Category Archives: books

It’s Time to Cancel the Rapture: My Guest Post for Zach Hoag

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I’m guest posting for Zach Hoag, my church planting friend in the greatest state of them all… Vermont. He’s helping me spread the good news about Revelation.

I know that Nicholas Cage is “starring” in a summer blockbuster that relies on an inevitable and immanent rapture to scare viewers into theaters, but I’m afraid this little end times ruse needs to stop. It’s time to cancel the rapture.

Really. We’ve milked this biblically suspect, historically bankrupt, literary abomination of a doctrine long enough.

Did we really need a remake of the first Left Behind movie in the first place? Did we even need the first Left Behind movie after the books?

If an action movie relies on any measure of suspense, that’s already gone any way.

RAPTURE MOVIE News flash: people will disappear, stuff will blow up, news reporters will look confused, everyone will get the mark of the beast, and then more stuff blows up. THE END.

And while Christian culture is still gobbling up the latest end times speculation like Four Blood Moons and Perfect Ending, the vast majority of biblical scholars have left the rapture, well, behind. It’s time for the rest of us to do the same before they make the sequel or prequel to the latest Left Behind movie. If anything let’s do this for the sake of Nicholas Cage and the long-neglected American Treasure franchise. It’s what the founding fathers would have wanted.

Here are three even better reasons why the rapture needs to be cancelled:

Read the rest at my guest post for Zach Hoag…

My Next Book Release: Hockey Is for Real

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I was five years old. There were bright lights, unfamiliar faces, and a loud booming voice. 

People cheered and celebrated, clapping their hands for joy and sharing drinks. 

Sticks slapped at the ice, a black disc zipped from one end of the ice to the other, and men smashed each other into the boards. When things got out of hand, they all flooded the ice to punch each other. 

I didn’t quite know where I was or how I’d gotten there, but in the days and months that followed, he gradually clued me in. I had just been to a hockey game. In fact, everything I described from my experience matched a hockey game precisely. 

I had been to hockey and back, and my life would never be the same. No matter what has happened in my life, I have always known that I will one day return to the peace and joy of a hockey game.

I wrote about hockey in my new book, Hockey Is for Real so that you can know that hockey is real too.

Hockey is for Real

This book answers life’s most daunting and perplexing questions:

Is hockey a real place? 

What is hockey like? 

How can I go to there if I want to go to there?

 

I’ve been hesitant to mention this book project for quite some time since I’m currently releasing my two latest books: Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from the Doubters of Jesus and The Good News of Revelation. However, today seemed like the perfect time to unveil a project that has been my passion from a very young age.

I pray you’ll discover that hockey is real.

I pray you’ll learn to stop fearing hockey. 

Most of all, I pray that we can all go to hockey together one glorious day in the future. 

HOCKEY IS FOR REAL MY FRIENDS. 

 

5 Reasons American Christians Love to Get the Book of Revelation Wrong-A Guest Post for Zack Hunt

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Zack Hunt is one of those bloggers who often says what I wish I could say. His American Jesus blog mixes theology and commentary with his sharp whit and radar for the absurd in American Christianity. I always enjoy dropping by his blog because I feel like I can let my sarcastic side off the leash a bit more. This week I’m writing about 5 Reasons American Christians Love to Get the Book of Revelation Wrong. Here’s the introduction below…

Christians in America have ZERO incentive to interpret the book of Revelation correctly.

Learned Bible scholars have presented compelling interpretations for years that provide biblically grounded and compelling explanations for its symbols and predictions. And guess what? They aren’t big fans of the rapture—a theological innovation of the 1800’s that rose to prominence because of marketing and chance rather than its accuracy.

Among today’s biblical scholars there’s a strong consensus that the majority of the book of Revelation addressed events that concerned seven first century churches in Asian Minor—you know, the seven churches the letter is ADDRESSED TO.

No worries, those liberals don’t REALLY care about understanding the Bible.

My goodness, Christians in America, especially the evangelicals, love to butcher the book of Revelation into sound bite sized, attention-grabbing, uninformed nuggets of speculation that drizzle in just enough biblical study to make their speculations look biblically legitimate.

If you live in America and you want to understand what the book of Revelation is really about, good luck. There are five really good reasons why Americans love to get it wrong:

Read the rest at The American Jesus.  

Can You Relate to Judas? I Can

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I’m talking to Shawn Smucker, Writer today about Unfollowers, Derek Cooper’s amazing organizational skills, the ways I can relate to Judas, and the fact that “lemon” should never, ever be considered a “candy” flavor. 

There are a lot of books out there, and I’m sure there are a lot of various things you’d like to write about. Why Unfollowers?

It’s hard to find something new to say about Jesus. I wanted to give readers a perspective on the Gospels that wasn’t merely a remix of existing books. The unfollowers provided that new angle into these stories I’d been looking for.

If you read the Gospels from the perspective of what the “unfollowers” expected, the message of Jesus and the decisions of his disciples come into a much sharper focus. I’ve spent most of my life assuming that I would have jumped to follow Jesus. When I started relating to the stories of the unfollowers, I saw that I have just as many obstacles to following Jesus today. Their stories became a fascinating point of entry into the story of Jesus, and they helped me develop new-found appreciation for Jesus and his message.

When did the idea begin percolating in your mind? Was there a particular event or realization that led to the book?

Read the rest at www.shawnsmucker.com.

The Leap of Faith That Jesus Is Always Better

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I’ve been a noncommittal Catholic who slipped out of church right after communion.

I’ve been a combative fundamentalist who feared his faith was always under siege.

I’ve been a bookish Baptist who underlined and highlighted page after page of Paul’s epistles.

I’ve been an uneasy Calvinist who finally found peace among Wesleyans and charismatics.

My faith has passed from certainty to confusion, to doubt, to peace in the presence of God.

hope of faith in Jesus in the Bible

I have alienated friends and insulted family members in the name of Christ. I have failed to serve my neighbors, and oh how I have judged fellow Christians. Through it all, I’ve clung to Jesus. Sometimes it’s just been ideas about Jesus. Other times it’s been more of a feeling that he is present.

After spending the past year unpacking the stories about Jesus and walking in the shoes of his original audience for my book Unfollowers, there’s one thing that I finally realized about my journey through the stories about Jesus:

Jesus is always better than I expected.

Working on Unfollowers was often frustrating and disturbing, as I saw one person after another choose to “unfollow” Jesus because he didn’t meet their expectations. They expected Jesus affirm their life choices, match their theology, exclude the same people, and fight the same battles.

Over and over again, Jesus disappointed them. Instead of affirming their wealth, he encouraged them to give it away. Instead of affirming their theology, he pushed them to seek the life of God. Instead of excluding notorious sinners, he shared meals with them and healed those who were open to him. Instead of fighting political battles, he spoke in parables about a Kingdom that is in this world without playing by its rules.

On the one hand, Jesus can be extremely frustrating for those who cling to their assumptions about him. If Jesus must meet certain standards or affirm certain choices, there’s a good chance we won’t follow him.

However, if we can let go of our assumptions about him fade away, we’ll find that he is both far more challenging and far better than what we could imagine. My expectations about Jesus have always fallen short of his capacity for healing and the depths of his love.

There’s almost a universal rule at play here: Jesus is always better than we expect. I don’t always see it right away. However, Jesus is already more willing to forgive, heal, restore, bless, and love than I expect.

Letting go of my expectations, religious systems, and assumptions about what pleases God is a tough, ongoing battle. It’s a miracle of sorts that I’ve ever let go of them in the first place. I’m easily distracted along the way. I lose sight of my priorities. I make bad choices. I start to play games with Jesus—if I do this for you, you should do this for me.

How easily I exchange grace for a contract.

Jesus is in the business of ripping up contracts, breaking down walls, and restoring prodigals. Every time I think I have him figured out, he pushes me to see how much wider, deeper, and higher his love can be.

On one occasion in the Gospels, Jesus asked a crippled man, “Do you want to get well?” Loaded in that question was a catch-22 of sorts. If Jesus healed that man, it would take place on the Sabbath. The religious leaders classified that as “working on the Sabbath,” and would put him at odds with their ironclad teachings. He had to let go of something if he wanted to be restored by Jesus.

We face a similar choice each day.

Do we want to get well?

Are we willing to leave our expectations, assumptions, and religious systems behind? Are we willing to take a chance on Jesus, even if that means we have to leave behind much of what we thought we knew about God?

It’s a leap of faith.

Do we want to get well?

Answering yes is a leap into the unknown. The result may not be what we expect. I face these leaps over and over again in life. Answering with a “Yes!” has led me to freedom and peace that I didn’t think possible.

Jesus is always better than we could expect.

My Least Favorite Gospel Stories: The Unappealing Bread of Life

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Gospel-stories-JesusDuring Lent we’re often disciplining ourselves to undertake challenges, to give up things we like, and to dig deeper into spirituality. I have some plans to cut back on my screen time, but I also wanted to give up something else: my comfort—particularly my comfortable theology.

As I worked on my book Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from the Doubters of Jesus, I had to confront one difficult gospel story after another. At one point I quipped that I was basically writing about all of my least favorite gospel stories. Then I thought: Why not spend some time working through a few of them during Lent?

This week I want to open the series with the story of Jesus and his statement in John 6 that he is the bread of life in Capernaum’s synagogue:

“Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.’” John 6:53-58, NIV

Am I the only person who has a hard time “swallowing” this teaching?

* * *

Jesus had a lot on the line when he advocated something that sounds a lot like cannibalism. He’d just multiplied bread in the wilderness for the 5,000 and then he followed that up by calming a storm in front of his followers. The people were practically ready to crown him king. His disciples were finally starting to catch on that that Jesus had something of the divine about him.

Things were starting to line up. Jesus’ popularity was starting to peak. The only thing that could ruin it now would be alienating the people.

That’s exactly what Jesus did. He shared a teaching that was so confusing, confounding, and flat out offensive that the crowds fled from him and even his disciples considered bailing on him.

As hard as Jesus is to understand in this passage, it’s equally confusing why he would alienate such a large number of people.

Christians today measure the success of pastors by how many people they attract, not how many they drive away.

As I’ve wrestled with this story, I’ve found that perhaps the place to start is with preceding stories. The people were prepared to make him king after witnessing his miracle. It’s possible that Jesus tried to make his popularity take a nose dive. At the very least, he knew that they were operating under assumptions that didn’t have the whole truth in mind.

Nevertheless, I wonder if Jesus could have gone a little easier on them.

* * *

Every time the disciples caught a glimpse of the true identity of Jesus, he ratcheted things up a notch. When Peter declared Jesus the Messiah, Jesus told him about his coming death and resurrection. When the disciples saw Jesus calm a storm, he dropped the bomb about eating the bread of life.

To a certain degree, Jesus was drawing a line in the sand. Who or what would they rely on and trust in?

It’s tough for us to capture the implications of bread for his audience. Bread made up a significant portion of many diets, especially among the poor. Grain was easily transported and stored. The Romans shipped in grain in order to keep the common people of their capital city fed. They even gave grain away sometimes because it was better to keep people satisfied with the status quo than for them to starve and rebel.

Bread was an essential part of daily life for many in Jesus’ audience. Without bread, many of them would starve.

Mixed with his contemporary situation, Jesus also called on the Exodus story where the Lord fed the people. In a very real sense, the people were depending on God alone for their daily bread.

At the center of this story is a message of dependence—who will we look to for our daily provisions and for life?

Much like the water of life that Jesus spoke of to the woman by the well in John 4, Jesus spoke in terms of consuming something in order to experience life. We don’t mind a metaphor about drinking living water, but once we start speaking of eating his body and blood, we’re entering into imagery that is hard to digest.

The people in Jesus’ audience relied on a variety of things to sustain themselves. They relied on hard work, political parties, and religious practices. They had fears and anxieties about the future. They wanted a Messiah to take care of their needs, but they were hardly in tune with what the Messiah wanted. If anything, they were ready to sprinkle a little bit of Messiah into their daily struggles, making life more peaceful, certain, and meaningful. They weren’t ready to completely rely on Jesus.

While we could say a lot about the images Jesus used in this story, especially how they relate to communion, I find it most helpful to look at this story with a big picture view. Jesus wanted them to “feed” on him—depending on him alone. He was, at the very least, giving his listeners clues about spiritual life, even if there are other implications we could discuss elsewhere.

They could not find life by observing the law, following a religious leader, or pursuing a political party. They could only find life by getting Jesus into their lives. This is a story about the life of Christ dwelling within us, seeking first the Kingdom of God.

Each day I have a list of things I need. I need to make money. I need to be praised. I need to be noticed. I need people to help me. As my list of needs grows, it’s clear that I’m missing out on the “bread of life.” And I can only find the sustaining life of Christ by welcoming Jesus into my life.

As much as people used to depend on bread for life, so too must we depend on Jesus.

After receiving mountains of bread, they thought they had everything they needed. However, Jesus intended his statement about “eating his flesh and drinking his blood,” he was pointing them away from such a short-sited perspective.

They needed to find the life of God, and that life wasn’t imparted through bread in the wilderness. The life of God comes only to those who have Jesus living within them.

Do you have a least favorite Gospel story?

Share your story in the comments or write a post and share the link below.

Learn more about the Unfollowers in this story.