also about training disciples, people get more equipped to share the Gospel in other settings as well if they get evangelistic training by the church. Thus, there is no reason to say that we should cut back on public evangelism to promote friendship evangelism, because public evangelism already promotes friendship evangelism.
This post is written by Jesus Army member Joram on the Forward blog. We met Joram the other day and he told us about what he had experienced in Calais. This text expresses both the pain and hope of the refugee camp in a brilliant way, which is why I re-post it here.
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered in sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table…” (Luke 16:19-21)
Every generation has its ‘Lazarus’: the poor, mistreated, abused, and neglected. Part of this generation’s Lazarus is the third world migrants who wash up on the shores of Europe. Their governments oppress them, abuse them, imprison them, torture them; so those that can escape head for the rich man’s gate known as Europe.
When they wash up on the shore after unspeakable tragedy at sea, some of them head for western France to Calais and the literal gate to the rich man’s land known as the Eurotunnel.
A diaspora of refugees with families shattered and scattered across the globe, children in one country, fathers in another, mothers in another. It was never meant to be like this.
They redefine the word poor – they have smartphones, Nike trainers, mp3 players and navigate at sea using Google Maps. But only because we, in the rich man’s kingdom, are so driven by our mad consumer desire for the latest ‘thing’, we throw last year’s stuff away. But don’t be fooled by this – the real poverty is the loss of loved ones, of being stateless, homeless, jobless and friendless. The sores on the modern Lazarus are underneath his skin, too deep to be seen by the superficial glance of the citizens of the rich man’s country. (more…)
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! (Ps 133:1) We’ve now visited around seven different community houses here at the Jesus Army, and it’s so beautiful to see the mixture of different people. Everybody believe in Jesus of course, but apart from that there is great diversity when it comes to age, ethnicity, social background, employment and civil status. Everyone are welcome to join the community, as long as they are committed and serious about it.
This is obviously very Biblical as the apostolic community in Jerusalem that we read about in the book if Acts literally included all the believers: “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)
In the Jesus Army’s New Creation Christian Communities, you meet all sorts of people. Yesterday and today we’ve spoken to former drug addicts who have been saved and joined the common purse, as well as academics, nurses and teachers. We’ve spoken to 90-year-olds and people in their 20’s, as well as to parents with kids under the age of five. Everyone are welcome to sell everything and join the community of goods, even those who hardly have anything and mostly bring their debts to the common purse! And there is a strong, tangible brotherhood in the church that is quite unique in our individualist society.
Right now I’m on a train with my friend Hillevi, heading for Copenhagen. Tomorrow we will go through Germany and the Netherlands and finally arrive in the United Kingdom on Sunday morning. The reason we’re going there is to visit the Jesus Army, a church that has inspired me more than any other church. Why is that? Here are seven reasons:
1. It’s Jesus’ Army
The Jesus Army, or Jesus Fellowship Church as it is formally known, was birthed in a charismatic movement of the 1970’s called – you guessed it – the Jesus movement. And this Jesus focus isn’t just rhetoric or branding – these people are really passionate about Jesus and really try to live like He did (1 Jn 2:6). Like Anabaptists, they have Christ-centred theology and Christ-centred lives. That’s always something you want to see in a church.
2. They practice community of goods
While having a focus on Jesus is something most churches claim to have, community of goods is really rare. Even though it is clearly described as a Biblical way of following Jesus in Acts 2:44-45, most Christians haven’t even tried it. Having everything is common, is uncommon. The Jesus Army however has had their New Creation Christian Communities for around 40 years, and today hundreds of people pool their money and resources so that nobody lives in poverty and nobody in luxury.
3. They have ethical, social businesses
To finance the community and the charities of the church, these Jesus people run businesses like Goodness Foods and Good Timber which are very good, ethical and sustainable. Everybody get the same wage, all the profits go to charity and many of the businesses focus on creation care through organic products, renewable energy etc. It’s really amazing what the Holy Spirit can do in the commercial world.
We shouldn’t just talk about how to fight poverty, but also how to fight inequality.
In September, world leaders will gather in New York to agree upon new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will succeed the old Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Several of the MDG:s were actually fulfilled, such as halving the proportion of poor people worldwide and increasing global health and literacy.
Now, the goals are even more ambitious, striving to eradicate poverty, hunger and illiteracy completely, along with environmental goals such as preserving ecosystems and combating climate change. A key to all this, I think, is goal number 10: to decrease inequality between and within countries.
People aren’t poor because there is a lack of resources in the world, but because they are unevenly distributed. 20% of the world’s population consume 80% of the world’s resources. And the mass consumption of the rich hurts the environment: if everyone lived like the average Swede, we would need three planets. If they lived like the average American, we would need five. In fact, World Overshoot Day, when we have consumed what the earth produces in a year, is today, August 13! This means that during the rest of 2015, we spend, consume and trash resources that we do not replace, and this date has been pushed further back almost every year in the calendar.
‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Mt 25:35-40)
The New York Times has written about my little country, Sweden, and how we treat poor immigrants from Romania. It’s not a happy read:
From media reports, Expo has counted 77 attacks against beggars in the last 18 months, though charities assume such crime is underreported.
The attacks include one in Malmo, where tents in a Roma camp were set on fire; another in Boras, where a beggar was run over by a moped; and one in Skara, where at least one migrant was hit by a pellet from an air rifle.
I’m very involved in this situation; as I have shared previously I am almost daily helping poor Romanian immigrants. I have started a small organization with some friends to support them and help them to get housing and an income, and I personally know about 100 people in this situation. The hatred and racism that NY Times is reporting about is something I witness all the time, and I’ve had countless discussions with people who are convinced that these extremely poor beggars are rich, criminal liars who should be deported. (more…)
There are a lot of things I’m passionate about: Jesus, poverty reduction, community, evangelism, revival and many other things. But one thing I’m not passionate about is being a racist. Racism is terrible and insane and I’m praying every day that i will treat everyone equal, with love and dignity, and that the Holy Spirit will give me a humanitarian passion for everyone that is in need.
And so when I retweet Doctors without borders who point out that refugees are people who seek a better future for themselves and their children, I am devastated when another Twitter user responds with racism. Yes, this is racism, he knows nothing about these mothers other than that they are African, and yet he argues that they “bring a lot of pain and suffering for the country that accepts them”. Cold, hateful racism. And this guy claims to be a Christian.
Some will just tell me to ignore the trolls and go on with my life, but these comments don’t come from isolated dark corners of the internet anymore, this is a mass movement all across Europe that is occupying parliaments and governments. A movement filled with hostility against people from Africa and the Middle East, a movement promoting inequality, deportation and white supremacy. (more…)
It’s very popular to speak negatively about multiculturalism in Europe these days, the idea that multiple cultures can thrive and co-exist within the same state. It’s a bit strange since most European countries are democracy, and the idea that anyone can say, believe and live the way they want is quite essential to democracy, but Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s David Cameron and Denmark’s Pia Kjaersgaard have all condemned multiculturalism as something that should be prohibited (Kjaersgaard have even condemned the idea of a multiethnic society).
Since the culture these politicians are defending is labeled Christian (even though it’s rather Constantinian), and the culture that they portray as the main antagonist is islamic culture, many Christians have condemned multiculturalism in a similar fashion and argued that Muslims should be deported so that European Christianity is preserved.
The condemnation of multicultural states is also known as nationalism, the idea that each state should have one language and one culture. But is this idea Biblical? Are Christians supposed to prohibit or promote multiculturalism?
In the Old Testament, God gave laws to the Israelites that were not just moral but also cultural. the Pentateuch tells the Israelites how they should eat, dress and behave, what holidays they should have and how they should worship the Lord. These cultural laws are still being practised by Jews to this day. And while immigrants were very welcome to Israel and were treated as natives (Lev 19:33-34), they were expected to follow most of the laws. There were some exceptions, kosher food was not required for example (Deut 14:21), but in general immigrants were expected to follow the cultural laws of Israel. Not much multiculturalism there. (more…)
For many Christians, sacraments are really important. Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and others often emphasize how precious their sacraments are, and sometimes criticize other church traditions for not being “sacramental” enough. There is a lot of disagreement on what a sacrament is though: Catholic teaching states that there are seven sacraments, whereas most Protestants argue that there are two – baptism and communion – and eastern Orthodoxs usually claim that there are countless! The Catholic council of Trent states that both the Protestant and eastern Orthodox views are unacceptable, condemning anyone who says that there are “more, or less, than seven” sacraments.
This is just ridiculous. Jesus and the apostles never talked about “sacraments”. Yes, they baptized, broke the bread, annointed the sick and so on, but they never grouped these activities in one category of “sacraments”. Nothing in the Scriptures indicates that communion and baptism had any other role or importance than other things Jesus commanded His disciples to do, like helping the poor, pray and share the Gospel.
“Sacrament” is really a creative Latin translation of the Greek term mysterion, a word that does appear in the Scriptures never referring to church activities but to the Gospel (e.g. Col 4:3, 1 Tim 3:16). The one responsible for the translation was Tunisian church father Tertullian (155-240 AD), who often was creative with his translations (“sacrament” didn’t really mean mystery but rather referred to an oath), and he used it when describing baptism because he thought that baptism was a mystery.
So far so good. However, another African church father, Augustine, took some more freedoms with the word around 200 years later, using it as a category to include not just baptism but also communion, the Nicene creed and the Lord’s prayer. He was also the first arguing that a sacrament is a visible sign of invisible grace, which of course is true for those things but not exclusive to them – Bibles, sermons and a hug can also be visible signs of invisible grace. (more…)
One of the best books I’ve ever encountered on the topic of miracles is simply called Miracles, and is written by Craig Keener. A professor of New Testament Studies, Keener started his book as a footnote in another work on the book of Acts where he explained why he didn’t rule out the possibility that the miracles described there actually happened, and when his footnote had grown to a couple of hundred pages he decided to make a book out of it (and it’s pretty clear that this guy likes footnotes, there’s such an insane amout of them that the book had to be published in two volumes!)
Keener covers a various of fields such as exegesis, history, philosophy, natural science and journalism as he provides hundreds of testimonies about miracles, most of them from recent times and several of them medically and scientifically verified. It’s a very good read. And I would like to share with you the essense of his philosophical argument, which also can be viewed in this video:
It is common to hear, especially in the Western world, that miracles “clearly” don’t exist, that belief in miracles is a medieval relic, that “modern” people can’t believe in supernatural superstition etc. Quite often this is simply viewed as an axiom, a self-evident premise that does not have to be proven; it is often believe that science has already denied the existence of miracles so arguments for the premise is not necessary. However, science has not proven that miracles don’t exist, science is agnostic on such matters just as science has not proven that God does or doesn’t exist. I’ll come back to that shortly. (more…)
“You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten.” – Didache 2:2
This verse is from the ancient Christian book Didache, written in the first century. That is, at the same time or briefly after most of the New testament. This is the first time we hear a Christian opinion on abortion, because if you haven’t noticed it – the Bible never mentions abortion! Not even once.
Yes, Psalms 139 talks about how we are created in our mother’s womb and how God looked at our “unformed body” (v. 16) as He created us, and based on this many Christians have concluded that abortion is equal to killing a baby. Technically though, the Bible does not condemn abortion – the Didache is the first Christian writing to do that.
On the other hand, the Didache is extremely early and accurately represents ancient Christian morals and teachings on a great variety of issues, and throughout most of church history it has generally been a consensus in the global church that abortion is immoral and sinful.
“Well, that’s because the church has been run by a literal patriarchy who ignore the rights and safety for women”, some may argue. And yeah, sadly it has. But abortion is not just about women’s rights, since there is also a baby, or a soon-to-be-baby, depedning on how you view it, that is also involved. Some of you may have heard about how the American NGO Planned Parenthood, who run abortion clinics, sell tissues from aborted fetuses: