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Archive for June, 2016


(This is Day 21 in our 30-day series about Revelation, what it means and doesn’t mean.)

In spite of its seemingly bizarre and incomprehensible contents, Revelation continues to have a huge impact on Western culture.

Dr. Jan Love–Dean and Professor of Christianity and World Politicsat the United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology–offered 2 reasons why Revelation’s influence has always been so powerfully pervasive in a 2001 sermon.

You can read the transcript of the sermon–or listen to it–by going here.

If not, here’s a version of her sermon, titled “The Grace of the City of God,” slightly condensed:

If this book is so misunderstood, why is its influence so pervasive? Why has it fired the imagination of writers, artists, and more ordinary folks like us for centuries and popular culture today? The answer, I believe, has two parts

Dr. Jan Love, Dean at Emory University's Candler Seminary. Her sermon on Revelation from six years ago remains relevant.

Dr. Jan Love, Dean at Emory University’s Candler Seminary. Her sermon on Revelation from six years ago remains relevant.

.

The first is that the world can be a really scary place–not always, but enough of the time to fuel plenty of anxiety and apocalyptic imagination. Revelation is written in the late first century, a scary time for Christians. It’s in the form of a letter from John, a Christian in exile on the island of Patmos, to Christians in seven churches in the country we now know as Turkey. It was then still part of the Roman Empire. Many Romans saw Christians as disloyal or unpatriotic because some refused to worship the emperor. Some were imprisoned, tortured, or even executed. Many Christians, however, succumbed to the temptation simply to accommodate themselves to the prevailing religious and cultural rituals in order to avoid social ostracism and economic deprivation.

In the midst of such problems, the letter of Revelation was sent not to foretell the end of time but to unveil the truth about the challenges the churches faced and about God’s presence with them. John wanted to give Christians hope, help them endure, and encourage them to resist complacency and accommodation with the religion and social practices of the empire around them.

We, too, live in a scary time. In the last year and a half, we have lived through the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. … Our nation is at war in a number of places, most notably Iraq and Afghanistan. …

We live in a scary time. You know all these problems. I could list more, but I don’t need to recite them. You are already well acquainted with them.

The worst part, however, is that much of this death-dealing destruction is done in the name of religion. Those who blow themselves up on airplanes or in markets, busy streets, or mosques have a religious vision, as do those who seek vengeance and retribution for such attacks. Those who preach a gospel of prosperity and blame the jobless and the poor for their plight have a religious vision, as do those who would deny food and healthcare to children.

We who call ourselves conscientious Christians also have a religious vision. Has your religion ever gotten in the way of you offering love and grace to a wounded world? If you are like me, I bet it has. One of the problems with deeply religious people like us is that we are sometimes so clear in our convictions that we try to mow down anyone who gets in the way of our carrying them out.

We live in a scary world. No wonder people are drawn to apocalyptic visions! No wonder folks speculate about the world coming to an end. One of my favorite bumper stickers, those occasional theological sound bites that we read in traffic says, “God is coming and she is mad!”

God have every reason to be mad! We’re making a colossal mess of things here! We choose to glorify in all the wrong stuff: war; humiliating our adversaries; shaming the immigrant; ignoring or neglecting our children and families; consuming goods that possess us rather than us possessing them; going through the motions of our religion rather than cultivating spiritual disciplines that help us listen carefully and prayerfully to God; and so much more. These are all choices we actively make, but we don’t have to choose these things–a lesson also found in Revelation.

The second reason that the book of Revelation remains a profoundly powerful text despite being so bizarre is that it acknowledges the hardship and suffering of daily existence while it also invokes the deepest longings of the human heart for life in all its fullness, healed and whole.

In the passage from John 14, Jesus tells the disciples that he will not always be with them. He is speaking to them about their fears, anxieties, and despair. He offers them a choice. He says, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

Eugene Petersen renders this last part of the passage more colloquially, stating that if we keep God’s word, God will “move right into the neighborhood!” God shares the neighborhood with us, but only if we choose to live there! We choose to live there by embodying God’s love for the world. …

The passage from Revelation 21 and 22 offers a similar choice. Throughout the book, Babylon serves as the primary symbol for the Roman Empire complete with its injustice, violence and oppression. Candler scholar of New Testament, Gail O’Day, says, “…the goal of Revelation is to invite the churches to move out of Babylon and into the grace of the city of God.”

And what a city it is, this new Jerusalem! The city comes “down out of heaven from God” (21:10). There’s no need for a temple because God’s presence permeates everything. The gates are always open and the gifts of creation are abundantly available to all–all the nations and rulers of the earth. …

Kindness, justice, truth, grace, love and righteousness on earth! What a vision. We speak of it every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Those of us who know the saving grace of Jesus Christ need desperately to live out our belief that God intends to reclaim, restore and redeem the life of all creation to its divine intention. If ever there was a time when the world needs the healing, saving grace of Jesus Christ, it is now.

Revelation is powerful precisely because, in the midst of our anxiety, fear, and hopelessness, our dreams for a future life with God break into the present. Revelation assures us that good overcomes evil, love overcomes hate, hope overcomes despair, and life overcomes death–all here and now, as well as in eternity.

Is there any tangible and plain proof that God has moved into your life? Does God’s glory–the weighty, powerful, radiant presence of love, grace, healing and wholeness–shine out from your house and your church? Does your faith light up your neighborhood?

We must choose every day to demonstrate concretely and visibly our love for Christ, for each other and for the well-being of our communities. When we do, we actively choose to live in the grace of the city of God, the place that embodies the fullness of God’s hope for the world and for lives grounded in love.

Will you pray with me?

God, help us move out of the city of Babylon with all of its temptations and its destructive influence in our lives and that of others. Help us move into the city of grace where we embody your love and hope and healing for ourselves and for the whole world. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

The takeaway from Revelation today is:

21. “Revelation is powerful precisely because, in the midst of our anxiety, fear, and hopelessness, our dreams for a future life with God break into the present. Revelation assures us that good overcomes evil, love overcomes hate, hope overcomes despair, and life overcomes death–all here and now, as well as in eternity.”

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Although God allows grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone. (My italics for emphasis.)”

— Lamentations 3: 32-33

The death of a 2-year-old innocent or any other child causes unbearable pain and suffering and there is nothing anyone can say to comfort bereaved parents.

Rev. William Sloan Coffin

Rev. William Sloan Coffin

And yet Christians who don’t know what to say to suffering parents fall back on the usual, unhelpful platitudes trying to make moms and dads and grandparents somehow feel better. Platitudes like the all-too-common phrases:

    “God must have wanted another beautiful flower for his garden.”

    Or, “God’s plan is not for us to understand.”

Such awful cliches are cold comfort for parents like the Nebraska couple having to process the horror of watching their 2-year-old get dragged to his death by an alligator last week.

Unfortunately, I saw those platitudes pop up in memes all over the Internet in the wake of the Disney World incident.

Please stop and think about it: such platitudes make God out to be some kind of monster who inflicts unbearable pain on parents in order to sweeten some heavenly garden of children taken away from the moms and dads who loved them unconditionally.

God has no “plan” that causes death and suffering on anybody, much less babies and children. To suggest that some kind of mysterious plan was at work in the horrible alligator incident is rather a bizarre suggestion.

We live in a living, breathing world that comes complete with dangers, a world in which bad things do and will happen for reasons that no one can explain. If you try to explain the death of a child as the will of God you may be well intentioned. But a lot of bad and even harmful God-talk springs from good intentions.

The Old Testament book of Lamentations I quoted at the top of this post says it all:

    GOD DOES NOT WILLINGLY AFFLICT OR GRIEVE ANYONE.

That grace-filled scripture notes that what God does is feel the pain of those who are afflicted and in grief when horrific things happen.

What God does is walk with us through the darkest valleys with extravagant love and compassion. God doesn’t lay suffering on us; God suffers with us.

As much as we want to say something to make anyone laid low by grief feel better, there is nothing we can possibly say to make someone in extreme grief feel better. The best thing we can do is just be present and grieve with them in silence.

* * *

Ten days after his son Alex was killed in a car accident-–and a few weeks after the death of his own mother–-the late, great Rev. William Sloane Coffin delivered this famous sermon to his congregation at Riverside Church in New York City in the early eighties.

In the wake of the death of the 2-year-old boy in Orlando, Coffin’s eulogy to his son Alex bears reprinting here . . .

    As almost all of you know, a week ago last Monday night, driving in a terrible storm, my son — Alexander — who to his friends was a real day-brightener, and to his family “fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky” — my twenty-four-year-old Alexander, who enjoyed beating his old man at every game and in every race, beat his father to the grave.

    Among the healing flood of letters that followed his death was one carrying this wonderful quote from the end of Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”:

    “The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.”

    My own broken heart is mending, and largely thanks to so many of you, my dear parishioners; for if in the last week I have relearned one lesson, it is that love not only begets love, it transmits strength.

    When a person dies, there are many things that can be said, and there is at least one thing that should never be said.

    The night after Alex died I was sitting in the living room of my sister’s house outside of Boston, when the front door opened and in came a nice-looking, middle-aged woman, carrying about eighteen quiches. When she saw me, she shook her head, then headed for the kitchen, saying sadly over her shoulder, “I just don’t understand the will of God.” Instantly I was up and in hot pursuit, swarming all over her. “I’ll say you don’t, lady!” I said.

    For some reason, nothing so infuriates me as the incapacity of seemingly intelligent people to get it through their heads that God doesn’t go around this world with his fingers on triggers, his fists around knives, his hands on steering wheels. God is dead set against all unnatural deaths. And Christ spent an inordinate amount of time delivering people from paralysis, insanity, leprosy, and muteness. Which is not to say that there are no nature-caused deaths — I can think of many right here in this parish in the five years I’ve been here — deaths that are untimely and slow and pain-ridden, which for that reason raise unanswerable questions, and even the specter of a Cosmic Sadist — yes, even an Eternal Vivisector. But violent deaths, such as the one Alex died — to understand those is a piece of cake. As his younger brother put it simply, standing at the head of the casket at the Boston funeral, “You blew it, buddy. You blew it.” The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is “It is the will of God.” Never do we know enough to say that. My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.

    I mentioned the healing flood of letters. Some of the very best, and easily the worst, knew their Bibles better than the human condition. I know all the “right” biblical passages, including “Blessed are those who mourn,” and my faith is no house of rest, came from fellow reverends, a few of whom proved they knew their cards; these passages are true, I know. But the point is this. While the words of the Bible are true, grief renders them unreal. The reality of grief is the absence of God — “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” The reality of grief is the solitude of pain, the feeling that your heart is in pieces, your mind’s a blank, that “there is no joy the world can give like that it takes away.” (Lord Byron).

    That’s why immediately after such a tragedy people must come to your rescue, people who only want to hold your hand, not to quote anybody or even say anything, people who simply bring food and flowers — the basics of beauty and life — people who sign letters simply, “Your brokenhearted sister.” In other words, in my intense grief I felt some of my fellow reverends — not many, and none of you, thank God — were using comforting words of Scripture for self-protection, to pretty up a situation whose bleakness they simply couldn’t face. But like God herself, Scripture is not around for anyone’s protection, just for everyone’s unending support.

    And that’s what hundreds of you understood so beautifully. You gave me what God gives all of us — minimum protection, maximum support. I swear to you, I wouldn’t be standing here were I not upheld.

    After the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote, “They say ‘the coward dies many times’; so does the beloved. Didn’t the eagle find a fresh liver to tear in Prometheus every time it dined?”

    When parents die, as my mother did last month, they take with them a large portion of the past. But when children die, they take away the future as well. That is what makes the valley of the shadow of death seem so incredibly dark and unending. In a prideful way it would be easier to walk the valley alone, nobly, head high, instead of — as we must — marching as the latest recruit in the world’s army of the bereaved.

    Still there is much by way of consolation. Because there are no rankling unanswered questions, and because Alex and I simply adored each other, the wound for me is deep, but clean. I know how lucky I am! I also know this day-brightener of a son wouldn’t wish to be held close by grief (nor, for that matter, would any but the meanest of our beloved departed) and that, interestingly enough, when I mourn Alex least I see him best.

    Another consolation, of course, will be the learning — which better be good, given the price. But it’s a fact: few of us are naturally profound. We have to be forced down. So while trite, it’s true:

    I walked a mile with Pleasure,
    She chattered all the way;
    But left me none the wiser
    For all she had to say.

    I walked a mile with Sorrow
    And ne’er a word said she;
    But the things I learned from her
    But oh, the things I learned from her
    When sorrow walked with me.
    –Robert Browning Hamilton

    Or, in Emily Dickinson’s verse:
    By a departing light
    We see acuter quite
    Than by a wick that stays.
    There’s something in the flight
    That clarifies the sight
    And decks the rays.

    And of course I know, even when pain is deep, that God is good. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Yes, but at least, “My God, my God”; and the psalm only begins that way, it doesn’t end that way.

    As the grief that once seemed unbearable begins to turn now to bearable sorrow, the truths in the “right” biblical passages are beginning, once again, to take hold: “Cast thy burden upon the Lord and He shall strengthen thee”; “Weeping may endure for the night but joy cometh in the morning”; “Lord, by thy favor thou hast made my mountain to stand strong”; “For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling”; “In this world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”; “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

    And finally I know that when Alex beat me to the grave, the finish line was not Boston Harbor in the middle of the night. If a week ago last Monday, a lamp went out, it was because, for him at least, the Dawn had come.

    So I shall — so let us all — seek consolation in that love which never dies, and find peace in the dazzling grace that always is.

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(This is Day 20 in our 30-day examination of Revelation with all it’s horror-show language and symbolism.”)

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who is seated upon many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and with the wine of whose fornication the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and bedecked with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her fornication; 5 and on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth’s abominations.”

— Revelation 17:1-5

A 1523 woodcut by Hans Burgkmair, for Martin Luther's translation of the New Testament, depicting the Whore of Babylon riding the seven-headed Beast

A 1523 woodcut by Hans Burgkmair, for Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament, depicting the Whore of Babylon riding the seven-headed Beast

The book of Revelation uses two major, complementary images of the evil power of Rome.

One is the sea-monster (‘the beast’)… the other image is the great city Babylon, first named in 14:8, and then portrayed as a woman, ‘the great harlot’, in chapter 17.

“Babylon is the city of Rome.”

— Revelation scholar Richard Bauckham in the 1993 book The Climax of Prophecy

A clergy friend of mine who grew up in a rural fundamentalist Baptist church in Arkansas once told me that members of the hometown church believed the Methodist Church was “the great whore of Babylon” referred to in Revelation 17:1-18.

“Where I grew up,” I noted when he told me this, “the fundamentalists used to say the whore of Babylon was the Roman Catholic Church.” Which is true: some of the more backward Christian thinkers in rural Texas back in the day were extremely anti-Catholic (and I have no doubt that some of the more backward home folk still are).

“Yeah, but our town didn’t have a Catholic Church,” my (now very progressive) Baptist friend said, grinning. “We only had a Methodist Church and it was close enough to Catholicism to be the great whore.”

So goes the silly nonsense that Revelation has stimulated for too long in the minds of backward Christians who believe the book was written as a prophecy predicting the distant future.

But then, even the Catholic-turned-protester Martin Luther–not exactly a silly, rural Texas or Arkansas boob–wrote in “the Babylonian Captivity of the Church”:

    “I now know of a certainty that the papacy is the kingdom of Babylon…”

* * *

The letter John of Patmos wrote to seven churches in Asia Minor was written to encourage first-century Christians living under brutal Roman rule to stay strong and keep the faith. Life was hard for those Christians because of their allegiance to the true God as opposed to the emperors in the line of Caesar who were considered to be God–and who expected to be worshiped as God.

In Revelation, a “whore” (or “harlot”) was the ultimate symbol of evil, idolatry and temptation. In John’s symbolic language, Rome was “Babylon,” a city awash in paganism and idolatry. Even Peter apparently used “Babylon” as a code name for Rome (1 Pet 5:13).

John with his metaphors and symbols was urging the Christians not to sell out their souls to wealth and surrender their allegiance to Caesar’s Babylon. John was urging them to remain true to Jerusalem, the true city of God.

For a detailed outline of the symbolism and various interpretations or Revelation 17, I commend to you an online source by Dr. Brant Pitre that you can link to here.

As for today’s takeaway:

20. In Revelation, the “whore” symbolizes evil and idolatry and Babylon is Rome. John was urging Christians in “Babylon” to stay faithful to God and not to give in to the Empire’s temptations.

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(This is Day 19 of our look at the last book in the Bible, Revelation.)

At the end of his First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul reiterates a prayer that originated in the first Christian communities in the Palestinian area: Maranà, thà!

That literally means, “Our Lord, come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22).

That prayer is also found at the very end of Bible in Revelation 22:20.

Richard Rohr notes that the Lord is always present, but we're often than not gone away from him!

Richard Rohr notes that the Lord is always present–it’s us who are somewhere else!

When we Christians beseech the Lord to come we are yearning for his loving, healing presence wherever there are broken lives and hearts: in refugee camps, in war zones, in homeless shelters and, currently, in places like Orlando, Florida.

We pray for the Lord to come and renew us, our hearts and lives, so that we may bring light to the darkest of places.

And yet . . . as His Greatness Father Richard Rohr* points out, the Lord is always coming, always present–even though we’re not. We Christians live in the tension of the now–having faith that Christ is present with us–and the not yet, having faith that Christ will come again to renew the broken and violent world.

Here’s a meditation from Rohr, whom I consider the Thomas Merton of our times, that he wrote on Mark 13: 33-37, titled “The Always Coming Christ” (adapted from “To Be Awake Is to Live in the Present,” Collection of Homilies 2008).

    Jesus said to his disciples, “Be awake. Be alert. You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work. And he orders the gatekeeper to be on watch. So I tell you, watch. You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cock crow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you, I say to all: stay awake.” –Mark 13:33-37

    Sadly, we’re almost programmed (perhaps by childhood conditioning) to hear the Gospel in a threatening or punitive way, as if Jesus is saying, “You’d better do it right, or I’m going to get you.” With that outlook, we are likely to largely miss the point in this passage. This is the bad fruit of using religion and Scripture to threaten people into love, which is actually a total impossibility. Most people who start with fear stay with fear and never get to the higher motivations.

    Let’s try to hear it in a much more exciting and positive way. Jesus is not talking about the second coming of Christ. He’s not talking about your death, either. What he’s talking about here is the forever coming of Christ, the always coming of Christ, the eternal coming of Christ…now…and now…and now. In the above passage Jesus says this clearly: “in the evening, at midnight, at cock crow, [and] in the morning.”

    You see, Christ is always coming; God is always present. It’s we who aren’t! We’re always somewhere else, at least I often am. Jesus tells us to be conscious, to be awake, to be alert, to be alive. It’s the key to all spirituality, because that is the one thing we aren’t. Be honest. Most of us live on cruise control. We just go through the motions of our daily routines. We wake up and we repeat what we did the day before, and we’re upset if there are any interruptions.

    But, in fact, when God has the best chance of getting at us is in the gaps, in the discontinuities, in the exceptions, in the surprises. This is what it means to be awake: to be constantly willing to say that God could even be coming to me in this! Even in this! Saying “Just this!” has become a new verbal practice of mine. I am learning to say it even amidst the things I don’t want, I don’t expect, and sometimes don’t like—in the evening, at midnight, at cock crow, or in the morning.

Today’s takeaway from Revelation:

19. We Christians live in the tension of the now–having faith that Christ is present with us–and the not yet, having faith that Christ will come again to renew the broken and violent world.

* More on Father Richard Rohr here.

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(This is Day 18 of our look at the book of Revelation and what it means–and doesn’t mean.)

Tim Laye, who founded the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell, has extreme anti-Catholic opinions that have landed him in trouble at times. He also has been associated with "The Moonies" and accepted $500,000 from a Moonie operative. That's a strange association for such a conservative evangelical.

Tim Laye, who founded the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell, has extreme anti-Catholic opinions that have landed him in trouble at times. He also has been associated with “The Moonies” and accepted $500,000 from a Moonie operative. That’s a strange association for such a conservative evangelical.

Jimmy Akin, a Roman Catholic speaker and apologist who writes at Catholic Answers (see here), once wrote a lengthy takedown of the Left Behind franchise of books and films that so badly distort the meaning of the books of Revelation and Daniel and other pieces of the Bible.

The title of Akin’s was:

False Profit: Money, Prejudice, and Bad Theology in Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind Series

The title makes it pretty obvious that Akin is no fan of LaHaye and the Left Behind franchise.

Again, Akin’s article is lengthy, but very readable and quite powerful in exposing the anti-Catholic prejudice in the Left Behind novels and shedding light on LaHaye’s less-than-sterling character.

You can read it here and I commend it to you.

Below is an excerpt from Akin’s piece exposing the background of Tim LaHaye–a Christian evangelical associated with, of all people, Sun Myung Moon, the “Moonies” leader who claims to be “the world’s new Messiah” and “the Lord of the Second Advent”:

    Tim LaHaye was born in 1926 in Detroit, Michigan. He fought in World War II and afterwards attended Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Bob Jones is a Fundamentalist school known for intense anti-Catholicism. It also did not admit African American students until the 1970s and, between 1950 and 2000, maintained a policy against interracial dating among students. The school explained that intermarriage among the races would further the cause of “One World Government” and thus the Antichrist. While attending Bob Jones, LaHaye met his wife, Beverly. He also began to pastor a church during this time.

    In 1956, LaHaye became the pastor of Scott Memorial Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, just outside San Diego. While there, he and his wife began a radio program called The LaHayes on Family Life, which sought to promote family values from a Fundamentalist perspective. Also while in the San Diego area, LaHaye established Christian Heritage College.

    His literary flair expressed itself in writing a number of popular (and contentious) books, including Spirit-Controlled Temperament, Battle for the Mind, The Battle for the Family, and Battle for the Public Schools. In the 1970s he began to publish books on the subject of Bible prophecy, including The Beginning of the End andRevelation Illustrated and Made Plain.

    The LaHayes have been active in politics. Tim was a co-founder of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and founded a number of his own Christian political action groups as well. Beverly founded Concerned Women for America, a rival of the National Organization for Women that has a membership substantially greater than NOW.

    In 1987 Jack Kemp named Tim LaHaye as national co-chair of his presidential campaign, but LaHaye resigned days later when newspapers published anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic remarks he had made. These included references to Catholicism as “a false religion” and to Jews being responsible for the death of Christ. Subsequently it came to light that, during the 1970s, LaHaye’s church had funded Mission to Catholics, a virulently anti-Catholic ministry run by former Carmelite priest Bart Brewer.

    Scandal continued to dog LaHaye when it was revealed that he had connections with the Unification Church (“the Moonies”). The head of the Unification Church is Sun Myung Moon, who has proclaimed himself “the world’s new Messiah” and “the Lord of the Second Advent.” LaHaye was the chair of Moon’s Coalition for Religious Freedom, and is reported to have received at least half a million dollars in funding from Moon’s associate Bo Hi Park. LaHaye and his wife have attended and spoken at Moon-sponsored events, though they have made it clear that they do not endorse Moon’s theological ideas.

    LaHaye’s association with Sun Myung Moon is especially perplexing. As a man who has written so many books warning people about the Antichrist, LaHaye is one of the last people one would expect to ally with a man who literally is a false Christ.

TODAY’s takeaway on Revelation:

18. Let’s be candid here: If your church library has Left Behind novels and videos, you might want to learn more about co-author Tim LaHaye and question why the church carries such awful theology peddled by a man driven by more by profiteering than legitimate prophecy.

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It seems like an eternity ago, but it was just last week that America was celebrating the life of a world-renowned peacemaker who happened to be a devout American Muslim.

If you didn’t see funny-man Billy Crystal’s hilarious but poignant tribute to his longtime “brother” Ali, do yourself a 15-minute favor and watch it below.

If there’s one thing Billy and Ali had in common it was a high-octane gift for often hilarious gab.

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(This is Day 17 of our breakdown of the Bible’s much used, abused and misused Book of Revelation.)

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Tim LaHaye and his partner in profiteering Jerry B. Jenkins–the co-authors of the all-too-popular Left Behind series of novels and movies–boast that they’ve brought millions of people to Christ through their creations.

Unfortunately, they’re right: they’ve brought millions into the Christian fold.

It’s unfortunate because those millions have come to Christ out of the “turn-or-burn” fear of a violent Jesus that LaHaye and Jenkins promote. (See yesterday’s post for more about this “violent Jesus” they believe in.)

With their kazillion-dollar franchise, they’ve led people to fear the future–to verily obsess over it–rather than respond to the call of Jesus to advance the kingdom of God by making the sin-sick world a better and healthier world.

The LaHaye-Jenkins Jesus is not the Jesus who brought hurting people to him by invitation–not the Jesus who said, “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

That was a non-threatening invitation to join the kingdom of God and enjoy a foretaste of heaven on earth, in the here and now.

The LaHaye-Jenkins Jesus is a long way from the Jesus who said to his expanding band of followers, “Do not be anxious for tomorrow. . . . Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these [good] things will be added to you.”

He didn’t spoil that invitation by saying, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, or I will burn you alive and make you wish you had never been born.”

And yet the LaHaye-Jenkins franchise is going strong.

And their hack writing isn’t just for grownups.

The Left Behind franchise includes a line of books specifically directed at children, called “Left Behind: The Kids.”

The series is projected to include a total of 36 volumes and is aimed at children ages 12 to 16.

Titles for these “children’s books” include:

    Terror in the Stadium, Death at the Gala, Escape to Masada, (the site of a mass suicide), Through the Flames, Nicolae High (it’s about kids in a high school named after the Antichrist), and so on.

Lord in your mercy, deliver us from this erroneous and potentially harmful Rapture racket.

Today’s takeaway:

17. Jesus brought people living in the darkness of paganism and the religious and State oppression by healing people, reaching out to the poor and marginalized, and inviting rich and poor into the light, not by scare tactics.

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(This is Day 16 of our 30-days series in which we’re unpacking the seemingly scary and bizarre book of Revelation in order to examine its contents.)

According to LaHaye and Jenkins, the true believers will be raptured up while billions of non- or questionable believers will be targets of a God gone madder than Dirty Harry.

According to LaHaye and Jenkins, the true believers will be raptured up while billions of non- or questionable believers will be targets of a God gone madder than Dirty Harry.

In 2004, when Americans by the millions were reading the Left Behind novels and buying into the “Rapture” theology of authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, the two authors had an interview with the late, great Morley Safer.

The interview was in a 60 Minutes II segment in which Safer gave this succinct overview:

    “The Left Behind novels give a graphic version of the New Testament prophecy of the end of the world happening in our time, in which only the righteous are saved. [The novel in the series] Glorious Appearing tells the story of the return of an avenging Jesus, slaughtering non-believers by the millions. It’s an image of Jesus that many evangelicals say is long overdue.”

Sadly, millions of American evangelical Christians in 2016 still embrace this image of Jesus as a Dirty Harry figure who will slaughter your own non-believing loved ones if they happen to be non-believers.

It’s no wonder so many Rapture-believing Christians see nothing wrong with torturing enemies or meting out the death penalty even if it means a “few innocent people” get sent home to God by the State.

Here’s what Jenkins, a devout servant of God and mammon, had to say in that interview with Safer:

    “Unfortunately, we’ve gone through a time when liberalism has so twisted the real meaning of scripture that they’ve manufactured a loving, wimpy Jesus that would never do anything in judgment. And that’s not the God of the Bible. That’s not the way Jesus reads in the Scripture.”


Honestly, I have to wonder if Jenkins and LaHaye have ever read the Sermon on the Mount with its Beatitudes.

I wonder if they’ve read the parable of The Prodigal Son, in which God ran out to greet the son who had so lost his way that he ended up living in a pig pit. Was the Jesus who told that parable about God’s radical love, mercy and forgiveness a “wimpy Jesus who would never do anything in judgment?”

Jesus does have his judgmental side for sure. It was out of fiery, righteous indignation that he cracked the whip on some money-grubbers (speaking got the fabulously wealthy Left Behind authors) in the temple.

But–contrary to what so many Christians who don’t study the Bible think–he didn’t physically assault anybody with the whip.

Jesus spoke in harsh judgment in a series of “woes” to the hypocrites who incensed him–the scribes and Pharisees who judged him to be a threat to their comfortable power and control over poor and vulnerable people.

And here’s another point lost on the co-authors of the Left Behind books: Jesus looks down from the cross on us all in judgment every day. That’s part of the theology of the cross–the vantage point from where Christ asked his Father to forgive his persecutors.

I suppose the Christ who sought such radical forgiveness from the cross could be construed as the “loving, wimpy” Christ of some kind of “liberalism” that Jenkins and LaHaye fear in all their extreme conservatism.

There’s a possibility, perhaps, that when he looks down in judgment on Jenkins and LaHaye, Jesus weeps over how the authors have distorted the image of he who was the incarnation of love.

* * * *

Here’s what LaHaye had to say to Safer about their novels:

“The biblical stuff is as close to the Bible interpretation as we can get. But if they (readers) are not people who read the Bible, they don’t know which is which.

“And so they say we sort of invented this violent Jesus, this judgmental Jesus. That stuff is straight from the Bible. The idea of him slaying the enemy with the sword that comes from his mouth, which is His Word, and the fact that the enemy’s eyes melt in their heads, their tongues disintegrate, their flesh drops off — I didn’t make that up. That’s out of the prophecy.”

In fact, biblical scholars say the Left Behind authors have invented a violent Jesus because they’ve invent a violent Jesus. UNLESS you take John’s vision literally, which obviously is now how it was supposed to be taken. What kind of monster of a God would literally melt the eyes of even some enemy?

Quite to the contrary, Revelation contains two beautiful scriptures in which God wipes away the tears from the eyes of God’s people (see Revelation 7:17 and 21:4).

It cannot be said enough that Revelation and books like Daniel were not written as prophecies in which prophets looked into a mystical crystal ball and told us through scripture how the world will be blown up by an avenging Jesus who, in his unjust judgment, will be the Jesus of holy massacres.

It cannot be said enough that Revelation was a pastoral letter written in highly symbolic–not literal–apocalyptic language. As I’ve noted often in this series, just because the symbolism, images and metaphors John used are difficult wrap around our heads around doesn’t mean it was difficult for readers in the year 90.

It’s a shame that Jenkins and LaHaye–and TV preaching hucksters like John Hagee in San Antonio (who has enormous political clout in American politics these days) continue to rake in millions of dollars annually pushing a monstrous Christian theology that has no scriptural legs to stand on.

Today’s takeaway is this:

Is God a judge? Absolutely. Is God a fair, merciful and just judge or a God waiting to go all Dirty Harry on the ever sin-sick world which is so in need of God’s loving, healing powers?

Read the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Good News of extravagant love, grace and mercy, and then, you be the judge.

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Even the guy on the left joined Carter and Ford in calling for an assault weapon ban that was passed--and effective.

Even the guy on the left joined Carter and Ford in calling for an assault weapon ban that was passed–and effective.

Remember that time in 1994 when three former U.S. Presidents–Republican Gerald Ford, Democrat Jimmy Carter and–yes–even the Giant of G.O.P.-ism Ronald Reagan–joined forces in calling for a ban on assault rifles?

I’m old and gray-bearded enough to remember that they did this without anyone accusing them of being soft on crime or terrorism or the Second Amendment or any such thing.

And the ban was passed into law.

In a letter the three sent to Congress they wrote the following:

    May 3, 1994

    To Members of the U.S. House of Representatives:

    We are writing to urge your support for a ban on the domestic manufacture of military-style assault weapons. This is a matter of vital importance to the public safety. Although assualt weapons account for less than 1% of the guns in circulation, they account for nearly 10% of the guns traced to crime.

    Every major law enforcement organization in America and dozens of leading labor, medical, religious, civil rights and civic groups support such a ban. Most importantly, poll after poll shows that the American public overwhelmingly support a ban on assault weapons. A 1993 CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll found that 77% of Americans support a ban on the manufacture, sale, and possession of semi-automatic assault guns, such as the AK-47.

    The 1989 import ban resulted in an impressive 40% drop in imported assault weapons traced to crime between 1989 and 1991, but the killing continues. Last year, a killer armed with two TEC9s killed eight people at a San Francisco law firm and wounded several others. During the past five years, more than 40 law enforcement officers have been killed or wounded in the line of duty by an assault weapon.

    While we recognize that assault weapon legislation will not stop all assault weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals. We urge you to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of these weapons.

    Sincerely,

    Gerald R. Ford

    Jimmy Carter

    Ronald Reagan

Note their acknowledgement that a ban on assault weapons–which are basically machine guns made to mow people down in war and not for deer or duck hunting–wouldn’t stop any and all assault weapon crimes.

But we’ve come a long way since our Founding Fathers–whose idea of a weapon was a musket, for gosh sake–gave us the Second Amendment.

I have no doubt that our founders would be appalled that the machine guns we have now are widely available for anything but war.

Here’s a fact sheet, prefaced with a statement, from Sen. Diane Feinstein, who’s been pushing for a reinstatement of the ban for years (and good for her):

The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban was effective at reducing crime and getting these military-style weapons off our streets. Since the ban expired, more than 350 people have been killed and more than 450 injured by these weapons.

— A Justice Department study of the assault weapons ban found that it was responsible for a 6.7% decrease in total gun murders, holding all other factors equal.

Source: Jeffrey A. Roth & Christopher S. Koper, “Impact Evaluation of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994,” (March 1997).
The same study also found that “Assault weapons are disproportionately involved in murders with multiple victims, multiple wounds per victim, and police officers as victims.”

— The use of assault weapons in crime declined by more than two-thirds by about nine years after 1994 Assault Weapons Ban took effect.

Source: Christopher S. Koper, “An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003” (June 2004), University of Pennsylvania, Report to the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.
The percentage of firearms seized by police in Virginia that had high-capacity magazines dropped significantly during the ban. That figure has doubled since the ban expired.

Source: David S. Fallis and James V. Grimaldi, “In Virginia, high-yield clip seizures rise,” Washington Post, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/22/AR2011012204046.html

— When Maryland imposed a more stringent ban on assault pistols and high-capacity magazines in 1994, it led to a 55% drop in assault pistols recovered by the Baltimore Police Department.
Source: Douglas S. Weil & Rebecca C. Knox, Letter to the Editor, The Maryland Ban on the Sale of Assault Pistols and High-Capacity Magazines: Estimating the Impact in Baltimore, 87 Am. J. of Public Health 2, Feb. 1997.
37% of police departments reported seeing a noticeable increase in criminals’ use of assault weapons since the 1994 federal ban expired.
Source: Police Executive Research Forum, Guns and Crime: Breaking New Ground by Focusing on the Local Impact (May 2010).  

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(This is Day 15 in our 30 days of Revelation series.)

If I knew the world was going to end tomorrow, I would plant a tree.”

— Martin Luther

——————

“Luther is saying he would continue to live even more deeply rooted in the confidence of God’s love for the world. ‘Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,’ is what Jesus taught us to pray. It is not a prayer to take us away from earth, nor a prayer for escape in a bunker, but a prayer that God’s reign will come to earth–and that it will even come ‘through us,’ as Luther explains.”

— Barbara Rossing in The Rapture Exposed

Left Behind theology is a profitable racket: another movie came out last October, complete with t-shirts for sale!

Left Behind theology is a profitable racket: another movie came out last October, complete with t-shirts for sale!

Barbara Rossing, author of The Rapture Exposed, noted in the first sentence of that important book that “The Rapture is a racket.”

Indeed, the theology may be bunk, but the novels and the films the novels inspired are certainly profitable for evangelical figureheads who never miss an opportunity to turn an easy buck on the Bible.

An updated version of the “Left Behind” movie series came out just last October, complete with caps and t-shirts aplenty for sale.

Not surprisingly, profiteering Christian Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame (don’t get me started on the Robertson family’s despicable takes on all things biblical) was an executive producer of that latest film based on the huge-selling series of Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and his partner in biblical exploitation Jerry B. Jenkins.

As I noted yesterday, Rapture/Left Behind theology was a 19th century concoction created by a Brit named John Darby and popularized in 1909 by a Dallas preacher named C.I. Scofield, who came up with The Scofield Reference Bible.

The Dallas Theological Seminary in the north Texas city to this day teaches and preaches Rapture theology, which is one reason it endures. The seminary, steeped in the history of Scofield’s biblical interpretations, is hugely influential in fundamentalism.

Rapture theology is based on a crazy quilt of scriptures from 1 Thessalonians, Daniel, Isaiah and, of course, Revelation with its Antichrist.

The bottom line of this Doomsday doctrine is that God is going to destroy this earth that, as LaHaye himself has said, “is so marred and cursed by Satan’s evil. He will include the atmospheric heaven to guarantee that all semblance of evil has been cleared away.”

This is a man who obviously has a pipeline to God in heaven.

* * * *

So God created the earth and atmosphere and famously declared it good in the first book of the Bible, only to declare in the last book of the Bible that His/Her good earth has to be utterly destroyed–along with kazillions of people God created in His/Her image.

This theology makes no sense on the face of it, but what it does do is feed the fears of vulnerable and gullible people attracted to escapism from a world that is, for sure, shot-through with evil.

As Rossing writes, “the Bible’s message is not that ‘God so loved the word that he sent World War III’–and yet Rapture believers believe just that, that God is going to bring about ultimate peace by bringing about God’s personal war to end all wars.

“God,” Rossing writes in The Rapture Exposed, is not a God who will destroy the earth by fire or nuclear war. Nor does God approve of our destruction of the earth.”

That said, no one can deny we–not God–have done a thoroughly good job of destroying God’s good, green earth.

* * * *

In the opening of her book Rossing writes:

    “The Rapture is a racket. Whether prescribing a violent script for Israel or survivalism in the United States, this theology distorts God’s vision for the world. The Rapture proclaims escape. In the place of Jesus’ blessing of peacemakers, the Rapture voyeuristically glorifies violence and war. In the place of Revelation’s vision of the Lamb’s vulnerable self-giving love, the Rapture celebrates the lion-like wrath of the Lamb. This theology is not biblical. We are not raptured off the earth, nor is God. No, God has come to live in the world through Jesus. God created the world. God loves the world, and God will never leave the world behind!

Today’s takeaway is:

15. God who created the world and loves the world is not going to do a 180 and leave the world behind just because a C.I. Scofield or a LaHaye or a Jenkins or a Hal Lindsey of The Late Great Planet Earth book fame or some doomsday preacher in Dallas or on TV’s Trinity Broadcasting Network said so.

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