Thursday, April 27, 2017

Finding Life in Losing Control - Justin Stumvoll

"Control, as you may know, is an illusion."

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m here sitting quietly in my house. Abi, my wife, is away for the week speaking at events and I’m enjoying some leisure time reading a book.

With Abi gone, the house is clutter free. Mind you, she’s a self-proclaimed hurricane. And to give her credit she’s light years beyond where she was when we got married.

I used to joke that if you wanted to find where Abi was, after she got home from being away, you could simply follow the trail of clothes and items that she would slowly shed as she made her way through the door to her destination. I, on the other hand, am like a silent ninja. As I enter the home I put away everything from the day in its rightful place, leaving the home looking like no one was there.

On this Sunday, as I sit here in my clutter-free space, I’m in a zen-like state, lacking only the companionship of the one I love. Abi jokingly, with a hint of seriousness, always asks,

“Does it feel good to have me out of the space and to have everything in order?”

I jokingly, with a hint of seriousness, always answer,

“Boy does it!”

In relationship with Abi, I am always out of control with the house. Like all relationships we always find ourselves, in one aspect or another, being out of control. In some instances, we fight aggressively to gain control. We’ll go to all kinds of lengths to get it, even if it means breaking the spirit of those we love.

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

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

The Wounds that Heal by Brad Jersak

Easter: the Game Changer by Cindy Brandt

The Shack: Interview with Paul Young

"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.