Friday, October 31, 2014

Does the Bible Teach Love or Hate? Peace or Violence? Derek Flood

In discussing my new book on violence in the Bible, which focuses on reading the Bible from the perspective of peace and love, I often hear this objection,

"But doesn't the Bible speak of God's wrath?"

or

"But doesn't Jesus use fear and threat to motivate people?"

or

"What about this verse here [fill in the blank] that seems to promote violence?"

All of these questions are asked by people who want to believe in compassion, who see the moral problems with fear and threat as moral motivators, who recognize the problem with the connection between religion and violence. They want to have a Bible that is just about grace and peace and love. They stumble over the way the Bible often seems to praise violence as a virtue or paints God in a way that does not seem good or loving to us at all.

The expectation then is that if we could just read the Bible right, we would see that it is really all about grace and peace, and all that other stuff is just a misreading. So when we hear someone talk about how "Paul didn't mean that like that" and how he really was this loving guy and so on... well we are drawn to that like a moth to a flame.

Heck, there is a lot of truth in that, too. I do think a lot of people really do misunderstand Paul. I do think Paul is focused on grace and that people totally misread him and that there is this wonderful wealth of good stuff in Paul's writing just dripping with grace and love, if we would learn how to hear him for what he was really saying.

But there is a much bigger issue that think we need to face first: The Bible does contain troubling parts. Parts that disturb us not because we misunderstand them, but because we do. Parts that are immoral. Parts we cannot embrace.

It is not all about a misunderstanding, as if all we need is better information, a better Bible study, better education, better exegesis, and all would be clear. There are parts of the Bible that really do say just what you are afraid they are saying.


CLICK HERE to continue reading

Religious Leaders making Money from Impossible Promises: Review of Chasing 120 by The Silo



We see them on TV; dressed in impeccably-cut suits, with a picture-perfect smile and a never-ending supply of smooth rhetoric. Dr. Tyler Belknap is the epitome of a charismatic, fast-talking preacher who has convinced his cult-like following that, with the help of his Bible-based program, they will enrich their lives with maximum health and longevity.

Belknap is the lead protagonist in Monte Wolverton’s newly-released debut book, Chasing 120: A Story of Food, Faith, Fraud and the Pursuit of Longevity – a story of intrigue and truths and a remarkable tale of what can happen to people’s dreams when they put their faith in a high-profile religious leader rather than God.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What 'Christ Died For Us' Meant to the Fathers - Brad Jersak

The following summary represents what we find in the classics of early Christian thought as they recalled the 'faith once delivered,' and sought to articulate the meaning of the Incarnation in light of the revelation that Christ was both fully human and fully divine. 

For primary readings on this, see for example:

Athanasius, On the Incarnation
Gregory of Nazianzus, Letters in Critique of Apollonarius
Cyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of Christ

When the apostles say Christ suffered and died for us, once for all (Rom 6:10; Heb 9:28; 1 Pet 3:18), for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:28; Col 2:13) and not ours only, everybody's (1 John 2:2), what does that actually mean? 

1. The NT connects sin with it's inherent destructive consequences, its intrinsic judgment. Among the metaphors used for what sin holds over the sinner are 'wages' (Rom 6:23) or 'debt' (Matt 6:12). Having collectively turned from God -- our source of life -- to sin -- the source of death -- humanity has come under the domination of sin and it's bitter fruit.

2. The NT identifies the destructive consequences of sin, ultimately, as the curse of death (Rom 5:12; 6:23). Sin condemns us to 'perish' (John 3:16-18), a death sentence already at work in us, through which the satan holds us in bondage to fear all our lives (Heb. 2:15).

3. The gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus has come to rescue, redeem or ransom us from the curse of sin, which is death. The Incarnation was God's decisive redemptive act, through which he set us free from root to fruit: from the domination of sin, the corruption of fallen sinful nature, and the condemnation of death itself.

4. How does Christ accomplish this redemption? 

a. The divine Word (God the Son) assumed the likeness of sinful human nature (Rom 8:3) in the person of Jesus Christ to heal human nature of the curse. As St. Gregory once wrote, 'Whatever is not assumed is not healed,' so Christ assumes the whole human condition in order to heal it all, including the curse of death itself. 

b. Christ proclaims the Father's grace and freedom to forgive sin by freely forgiving sin throughout his life and ministry, and then does so once, for all and forever, when on the Cross he invokes the Father's forgiveness, even for the supreme human sin of deicide. The Father's answer comes through the voice of the Son, 'It is accomplished.' Our sin is forgiven and our lives washed clean by this act of mercy and grace.

c. Having freely forgiven us, we are reconciled to the Father, but the curse of sin must still be broken: death itself must be eradicated. So Christ does for us what we were unable to do for ourselves. He dies to enter death and so to overcome it. As all the church fathers testify (from Irenaeus to Athanasius, to the two Gregorys, Cyril and Maximus the Confessor) If Christ were merely God, he could not die. But if he were merely man, he could not defeat death. So Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, enters death by death to annihilate death itself. This victory is made complete and manifest in the resurrection and ascension of Christ. 

5. Thus, through Christ's incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection, he has brought about salvation (rescue from Satan, sin and death) for all people. His sacrifice was not the pagan appeasement of a wrathful deity, but rather, the sacrificial love of a God who became man to enter the human condition, including death and hades itself to rescue his beloved children. 

6. Yes, Christ died for the forgiveness of sin, but as we see, this is an abbreviation that includes the truths that Christ came, lived, died and rose for the forgiveness of sin, cancellation of the curse, and defeat of death. Now we are invited to return to the open arms of the Father who opened the way back home through his Son. As we respond, we experience now what Christ already accomplished. By faith, we experience that forgiveness and freedom and salvation from sin and its awful consequences. We find that just as God in Christ participated in our human nature, we who are in Christ participate in his divine nature. As he took on our likeness to heal humanity, we are transformed more and more into his likeness and glory.

7. This is the apostolic testimony, received and faithfully preserved by the early church. This is not a theory of the atonement, but the gospel itself, the faith once delivered from the beginning. In this Gospel, Jesus is indeed a substitute, in that he does vicariously, as a man, what humanity could not do for itself. What is it that he does for us? God-in-Christ engaged and experienced the penalty (wages, debt or curse) of our sin -- namely death itself -- triumphing over it through his death and resurrection. In exchanging his life for our death, we rise with him in his life and find that death is no more. 

For those committed to the language of 'penal substitution,' this telling of the gospel takes seriously the penalty of sin (death) and the substitution of Christ (as our vicarious representative), but it is distinguished from the much later version which identifies the penalty with God's wrath and punishment rather than sin's consequences and curse. In this telling, God the Word himself, via His incarnation as Jesus Christ, saves us from sin and death, swallowing them up in the magnificent victory of grace. 

The Trouble with Halloween - Greg Albrecht

Q: In your opinion, is it wrong to dress up in costumes, have a party or give out candy to trick-or-treaters?

A:Some Christians see nothing wrong with Halloween as a time for families to take children, who love to dress up in costumes, into their immediate neighborhood, and, with careful supervision, receive goodies and treats as they go from house to house. Some of these parents avoid witch and ghost costumes for their children in favor of cowboys, action heroes, angels, clowns or Disney characters—because they don't want to glorify or encourage the grotesque or occult.

Other Christians participate in Halloween by handing out not only candy when youngsters come to their door, but Scripture cards and biblically-based greeting cards to those costumed trick-or-treaters. I think this activity is of little benefit—its primary "good" may be making the people who hand out Scripture cards feel good about themselves. But that's just me. 

As with virtually any other celebration, in my opinion parents should try to capitalize on the theme and emphasis of the occasion to teach—not to give an hour-long, sit-down sermon, but to gently and naturally discuss the subjects that arise when Halloween occurs. 

Has Your Bible Become a Quaran? by Stephen Freeman

St John of Damascus
Those who engage in debates on a regular basis know that the argument itself can easily shape the points involved. This is another way of saying that some debates should be avoided entirely since merely getting involved in them can be the road to ruin. There are a number of Christian scholars (particularly among the Orthodox) who think that the classical debates between Christians and Muslims during the Middle Ages had just such disastrous results for Christian thinking.
Now when engaging in religious debates it is all too easy to agree to things that might make for later problems. It is possible, for example, to agree to a comparison of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament and the Book of the Quran. After all, Muslims have a holy book – Christians have a holy book. Why should we not debate whose holy book is better?
It is even possible to agree with the Muslim contention that Christians (and Jews) are “People of the Book.” Of course Muslims meant that Christians and Jews were people of an inferiorbook, but were somehow better than pagans. Again, it is possible, nevertheless, to let the matter ride and agree that Christians are “People of the Book.”
And it is also possible to give wide latitude to the Muslim claim that the most essential matter with regard to God is “Islam,” that is “submission.” After all, if God is the Lord of all creation, then how is submitting to Him, recognizing and accepting that He is God, not the most important thing?
But each of these proposals had disastrous results in the history of Christianity and may very well be the source of a number of modern distortions within the Christian faith.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Revelation 10: A Response to the Violent State of the World - Andy Smith

Like so many, we've been praying about the state of the world, struggling to know what to do. In Revelation 10, John sees and hears Gods response to the violence so many were caught up in - to be part of the church in that time meant seeing your mates crucified on the roadside and running for your life.
Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 12.00.17 PM
Revelation 10
We wrote a song based on this revelation to help us to pray and caught this snapshot of our worship at Ivy Didsbury. Anthony Delaney (Ivy Manchester) prays and helps contextualise the moment. We value being real about what's happening in the world and no matter how bad it gets, we know God is good, his heart is for the broken and he will come and make a difference. So we keep singing and we keep praying.
Here's a chart/lyric sheetDownload Revelation-10

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Don't Be Satan - David Hayward

Do I really think this literally happens?
Or is there that which is for us…
… and that which is against us?
Constantly.
Choose your side.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Grace without reservations - Greg Albrecht

And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, then grace would no longer be grace.—Romans 11:6
Have you ever had an altercation, a conflict or misunderstanding with your wife or husband, adult child or a good friend and wondered how in the world you could patch things up? We've all been there, haven't we? Perhaps we are "there" right now. 
Let's suppose (and it's a safe supposition, isn't it?) that the mess we are thinking about is a mess that is our fault. We are to blame. After all, at some point in our lives, we have all been in the wrong, haven't we? At some point in our lives we have all been the major factor or cause behind a human relations fiasco that has alienated us from those with whom we have close relationships. 

So let's think about one of those times, a time when we knew we were wrong, and as a result, we were estranged from a loved one or close friend. What's the solution? When we have antagonized someone else, when we are directly at fault for a disaster of some nature, the solution, from a strictly human point-of-view, usually comes back to something we can do. 

When we're in the middle of a catastrophic separation from those we love, the solution to patching things up, the bottom line for a resolution, always comes down to something that is within our power to do. We think of a peace offering we can give. We might consider flowers, candy, a gesture, a request for forgiveness, an apology, or a promise that we will never act that way again. Perhaps, the something we can do at such a time winds up being a gift offered as a token of our desire to do whatever we can to repair a broken relationship.
This week we're going to discuss Grace Without Reservations—based on Romans 11:6, a passage that provides the springboard for our conversation with God about his amazing grace. The context of our single verse passage in Romans chapter 11 is the dilemma the Apostle Paul felt about his own people, the Jews. What was Paul's dilemma? The dilemma was, and is, for all people of all times and ages, simply this:

There is a gulf between humans and God. How do we bridge the gap, the chasm between ourselves and God? Given the fact of our imperfection, our sin and the fact of God's perfection, his holiness, how can we be reconciled? How can we be forgiven? How can we achieve a right relationship with God?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

10 reasons why the cross is the perfect symbol for Christian deconstruction - David Hayward

My deconstruction.
I not only documented my own deconstruction in my graphic devotional book, The Liberation of Sophia, but I also launched The Lasting Supper where we help each other through the deconstructive process and find fellowship in the process.
The cross is an important Christian symbol. But for me it is more than that. It has become an important human symbol.
For me, it symbolizes deconstruction. Why do I say that?
  1. It destroys human theology.
  2. It frustrates ambition.
  3. It throws God into question.
  4. It demands a kind of total death.
  5. It exposes raw human existence.
  6. It challenges the status quo.
  7. It mocks magical thinking.
  8. It drains the authorities of their power.
  9. It slams the door on cumulative effort.
  10. It exacts complete commitment.
Jesus was crucified outside the city gates. Similarly, when we go through deconstruction, we find ourselves outside the gates, outside of our beliefs and organized religion. We may feel isolated, marginalized, and even alienated. It can be a lonely, devastating, traumatic experience.
When you are being crucified, all hopes of new life are dashed. It was the darkest period of my life.
Nevertheless, here I am.
I am, in a way, the same person I was before. Recognizable.
But, in another way, I am a different person. Unrecognizable.
How I got here was through a crucifixion kind of experience that lasted, for me, years. I thought I was dead and gone.
Nevertheless, here I am. And I am better for it.
I am a new creation.
Transformed by the renewing of my mind.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Story of Jonah: Dare we hate those whom God loves? - Lazar Puhalo

Jonah-and-whale-Coptic-Icon
Coptic Icon of Jonah
The story of Jonah presents a quandary. The history of Nineveh and the Assyrians is well known and documented. The Assyrians left their own records and the nations around them had much to say of them. They were hated by all and proud of it. 

Nineveh, however, never accepted the God of Israel and certainly never repented "in sackcloth and ashes." So what is the story of Jonah about? 

This story unfolds at a time when Judah and Israel had become particularist. They were turned in on themselves and not even attempting to engage other nations with the worship of the true and living God. Indeed, the population of the two kingdoms had not been fully converted and they were much in need of repentance. 

As the story opens, God has commanded Jonah the son of Amittai to go up to the great city of Nineveh and preach repentance to them. Remember that Nineveh was the capital of the savage and brutal Assyrian kingdom. Jonah does not want to go. Instead, he boards a ship sailing to Tarshish (Spain). In the ancient world, Tarshish, at the far end of the Mediterranean Sea, was at "the other end of the earth." Was Jonah afraid, or just filled with hatred of the Assyrians? Perhaps both. 

We all know the story. Jonah is cast overboard and swallowed by a "great fish." He is carried back to Palestine and regurgitated by the fish on the third day. Thereupon, he yields and goes up to Nineveh. He suffers several things largely because of his attitude. It appears to us that Jonah did not want Nineveh to repent, but rather wanted them to be punished for their beastly brutality. Nevertheless, the city does repent. 

We said before, we know that the Assyrians never accepted the God of Israel, and never showed any signs of repentance. So what was the story about? Just this: God commanded Jonah to go to the most hated people on the face of the earth and tell them that God loves them, and will receive them with an open heart if they will but turn to Him. 

Is this not a prophecy about the Christ, the Messiah? Is this not also a "sign of the prophet Jonah," along with his third day "resurrection" from the great fish? Does not Christ send his disciples to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel, baptising them in the name of the Godhead? 

What about us? What does this story have to say to each of us? Simply this: we are prone to want to see our enemies suffer and be punished. God, on the other hand, "desires not the death of sinners, but that they should turn from their sins and live." Ultimately, the teaching is simple. The person that we hate is someone that our Master loves and shed His blood for.

Whoever has ears, let him hear.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Driscoll, Disappointment and Bad News Religion - Greg Albrecht

www.nakedpastor.com
Another tsunami of disappointment and anger toward God by those who have “given their lives to the church” is forming just off the coast of the state of Washington.   When all is said and done, among the debris and bitter memories, religious refugees will try to understand why.  Changing the metaphor, with an adaptation from Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, many who are “half-dead” will be wondering why they were thrown under the religious bus, and why religious authorities “pass by” on the other side.  

You may have heard of Mark Driscoll, who as a young pastor saw his Mars Hill Church in Seattle experience spectacular growth.   The church grew into satellite congregations, and like other mega-churches might have met at least some of the criteria for being a denomination of its own.   Remarkably, the growth came in spite of (actually, it may well have been because of) the strong Calvinist take-no-prisoners, our-way-or-the-highway doctrinaire atmosphere that Driscoll presided over and fueled.   

Knowingly or unknowingly, Driscoll was tapping into a real spiritual dysfunction.  Some people don’t feel they have been to church unless they have been yelled at, corrected, beat up and sent home somewhat humiliated, licking their wounds.   Mars Hill churches flourish in part because sermons are viewed as “strong” – pastors as “solid, Bible believing and uncompromising” and the church is seen as “taking strong stands against bad stuff that is happening in the world.”   It seems Driscoll attracted many with such inbred, indoctrinated religious needs, even within the strongly progressive and liberal atmosphere of Seattle. 

I know this drill – it is an endlessly repeating cycle of what I call Bad News Religion.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Scandalous Grace (part 2) - Greg Albrecht

Genesis 27:1-45 - Jacob deceives Isaac for his blessing

The story of Jacob's deception centers on God promising a reversal. God essentially told Rebekah, Jacob and Esau's mother, that Jacob would receive the blessing the older brother, Esau, should have had. Amazingly, the life of Jacob after he had deceived both his father and his brother was an ongoing saga of deceit and conflict. When Esau realized that he had been duped and deceived, Jacob had to run for his life to escape Esau's anger.

The story of Esau and Jacob is an illustration of God's scandalous grace, a grace that reaches into the murky depths where right and wrong seem to be blurred, where it seems that God might not be fair (as we humans understand fairness).

When we think of God and how he acts and reacts to us, we are often tempted to think of ourselves like Jacob. In our heart we know we don't deserve to have what we want and we certainly don't expect God to do anything for us that we don't deserve. We know that God would be extremely unhappy if he ever found out just how bad we really are, or if he ever found out all the bad stuff we have done in our lives.

Like Jacob, we may underestimate God, thinking we can trick and manipulate him. You're no doubt familiar with the phrase "good cop, bad cop"—if you've seen any television detective or police shows you've seen the "good cop, bad cop" routine.

That's how many humans see God. We are the suspects. God has arrested us, cuffed us, booked us and we are now in deep trouble. We know we are dead meat. He has us in the interrogation room. Here he comes. On the one hand he is God the Father—the bad cop—on the other hand he is Jesus, God the Son—the good cop. 

The two divine detectives take us, the suspects (of course we know we are not simply suspects, we know we are guilty). We know we are in the wrong. But, we think, maybe we can just somehow escape by fooling God. So there we are, in the interrogation room, the one with the two-way glass so that God the Holy Spirit, and all the angels in heaven can watch the Father and the Son work us over. 

Every Grain of Sand - Brian Zahnd

The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rosseau, 1897
In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand

–Bob Dylan, Every Grain of Sand
I had a dream. I dreamed I was riding a yellow bicycle. While riding my yellow bicycle I was intently observing the beauty of creation, especially the vibrant colors — the green of the grass and trees (the human eye is more attune to the green spectrum than any other), the blue sky, the red roses, the yellow dandelions. During my colorful dreamland bike ride I was thinking about the nature of salvation. When I awoke I wrote down my nocturnal thoughts:
When we make salvation mostly postmortem, all about the afterlife, we create a barrier — a wall of separation between redemption and the land of the living. No wonder so many shrug their shoulders in disinterest. But when we locate salvation here and now we achieve a stunning relevance.
Salvation is about being human. This is why the Logic (Logos) of God became human flesh. Jesus came to give us back the life we lost ever since we stumbled out of the garden to wander in the violent land east of Eden.
When Adam and Eve were banished from Eden Creation lost its gardener. Is it any surprise that the faster our technology has advanced the more rapacious we have become in the pillage and plunder of our planet? When we lost our vocation as gardeners, the planet lost its God-ordained caretakers. From the stone age to the dawn of the industrial age the planet has been able to muddle by without its caretakers, but now human civilization, divorced from its original vocation, threatens to imperil the earth.
Mary Magdalene’s Easter “mistake” of thinking Jesus was the gardener is a poetic hint of how the Last Adam leads us back to our first vocation. Any understanding of salvation that doesn’t lead us to love God’s creation is far more Gnostic than Christian. Or perhaps it’s just voracious capitalism dressed up in Christian garb — a wolf in sheep’s clothing. If we cannot love the primeval forest I’m not sure we can love either God or neighbor. The wise Elder Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov gives this counsel to the novice monk Alyosha:
“Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing, you will perceive the mystery of God in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an entire, universal love.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
If you say that sounds like tree hugger theology,
I say a theologian can do worse than to hug a tree.

Monday, October 13, 2014

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 doubletalk. 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.

The invitation to follow Jesus is not an invitation to a life of prosperity, fame, fortune and endless physical delights. The invitation to follow Jesus is far from the seductions of feel-good religion and from pie-in-in-the-sky promises of the health and wealth/prosperity gospel. Jesus does not offer hot-tub religion to his followers.

“Losing your life that you might find it” is not theological hot air, it isn’t a laundry list of ceremonies, rituals, regulations and deeds that some god of religion claims, after you do and do and do, will qualify you for some special gift, “anointing,” “breakthrough” or “outpouring.”

When Jesus talks about losing your life that you might find it, he is talking about being spiritually re-born, from a non-physical source. Losing our life that we might find it has to do with meeting God, or rather, him meeting us.

Sometimes God interrupts our comfortable lives to inform us that he has plans for us, and invites us to take him up on his offer. He doesn’t coerce or threaten or beg. The choice is always ours. The invitation to lose your life is an offer from God to re-birth you and me. We have nothing to do with spiritual re-birth, other than either accepting or rejecting it. Our acceptance or rejection of the divine invitation draws a sharp distinction between spiritual re-birth and physical birth. In physical birth we have no choice about when and where we are born, or who our parents are. That is all decided for us.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Psalm 58 - King David's First Mashup - Brad Jersak

Mashups

Definition: MASHUP (n.) -- a musical track comprising the vocals of one recording placed over the instrumental backing of another.

I love mashups. The definition above tells you what they are, but doesn't tell you what they do, which is to say, how they function. And how they function is often the funnest and most clever part. When a melody is very familiar, we will come to associate a message with the melody itself. If, then, someone does a mashup with lyrics from a song that carries a very different message, the incongruity can be very striking. The combination then acts ironically or satirically to provoke thought, to drive home an inspiring message or even provide prophetic-social commentary. When you add video to the mix, the effect is amplified even further. 

Allow me to give you two examples that are not only ingenious but also quite moving. After these examples, I want to introduce you to the oldest known mashup in history (thanks to Dr. Matt Lynch for directing me to it). But please walk with me through the two modern samples first, because each carries its own forceful point. 

Part 1 - 'Amazing Grace' to the tune of 'House of the Rising Sun'


'House of the Rising Sun' by the Animals was written in 1964, the year I was born. The lyrics are a bit mysterious, and theories about their meaning vary, but apart from the authors' possible intent, for the majority of listeners, this haunting song came to be associated with a brothel. The singer pleads in remorse,
Oh mother tell your children 
Not to do what I have done 
Spend your lives in sin and misery 
In the House of the Rising Sun
You can hear the regrets of how sin has brought misery, climaxing in the final lines:
Well, there is a house in New Orleans 
They call the Rising Sun 
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy 
And God I know I'm one.
The lesson, in the end, is ruin. "And God" attaches connotations of a final confession ... before God, he stands -- or rather 'falls' in the Adamic sense -- condemned before his maker. Yes, I'm reading between the lines and inferring meaning, but this is the point. The melody becomes a forlorn confession of suffering the initial fate of the prodigal son, who had 'devoured his father's wealth with prostitutes' (Luke 15:30) and wound up in utter ruin. 

I shall never forget the morning in church (Bethel Mennonite, Aldergrove) when the young worship band -- hairy hippies from the Jesus People days (like Len Wiebe) and the next generation (the Ron and Steve Hoock) began playing that melody on during Sunday morning worship. My eyes widened and I'm sure many a squirming buttock shifted uncomfortably on the hardwood pews. But as they began to sing, out of their mouths came the first mashup I had ever heard: 
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound 
That saved a wretch like me, 
I once was lost but now I'm found 
Was blind but now I see.
Tears came as I saw that prodigal, stooped in shame, returning home to a father -- God -- to receive grace rather than condemnation, hospitality rather than punishment. Where there was ruin, there was restoration. I knew the song and thought I knew about grace, but amplified by the original melody, the gospel truly felt ... AMAZING! This is the power of great mashup. And that particular arrangement has been a powerful combination in venues that increase the effect even more. For example, I read about the tragic death of a disreputable biker whose friends played this version at his funeral. Imagine a congregation of gnarly hog-riders in leather blubbering along without shame? Actually, I've seen it ... and it was a rare beauty!

If you'd like to pause here and listen to that arrangement, let me introduce you to 'The Blind Boys of Alabama,' who really nail it.


When Religious Leaders Make Money from Impossible Promises: Chasing 120 - Monte Wolverton

Pasadena, CA, October 1, 2014 – We see them on TV; dressed in impeccably-cut suits, with a picture-perfect smile and a never-ending supply of smooth rhetoric. Dr. Tyler Belknap is the epitome of a charismatic, fast-talking preacher who has convinced his cult-like following that, with the help of his Bible-based program, they will enrich their lives with maximum health and longevity.

Belknap is the lead protagonist in Monte Wolverton's newly-released debut book, Chasing 120: A Story of Food, Faith, Fraud and the Pursuit of Longevity - a story of intrigue and truths and a remarkable tale of what can happen to people's dreams when they put their faith in a high-profile religious leader rather than God.

From his vast Oregon-based Wellness 120 empire, Tyler Belknap charms and targets Christian consumers, influencing them to dig deep into their pockets – enticing them with Biblical-sounding promises of a healthier life following his recommended regimen. While some believe their health is improved, others suffer serious side effects after taking his specially formulated supplements and GMO's that are developed in a secret underground research facility in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. But this does not deter Dr. Belknap who keeps this information from the public by bribing city officials and politicians – and who will stop at nothing to keep whistleblowers at bay.
But as much as the fast-talking Belknap would like his followers to stay in a state of confusion, he's not able to keep the negative effects of GMO's from hitting the news and the public eye. People hear that results from studies done on lab animals cite serious findings, such as, organ damage, immune system disorders, infertility - and yes, aging! Ironically, the polar opposite of Belknap's claims of longevity!

Since the truth eventually finds its way to the surface, readers learn that a Belknap employee and his wife find themselves at the center of a huge crisis when it's discovered their son developed brain damage from one of the substance-laced foods. As their fragile house of cards begins to topple, they are forced to admit that the leader they have long admired is, in fact, a crook!

About the Author
Monte Wolverton celebrates life through his creative talents as a designer, artist, cartoonist and writer. Formerly the managing editor and design director for Plain Truth magazine, his editorial cartoons are internationally syndicated. Wolverton is an ordained minister and holds a MA from Goddard College in Vermont. He resides in Vancouver, Washington.

About Plain Truth Ministries
Plain Truth Ministries invites audiences to discover authentic Christianity without the legalistic religion through online and print media, including magazines, books and radio, at www.ptm.org.

Available at online outlets and author's website: 
Chasing 120 – A Story of Food, Faith, Fraud and the Pursuit of Longevity

By Monte Wolverton
Publisher: Plain Truth Ministries
ISBN-13: 978-1-889973-15-9

Click here to find out more: www.ptm.org/120

Monday, October 6, 2014

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 
In this article, 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 a 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 Jesus, his gospel, 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.

That explanation made perfect sense to me for almost four decades. Then came God’s grace.

When I started to read the Bible through the lens of Jesus, who did for us what we cannot do for ourselves; when I started to read the Bible through the lens of God’s amazing grace, given to us on the basis of God’s goodness, not our own, I re-examined the interpretation I had of many passages. I eventually came to take another look at The Pearl of Great Value.

One of the first and necessary steps involved in taking a fresh look at a familiar biblical passage is to subject our assumed interpretation to the context in which it was originally given. The entire chapter of Matthew 13 is telling us what the kingdom of heaven is all about. Most parables in this chapter begin with the phrase, the kingdom of heaven is like…

God’s activity is one of the central characteristics and themes within all of the parables about the kingdom of heaven in this chapter. The kingdom happens, grows, survives and thrives by God’s grace, as compared with human effort. Have you ever heard the saying, often used about a rich, privileged person who inherits wealth and social status, that such a person “woke up, found themselves on third base, and concluded that they had hit a triple?”