Tuesday, December 29, 2015

God ... More than a "Christian"? - Brad Jersak

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” —Matthew 2:1-2 
I dropped by a Saturday morning garage sale today. It felt a bit creepy to me because one table was stacked high with occult books about Tarot cards, witches’ spells and astrology manuals. But it also reminded me of the Eastern-religion Magi who tracked down the Christ-child, using astrology. They didn’t merely use the star as GPS; somehow their divinations “told them” to look for the “king of the Jews.” We often call them “wise men,” but “magi” is actually the plural form of “magus”—i.e. magician or sorcerer (as in Acts 8:9-24). 

Holy Pagans 

In the Bible, we sometimes have interfaith run-ins with “holy pagans”—people of other faiths who are recognized as knowing God. And not just seekers; some were even priests, like Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro (Exodus 2, 18)—a priest of Midian revered in the Druze religion. Or Melchizedek, to whom Abram offers a tithe and the Epistle to the Hebrews recognizes as a “type” of Christ (Hebrews 2). From Job to Cornelius, we have God-fearing outsiders who nevertheless “had God’s ear.” The biblical tradition of holy pagans includes all those who sought and found God “beyond the box.” To state the obvious, none were Jewish or Christian when they first found God.

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Dream On With Jesus - Greg Albrecht

I Have a Dream—given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963—is one of the most well known, most studied and most quoted speeches in the history of our nation. In that historic speech Dr. King used the phrase “I have a dream” eight different times as he called for freedom and justice for all people.

Daring to dream can be dangerous—particularly when your dream does not march in lock step with the political and religious establishment. They killed Martin Luther King Jr. because he dared to dream, but they didn’t kill his dream. Throughout history dreamers who challenged government and religion have been viewed as nonconformists at best, sometimes as revolutionaries and even as enemies. Dreamers are often made fun of and persecuted. 

Dreamers are often marginalized and discriminated against. They lose jobs. They have to move away from hostile neighborhoods, cities and sometimes even countries. Dreamers are often beaten, tortured and killed. Jesus’ dream threatened the status quo because he invited the downtrodden to an entirely different kind of kingdom. Jesus was not satisfied with the first century world, nor can we, as his followers, be satisfied with the 21st century world. They killed Jesus but his dream lives on, in and through our lives, and we are not satisfied with the status quo!

Losing Jesus - Brian Zahnd


Mary had lost Jesus. She couldn’t find him anywhere. Jesus had gone missing. He wasn’t among the friends and relatives who had traveled to Jerusalem for Passover and who were now returning home to Nazareth. Jesus had always been reliable and trustworthy, but now he was inexplicably absent. Concern gave way to panic as Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem to search for their missing twelve-year-old son.

For three days Mary and Joseph frantically searched Jerusalem. It must have been agony. On the third day they found Jesus in the Temple, sitting with the rabbis immersed in theological conversation. Mary’s anxiety turned to relief and then to irritation. “Why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”

Our sympathies are naturally with Mary. After all, twelve-year-old boys aren’t supposed to disappear for three days without telling anyone. But this isn’t just any adolescent — this is the divine Word in boyhood. Jesus is unapologetic. He doesn’t offer an excuse. What he does say are the first recorded words of Christ:

“Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Mary and Joseph didn’t understand what Jesus meant by this. It wouldn’t be the last time people failed to understand Jesus.

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Religion That's Lost Its Way: An Impassioned Plea - Lazar Puhalo

This year, now drawing to an end, must surely remind of us of the horrors mankind can visit upon humanity. The disasters we create are worse than the natural disasters that we often fear more. As we carry the tragedies of this year forward into the new year with unresolved wars, incalculable suffering both of refugees and of those unable to flee from the strife and brutality of war zones, it might be well to consider how much of the horror arises from sectarianism and other forms of tribalism. 

While some would like to deny the degree to which the suffering, genocides and savage slaughters are so often religion-based, this reality is ultimately undeniable. Religion which has lost its way and its bases degrades into a system of primitive tribalism and political ideologies. It is tragic that, with all the sectarian and religious-based horror in our world, so many concern themselves with questions of much less significance and with a form of unrealistic, narrow-minded and often brutal moralisms, the meaning of which vanish in the face of the greater tragedies of mankind. Yet, our tribalism leads us to focus on the less significant, the desire to force others to believe and act as our branch of our religion thinks proper, while offering no deeper consideration to the actual, profound tragedies that religious fundamentalism daily creates around the world. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

God Comes Near - Frontpage with Greg Albrecht

Imagine, for a moment, that you are part of a team building a skyscraper. Your team building this "high rise" would need, of course, a great deal of expertise to ensure that a sound foundation would be laid. Considerable expense and work is involved in preparing the foundation of any edifice that eventually soars majestically, hundreds of feet into the air.
Skyscrapers are incredibly heavy, so they must be built on much more durable foundations than smaller buildings. In virtually every case, a skyscraper requires a deep foundation, with pilings, drilled shafts and columns put in place using a pile driver—all reinforced by concrete. 

When God prepared a spiritual building that would last forever, he carefully laid a foundation. The building of course is us, a spiritual temple in which God himself lives, in the person of Jesus. So in preparation for this spiritual building God planned a foundation that no man could lay, for the foundation for this spiritual edifice was (and is) Jesus, God in the flesh (1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20-22). Here are three foundational truths that flow out of the birth of Jesus—three absolutes upon which our faith rests:

Saturday, December 19, 2015

How "I Am Your Father" Changed Everything - Dan Skillman

Dan and Rachel Skillman
I'm absolutely NOT spoiling the new Star Wars movie. But I'll be doing some heavy damage to your viewing pleasure of the first six if you haven't seen them yet.
If I were to watch the movie "Star Wars: A New Hope," without having seen the other films in the series, it would be understandable if I thought of Darth Vader simply as a villain, the main antagonist to Luke Skywalker, the protagonist. But, watching "The Empire Strikes Back" makes it clear that there's something greater going on. Vader, it turns out, is Luke's father, Anakin Skywalker. Luke still remains the protagonist, but Vader is something more than a simple villain. 
"Return of the Jedi" completely shifts the paradigm. Although Luke is still the most prominent character in this film, it becomes clear that the original Star Wars saga (IV-VI) as a whole is the story not of Luke but of Anakin/Vader. The prequels (I-III) drive this point home ad nauseam, focusing entirely on Anakin and how he became Darth Vader. Watching the entire series I-VI, it is clear that this is the story of the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. Luke, it turns out, is a role player. 
Now imagine someone, having seen the entire series, going back and watching "A New Hope" and steadfastly refusing to see all of the new meaning available to them, from subtle nuances to massive shifts in perception. Imagine them even insisting that Vader is not Luke's father, and that the black masked villain is little more than the foil to Luke's hero. 
I think that this is the way so very many people read the Bible. Having read to the end, and having discovered that God is exactly like Jesus forgiving His enemies at the cross, they then return to earlier sections steadfastly refusing to see them in the new light. They go as far as to continue to hold to the notion that God condoned and commanded slavery, rape, warfare, genocide and the eternal conscious torment of not only enemies, but of those who through no apparent fault of their own simply did not believe the right theological formulas. 
For those reading about what God is like in the Bible, here's a spoiler: It turns out God is like Jesus. Exactly like Jesus. Now read the rest accordingly.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

"God bless us ... Everyone" - George Sarris

Tiny Tim got it right. And Charles Dickens made it clear with the simple addition of a single space in the text.
The last two words of the child’s famous saying could have been written as one word. But then the meaning might have been misunderstood. The little boy could have been asking “everyone” to pronounce a blessing on him and his family –God bless us, everyone!
But that’s not what he was asking. His request was directed to God, asking Him to bless “every one!”
The real message of Christmas is not that God loves only some people – Tiny Tim . . . the Cratchit family . . . even a changed Scrooge.
The message at the heart of Christianity is that God loves each and every person He created.
He loves you. He loves all those you personally know and love. He even loves all those you don’t know personally . . . and may not love.
The Savior of the World
The angel who appeared to the shepherds on that glorious night to announce the birth of the promised Savior said,
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
The best-known verse in the Bible tells us that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. And the very next verse explains why Jesus came:
. . . that the world through him might be saved.
Jesus’ disciple John told his readers that Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,
and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
As we celebrate this Christmas, let us rejoice in the knowledge that Jesus Christ came to redeemall mankind!
And let our request be that of Tiny Tim:
God Bless Us . . . Every One!
                       Visit George W. Sarris on FacebookYouTube, or his Website.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Walking the Jericho Road - Homily by Brad Jersak

Epistle Reading: Ephesians 4  - Walk as Children of Light

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things that are done by them in secret. 13 But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. 14 Therefore He says:
“Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”
15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.

Gospel Reading: Luke 10 - The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 Just then an expert in the law stood up to test Him, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the law?” He asked him. “How do you read it?”

Monday, December 14, 2015

Five Stages Leading to Religious Violence - Greg Albrecht

“From whence come wars and fightings among you?” – James 4:1

During a time of feasting and festivities when we deck the halls, hang ornaments and lights, resurrect the nativity scene from the attic or garage, buy and wrap presents, bake and consume cookies, enjoy dinners, concerts, friends and family – lost is the fact that violence and refugees are part of the story of the first Christmas.
Just before Herod’s massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem an angel warned Joseph to take Mary and Jesus, and to run for their lives to Egypt. Idyllic scenes depicted on Christmas cards notwithstanding, an undercurrent and backstory of violence forms the story of the first Christmas – just as it does during this Christmas season of 2015. 
The following is an excerpt from my book “Rejecting Religion – Embracing Grace,” published in 2010. In this section I maintain that “religious violence is an inevitable product of Christ-less, fundamentalist, legalistic religion, followed to its most logical and extreme conclusion.”  Here, on pages 133-135, are five steps/stages leading to religious violence:   
Stage One—Acceptance: Acceptance of the belief that rules, regulations and rituals build a relationship with God is the first stage that actually lays the groundwork for religious violence. Within Christendom, Christ-less religion is the belief that our performance of prescribed rules and rituals is the only way to please or appease God, and that our standing with God is dependent upon the quality of our performance. The idea that what we do enhances or improves our standing with God, so that he will love us more because of our performance (more than he would have had we not put forth the effort) is the un-grace of religion. This “philosophy” by definition involves no grace, no relationship, and therefore no Jesus. This “philosophy” is religion—rules and performance. Performance-based religion itself is the foundation that can lead to violence and bloodshed.
Stage Two—Immersion: After buying into the belief that performance of rituals and rules determines a loving relationship with God, many become even more deeply involved in religion. They immerse themselves in a religious organization/charismatic teacher whereby their religious progress can be monitored and directed. Within this religious cocoon and holy huddle, they can be guided by professional religionists and co-religionists who preach and preside over a philosophy of salvation-by-self. Those who practice Stage Two religion are deluded into thinking that God is happy with them because they are doing what the religious organization prescribes. This stage often blurs the distinction between God and human religious authorities.
Stage Three—Indoctrination: Those who descend to Stage Three become true believers. Without reservation those who are enslaved to religion embrace rules of measurement whereby they condemn not only themselves, but everyone else—within their own religious institution and without. Followers of religion who function at Stage Three are fully indoctrinated, becoming religious addicts. Those unfortunates who are imprisoned in this stage begin to accept their religious organization and its religious authorities as “the word of God” and “his only true, anointed prophets/leaders” on earth.
Stage Four—Extremism: Religious slaves who experience Stage Four find themselves in some of the deepest cesspools and most foul swamps religion has to offer. Extremism begins to characterize those who are hopelessly in bondage to their particular religious chain gang. In some cases, individuals at this stage blow up abortion clinics while others blow up civilian targets of the “Great Satan.” Those in Stage Four have so totally bought into religion that they have sold their soul to the devil. Once individuals believe they are acting on behalf of God, physical violence often follows. This violence in the name of God can be turned inward, as in self-inflicted wounds, self-flagellation, self-starvation, and the like. It can be aimed at fellow religious organizational members as punishment for infractions in the form of beatings, isolation, exposure, and even torture. When the violence is directed toward one’s own peers, then it is thought to be “for their own good.” Of course, the violence also targets perceived enemies of God on the outside using vandalism, muggings, torture and the severing of body parts. Rules must be obeyed to please God. Punishing rule-breakers pleases God. Stage Four stops short of murder, which leads us to Stage Five.
Stage Five—Fanaticism: The most toxic and dangerous religious slaves are somewhat like robots, so brainwashed that they will take human life in the name of God. Enemies on religious hit lists may be inside or outside of the organization. Lynchings, honor killings, assassinations, public beheadings and suicide bombings are all too familiar examples of religiously motivated killings. Religious fanatics who experience Stage Five become judges and executioners, and if “martyred” they become a hero to their fellow-extremists. In Stage Five, all pain is projected outward, and the enemy is identified, hated, attacked and annihilated. All inner ugliness is projected onto “sinners”—all hate (especially self loathing) is projected onto “heretics,” all of whom must die.
Al Qaeda, by all reports, is a Stage Five religious organization. The Judean leaders of the 1st century A.D. were perhaps a Stage Three organization with some Stage Four elements, and with an unfortunate pattern of using some of its followers who “progressed” into Stage Five when deemed necessary. They were no Al Qaeda. But they were no sewing circle either.

The common denominator, the common ingredient present in all five stages is the rejection of God’s grace. Each stage progressively diminishes critical freedom and thought, and becomes more legalistically demanding than the one before. It all begins with the religious delusion to which humans so easily fall for—the glorification of human performance. All this hatred, bigotry, violence and mayhem begins with religion.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Chris Hoke - Leaving Club Church, Finding the Jesus Movement in Solitary Confinement

Assessing the religious social club that "nones and dones" are leaving in contrast to the dynamic ekklesia/movement Jesus is leading.

Christ is Love Incarnate, showing up even in the solidarity confinement of America's supermax prisons.

Chris Hoke is the author of Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit through Jail, among Outlaws, and Across Borders (HarperOne, 2015).

Chris Hoke: What is Church? A Jesus Movement Invading Hades

"If we don't know where the gates of hades are, no wonder the church doesn't know where the church is going ... The church is a movement with a downward arrow, following Jesus from heaven into the realm of death."

"The story of Lazarus' resurrection is a model for our ministries, rolling away stones and unwrapping those Jesus is bringing back to life."

Chris Hoke is the author of Wanted: A Spiritual Pursuit through Jail, among Outlaws, and Across Borders (HarperOne, 2015).

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Jesus Was A Hypocrite - Zack Hunt

A little while back I wrote a post asking “Are Bible Verses The Worst Thing Ever?
This past week or so as I’ve read Christian defenses of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s call to kill Muslims and heard Christian rallying cries for more guns in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting, I’ve wanted to answer that question once again with a resounding “yes.”
Sure, there are obviously things worse than the Bible being divided into chapters and verses – like nuclear war or genocide or cancer – but few things have the power to engender, condone, and sanctify evil like a biblical proof-text.
Case in point: Luke 22:36
He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.
Taken in stripped down isolation, as I’ve seen done countless times in the past few weeks, it seems like the ultimate trump card for arguing that Christians should pack heat.
Of course, sequestered like that, Psalm 14:1b – “there is no God” – could be the ultimate trump card for atheism.
But the simple truth of the matter is there is nothing divine about the arrangement of the Bible into chapters and verses. In fact, they didn’t really even exist until the 13th century. But in trying to help the faithful more easily access and reference scripture, the inventors of the biblical chapters and verses unwittingly unleashed one of the most destructive forces in human history: the biblical proof-text; a weapon that needed only the effort to cite it to be effective and could be wielded at a moment’s notice to destroy any enemy and justify any action, no matter how heinous or unholy that action might be.
Sometimes though, and to the eternal consternation of the holy warrior, some of those proof-texts, when seen in their original context actually mean something quite different than we are led to believe.
As clear cut as it seems, the currently en vogue invocation of Luke 22:36 is a textbook example of a verse being used as a proof-text for something it can’t possibly mean.
Now, to be clear, Christians have been debunking this proof-text for quite a while. I am simply adding my voice to that choir because it doesn’t seem like anyone is listening. Perhaps, the louder the chorus becomes, the more likely it is that someone will eventually hear the truth.
So, here’s the thing about Luke 22:36.
If it’s true that counter to everything he said and did in his public ministry, in this private moment Jesus has declared that those closest to him should own swords (or in our case today, guns) for their own defense, then there is only one conclusion we can draw.
Jesus was a hypocrite.
And the rest of the gospel makes no sense.

Fasting from Anti-Christ, Feasting on Love - Eden Jersak

CBtYglEUoAAYkBxI know that we’re in the Advent Season, but I think I’m going to fast as if it’s Lent instead. What was at first comical, amusing, and just plain silly, has become so abhorrent that I have to look away and stop listening and watching “the show.”

I remember as a child being invited to our church on a Sunday evening to watch a film. It was called “Left Behind”, and it was all about what it was going to be like to be left behind when Jesus returned to take home all the Christians. This film was particularly effective at making me very scared of God, his judgement, and his return. It probably took about a decade after seeing that to finally shed the last of that fear and to come to know Jesus relationally, rather than out of fear and duty.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Do Not Be Afraid - Greg Albrecht

Cover by Emily Zeck

The time and culture of Jesus' birth was not unlike the world in which we live today. For that matter, it was just like any generation or era in history. The specific people, land and culture to which Jesus came was a world permeated with fear at almost every level. The Jews were an occupied people. They suffered under grinding poverty and heavy taxation. There was a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Life expectancy, particularly among the poor, is estimated to have been in the mid-30s to early-40s. Fear is a part of what it means to be human. It's a common and normal emotional reaction.
• We have fears that we will live so long that our money will expire before we do.
• We have fears that we will die and be unable to take care of our family.
• We have fears that we will be unemployed and our family will suffer.
• We have fears that we, or someone we love, will be a victim of crime.
• We fear this world, with its hatred and terrorism, with its warfare and violence.
• We fear diseases—we fear the announcement of a terminal disease in our lives and that of our loved ones.
• We fear that those we love will not love us in return.
• We fear getting old and lonely.
• We fear the dark places of this world—and there are many of them.
• And of course we fear death—the final enemy.
As Luke begins the story of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus we are told not to be afraidDo Not Be Afraid begins as a comforting message before Jesus' birth and continues with the events surrounding his birth. As Matthew records, the Gospels end with an angel saying to the women at the tomb, after Jesus was raised, Do Not Be Afraid…he is not here, he is risen (Matthew 28:5-6, my emphasis). 

In Luke 1:13 Zechariah, who would become the father of John the Baptist, is told not to be afraid. In effect the angel said: "You and your wife Elizabeth are past it—you are old, but so were Abraham and Sarah. Even though you are humanly incapable of birthing a child, by his grace, God will give you a child. Do Not Be Afraid. Nothing is impossible with God." 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Taking a Break from Deconstruction - Caleb Miller

ImperfectpastorThe approach so many take to their faith is found only in positive affirmation of things they already believe or the repeated affirmations of the commonly accepted doctrines of their local body of faith. This is known as cataphatic theology, which finds its definitions of God in affirmations and positive statements (God is, versus God is not). It is likely the leading approach to God in the Western church, and certainly within the streams of Christianity known as the grace and charismatic movements. It is also the largest reason so many I’ve met are unwilling to pull their god from their hearts and see if he’s even good enough to be in there—that is—affirmations lead us to believe that the community is operating with some sort of certainty, and if the community is wrong about God, maybe they’re wrong about so much more.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Victory of God's Perfect Love (it's not about the 'power') - Bev Mitchell

12608467700_q36wTIt's not God's power that we need to focus on, it's our misuses of the power we are given. Just like God's power, our power needs to come under the supervision of love. We are not good at doing this. We are so bad at it, in fact, that we expect even God to put his power above his love. As usual with sin, things get turned upside down, spun 180 degrees.

We are quick to insist that power is the center of being for an all powerful God. But could what we see as the effects of God’s power not be, in reality, the effects of God’s perfect love? Perhaps our attempts to describe the source of what God’s accomplishes should seek to portray what can happen, has happened and ultimately will fully happen as the violence and the power of evil come up against perfect love? The warrant for this view comes from the victory of perfect innocence and love at Calvary and on Easter. The resurrection does not celebrate the victory of violent power but its defeat. By celebrating the resurrection, through Spirit-given faith, we proclaim evidence of the victory of perfect love. Just like a great rocky costal promontory stands unconquered against the most violent storm, God's perfect love stands unconquered against any violence evil can hurl against it. God stands against evil and evil destroys itself against God’s love. In Job we read:

“Who closed the sea behind doors
When it gushed forth out of the womb,
When I clothed it in clouds, Swaddled it in dense clouds,
When I made my breakers my limit for it,
And set up its bars and doors,
And said, ‘You may come so far and no further’;
Here your surging waves will stop.”
From the Tenakh JPS 1985

Or as St. John says about the reality of creation “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Or even better in the NIV Spanish “… y las tinieablas no han podido extinguirlo.”

We can speak of all this in terms of might against might, which is almost universally done in world religions, but, in light of the Cross, we should instead accept the clear revelation that violence is wholly on the side of evil. Complete impenetrability to the forces of violence and evil is what a holy God offers, and this is also our eschatological hope. Our best evidence of the indestructibility of God's perfect love is the resurrection.