Monday, March 28, 2016

"Our Lord was never wroth nor never shall be" - Julian of Norwich

'I saw truthfully that our Lord was never wroth* nor never shall be. For he is God, he is good, he is truth, he is love, he is peace. And his might, his wisdom, his charity, and his unity do not permit him to be wroth. For I saw truly that it is against the property of his might to be wroth, and against the property of his wisdom, and against the property of his goodness. God is that goodness that may not be wroth, for God is nothing but goodness.'
~ Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

*Definition of wroth : archaic for intensely angry, highly incensed, wrathful.

Who Is It You Are Looking For? Greg Albrecht

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"—John 20:11-15
The religious lynch-mob convened an illegal trial, declared an innocent man guilty and condemned him to death. Of course, it wasn't the first time nor was it the last time an innocent person has been found guilty, but this time was truly a unique, once-and-for-all occurrence. 

This man was absolutely innocent, in every way. Jesus had never committed any crime. He had never harmed anyone. He had never emotionally abused another. He had never cheated, nor had he ever gossiped. His entire life was devoted to serving others, yet he had just been found guilty and condemned to death. 

And to cement the assertion that this was a unique, once-and-for-all occurrence, the innocent man condemned to death was the Son of God, God in the flesh.

The death sentence was carried out immediately. There was no ten-year wait on death row while attorneys filed appeal after appeal. No defense attorney would take Jesus' case and hire private investigators to sift through all of the lies and misrepresentations and biases and prejudices of the religious establishment who wanted him dead. 

We know this story, don't we? We know how Jesus, the Lamb of God, allowed himself to be led away after he was betrayed by one of his own disciples. We know how he was falsely accused, and how he was beaten, scourged, tortured and finally nailed to a cross. When his body was finally dead it was surrendered by the authorities, and placed in a new tomb, not far away from the site of the crucifixion.

The traumatic and hope-destroying events of Good Friday took the wind out of the sails of Jesus' followers. All their hopes and dreams for a better life with Jesus as the King were dashed as he died in shame as a common criminal on his cross. Those who had changed their lives—following and listening to him, their Master and Teacher, putting their hope and faith in him—were now disillusioned and hiding in fear for their own lives. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter: The Game-Changer - Cindy Brandt

Something has gone awry in our culture when we begin to tell the Resurrection story from a narrative of “The Good Guy Wins”. We love seeing the good guys kick ass. We celebrate rugged heroes like Jack Bauer from the hit TV show 24 – even when they kill. There is that chuckle-inducing scene in the Avengers movie where Hulk (Good guy) flings Loki (Bad guy) back and forth like a toy with his brute strength. We laugh at violence, and because the good guy wins, it’s okay. So steeped in what Walter Wink calls, “the myth of redemptive violence”, we have subsumed the Easter Story into this framework.
In cultures where Christianity has become the dominant power, the resurrection of Jesus has been turned into the triumph of the victors. The way “Jesus is Risen” is proclaimed, it sounds like bragging – essentially one-upping those who disagree with us by saying smugly: we win. Easter is used as a trump card to threaten people into joining our side.  Again and again, the Church tries to grow by dominating: passing laws discriminating others, fighting legal battles in the courts, using money and clout to sway people into a certain ideology. Easter celebrations at mega-churches get bigger and jazzier every year. We are like the disciples who just don’t get it: we argue and argue over which among us is the greatest.
We need to figure out how to tell a different story. More importantly, we need to live a different story. The Resurrection is not one where the Good Guy wins; it’s a story where nobody wins and then everybody wins. When the world is organized around dominant systems preserving their power through oppression, like the Roman Empire, or structured by religious gatekeepers drawing lines in the sand between us vs them, like the Jewish authorities, the end result will always look like violence and death, like the cross. When Christ bore all of that violence and was raised from the dead, God snatched us out of the old story and put us in a new era.
The hope of the resurrection ushers us into a better way. A way of love and forgiveness, a way to serve, a way where everyone wins. The Resurrection is not a trump card in our game, it was a revision of the rulebook. It was the game changer to ensure everyone wins.

The Gardener - Brian Zahnd

“Mary Magdalene turned around and saw Jesus standing there,
but she did not know it was Jesus…supposing him to be the gardener.”
–John 20:14, 15

The first person to see the risen Christ was Mary Magdalene. It happened in a garden. At first, Mary thought Jesus was the gardener. A logical mistake. Or a prophetic mistake. Or perhaps not a mistake at all.
On Good Friday, Jesus was buried in a garden. A garden is a place to cultivate and grow living things. An appropriate place for Jesus to be buried. A few days before his crucifixion Jesus had said, “Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) On Holy Saturday, the Son of God was a holy seed sown in a peaceful garden. On Easter Sunday, the garden brought forth the first fruits of resurrection — “Jesus Christ declared to be the Son of God by resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:4)
The first seed raised by God in the garden of resurrection became the gardener. When Mary Magdalene “supposed him to be the gardener,” she was exactly right! Jesus is now the gardener of resurrection, cultivating new life in all who believe. The first Adam was a gardener who failed in his task and the world became a wasteland of war and sin. But the second Adam will succeed in his task — Christ will restore the ruined garden. With Christ as the gardener of new creation we have a hopeful eschatology.
"Instead of the thorn bush shall come up the juniper;
Instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle."
–Isaiah 55:13

“On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be there anymore.” –Revelation 22:2, 3

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

God is not the Witch! C.S. Lewis on the Atonement - Brad Jersak

No Christian thinker has synthesized the rich and varied imagery of the gospel into a single beautiful picture as did C.S. Lewis in his classic novella, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Through Lewis’ children’s fantasy, the New Testament themes— redemption and reconciliation, substitution and sacrifice, ransom and victory—coalesce into one of literature’s greatest plotlines. After all, it is a retelling of the greatest story ever told! 

Spoiler alert: I’ll summarize the epic climax shortly! 

Plot: Four English adolescents pass through a magical wardrobe into the strange world of Narnia, which has fallen into a deathly winter through the dark magic of the witch, Jadis. The witch succeeds in luring one of the boys, Edmund, into her evil clutches and deceives him into betraying his siblings. 

The great lion Aslan—Lewis’ Christ-figure— conceives a plan to rescue Edmund, but Jadis claims eye-for-an-eye justice to demand Edmund’s execution. Aslan secretly bargains for Edmund’s life by offering his own in exchange. Jadis is delighted; Aslan’s death will be her final victory. She and her minions tie Aslan to ‘the Stone Table’ (representing the law of condemnation). They shave his mane, mock and beat him, and finally, Jadis delivers the fatal wound with a stone knife. Wondrously, though the Witch can kill Aslan, she cannot take his life! Aslan is resurrected, the stone table is broken, Edmund is redeemed and the witch is destroyed! 

This is the Beautiful Gospel as C.S. Lewis imagined it. This famous fiction captures essential truths of Christ’s saving work as understood by the first apostles, evangelists and theologians. But the tale also underscores Lewis’s corrections to the most popular ‘atonement theory’ of his time (or ours). In his letters (to Bede Griffith), Lewis refers to the Anselmic theory (after Anselm of Canterbury) and says it “was not to be found either in the N.T. or most of the fathers.” In Mere Christianity he describes it:
“According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem quite so immoral and silly as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make. What I came to see later on was that neither this theory nor any other is Christianity. The central belief is that Christ’s death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start.”
Yet neither Lewis’ letters nor his non-fiction compare to the beauty and clarity of the gospel preached in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. 

To summarize: 

1. In the story, God appears only as Aslan—the Incarnation of God in Narnia. 

2. In the story, God never demands the death of Edmund or of Aslan. The witch does. God is not the witch. God is Aslan. 

3. In the story, the witch thinks she has cornered Aslan into satisfying the wrath of the Stone Table. But she has not and he does not. There is no law higher than Aslan. He willingly gives himself to save the victim, he breaks the Table and conquers both death and the witch. 

4. The Table is not God’s intractable wrath. It is the law of retribution and condemnation, broken by the deeper “magic” of sacrificial love. If the Stone Table can be broken, then it is not one of God’s eternal attributes. 

5. The witch could and surely did execute Aslan—but she was wrong to believe she could take his life. Like Christ, Aslan alone has the power to lay down his life, and therefore, the power to take it up again. She never took his life. He gave it, but not to her and not to death. He gave it for love to ransom everyone. The witch (like Satan and death) fell into her own trap and found Aslan to be very much alive. 

C.S. Lewis provides an important corrective to ideas of the Cross that mistakenly cast God into the witch’s role. But more importantly, he expresses the Beautiful Gospel in a way that even children can see it, even if some theologians cannot. 

Brad Jersak

CLICK HERE to go to the full magazine 

Between Religious Rocks and Life's Hard Places - Greg Albrecht

Don’t you just hate it when you are in church, and the preacher finally utters those sweet words of promise—“and in conclusion” —but your idea of a conclusion and his are like ships passing in the night? When you hear the words “and in conclusion,” you heave a sigh of relief and start dreaming about beating the lunch crowd at your favorite restaurant, but the preacher keeps going on and on and on. 

Okay, I’ll make this brief (that’s another thing that preachers like me say that drives me crazy because when they do I know it will be anything but brief ).

In the “Introduction” to my book, BETWEEN RELIGIOUS ROCKS AND LIFE’S HARD PLACES I invited readers, in case they didn’t like my answers, to improvise their own Christ-centered solutions.

Love Thy Neighbor: Enemy Love with Jarrod McKenna

Monday, March 21, 2016

CWR Video: The Flood Story - Matt Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is Dean of Studies and Old Testament scholar at Westminster Theological Centre (UK).

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Chain Gang - Jim Fowler

A parody is a comic caricature, a ludicrous likeness, an absurd analogy, a ridiculous representation which exposes a particular reality by comparing it to another of a different order. Parodies can be a very useful verbal or literary tool to expose the “red herrings” of diversions which distract attention from real issues; to expose “hobby horses” whereby men keep reverting back to repetitive over-emphasis without critical thought; to expose inane traditions which become familiar ruts wherein we fail to recognize the absence d’esprit. By the use of parody one can be direct yet subtle at the same time. 

For some there was the slight semblance of the synchophonic sound of church bells. But it was, instead, the clanging of chains as the prisoners performed their duties. Their day began with roll-call, responding to their assigned identification number. Then, dressed in the dreary uniformity that dissipates individuality, and manacled together in bondage, they marched out to perform their monotonous tasks. The obligatory service having been performed under the watchful eye of the taskmaster, the prisoners filed back into the vaulted dungeon to be fed a bland diet and to engage in the socialization of their chants. They were psyching themselves up for another day of the same regimen on the chain-gang. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Cross as Shock Therapy - Brian Zahnd

"The cross is shock therapy for a world addicted to solving its problems through violence." 

The cross is shock therapy for a world addicted to solving its problems through violence. The cross shocks us into the devastating realization that our system of violence murdered God! 

The things hidden from the foundation of the world have now been revealed. The cross shames our ancient foundation of violence. The cross strips naked the principalities and powers. The cross tears down the façade of glory that we use to hide the bodies of slain victims. 

 In the light of the cross, we are to realize that if what we have built on Cain’s foundation is capable of murdering the Son of God, then the whole edifice needs to come down. In the light of the cross, our war anthems lose their luster. But this throws us into a crisis. 

 What other alternatives are there? How else are we to arrange the world? The alternative is what Jesus is offering us when he told us that the kingdom of God is at hand. God’s way of arranging the world around love and forgiveness is within reach. If we only dare to reach out for it, we can have it. 

But we are so afraid. We’re not sure we can risk it. It’s so hard for us to let go of the sword and take the hand of the Crucified One. It’s so hard for us to really believe in Jesus.

CLICK HERE to continue

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sinners In the Hands of a Loving God - Brian Zahnd

Oh! Ephraim is my dear, dear son,
My child in whom I take pleasure!
Every time I mention his name,
My heart bursts with longing for him!
Everything in me cries out for him.
Softly and tenderly I wait for him.

–Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:20)
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire. He is of purer eyes than to bear you in his sight; you are ten thousand times as abominable in his eyes as the most hateful, venomous serpent is in ours. 
–Jonathan Edwards, Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God
Two pieces of literature. The prophetic poetry of Jeremiah and the revivalist preaching of Jonathan Edwards. I know them both well. First let’s look at Jeremiah.
In this beautiful passage Jeremiah channels God’s love for Ephraim. Who is Ephraim? Ephraim is Israel in the 7th century BC. More importantly, Ephraim is Israel in its worst spiritual and moral condition. Ephraim is idolatrous, adulterous, backslidden, covenant-breaking, sinful Israel. But Ephraim is still the child of God and Jeremiah reveals God’s unconditional love for sinful Ephraim.
Centuries ahead of the full revelation of God that will come with Jesus, Jeremiah reveals the heart of God toward sinners. Toward me. Toward you. At your worst, at your most sinful, at your furthest remove from God and his will, God’s attitude toward you remains one of unwavering love. Why? Godis love.
But many Christians struggle with a deeply embedded concept (theology) of an angry, vindictive, retributive god. Somewhere along the way they picked up a Sinner’s In the Hands of an Angry Godparadigm. And it has left them deeply damaged.

Monday, March 7, 2016

How I Kissed Evangelism Goodbye - Cindy Brandt

Why Did Jesus Die? - Greg Albrecht

"Why did Jesus die?" may seem like an easy question, because the answer seems obvious, doesn't it? Normally, most Christians immediately answer the question something like this: "He died to atone, that is pay for, our sins. As the Lamb of God, he took away the sins of the world, redeeming us from sin through his precious blood. He died that we might die to sin, so that he might live in us, producing his righteousness within us." 

That answer is true—but it's not the whole story. 

 Much of the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, presents the cross of Christ as a forensic event. That is, God uses the language and word pictures of the courtroom, of judgment given by a judge, determining physical punishments for breaking laws. 

But it is easy to let this word picture and the reality it depicts misrepresent God. As we consider the question "Why Did Jesus Die?" we are tempted to follow the lead of currently popular television crime shows, and as spiritual crime scene investigators examine the evidence. 

When we do examine the evidence of the crucifixion, as a crime scene, we determine that Christ died for our sins. Jesus did die for our sins, and that's part of the biblical answer to "Why Did Jesus Die?"— but it's not the whole story. Because of a distorted picture of God, many Christians, perhaps the majority of church-goers within Christendom, understand the cross of Christ something like this: 

1) The problem is that Adam and Eve sinned. Everything was great. God was happy. But then Adam and Eve messed up. They ate that metaphorical apple. And God wasn't happy. 

2) God's pet project, the Garden of Eden, was now a catastrophe. Adam and Eve had botched up the whole plan. Now, God the Father had to scramble—his neat, well-ordered plan had been bungled by Adam and Eve. So God the Father called an emergency Triune family meeting: "What can we do?" he asked God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. 

3) God the Father concluded, "Because of sin there will be all kinds of evil. There will be enormous heartache and pain and bloodshed. So there's going to have to be blood to pay for Adam and Eve's sin. Jesus—you're going to have to go down there and fix it."

CLICK HERE to continue

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Don't Reinstate What Was Fulfilled and Abolished - Lazar Puhalo

If one were to carefully study the several ways in which Christ Himself turned much of the Old Testament on its head, one might end up being very surprised. 

 The woman taken in adultery was forgiven, not stoned. The Sabbath was not kept in order to demonstrate that the “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." He exalted and healed those who were not Jews, but "sinners" from among the nations. The Old Testament forbids the deformed, maimed and unclean to enter the temple; Christ fellowshipped with them and healed them. The Prophets rebuked the wealthy and Israel in general for ignoring the plight of the poor, the widow and the orphan; Christ made caring for them a prerequisite for entering the heavenly kingdom. Even the kosher food laws were overturned when the scroll was unrolled before Peter on the rooftop.

Perhaps, then, Christians should be wary of trying to reinstitute even elements of the Old Testament Law. Christ said that no point of the Law would pass away until all things were fulfilled (Matt. 5:17-18), although He had already overturned major elements of it. 

 But when He proclaimed "It is Finished," all things were fulfilled and, as our beloved father Paul tells us, the Law was abolished (Eph. 2:14-15). Moreover, "if there be established a new priesthood, there is of necessity a New Covenant" (Heb. 7:12). And if a new covenant, then what "Law"? For, “in that he says, `A new covenant,’ he has made the first old. Now that which decays and grows old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13). 

 If the Law is replaced by Grace (the law could neither sanctify nor perfect, nor could it transform the inner person, nor could it save anyone), and by a new law of Love, then why should any dog return to its own vomit when a banquet of love and grace has been set before it? 

 If we seek to reinstitute the law of the Old Covenant, then by that do we not renounce the New Covenant, and with it the High Priest by Whom it is established in His own precious blood? Should those who wish now to reinstitute even one jot or tittle of the Old Law, thus re-establishing the Covenant that has passed away, not rather tremble and repent for having renounced the blood of Christ which established a New Covenant and a priesthood after the order of Melchizedek, abolishing the priesthood after the order of Aaron? Can one embrace one jot or tittle of that Law without renouncing the Grace which replaced it?

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Atonement of God (excerpt) - Jeremy Myers

On the cross, Jesus was victorious over sin, death, and the devil. Some Christians struggle with how Jesus was victorious over death, since we look around us and see death everywhere. We even have a saying that the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. So since death is a certainty, how is it that Jesus defeated death?

To understand how, it is helpful to see how death has controlled and enslaved humanity. When we talk about Jesus defeating death, we most often think of the death that comes at the end of our life, and how after our own physical death, we will be resurrected to a new life with God in eternity. And while that is part of what the Bible has in mind when it talks about the victory of Jesus over death, I do not think that is only aspect of how Jesus defeated death.

Instead, the victory of Jesus over death was also a victory over how and why we kill others. It was a victory over the death of “the other.” Since the very beginning of human history, we are enthralled and enslaved to the death of the other as a means to save ourselves. The death of the other has been our deliverer. For most of human history, the death of the other has been the savior of the self. We kill others so that we ourselves might live. We look to death to solve all our problems and defeat our enemies and get us what we want. We rationalize death by saying it was “us or them.” This is the cycle of murder which is behind every murder as well.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Meditations on God, Humanity and Community (via Kenneth Tanner)

Not my idea of God, but God. Not my idea of H., but H. Yes, and also not my idea of my neighbour, but my neighbour. For don't we often make this mistake as regards people who are still alive—who are with us in the same room? Talking and acting not to the man himself but to the picture—almost the précis—we've made of him in our own minds? And he has to depart from it pretty widely before we even notice the fact.

—C.S. Lewis

Franchised Religion - Jim Fowler

A parody is a comic caricature, a ludicrous likeness, an absurd analogy, a ridiculous representation which exposes a particular reality by comparing it to another of a different order. Parodies can be a very useful verbal or literary tool to expose the “red herrings” of diversions which distract attention from real issues; to expose “hobby horses” whereby men keep reverting back to repetitive over-emphasis without critical thought; to expose inane traditions which become familiar ruts wherein we fail to recognize the absence d’esprit. By the use of parody one can be direct yet subtle at the same time. 

I had always dreamed of owning a business of my own. A friend had advised that a franchise outlet of an existing chain with its developed support network was a wise business choice. Therefore, I was most interested in the advertisement which read: “Franchises available—Sound business opportunity. International corporation. Open one in your community. Call 1-800-623-3489.” I made the call and agreed to visit one of their successful franchises. They had a unique marketing strategy encouraging people to “Look for the Golden Crosses.” Each establishment had a large lighted sign that read, “Billions and Billions Saved.” The name of the company was “McDeity, Inc.,” a successful corporation indeed, with thousands of outlets in almost every country in the world.