When Christians take the Christ out of Christmas

war-on-christmasThis is a condensed, blog-friendly version of my sermon from yesterday. Listen to it here.

The so-called “War on Christmas” has been beaten nearly to death. On one side, many Christians believe that using words like X-mas and wishing someone “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” are the mildest forms of a more-or-less systematic attack on Christmas (and by extension, the Christian foundations of American culture). This camp believes – and rightly so – that you cannot and should not take the Christ out of Christmas. (by the way, go read this)

On the other side, many recognize that America is becoming increasingly pluralistic, and in an effort to welcome other faiths and cultures into the dominant culture, are removing the most explicitly religious elements of Christmas celebrations. This camp believes – and rightly so – that there’s a lot you can do around the holidays that doesn’t have to involve Jesus.

I’m not interested in taking a side in the War on Christmas (though as usual, Jon Stewart is pretty spot-on). I’m more interested in how those who call themselves Christians are fighting this “War”.

Christians are taking the Christ out of Christmas by the way we treat our enemies in this “War”.Continue reading

StoryMen: Apocalypse 2012 Special

storymen_bannerNEW The second (and possibly last!) episode of my new StoryMen podcast with Matt Mikalatos and Clay Morgan is up! Since December 21 is right around the corner, we welcome our first (and possibly last!) special guest, author and podcaster Jason Boyett. Jason’s sort of an Apocalypse expert, having written two very excellent books on the subject.

BONUS: check out the new StoryMen look! The art is courtesy of M. S. Corley, a truly astounding artist (who does COMIC BOOKS WHAT!?!). Check out his blog for some excellent art!

How to listen:

  1. You can subscribe on iTunes.
  2. You can listen on the StoryMen site.
  3. Oh, and if you haven’t liked us on Facebook yet, do it!
  4. You can WATCH us (!) on YouTube. Thanks right! Thanks to the magic of the interwebs, you can watch all four of us talk! It’s 1.057% more exciting than listening to us! Though you do get to see how pretty we are, which is an obvious bonus.

Enjoy these preview clips:

Continue reading

America, Israel and Palestine – Lynne Hybles

Few Evangelical Christians are active peacemakers. Why?

Lynne HyblesSome Christians see Israel’s modern state as the fulfillment of prophecy. Others feel the opposite. Both sides caricature the other. Far from Peacemaking, many Christians only fuel the conflict.

Lynne spent much time with both Palestinian & Israel; communities. She learned that,

We disagree on some points of theology, but we agree on the basic human dignity of all peoples in the Holy Land.Continue reading

Week 2 – The Seven Churches of Revelation

JR. Forasteros - September 12, 2012

Week 2 - The Seven Churches

Week 2 - The Seven Churches

We explore Jesus' messages to the Seven Churches in Asia. This lesson covers Revelation chapters 2-3.

From Series: "Revelation to John"

Week 2 Notesheet     Week 2 PowerPoint

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This week we explore the seven letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation. We’ll see that each Church faced the pressure from the dominant Roman culture differently, and Jesus’ message speaks directly to each church.

Jesus’ message to the Seven Churches of Revelation is just as urgent for the Church today.

You can subscribe the the podcast right here: SUBSCRIBE IN ITUNES (and rate it if you like it!)

YOUR TURN: Which of the Churches do you most connect to? How did chapters 2-3 treat you overall?

The Rapture (Part 2)

A great picture of a Rapture interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4. We've got Jesus in the clouds and the angel with the trumpet. And of course everyone leaving Earth to get to Heaven.Last time, I began to explore the Rapture, a doctrine that says at some point Jesus will come back and take all the Christians to Heaven. I looked first at the most ‘obvious’ Rapture passage, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.

I argued that when Christians meet Jesus in the air, we don’t go back to Heaven, but rather back down to Earth.

This Raptured-to-Earth Rapture is very different than the Rapture most of us know. Is it consistent with other Biblical pictures of the End?

Do you want to be Left Behind?

Probably the other most influential ‘Rapture passage’ is Matthew 24:36-42. This is the passage that granted the Left Behind book series its name:

No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away.

That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes. Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left. So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. — Matthew 24:36-42 (NLT)


The song that shaped how my teenage imagination of the Rapture

From the lips of Jesus himself comes what sounds like a clear endorsement of Rapture theology. Two people will be together and one will be taken, while one will be left behind. The imagery is powerful, and has inspired books, art and music. (Notably from my teen years, DC Talk’s remake of “I Wish We’d All Been Ready”) This single passage – and really, just a couple of verses (40-42), has birthed most of the images that make the Rapture so unpalatable and horrifying for many of us.

What does Jesus really say about the Rapture?

To read the passage, it’s hard to deny that the images are justified. Isn’t this an indisputable argument for the Rapture?

The question is, who is taken, and who is left behind?Well, no. Not really. Look closely at what Jesus is saying here. First, he’s primarily addressing the timing of the End. The disciples asked (back in v3) how they would know when he was coming back. And Jesus gave them some signs, but then concludes his list with a warning: no one knows when this is going to go down. So be careful.

And his warning draws from a Biblical story: “it will be like it was in Noah’s day.” Consider what happened in the Genesis 6-8 flood story: God warned that judgment was coming, so Noah built an ark while everyone else partied. Noah and his family got into the ark. And – as Jesus points out – the judgment came and swept away all the wicked. Noah and his family – the righteous people – got to stay on the (recreated) earth. Jesus says the same thing will happen at the End. Two people will be standing together, and one will be taken away. That’s not disputed. The question is who gets taken? And who gets left?

If the story of Noah is our guide, then the wicked are those who will be taken away. The righteous get left behind to enjoy a new, restored world. This is an anti-Rapture.

This picture has it all backwards. The angel should be taking away the wicked person to judgment. Not vice-versa.

Again, we have this story backwards. 1 Thessalonians isn’t about God taking us away from Earth, but reclaiming the Earth. And here in Matthew, Jesus promises to return, not to abandon the Earth, but finally and ultimately to save it.

So will Christians be ‘raptured’? Technically, yes. Sort of.

To be clear: according to the Scriptures, believers will be caught up into the air to meet Jesus. But we will not return to Heaven. Rather, we will join him in reclaiming the Earth, in finally saying No to injustice and evil. While the unrepentant are finally taken away, we will be left behind with God to enjoy a beautiful, restored creation (cf. Revelation 21-22’s vision of the New Jerusalem).

Does what we believe about the Rapture actually matter?

NOT what we should be excited about. Not at all.This is probably the major difference between Rapture theologies and the Biblical picture. Is the Earth something to be used up and discarded? Or is it a place God loves and plans to reclaim?

Do we just abandon non-Christians to an ever-worsening torment as the Earth is destroyed? Or do we work with every last bit of energy in us to share with them the Good News that Jesus is coming back to reclaim his Earth and they can be part of that?

God has not abandoned the Earth. God is not planning to abandon the Earth. God has made this abundantly clear in the Scriptures.

Our theology ought to reflect that, as Peter Rollins’ rapture parable cleverly teaches us. We ought to be working to bring Heaven to Earth. We ought to be living as though the Kingdom of God is already among us. We ought to be telling everyone we know the Good News that Jesus has not abandoned us, that he is in fact coming back for us. And that we have no idea when that will be, so we should be ready at all times.

YOUR TURN: Does our ‘Rapture theology’ really matter that much? Is this an important discussion? Or is it just theological and biblical hair-splitting?

The Rapture (Part 1)

So far in our exploration of what the Bible actually says about the End of the World, we’ve looked at the Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast. For the next couple of weeks, we’ll look at the biggest question mark of all – the Rapture.

What do we think about the Rapture?

RaptureStickerThe Rapture is the quintessential End Times event. In popular culture, it’s a cataclysmic world changer in which Jesus descends out of the clouds and takes all the Christians to Heaven. Christians disappear in the blink of an eye, vanishing out of their clothes, leaving cars abandoned – even those being driven. Everyone else will be left behind to deal with the ensuing chaos and face the Great Tribulation.*Continue reading