life

Traveling Light

A friend shared something kind of interesting yesterday morning: Researchers asked a sampling of people what three words they most wanted to hear. The most common response was, “I love you.”  The second most common response was, “I forgive you.” The third, “Dinner is ready.”

Those 3 phrases sum up the gospel:

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…”

Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

John 21:12: “Come and have breakfast.”

Later in the day my daughter and I were discussing her aversion to the word doctrine. Aware that there is nothing wrong with doctrine per se – it’s just a set of beliefs – she supposed the thing that makes it aversive is the way we Christians bog down our beliefs.

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My honey vanilla latte, her toasted coconut latte and sustenance.

She told me what her friend’s professor said about doctrine: “I used to try to carry all the church’s doctrine the way you would carry all your grocery bags into the house at the same time. But I kept dropping some.  Now I carry very few bags. Like three.”

Three is enough.

Bag 1: God loves us.

Inside the bag: He stepped into our mess of a world to show us what He’s really like.
He’s actively redeeming and restoring His creation.

Bag 2: God forgives us.

Inside the bag: The cross and three words: “It is finished.”

Bag 3: God has prepared a place for us.

Inside the bag: Our daily bread and an invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

I love that Jesus prepared breakfast for His friends after He was resurrected.  You’d think after such a glorious feat He’d do something a little more regal.

But nope.

He made them breakfast.

I’ve been teaching the Bible these last two years via an international Bible study. Next year they’ll be studying the book of Romans. And I’m not going to teach.  I don’t want to bog kids down with a heavy load of doctrine. I just want to carry three light bags.

Dinner is ready.

 

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life, Light

Totally Depraved?

Your idea of Saturday morning fun may not include reading up on total depravity, but that’s what I did this snowy April morn. (By “reading up” I mean I read the Wikipedia entry.)

Why on earth?

Because I got up at 5 am, fed my friends and then headed to leaders meeting where leader after leader affirmed the doctrine of the total depravity of man. One wonderful leader, a friend, supposed that even during the 1,000 year reign of Jesus (Revelation 20), even with Satan’s lying lips silenced, the behavior of people will spiral out of control.

But where in Scripture does it say that?

When God created mankind, He declared His work, “very good.”

Adam and Eve showed no signs of depravity until the deceiver showed up and, well, deceived them.

There is no mention in Scripture of any sort of rebellion during the 1,000 year reign of Christ. It isn’t until the serpent is released from the Abyss and starts deceiving people again that an army forms and marches against God. I agree that sin is present in every man, but in the beginning (Genesis 3) and in the end (Revelation 20) rebellion needed to be coaxed by deception.

Rebellions need a leader. An instigator.

That’s why who your child hangs out with is important.

That’s why who you listen to is important.

That’s why most – probably all – people have to be radicalized before they commit terrorist atrocities.

I know Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure,” (17:9) but back up your Bible reading bus and look what he said just before that: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man…” (v. 5) “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord…” (v. 7)

So here’s what I want us Christians to do: Check the Scriptures before we promulgate a man made doctrine. See if it’s written in red by Jesus, or in stone by the prophets.

Maybe even check Wikipedia to see where it originated.

And speaking of Saint Augustine, I cannot read or hear his name without being warmed by the memories of my many visits to St. George Street, Flagler College, Castillo de San Marcos, the Alligator Farm and even Fort Matanzas. I’m way past due for a return trip.

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St. George St., Saint Augustine, FL photo credit: Evangelio Gonzalez, Creative Commons

Bottom line:  If the doctrine you hold so dear originated with man, take it with a grain of salt. air.

Ahhhh, salt air.

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Light, Revelation

It’s My Birthday & I’ll Post if I Want To…

…I’ll post if I want to…

When you read Revelation slowly, you start to notice some stuff.

Like the seven lampstands.  The KJV calls them candlesticks.  Either way, their purpose is to hold light.  To raise it up high enough to cut through the cold, dark night.  And isn’t that exactly what a church ought to do – raise Jesus up high enough to cut through the cold, dark night?

Jesus walked among the lampstands. He was the Light in them and He was the Maintenance Man walking among them.  Each lampstand was evaluated.  Each received a performance report.

And, I noticed, Jesus used the same technique I used to teach to the volunteer counselors at the crisis pregnancy center:  the critical feedback sandwich. Basically, it’s a slab of criticism sandwiched between a slice of commendation and a slice of encouragement. Because criticism is a whole lot easier to swallow if you use the right bread.

Jesus told the first church that He saw them. He saw their hard work and perseverance.  He saw their discernment and loyalty to the Truth.  Good job Ephesians!

Love

BUT.  They were taking their discernment a little, no a lot, too far.  They were loving their doctrine more than they were loving people, more than they were loving God.

I know exactly what He meant.  Several years ago, as I was preparing to speak to a group of middle school students, I mentioned to the youth pastor that I might show Rob Bell’s short video entitled, Fire.

“I wouldn’t show that video here,” he said.  “They hate Rob Bell here.  In fact, they have a whole committee actively devoted to rooting out heresy.”

Whoa! Hate?  This was back when Rob Bell was just starting to fall out of favor with the church at large because he said he doesn’t believe in a literal hell.  I don’t agree with Rob, but I don’t hate him.  And I don’t think being wrong about one thing negates every true and right thing a person has ever written or said.  But they hated him.  And they were determined to swiftly and completely cut him out – like a cancer – before he infected everyone.

Except that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.  And Jesus suffered life and death on earth for PEOPLE, not doctrine.  Even Paul – that great contender for the faith – instructed us to speak the truth in love.  Gentle restoration, my friends, gentle.

So, yes, I would say the letter to the Ephesians was also a letter to that committee. And to the guy whose post I read the other day while I was sitting in the waiting room.  He was mocking Priscilla Shirer because she hears directly from God and he doesn’t.  But that might be another post for another day.

The point is, if your church is working so hard to perfectly dot your doctrinal “i” and perfectly cross your doctrinal “t” that it is forgetting to love, then your church is missing the point of being a lampstand. And it will die. Because Jesus does not make idle threats.

He warned the church in Ephesus, “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

According to my Bible study notes, there is now hardly a trace of the Christian church in this region. The lampstand at Ephesus has been removed, the church is gone and the city is in ruins.

Jesus won’t stay in a loveless marriage.

The dim glow of doctrine is not nearly bright enough to illuminate anyone’s path, cut through their darkness or warm their way.  In the end it will only cause them to stumble.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not hating on doctrine here.  It just shouldn’t be your first love, your everything. And we all know that sometimes it is.

If you are quoting Paul a whole lot more often than you are quoting Jesus, then you need ears to hear.

If you and/or church lacks love, get it back.  Do the things you did when your wick was first lit, back before you got all tied up in the straightjacket of legalism.  Quick, before the Holy Spirit leaves the building.

“Love one another,” Jesus said. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Life

Oh and look!  “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

The tree of life. The one in Eden from which we’ve been banned.  The way to which is guarded by cherubim and a flaming, flashing sword.

We’re gonna’ get to eat from it again.

When we love again.

©2015, Light & life

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Light

More Bad Acting

When I posted Bad Acting the other day, I wasn’t preaching anything and I wasn’t putting forth a theological dissertation.  It was just little old me sharing my little old stream of consciousness.  There were a couple of things floating in that stream: 1. What makes some people mean? 2. Why do some Christians believe that we are all wretched sinners?  I knew when I pushed publish that my thoughts were only a rough draft and I was hoping it would generate some discussion that would help me bring what I really wanted to say into focus.  It did.  So thank you for your comments, they furthered my thinking.

I decided to get a little more serious, bring some quick research into the equation. So first thing I did was bing “Original Sin”.  Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Original sin, also called ancestral sin, is the Christian doctrine of humanity’s state of sin resulting from the fall of man, stemming from Adam’s rebellion in Eden. This condition has been characterized in many ways, ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a “sin nature”, to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt of all humans through collective guilt.

The concept of original sin was first alluded to in the 2nd century by IrenaeusBishop of Lyons in his controversy with certain dualistGnostics. Other church fathers such as Augustine also developed the doctrine,[2] seeing it as based on the New Testament teaching of Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22) and the Old Testament verse of Psalm 51:5.

Okay, right off the bat I learned a couple of things:

First, there is a spectrum of beliefs among Christians about original sin.  We don’t all believe that original sin equals total depravity.  Good to know that leaning toward a more moderate “sin nature” position is a legitimate Christian belief.  Though I’m guessing that some in the “total depravity” camp would say that those in the “sin nature” camp are not real Christians.

The second thing I learned was that the doctrine of Original Sin was not put forth by Jesus (my “go to” for everything God related).  It was put forth by men, based on, of course, Paul.  And David’s Psalm 51:5 confession that he was born sinful.

Okay, so let’s think about that little bit for a second.

Before meeting Jesus, Paul was morally depraved.  Even though he was well-schooled in Jewish law, he had no real understanding of God in his heart.  He cruelly sent Christians to brutal deaths.  All the while thinking he was pleasing God.  He was a terrorist.  So of course he is going to write from a knowledge of total depravity.  But just because he was once totally depraved does not mean that his depravity must automatically be extrapolated to everyone else.

Same with David.  Yes, committing adultery with another man’s wife and then having that man killed in order to cover up his sin was a morally depraved thing to do.  But not everyone commits adultery and murder.  Not everyone is morally depraved (defined wicked).

Look at Abraham.  I find no wickedness in him.  I find no wickedness in Job.  Or Moses.

God tucked Moses into the cleft of a rock, passed before him, and declared His nature.  And of all the things He could have said about Himself, He said this:

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” Exodus 34 NIV

God forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin.  They are three different things.

All wickedness is sin.
All rebellion is sin.
But all sin is not wicked.
And all sin is not rebellious.

Sin is anything that falls short of God’s standards.  Anything that is not-God.
You can sin and not even realize it.

Rebellion is knowing that something is sin and doing it anyway.
You cannot rebel without knowing it.

Wickedness is deliberately causing harm to another.
You can be wicked without rebellion. (If you grew up in a morally depraved atmosphere and you think wickedness is the acceptable norm.) But it is still sin.

Before I became a Christian I sinned every morning without even realizing it.  I read my horoscope.  Then I read Deuteronomy 18 and I learned that reading my horoscope was sin. So I stopped reading it.

I told my mom – who taught me to read my horoscope every morning, who used to read it to me when I was a child – what I read in Deuteronomy. She said, “I know.” I was flabbergasted. She knew and she read it everyday anyway? That was rebellion. And wickedness because she was knowingly causing her children to displease God.

So what I was trying to say on Wednesday is that everyone sins. We all like sheep have gone astray. We all like dumb, clueless sheep have gone astray. Sheep aren’t wicked, they are just greatly in need of a Shepherd to guide and care for them. Lest they get lost and maimed.

And I would dare say that everyone is rebellious at times because none of us obey God perfectly, even when we know what He wants us to do/not do.

But I find no Scriptural support that everyone is wicked. That everyone has a mean side.

Jesus called some people – even some generations – wicked, but He did not call everyone wicked. And He didn’t preach self-condemnation. He preached from a place of compassion and restoration and gentleness. He led by positive example – showing us what His Father is like.  And that is what I would love to see some of the young bucks who climb the pulpit on Sunday morning do.

And that is what I would love to see the harsh doctrine-loving bloggers do: Lead by gentle, loving example. Without all the browbeating.

The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

What about you guys? Would you say that you are ever mean or cruel? I’m guessing the majority of you are not.

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