Monday, June 30, 2014

Citizens of God's Kingdom - Greg Albrecht

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"
  But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"
  "Caesar's," they replied.
  Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."
  When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.—Matthew 22:15-22
During these early years of the 21st century, we North American Christians have struggled between loyalty to the countries in which we live and our faithfulness to God. In the last few years we have been challenged by what is called the war against terrorism, including the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our daily news informs us of seemingly endless bloodshed in the Middle East, not to mention the saber-rattling, or perhaps better described as "bomb blustering," from Iran and North Korea. 

There are a variety of Christian responses to warfare. Wherever Christians have lived and whenever they have occupied their place in history, Christianity has responded to war in a variety of ways. As with many issues, there are two extremes. 

There are many faith communities that consider themselves Christian who see God on one side and government of any kind on the other. Government, by its very definition for such folks, is corrupt, evil and self-serving. 

While there are times when we are all inclined to believe in this perspective, it does ignore fundamental issues that face Christians in this world. Does our calling as Christians mean that we should escape to a remote area, build a little log cabin, dig a well for fresh water, grow an organic vegetable garden and watch the world go to hell in a handbasket?

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Kingdom of Service - Greg Albrecht

by Greg Albrecht
Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
—Luke 22:24-30
Who are you? What one adjective or phrase best describes who you are? The first answer given by most people who are still in the work force would be their occupation: "I'm a plumber—a school teacher—an accountant—a salesperson—a bus driver."

It is true that much of our identity in our 21st century western world comes from our work, but there are other ways of thinking of yourself. Who are you?

Let's presume you aren't allowed to answer the question "Who are you?" with a word or term that indicates your occupation, career or vocation. What other answers might be volunteered? Some might say that they are a husband, a wife, a father or a mother. Still others might respond by saying that they are Irish, Italian or Chinese. Some might say that they are a stamp collector or a bird watcher or a fisherman. 

This is not a trick question. I'm not trying to embarrass you, but rather to focus your thoughts. For those who are in Christ, for those of us in whom he lives, there's another designation I'm looking for. 

When the New Testament writers started their letters (the old word is epistles) they said:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus
Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ
Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ
How do you feel about being called a servant? How do you feel about being a "go-fer" —someone who does the little things, the difficult things? How do you feel about putting the needs of others ahead of your own? 

What does it mean to be a Christian? Being a Christian doesn't have to do with stuff we do that turns us into a Christian, but being a Christian has to do with Jesus being in us and us being in him. 

Being a Christian means that since Jesus is in us and we are in him, therefore there are behaviors that he will produce in and through our lives. Paul calls such behaviors "fruit" in the book of Galatians.
Jesus told the twelve,
"But I am among you as one who serves."—Luke 22:27
One of the amazing things about the life of Jesus is that while no one else deserved to be served by others more than he did, he came not to be served, but to serve. Amazing!
The time setting of our keynote passage in Luke 22 is the eve of the crucifixion. Here, on the eve of Jesus' greatest passion, his greatest sacrifice, his greatest act of love, indeed, his greatest act of service, we would like to think that all of the disciples were sobered, prayerful, supportive of and encouraging Jesus.

None of that. They were arguing about who would be the greatest in the kingdom. They, in spite of all of Jesus' teachings about the primary emphasis of his kingdom, as being a spiritual kingdom, a Kingdom of Service, they were still thinking about physical kingdoms with land, property, possessions and status. They were focused on their glorious future as big-shot leaders and about who would be "in charge." 

So on the eve of the crucifixion they were fighting about who would be the biggest muckedy-muck in the kingdom. 

Jesus must have rolled his eyes at all of this, uttered a deep sigh, and said "Hey guys, listen up..."

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Worshiping Wrath? - by Martin Little

Worshipping Wrath: Is There Place for God's Anger in Congregational Worship?
Martin Little[1]

In 2013, the worship committee of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to remove the Getty/Townend hymn 'In Christ Alone' from its newly published hymnal, the denomination's official sung worship collection.  What swung it was the line, “'Til on that cross as Jesus died / The wrath of God was satisfied.  An attempt to include an amended version saying 'the love of God was magnified' was refused outright by the songwriters, so the committee vetoed the song.  As a 'sign-of-the-times' headline, the story made several mainstream news outlets.[2]

Do we have a problem with wrath?  Should we?  I am going to address the context of worship as both a way into, and an application of, how Christians deal with the concept of the wrath of God.

A wide spectrum of views exists on the wrath of God, but I see two broad approaches.  One might be called the 'personal' view or 'anthropomorphic' view: wrath is an emotion (at least analogous with human feelings) that God 'feels' because he is a person.  Wrath is also associated with the effects of this feeling: God's righteous acts of direct judgement.  Authors like John Stott are quick to point out that the wrath is not some capricious lashing out, but rather a steady, constant and just opposition to sin.[3]  Those who accept this view of wrath tend toward a penal view of the Atonement, though there are notable exceptions.[4] 

We could call the other stream the 'impersonal' or 'cosmic' view: wrath is the inevitable consequence of sin, to which God consents or 'gives us over'. This language of 'giving over' has a good biblical pedigree, notably in Isaiah 64 and Romans 1. Crucially, this view of wrath is seen to develop throughout Scripture.  A.T. Hanson demonstrates that in the OT, wrath is often personal and anthropomorphic.  But this gradually gives way to the impersonal view that he says dominates the NT.[5]  A version of this is developed by my tutor at Westminster Theological Centre, Brad Jersak, who describes wrath as the result of 'divine consent' - God allowing us the freedom to sow and reap the destructive consequences intrinsic to sin.[6]

When we worship God, we typically speak of his majesty, his power, his goodness, and - the crowning essence of his nature - his love.  His wrath doesn't often get a look in. Theologically though, both these approaches to wrath seek to reconcile God's wrath with his love.

[1] This paper was originally presented at Kingdom Theology Conference 2014: 'Where Hope and Loss Meet: A Theology of Tragedy and Promise', Westminster Theological Centre / Trinity College Bristol, Cheltenham, UK, 21 June, 2014.  I am grateful to Rev. Dr Brad Jersak for editing the first draft of this paper, and for his helpful suggestions.
[2] Cf. Bob Smietana, 'Presbetyrians decision to drop hymn stirs debate',, August 5, 2013, August 5, 2013 .  For further reflections on the hymn selection process, see the article by the chair of the committee, Mary Louise Bringle, "Debating Hymns",, May 1, 2013. .
[3] John Stott, The Cross of Christ, (20th Anniversary Edition, Nottingham: IVP, 2006), 202.
[4] Clark Pinnock for example.  See Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God's Openness (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2001), 82-83.
[5] A.T. Hanson, The Wrath of the Lamb, (London: SPCK, 1957) passim.
[6] Brad Jersak, 'Wrath and Love as Divine Consent', Clarion Journal of Spirituality and Justice (July 23, 2012). The arguments here are developed in his forthcoming book A More Christlike God.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

How is a Fallible Bible Inspired? Derek Flood

Over the past several months we've been doing a lot of deconstruction work with the Bible on my blog, discussing how an unquestioning reading of Scripture leads to a lot of hurt. It's an important conversation to have, one motivated by compassion. Because we care about people, and because we love the Bible, we need to confront a way of reading that justifies harm. Still, even so, it's hard. It takes a toll because, even though we believe we are doing something good, it cuts away at our old beliefs in the process and that means it cuts us. After doing that kind of hard deconstructive work it can feel like there's nothing left to stand on. 

Brian McLaren recently compared this process of deconstruction to peeling an onion,
"Every new conception of God necessarily requires doubting or rejecting the prevailing conception of God ... For many, the process is like peeling an onion. First they lost faith in the 6-day creationist god, then in the bible-dictation god, then in the male-supremacy god, then in the european-supremacy/western-civilization/colonialist god, then in the anti-gay god, ... and eventually, every layer of the onion is peeled away and one is left with nothing, but maybe some tears. 
"The fear of being left with nothing leaves many people desperately afraid to question anything, which might be a good definition of fundamentalism. ... The question, I think, is this: what happens after one peels away the onion and faces the possibility that there is nothing left?" 
With the Bible in particular the question we are left with in the end boils down to this: After we strip away the hurtful unquestioning way of reading the Bible, what does it then mean to read Scripture as scripture? Once we lose the "God said it and that settles it" approach, in what sense can we say the Bible is inspired if that doesn't mean "everything it says should be followed without question"? Are we left with seeing it as just a "human book" or is there a way to find God in there, just as we find God amongst the mess of our own broken lives and world?

Related: Have We Misread the Bible?  

Jesus said that all of the law and prophets hang on two commandments: Love God, and love others as you love yourself. That's not just a summary, it's the very aim of Scripture itself:

The Bible is intended to lead us to love God, others, and ourselves. 

That's the ultimate aim and purpose of the Bible as Jesus saw it. If we are reading in a way that leads us away from love, then we are quite simply reading wrong. That was the mistake of the Pharisees, and continues to be the mistake of many Christians today. If we see that our interpretation is causing hurt, we need to pay attention and make a course correction.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of this article.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Scapegoat - Isaiah 53. David Rosenberg, A Literary Bible

Is there anyone to believe
what we've listened to
as we report it

who is there
who's actually seen the Lord's
arm around the shoulders

of the despised    this richness
incredible support
freely given to him

who would have believed 
seeing we were as unconscious of him
among us as a common tree

a weed tree in a lot
junk-strewn in a poor section
of the city

what could have been there
to attract us    no handsomeness
nothing to divert the eye

how could we even turn our heads 
for something so poor in our eyes
so uninspiring

he was a thing rejected
despised for being human
in an offensive suit of clothes

the clothes of suffering
a shirt of pain
a cloak of sorrow

a coat the solid color
of loss     worldly indifference
like leprosy written across his face

so densely it hurt to look
as if we'd only see
ourselves reflected in it

as in a dense layer of dust
over a window
in an ancient place we've long forgotten

we don't want to remember
we loathe that place
we despise weakness

and he meant nothing to us
a blight on our existence
we couldn't even condone his existence

but it was our
loss and our
pain he bore

our hidden fear and indifference 
he wore
openly for us

while we wrote him off as beneath us
as an example of God's vengeance
as being even our own self-vindication

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Experiencing His Peace - Greg Albrecht

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.  
 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.—Ephesians 2:13-18
Peace is, next to love, one of the peak experiences humans most deeply desire. We desire to be in love and we desire to be at peace. What kind of peace does God offer us? The peace of God is much more than simply the absence of conflict—God's peace is security, assurance and serenity, produced by knowing God, by his grace, in a special and intimate way.

Because of Jesus we are now something we were not before. Because of Jesus we are not separated, we are near. Because of Jesus we now know God, as opposed to a time when we did not. Because of Jesus we now experience God's peace.

Before we accept Christ, we are, essentially, at war with God. We are not at peace with him, we are fighting against him. Unless and until we accept Christ, virtually everything we do is the opposite of God's ways. We are out to get what we want. We want our way, not God's way. We are hostile to God, because we feel that we are the center of the universe. We resent God—we don't want him involved in our lives. We don't want Jesus helping us—we believe that we can take care of our own lives. We seek our own peace, our own security and comfort by the acquisition of wealth and power. 

Apart from Christ, our idea of peace in the western world is usually based on externals. It's all about what we can do. Humanly, there are several maxims regarding peace by external means. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Authenticity - by Abbot Trypho

Authenticity and the authority of the Church
If she be true to herself, the Church acts with an authority that is grounded in love. She holds within her realm the authority to make her people the children of God. She has the authority to forgive, and the capacity to love. And just as her Head, Jesus Christ, she exists to serve, and not to be served. She guides her people with love, recognizing that each person is unique, and is to be ministered to with an authority that is based on serving, not being served.
Christianity itself is in crisis, and many people are embracing the materialist approach of self-help, rather than ascetic struggle and self-denial. Increased numbers of young people are turning to atheism, or wandering in a wasteland of spiritual confusion, having witnessed the betrayal of Christian morality and faith by many religious leaders.
"The incarnation of Christ was considered and was celebrated by the Fathers of the Church and the worshiping ecclesiastical community as the abolishing of religion and its transformation into a Church. In fact, the memorable Father John Romanides had said in the most categorical way that Christ became human, in order to free us of the illness of religion (Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos)."
Until we put off religion, and put on Christ, we will continue to fail in our vocation as servants. Unless the Church demonstrates, with holiness and humility, and in imitation of the Image of Our Saviour as servant, the Church will have become nothing but a religion that has lost her way, and the authentic witness of Christ will have been lost.
The youth of today are drawn to authenticity, and until they see Christ in the lives of churchman who are living icons of Christ, and who are loving, humble servants of this very Christ, they will continue looking for truth in a wasteland of spiritual confusion. The Church must proclaim the Good News in all humility and love, for "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45),"
With love in Christ,
Abbot Tryphon
All-Merciful Saviour Orthodox Christian Monastery

Friday, June 13, 2014

God's Rest Ye Mary Magdelene - Deborah Ermter

God’s rest ye Mary Magdalene 
God’s rest ye Mary Magdalene 
And shelter from the Mob 
The judgments made by violent man 
Are not the thoughts of God 
Who came and told us “Do not judge” 
So we hung Him on a cross 
For His tidings of comfort and joy 
Comfort and joy 
Oh tidings of comfort and joy. 

God’s rest ye Drunken Sailor 
And stillness to the waves 
Silence to the lies you’ve heard: 
“You’re too strung out to save” 
I met a Man at Matthews’s house 
With healing in His veins 
Flowing Tidings of comfort and joy 
Comfort and joy 
Oh tidings of comfort and joy 

God’s rest ye Zealous Pharisee 
And love to all your fear 
The gift of Christ is truly free 
And has been all these years 
There is a balm in Gilead 
To give us ears to hear 
Hear His tidings of comfort and joy 
Comfort and joy 
Oh tidings of comfort and joy.