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Link: The Manger and the Inn

The Presbyterian Outlook: The Manger and the Inn: A Middle Eastern View of the Birth Story of Jesus

Is the entire village of Bethlehem so hardhearted that no home is open to a woman about to give birth? Indeed, the “late-night arrival myth” slurs all the inhabitants of Bethlehem, not just the mythological innkeeper! In short, our Western tradition has, across the years, invented details that do not fit our Middle Eastern world as a real story about real people in a real village.

Some interpreters in the modern period consider the entire collection of birth stories as a free intervention by Luke or his sources with little if any history at its core. But, as noted, the material is Palestinian in character. Therefore, Middle Eastern culture must be the starting point of the interpreter, history or no history.

Would it not be unacceptable in any culture for a man with a pregnant wife to reject the hospitality of his wife’s family and opt for a stable as a delivery room? So how are the particularities of the text to be understood?

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In his ministry, we know of Jesus that “the common people heard him gladly.” That same simple welcome is reflected in Bethlehem in the story of his birth.

If the story is seen in this light, the “mean old innkeeper” evaporates, along with his non-existent inn. “No room at the inn” will no longer be adequate for the Christmas sermon. The cold, drafty stable becomes a warm, cozy peasant home which the shepherds find fully adequate, for they go home praising God for all that they had heard and seen (2:20). If they had found the family in a stable, they would have taken them at once to their own homes!

So the inn and the innkeeper evaporate. Yet much is gained. The Incarnation itself becomes more authentic — Jesus was born in and into a simple peasant home as any other village boy. The shepherds, outcasts from their society, were given a sign indicating this simplicity. They thereby discover that this Messiah comes welcoming the poor and the marginalized.

This article contains some interesting information worthy of our consideration when we study the birth of Christ. Understanding Biblical accounts in the context of the time and culture in which they transpired is critical to our being able to apply these accounts to our own spiritual lives.

Link: When White Nationalist Christians Redefined Their Neighbors

Sojourners: When White Nationalist Christians Redefined Their Neighbors

What stands out about Kittel’s speech is his attempt to embrace Nazi politics while rising above what he believes to be exaggerated rhetoric. He dismisses the possibility of systemic violence against Jews. Instead, Kittel argues for an ethical white Christian nationalism in which Jews assume a guest-status and German Christians pursue an ethno-national ideal that he believes is sanctioned by God.

Lately, I have been asking myself the following question: How can sincere Christians embrace white nationalism? My question stems less from surprise and more from a desire to understand the mechanics. In church circles and in seminary, I heard about Barth, Bonhoeffer, and those who resisted. But I rarely heard about the majority of white Christians who supported a demagogue whose rhetoric had violent consequences.

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For these nationalist Christians, preserving and purifying German culture was about protecting God’s creation of distinct cultural boundaries. They believed that Christians were to help others, but not in such a way that diminished what they deemed to be the cultural integrity of their particular nation. As Hossenfelder put it, “We are conscious of Christian duty toward and love for the helpless, but we also demand that the people be protected from those who are inept and inferior.”

The rhetoric German Christian nationalists used to describe Jews and outsiders oscillated. For example, a group of pastors in the town of Oberhausen wrote: “Are we then rejecting the transnational mission of Christianity? Not at all. We respect the religious and ecclesiastical individuality of other nations, but we believe that German Christianity is the religion that is ideally suited for Germans.” In some instances, it sounds as though there is room for all cultures to be respected as long as certain boundaries are not trespassed. Nevertheless, the same group of pastors say, “The Jews are the elements of decay in our Volk, therefore we stand against them in an uncompromising struggle. The Jews are our misfortune.”

It’s a white nationalist sleight of hand. The logic goes something like this: “We’re not against other cultures. We’re against other cultures invading and mixing with our culture. So, we need to protect our culture which is great [and superior to other cultures].”

The number of times we read about God wanting His people to look kindly upon the suffering, the sojourner, the marginalized is almost innumerable. In both testaments, God wants us to show mercy to others the way He shows mercy to us — without thought or recompense, without asking whether or not they “deserve” help, without reservation. When we see people hurting and in need, no matter the number, our response should reflect hearts softened by God’s mercy, not hearts hardened by fear.

Link: An American Missionary in Honduras.

America Magazine: I was an American missionary in Honduras. I witnessed firsthand the violence they endure.

Yet violence does not issue warnings, and it will not take into consideration sincerely held beliefs. I had just returned from teaching my English class for the day when I learned that one of our volunteers and our executive director, who was visiting from the States, had been attacked on the beach next to our property. Maybe 200 yards from the house, our sanctuary, they had been held with machetes to their necks, and the volunteer, one of my best friends, was raped. “We know where you are from,” their attackers had said when they let them go. “Tell anyone and we come back and kill you and all the children.”

After going to the hospital and giving her testimony to the police, my beloved friend spent the night surrounded by the rest of us on the floor, several of us with machetes by our sides and all of us unable to sleep. In the morning, she was evacuated out of the country, and the rest of us were offered the option by our board of directors to leave as well. Suddenly the cursed choice to flee this country that so many of our Honduran neighbors had been forced to make became my own. The men responsible had still not been caught, and our already limited community of volunteers was quickly dwindling as many admitted they no longer felt safe enough to continue working. The next day the rest of us left as well.

•••

The weapons that plague their streets came from us. The corruption that infests their governments is a direct result of the coups and instability our country has consistently directed or condoned for over a century. Before Banana Republic was a chic clothing store, it was a dismissive term for a country made entirely dependent on a more powerful economy outside its borders. It was merely an updated version of colonialism, and the original victim was Honduras.

Poverty and violence, the causes of these caravans, are diseases we infected these countries with. Getting mad at the migrants is like the conquistadors and white frontiersmen wondering why the Native Americans they found were always getting so sick.

Those of us who live north of the Mexican border have to learn just how intertwined our lands are and why our neighbors to the south still hear gunshots at night. I have fled from one side to the other myself and watched in vain as those I care about try to follow. But being born in paradise is no reason to condemn those still stuck in hell.

The number of times we read about God wanting His people to look kindly upon the suffering, the sojourner, the marginalized is almost innumerable. In both testaments, God wants us to show mercy to others the way He shows mercy to us — without thought or recompense, without asking whether or not they “deserve” help, without reservation. When we see people hurting and in need, no matter the number, our response should reflect hearts softened by God’s mercy, not hearts hardened by fear.

Link: Judgment Days

The Washington Post: Judgment Days

She was 67, a Sunday school teacher who said this was the only way to understand how Christians like her supported Trump.

“Obama was acting at the behest of the Islāmic nation,” she began one afternoon when she was getting her nails done with her friend Linda. She was referring to allegations that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, not a Christian — allegations that are false. “He carried a Koran and it was not for literary purposes. If you look at it, the number of Christians is decreasing, the number of Muslims has grown. We allowed them to come in.”

“Obama woke a sleeping nation,” said Linda.

“He woke a sleeping Christian nation,” Sheila corrected.

Linda nodded. It wasn’t just Muslims that posed a threat, she said, but all kinds of immigrants coming into the country.

“Unpapered people,” Sheila said, adding that she had seen them in the county emergency room and they got treated before her. “And then the Americans are not served.”

Love thy neighbor, she said, meant “love thy American neighbor.”

Welcome the stranger, she said, meant the “legal immigrant stranger.”

“The Bible says, ‘If you do this to the least of these, you do it to me,’ ” Sheila said, quoting Jesus. “But the least of these are Americans, not the ones crossing the border.”

•••

[The preacher] was at the end of his sermon. If he was going to say anything about Trump, or presidents, or politicians, or how having a Christian character was important for the leader of the United States, now was the time. His Bible was open. He was preaching without notes.

He looked out at all the faces of people who felt threatened and despised in a changing America, who thought Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were sent by Satan to destroy them, and that Donald Trump was sent by God to protect them, and who could always count on Clay Crum to remind them of what they all believed to be the true meaning of Jesus Christ — that he died to forgive all of their sins, to save them from death and secure their salvation in a place that was 15,000 miles wide, full of gardens, appliances, and a floor of stars.

Not now, he decided. Not yet. He closed his Bible. He had one last thing to say to them before the sermon was over.

There are a number of understandable and problematic quotes and attitudes throughout this article. What really sticks out to me is how we can so easily let lies and fears direct our actions. Thinking that President Obama or Secretary Clinton have been sent to destroy Christianity is irrational — especially when one of them grew up in the Methodist church and the other was baptized at a congregation bearing the name Church of Christ. It’s irrational to think President Trump is any more pleasing to God just because he panders to Christian uncertainty while continuing to conduct himself in such an ungodly way.

But even if all these things were true — even if President Obama was a Muslim, even if Secretary Clinton wanted to destroy Christians, even if there were some vast conspiracy against us — the last thing we should do is compromise with sin for a sense of security and safety. The last thing we should do is retaliate. The last thing we should do is embrace hate and discrimination. Those are in direct opposition with the message and example of Christ and His apostles.

When fear, hatred, and self-preservation motivate our actions, we’re on the wrong side of the Bible.

Link: Love the Immigrant

Timothy Archer: Love the Immigrant

Listening to some people talk about immigrants, you’d think that the majority are conniving scoundrels seeking to take advantage of legal loopholes. Such people do exist. I remember talking with some young men in Argentina who would come to the U.S. every year as tourists, then go work illegally in the ski areas here in this country. They were merely taking advantage of the system.

There are even criminals who take advantage of porous borders to commit crimes. Again, these do exist.

But the majority of the people coming to our southern borders are desperate people trying to find a way to survive. They aren’t trying to take advantage of anybody or anything; they are looking to protect their families as best they can.

Too often, we use our secular laws as a reason to override Christ’s teachings on love and grace to guide our lives. Both Peter and the author of Hebrews call on us to think of ourselves as sojourners in this life. Wherever you fall on the immigration debate, we all first have to look at other people as souls in need of God’s love. Failing to see this is how people of Jesus’s day failed the Samaritans; it’s how some early Jewish Christians failed their Roman brothers and sisters; it’s how the Pharisees failed many lost in sin. If we cannot extend grace and love — even when someone breaks our secular laws — then we do not know God’s grace.

Link: The Vatican Is Speaking Out About the Dangers of the Prosperity Gospel

Relevant: The Vatican Is Speaking Out About the Dangers of the Prosperity Gospel

The article, “The Prosperity Gospel: Dangerous and Different” directly calls out the idea as fake theology intertwined with the American dream and Donald Trump, and specifically references American megachurch pastors and televangelists, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson and Joel Osteen. The article mentions that the prosperity gospel has made those preachers wealthy while they spread a “pseudo-gospel” that is counter-biblical. The prosperity gospel essentially says “wealth and success as synonymous with true religious conviction, and consequently, sees ‘poverty, sickness and unhappiness’ as a lack of faith,” according to Cruxnow.com.

The authors, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro and Marcelo Figueroa, talk about how the prosperity gospel ends up being directly in contrast to social justice, salvation and the charge to love the less fortunate: “In truth, one of the serious problems that the prosperity gospel brings is its perverse effects on the poor. … In fact, it not only exasperates individualism and knocks down the sense of solidarity, but it pushes people to adopt a miracle-centered outlook because faith alone—not social or political commitment—can procure prosperity.”

I can think of few major Christian movements that contradict the message of Christ so directly as the prosperity gospel. From the emphasis on humility in the Sermon on the Mount, to Jesus’s warnings to the rich young man in Matthew 19:16 – 24, to His portrayal of wealthy people in parables like the Rich Man & Lazarus in Luke 16:19 – 31, there is no indication anywhere that God will tie economic success to righteousness in the New Testament. None. The rain falls on the just and the unjust; and the sun shines on both as well.

The insidious nature of this doctrine comes in two major ways:

  1. It clouds our attitudes toward our own sins. If we’re relatively financially healthy, we may decide God must be pleased with us. We then do nothing to right our wrongs or seek forgiveness for our transgressions. Repentance is hard when you think everything is great.
  2. It makes us unsympathetic toward underprivileged people and groups. We then reason with ourselves that they would be better off if only they were more pleasing to God. Therefore, who am I to interfere with God’s punishment for their apparent lack of faith?

I never thought I would see the day when the prosperity gospel would escape from its niche of televangelism and gullibility, but here we are. While certain sins may have consequences that will affect your prosperity in this life, God does not guarantee physical wealth or comfort to His faithful. He promises eternal life and joy to those who faithfully endure the struggles of this world, but He does not promise us success; He does not promise us possessions; He does not promise us wealth.

Link: This is Not a Love Story

Wes McAdams: This is NOT a Love Story: What I Noticed When I Read Ruth

It would be easy to see the book of Ruth as a love story: A beautiful young woman, who has tragically lost her husband, meets a rich, handsome, and godly man who marries her and they live happily ever after. But that’s a modern fairytale, not a biblical story. Romance and beauty are important themes in our stories, but the important themes in this story are things like showing kindness to the dead and caring for destitute immigrant workers and widows (things most Christians hardly think of as important biblical themes). So, let’s take a closer look.

Link: Perfect People Need Not Apply

Timothy Archer: Perfect People Need Not Apply

But here’s the secret I want to share with you: people like to see a little vulnerability. If you come across as the skilled professional with all the answers, you set yourself apart from the person you’re talking to. If I’m talking about astrophysics with a NASA engineer, I’ll probably learn some things, but I won’t come away saying, “I can see myself being like them.” If we present ourselves as sinless saints who know everything there is to know about Christianity, we project an image that people can’t relate to.

In evangelism, we want to show ourselves as imperfect people who are trying to become like a perfect Jesus. We don’t want them to see us as perfect, or they’ll feel like they can never really join us. We want them to see Jesus as perfect and understand that they take a lifelong journey down the road to being like Jesus, just like we’re doing.

Link: It’s Submission, Not Subjection

Challies: It’s Submission, Not Subjection

We may also rebel against submission because we fail to carefully distinguish it from another term: subjection. Submission is not the same as subjection. What’s the difference between the two? Subjection describes actions taken by the one with authority where submission describes actions taken by the one under authority. When it comes to marriage, church, and our shared life with other believers, we are instructed to submit, not to subject.

Subjection is the act of a ruler to force obedience. He uses fear or force or intimidation to break the will of the people so they eventually surrender to him. They give up and wave the white flag. They’ve been conquered. They are now in subjection to this leader.

Submission is the act of someone who acknowledges legitimate authority and willingly arranges himself or herself accordingly. Submission is voluntary, never forced. It is responding to the divine order of things first in the heart and then in the life.

The church is not in subjection to Jesus Christ; we haven’t been ruthlessly conquered by him. No, the church has been won by Jesus Christ, so we willingly submit to his rule, guidance, and instruction. We acknowledge his right to govern, we acknowledge his overwhelming love, we respond to his Spirit, and we arrange ourselves accordingly.

This is a thoughtful article on a touchy subject. I recommend you follow the link to read the rest.