Monday, November 30, 2015

It All Comes From God - Greg Albrecht

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?" For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.—Romans 11:33-36
Here in the United States this is the Sunday and the week after Thanksgiving. It's a time of the year when it can be so easy to forget that what we are eating and enjoying is what God has given us, for every good and perfect gift is from above…(James 1:17). Here in the U.S. we just experienced Black Friday—the day after Thanksgiving, a day when many people are off work and flood the shopping malls, trying to get a head start on Christmas shopping. 

Another year of Christmas hype is in full swing. It's a time when Christmas decorations, advertisements, and promotions urge us to buy and spend, and during such a time it's so easy to forget that anything and everything we have —physically or spiritually—is from God.
In his book, Jesus: The Man Who Lives, Malcolm Muggeridge commented on the Christmas shopping season, saying that it is "a mighty exercise in salesmanship, a gala occasion in the great contemporary cult of consumerism, an act of worship directed toward our latest deity—the Gross National Product." 

Many Bibles describe Romans 11:33-36 as a doxology. What's a doxology, you may ask? The word doxology is one of those five-dollar theological terms that have been used for many centuries—doxology is based on the Greek word doxa, which means "glory." 
Some of the early Christians started to identify biblical passages that seemed to particularly praise God as doxologies. Luke 2:14 was one of the first passages labeled as a doxology—as you may recall it is the song the heavenly host of angels performed for the shepherds in the field, announcing the birth of Jesus. Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.

"All" Will Be Restored: Dream of the Broken Glasses - Brad Jersak


Last night I had a dream in two parts.

In part 1, I was citing a catena of biblical texts to a congregation of open-hearted people. In the dream, I was consciously aware of the critical difference between a catena and proof-texting or 'text-mining,' as some like to call it. A catena, in this case, was a chain of Scriptures strung together as commentary on the theme of Christ's saving work for all people, all things, the cosmos. Far from proof-texting to prove a narrow point, the effect was to paint a grand rainbow arc of God's drama of redemption.

I remember that in the dream, I was quoting actual Scriptures by memory and that there were thirty of them (I found thirty-one such passages when I awoke), flowing one after another, as follows. If the reader will refrain from skimming these, you may get the impression of momentum that left the congregation gasping in awe, which will take you to the end of part 1:
And then all flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Lk. 3:6) 
This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that through him all might believe. (John 1:7) 
Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) 
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17) 
The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. (John 3:35) 
We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world. (John 4:42) 
For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. (John 6:33) 
I am the light of the world. (John 8:12)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Jesus' Dysfunctional Family - Doug Schroeder

Matthew 1:1-16

When Matthew records Jesus’ family tree in the opening words of his gospel, he is writing to his Jewish neighbors who were asking, “What qualifies Jesus to be this Messiah we have been awaiting so long?”  Qualifications are everything.  Does Jesus have the right pedigree?
When you write a resume you don’t want any smudges in your personal or employment history.  But who does Matthew include in Jesus’ resume?  The inclusions are stunning.

Included are 5 women. Shocking. Women had no status back then.  They were excluded from any genealogy.  But here, in the genealogy of Jesus, there are five women – not all of them “respectable”.  I can imagine Matthew’s editor leaning over his shoulder saying, “Matthew you’re crazy!  If you’re going to include women, why not the respectable ones – Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel”.  I hear Matthew replying, “I have something else up my sleeve”.

Three of these women are Gentiles – racial outsiders. Tamar, a Canaanite; Rahab, a Jericho prostitute; Ruth a Moabitess. Deuteronomy 23:3: No Moabite or any descendant may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation.Moabites are clearly not welcome.  But Matthew includes Ruth in the story.  Rahab is the Canaanite prostitute from Jericho.  Matthew includes a prostitute in Messiah’s family tree.

Tamar tricked her father-in-law, Judah into having sex with her because Judah did not fulfil his family obligations. The whole crazy story is in Genesis 38.  Tamar became pregnant with Judah’s twin boys.  Matthew mentions Perez, Jesus’ ancestor and his twin brother Zerah and Tamar and Judah.  Matthew deliberately showcases the whole incestuous story.
Matthew 1:6 mentions Jesse the father of king David.  Great!  Now we’re getting to the respectable bloodlines. But Matthew didn’t write: "David, the hero – the king – the psalmist – the man after God’s own heart.”  Instead he writes “”uc">David, father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.  Matthew profiles David’s lust and betrayal, covetousness and murder.   Other historians might bury these details.  Matthew highlights them.

So what do you have in this genealogy?  Prostitution – adultery – betrayal – incest – murder – the scandalous and dysfunctional family history Matthew wanted his readers to see.  How does this qualify Jesus to be Messiah?  The only reason I can think of is that Matthew wanted us to know that no one is excluded from grace.

The Law of Moses excludes every one of these people.  But Jesus owns them. The excluded are included – grafted right into Messiah’s family.

When I am tempted to say, “I am far too broken”, Jesus would say, “Look at my family tree – adulterers, prostitutes, Moabites, Canaanites, bastard children, the incestuous.  You have no idea how ready I am to welcome you.” 
When I am tempted to say, “That one over there is far too broken”, I am drawn back to this opening chapter of God’s new way. 

If God is not excluding, how can I be?
How have I excluded myself from grace?  How have I excluded others? 
How about you?
What are your thoughts about Jesus’ scandalous and dysfunctional family tree?
May God help us this Advent season to surrender more deeply to inclusive grace.

Doug Schroeder is the Executive Director of SoulStream, a dispersed contemplative community.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Beatitudes (BZV) - Brian Zahnd

The Beatitudes (BZV)

Blessed are those who are poor at being spiritual,
For the kingdom of heaven is well-suited for ordinary people.
Blessed are the depressed who mourn and grieve,
For they create space to encounter comfort from another.
Blessed are the gentle and trusting, who are not grasping and clutching,
For God will personally guarantee their share when heaven comes to earth.
Blessed are those who ache for the world to be made right,
For them the government of God is a dream come true.
Blessed are those who give mercy,
For they will get it back when they need it most.
Blessed are those who have a clean window in their soul,
For they will perceive God when and where others don’t.
Blessed are the bridge-builders in a war-torn world,
For they are God’s children working in the family business.
Blessed are those who are mocked and misunderstood for the right reasons,
For the kingdom of heaven comes to earth amidst such persecution.

(I took the picture at the Mount of Beatitudes in Galilee last Thursday.)
The post The Beatitudes (BZV) appeared first on Brian Zahnd.

Love Hopes: The Christian Bias - Brad Jersak

We all have a bias. The important thing is to recognize your bias and be able to defend or explain it. As a 'critical realist,' I spend a good deal of time and energy studying my biases - how they emerged, and how they influence my thinking. Rather than pretending to be perfectly objective, I confess that since my early days as a terrified infernalist, I have developed a strong preference for hope. I hope in the Good News that God’s love rectifies every injustice through forgiveness and reconciliation. The Gospel of hope that I can preach boldly is this:

God is not angry with you and never has been. He loves you with an everlasting love. Salvation is not a question of 'turn or burn.' We’re burning already, but we don’t have to be! Redemption! The life and death of Christ showed us how far God would go to extend forgiveness and invitation. His resurrection marked the death of death and the evacuation of Hades. My hope is in Christ, who rightfully earned his judgment seat and whose verdict is restorative justice, that is to say, mercy.

Hope. That is my bias, and I believe that Scripture, tradition, and experience confirm it. I want to explain and validate my hope in those contexts. This book will address the central problem of this 'heated' debate: not infernalism versus annihilationism versus universalism, but rather, authentic, biblical Christian hope vis-à-vis the error of dogmatic presumption (of any view). Hope presumes nothing but is rooted in a deeper confidence: the love and mercy of an openhearted and relentlessly kind God.

In short, I do not intend to convince readers of a particular theology of divine judgment. I hope, rather, to recall those relevant bits of Scripture, history, and tradition that ought to inform whatever view we take on this important topic. That said, the data summarized in my book, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut,  did lead me to four conclusions, which you may or may not share after all is said and done:
1. We cannot presume to know that all will be saved or that any will not be saved.2. The revelation of God in Christ includes real warnings about the possibility of damnation for some and also the real hope that redemption may extend to all.3. We not only dare hope and pray that God’s mercy would finally triumph over judgment; the love of God obligates us to such hope.4. Revelation 21–22 provides a test case for a biblical theology of eschatological hope.
To summarize my proposal, I quote Hermann-Josef Lauter.
'Will it really be all men who allow themselves to be reconciled? No theology or prophecy can answer this question, but love hopes all things (1 Cor 13: 7). It cannot do otherwise than to hope for the reconciliation of all men in Christ. Such unlimited hope is, from a Christian standpoint, not just permitted but commanded.'

Adapted from Brad Jersak, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut (Wipf & Stock).

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Praying the Lord's Prayer in Violent Times - Brad Jersak

"RefuJesus" by David Hayward -
You've noticed that we're living in very violent times. At home, abroad ... to the point of exhaustion, hopelessness and/or numbness. I see no reprieve in sight and every reason to expect further escalation. I find myself in daily need of prayers that guard my heart and mind from both despair and the vengeance fantasies of repressed rage. 

In that context, I have begun to pray the Lord's Prayer in a focused way on a daily basis with some new (to me) understanding about Christ's strategy in ordering the phrases in series as he does. Here is the part that seems super-relevant to us all right now:

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us

This phrase calls me to forgive the sins of my enemies. And if we want to be a little technical, at least with the olde English, I think particularly of "trespassing sins." I remember wandering the gravel backroads of Manitoba, occasionally seeing signs that said, "Trespassers will be prosecuted" or less frequently, "Trespassers will be shot." 

'Trespasses' brings to mind the violation of boundaries by intruders. It can include everything from military incursions and occupation to a rash of local break-and-entries to the pettiness of feeling someone push my buttons with an intrusive word or look or social media posting. 'Trespasses' are about crossing boundaries. My boundaries. Jesus knows how trespassers threaten us, offend us, tempt us to react ...

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"To the Merciful, You Show Yourself Merciful" - Brad Jersak

Jeff Turner is a blogger who leads 'Sound of Awakening Ministries' and the author of Saints in the Arms of a Happy God. His provocative zingers are also really quotable. When I saw the above summary online today, it triggered further thoughts for meditation. 

My first reaction to the above quote was, I suppose to the red faced, angry preacher, God shows himself (or more technically, allows himself to be seen) as a red face, angry preacher. I was reminded of these lines from Psalm 18. 

Psalm 18 (AKJV)
25 With the merciful you will show yourself merciful; with an upright man you will show yourself upright;
26 With the pure you will show yourself pure; and with the fraudulent you will show yourself devious.
Now for the psalmist, this was a matter of straight reward and retribution. In this Psalm, the Lord simply rewards us according to our righteousness (vs 20, 24), and punishes them according to their wickedness. But of course, this becomes problematic for the psalmist, the prophets and especially Job when the recompense appears to be arbitrary, disproportionate or unjustly reversed. Jeremiah, scratching his head and wiping his tears prays,  
You are always righteous, LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? (Jer. 12:1 NIV)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Christ Alone – the Absolute Center of our Faith - Greg Albrecht

Studies of sermon topics and titles reveal that the vast majority of messages given within the churches of Christendom, perhaps up to 80%, are centered on the needs and desires of human beings, rather than on Jesus Christ. 80%! 

The task of preaching and teaching the real, authentic gospel of Jesus Christ boils down to preaching Christ. The purpose of Christ-centered, authentic Christian teaching, preaching, ministry or church is not to preach the Bible, but to preach Christ. Of course, properly interpreted and understood, the Bible is all about Jesus Christ—he is not only the divine author but he is the subject and theme of the biblical message, and he is the goal and purpose of the Bible. 

But, it is possible to preach and study the Bible and completely miss its Christ-centered perspective. People and churches can say that they are "Bible believers" and "Bible students" and "Bible-centered" and that they "preach and teach the Bible" while missing the point of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And there are many ways in which this is done —here are three common ways that Christ-less religion fails to keep a Christ-centered focus:
1) Many "Christian" sermons, books, articles and messages are all about rules, laws and morals. These messages encourage people to be more honest and more patient and more humble, kind and generous—and some threaten them if they fail to measure up.