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.

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!

The Cross is Irreligious - Fleming Rutledge

From Fleming Rutledge, The Crucifixion 
(Eerdmans, 2015)

Yet at the most fundamental level – and this can’t be emphasized too strongly – the cross is in no way “religious.”  The cross is by a very long way the most irreligious object ever to find its way into the heart of faith.  J. Christiaan Beker refers to it as “the most nonreligious and horrendous feature of the gospel.”

The crucifixion marks out the essential distinction between Christianity and “religion.”  Religion as defined in these pages is either an organized system of belief or, alternatively, a loose collection of ideas and practices, projected out of humanity’s needs and wishes.  

The cross is “irreligious” because no human being individually or human beings collectively would have projected their hopes, wishes, longings and needs onto a crucified man.”