Sermon Highlights: Lessons from the Early Church. Tihomir Kukolja preaches at the International Christian Fellowship Church, Belgrade, Serbia, June 2018.
How much does the Christianity today reflect the Christianity of its early days? How much are we like or unalike this movement that was born two thousand years ago? How come Jesus Christ did not create a religious order, something like in the Old Testament days, with 10 or 600 new laws and regulations, orderly structured to govern the movement of his followers?
Instead Jesus just said: “Follow me!” He said: “Look at me! Look at what I was doing when I was with you. Listen to what I was saying when I was with you, and follow me!” At the end of the second and fourth chapters of the Book of Acts we find descriptions of what this movement looked like at the beginning.
Firstly, there was a clear awareness among the early believers of the importance of community. The conversion of people was not only an individual matter. Tragically today the Christian church is either too institutionalized, individualized, secularized or ridden by nationalism. I do not believe Jesus had ever intended that His church should look like that. Church is meant to be much more than just a holy place to visit at given times. It is a family of support. It is very hard to be a follower of Jesus in isolation.
At the very beginning the Church of Christ was not a fancy building to go to. It was there with the believers in their fields, in their homes and houses. I can see them every night, after their daily work was done, going to different homes to share meal, to read the Word of God, to pray, to talk about Jesus, to encourage each other. Those meals they shared had much more profound meaning than the way we eat our meals today.
Then, their lives were centered in the person of Jesus, and not on some shallow spirituality that was based only on emotions without content. Today, unfortunately there exists a Christian culture that teaches many to believe that they are saved by default, with no need for repentance and clear understanding of sin; where people do not believe that Jesus had to die for our sins. Historical Christianity is in the process of becoming lost.
I’ve heard pastors and preachers whose sermons sound like a beautiful flower arrangement. Roses, everything is there, even a shakespearean way of crafting the words, but 10 minutes after the sermon was over one couldn’t remember what was said in the sermon any more. This is because everything was there, except Jesus and the challenge of the Gospel.
Finally, the early Church teaches us that suffering for Jesus was not an option. It always comes one way or another. The Bible says that “whoever wants to live a godly life will be persecuted.” 2. Timothy 3:12. Those early believers did not consider suffering as an unfortunate thing. Today we are reaching the point when all areas of apparent safety from persecution for Christ are gradually diminishing. The days are coming soon when your and my faith will be tested; when we will either be or not to be.
Already the number of people who are hated for the sake of Christ has gone beyond the total number of all persecutions of the previous centuries. The older I am getting the more I understand that I need to stand for my Jesus.
A group of friends are discussing the prospective origin of a beautifully designed chair in the room. It was a solid, antique Victorian wooden armchair, almost royal in appearance covered with red leather upholstery. Although they knew very little about the origins of this chair all of them instantly concluded that it had to be designed and crafted by a skilled craftsman-designer. Having established with ease the basic fact that the object they witnessed in the room was indeed a Victorian chair, they now tried to figure out who could have been its designer, and how did it come to be in that room.
Let’s imagine now that from the outset these friends disagreed about the most obvious fact; that the chair was the result of the creative work of at least one craftsman. Imagine that one or two of them started to argue adamantly that the chair was not a product of the intelligent design, but of a brainless and impersonal set of coincidences, pushed forward without anyone’s assistance, over a period of countless millions of years? I am sure that the rest of the group would have been seriously concerned about the mental state and sanity of their friends given to an insane fantasy. Who would have in his or her right mind ever suggested that an object wonderfully crafted could have ever come into existence in any other way than by being deliberately and thoughtfully created and modeled by someone who knew what he was doing?
So is the case with everything else that surrounds us: tables, pianos, cars, houses, rockets, the most sophisticated computers, artificial intelligence – they came into existence because someone intelligent enough designed and created them. None of those just happened to be by themselves. One does not need any kind of scientific sophistication to understand that.
But, wait! As soon as one applies this kind of reasoning to more complex and sophisticated creations – such as the huge universe with its countless celestial systems and bodies, or to our own earth with its ecosystem, including all living organisms and spices, animals and human life, and much more – the ‘educated’ reasoning suddenly changes in favor of those who argue that none of those needed a designer, and that literally everything that exists and supports life came into existence, and continued to develop beyond our wildest imagination, purely by chance, with no outside help.
In fact, it is this kind of belief that is embraced today as the official science of our civilization, taught in schools, and advocated by the media as a demonstrable fact, and embraced by a growing number of churches and spiritual gurus who have added only a gentle theistic injection into it. It is known as the Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Today, those of us who continue to believe that the spacious universe needed its own designer-creator just as much as the most ordinary chair needs its own creator, are being scorned, laughed at and humiliated, and called primitive lunatics.
Why is that so? The answer is very straightforward and scientifically simple.
The origins of everything and anything can be argued only one of the two ways: either someone big, smart, supper intelligent created the universe and all life, including human life; or no one created anything, suggesting that literally everything must have originated out of nothing, and moved along by the invisible train of mindless coincidences. There exists no third choice, even if one were to introduce the cosmic aliens into the equation.
Since responding affirmatively to the question of creation and intentional design would lead by necessity to the questions of our accountability to the Creator, the world that does not want to be accountable to anyone, has a-priory chosen to reject any involvement of the Creator God in our origins. Instead, it has wholeheartedly and unquestionably embraced an ear-tickling theory of blind chance.
The theory of evolution is not a science. It is a story of a mafia stealing an airplane and changing its manufacturing and ownership documents, and selling it as a new product to unsuspected customer. It is a story of a spoiled child stealing a toy from another child and claiming it as his own property. It is a story of counterfeiting, ideological manipulations, and crippled truths. It is a fiction that has got only a few minor elements of its theory right. But even those are not capable of proving the factuality of the weakest links of the theory – those about spontaneous transitions from one living kind to another. The very much needed fossil record of the multitudes of transitional spices, which should be scattered everywhere in plain sight for everyone to see if the theory was right, does not exist.
Science is a big word today, most often used for misleading purposes. Science that is genuine does exist indeed. It is empirically observable and demonstrable. Its results are easily proven and repeated. The same scientific principles that operate in the most sophisticated laboratories of the world are observable in the kitchen of anyone’s favorite restaurant. When you order your favorite meal, you know what the outcome of your order would look like because the restaurant cook would work on your meal by scientifically mixing together all required ingredients in the ways that would with certainty create your delicious dish.
But then there exists a wistful thinking, ideologically dangerous ‘science’ with properties of a cult, known as the theory of evolution. It is driven by atheism that has predetermined in advance that it did not need God. It is a morally corrupt theory lacking all the ingredients needed to qualify as science. It cannot be demonstrated, observed, subjected to repeated examination. It is a smokescreen ideology advanced by the superstitious civilization, desperate to do away with any sense of accountability to God, and in its place a superman eager to master a new age of “guided evolution”. It is a hallmark of the age of fake facts and dangerous ambitions persued by the high priests of human self-worship, dreaming of completing the unfinished Tower of Babel.
OS Guinness, a well-known author and social critic is more than hinting at the moral decadence of this kind of science in his book “Impossible People, Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization” as he writes: “Belief in God as Creator has been replaced by confidence in Man as Creator. ‘We can now engineer the human race,’ the MIT Technology Review tells us modestly. We can be certain that ‘if it can be done, it will be done’. Our scientist-kings and our brave new age of biotechnology (and then astrotechnology: the engineering of space) are the latest in giant steps that will take this Babel drive to a new level. At the spiritual level it carries with it the greatest boost to the pretensions of human autonomy and idolatry since Babel and takes it far beyond such disastrous stumbles as the fiasco of Stalin’s ‘new man’ and Hitler’s ‘new race’. It will also resurrect the specter of new and refined forms of eugenics that could make the appalling Nazi experiments and China’s horrendous gendercide policy look primitive.”
All of this comes under the inspiration of a dangerous vision of “guided evolution”. There where God is considered dead, humanity created in God’s image is being killed too, and replaced by the civilization of beasts. In other words, if the preachers of ‘science’ built out of smoke succeed in convincing us that we have come so far riding a train of countless coincidences, without the need for the engine or the driver, then what is there to stop some bold souls of this “brave new world” to give the theory of the survival of the fittest a sinister helping hand? For the generation that is increasingly short of any sense of accountability towards the Creator, will be even less accountable to its fellow human family.
It remains, at the end, that advancing the theory of spontaneous evolution through natural selection is like advancing a cult. It is the ambitiously dishonest, immoral and idolatrous theory. It is a cry of defiance of a foolish and rebellious civilization, blindfolded by choice, with its angry fist raised high against God, and shouting: “We don’t need you God. We will continue to create the gods in our own image, to lead us.”
Indeed, the words of the wise man ought not to escape us at this time: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’.” Psalm 14:1.
Three years ago the Renewing Our Minds volunteers witnessed the incoming waves of refugees entering Europe via the Balkan route, and crossing Serbia and Croatia.
We were only a small part of a much bigger effort that engaged churches, faith based organization, non-profits and individuals who dedicated days, weeks and months, and some of them years to diligent and passionate service to refugees, in order to make the lives of the refugees moving along the Balkan route more bearable. We were inspired by the words of Jesus: “Whatever you did for the list of these you did for me!” Matthew 25:40.
With the featured video we are going back in time intent at not letting this precious experience vanish. Even more importantly, three years later we want to ask a question that not many dare ask nowadays: “Where are they now? Are they still wondering from one country to another, unwelcome, shifted and tossed around? Are they alive? Are their families together? Are their children safe?”
Listen to the genuine reports made at borders, in cornfields and refugee camps by those who volunteered on the refugee trail in Serbia and Croatia three years ago. This is a must-watch video feature. Share it with your friends.
Crossroads Bible Study Class, MDPC, Houston, Sunday, December 9, 2018. A supplement to the bible study.
Jesus is in the business of saving people. Paul says: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9.),and adds: “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ” (Romans 8:38.39.).Could it be that simple? But rather than being a source of great joy, radical simplicity of the Gospel offends most people. The saving prescription is so simple that even a child will embrace it, and an elderly person whose mental faculties are already weak will find in it his or her ultimate comfort. It states: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13.)
My late father even on his death bed, whenever asked to pray, would pray the most beautiful prayer of assurance, reliance and dependence on Christ. This radically simple, almost childish truth, which he cherished in his heart and mind by faith for many years, proved to be the most important statement of his life even when the memories of everyone and everything else faded away.
Although the beauty of God’s revelation in Christ remains profoundly deep and beyond our rational grasp, at the same time it remains so radically simple that no excuse will do on the day of reckoning, when Jesus asks, “What have you done with me?”
It is this radical simplicity of the Gospel that says, “Trust in Jesus, and you will be saved,” that is so offensive to so many human hearts who desperately, deceitfully and foolishly want to believe that they are somehow in charge of their lives. It is due to the arrogant rejection of this profound simplicity of God’s gift in Jesus that the unsaved will have to blame no one else but themselves on the judgment day, because by their rejection of Christ they will say: “Sorry Jesus, you were not good enough for me!”
I especially like this part of the same Bible study. This is only a 4.30 minute highlight of the 40 minute long Bible study on the Paul’s Letter to Romans, chapters 9 and 10, which I had a privilage to delivere, at the Crossroads Bible Study Class at the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston, Sunday, Dec 9, 2018.
“The whole creation has been groaningas in the pains of childbirth up to the present time…” Romans 8:22-24
“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,” Revelation 21:5.1.
Human beings and their most immediate living environment are not the only ones in the state of groaning in the anticipation of redemption reaching its climax. The entire universe, including its most distant parts, are groaning just as much.
The moment Adam and Eve made a fatal decision to distrust God something drastically altering happened to the design and the inner workings of the entire creation, entire world, entire universe. Sin, death and decay shook the universe, and altered its character just as dearly as they impacted our human character. So, when we are today wistfully looking at the distant stars and planets, hoping that one day our human salvation will come from one of those alienated places, we are forgetting that we are seeking to find our rescue in the realms of sin and decay no different than our own.
Since the day of the Fall we have been living quarantined within the boundaries of drastically altered universe. With the help of our physical and mental faculties alone we are capable of perceiving the truth of God’s creation only as far as the affected alternations would allow. Thus, when we try to look within ourselves, or as far as the most powerful electronic telescopes would guide us, we always see caricatured and misleading shadows and shapes of the originally intended design. We see only what the flickering lights are projecting on the walls of the Plato’s cave. The transgression of the first couple (Adam and Eve) has infected us all profoundly. Everything integrated into the realms of God’s creation shares in the painful consequences of rebellion, sin, death and decay.
When God closed the gates of the Garden of Eden to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:23), that meant much more than only an inconvenient separation from the conveniences of a beautiful and comfortable home. It meant that they were locked out of, and veiled from enjoying the wholeness and the wellness of God’s creation, and thus from the proper understanding of how it operates. We, human beings, together with our earthly world, and the entire universe with its most beautiful galaxies have been ever since on lockdown.
This simply means that we who used to live in the golden age of a three-dimensional world (or more), metaphorically speaking, have been demoted to living in the flatness of a two-dimensional shadow. The bottom line is this: the entire universe contained within its space and time limitations has got the expiration date, the same way as our human death marks the expiration date of our human lives. There is no evolution available to save us through the mechanism of endless improvements leading towards perfection. All the fascination with grabbing the evolution fantasy and turning it into our own savior through genetic manipulations, or merging with artificial intelligence advancements are a big delusion that by each new step of preceived advancement only further reveal how crippled we are.
No wonder Paul talks about the whole nature (people, animals, whole natural world, universe) “groaning as in the pains of childbirth up to the present time.” Romans 8:22-24. In other words, in its own way the entire universe moans, groans and cries: “How long, Lord? How long?”
But the good news is here: “In Christ, and only in Christ (the second Adam) the veil is taken away.” 2. Cor. 3:16. Because God decided to reveal Himself in a radical way through Jesus we are not going to stay forever in the Plato’s cave of flickering lights, spiritually and empirically blind, and with only a shadowy and sketchy access to the ever-evading truth, always delusional and always substituting a shadow for the truth.
The promise is ours. “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,” Revelation 21:5.1.
Until then we will continue to see the reality of God’s creation only “through a glass, darkly.” 1. Corinthians 13:12.
The newly elected Brazilian president Jair Messias Bolsonaro promised: “God above everything. There is no such thing as this secular state. The state is Christian and the minority will have to change, if they can. The minorities will have to adapt to the position of the majority.”
The statement of the far-right Brazilian president sounds sweet to the ears of Christian supremacists and dominionists in the US, who are rejoicing in what they see as the important international fruit of the leadership of the American president Donald Trump. In their view America and Brazil are being conquered for Christ. Like the recently resigned Attorney General Jeff Sessions they would like to see the separation of church and state dismantled first; this archaic obstacle in their path to the ushering in of the Kingdom of God in the US, Brazil, and elsewhere soon. So, the emerging of the Brazilian president, barely elected and already declaring that the non-Christians of Brazil will have to submit to the rule of Christians, comes as a glad tiding to the ears of American Christian supremacists.
In their view Jair Bolsonaro is a God’s choice, divinely appointed and anointed at this time to lead Brazil the same way the current US President was “divinely” elected two years ago. This should not come as surprise when one considers that Brazilian “evangelical leaders have used their pulpits, church rolls and massive media outlets to unabashedly push Mr Bolsonaro’s upstartcandidacy,” despite the fact that president’s pre-presidential record has for years been anything by godly. The same man was reported as having said that Afro-Brazilians are “lazy and fat”, in the same breath calling refugees from Haiti, Africa, and the Middle East as the “scum of humanity”. About the use of torture, the love of all dictators, he said: “The dictatorship’s mistake was to torture but not kill.” He was also reported saying about a fellow female Brazilian politician: “I would never rape you because you don’t deserve it”.
Should anyone think that the religious radicalism of the newly elected Brazilian president is just a coincidence with no serious consequences, consider that in the US, which still holds the banner as the world’s leader in the advancement of religious freedom, a far-right Washington Republican winner of the reelection bid Matt Shea, apparently holds and promotes even more radical views for which he is investigated by FBI at this time. He believes that in “Christian America” all ‘unbelievers’ will eventually have to yield to armed Christians. Matt Shea recently constructed “Biblical Base for War”, a four page “Bible study” document intended to guide ‘the church militant” in how and whom to kill in the “holy war”, led by a “holy leader” and executed by “born again” warriors, under the direct guidance of the “warrior God”.
Apparently Matt’s ‘holy war’ outline explains “how to establish Christian law through armed struggle, calls for the end of same-sex marriage, abortion, and the death of all non-Christian males in the US if religious law is not upheld”. The document is actually an elaboration of the Old Testament theocratic rules for war applied in the days of Moses. They look very much like what a jihadist rule book might look like that describes how to treat ‘the infidels’ who would not “yield” to their particular interpretation of Islam.
Matt Shea is a Christian Dominionist. He is a part of a small but vocal branch of Evangelical supremacists who believe that Jesus gave Christians the authority to rule over the world in his name, in the most literal sense, with guns and full assistance of the law. He and many other Evangelicals believe that their day has come to “reclaim America for God”, by all means necessary. Over the past two years we have been witnessing the increase of people from the religious fringes coming out of their ideological closets of political insignificance, united in the belief that the current US President is God’s gift to them to finally bring about “the reign of God” in America.
Their intentions are not a secret. They are using Google, Facebook, YouTube and many other social media platforms generously to promote their radical worldviews. You will see them featured in videos, praying for God’s favor, with their guns and Bibles proudly in their hands. Their self-styled prophets are mass-producing “the word of the Lord” in support of President Trump as their champion, while their heavenly dreams and revelations are warning their audiences of former President Barack Obama’s plot to return, this time as the Antichrist, and declaring the judgments of God upon America for all “the sins of Democrats”. They appear convinced that their fight is for Christ, His kingdom, and the rebirth of America as an undiluted Christian nation. And when that day comes, their versions of “Christian nation” will not tolerate homosexuals, Muslims, communists, immigrants, and – rest assured – Christians who do not fit their ideological paradigm.
It would not be fair to present Donald Trump as a Christian Dominionist. Certainly not yet. Neither are most Evangelicals there yet. But all kinds of Christian supremacists and reconstructionistslove love to be around the president, serve in some capacity close to him, be his spiritual advisers, take photographs with him as they lay their hands on him while prophesying over and about him. They all believe that Trump is their man, God’s anointed, the Cyrus of our days who will make the work of their radical evangelism flourish.
And Donald Trump loves them too.
Earlier this year I wroteabout a somewhat unsettling gathering of prophetic minds called “The Turnaround: An Appeal to Heaven National Gathering”, that took place, with the blessing of the President, in the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC last March. Over one thousand Dominionists in attendance prayed in earnest for the “unleashing [of] angel armies against Trump’s enemies.” The organizers claimed claimed that the gathering will launch a worldwide spiritual revival, and spiritual breakthrough at home. All who dare stand in opposition to the current president were portrayed as “the Antichrist forces”. They declared that “now that the church woke up” it needed to “move from pleading with God to ruling with him and Trump”. They decreed also that God is now “authorizing the church to destroy all God’s enemies and all the enemies of America, in the name of Jesus Christ”.
Dutch Sheet, the self-proclaimed prophet and driving force behind the event, “decreed” that Donald Trump “will accomplish everything Almighty God sent him into that House to do, regardless of who likes it or who doesn’t”. He prayed defiantly against everyone who dared oppose the president: “You will fail! The (Church) will take you out. The outpouring of Holy spirit will take you out. Angels will take you out. You are no match for any of the above. You are no match for his prophetic decrees. So, we push you back. Your finest hour has come and gone. And the church now raises to the place that he has called us to walk in. We now rise up and I call that new order into the earth.”
When one considers the threatening arrogance and raw boldness of such ‘prophetic’ utterances, it does not take much to imagine what groups of fanatics, biblically illiterate militants eager to “do the bidding of the Lord” could be capable of doing “in the name of the Lord”, provided the circumstances are favorable. Imagine what the rallies of “God’s warriors”, caught up in a holy frenzy, could literally do to former president Barack Obama, if only “the affirming word of the Lord” comes to some of them? Imagine, under such circumstances, what an ugly scene it would be if former Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton were to be delivered into the hands of a mesmerized crowd of ‘holy warriors’ yelling “Lock her up! Lock he up!”?“People are never so completely and enthusiastically evil as when they act out of religious conviction”, wrote Italian novelist Umberto Eco.
Freedom of religion has become a fashionable promise under the current US leadership. However, the best safeguard against finding ourselves one day ruled by any form of Christian dictatorship, fascism or tyranny is to guard jealously a state of clear separation between church and state, whether we speak of the US, Brazil, or the countries of secular European Union that are increasingly becoming vocal about the need to protect their millennial Christian heritage; and there are more of those in Europe today than Hungary, Italy and Poland only. Tragically human history has amply demonstrated that when Christianity and earthly power blend into a single entity instead of staying apart, a beautiful promise always turns into a beast that devours not only non-Christians but Christians who are not of the desired brand too.
Are we heading that way?
Only a few days prior to the midterm elections I was driving along a major Houston highway when I saw a domineering billboard (two weeks later it is still there) displaying the image the American President, posing seemingly as an emerging American evangelist, overlaid with the Biblical quote “The Word Became Flesh”, and undersigned with “Make the Gospel Great Again”. It is dubious who is behind this highly visible and costly piece of advertising displayed along important highways in at least several US cities, although Facebook hosted a group that claimed to be responsible for its placement. The group that is calling itself MGGA, or “Make the Gospel Great Again” explained on their Facebook page (the Facebook page has been taken down a few days ago): “God does send his messengers to us, and just as King David liberated the faithful in his day, President Trump is doing this today through his protection of the unborn, defense of our land against foreign invaders and standing up for Israel. Compared to the disaster of a president we had in Obama, how is this not the “word become flesh” for Americans”?
Was someone joking, intending to insult, having a good laugh in the pre-midterm election days of hyphened anxiety, or trying to evangelize America in a highly provocative way? Or, could it be that the whole visual and verbal billboard design penetrates much deeper into the hidden parts of the soul of average white American Evangelicals who, unlike Jesus, are not willing to resist the addictive temptation to get hold of “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” if only they bowed down to the Deceiver? Whatever the case the billboard left me with a feeling of disgust, because its display has become a metaphor for the hijacked Christianity in the US, in which many white, right-wing American Christians are in so many ways placing a divisive, deceitful, vane, narcissistic, self-serving, discernment-lacking and hate-filled Donald Trump on par with the loving, serving, truthful and saving mission of Jesus Christ.
In other words, the billboard depicting a preaching Donald Trump as “the word becoming flesh” is a painful reminder that over the past two years the outlook of American Christianity has become morally degenerated. The outcome of the 2018 midterm elections has demonstrated that deliberate cognitive dissonance still governs the minds and hearts of the 80% of white American Evangelicals, whose zealotry made the election of Donald Trump possible two years ago. It seems obvious now that no repentance or sobering-up has ever taken place in their hearts and minds. Instead they are continuing quite comfortably to sell the historical Christianity, and the Gospel of Christ for a bowl of plausible and fictional national greatness.
And what does the bowl of American national exclusivism, that tastes sweeter than the Gospel of Christ, consist of?
Historian John Fea describes it well in his sobering and recently published book “Believe Me – The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump”: “Trump promised to place a conservative on the Supreme Court, to build a wall along the southern border, to protect white America from all the ‘rapists’ who were illegally streaming across the border; to round up undocumented immigrants and kick them out of the country – even if it meant dividing families; (to) prevent Muslims from entering the United States; to bring an end to the Affordable Care Act; to defend ‘religious freedom’ by repealing the part of the IRS code that prevents churches from endorsing political candidates; (and) to move the location of the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem;” – all of which would only boost white nationalism, racism, pride, control, injustice, militancy and wrong theology; none of which would ever advance Christlike empathy and compassion for the poor, homeless and immigrants. Meanwhile the love for human life in its holistic entirety (and not only from the conception to birth) has been completely forgotten.
So, when ahead of the midterm elections Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, urged Christians to “vote for the candidates who most closely align with the Biblical values”, one should have had every reason to ask what candidates and principles did Mr. Graham have in mind, considering that his entire faith-based and political constituency continues to prefer loyalty to Trump’s promises of the new American supremacy, to the clear counsel of the Lord that “whatever we do to the least of those – immigrants, refugees, homeless, beggars, the poor, and the racially, ethnically, religiously ostracized – we do it for the Lord!”
What kind of Biblical principles are the 80% of white Evangelicals really adhering to if by their choice and continuing support they have become an accomplice in the creation and sustenance of the national and international nightmare? What kind of leader are we recommending our fellow Christians too when, according to the words of Michael Gerson, The Washington Post columnist and former top aide to George W. Bush, Trump’s “unapologetic materialism, his tribalism and hatred for ‘the other’, his strength-worship and contempt for ‘losers’, smacks more of Nietzsche than of Christ”? Moreover, what principles of Jesus are we talking about when the white Evangelicals, with their willing submission to Trump, are holding the rest of Christendom hostage?
Finally, lest we missed the main point, the Trump evangelism billboard implies that Donald Trump has become just as sacrificial, effective and living “Word of God” in his work of “making America great again”, as Jesus Christ was effective in the work of salvation of the world from our sins. Apparently, God sent both of them for our salvation: one for our spiritual salvation, while the other for our national salvation. In this way this billboard broadcasts a blasphemous message that confuses the kingdom of God with the kingdom of the United States of America.
We are living in the days of humiliating transition for the Christian church. To quote again the words of a well-known columnist Michael Gerson, followers of Jesus, like myself, are finding it “difficult to see something (we) so deeply value discredited so comprehensively.” 80% of white Evangelicals in the US have kidnaped Christianity, stripped it of its clothes, and given it the character that is offensive to the character of Jesus. Many have gullibly fallen for a deepening deception that the Kingdom of God looks like a wistful “kingdom” of America. Together with Christian dominionists, nationalists, supremacists, racists, lovers of the prosperity gospel or “health and wealth gospel,” and the leftovers of Christian Right – they all see it as the golden opportunity to “reign” with Trump in the re-emerging American Christian nation.
Gregory A. Boyd, a Christian writer with a clear grasp of the Gospel, warned us in his book “The Myth of a Christian Nation”: “A Kingdom of God citizen could (and should) argue that the Christian version of the kingdom of the world was actually the worst version the world has ever seen. For this was the version of the kingdom of the world that did the most harm to the Kingdom of God. Not only did it torture and kill, as versions of the kingdom of the world frequently do – it did this under the banner of Christ”. He wrote, ”If violence and oppression are demonic, violence and oppression ‘in the name of Jesus’ is far more so. The church of Christendom thereby brought disrepute to the name of Christ, associating his kingdom with the atrocities it carried out for centuries. Hence, in the name of winning the world for Jesus Christ, the church often became the main obstacle to believing in Jesus Christ.”
Someone warned and it has been repeated millions of times: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” How much have we learned? Have we learned anything at all?
PS: Nov 14, 2018: A few thoughts from the John Fea’s book “Believe Me” would strengthen the argument of this article that flirting between the President and militant elements of the Evangelical America is a much more serious issue that what we would often like to admit: “Trump was appealing to a different kind of evangelical voter. His business success and wealth made him attractive to those Christians sympathetic to the gospel of prosperity, or the ‘health and wealth gospel’ movement. Some of the powerful leaders of the Independent Network Charismatic (INC) Movement, an oft-overlooked segment of American evangelicalism, prophesied a Trump victory. In September 2015, when Trump met with nearly three dozen evangelical leaders at Trump Tower, the room was filled with Pentecostal, prosperity gospel, and INC leaders, such as Gloria and Kenneth Copeland, Jan Crouch, Paula White, and Mark Burns. By January 2016, Trump had also secured endorsements from Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, and Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world.”
PS: November 15, 2018: Another few eye-opening thoughts from the book “Believe Me – The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea that complement the subject of this article, which I came across after the completion of my article. This time they are about Ted Cruz: “Ted Cruz’s grassroots campaign among evangelicals led to his eventual victory in the Iowa caucuses. Endorsements rolled in from James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family ministries and one of the architects of the Christian Right’s ‘family values’ campaign, and Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council. Ted Cruz turned fear-mongering into an art form. The Cruz campaign mirrored the old days of the Moral Majority. Anyone who attended one of Cruz’s rallies or watched him on television came away from the experience with a sense that he and his followers were on God’s side and that everyone else was working with the forces of evil to destroy America. Cruz talked about the need to ‘reclaim’ or ‘restore’ America. His father, traveling evangelist Rafael Cruz described his son’s campaign for a Senate seat as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy. The elder Cruztold the congregation that God would anoint Christian ‘kings’ to preside over an ‘end-time transfer of wealth’ from the wicked to the righteous. This ‘end-time transfer of wealth’ would relieve Christians of all financial woes, allowing true believers to ascend to a position of political and cultural power so that they could build a Christian civilization. When this Christian nation would be set in place (or back in place), Jesus would return.
Timothy Snyder reminds us in his book “On Tyranny” (book I would highly recommend):
“Until recently, we Americans had convinced ourselves that there was nothing in the future but more of the same. The seemingly distant traumas of fascism, Nazism, and communism seemed to be receding into irrelevance. We allowed ourselves to accept the politics of inevitability, the sense that history could move in only one direction: toward liberal democracy”.
He continues to write: “In doing so, we lowered our defenses, constrained our imagination, and opened the way for precisely the kinds of regimes we told ourselves could never return. This is what is called a teleology: a narration of time that leads toward a certain, usually desirable, goal. (But) the politics of inevitability is a self-induced coma.”
I would dare add a thought here too:
The best illustration to date that we are being comatose(d) more and more into tyranny is what happened yesterday at the White House press conference. This press conference was fitting a dictator, autocrat, despot, and certainly not a leader of the free world.
A well known accredited journalist was stripped of his credentials by the president for doing his work because the president did not like his questions. He called a black journalist a racist because he did not like her questions. At the same time the president was ranting and fussing without anyone daring to try to wrestle the microphone out of his hands.
And by the way, “When did all the people who think that grabbing women by the ‘pussy’ in private is acceptable decide that touching a woman’s arm in public is appalling” – asked today James O’Brian the LBC talk radio presenter in London, England?
The fact that the White House blatantly lied into our faces, and released a doctored video to try to cover up the fact that they lied about a reporter assaulting an aid (we can all easily find the original recordings to see the truth) is already Orwellian enough, pointing towards the increasingly authoritarian style of leadership of the current president. The most alarming thing though is that all of this is becoming a new normal, acceptable norm of leadership.
Aren’t we in a coma already if we are continuing to believe that we are still living in the days called “the business as usual”? Aren’t we naive enough if we believe that tomorrow will be a better day somehow, of itself? Aren’t we (deliberately) blind if we do not see the nightmare deepening?
Of course that God is in control. He was in the days of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin too. But let us not patronize God by reconciling with what no sane person could or should ever reconcile with, while the instruments of democracy are still available.
This is what I blogged eight years ago, on November 2, 2010 exactly:
What to say about all the fuss, negative political campaign, demonizing and dehumanization of political opponents through offensive political advertising on TV, and of all religious euphoria pursued by too many militant Christians who believe that the 2010 midterm elections are a God given opportunity to “reclaim America for God”? What to say as an outsider who has lived in the US long enough to see what is going on, but enjoys still a luxury of not getting passionately engaged in all the hustle?
Foremost, I want to look at those questions as a follower of Jesus who believes that Jesus of Nazareth was not joking when he called us to love our neighbors and enemies as we love ourselves; and as someone who continues to believe that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22). Most of Americans still claim that they are Christians, living in a country built upon the Judeo-Christian values, and praying that God wouldat this time replace the “ungodly” leaders with the those who are pro-life, who will display Ten Commandments in the courtrooms again; and who are against the current government healthcare reform.
Sadly, some of those issues might seem godly, but I’ve seen nothing godly in the ways the current midterm campaign has been pursued across the American nation.
Let me give you an example of a Christian radio station broadcasting for the Houston area. This is a radio station that is at one moment able to deliver a wonderful sermon, church service, a feature on how to love our neighbors, or how to receive Jesus as “our personal Savior”; or talk passionately about the need to love our neighbors, the poor and needy (especially those in distant countries and missions); while at the very next moment it produces a negative and character defaming, completely disrespectful advertising against the current US President in order to advance a certain political candidate. It also features a daily talk-show produced by a “born again” producer who brags that the purpose of his life and radio program are to “bring one soul to Jesus at the time” while, at the same time, he passionately demonizes anyone in the political arena he does not approve of – believing that by doing both he advances the Kingdom of God.
What concerns me more than the prospective outcome of the midterm elections today is the jihadist wrath of so many Christian zealots who are in their angry hearts and minds removed only one degree of separation from their religiously fanatical counterparts in some other parts of the world. Often I feel that they would fight for the Lord with fists, clubs and worse, given a chance.
At this moment I do not know who will win the midterm elections. The next day or so will unveil the outcome. But I strongly suspect that it won’t be God. The devouring nature of the current campaign reflects more of the character of someone described in the Bible as “going around seeking who to devour”. (1. Peter 5:8.)
The van belonging to Cesar Sayoc unmistakably reveals the source of his inspiration.
Observation, Friday, October 26, 2018: What happened this week did not take place in a vacuum. It was not the work of a “loner” acting without the inspiration created by a favorable context. It was the work of a sick mind indeed, but the mind that has been nourished for the past two years with conspiracy garbage and the bullying rhetorics …… In fact the climate that is today producing fanatics such as Cesar Sayoc has been in making since 2008. It was already alive and wellin 2010 when I wrote this reflection. What is even more scary is that today there are too many Cesars roaming around, agitated enough to desire “martyrdom” for a twisted cause.
Wherever a Christian culture exists that encourages its followers to believe and act as if their salvation, or sense of God’s approval depended on our human works (whether they are the works of the Law, or our own rules, or the rules dictated by church); or the works of our own subjective feelings – all of them are demonstrating that we are not sure if trusting in Jesus alone is enough to keep us in the saving relationship with God. Thus, the grace of Christ, as the supreme and all-sufficient agent of our salvation is compromised, diluted, even lost.
Today many are praying for unity, quoting the prayer of Jesus “that all may be one”. Unfortunately, they are forgetting that the only legitimate call to unity shared between the followers of Jesus is the one where Jesus is firmly occupying the throne, and deciding the rules of the game. “That all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You”’ prayed Jesus. John 17:21.
Jesus never prayed for unity at all costs. Unity that does not have Jesus-plus-nothing in the center is a hijacked unity. Cosmetic or politically driven unifications are not based on the truth but on the compromises that always sacrifice the Gospel. There where Jesus Christ is not on the throne, some other christ will be enthroned. This is why the warning of Paul the Apostle sounds so urgent and uncompromising: “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned”. Galatians 2:8.
As long as we are adding anything to Jesus, whatever that may be, to which we are crediting even partial redemptive attributes, we have not grasped the heart, meaning and continuing urgency of the Reformation.
The 16th century Reformers understood that the heart of the Gospel was the gift of grace in Jesus Christ without human strings attached. This was the landmark which they did not dare compromise or subject to improvisation. Neither should we.
Unique Integration Conference for Asylum Seekers Held in Croatia
On Monday, September 24, 2018 the unique six-day conference was completed in the picturesque village of Fuzine, Croatia. More than 50 asylum seekers, including an international team of facilitators, humanitarian and faith-based activists from twelve countries, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Iran including, came together to wrestle with a number of burning questions that asylum seekers in Croatia and Europe are facing daily in their prolonged processes of waiting between interviews and issuing of the final government decision to their requests to stay permanently in Croatia.
This dynamic and at times intense conference, with the theme “Moving Forward in Truth, with Courage and Hope,” represented the extension of the ROM – Renewing Our Minds international leadership project, and was organized by “Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation” (US), and “Business as Mission” (Zagreb, Croatia), in partnership with ECPM – European Christian Political Movement, from Brussels, Belgium. The conference was conducted in English, with simultaneous translations provided into Farsi and Arabic.
The conference objectives included helping seekers of the international protection in Croatia, and those who have had their asylum statuses favorably resolved recently, gain a balanced understanding of the integration processes and related challenges in Croatia. Likewise, the conference organizers wanted to hear from the participating asylum seekers what are their most daring challenges as they are often waiting for two to three years, driven by uncertainty and anxiety, to have their requests answered by the Croatian Government? In short, the objectives of the conference were to help immigrants in Croatia and Europe to integrate well, and to help them grasp the essentials of European culture and Christian faith.
The daily afternoon workshops helped the conference participants, most of whom were family men and women with children, to vocalize their most urging needs and anxieties. Some of the most frequent questions were: Why is the process of waiting to receive the final decision taking so long? Why are some asylum seekers, who have come to Croatia only recently receiving their positive answers sooner than those who entered Croatia two or three years ago, and are still waiting to have their cases finalized?
Other questions included: While only a few asylum seekers have been allowed to work legally in Croatia, as they are waiting to have their asylum requests finalized, why are many more denied the privilege to work legally? Why is it that under the law some helpful privileges are promised to the waiting asylums seekers, such as learning the Croatian language and access to health care, while in practice those privileges are seldom accessible? Why is the Croatian government not helping reunite the families separated in different places and countries along their refugee trail?
Through carefully selected lectures, and much time devoted to questions and group conversation, the organizers of the conference devoted their attention to the issues of law, culture and place of religion in the Croatian society; the three overlapping areas whose understanding is necessary if the Integration into the Croatian society is to be fully appreciated and implemented. Special attention was given to building of friendship and trust between Muslim and Christian asylum-seekers, as well as building friendship and trust between asylum seekers and the Croatian citizens and institutions.
At the workshop about the role of faith and religious communities in Croatian it became obvious that the asylum seekers are expecting more empathy and support from the religious communities of Croatia than from the government. “Since it is in the nature of religious communities to care about vulnerable groups,” they reasoned, “religious organizations, churches and faith-based groups should be able to put in place a synchronized care network” that could efficiently help asylum seekers in the months and years of uncertainty and prolonged months and years of anxious waiting; and also help the asylum holders who have recently been granted the right to remain in Croatia. For example, they could help the new asylum holders, especially those with children, to find their first home and first job.
The strength of this conference was that it dealt insightfully and compassionately with the challenges of integration as observed and handled by the three sides involved in the lives of asylum seekers: as they are handled by the Croatian and European laws and legal systems; as they are experienced by the asylum seekers themselves; and as they are addressed by the church and faith-based organizations and groups. Since most of the asylum seekers are spending long periods of time anxiously waiting for the final and affirming decision from the government, often being previously rejected two or three times, it became clear in the initial days of the conference that most of asylum seekers-in-waiting have suffered from the loss of trust in the Croatian government, its institutions and supporting agencies. The conference leadership team, which included also a group of asylum seekers and asylum holders, worked diligently to see the damaged trust and relationships healed and restored, and promised to contribute to the conversation by making the findings of the conference available to the public and relevant institutions.
The quality of the conference was enhanced by the choice of speakers and facilitators, and experienced ROM (Renewing Our Minds) team members. Among them were Heather Staff, an emerging UK politician and Policy Adviser to Kate Green MP; Leo van Doesburg, Director for European Affairs for the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM); Amir Hekmatpour, spiritual advisor and faith mentor from the US; Donya and Shayan Spanta, asylum holders and humanitarian activists from Iran, now Croatian residents; Mihal Kreko, Christian pastor and humanitarian activist from Zagreb, Croatia; Tihomir Kukolja, Renewing Our Minds (ROM) Director; and Ana Šutalo, a representative of the Croatian Ministry of the Interior, and Asylum Support Expert. Ana Šutalo’s contribution to the conference was especially significant as she explained in detail what needed to happen once an asylum seeker has received a residential status in Croatia.
Although the conference dealt with very serious themes and issues, often accompanied by heated but honest discussion, this event also became a festival of friendship through the relaxing, and spirit-lifting hours of sharing in the energetic feasts of music, dances, customs, culture of the countries represented at the conference, and moments of thanksgiving. However, the special feature of the conference were the moments that addressed the spiritual hunger manifest by all participants at the conference, Christians and Muslims alike. No hours were too long, and no optional workshops too many for the groups of participants who never ceased to ask new questions as they listened to Amir Hekmatpour, even in the hours outside his official speaking sessions. Amir Hekmatpour, from the US and with the origins from Iran, served as a spiritual adviser, mentor and speaker at the conference.
“The results of this integration conference surpassed all our expectations” – stated Mihal Kreko, one of the organizers of the 2018 ROM Integration Conference, and the director of a unique integration project currently under construction in Zagreb, Croatia, known as “The House of Hope.” Heather Staff, a speaker at the conference and a UK politician commented: “I’ve never before experienced the level of honesty in our conversations as at this conference, and even when we disagreed we did it agreeably.” “The Thanksgiving Eveningon the closing Sunday demonstrated that we all became one forgiving, forgiven and reconciled family of friends who loved each other. By the end of the conference one could see that the faces of asylum seekers radiated with new hope and new joy,” said Liviu Bocaniala, the conference music director. And Tihomir Kukolja, the ROM – Renewing Our Minds Director stated: “This conference opened my eyes. I learned more about the hardships of being an asylum seeker in six days of this conference than in previous three years”.
At this time the organizers are involved in the speedy preparation of a memorandum that will be presented to the governmental and non-governmental organizations before the end of this month, as well as to a number of church and faith-based organizations in Croatia and abroad. This document will present in detail the conference’s objectives, conclusions and recommendations. It will be released in Croatian, English, Farsi and Arabic, and presented to several international organizations too.
JAn 17, 2019, Zimbabwe: John Masuku, a seasoned and senior radio broadcaster, producer and journalist in Zimbabwe, and a member of international community of ROM – Renewing Our Minds initiative, sent us today the following statement issued by prominent media organizations in Zimbabwe. Since the Zimbabwean Government has shut down schools, banks. roads, transportation, media, newspapers and the Internet across the country, and since it is hard to know how much information can be circulated in and out of Zimbabwe at this time, we are using our platform to join many friends across the world who are this time doing whatever they can to make sure the news of the Zimbabwe shutdown is known internationally. So, friends, read the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) Statement on the Internet Shutdown, and spread the word:
Jesus is in the business of saving people. Paul says: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”, and adds: “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ” Romans 8:38.39. Could it be that simple? But rather than being a source of great joy, radical simplicity of the Gospel offends most people. The saving prescription is so simple that even a child will embrace it, and an elderly person whose mental faculties are already weak will find in it his or her ultimate comfort. It states: “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:9.13.
Blog Author and Producer
Tihomir Kukolja, born in Slavonska Pozega, Croatia. Studied, lived and worked in Yugoslavia, Croatia, United Kingdom, Australia and the US. Educated in theology, communications, and radio journalism. Worked as a church pastor, radio producer and presenter, journalist, religious liberty activist, humanitarian activist, and reconciliation and leadership development activist. Lives in Baytown TX, USA. Currently serves as the Executive Director, Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation (Forum), and Director of Renewing Our Minds (ROM) initiative.