Monday, April 24, 2017

Eternal Torture: Divine or Human Vengeance? Greg Albrecht

Hell is a subject many religious people get all hot and bothered about. It’s one of the most disputed and controversial teachings within Christendom. The squabbling is not about the surety of judgment for depravity and wickedness. Most Christians agree that there is and will be divine judgment for evil. The battle for hell is all about specifications, temperature and longevity. The debate involves comprehending and communicating divine justice—and in the process humans export definitions of time and space into eternity.
But the Bible does not suggest that God needs to import our flawed perspectives into the perfection of his eternity. While the Bible is remarkably silent about hell’s specifications, cool heads seldom prevail when precise speculations about hell are on the table. When theories such as the degree of suffering that exists in hell, how hot hell is and how long it lasts are under discussion, blood pressures rise and tension fills the room.
Some Christians take the view that hell is the battleground of true faith. Some draw a line in the sand in defense of the hottest kind of hell possible. Any other view of hell is discounted as a liberal, progressive, faith-denying, slippery-slope perspective that owes its existence to soft-headed humans rather than a theology that insists on sinners in the hands of an angry God. In some religious circles, belief in the most excruciating hell that humans can imagine and describe has come to be seen as one of the acid tests of true Christianity.
There are Christians who believe in judgment, but they are not as dogmatic about all of the details. I am one of those Christians. I believe in the judgment of hell, as defined as eternal separation from God, but I am far from dogmatic about specifics. I believe that the presumed necessity of eternal torture as a vindication and satisfaction of God’s wrath is a violent contradiction of God’s love and character as revealed in the Bible.

The Prince of Peace - Brian Zahnd

Brian Zahnd - The Prince of Peace from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Rim of the Visible World - Earth Day Reflection - Jason Upton

Isaiah's prophecy, cited by St Stephen:

"... the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says,
‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord.
Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?’ (Acts 7:48-50 NIV) 

Jesus Christ's prophecy:

"But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship." (John 4:22-24 The Message Bible)

Or this excerpt from The Wisdom of Native Americans, by Kent Newborn:

There are no temples or shrines among us save those of nature. Being children of nature, we are intensely poetical. We would deem it sacrilege to build a house for the One who may be met face to face in the mysterious, shadowy aisles of the primeval forest, or on the sunlit bosom of virgin prairies, upon dizzy spires and pinnacles of naked rock, and in the vast jeweled vault of the night sky! 

A God who is enrobed in filmy veils of cloud, there on the rim of the visible world where our Great-Grandfather Sun kindles his evening camp-fire; who rides upon the rigorous wind of the north, or breathes forth spirit upon fragrant southern airs, whose war canoe is launched upon majestic rivers and island seas--such a God needs no lesser cathedral.

And this reflection by Jason Upton:

On the rim of the visible world 🌎 we go! Our God need no lesser cathedral. I wrote a Praise record on this -- it's called "On the rim of the visible world." This statement was made by Native American leaders who received Jesus, but just couldn't buy in to the "White Man's" idea that they needed to build houses for God! They thought it was ridiculous! 🔥 

I love churches, especially really large and old Cathedrals. But, I also love this statement. Sometimes we just have to live with tension when following Jesus. Happy belated earth day.

The Exchange - John Popovic

"Jesus Christ, Victor"
"Humanity sentenced God to death; by his Resurrection, God sentenced humanity to immortality. 
In return for a beating, he gives an embrace; for abuse, a blessing; for death, immortality. 
Humans never showed so much hate for God as when we crucified him; and God never showed more love for humanity than when he arose. 
Humanity even wanted to reduce God to a mortal, but God by his Resurrection made man immortal. 
The crucified God is risen and has killed death. 
Death is no more. 
Immortality has surrounded humanity and all the world."
—Justin Popovich

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Take Away the Religious Rocks - Greg Albrecht

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
—John 11:38-39
Religious rocks create barriers in our relationship with God. Notice the “red letter” words in our passage in John 11:39, the four words in this verse that Jesus actually spoke. Take away the stone….
The background for our passage begins in the first verse of chapter 11 of the book of John. Lazarus was sick. As the chapter unfolds we discover that Lazarus eventually died. His sisters Mary and Martha were overcome with shock and grief.
Our message begins at the house of mourning, in a place where we all have found ourselves. If you have not yet visited the house of mourning, it’s a place where you will eventually find yourself.
To be human is to be frustrated and confounded with our human limitations. It’s our human dilemma. We cannot continue our humanity, our life in this flesh, forever. So here in John 11 God is meeting us in a place of loss and despair.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why Did Jesus Die? Brad Jersak

N.T. (Tom) Wright, in his book, The Day the Revolution Began, struck a nerve with the candor of his critique of any gospel that implies, “God so hated the world that he killed his only Son.” Of course, laying bare that image of God draws charges of strawmanning – but if Wright is wrong, then I will rejoice when evangelists stop communicating that very impression. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is far more beautiful than what Wright terms the “paganized” message of wrath-appeasement through divine violence. But Evangelical children of the Reformation have been so conditioned with this ethos of the Cross that I am often asked, “Then why did Jesus die?” as if other than getting his pound of flesh, God’s Good Friday mission were pointless.

In this article, I will respond to that question from three cohesive perspectives.
  1. Why did Jesus die? Because we killed him.
The Gospel of John and his first epistle present the Incarnation as a love-gift from heaven. God gives his Son—which is to say, gives himself—to the world as a revelation of divine love and his decisive saving act. More on that shortly. The Light of life and love entered this world, but our darkened hearts neither recognized nor received him (John 1:9-12). Jesus died because we rejected God’s love and killed God’s Son. St Stephen calls the crucifixion a betrayal and a murder (Acts 7:52)—the homicide and deicide of the God-man.
Yet even then, John insists, the darkness could not overcome this Light of love and life (John 1:5). Sure, the religious-political establishment could reject divine Love and kill the Christ, but they could not take his life (John 10:18). Rather, Christ lays down his life as a revelation and an act of God’s love, then takes it up again to distribute to the world.
CLICK HERE to continue (originally posted at Nomad Podcast)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Wm. Paul Young - Our 'Yes' and 'No' to God (reprise)

The fall issue of CWR VIDEO is available HERE with thoughts by Paul Young, Brad Jersak, Greg Albrecht, Laura Robinson, Steve McVey, Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Brian Zahnd, Russ Hewett, Ashley Collishaw, Peter Helms, Ed Dunn and Dale Viljoen. For a sample, here's Paul Young.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Jesus - More than a Man - Greg Albrecht

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" (Matthew 16:13-15).

More than two thousand years ago, Jesus asked his closest disciples the same question that he has asked humans ever since. Who do you say that I am? The answer his disciples gave then, and that you and I give today, radically determines the direction of our lives. 
Even those who have been skeptical of the claims that people have made of Jesus have been overwhelmed when they stopped to carefully examine his life. 

One of the most famous Christian philosophers of the last century was C.S. Lewis, a professor of English at Oxford University in England. Schooled in the scholastic disciplines, he was an agnostic who denied that Jesus was anything more than a man. 

But as he studied the person and words of Jesus, he also gradually came to the conviction that Jesus was more than just a man. Over the years he became one of the greatest Christian thinkers, writing many books, including Mere Christianity. 

C.S. Lewis was not the only one who discovered that the evidence for determining the true identity of Jesus is found in looking at the uniqueness of Jesus. What made that one solitary life, lived so many years ago, so very different?

CWR Magazine - April Issue

CWR Magazine - April 2017

The art of French painter Miki de Goodaboom is featured on our cover and on pages 3-4,11,13-14. (UBP. Please honor copyright). 
In memory of her father, Jean Clément Fonvielle. The cross and tree themes remind us that the Cross is our Tree of Life. As the bronze serpent brought healing to those who beheld it, so we gaze on the Cross in faith and are set free. Her galleries are viewable at

Links to articles in this issue:

The Wounds that Heal by Brad Jersak

Easter: the Game Changer by Cindy Brandt

"Have I truly accepted Christ?" by Greg Albrecht

The Mother of Us All by Greg Albrecht

The Great Descent by Brad Jersak

Art and Christianity - Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer: Art and Christianity from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Story of Lazarus is the World's Story - Kenneth Tanner

The Story of Lazarus Is the World's Story 

John tells us in the last line of his gospel that there are many stories about Jesus he leaves out.

He says the world could not contain all the books that could be written. And in a sense that is not hyperbole, for every story about God or man or the cosmos in all the libraries of the world that offers forgiveness or healing or justice or deliverance or mercy or truth is about Christ. And yet I want to suggest that this morning's gospel about Lazarus retells the scriptural story of God and man and the world from beginning to end. This gospel reading contains the entire library of the Bible in one chapter.

Lazarus is Adam and Eve and Abraham and Sarah and Samson and Delilah and David and Bathsheba and Daniel and Isaiah. Lazarus is, in the words of Ezekiel read earlier, "the whole house of Israel."

Lazarus is you and me, and everyone one who has ever lived or ever will live.

Like Genesis, the story begins with a diagnosis of the human condition, and of the disposition of the heart of God towards humanity even in this horrific illness we bear. We are told that Lazarus is sick. And we are told that Jesus loves Lazarus. It's important that we know BOTH of those things.

We are sick with death. And God loves us, even in our illness.

"Master, the one who you love so very much is sick."

These are the words of Lazarus's sisters, Mary and Martha, to Jesus. You remember Mary, the woman who Luke tells us "lived a sinful life," the one who anoints the feet of Jesus with perfume and drys them with her hair. And Jesus loves Mary in all her illness and Mary loves Jesus because the one who is forgiven much loves much.

We are told that Lazarus is ill. He has contracted the same disease that infects every man, woman, and child. He is infected with death. And just as in Genesis, we who are dying, separated from the God who made us from nothing for love alone, are given a promise:

“This sickness [of Lazarus's] is not fatal. It will become an occasion to show God’s glory by glorifying God’s Son.”

The Son, we are told in the beginning of the story Scripture tells, will crush the head of the serpent, the source of death, his final enemy; he will trample the snake who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy humanity.

And as the story of Lazarus continues, we are told that God in Jesus Christ will draw near to Jerusalem—will approach danger and death, will put Godself in harm's way, will take a great risk—in order to save Lazarus. We are told that God wills to venture God's very life:

"Rabbi...the Jewish leaders are out to kill you, and you’re going back?”

While the disciples think Lazarus is simply taking a nap and that there's no earthly reason for their Rabbi to risk so much, Jesus is serious. He always is when he's talking about death. He knows the reality of our situation. He knows Lazarus is dead. He knows we are dying.

In this gospel story that tells the whole story of Scripture there is also the great mystery of God's inexplicable waiting in the face of death. Jesus does not go immediately to Bethany.

God knows Lazarus is dying and yet he lingers. John's gospel tells us that when God in Jesus Christ finally arrives Lazarus has been dead four days.

This is not news to us. The whole house of Israel is dead. All of those people who fill the pages of Scripture are dead. We are dead. And so many have died. And so many are dying. And so many are still waiting, for God.

Israel waited for centuries for the Messiah. And we wait. The world waits.

We wait in all the cemeteries of the world, and beside every tomb. We hope and we doubt and we grieve and we cry. But we do not cry or wait or grieve alone.

But I am getting ahead of the story John tells. We have to wait some more. Before we get to the tomb of Lazarus, we must meet Jesus on the road. And in the figure of Martha we hear our own grief and our own perplexity in the face of death:

"Master, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Where were you? What took you so long? Don't you know we needed you? If you had only been here...these and many other words we speak at the graves of our loved ones, and over the destruction and death already present in our personal histories.
And yet what a beautiful, astonishing reply Martha receives, a reply that reveals the character of God and the character of the new humanity that is present among us in Jesus:

“You don’t have to wait for the End. I am, right now, Resurrection and Life. The one who believes in me, even though he or she dies, will live. And everyone who lives believing in me does not ultimately die at all. Do you believe this?”

This is THE question that life poses to us. This is not just God's question for Martha. This is the question our human existence poses to us.

Do we TRUST in the face of our collective illness amid a broken world that Jesus Christ is Life and Resurrection? Can we reply as Martha replies?

“Yes, Master. All along I have believed that you are the Messiah, the Son of God who comes into the world.”

Martha is the voice of Spirit-enabled response to this startling declaration of Jesus. And by the same bounteous Spirit we join her.
And the REASON we can hope AS we wait? We have hope in the middle of a fragile and grief-stricken world because we do not wait alone.

We wait with God. We wait with a God who weeps with us as one of us:

"Jesus wept."

I imagine that Christ stood there by the tomb of Lazarus and just sobbed, like a baby. This is not only Jesus the human friend of Lazarus, who on many occasions enjoyed laughter and wine and late night conversation with his companion; this is Jesus, the God who made Lazarus, who loves Lazarus. This the God and this is the human who loves us.

And we are told by John not only that God is sad. We are told that he is "deeply troubled." We are told that he is angry... but not at Lazarus, and not at humanity. His anger is directed at God's enemies: death, hell, and the grave.

This gospel about Lazarus reveals God's radical identification with death-bound humanity, a humanity personified in Mary and Martha and Lazarus—I will say it again because the gospels says it—whom Christ loves.

And Christ Jesus loves us, too. He weeps with us at the tombs of our beloved dead. And he not only cries. He is angry. And that is a very good thing to remember: that in the muddle of our despair, when with the Psalmist we cry from the depths, it is God in Jesus Christ who joins us in our prayer, as we join what was first his prayer in the heart of the Spirit-bearing chief musician:

“Help, GOD—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cry for help! Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy.
"If you, GOD, kept records on wrongdoings, who would stand a chance? As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshiped.
"I pray to GOD—my life a prayer—and wait for what he’ll say and do. My life’s on the line before God, my Lord, waiting and watching till morning, waiting and watching till morning.
"O Israel, wait and watch for GOD—with GOD’s arrival comes love, with GOD’s arrival comes GENEROUS redemption. No doubt about it—he’ll redeem Israel, buy back Israel from captivity to sin.”

And so here at the end of the story John tells we find ourselves standing with the mourners by the simple cave cut out of the hillside in Bethany, and the heavy stone has been rolled against it. And Lazarus has been dead four days and he stinks so bad because death reeks.

And there in the human flesh of Jesus is the God whose habit is forgiveness, and there Christ stands with conflicting emotions by the tomb of Lazarus, and by every tomb—the ones that are still marked, the ones we visit from time to time, and by the countless tombs that are lost to the decay of time. Here, at the tomb of Lazarus, God stands by the common grave that is the lot of all humans.

And we hear the Majestic Voice, the divine Voice of a Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, the human Voice of the Word that in the beginning spoke the worlds into being from nothing for love alone, and he shouts:

"Lazarus, come out!"

We hear the great Voice of God that calls us back to being forever. Jesus says, "Take off his grave clothes and set him free," and his words are a universal declaration. The resurrection word to Lazarus is also our resurrection word. Jesus takes from us all the grave clothes that bind us to death.

And it does not matter if our bones have become dry dust swirling in a valley or shifting silt at the bottom of the ocean, and it matters not if there's not one trace of our DNA to be discovered. His love can call us back to life from nothing.

Listen, once again, to Ezekiel:

"Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act."

And so today with Martha we trust that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. That he is Resurrection. That he is Life. And the promise is that he will raise us because Resurrection is what Christ is and what Christ does. And that Resurrection Life resides in us now. Amen.

Monday, March 27, 2017

A Jesus Kind of Church - Greg Albrecht

"You know, I always thought when I got older God would come into my life. Well, he hasn't. I don't blame him—if I were him I wouldn't come into my life either." —No Country for Old Men 
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." —Luke 4: 18-19 
Out in the endless, desolate desert of west Texas, a hunter looking for antelope stumbles on a crime scene. Abandoned cars and trucks are pock marked with bullet holes, and a half dozen or so dead bodies are scattered around. 
In that odd and somewhat glib euphemism used by the media, it's apparently a drug deal "gone wrong" (if indeed there was ever a "right" drug deal!). Examining this massacre, as flies hover around the bodies, the hunter finds a suitcase of money which provides the motive for all of the violence that follows in the 2007 movie, No Country for Old Men.

Seeing God in My Grandchildren - Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer: Seeing God in my Grandchildren from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I'm in a small boat in a raging sea - Jessica Williams with Krista Heide

"Small Boat in a Raging Sea" - by Krista Heide
I'm in a small boat on a raging sea.  

And it is hard to believe in Jesus. 

I’ve never seen him -- you know? I have this Sunday-School picture that is stuck in my head but I’m sure it’s not what He looked like. And was He really born of a virgin? Was God a baby? Was he crucified? Is he coming back? This -- is our faith.  Jesus, he did these things, he turned water to wine, he healed the sick and raised the dead. But -- none of us were there.  I didn’t see it.  

I’m in a small boat on a raging sea.

The waves are big and full of all things. 

The brokenness of this world. Girls made into product, stolen and sold, boys sent to war, corruption, greed, violence, abuse, addiction, poverty, politics, pain, religion, racism, rape, starvation, slavery, sickness, shootings  -- all around us.

I’m in a small boat on a raging sea.

The kingdom is now/not yet, illusive and hard to grasp.
I see it and I don’t see it.  It’s but a poor reflection.

I’m in a small boat on a raging sea.  

And, listen: This boat is made from the trees of my youth, my home. Which is both comforting and haunting all at once. My foundation is weathered wood and it holds my story, where I’ve been, this wood matters. There are many weak places beneath me and they make sense of this fear in my heart.

I’m in a small boat on a raging sea. 

So, if Jesus were in this boat with me?  The man, Jesus.  I confess even then I am sure I would still freak out. L
ook at that sea! Jesus is just a man and we all know that some men abandon the ship. The waves are crashing here and it is obvious that I am at risk of dying any second so my question is this: 

Does He not care that we are perishing? 

Am I loved as I ask it?  

Because, for some reason the only thing that has ever helped this doubt in me is saying it. I have to speak it out. I believe and I disbelieve so if you ask me to only believe I will not make it. But if you can listen to my fear, if I can hand it to you, I will find that inner place of rest. My own sleeping Jesus. And I will see that He in this boat with me will be enough.

But, I will only find my yes after all these no’s have been spoken making room in my lungs to breathe in hope. This doubt leads the way to faith. Slowly, pulls me close enough to understand that if Jesus didn’t care about this raging sea I’m in he wouldn’t be here with me. But he is. He is Emmanuel. He is God with us. And I will know it as I doubt it.

I’m in a small boat on a raging sea.

-Jessica Williams is a poet and Krista Heide is an artist and musician. They are both from Winnipeg, Canada and are currently graduate students in theology at St. Stephen's University in New Brunswick.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Letting Go of Grudges - Greg Albrecht

Remember the older brother, the third major character of the parable of the prodigal son? As he witnessed the extravagant love and forgiveness of his father, lavished on his younger brother when he came home from wasting his inheritance, the older brother was eaten alive by jealously, envy and bitterness. 

The older, unforgiving brother refused to join in the festivities and celebration. 

The older, responsible, hard-working brother felt that he was a faithful and diligent son, always trying to earn his father's favor. 
But the celebration and festivities—the barbecue, the music and the dancing—were not in honor of all his hard work. 

The joy and celebration were because his obviously less-than-perfect younger brother had come home. The parable ends without us being told the end of the story—did the older brother let go of his bitterness?

Buddy Hackett, an American comedian and actor who died a little over ten years ago once said, half in fun and half seriously, "Don't carry a grudge. While you're carrying the grudge the other guy is out dancing."

The Role of Art in Critiquing Religion - David Hayward (the Naked Pastor)

David Hayward: The Role of Art in Critiquing Religion from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Cross is a Weapon of Peace - John Behr

"But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14).

The Cross is the Weapon of Peace, we sing. Yet, despite the militaristic overtones, the Cross is not simply a more mighty or powerful weapon in some kind of divine arms race! No, it is the weapon of peace, it is a weapon which doesn’t resort to greater fire-power to blow apart our enemies in a cycle of violence, but rather brings that cycle of violence to an end, ushering in the peace of God for those who are prepared to live by it.
When someone strikes or offends us, Christ does not direct us to hit back or retaliate, but to turn the other cheek, to bear one another’s weaknesses, not so that we can be beaten some more for the sake of it, but to take upon ourselves the anger that is in the other person, to neutralize it, to put an end to it, as Christ himself did, the blameless lamb led to the slaughter, or rather going willingly, taking upon himself the sin of the world.
This is not simply a matter of being passive, but rather being passive actively, creatively, and being creative in the most divine way possible–for it allows God to work in and through us, rather than just doing whatever it is we ourselves can come up with.
But God can only work through us if we ourselves take up the Cross and live by it, for if we do so–dead to the world–we will already, now, be in the peace of God, untroubled by anything the world throws at us, and the peace that we will know will spread through us to all those around us.

(John Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns, pp. 38-39).

Monday, March 13, 2017

Which Religion is Right? Greg Albrecht

In our postmodern society, it seems that every belief system is afforded equal weight. Well-meaning wishful thinkers like to point out that world religions share many things in common—and if everyone would just focus on these commonalities, perhaps we could "all just get along." 

Yet even a brief survey of world religions reveals huge contrasts and contradictions. How can so many contradicting ideas, philosophies and doctrines all be right? Of course, logically, they can't all be right. But then how can we know which one is right?
And further—if Christianity is the only right "religion"—will only Christians go to heaven?
The answer to the first question (how can we know which religion is right?) may astound you: They are all wrong!

Religion, by its very nature, is part of the problem, not the solution. Religion essentially says—whether it is religion in the name of Jesus Christ, or whether it is Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, etc.—that our task as humans is to find ways to please and appease God. Religion claims that we find God through our efforts. Religion contends that we can either save ourselves, through our deeds, or that we can help God, in some way, to save us, by our performance. Religion alleges that we can enhance our standing with God based on what we do.In our postmodern society, it seems that every belief system is afforded equal weight. Well-meaning wishful thinkers like to point out that world religions share many things in common—and if everyone would just focus on these commonalities, perhaps we could "all just get along." 

Questions are the Answers - David Hayward (the Naked Pastor)

David Hayward: Questions are the Answers from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sodom, the Destroyer & the Christlike God - Brad Jersak

"The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah" John Martin, 1852
Editor: One of our readers sent in the following question. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I am happy to attempt a response.

Question: Some of this non-violent God stuff is relatively new to me, and just curious how it would relate to stories like the flood or Sodom and Gomorrah? Would this be explained in any of your books?

Response: A good question and yes, we do 'go there' in A More Christlike God (in the section entitled "Unwrathing God") though not with the specific instance of Sodom and Gomorrah. Let's begin generally and work our way there.

If we start with the premise that God is only finally revealed exactly in Jesus (John 1:18, Hebrews 1:1-3), as perfect love seen most clearly on the cross (1 John 4:7-21), then everything else is filtered through that. 

That Christ-centered theological filter requires us to reread stories like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and in some cases, we can no longer receive the original telling as straightforward face-value propositions. Happily, we actually see both Jesus and Paul modeling this for us. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Canary in a Coal Mine: Week of Prayer for Religious Captives - Greg Albrecht

Years ago, coal miners took a caged canary down into the mine with them, because canaries are extremely sensitive to 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 a warning system, an audible and a visual cue as to 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. 

Each year PTM/CWR dedicates one week in March as a time when we can all join together, considering the plight of people who are trapped in religious coal mines. They are breathing toxic fumes—and of course anyone who finds themselves in such a place needs help in identifying how toxic their spiritual environment is. 

We call it our Day of Prayer for Religious Captives. Ephesians 2:4-5 tells us that 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. 

Like a spiritual coal miner, we must carefully monitor the degree to which God's grace is being seen and heard in any spiritual environment in which we find ourselves. The degree to which grace is absent, ignored or even maligned and made fun of is the degree to which any religious environment is spiritually unhealthy and toxic.

God lets his children tell the story - Peter Enns

Peter Enns: God Lets His Children Tell the Story from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Sermon On the Mount and Caesar’s Sword - Brian Zahnd

The Sermon On the Mount and Caesar’s Sword
Brian Zahnd

As I call Christians to the practices of radical forgiveness and nonviolent peacemaking that Jesus embodied and most clearly sets forth in the Sermon on the Mount, I often encounter Christians using Romans 13:1–7 as a kind of rebuttal. (Though whom they’re rebutting — me or Jesus — isn’t always clear.) Their argument goes something like this:

“God has ordained the government and has given it the sword to execute vengeance; therefore we cannot be opposed to war because Romans 13 sanctions ‘Just War.’”

Usually this argument is given to me in the context of advocating that the United States government should wage total war on ISIS and other enemies of America, and that the church should celebrate this.

But this is an egregious misinterpretation and misapplication of what Paul is talking about. Let me explain.

First of all, are we really comfortable with using Paul to trump Jesus? That is what’s being done! 

Why is it that we are so prone to interpret Jesus in the light of a particular reading of Paul? (A reading of Paul that I — and many others — would argue is a conditioned misreading of Paul.) Why not take the Sermon on the Mount at face value and insist that any interpretation of Paul must line up with Jesus? Why not center our reading of Scripture with Jesus? I’m quite sure Paul would be entirely happy with this approach!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Shack and Universal Reconciliation - Wade Burleson

In March 2017 the movie The Shack will hit theater screens across the country. It’s a guarantee that Tim McCraw and Faith Hill’s original song for the movie, Keep Your Eyes on Me, will become a mega-hit. Whether the film itself is a blockbuster is yet to be seen, but without any doubt, some evangelical Christians will again charge Paul Young, author of The Shack, with heresy. Dr. Al Mohler recently wrote a blog entitled The Shack – The Missing Art of Evangelical Discernment, where he said,
The Shack rests on the foundation of universal reconciliation… (The) fact is that the Christian church has explicitly identified these teachings as heresy. The obvious question is this: How is it that so many evangelical Christians seem to be drawn not only to this story, but to the theology presented in the narrative — a theology at so many points in conflict with evangelical convictions?”
I know both Al Mohler and Paul Young. I respect Dr. Mohler and his theological acumen. I have the honor of calling Paul Young a friend, and he’s been the source of great encouragement to me. After observing Paul Young minister to hundreds of people at the church I pastor, spending precious time with each person individually – never rushing to the next person or glancing at his watch as if he had other important things to do – I asked Paul Young his philosophy of ministry. He said, “Wade, there is no person or moment more important to me than the person before whom I stand at this moment.” I’ve attempted to model that philosophy of ministry ever since.
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Church of Bad Religion - Monte Wolverton
Church of Bad Religion
Monte Wolverton
(To the tune of Hotel California,
with apologies to the Eagles) 

On a bright Sunday morning, 
Warm wind in my hair,
Smell of coffee and donuts
Rising up through the air,
Up ahead in the distance 
Stood a building of mortar and brick.
The sermon title on the sign told me
I should repent right quick.

There he stood in the doorway
I heard the steeple bell
And I was thinking to myself,
This could keep me out of hell.
Then he gave me a program
And he showed me a seat,
The praise band was singing,
I thought I heard them repeat...

Welcome to the church of bad religion
Such a holy place—a hotel for saints.
There’s plenty of works at the church of bad religion.
Such a sacred space—but you won’t find grace.

His mind is prophecy-twisted;
He says the Rapture’s next week.
He says it’s in the Bible
 ‘Cause he thinks that he knows Greek.
He’s made the same prediction 
A hundred times before,
While he was “slain in the spirit,” 
And lying on the floor.

So I went to the altar
To get my bread and wine
And he said, “Be here every Sunday
Or you’re gonna get left behind.”
And still the praise band is singing from far away.
Wake you up in the middle of the sermon
Just to hear them say...

Welcome to the church of bad religion
We can give you health, we can give you wealth
Obey all the rules at the church of bad religion.
Don’t you compromise! Bring us all your tithes!

Jumbotrons from the ceiling,
But not a whole lot about Christ,
And a woman said, “We are all just prisoners here
Of our own device.”
And in the pastor’s study
They tally up the take.
He drives a brand new Porsche
And his Rolex is not fake!

Last thing I remember, 
I was running for the door.
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before.
“Relax,” said the deacon,
You are commanded to believe.
We can disfellowship you whenever we like,
But you can never leave!