Monday, August 31, 2015

Timeless Treasures from the Psalms - Greg Albrecht

It's just a little pocket Bible, small enough so my father could carry it with him as he served in the U.S. Navy during World War 2. My father was killed when I was only fifteen months old, and while I don't have memories of him, I do have mementos that have been given to me. I have some faded photographs, his old cigarette lighter, the flag that draped his casket when he was buried, some copies of the newspaper describing the tragedy of his death—and I have that little New Testament Bible, which also includes the Old Testament book of Psalms. 

I don't know how much he read that little pocket Bible, but when I hold it I somehow feel closer to him. In fact, I feel closer to him when I read the book of Psalms in any format, written or electronic. Many remember this remarkable collection of songs and prayers in concert with some emotional peak or valley of their life. That's really what the Psalms are—an emotional book with a soul connection. The book of Psalms is written using intense language that hits us deep down, in the bowels of our emotions—in our guts. 

My father was not the only warrior to ever be supplied with the book of Psalms for comfort. Much has been written of the battlefield comfort that Psalm 23 in particular has provided. The Eagles have been my favorite band for several decades—the title track of their Long Road Out of Eden (2007) speaks of the horrible suffering and carnage from the war in Iraq. Here's the introductory lyrics to that ten minute-long ballad:

Just War, Just Deserts, Just Hell - Wayne Northey

There is an arresting statement about God in I John 4:8: Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. “God is love” is an essentialist statement about God: who God is in God’s essence.

There is also an arresting call to Christians in Ephesians 5:1 & 2: 

1Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The family trait of a Christ-follower is love: God’s essence is love; so should Christ-followers’ essence be love. “Following God’s example” means being “imitators of God” (in the original), who is at the core “love”. 

What does this love look like?

What it does not look like is the kind of “justice” practised by the Pharisees. Translations often use the term “righteousness” for the Greek word dikaiosune, that above all is a relational word, and thus best translated as “justice”. “Relational” that is: towards God (theological), towards oneself (psychological), towards others (sociological), towards the creation (ecological), towards the cosmos (cosmological). 

Matthew 5:20 states: For I tell you that unless your righteousness [justice] surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

What love does look like is seen throughout the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 – 7, and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. In a word: “love” looks like justice. Which as we’ve seen is God’s essence and should be that of all who aspire to imitate God through the atonement effected by Christ.

This moves us into the realm of the Two Greatest Commandments. Here is Matthew’s rendition (Chapter 22:36 – 40): “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
But this is the admonition of the writer of Ephesians 5:1 & 2: live a life of love. And incidentally, Jesus’ call in the Two Greatest Commandments is the hermeneutical “overacceptance” of the entire sweep of Scripture theologically towards the essentialist revelation of God as love. (“Overacceptance” in the theatre “indicates an improvised reframing of the action of a drama in light of a larger story one wants to tell (Samuel Wells in Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics (2004), p. 65).”) The larger biblical story wanted to be told is: God is love. And God’s followers should fully imitate that love too.

There is a kind of inexorable Gospel logic that moves from love of neighbour as litmus test of love of God to love of enemies as litmus test of love of neighbour to enemy-love as litmus test of love of God.

CLICK HERE to download the rest of Just War, Just Deserts, Just Hell

Wayne Northey has been a forerunner in restorative justice and the author of the novel, Chrysalis Crucible

Who is this 'Monster God' of (Im)Pure Will? - Brad Jersak

A Quick History of the 'Monster God'

The term "Monster God" became 'a thing' in 2014 through a series of sermons, debates and blogs, and while I can't be sure of its earliest use, one will note that its popular usage is typically tagged to Pastor Brian Zahnd (Word of Life Church and a CWR columnist). It came onto my radar through a sermon in early May entitled "Death of the Monster God," a lenten sermon on Luke 23:34, 46 (Jesus' prayers to the Father) asking, "What is God like?"    

The central point of the sermon is summarized by Brian in these words:
When we look at the death of Jesus on the cross in the light of the resurrection, we are looking at our salvation. But, what do we really see when we look at the cross? Are we looking at the appeasement of a monster god through barbaric child sacrifice? Or are we seeing something else? Is the cross vengeance or love? When Jesus says, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," he is not asking God to act contrary to his nature. He is, in fact, revealing the very heart of God! The cross is not about the satisfaction of a vengeful monster god, the cross is the full revelation of a supremely merciful God! In Christ we discover a God who would rather die than kill his enemies. Once we know that God is revealed in Christ, we know what we are seeing when we look at the cross: The cross is where God in Christ absorbs sin and recycles it into forgiveness. The crucifixion is not what God inflicts upon Christ in order to forgive, but what God endures in Christ as he forgives.
Somehow, the sermon also led to the formal "Monster God Debate" between Brian Zahnd and Michael Brown at the Kansas City IHOP. He contrasted the cruciform God who became incarnate to save us from ourselves with the monster God from whom Jesus needed to save us. Much of this is clarified in his article on "How does 'Dying For Our Sins' Work?" and Rob Grayson's review of the debate.

Zach Hoag's Critique of the Monster God: 

1. God of Absolute Power

Minister and blogger Zach Hoag has picked up on this terminology and begun to apply it to contemporary issues in American Evangelicalism. I'm less interested in how he uses the Monster God motif in his critiques than in how he describes the Monster God's nature. Thus, I've mined two of his articles for clarity and definitions:

Thursday, August 20, 2015

One Woman's Experience With 'Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome' - Carol Kuruvilla

by Carol Kuruvilla (associate religion editor, Huffpost)
What do you do when the faith you grew up in just doesn't make sense anymore? 
This is the dilemma Reba Riley, a 33-year-old from Cincinnati, faced in her late 20s. She was brought up in an evangelical Christian household, but soon realized that the questions she had about her faith weren't being answered by the theology preached by her family's church.
The spiritual crisis prompted her to embark on a wild journey through 30 different religious traditions in just one year. Half of these were various strands of Christianity -- from Mormonism to the practices of the Amish -- and the other half included Hinduism, Paganism and others.
The purpose of the quest wasn't necessarily to find a new faith, but to combat the bitterness that had grown in her heart when she thought about God.
Three years after her experiment concluded, Riley told The Huffington Post she now calls herself a Christian, but with many, many qualifiers. Her faith is now about practicing love and finding God in unexpected places.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Lion and a Lamb - Rev. 5:1-14 - Greg Albrecht

Will a cure for cancer ever be found? Will there ever be a time when little children don't go to bed hungry? Is there a way to end crime? 

Don't you just wish that someday, some way, the abuse of the very young and the very old would stop? Will anyone ever find a way to disarm all armies, to melt down all weapons of warfare—to beat swords into plowshares, as the Hebrew prophets foresaw? 

We all long for peace for the entire world. We all want solutions to the misery and suffering of our world. We want the hatred and violence to end. Of course, you're way ahead of me—but don't get too far ahead—because what I want to talk about may surprise you. You may be thinking that one day Jesus will do all of this. 

Well, yes, he will. 

But when desperate situations confront those who are living in Christ, there is more hope and comfort and real help available than just waiting for some future time when the entire world will be magically turned into a utopian la-la land. The fifth chapter of the book of Revelation provides some interesting and inspiring perspectives.

History tells us that when a huge problem confronts a society and culture, there are normally three institutions that attempt to provide a solution:

Monday, August 10, 2015

I used to think God wanted a lot from me - Sarah Bessey

God wants so much from me.
What should I give up? What should I lay down? What should I do more?
I need to read the Bible more. I need to pray more. I need to give away more of my money, more of my time, more of my home.
If I really loved, God wouldn’t I be more like so-and-so? That one really has it figured out.
I should really volunteer at church more, lead a Bible study, organize something for the homeless. I’m the worst at this Jesus stuff. I should really be doing more for God! It’s so demanding, it takes everything EVERYTHING. Jesus laid down his life for you, you should return the favour.
Don’t you just feel so much more holy when you’re sacrificing everything on the altar of doing more for God? We like to feel like we’ve earned something. Who wants a free gift – those come with strings attached, right?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

"I perceive you are a prophet!" Charisma to Cockburn, Shenanigans & Sages - B Jersak

Who are the Prophets?

It's a stubborn fact that American election cycles now feature an abundance of 'words from the Lord,' lobbying voters to support the candidate whom God has selected to serve as next president of the United States. The prophets tell us why God has “chosen them for such a time is this.” Readers might recall the grandiose oracles that foresaw the coronation of Sarah Palin as God's ‘Esther’ for the White House. It seems not to matter how often these pronouncements are proven wrong. Deniability only requires blaming the voters for their defiance against God's revealed will, and castigating the church for not praying hard enough or for being too 'lukewarm' to canvas for the candidate in question.

Track records notwithstanding, an appetite for these heavenly endorsements persists. In the record-breaking FOX News televised debate for GOP candidates, one call-in query "wanted to know if any of them had received a word from God ..." The candidates who were cornered for an answer deftly sidestepped the question to return to their talking points, but the moment came off as comically awkward, as if they'd been asked about chronic hemorrhoids or worse. Cringe-worthy.

We waited on the edge of our seats, hoping The Donald would have to respond, but alas, time ran out before that debacle. Still, he could have cited Charisma Magazine's 'Prophetic Insight' webpage, where Jeremiah Johnson treats us to this spiritual scoop:

Continue reading at:

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Fully Revealed in Christ - Greg Boyd

Another "Work of the People" video, featuring Greg Boyd 
On Reading the OT through the lens of the Cross. 

What's So Christian About Christianity - Zack Hunt

(Credit: Tim Snell, Flickr Creative Commons)

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates is famous for saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Those words have become something of a Philosophy 101 cliché since Socrates first uttered them centuries ago, but cliché or not they’re as true today as they were in ancient Greece.
And should be just as convicting.
Particularly for those of us who call ourselves Christians.
I worry that far too many of us attach the name “Christian” to ourselves without ever really stopping to consider what that name implies or the demands that name makes (or should make) upon on our lives.
For example, even though it’s delicious, we wouldn’t call ourselves vegetarians if steak was a regular part of our diet because vegetarian describes not just an ideology, but a particular way of life. You can’t just believe that vegetables are a good thing. To be a vegetarian, you have to actually live like a vegetarian. And if try to eat meat while claiming to be a vegetarian, people will call you out on it in a heartbeat for your gastronomic hypocrisy.
In theory, the name Christian should work the same way. Yet we seem to feel free to call ourselves Christians so long as we simply believe in Jesus and agree to a certain list of beliefs.
But is that really all that Christianity is about?
Believing something the Bible says even the Devil believes?
Shouldn’t Christianity be more than just a list of beliefs? Shouldn’t it also be a particular way of life? And shouldn’t that particular way of life resemble the life of the person who gives Christianity its name?
And if it should, then don’t we have an obligation to our integrity (to say nothing of our faith) to pause, examine our lives, examine the Church, and ask a really hard question, “What’s so Christian about Christianity today?”

CLICK HERE to continue reading

How Far Will God Go? - Greg Albrecht

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!—Philippians 2:1-8
What a beautiful and profound expression of God's love! There seem to be many layers and many degrees of God's grace expressed here. For that reason, I keep coming back to this second chapter of Philippians and studying it again and again—it continually yields fresh and deeper appreciation of the nature of God. 

Boundaries are one of the defining characteristics of what it means to be human. As children, we probe and push until we can discover just how far our parents will go before they lower the boom on us. When we marry, we normally do a similar thing with the person we have promised to love and protect and cherish. 

When the speed limit is 65, most drivers will extend that to about 75, thinking they have a safe margin before the highway patrol will stop them. We spend a lot of time and effort trying to go as far as we can. Lending institutions thrive by allowing people to push the outer limits of their finances. But even institutions that make money by virtually enslaving people will only allow a certain degree of indebtedness and then the credit runs out. 

Does God's grace have limitations and boundaries? How far can we push God before he loses it and goes ballistic? How far can we go with God before he says something like, "That's it! My grace has limits you know."