The New Creatures

  “Following Jesus is actually a vocation to share the fate of God for the life of the world. Jesus invited people to ‘follow’ him in bearing the mystery of human death and resurrection. It is not a requirement in order that we can go to heaven later, it is an invitation so that we can live an entirely full life now.
   Those who agree to carry and love what God loves, which is both the good and the bad of human history, and to pay the price for its reconciliation within themselves—these are the followers of Jesus—the leaven, the salt, the remnant, the mustard seed that God can use to transform the world. The cross is a very dramatic image of what it takes to be a usable one for God.
   These few are the critical mass that keeps the world from its path toward greed, violence, and self-destruction. God is calling everyone and everything to God’s self (Genesis 8:16-17, Ephesians 1:9-10, Colossians 1:15-20, Acts 3:21, 1 Timothy 2:4, John 3:17), not just a few. To get there, God needs models and images who are willing to be ‘conformed to the body of his death’ and transformed into the body of his resurrection (Philippians 3:10). They are ‘the new creatures’ (Galatians 6:15), and their transformed state is seeping into history and ever so slowly transforming it into life instead of death. This is the basis for all of our hope—in Christ and for history.”

                                                                                          — Richard Rohr

(full quote)

“And he will be called…Mighty God…”

“‘Mighty God’ (Isaiah 9:6) is the name of this child. The child in the manger is none other than God himself. Nothing greater can be said: God became a child. In the Jesus child of Mary lives the almighty God. Wait a minute! Don’t speak; stop thinking! Stand still before this statement! God became a child! Here he is, poor like us, miserable and helpless like us, a person of flesh and blood like us, our brother. And yet he is God; he is might. Where is the divinity, where is the might of the child? In the divine love in which he became like us. His poverty in the manger is his might. In the might of love he overcomes the chasm between God and humankind, he overcomes sin and death, he forgives sin and awakens from the dead. Kneel down before this miserable manger, before this child of poor people, and repeat in faith the stammering words of the prophet: ‘Mighty God!’ And he will be your God and your might.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Canticle of Creation by Francis of Assisi

O Most High, all-powerful, good Lord God,
to you belong praise, glory,
honour and all blessing.
Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation
and especially for our Brother Sun,
who brings us the day and the light;
he is strong and shines magnificently.
O Lord, we think of you when we look at him.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon,
and for the stars
which you have set shining and lovely
in the heavens.
Be praised, my Lord,
for our Brothers Wind and Air
and every kind of weather
by which you, Lord,
uphold life in all your creatures.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water,
who is very useful to us,
and humble and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom you give us light in the darkness:
he is bright and lively and strong.
Be praised, my Lord,
for Sister Earth, our Mother,
who nourishes us and sustains us,
bringing forth
fruits and vegetables of many kinds
and flowers of many colours.
Be praised, my Lord,
for those who forgive for love of you;
and for those
who bear sickness and weakness
in peace and patience
—you will grant them a crown.
Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister Death,
whom we must all face.
I praise and bless you, Lord,
and I give thanks to you,
and I will serve you in all humility.

Henri Nouwen on Peace-Making

“Christians should put survival of the planet ahead of national security... Here is the mystery of our global responsibility: that we are in communion with Christ—and we are in communion with all people... The fact that the people of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Russia, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia are our brothers and sisters is not obvious. People kill each other by the thousands and do not see themselves as brothers and sisters. If we want to be real peace-makers, national security cannot be our primary concern. Our primary concern should be survival of humanity, the survival of the planet, and the health of all people.” — Henri Nouwen

The Court Prophets

The Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians typically call the “Old Testament” or the “First Testament”) give us accounts of the writings, speeches and actions of the prophets. Most people misinterpret what prophecy was. Seldom did it involve foretelling the future. The prophets spoke to the present. Their words were highly contextual messages from God to his people, especially to those in power. The prophets railed against corruption and the exploitation of the weak. They demanded that the powerful use their power for the poor and oppressed. And they emphasized that if you didn’t care for the most vulnerable among you, you had no right to consider yourself a follower of God.

The prophets were routinely ignored or scorned or persecuted. Speaking truth to power is seldom rewarded.

Of course, not everyone who called himself a prophet was the real deal. Kings and rulers liked to select “holy men” as part of their court to give them credibility. The “court prophets” would tell the king what he wanted to hear. They would also assure the people that what the king said was blessed by God. So when the king spoke, his religious minions would assure everyone that, regardless of what seemed right and regardless of what the law of the Lord taught them, the King was to be honored and obeyed. The rules didn’t really apply to him. He had an understanding about governing that superseded the wisdom of the masses. Trust us prophets when we tell you that you can trust the king.

The true prophets started with justice and confronted the rulers, no matter the cost. One of the clearest examples was when Nathan stuck his finger in the face of King David—the most popular and powerful king in all of Israel’s history—and said, “You’re the man” who committed grave sin against the weak. (It took great courage because David had already evidenced that he was willing to kill in order to cover up his crime.)

The court prophets didn’t start with justice and confront the king. They started with the king and twisted justice to fit his agenda. I’m sure they fared better than those armed with truth.

Little has changed. Rulers and would-be rulers always want us to believe that God is on their side. And since our politicians are not theologians, they need court prophets to bless their actions before the masses.

The court prophets were on display this week in Cleveland. They didn’t start with God’s justice for the weak and oppressed, demanding that Donald Trump and his party implement that kind of justice. They started with the goal of electing a Republican. Then they did theological somersaults to make it work for themselves and their followers. Supreme Court appointments. Protection of religious rights. Defeating Hillary Clinton. These and other rationale were used to describe the would-be king as a man chosen by God, when common sense and a simple reading of the New Testament shows that Donald Trump has stood for nothing that reflects the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Trump loves the evangelicals. But, of course, the evangelicals of today’s America have lost the meaning of the evangel. The evangel—the good news—becomes pretty bad news when the court prophets distort it for the king.

A Steady Diet of Distraction

“From movie channels to cable TV to the Internet, society offers us myriad ways to artificially reinvigorate the mind. And when I am really tired, they are hard to resist. After all, what could be wrong with a little entertainment after a long day’s work?

What’s wrong is that a steady diet of over-stimulating or fantasy-inducing distraction eventually reshapes our perception of the world and prevents us from dealing with reality. Twenty-five years ago, long before cable channels or stirring websites existed, Neil Postman wrote an analysis of the way that television was reshaping our view of the world. The problem, he said, was not so much that TV was entertaining. Life is hard, and everyone needs a momentary lift on occasion. The problem was that TV had come to dominate the culture, which meant that almost all our experiences were now coming to us as entertainment rather than in the form of serious intellectual, moral, or spiritual questions.

When we watch TV, all we have to do is make a simple, childish choice: is this interesting or boring? If it fails to pass the test, we just flip the channel and move on. It’s not surprising that even newscasters have succumbed to the entertainment trend: unless they over-stimulate us or lead us into the escapist fantasies we’ve come to expect, why would we watch them?

Jesus, however, links genuine freedom to our ability to recognize truth. ‘If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (John 8:31-32). Free from what? Misperception, melodrama, falsehood, artificiality, superficiality, and self-indulgent egoism—everything the entertainment industry depends on to hold our attention.”

— Paula Huston in Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit

John 19:15

“Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware those who cannot tell God’s will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains start wearing guns and hanging out at the sheriff’s office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar.” — Barbara Brown Taylor


“Simplicity is the first cousin of contentment. Its motto is, ‘We brought nothing into this world, and we can certainly carry nothing out.’ It recognizes that we are pilgrims. It concentrates us on what we need, and measures this by what we use. It rejoices in the good things of creation, but hates waste and greed and clutter. It knows how easily the seed of the Word is smothered by the ‘cares and riches of this life.’ It wants to be free of distractions, in order to love and serve God and others.” — John Stott

Nothing to do with Jesus

When I disagree with my Christian sisters and brothers over issues of theology or Christian ethics, I always try to be kind. When you vociferously disagree with someone, it often sounds as though you are attacking their motives and integrity. I don’t want to do that. I cannot read anyone’s mind. I cannot know the heart of another. So, often I don’t even mention the person by name. That way I disagree with their views and don’t come off like I’m impugning their motives.

But this time, I’m going to point out what one Evangelical leader said and to do so I must call him by name. I still maintain that it is not my job to judge his motives. He has done so many good things. But in this case his words run so contrary to the gospel that I feel like I must speak out. My critique will sound harsh. I don’t mean to be harsh to this man. But I am incensed by what he is proclaiming. And I think you should be as well.

I don’t have a fraction of the influence that Franklin Graham has. He has hundreds of thousands of Facebook followers and is often interviewed by national media outlets. I’m just a pastor of a local church. I don’t have a voice. But what he said about LGBTQ children has so much potential for harm that I feel like Evangelical pastors need to speak out against this distortion of the gospel. I’ll assume Franklin Graham is trying to do the right thing as he sees it. But I believe his perspective is wrong and can have destructive results.

As Franklin Graham was recently interviewed on “Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk,” he said…

“We have allowed the Enemy to come into our churches. I was talking to some Christians and they were talking about how they invited these gay children to come into their home and to come into the church and that they were wanting to influence them. And I thought to myself, they’re not going to influence those kids; those kids are going to influence those parent’s children.

What happens is we think we can fight by smiling and being real nice and loving. We have to understand who the Enemy is and what he wants to do. He wants to devour our homes. He wants to devour this nation and we have to be so careful who we let our kids hang out with. We have to be so careful who we let into the churches. You have immoral people who get into the churches and it begins to effect the others in the church and it is dangerous.” 

I’ll be honest, so often when I hear destructive comments from influential Evangelicals, I have to fight hard to keep from becoming an angry person. But this time, it wasn’t anger that seized me. I was overcome with sadness. On so many levels this statement runs contrary to the way of Christ and when it is proclaimed by someone with so much influence the results could crush many lives.

Contrary to what Jesus taught us, an Evangelical leader is telling believers not to show hospitality in their homes and in their churches. He is saying that people (even children) have to earn our hospitality by their beliefs or their conduct. What does this have to do with grace?

Franklin Graham is advocating keeping children out of the church—“we have to be so careful who we let our kids hang out with. We have to be so careful who we let into the churches.” Seriously? Keep children away from the church—away from Jesus? What did Jesus have to say about that?

The Gospel of Mark said that Jesus became “indignant” when people tried to keep children from coming to him (Mark 10:14). And Matthew described a time when Jesus brought a child to stand among those he was teaching. Having placed the child in their midst, he said, whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:2-6).

Among the most at risk children in our society are transgender children. They are susceptible to abuse, homelessness, exploitation, trafficking and suicide in staggering numbers. I recently spoke to a woman who, with her husband, pastors a church in Detroit. In her section of the city she sees homeless, transgender teenagers who are picked up and trafficked. Her first response when she saw this? She began to befriend them to try to discover how she could help them. It never entered her mind to tell her people to reject them—to keep them out of their homes and their church.

Gay teenagers have experienced rejection after rejection. And now a leading Evangelical is telling people to keep it up—keep rejecting them.

In listening to Franklin Graham’s interview I was especially baffled when he said, “What happens is we think we can fight by smiling and being real nice and loving.” He not only characterizes LGBTQ children as tools of the enemy that will infiltrate our homes and churches, he then disparages the ethic of love that Jesus taught us.

We think we can fight with love. Where do you suppose we got that idea?

This is not some different flavor of Christianity he is espousing. This is not doctrinal trivia. This is not a mild disagreement among denominations. Franklin Graham is encouraging Evangelicals to ignore the teachings of Jesus—both in the way we treat oppressed children and in jettisoning the love ethic that is at the heart of our faith.

By the way, if you wonder why millennial Christians are leaving Evangelicalism, it may be because of an increasing perception that Evangelicalism has nothing to do with Jesus.

Bonhoeffer on Enemy Love

“Christian love draws no distinction between one enemy and another, except that the more bitter our enemy’s hatred, the greater his need of love. Be his enmity political or religious, he has nothing to expect from a follower of Jesus but unqualified love. In such love there is no inner discord between the private person and official capacity. In both we are disciples of Christ, or we are not Christians at all.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Itching Ears

In addressing his congregation at First Baptist Church of Dallas, Robert Jeffress said, “Donald Trump was absolutely correct Thursday night when he said it is time to start bombing the ‘you know what’ out of ISIS.” The crowd applauded and cheered.

The President of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell, Jr., addressed the student body with these sentiments: “I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in…let's teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” The crowd applauded and cheered.

People simply love to hear their leaders call for the killing of their enemies. That, of course, is not what Jesus taught. But Paul explained the cheers to us…

“The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3)

When in the soul of the serene disciple — a poem by Thomas Merton

When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house. 

Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions.

Be still:
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.

Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum.
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement.
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction.

What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.

Is Left Behind Movie’s Rapture Biblical?

A few days ago I blogged about the two so-called “left behind” passages found in the New Testament—Matthew 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-35. I pointed out that, placed in proper context, these passages could not possibly mean what current rapture theology teaches.

I said that I hoped to soon write about the other passage that people often cite as describing a “rapture” of the church—1 Thessalonians 4:17. But today I discovered that a friend of mine, Dr. Dan Boone, has written a wonderful, concise explanation of that verse. So rather than writing about it myself, I’m giving you the link to Dan’s article…

Is Left Behind Movie’s Rapture Biblical?

Dan is a man I greatly admire. He is the president of Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee.

In addition to Dan’s explanation of 1 Thessalonians 4, here is a video from Ben Witherington that addresses the same passage. (Also, at the beginning, he briefly deals with the “left behind” passage of Matthew 24).

What Does “Left Behind” Really Mean?

I recently posted a video by Ben Witherington titled, “Where Did Rapture Theology Come From?” In my comments I said that I would blog about some of the exegetical problems of rapture theology.

When it comes to eschatology—the study of last things—it’s very difficult to debate the details. That’s because the Bible is not trying to give us details. In my estimation, the biggest problem with dispensational theology is not so much exegetical as it is hermeneutical. In other words, dispensational theology uses the apocalyptic literature in the Bible in ways that it was never intended to be used. The Book of Revelation (and other Jewish apocalyptic literature, such as that contained in Daniel) was never intended to be a detailed road map to the last days. Revelation uses dramatic imagery to convey large themes to the persecuted Christians of the first century. While it has great application for us today, it is not giving a timeline of twenty-first century events. So arguments about what nation today is being talked about in a particular verse miss the point.

But let’s step away from Revelation and into the gospels to talk about the origins of the term “Left Behind.” Ironically, the two passages that gave birth to that term cannot possibly be referring to what is called the “secret rapture” of the church—a day when believers will disappear from the earth.

The passages used are the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:40-41…

“Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” (NIV)

…and Luke 17:34-35…

“I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.” (NIV)

In biblical interpretation, context is everything. If you want to misinterpret a passage, you start by ripping it out of its context. When we talk about the context of a scriptural passage we’re speaking about the type of biblical genre we’re dealing with (poetry, law, history, gospel, apocalyptic, etc.), the cultural context (where, when, why and by whom it was written—the world and circumstances in which it came about), and, of course, the immediate context (the verses and chapters surrounding it). So let’s look at the context of these two passages.

First of all, Jesus preceded them both by saying, “Just as it was in the days of Noah…” (Matthew 24:37, Luke 17:26). If you’ll recall the Noah story, it was the unrighteous who were swept away and it was the followers of God who were left behind to rebuild the world destroyed by the flood. If Jesus was trying to tell us the opposite, He certainly would not have specifically chosen the story of Noah as a point of comparison.

Then in Luke 17:37—immediately following Jesus’ words about those who are taken away—the disciples ask, “Where, Lord?” Jesus replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.” In other words, they die. That cannot possibly refer to a rapture of the saints. He’s saying that those taken away are killed.

Throughout those two passages Jesus gives a number of warnings that simply do not make sense if we maintain that He is talking about the disappearance of His people—their evacuation from this earth.

“Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 24:17-20)

“On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything.” (Luke 17:31)

“Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath” is certainly not a reference to a flight to heaven!

So what is Jesus talking about? He is obviously speaking about a cataclysmic event. He’s warning His disciples.

Most biblical scholars believe that Jesus was speaking about the impending destruction of Jerusalem, which did indeed happen in 70 AD. The Romans came and desecrated the Temple, destroyed it and burned Jerusalem to the ground. This desecration and destruction would explain Matthew 24:15-16…

“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”

If you were raised to see Matthew 24 as a rapture and tribulation passage, it’s going to feel like a real stretch to see it solely as a description of what happened in 70 AD. There are so many cosmic phrases in there, such as…

“..then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

“They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30)

…and many others.

Some scholars will point out that in this passage Jesus has reverted to apocalyptic language—the language of imagery. In fact, Matthew 24 is often referred to as “the little apocalypse” (referring to its length, not its importance).

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve wrestled with Matthew 24 for a number of years. I certainly don’t claim to understand it all. I do believe Jesus is warning His followers about what the Romans were going to do. That much is clear to me. But it feels like there is so much more there. But what is crystal clear to me is that Jesus is not teaching about a secret rapture—the disappearance of His people from the face of the earth.

The term “rapture” does not occur in the New Testament. But, more important, the concept of the rapture does not appear in the Bible. For two thousand years Christians have believed that Jesus would return to earth, not that we would evacuate the earth.

I believe that Jesus will return. There can be no clearer teaching on this than what is found in Acts 1:11—“This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

That is our hope. The King and His kingdom are with us, but someday they will come in their fullness. We are called to do the work of His kingdom—today. We are called to be the answer to the prayer He taught us pray…

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)


(I hope to blog soon on the other passage that some people believe refers to a rapture—1 Thessalonians 4:17.)

Where Did Rapture Theology Come From?

Dr. Ben Witherington III teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is widely read and considered to be one of the preeminent evangelical New Testament scholars of our day. That’s right, Dr. Witherington is an evangelical. He cannot be written off as someone who is trying to debunk the Christian faith or someone who doesn’t take scripture seriously. He holds a very high view of scripture.

The reason I’m sharing Dr. Witherington’s evangelical bona fides is that most people will think his view of the rapture is at odds with evangelical Christianity. It certainly is at odds with popular evangelical culture and the majority of end times preaching that you see on television. But Dr. Witherington stands squarely in the historical and scriptural understanding of Christ’s return.

In this short video he makes a brief reference to the exegetical problems of rapture theology, but does not address them. There are many. (Perhaps I’ll blog about them soon.) We believe in the return of Jesus Christ, as Christians have for the past two millennia. But we should not embrace a theology that does not have its origins in responsible biblical interpretation.

Dispensational theology has done a lot of damage to the Christian witness for peace and justice in our day. I think it is important to see its origins. 

I agree with Dr. Witherington when he says that the “Left Behind” theology needs to be left behind.

Remembering Our Martyrs

This morning I read these insightful words from Michael J. Gorman's Reading Revelation Responsibly...

“The current dearth of martyrs in the Western church may be welcome, but its accompanying amnesia of past martyrs and our ignorance of contemporary martyrs elsewhere in the world are tragic. In addition to failing at practicing the communion of the saints, this lack also feeds the desire for national heroes and martyrs. In church history, there has often been a strong correspondence between the absence of truly Christian heroes and martyrs and the presence of religious-like commitment to the nation state and its heroes and martyrs—i.e., civil religion. This is not only because the absence of martyrdom means that the state is not persecuting the church (and may even seem to protect it), but also because Christians know instinctively that they collectively need to have something ultimate for which to live and die. Without a close connection to the church’s saints and martyrs, Christians will often follow the cultural norm and make their nation state (or tribe or race), rather that the Gospel, that ultimate.” — Michael J. Gorman

It brought to mind the Heroes blog I wrote a year and a half ago.