Monday, February 29, 2016

The Cross as Conquest - Brad Jersak

For the first thousand years of Christianity, Christ’s victory was the central theme in the preaching of the Cross. This metaphor is found across the New Testament, the church fathers and throughout Christian worship. Jesus proves himself to be the promised RedeemerKing who rides forth to vanquish Satan, sin and death and bring every principality, power, ruler and authority under his feet. He conquered death by death and reigns over his Kingdom of love by love— not just someday, but already, his kingdom is “in our midst.” 

The victory of Christ is at least three-fold: Jesus conquers at the Cross, through his resurrection and again, by his love. 

a) At the Cross: Paul writes to the believers in Colossae: When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross (Colossians 2:13-15, my emphasis). There is the victory of the Cross; reverse engineering the process is simple enough. 

Who does Jesus defeat? The powers and authorities. How does he defeat them? By disarming them. What weapons did he take from them? The legal charges and debts held against us. How did he disarm them of these legal charges and debts? By cancelling them. How did he cancel them? By forgiving all our sins. The result? God made us alive (raised us) with Christ.

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Death Swallowed Up (You're Not Disposable!) - Greg Albrecht

One of the great lessons and legacies of the empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus is that our temporary world does not have the last word. Easter tells you and me that we are not disposable. Easter tells us that even while our bodies age and shrink and wither away—there will be a day when our bodies, like the body of Jesus, will be resurrected. God will never throw us away! 

During the second half of the 20th century our consumer culture turned into a throw-away-culture the likes of which the world has never seen. Plastic bottles are one of the premier examples—use the bottle once and then throw it away. Paper plates, disposable diapers and styrofoam cups are all a part of our throw-away culture. 

Several years ago my wife and I walked through a new store in our local mall called “Forever 21.” As we walked through the aisles and displays of clothing I checked price tags and was amazed at the rather inexpensive prices being asked for many of the articles of clothing. 

But then I looked a little more closely—and I felt the fabrics. They all seemed cheap, as if they wouldn’t last. After we went home I did a little research and found that this is but one of many new retail outlets that offer what is called disposable fashion. Garments considered to be disposable fashion are priced so inexpensively because they are designed to be thrown away after only a few wearings! The underlying value—it’s not made to last, so wear it a few times and when you are tired of it then throw it away. 

And let me be fair—it’s not just Forever 21 selling disposable fashion—items that are intentionally manufactured to have short life-spans are offered by many retailers. Our disposable culture increasingly desires convenience and immediacy over longer lasting value. Disposable products and waste fill our landfills so that we in North America often have to ship the trash and debris we no longer desire to other countries—we have no room for all that we consider disposable. 

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Wrath (of God?) - Matthew Distefano

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This is a guest post by Matthew Distefano. You can read more of Matthew’s work at his website All Set Free and his book All Set Free: How God is Revealed in Jesus Christ and Why That is Really Good News.

There are certain theological assumptions within American Christianity that you just don’t touch. But I have always been the questioning type, and if I have learned anything from Girard’s mimetic theory, it is that prohibitions increase desire (to say the least!). Tell me I can’t question the doctrine of hell and I will. Tell me I can’t question the doctrine of sola scriptura and, again, I will. And tell me I can’t question the “common” understanding of the “wrath of God,” and well, here I am doing just that.

Like many Western Christian doctrines, the definition of God’s wrath seems to be a given. Frankly though, like so many other “orthodox” views, I cringe at our eagerness to espouse such a belief. I mean, I do understand the propensity to believe in a quid pro quo type of God (thanks for that one Rob Grayson!) who A) reserves blessings for the righteous while B) reserving wrath for the wicked. I understand the human psychological need to ensure that we are in rather than out, that we are Jacob rather than Esau, elect rather than non-elect, and vessels of mercy rather than vessels of wrath (Romans 9:22–23). Ernest Becker’s work on the topic of death anxiety comes to mind in explaining our propensity in doing this. But I will leave that topic for another time (like in my forthcoming book, From the Blood of Abel).

But is this view not unlike the God of Deuteronomy 28? Is it not unlike the God of Job and his so-called friends? Is it not unlike the God of the writer of Wisdom of Solomon? And didn’t Jesus—in places like Matthew 5, Mark 2, and John 9—teach his disciples that this economy-of-exchange model of God is inherently false? Answer: I believe he did.

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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Questions are the Answer: Interview of David Hayward (The Naked Pastor) with Brad Jersak

David Hayward, better known as the Naked Pastor, is Canada's premier cartoonist and critic of Christian culture. He's also an inspired and talented artist and author. In this interview, Brad Jersak asks David about his recent book, Questions are the Answer: naked pastor and the search for understanding

Brad's endorsement of the book: "Gary Larson meets Jeremiah. Don't just read this book: let it entertain you, then let it bother you until it heals you."

Brad: David, thank you for this book--for sharing your journey through your various stages of questioning. You describe these states as closed questions, swinging questions and open questions. Could you unpack these, especially as it relates to your spiritual growth?

David: First of all, thanks for this interview and giving me the opportunity to talk about my newest book, “Questions are the Answer”. 

I didn’t live my life according to these categories. I only detected these stages after the fact. I found them a convenient way to make some sense of my spiritual journey. To help us understand these three stages a little bit, let’s look at the issue of the inspiration of scripture. 

During the closed question stage of my spiritual journey, the inspiration of the Bible used to be the foundation of my faith. Looking back over my life, I could safely say that my solid belief in the inspiration of scripture supported everything I believed in and upheld my faith. It all depended on that. Cased closed! It was strictly black and white. Either the Bible was inspired or it wasn’t, and I believed it was.

Then, in seminary, like a Jenga block, that foundational belief was challenged and all my faith and beliefs started to topple. This is the swinging stage, where my very neat and secure black and white world became grey. Nothing was clear anymore. For example, when you start questioning the historicity of, say, Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, that for many is the thin end of the wedge. It’s a very slippery slope. That was my experience. Once I started to question the historicity of one thing, then all other claims to historical accuracy were held with suspicion. So I found myself swinging back and forth between the Bible’s inspiration and doubt of it.

Finally, I entered what I now call the open question stage. This is when the obsession over the Bible’s inspiration comes to a place of peace. That is, the question becomes open. For example, it could ask a very open question such as, “What does inspiration mean?” Or we could even ask what truth is. Does truth require historical accuracy or can truth be found in myth and story. It’s not that we don’t care about inspiration anymore, but that it doesn’t concern us any longer in the same way.

Inconspicuous Hope - Cindy Brandt

“Whenever I’m approached by an evangelist – by a Christian missionary – I know I’m up against someone so obsessed and narrowly focused that it will do me absolutely no good to try and explain or share my own value system. I never want to be rude to them, of course, but never have any idea how to respond to their attempts to convert me; in short order, I inevitably find myself simply feeling embarrassed—first for them, and then for us both. I’m always grateful when such encounters conclude.” – K.C., Fresno
A few years ago, John Shore collected comments from Craigslist sites all over America asking What Non-Christians Want Christians To Hear. The results are cringe-worthy. As a progressive Christian, I consider myself part of a movement to try to re-vamp the brand of Christianity, defining ourselves as love over hate, inclusion over wall-building, listening instead of preaching. But it often feels like much of the internal conversations teasing out the nuances of faith is all that it is, internal. People outside of the Christian faith don’t care to engage in it. All our efforts to “breath new life” into religious structures corrupted by nationalism, consumerism, racism, sexism, and whatever other -isms, seem to be vaporizing into thin air. Turning the big ship of conservative evangelism, which seems to be setting a steady course towards dogmatic fundamentalism, is proving to be a futile endeavor—so much so that Christian ethicist, David Gushee, in his article for Religion News Services titled, “Conservative and progressive US evangelicals head for divorce,” suggests we abandon the ship and set off on separate ways altogether.
As a faith blogger, tracking these larger trends of religion, getting a feel for the cultural pulse is at least fascinating to me, and at most helps me to find the role I play in shaping public conversations about faith. As a Christian and a human being, realizing that my scathing criticisms against Christian institutions who systematically harm those within it, is not much more than throwing tiny white eggs against a large brick wall, is incredibly demoralizing.Telling atheist friends that no, my Christian faith is about love, feels weak against evidence of Christians spewing hate in the public arena. For every sensible, compassionate, subversive Christian article I post onto my facebook wall, Matt Walsh’s rhetorical blog posts reaffirming the status quo are being shared and retweeted multiple times more. It makes me want to immediately run and soak in a, what my friend Kay Bruner calls, sweary bubble bath.

Walking the World as the Pardon of God - Brian Zahnd

My father died in 2009. He was one of the wisest and kindest men I’ve ever known. L. Glen Zahnd was a judge and at his funeral a man he had once sent to prison for armed robbery came up to me and said, “I’m here today to honor your father. In his capacity as judge he sent me to prison, but he always treated me with respect and kindness. He was as merciful as he could be and he strove to preserve my dignity.” My father was like that — he was a man full of grace. He spent his last few months in a Franciscan nursing home called La Verna. It’s named after the place where St. Francis of Assisi received the wounds of Christ. In his final years my father suffered from dementia and could barely communicate. But whenever he was asked if he would like to receive Communion, he always managed to say yes. Even as his mind and body were failing him, this man known throughout the community for his kindness wanted to maintain his connection to grace.

G.K. Chesterton suggested that Saint Francis walked the world like the pardon of God. It’s an apt summary of the saint’s life. Francis embodied the grace of God as he walked the hills of Umbria barefoot in his patched brown habit and simple rope belt, preaching to birds and bishops. His life was a kind of performance art protest against the pervasive sins of thirteenth-century Italy — pride, avarice, corruption, and violence. Yet sinners themselves were drawn to Francis. How else do we explain why, in his lifetime, forty thousand people joined his rigorous order of radical Christianity emphasizing poverty, simplicity and humility? Like Jesus, Francis could uncompromisingly denounce systemic sin, while extending genuine compassion to the people caught in its pernicious web. To be a prophetic witness against systems of sin and a preacher of God’s pardon for sinners at the same time is the peculiar grace at which Francis excelled and to which the church is called.

Monday, February 22, 2016

"Gospel for the Nones" - Walter Brueggemann

"Twice as Much a Child of Hell" - Greg Albrecht

When we are able, by God's grace, to trust in God we truly rest in Christ. When we accept the gift of his grace, we experience the peace of God. By God's grace we may be transformed from children of hell into God's very own children.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. —Matthew 23:15
The Pilgrim's Regress by C.S. Lewis includes a fascinating story about a young boy's first encounter with religion and one of its religious professionals. Since Lewis is one of my favorite authors, I've read and studied about his own childhood, and it seems that some of what he is talking about in this fictional story is autobiographical, with a direct relationship to his own experiences with Christ-less religion when he was growing up. 

In The Pilgrim's Regress Lewis tells us about a young boy named John, who was taken by his parents to see their local vicar (pastor). It was their way of formally introducing John to God. His parents talked with the vicar first—while John waited—and then, when that conversation was finished, John was invited to talk with the pastor alone. 

At first, as John remembers the incident, the vicar seemed to be a warm and engaging person. They talked about fishing and bicycles, topics that captivate many young boys. But then, suddenly, the religious professional took a terrifying mask off the wall of his office, and put the mask on his face. As the vicar talked to John through that mask which, with its long white beard, was supposed to be a visual image of God, he told John that God is very kind, but he also has lots of rules. And if John didn't obey all the rules, even though God is very kind, God would throw him into a black hole filled with snakes and scorpions. 

Q & A: "Salted with Fire" -- Hell, Self-amputation & Mark 9 - Brad Jersak

Question from a reader:

I have searched at least 7 articles about Hell from the search button. There is absolutely no mention of Mark 9:42-50 in any of the articles. There are many scriptures that are addressed about Hell but not this particular one. I know it not to be true but it almost seems that it is intentionally ignored. I so look forward to your response.

Brad's response:

I can't remember if I've included a discussion on Mark 9 in my books 'Her Gates Will Never Be Shut' or 'A More Christlike God,' but it's certainly not a passage I would shy away from intentionally, since it is quite an amazing anomaly in the NT and well worthy of meditation. In fact, I did so for about a year before coming to the conclusions below:

Here is the text in blue, along with my own notes in black as I go. I will use the NASB since it is the most literal translation we have of the Greek and tends not to delete words that other translations though we unnecessary (but are critical to our understanding). 
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell,
hell here is a translation of the Greek word, gehenna, (or from Hebrew, Valley of Hinnom) which was literally the valley south of Jerusalem that a long history of destructive fire: (a.) the prophets of Molech burned children there - 2 Chron 28:3, 33:6 (something God never even thought to do - Jer. 7:31); (b.) Josiah, whose name means 'fire of God' burned up all the altars and priests of Molech in that valley; (c.) when Jerusalem would be destroyed by both Babylon and later, Rome, the bodies would be dumped and burned in that fire because there were too many to bury; (d.) the valley would be a burning garbage dump as a memorial to Jerusalem's destruction; (e.)  gehenna would ultimately be restored into a garden holy to the Lord (Jer. 31:40).

Friday, February 19, 2016

From Certainty to Discovery - Jeff C. Clarke

My theological journey has less to do with changes made to specific theological categories, though many such changes have occurred, and more to do with the in which I engage in the theological task. 

In the past, my approach to theology and biblical studies could have been characterized as a strict, letter-of-the-law type attitude, that was determined to create the perfect, airtight theological system by seeking to ensure that every ‘t’ was crossed and every ‘i’ dotted.

As a result, I became very rigid in the way I approached theology and left little room for viewpoints that seemed, in my view, to color outside the lines. I was quick to judge theological ideas that did not fit neatly into my system and came to define people as either ‘in’ or ‘out.’

My theological posture was very rigid and often aggressive. I came to view Christian experience as suspect, holding out little possibility that it could add anything beneficial to my well-defined belief systems. I was all too eager to throw around words like heresy and heretic the moment I encountered what I thought was unorthodox theology.

In his book, Reformed and Always Reforming, Roger Olson briefly outlined the relationship between theological conservatives and fundamentalists as having:
a tendency toward harsh, polemical rhetoric and angry denunciations or ad hominem arguments when writing about fellow evangelicals with whom they disagree.
Sadly, this was true of me.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

When We "Know As We Are Fully Known" - Caleb Miller

Icon-of-the-Transfiguration-of-ChristWhen all of our darkness and all that we believe to be light comes face to face—finally—with the One in and through and by whom all things were made, when all our good intentions are laid out and our best made plans meet the architect of the cosmos, when our internal “I am not” comes crashing into the Eternal “I AM”, all that bids us to say “no” to the beauty of love will forever be done away with and we will hence, “know as we are known”.

This is not an atonement theory, neither is it a specific hermeneutic. It is a declaration of the success of Jesus, not over some ideological “sin” as though God is somehow able to “fill all things” except the sinner, who still lives “in and through” God. The success of Jesus is neither a victory in a non-existent war, somehow playing itself out on a grand scale, as though divine creator were subject to the whims and will of time and mortality. The only “spiritual battle” is the eternal internal discussion with the self regarding value and worth.

This battle is the Armageddon of the soul, and each of us must face it head on. It matters not where the first shots were fired, be they an 8 year old boy suddenly feeling rejected by supposed Christian authority figures (myself), or the young woman who will never measure up to her mother’s impossible standards of beauty and her father’s continual rejection of anything “imperfect”. What matters is that we all have these shots fired at us continually. Not by some mythological “satan” (a character never given the power of omnipresence in the biblical narratives, and yet somehow able to be just that today), but by human beings, some well-intentioned, others not.

Our source of healing then, indeed our source of “salvation” lies in the recovery of that which has wounded us so deeply; namely, our humanness. To recover our humanity, we search for ways to build and affirm that humanity. The activities of a soul in search of its humanity are varied, and depending on social environment, religious upbringing, and a plethora of other factors, they “flesh out” on the (horizontal with no “correct”) scale from pastor to plumber to prisoner. In other words, it doesn’t matter where we find ourselves in life, the reason we’re there is because we’re searching for our humanity once again.

The only thing that grants us our true humanity, the only thing that beckons us from the halls of timelessness, what early Christians called the “gospel” is the risen Christ. A body raised in defiance of all notions of sacrificial bloodshed, the scapegoat has become the lamb and triumphed over death, not by fighting it or avoiding it, but by embracing it and declaring once and for all that no other scapegoat will ever be necessary, the goat has once and for all been delivered to the fires of hell and the Passover lamb has come bursting out of the tomb, once again filling all in all. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Movie review of 'SPOTLIGHT' - by Greg Albrecht


Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst.   C.S. Lewis

         Raised in an authoritarian home and church, I was shattered by the events of Watergate. When Richard Nixon resigned I was 27 year-old husband, father of two and an ordained religious professional.  Even though my religion assured me I had almost all the answers, a little more than four decades later I realized at the age of 27 I knew diddly squat (next to nothing),

         For the President of the United States to be guilty of corruption on a grand scale – it was like the image evoked by the Netflix series House of Cards - the entire foundation of my training to never-question-authorities-about-anything came crashing down.

When Watergate happened, I was a true believer in the authority of my country and my church. My mother raised me to believe policemen were always here to help us. Until Watergate I thought that the President of the United States was like a policeman.
         Watergate shattered and exposed the lies inherent within the ironic wise saying - “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

         On the other hand I had grown up being taught that the Catholic Church was a den of thieves and robbers. As a youngster, the few times I visited a Catholic Church the propaganda I was taught caused me to get the heebie-jeebies – cathedrals seemed all dark and mysterious and the stuff of nightmares. If a nun walked past me on the street I got the creepy crawlies. But I was taught to implicitly trust my church and its religious authorities. It only took a little more than a decade following Watergate before I started to learn another one of those harsh lessons that come from living in a glass house: s*** happens in religion as well as within government.

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil, but for good people to do evil – that takes religion.  – Steven Weinberg, Nobel Prize winning American physicist.

The X-files, the Misery of the World and the Nature of God [spoilers] - Brad Jersak

Screenshot from X-files episode "Babylon"
*Spoilers included. This article assumes readers have watched the episode or won't mind spoilers.

In the X-files episode entitled "Babylon," I was impressed with the research, creative writing, strong imagery and bold themes. I don't presume to know the writer's intent, but from the artistic side, we are permitted to draw our own takeaway meanings and messages. Two came quite forcefully that some X-files fans might appreciate. 

The episode begins with a graphic terrorist attack by two young Muslim radicals. Too easy I thought; that's not how these writers roll. Then comically, Mulder and Scully meet a pair of young, but strangely familiar, FBI agents. They prepare to take two approaches at trying to prevent the next attack, each providing an essential puzzle-piece. Ultimately, this will lead to a resolution that prepares us for the takeaway lessons about the world and about God.

Babylon: "Misery is the River of the World"

The most intense scene finds Mulder in a vision-state. He is in a large rowboat under a dark sky. Hooded slaves are rowing across some sea. 'The Smoking Man' (Mulder's primary series antagonist) appears and cracks a whip, "You want the truth, Agent Moulder? You've come to the right place!" and he whips him again. Moulder turns from the Smoking Man and makes his way forward, between the slaves. We hear Tom Waits singing, "Misery is the River of the World." The lyrics in their entirety speak to what the episode means by Babylon, but they can be summarized in these lines:
Misery's the river of the world! Everybody row, everybody row!
If there's one thing you can say about mankind, there's nothing kind about man.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Lenten Reflection on the Isenheim Altarpiece - Jacob Smith

Editor's note: This piece takes Grunewald's Crucifixion as a spring board to a Christ-centered/Cross-centered theology of grace, over against the legalisms and performance mentality of the law, which still so permeates the church.  

Matthias Grunewald’s Crucifixion, one of the panels of the Isenheim Altarpiece, was commissioned for the church hospital of St. Anthony in Colmar, France, which specialized in comforting those dying with skin diseases.

Grunewald kept the background of this powerful piece of religious art intentionally dark to highlight the horrific scene: especially Christ’s smashed feet, his contorted arms, and twisted hands. The cross is bowed to demonstrate Jesus bearing the sins of the world. The most shocking part of the piece, however, is that Jesus also has a skin disease, and his loincloth is the same as the wrappings worn by the hospital’s patients. Completed in 1516, the altarpiece is a creation of such shocking intensity that many initially–and still today–find it offensive and are repulsed by it. Yet the graphic nature served masterfully to define and illustrate the Antonite brothers’ powerful understanding of Christian ministry–a ministry defined by the theology of the cross.

Apparently patients were brought before the piece in order to silently meditate on it as they died, and since the Antonite brothers were a quiet order, they gave no commentary. There was no awkward chatter, no pious justifications claiming, “This is not God’s fault.” There was just silence.
Sadly many Christian ministries operate from a place that readers of this website will know as a “theology of glory.” A theology of glory believes that we can invite Jesus and his cross to be a part of our lives. This theology sees the cross, as Gehard Forde would say, as a means to an end as opposed to the end itself. In pastoral ministry this takes various deceptive shapes that have defined much of the landscape of modern Christianity.

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Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me - Kate Bowler

Durham, N.C. — ON a Thursday morning a few months ago, I got a call from my doctor’s assistant telling me that I have Stage 4 cancer. The stomach cramps I was suffering from were not caused by a faulty gallbladder, but by a massive tumor.

I am 35. I did the things you might expect of someone whose world has suddenly become very small. I sank to my knees and cried. I called my husband at our home nearby. I waited until he arrived so we could wrap our arms around each other and say the things that must be said. I have loved you forever. I am so grateful for our life together. Please take care of our son. Then he walked me from my office to the hospital to start what was left of my new life.

But one of my first thoughts was also Oh, God, this is ironic. I recently wrote a book called “Blessed.”

I am a historian of the American prosperity gospel. Put simply, the prosperity gospel is the belief that God grants health and wealth to those with the right kind of faith. I spent 10 years interviewing televangelists with spiritual formulas for how to earn God’s miracle money. I held hands with people in wheelchairs being prayed for by celebrities known for their miracle touch. I sat in people’s living rooms and heard about how they never would have dreamed of owning this home without the encouragement they heard on Sundays.

I went on pilgrimage with the faith healer Benny Hinn and 900 tourists to retrace Jesus’ steps in the Holy Land and see what people would risk for the chance at their own miracle. I ruined family vacations by insisting on being dropped off at the showiest megachurch in town. If there was a river running through the sanctuary, an eagle flying freely in the auditorium or an enormous, spinning statue of a golden globe, I was there.

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This article originally appeared in the NY Times. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

"Don't Be Afraid" - Michael Hardin

The gospel begins with these words from the Angels: "Don't be afraid Mary don't be afraid." 

The risen Christ, the first words to his disciples, "Don't be afraid there is nothing to fear here." 

The writer to the epistles to the Hebrews said that "Jesus came to take away the fear of death" and then the writer of first John says that "Perfect love casts out fear."

The  word that is used for "casting out" is the same word used for "casting out" demons. God's perfect love casts out all of our fears. 
The fear of punishment, the fear of hell, the fear that God is somehow out to get us, the fear that somehow were not going to be good enough, the fear that we are not going to make it. 

The fact is that we live in the universe where from Gods perspective, fear has been cast out of heaven like lightning.  

We no longer have to fear death or dying because we believe in a God of life, a God of hope, a God who brings resurrection, Who will bring wholeness and a new creation that will be so extraordinary that words cannot describe it. 

And that is our hope!!

- from the documentary Hellbound?

Front Page: Canary in a Coal Mine by Greg Albrecht

Years ago coal miners in the United States and the United Kingdom took caged canaries down into the mine with them as an early warning system. Canaries are extremely sensitive to toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and methane. The earliest mines didn't have ventilation systems, so canaries helped detect toxic gases long before humans could. 

The canaries served as an audible and a visual cue regarding the condition of the air the miners were breathing. As long as the miners could see that the canary was alive, and could hear the canary singing, the miners knew that the air was safe to breathe. A silent, dead canary meant that the miners needed to evacuate immediately—their environment had turned toxic. 

The phrase "canary in a coal mine" has come to refer to someone or something that provides an early warning of a potential crisis. Just as miners of earlier generations wouldn't venture into coal mines without canaries standing sentinel, our keynote passage explains how God's grace is a spiritual canary. We are well advised not to venture into the halls, buildings, libraries, churches and denominations of religion without the canary of God—his amazing grace. 

God's grace stands as an early warning system against the deadly and often unseen toxic fumes of religious legalism, authoritarianism and abuse. The only reason we are spiritually alive is because of the love of God—he has saved us from spiritually unhealthy places by his grace. 

Any time we are in the spiritual equivalent of a coal mine religiosity and legalism can start to affect us with its unseen and hard-to-detect poisonous gases. Shocking as it may sound, churches can be hazardous to your spiritual health—and some churches and ministries are spiritually deadly because people are not on guard. 

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Friday, February 12, 2016

What's Missing? Unplugging from Christless Religion - Greg Albrecht


Christianity in America Today

There was an enormous long-range impact on Christianity when the United States broke free from the throne of England and declared itself a sovereign democratic republic, a confederation of states that eventually gave expression to the capitalism we know today. The American constitution made no laws governing the exercise of religion. The state guaranteed freedom of religion, as this land eventually called the United States had already become the home of individuals fleeing religious oppression and bondage.

By the 20th century, Christianity within America had fragmented, breaking into many constituent parts. Not only did churches that remained committed to the core beliefs of historic Christianity multiply, but so too did cults and cultic groups. The United States is the home of the vast majority of modern cultic groups now spread around the world.

What is the state of Christianity in North America in these early years of the 21st century? Several trends are at work, and those same dynamics are influencing Christianity around the world:

1) Distrust of “organized religion” or lack of commitment to denominationalism.

For a number of decades Christians in America have become more and more reluctant to simply fall into line with denominational mandates and are more comfortable choosing worship patterns and places that are nondenominational.

“Brand name” loyalty to one denomination exists primarily within those who are now retired from the work force. The televangelist scandals of several decades ago and the seemingly endless scandal of child abuse within the Catholic church have caused apathy and distrust of religious authorities.

2) Desire for affiliation and validation. 

Many who are disenfranchised, the products of dysfunctional homes or alienated from society at large look for meaning and significance in a church, group or even cult. Such individuals often want to be told exactly what to do and when to do it. They want someone to tell them how to make sense out of a world that seems to be spinning out of control.

Many are easy prey for those who selfishly manipulate and control in the name of God (2 Peter 2:3). Sadly, many of these people who are looking for God instead find themselves in horrific spiritual bondage, with virtually every aspect of their lives dictated by a religious authority.

Alexander Schmemann - Christianity is the End of All Religion

Christianity is in a profound sense the end of all religion. In the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus made this clear.
‘Sir,’ the woman said to him, ‘I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’
Jesus saith unto her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father… But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him’  (John 4:19-21, 23).
She asked him a question about cult, and in reply Jesus changed the whole perspective of the matter. Nowhere in the New Testament, in fact, is Christianity presented as a cult or as a religion.

Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man. But Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion. It was this freedom of the early church from “religion” in the usual, traditional sense of this word that led the pagans to accuse Christians of atheism.

Christians had no concern for any sacred geography, no temples, no cult that could be recognized as such by the generations fed with the solemnities of the mystery cults. There was no specific religious interest in the places where Jesus had lived. There were no pilgrimages. The old religion had its thousand sacred places and temples: for the Christians all this was past and gone. There was no need for temples built of stone: Christ’s Body, the Church itself, the new people gathered in Him, was the only real temple. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…” (John 2:19).

The Church itself was the new and heavenly Jerusalem: the Church in Jerusalem was by contrast unimportant. The fact that Christ comes and is present was far more significant than the places where He had been.

The historical reality of Christ was of course the undisputed ground of the early Christians’ faith: yet they did not so much remember Him as know He was with them. And in Him was the end of “religion,” because He himself was the Answer to all religion, to all human hunger for God, because in Him the life that was lost by man — and which could only be symbolized, signified, asked for in religion — was restored to man.
From Fr. Al. Schmemann’s, For the Life of the World.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Breadth of God's Love - Peter Helms

"He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not" - Greg Albrecht

     When you were in your early teens, just beginning to discover that the opposite sex existed, you may remember playing the game "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not." The game was all about "love" as we understood it at the time. 
     Back in the "olden days," when we had a crush on someone, and we weren't really sure whether they liked us or not, most of us were too reluctant and shy to find out by more direct means—like asking. Times have really changed haven't they? Back then we would find a flower and begin to pull its petals, playing the He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not game. The last petal left on the flower answered the question, didn't it?
      If you're a "little older" like me I'm sure you played that game more than once. I remember playing the game literally, and then, when I grew too old for using a flower to determine whether a girl liked me or not, I would resort to other, equally silly and superstitious ways of making that determination.
      You know, many of us, without critically analyzing it, attempt to understand our relationship with God by playing a similar game with God. In this most important relationship we can ever have, we often convince ourselves that we're not sure how God really feels about us, so we play a guessing game. We play the He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not game with God because we are convinced that his love is conditional. Even after we say we have initially accepted God's love, we keep playing the game. We torture ourselves, continuously second-guessing God's commitment to us as we ask ourselves questions like, "Does he still love me—especially after what I did last week?" We wonder whether he has forgiven us—this time.

CLICK HERE to continue

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Danger of Seeking God - Alan Hirsch

CLICK HERE for Jeff K. Clarke's article, "The Danger of Seeking God: When Our Conception of God Leads Us Away From God."