Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"I Haven't Seen You Lately" - Greg Albrecht


A friend of mine who attends her church on a fairly regular basis missed a few weeks in a row. When she returned, one of the “church ladies” greeted her with: “I haven’t seen you lately!” Of course, the “church lady” meant she hadn’t seen my friend lately at church, and that was a cause for concern.

“I haven’t seen you lately” might include the following thoughts:

• First, let’s assume the best. This greeting might be intended to communicate the fact that my friend was genuinely missed, and that her return was warmly welcomed. However, “I am glad to see you. How are you?” might avoid the extra helping of guilt and innuendo present in “I haven’t seen you lately.”

• On the other hand, religion places a high premium on attendance in a particular building located on a specific piece of real estate at a regular, recurring time. Given the resulting guilt that can affect someone who misses a few services, “I haven’t seen you lately” might actually mean “Where the hell have you been?”

Friday, June 2, 2017

Does God Do Whatever He Wants because He is God? Ken Tanner


I frequently run into the argument that God can do whatever he wants because he is God.

Partnered with this assertion is often an accusation that human “sensibilities” about what is right and wrong are not the same as God’s—that his ways are higher than our ways—as a defense for God behaving in ways that we would otherwise call sociopathic in humans.

Christians believe we know what we know about evil because of what is revealed about God in Jesus Christ *and* by what is inherent in humanity, owing to our being fashioned in the image of God. This image is broken in us but not eradicated or absent, even in the “worst” of us.


And above and far beyond this there is now in Jesus Christ a human life that embodies all that God intended for our race, and his brilliant life—not mankind’s broken collective aspirations about the good!—is now the foundation, the *human* measure of what is good and what is evil.

Click here to continue

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

CWR Magazine - June Issue has arrived!

The June edition of the CWR magazine is available! 

CLICK HERE to read. In this issue: 
Forgiveness…Who First? by Greg Albrecht – p1
The Best Father’s Day Gift by Laura Urista – p7
The Charm of Beauty in an Ugly Age by Brian Zahnd – p11
Did all people receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost by Greg Albrecht – p12
Reflections on A More Christlike God by Amber Hamilton – p13
Wishful thinking? Or Blessed Hope! by Brad Jersak – p15
To receive printed copies through the mail — donate here.

Monday, May 29, 2017

I Want to See - God's grace flows to the low places - Greg Albrecht

For the last time during his earthly ministry, Jesus was en route to Jerusalem. He had only a few days left in his earthly life—with every step he took toward Jerusalem he knew he was that much closer to the awful pain and suffering that awaited him. The road took him through Jericho, a city located about 17 miles northeast of Jerusalem. It was just before Passover—one of the three times in the year when pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of the old covenant. So the road was crowded with travelers, and as a result there were many others alongside the road—small businessmen and entrepreneurs, as well as beggars.
Mark 10:46-52 tells us that Jesus heard a cry as he walked through Jericho—”Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many who were with Jesus told the man who was yelling to shut up. But the man persistently yelled even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Maybe these people who thought that they were helping and serving Jesus felt that their Master was far too busy and important to take time for a blind man.
Earlier in this chapter (Mark 10) we read the disciples had previously rebuked people who brought little children to Jesus—again, they assumed that they knew what was best for Jesus but Jesus rebuked the disciples who were misrepresenting him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).
This was not the first time—nor, sadly, was it the last time, when Jesus was misrepresented. It happens over and over and over again today—and has down through time—people who are supposed to be Christians act diametrically opposite to the way that Jesus would.

Identity in Christ - Steve McVey


McVey-Identity in Christ from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Are You 'Saved'? (uh ...) by Brad Jersak

The Trinity by Scott Erickson
A constellation of questions, common to some Christian traditions, increasingly makes me cringe.
  • Are you saved?
  • Is he/she saved?
  • When were you saved?
I know what is intended. They are identifying ‘saved’ with the moment I ‘invited Christ into my heart’ through the faith confession involved in ‘the Sinner’s Prayer.’ If that is how and when I was saved, I suppose you could say I was ‘saved’ when I was six-years-old. That’s when I personally and consciously responded to the grace of God. So why does that give me the heebie-jeebies? Was that when I was saved? It caused me to pause and explore how various Christians use the term "salvation" or "saved,” and how the New Testament does so, too. The issue arose afresh when Paul Young wrote in his new book, Lies We Believe About God:
Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? Do you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying.
Yet Paul also says he is not a Universalist. So then, what does he mean? He continues:
Every person who has ever been conceived was included in the death, burial, resurrection and ascension in Jesus. When Jesus was lifted up, God ‘dragged’ all human beings to Himself (John 12:32) and that Jesus is the Savior of all humankind, (I Tim 4:10). Further, every single human being is in Christ and Christ is in them, and Christ is in the Father (John 14:20). When Christ died—the Creator in whom the cosmos was created—we all died. When Christ rose, we rose (II Cor. 5). The context of salvation involves three dimensions. First, prior to the foundation of the world we were all included. Saved in eternity (II Tim 1:9). Second, in the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus we were all included (II Cor 5:19). Third, within the context of our own experience a present tense on-going active participation to work out what God has worked in (Phil 2:12-13). Although we didn’t do anything in the accomplishment of our salvation (except to kill Jesus), our participation in the working out of this salvation is essential. Our ongoing choices matter.
So, is everyone saved? Depends what you mean. Does salvation include everyone? It would seem so. Is our willing response necessary? It’s essential. 

On this note, I had a fantastic discussion with Paul and some other scholars about his approach (I affirm). 

CLICK HERE to continue

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

CWR Blog Subscribers - Renew Subscription for Additional FREE Resources

With many thanks to subscribers of the CWR Blog, we have now moved the CWR blog to a new homepage HERE.   

The content will be duplicated at both sites for a time, but if you are a blog subscriber, we invite you to renew your subscription HERE.

We didn't feel right about transferring your subscription without permission but thought you'd like an invitation. We hope you'll go for it.

The reason for that is that subscriptions at the new site include a weekly PTM email update. These weekly updates include links to the following resources:
• Christianity Without the Religion Magazine: Enjoy a spiritual feast in the latest issue of CWR magazine. 
• Plain Truth Magazine: Read the latest issue of the award-winning Plain Truth! 
• PTM Partner Letter: Be uplifted and spiritually nourished by this month's inspirational Partner letter. 
• Online Resources: Read and enjoy a wide variety of helpful online resources. 
• Books from CWRpress: Take a look at the books now available from CWRpress— an imprint of Plain Truth Ministries. 
• CWR Bible Survey: This Bible study/devotional is a resource designed to help you learn about the contents of the Bible. 
• Christianity Without the Religion Audio: This week's timely and relevant sermon by Greg Albrecht. 
• Front Page: Click here to enjoy compelling food for thought—new items posted weekly. 
• CWR Blog: Find out what's new this week at our CWR Blog, hosted by Brad Jersak. 
All this and much more is available at our website this week—click the links above to join us!



Monday, May 15, 2017

WHAT DO YOU MEAN 'THE NARROW GATE?' – GREG ALBRECHT


Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.—Matthew 7:13-14
This passage is often preached from the perspective of how hard it is to obey God and keep his laws—how hard it is to “make the grade” to get into heaven—how relatively few souls will be counted worthy of heaven while the broad majority will end up in hell.
Matthew 7:13-14 is one of those passages that is regularly preached to mean something altogether different than the meaning that God intends. In fact, it may make my list of the top 25 most misunderstood and often misapplied passages in the entire Bible.
The passage begins with Jesus’ admonition to “enter through the narrow gate.” As many preachers and students of the Bible read these words, it seems to me that they take their own feelings about what constitutes a difficult and narrow gate (and a wide gate and a broad road) and apply them to what Jesus is teaching.

Not rules-keeping but Christ-in-you - Steve McVey


McVey-Not Rules but Christ Living in You from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Prophetic Hope or Partisan Megaphone? Kenneth Tanner

Words of Wisdom from Kenneth Tanner Christian leaders

If you are involved in the care of souls please avoid and flee the ever-present temptation to enter the partisan fray of contemporary life in America. 
If things get *actually* horrendous (I know things are not well) those who look to men and women of the cloth for comfort and direction and wisdom need to be able to trust you. 
They will not be able to trust you—even if they cannot consciously perceive or articulate a lack of trust—if you have been a shrill and (more or less) unending megaphone for the left or right or whatever cause célèbre replaces Jesus Christ. 
Trust is earned by consistently elevating the person of Jesus Christ (as much as the Spirit enables us in our weakness) in all our words and actions.
The church needs prophets but you cannot be a prophet when a prophet is needed when you have played the role of chicken little or the boy who cried wolf.

A besetting sin of our moment is a failure to imagine that things CAN be better than they are: in our communities, in our world, in our politics, in our care for one another and the earth, in our marriages, in all our vital relationships, in our churches, in our schools, in our corporations, on our farms and in our factories, in our hearts.
The Spirit that creates the world and resurrects Christ from the dead animates the Christian imagination, teaching us to trust that all things can indeed be made new, all things can be made well.
Our prison system is a horrific witness that we have given up on the capacity of the Spirit to redeem and make well.
When we suppress this gospel imagination that things can be better than they are we deny the radical hope that is ours by the costly sacrificial love Christ demonstrates, achieved not only by the divine nature he shares with the Father and Spirit but by the new humanity he unveils. He invites all humanity to participate in this new creation with him.
The older I get the more I understand that nothing changes until we embrace this gift of imagination, acting upon the trust Christ instills in our minds and hearts.
I am not talking about the myth of progress, nor of the inevitability of the human spirit, nor of collective and concerted human action but of a sure and certain hope we own that Christ has reversed death; that by his Spirit working in us we can bring authentic healing, deliverance, freedom, justice, forgiveness, peace, and newness of life to all persons and to every square foot of this world.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Jesus as Scapegoat - Richard Rohr





'






All the great religions of the world talk a lot about death, so there must be an essential lesson to be learned here. But throughout much of religious history our emphasis has been on killing the wrong thing and avoiding the truth: it’s you who has to die, or rather, who you think you are—your false self. It's never someone else!
Historically we moved from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice to various modes of seeming self-sacrifice, usually involving the body. For many religions, including immature Christianity, God was distant and scary, an angry deity who must be placated. God was not someone with whom you fell in love or with whom you could imagine sharing intimacy or tenderness.
The common Christian reading of the Bible is that Jesus “died for our sins”—either to pay a debt to the devil (common in the first millennium) or to pay a debt to God the Father (proposed by Anselm of Canterbury, 1033-1109). Theologians later developed a “substitutionary atonement theory”—the strange idea that before God could love us God needed and demanded Jesus to be a blood sacrifice to ''atone'' for our sin. As a result, our theology became more transactional than transformational.
Franciscan philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) was not guided by the Temple language of debt, atonement, or blood sacrifice (understandably used in the New Testament written by observant Jews). He was instead inspired by the cosmic hymns in the first chapters of Colossians and Ephesians and the first chapter of John's Gospel. For Duns Scotus, the incarnation of God and the redemption of the world could never be a mere mop-up exercise in response to human sinfulness, but the proactive work of God from the very beginning. We were “chosen in Christ before the world was made” (Ephesians 1:4). Our sin could not possibly be the motive for the divine incarnation; rather, God’s motivation was infinite divine love and full self-revelation! For Duns Scotus, God never merely reacts, but always freely actsout of free and unmerited love.
Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)! Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. God’s abundance and compassion make any scarcity economy of merit or atonement unhelpful and unnecessary. Jesus undid “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:279:1210:10) all notions of human and animal sacrifice and replaced them with his new infinite economy of grace. Jesus was meant to be a game changer for religion and the human psyche.
This grounds Christianity in love and freedom from the very beginning; it creates a very coherent and utterly attractive religion, which draws people toward lives of inner depth, prayer, reconciliation, healing, and universal “at-one-ment,” instead of mere sacrificial atonement. Nothing “changed” on Calvary but everything was revealed—an eternally outpouring love. Jesus switched the engines of history: instead of us needing to spill blood to get to God, we have God spilling blood to get to us!

Gateway to Silence:
Father, forgive them.

References:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi(Franciscan Media: 2014), 183-188;
“Dying: We Need It for Life,” Richard Rohr on Transformation, Collected Talks, Vol. 1, disc 4 (Franciscan Media: 1997); and
Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 202.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Greg Albrecht - "He Can't Stop Loving You"


Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”—John 11:25
Ray Charles is one of my favorite blues singers of all time. The movie about his life, produced several years ago, won several Academy Awards, and was simply titled “Ray.”
Human suffering has given birth to much of our music, poetry, literature and art. The tragedies and the traumas of human relationships were the fertile soil from which many of the story lines and lyrics of Ray Charles’ music grew.
When I was a teenager I loved Ray’s music—it was catchy, with a sing-along melody line and on a surface level spoke to the adolescent, puppy-love infatuations I felt.
But, as a teenager, I had no idea of the deeper meanings of his music nor did I know until I saw the movie that depicted the enormous pain of Ray’s life, how many of his songs were autobiographical. It took several decades before I would begin to understand the deep anguish behind Ray’s music and lyrics.
The title of one of his songs, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” speaks of the pain that someone has as he or she looks back at a seemingly failed and broken relationship, but they just can’t let go. The song says that they can’t stop loving the object of their affections.

I'd Rather Have the Grace of Christ than the Bondage of Religion - Steve McVey


McVey-I'd Rather Have Jesus Than Religion from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

Monday, May 1, 2017

My Cancer Story: 1 Year Later - Zack Hoag

“I don’t want to be a damn flower.”
The thought raced through my mind before I even knew what my brain was saying to itself the first time I showed up in the oncologist’s office to find out if the giant mass growing in my chest was cancer or not.
The flower itself was beautiful, both in appearance and sentiment.
A white orchid brushed with just the slightest touch of pink, it was a kind memorial to a woman I’ll never know who lost her battle with cancer years before I ever walked through the doors of Hartford Hospital.
And it was the last thing I wanted to see while I checked into the oncologist’s office.
I’m acutely aware of the fact that that probably makes me sound like a massive asshole.
And I’m also acutely aware of the fact that simply using the words “damn” and “asshole” is enough for some people to check out of this post altogether and send me messages reprimanding my use of “unwholesome language.”
But here’s the thing.
Actually, here’s the two things.
First, if using mildly harsh language to talk about my battle with cancer bothers you, then you have my envy. I would love to have a life where legalism was my biggest concern, rather than a relapse of Hodgkin’s that will leave me with a 50/50 chance of seeing my little girls grow up to be the incredible women I know they’re going to be.
Cancer is a nightmare and it deserves the harshest language we can throw at it.

Meditation, Stillness and Transformation - Brad Jersak

I had a dream last night -- a discussion with the Dalai Lama, actually. In the dream I saw the consequences of Christianity's failure to engage seriously in Judeo-Christian meditation

While the words "meditate" or "meditation" are scary to some, they are mentioned over 30 times in Scripture ... and never as a rationalist exercise in 'thinking hard.' What the Psalmist describes and Jesus models is a form of God-centered meditation marked by attentive, receptive prayers focused primarily on God's goodness.  Neglecting this practice, we typically skid into one of two ditches. 

In the one ditch, we see spiritually hungry people who, through religious malnutrition, opt out of the Christian faith when it refuses to attend to the needs of the contemplative soul. If Hindu or Buddhist practice (for example) offers to feed that hunger with Yoga, and if Christian meditation is negated by suspicion and fear, we shouldn't be surprised to see transfer growth from the church to the yogini's studio. 

On the other hand, and equally worrisome, setting aside Christian contemplative practice drastically narrows our vision of 'transformation.' Specifically, the transforming work of the Holy Spirit is reduced to moral transformation--improving our behavior. Yes, hopefully the life of Christ will generate a higher morality and empower a greater purity in our lives. Lord knows I need that. 

One in Christ Jesus: Religious Gender Discrimination - Greg Albrecht


There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.—Galatians 3:28
What exactly is a mother? What is her job description? What does a mother do? There’s a story about a man who came home from a long day at work—when he drove into his driveway he saw his three children, still in their pajamas, covered from head to toe in mud, fighting and screaming.
He was just too exhausted to deal with it, so he walked right past his kids, through the front door, into a house that was in upheaval. Chaos reigned supreme.
The TV was blaring, furniture had been knocked over, dishes were piled on the kitchen counter and in the sink and empty food wrappers and containers littered the rest of the kitchen. As he made his way upstairs he had to carefully avoid toys and children’s clothing scattered everywhere.
He was worried that his wife must be sick and in bed. She was in bed, still in her pajamas, reading a book. She smiled at him and asked him how his day went.
Her husband, still in a state of shock, said, “What in the world happened today? This place is a mess!”
She smiled sweetly and said, “Well, you know, every day when you get home you always ask me what I did that day?”
He said, “Yeah…”
She said, “Well, today, I didn’t do it.”
Let’s consider one half of the human race—women and mothers, the gender that brought each one of us into the world. Let’s begin with an insight that will rock the known world: Men and women are different.

Violence upon violence - Brian Zahnd


Zahnd_Civilization-Violence Upon Violence from Plain Truth Ministries on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

But Did They Find the WMDs? Scripture Faithfully Questions Scripture - Brad Jersak

Back in February of 2010, while reading Eric Siebert's book entitled Disturbing Divine Behavior, I engaged in a stimulating e-exchange with two friends (Brian Zahnd and Brian Schmidt) about the implications of a Christocentric reading of the conquest / genocide narratives in the Book of Joshua (I now prefer the terms "Christotelic" a la Peter Enns or "Cruciform" which I first heard through Zahnd). We were challenged to pursue a high view of Scripture that takes seriously the Bible's invitation to and modeling of what Derek Flood would later describe as "faithful questioning" of the text (in his excellent book, Disarming Scripture). 

During that discussion, I claimed such faithful questioning did not begin with Christ and the New Testament authors who question Old Testament reports of divinely-sanctioned violence. In truth, we see the practice already at work in the Old Testament ... and not only when the Prophets question the Law (Jeremiah 7:21-23) or when the Chronicler contradicts earlier interpretations of David's life (compare 2 Samuel 24 with1 Chron. 21). Such faithful questioning of the Joshua conquest already occurs right within the book of Joshua. 

OT scholar, Matthew Lynch, would confirm this for us in a video interview with CWR here: https://vimeo.com/101826159He followed that up with a fine series of articles that begins HERE.

At the time, I identified two competing voices at work within Joshua that I labelled state-sponsored spin texts versus investigative journalist texts.

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.