Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Grace at Church - Greg Albrecht

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.   But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. —Luke 18:9-14

The core ingredient of being the church is being in Christ. If we are in Christ, and he is in us, we are the church. Notice I said—we are "the" church, which is entirely different from being members of or part of "a" church. The church is the universal body of Christ. It is not comprised of or defined by any specific incorporated legal entity. All of what the universal church is—its entirety, its unity, its beauty and its totality—is not visible. The body of Christ is everyone in whom Jesus lives, everyone who trusts in him, everyone, regardless of their affiliation with a legally incorporated church, or lack thereof.

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Thursday, January 26, 2017

God is Good! - Richard Rohr

Image Credit: Stigmatizzazionedi San Francesco (fresco detail), 1297-1300,
Legend of St. Francis, Giotto di Bondone, Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Assisi, Italy. 

God Is Good
Monday, January 23, 2017

In most ancient religions on every inhabited continent, God was seen to be “controllable” through some form of sacrifice, even fellow humans. Around the time of Abraham, the sacrificial instinct was transferred from humans to animals (Genesis 22:13); ancient Hebrew and other religions sacrificed birds, goats, sheep, and bullocks to please a seemingly fearsome God. This was still going on in Jesus’ time. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” before he died on the cross, some believe he was saying that the very notion of sacrificial religion was finished and shown to be fruitless. But the sacrificial instinct still remains ingrained until you can fully accept that you are accepted wholeheartedly. So today’s “civilized” cultures have evolved it into various forms of self-sacrifice and moral heroics, still found in most people and groups who do not emphasize inner experience.
It is almost impossible for humans to believe that we could be good or worthy without some kind of “payment” to earn that dignity. The free flow of unearned love, what we call grace, is almost a punishment for most people. They fiercely resist it. Note the opposition that Pope Francis is getting from many. This view of scarcity, as opposed to a God and a worldview of infinite abundance, must be radically transformed for the Gospel to even make sense. In my opinion, only a small minority of believers actually live inside the world of grace.
The amazing wonder of biblical revelation is that God is much different than we thought and much better than we feared. Paraphrasing an evolutionary biologist’s statement about the strangeness of the universe: “God is not only stranger than we think but stranger than we can think.” [1] That changed way of thinking is what we call the contemplative mind. It is indeed a gift, but a gift that we can seek and ask for. Contemplation is a vast opening to inner experience.
Walter Brueggemann, in his monumental Theology of the Old Testament, says that the Jewish people came up with a “credo of five adjectives” to describe the God they met on their historical journey. YHWH was experienced as merciful, gracious, faithful, forgiving, and steadfast in love. [2] You must realize what a breakthrough that was in human history and how it allowed one such as Jesus to emerge from such a worldview.
The only people who really know this to be true for themselves, and not because someone else told them, are those who sincerely seek, pray, and, often, suffer. Outside of inner experience, these descriptors of God are just words. Outside of your own inner experience of this kind of God, most religion remains ritualistic, moralistic, doctrinaire, and largely unhappy; that is true on both the Right and the Left. It is the contentious religion that we see all around.
Gateway to Silence:
Awaken me to Love this day.


[1] See notes relating to original phrase at https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/J._B._S._Haldane.
[2] See Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Fortress: 1997), 216.

Adapted from Richard RohrThings Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 10-11.
From Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation, Jan. 22, 2017.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Lines of Discord and Lines of Love - Sarah Condon

This weekend my newsfeed was either full of photos of women marching or long rants criticizing the women who marched. Divisiveness it seems, is the rule for the day. Even when we choose not to participate in something we must explain to everyone who did why they are clearly wrong. Jesus must be really proud of us.
Of course, the marches drew their own kind of lines in the sand. I was disheartened to learn that women who held pro-life beliefs were not as welcomed to join as those who are pro-choice. Even Gloria Steinem got in on the action, making it clear that you weren’t allowed to join the feminist club if you didn't share her beliefs on that subject. Look out ladies, glass ceiling here we come!
I would write Ms. Steinem a missive about the courageous, not-to-be-trifled-with, Jesus-loving women I know who happen to be pro-life. I would tell her that they would stand with their feminist sisters and work for equal wages, fight systemic prejudice, and help impoverished children everywhere. But I wrote her a letter once and she never wrote me back.
Besides, I’m too tired. I hosted a church party this weekend, my kindergartener was in a bad mood this morning, and I have a mountain of laundry to fold. #reallifefeminism
Originally posted at Mockingbird - http://www.mbird.com/2017/01/lines-of-discord-and-lines-of-love/

When Your Dreams Wind Up in the Pit - Greg Albrecht

Keynote Scripture: GENESIS 37:19-36

"Here comes that dreamer!" they said to each other. "Come now, let's kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we'll see what comes of his dreams." 

The background to our story involves a 17-year-old boy named Joseph. He lived with his father Jacob and his ten brothers in the land of Canaan. Joseph was Jacob's favorite son. Showing favoritism to one child is a huge mistake for any parent, but it is the stuff of real life, is it not? 

The ongoing story of the family of Abraham given to us in the book of Genesis reads like a soap opera. This specific story is about Abraham's grandson Jacob, his great-grandson Joseph, and Joseph's brothers. This story helps us see that the pages of the Bible are not populated by insipid Sunday school stories where all the characters are nice, sweet, innocent religious paragons of perfection. 

Joseph's older brothers were sick and tired of the way their younger brother was continually spoiled. In the first few verses of Genesis 37 we read that Joseph, in the Bible's words, brought his father a bad report (Genesis 37: 2) about his brothers. Today we would say that Joseph was ratting out his brothers. This is, of course, not a behavior that endears you to your siblings.

On Women - Pt 3 - Lucy Peppiatt: "Neither male nor female"

Lucy Peppiatt: Neither Male nor Female from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Remant Trailer - a novel by Monte Wolverton

For summaries and excerpts of the novel, or to order it online, CLICK HERE

My Take on Psalm 51 - Geoff Martens

'Regenerate' by KarlaBurner.com
Psalm 51

Father, you are so generous in love! Flowing in mercy and grace! Jesus, wash away my guilt, my shame, my fears, any wrong doing that I have done – my thoughts, my actions, my words. Thank you for always forgiving and forgetting my mistakes.

Create in me a clean, spotless, stainless heart. And help me to unlock every room for you to clean. Create in me a work of art. Create a miracle in me, something real, something beautiful. Thank you that you are not finished with me yet. By your power I can change, because you are not finished with me yet.

As I come out of the ruins, out of trying to have a flawless performance. As I sing my broken song, draw me deeper and deeper into communion with You. Be my life, my joy, my peace, my hope. Keep creating in me a clean, clean heart, because you are not finished with me yet.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Front page article - Son of a Preacher Man - Greg Albrecht

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" —Matthew 16:24-26 
The passage in Matthew that forms the basis of our message talks about losing your life so that you might gain it. At first it may seem to you that Jesus' assertion amounts to little more than theological double-talk.

But this teaching begins to make profound spiritual sense when we realize that Jesus is talking about the divine new birth. He is talking about our willingness to allow God to do in us what we cannot do ourselves. Jesus is talking about a new life, a new kind of relationship. Jesus is talking, as we read in John 5:24, of crossing over from death to life. 
Here's the bottom line. The Bible insists that human life, as we know it, apart from God, is not life at all, but it is death. How do we lose our lives? We accept the invitation of God. We accept his gracious offer to join his family. This means that we must renounce and deny all fleshly pursuits as being less important than our relationship with God.

On Women - Pt 2 - Lucy Peppiatt: "Should women be silent?"

Lucy Peppiatt: Should Women Be Silent? from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Silence: A Gut-Wrenching Look at Faith - Zack Hunt

The early 20th century French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain once wrote, “If you want to make a Christian work, then be Christian, and simply try to make a beautiful work, into which your heart will pass; do not try to ‘make Christian.'”
As you are well aware, there is an entire genre of films known as “Christian movies” that has exploded in recent years as the ability to make a polished, Hollywood looking film (and the ability to turn a profit) has become easier. As you are also no doubt aware, many of these films belong on the rubbish heap of film history. From the writing to the acting and virtually everything in-between, they are objectively terrible to anyone not convinced that a movie made by Christians must be an overt, artistry-be-damned attempt to proselytize the lost who may on some off chance be watching the film.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Self-will vs Surrender: Gospel Language for Postmoderns - Brad Jersak with Laurence Singlehurst

“For if Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore, all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

I had the great privilege of chatting with Laurence Singlehurst, a seasoned British missiologist who has thought deeply about the language we use to share the Good News in our postmodern era. He’s addressed the problem of our lingo for years, in such books as The Gospel Message Today: Language That Connects in Communicating the Gospel.

What follows are my notes and reflections on what I heard him saying on that topic, in which I will propose employing the language of self-will and surrender for postmodern gospeling.

The Pearl of Great Value - Greg Albrecht

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.—Matthew 13:45-46
We turn our attention to one of Jesus' parables about the kingdom of heaven. In the Authorized King James Version the parable is called The Pearl of Great Price. As I normally use the New International Version, we'll refer to it by the title given to it in that translation, The Pearl of Great Value.

Here's the widely accepted Christian interpretation of this parable:

The merchant is you or me. We decide to look for Christ, and finally, after much effort, we find him. He is The Pearl of Great Value

Having found the kingdom of God, and having recognized Jesus as The Pearl of Great Value, we forsake or sell all that we have. Because we have discovered Jesus we then turn our backs on everything we hold dear so that we might amass the necessary spiritual funds to secure The Pearl of Great Value.

Friday, January 6, 2017

God and Jonah: Ships Passing in the Night

Many, even those unfamiliar with the Bible, have heard of Jonah. Most remember the story of Jonah as it is depicted in children's books—a man named Jonah who was swallowed by a big fish and lived to tell the tale. 

As we go a little deeper into the story (deeper even than the whale went with Jonah) we see that Jonah is yet another biblical example of how humans can completely misunderstand God. We can misunderstand God as Jonah did, and in terms of our relationship with God, be, as he was, like two Ships that Pass in the Night. 

The book of Jonah begins with God telling Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire. But Jonah had no intention of going to Nineveh (Jonah and God didn't see eye to eye on this task). 

Why didn't Jonah want to go to Nineveh? The most probable reason Jonah didn't want to go is that he didn't want to give the people of Nineveh a chance to change their ways. It becomes clear as we read the book of Jonah that Jonah felt that Nineveh didn't deserve any warning. Jonah felt that God should just destroy the people in Nineveh, who didn't even try to keep God's law like Jonah did.