Monday, June 29, 2015

Whose Side Is God On? - Greg Albrecht

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?"— Joshua 5:13-14
Have you ever noticed how many individual Christians and incorporated religious institutions assume that God is exclusively on their side? Many seem to think that God is a member-in-good-standing of their denomination. Many seem to assume that God carries the same national passport they do and that he always supports their country in any military altercation. Some even act and talk as if God supports their favorite athletic team and their particular political party. 

But if you think about the whole idea of God being polarized and politicized for about three seconds, it really doesn't make any sense, does it? After all the Bible clearly teaches that God loves all mankind equally. 

The man who appeared to Joshua could have been an angel of the Lord, or this incident could have been yet another example of a theophany, an appearance of God himself. Whether it was the Lord or an angel of the Lord is really not all that important—what is important is the message given to Joshua and the context of that message.

As the book of Joshua begins, the nation of Israel (after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness) is poised to inherit the land God promised to them. Joshua has taken over for Moses as the national leader. As he is preparing for war against Jericho, the first city-state that he and the nation of Israel will conquer, Joshua has a visitor. In the midst of Joshua's military preparations the Lord (or his angel) appeared with a drawn sword. As the commander-in-chief of Israel's army, Joshua's first question is natural: "Are you for us or against us? Are you a friend or foe?"

The answer is profound. In effect God says to Joshua: "Whether I am on your side is not the real issue. The most important question is whether you are on my side. You follow my directions and decisions—not the other way around."

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Perils of Bible Dissection: A Parable - Brad Jersak

In my mind, I see vividly a young man in a white coat, his eyes locked on mine, leaning forward and sputtering loudly and insistently, "What about the spleen?! What about the spleen?!" Only a small laboratory table creates breathing space between us ... not enough to spare me from wayward droplets spraying with his words.

On the table lays a frog in a petri dish, pinned back and spread-eagle, its guts exposed in glorious detail. My nostrils cringe to the assault of wafting formaldehyde vapors. Our amature biologist wields a scalpel--poking, poking, poking at the mince that had recently been a recognizable and attached organ--and continuing to press, "What do you do with the spleen?!" 

And I'm puzzled about what to say. Pinning down, slicing open and mutilating this fascinating creature seemed a grotesque way to understand its essence. Its breath evacuated, the glistening skin now dull, the frog-song silenced forever. To catch a fly, to hop away, to reproduce tadpoles no more. That's one mutilated amphibian! And now, the spleen removed and mashed, I'm being interrogated on the meaning of a disembodied fragment of rotting tissue. As if a dogma could be derived and developed from death and dismemberment. 


I snap out of the unpleasant vision into an equally sour surreality. Before me, with Bible flayed wide, a young theologue is barking at me. His index finger jabbing testily at the page. "What do you do with this verse?! How do you explain this?!" He wants me to see how terrifically "biblical" he's being. How so thoroughly he's refuting me with his holy surgical blade. Yet somehow, the smell of Moroccan leather bears the death-taint of formalin and the verse he's dissected looks like mangled pâté. Previously, I've drowned into a faint under such waves of certitude. Exegesis devolves to an ugly execution. So I pray, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. I thought your words bring life. Can these bones yet live?" Then suddenly, gloriously, a sign and a wonder!


Like Christ from the tomb, conquering death ... a loud croak resounds. There in the hands of our young firebrand, the Scripture transmogrifies before my eyes--and with a broad, wry grin, springs from his grasp and escapes free ... spleen and all!


           

Monday, June 22, 2015

God, who are you? I want to know you! Brad Jersak

God who are you? I want to know you!
When we restrict our inquiry into the nature of God to the Bible, we are likely to find just the kind of God that we want to find. If we want a God of peace, he’s there. If we want a God of war, he’s there. If we want a compassionate God, he’s there. If we want a vindictive God, he’s there. If we want an egalitarian God, he’s there. If we want an ethnocentric God, he’s there. If we want a God demanding blood sacrifice, he’s there. If we want a God abolishing blood sacrifice, he’s there. Sometimes the Bible is like a Rorschach test— it reveals more about the reader than the eternal I AM.
The Bible is the inspired witness to the true Word of God who is Jesus. What the Bible does infallibly is take us on a journey that culminates with Christ— but it is Christ who fully reveals God. Or we can say it this way: The Scriptures ultimately bear witness to Christ, and Christ perfectly bears witness to God. While we are searching the Bible to find out what God is like, the Bible is all the while resolutely pointing us to Jesus. The revelation of God could not be contained in a book, but it could be contained in a human life— the life of Jesus Christ.
Anything we claim about God already belies our hidden desire to stand over, box in and control him. Language, words, doctrine, theology—aren’t these less than God? And yet don’t they frequently function to shrink the Creator of all into a manageable doctrinal specimen we can pin down and dissect? Isn’t it more convenient to cage him within our tiny, overconfident minds, where he must parrot our own lofty thoughts? The stubborn fact is that whatever we say about God or for God with great certitude is sifted through the thick veils of our religious traditions, cultural assumptions and personal interpretations.
Save me from every shadowy conception of God that I’ve created and worshiped, deceiving myself into believing it is the one true God! So I say no—if there is a God, I don’t just get to fashion him from the clay of my own image. I need him to reveal himself in a way that can be known.
God, who are you? I want to know you but my vision is so distorted, my mind is so small, my heart is so constricted. How could you live in such tiny boxes? Ah, but you don’t! I do! Rescue me from the prison of my puny understanding! Turn on the lights so I can catch a glimpse of the same Eternal Love that Jesus revealed. Give me the gift of Christlike vision that burns through the fog that blinds me to pure Goodness. Lord, let it be!

Who Am I -- Who Are You? Greg Albrecht

Chances are you have asked yourself one or more of the following questions: "Why am I living?" "Am I making a real difference?" "How can I be successful in my life?" "When all is said and done, will my life be regarded as significant or insignificant?" 

As we try to answer these questions about what is truly important and how we can be a significant person, our world at large offers counterfeit solutions which lead us through a maze of meaningless activities. A famous musician flying in a private jet is worshipped as an idol—and accorded the ultimate honor of being called a "star" —while a farmer who works the land and produces crops for people to eat is seen as hopelessly out of step and perhaps even ignorant. 

The chief executive officer of an investment company on Wall Street whose salary and bonuses for the year total over 10 million dollars is believed to be far more important than a single parent living in a ghetto, raising two children on near-poverty wages. 

The parents whose children become doctors and lawyers are regarded as more successful parents than those whose children work in a factory. The bigger the house a person lives in—the fancier their car—the more credentials and diplomas earned, and the more money in the bank, like the accumulation of emblems and stripes and badges on a military uniform, the more successful and more important they are seen to be.

As Christ-followers, we can see that apart from Christ, the road map leading to significance and success in life given to us by our world is fatally flawed because it starts with the premise that our contributions to life will ultimately be up to us.

Ever since time began, men and women have been persuaded that the significance they contribute to and achieve in life is up to them. Ever since time began, success has been defined based on how an individual makes something of their life, so that life is seen as a measure of material success—power, prestige, position and possessions. The counter-intuitive call of Jesus invites us to allow him to make of us something we could never accomplish on our own.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A More Christlike God - Book Give Away

Christianity Without the Religion is giving away FIVE copies of Brad Jersak’s new book A More Christlike God! Enter to win here: http://bit.ly/1JMABAZ #giveaway #faith

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word - Greg Albrecht

What've I got to do to make you love me? What've I got to do to make you care?—Sorry Seems to Be The Hardest Word, Elton John, 1976
Unrequited love normally brings to mind memories of romantic, "puppy love" that failed to hear an echo. But teenage infatuations that end in agonizing, emotional dramas are surpassed in intensity by the crushing heartbreak experienced when, for some reason, a parent or child fails to respond to each other. This is a story of a girl and the relationship she yearned to have with her father. 

Like many others in her generation, Karen grew up in a home ruled over by an authoritarian veteran of World War 2. Karen, now a senior citizen, grew up craving affection and praise from her father. But the times when she received attention seemed to have been reserved for those times when she needed (in her father's estimation) correction. 

Karen left home, went to college, married and made a new life. Even after her own children were adults and had themselves become parents, Karen continued to try to build a relationship with her father. She wasn't seeking her pound of flesh for the wrongs of the past—Karen simply wanted to create an atmosphere for reconciliation. But Karen discovered that "sorry seems to be the hardest word." When she talked with her father her attempts to discuss the oppressive relationship she had experienced and the punishment she regularly received were dismissed with "that's how my father treated me." At other times her father told her that the overbearing rules and harsh treatment to which he had subjected her had helped make her strong and prepared her for a successful life. He didn't get it. He never did. 

In his early 80's the World War 2 veteran developed cancer, and Karen again tried to seek healing and reconciliation. The last time Karen talked with her father was only a few weeks before he died. She flew in to visit him, hoping he would be willing to talk about their shared past. She just wanted to hear one word—"sorry"—but she returned home crestfallen. When Karen, my wife, walked off the plane with an anguished look on her face I immediately knew her quest was unsuccessful.

The knowledge that she would never be loved in return acted upon her ideas as a tide acts upon cliffs.—The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder

"I'm Sorry"

It seems that the difficulty involved in articulating the words "I'm sorry" increases the closer the relationship one has (or had) with the person involved in the unresolved relationship. English poet and artist William Blake once noted that is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend. 

Saying the words "I'm sorry" goes against everything that human beings naturally hold near and dear. We never want to be or appear to be wrong because such an admission of weakness or acceptance of failure and fault makes us vulnerable, and we fight for all we are worth against being vulnerable. In most cases, the goal of human life is seen as trying to become secure and safe, inviolate and immune from the actions of others. Saying "I'm sorry" is an unnatural admission of guilt which leaves us exposed and vulnerable. 

However, ...

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why I Don't Think I'll Claim To Be Christian - Brad Jersak

21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
(Matthew 7:21-23)
2 It is required in stewards that one be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God. 
(1 Cor. 4:2-5) 
In 1972, I came to belief in Christ and consciously prayed for God's saving grace to come into my life. I was baptized on the confession of my faith in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Later, was welcomed into membership at Calvary Baptist Church. After transferring membership to Bethel Mennonite Church, I also went on staff and was ordained as a Reverend by the Conference of Mennonites in BC. My ordination was also recognized by the Christian Ministers Association after we planted Fresh Wind Christian Fellowship. Many moons later, I was chrismated into the Eastern Orthodox Church (again, upon confession of the Symbol of Faith) and later, was ordained as a Reader.

None of this allows me to claim to be Christian. Many who say, 'Lord, Lord' will prove to be strangers before Christ on the Last Day.

During the course of these assorted ministries, I prophesied in Jesus' name, cast out demons (or at least thought I did) in Jesus' name, even did the odd wonder in Jesus' name. Taught in his name, evangelized in his name, pastored in his name, counseled in his name, prayed in his name.

None of this allows me to claim to be Christian. Many who serve 'In his name,' will prove to be strangers before Christ on the Last Day.

The stubborn fact is that it not by our claims, but by our fruit that Jesus recognizes living faith. Nor will the fruit he seeks be our spiritual pedigree or our relentless religiosity. It seems that he will actually be looking for the fruit of the grace of the Holy Spirit in our lives, whatever that means.

Claiming the fruit does not allow me to claim to be Christian. Only bearing the fruit will count on the last day. 

The fruit of the grace of God's spirit cannot grow from the flesh of self-righteousness, striving or zeal. It can only grow on branches grafted to the Tree of Life, the Cross of Christ. Paul sure knew this:
For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
(Philipiians 3:3-7)
I have never renounced my prayers of faith for grace; I have never renounced my baptism or confession or ordination; I have never renounced my faith in the good news of Christ. I still love Jesus, preach the good news and occasionally find the grace to surrender to his transforming love. 

None of this allows me to claim to be Christian. 

While Christ warns us not to disown him before men, let he disown us before his Father (Matt. 10:33) ... and this I will not do. As my friend Sean says, 'neither brashly presuming nor cowardly denying.' For me, that's a given. Giving up my self-claims are not a repudiation of my Christ-claims. Not identifying as a Christian is not the same as dissociating from Christ before men. The latter does matter.

How to Not Disprove God - by John Ottens

As a Christian I’ve run across some very poor arguments against theism. I imagine you’ve probably heard them too. I thought it might be helpful to put together a list with a few of the most popular worst offenders. This enumeration isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but hopefully it can provide a few helpful pointers to some of the more zealous atheists out there.

1. If you want to disprove God, don’t waste time talking about psychology. Maybe humans do have a deep-seated desire to live forever, to see their enemies receive ultimate punishment, to have a perfect parent, to have someone omnipotent to thank for good things and to blame for disasters, or something else along those same lines. But so what? That doesn’t prove or disprove anything about God. It’s six o’clock in the morning, I haven’t had breakfast yet, and I have a deep-seated desire for a muffin; that doesn’t mean muffins are just a legend invented in the mists of prehistory to which no intelligent person could ever assent. Whether I want something or not is no proof of whether it exists. Maybe we have a deep longing for God or maybe we don’t. Either way, it doesn’t affect the question of his existence.


2. Along the same lines, if you want to disprove God, don’t waste time talking about brainwashing. Maybe all religious people throughout all time have only ever believed in God because their parents did or their friends did or their society did, but again: so what? We aren’t talking about why people believe in God, but about whether God exists, and God’s existence (or lack thereof) is independent of why people believe or don’t believe in him.


John Ottens is a Roman Catholic seminarian in the Canadian prairies who likes good philosophy and good literature and the occasional game of chess.