Saturday, January 23, 2010

what is so original about sin?

I had a few interesting conversations this week with friends and the subject of original sin came up. So I thought it might be a good topic to discuss in light of how most Christians read the Bible.

Romans 5:12ff is the classic text for original sin. "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned." And then in verse 18ff, "Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous."

Some observations of this text

1. ". . .death came to all men, BECAUSE ALL SINNED." Paul is pretty clear in associating the consequence of death with the participation in sin. We are held accountable for our choices not Adam's choices.

2. The words "Consequently, just as. . ." point us to the relationship of the two following statements. These two opposite statements are related. They are parallel. They are a comparison.
disobedience - made sinners
obedience - made righteous

You have two choices at this point. Either participation is necessary in both cases or participation is not necessary. Choice #1 if you participate in disobedience you are made a sinner like Adam. If you participate in obedience you are made righteous like Jesus.
Choice #2 Without participation in disobedience we are made sinners by Adam's "original sin". And without participation in obedience we are made righteous by Jesus' perfect life.

I lean toward choice #1. I think Scripture clearly portrays individual responsibility to pursue relationship with God. Our choices, our participation is crucial to our relationship with God. Ezekiel 18 is pretty clear (vs. 17) we do not die for the sins of our father. Check it out.

On a side note, choice #2 is intriguing, because it suggests universalism; the belief that all of humankind is saved from their sins regardless of whether they embrace Christ or not. You can wrestled with this one on your own time.

So why do most Christians accept the idea of original sin? Because we embrace our father's faith without questioning it. There is much hidden in the shadows of human history that most of us don't take the time to investigate. This particular Christian idea has its own history of which I only know part.

Jewish culture, leading up to the time of Christ was centered around community in a way that we simply don't understand. People new that they were connected to each other in a vital way that they could not ignore. The current state in an individual's life was credited to the choices of the generations that had gone before. The virtue of an individuals life was seen in the context of his or her family. The righteous often times suffered along with their unrighteous brothers and sisters, and the unrighteous were blessed along with their righteous brothers and sisters. God related to Israel as a community as much as he related to individuals.

Jewish thought saw the human heart as having a "bent" toward evil without being condemned for this "bent". In other words humans seemed to all choose evil at some point - it was inevitable. But condemned at birth - no.

Toward the end of the Jewish prophetic writings the prophets start to say some radical new things. God will write his laws on people's hearts. He will not judge individuals for the sins of family or community. Each person is free to choose whom he or she will serve.

Enter Jesus. And here I can't help but see the deal breaker for original sin. Was Jesus human? Then why does he not have "original sin". Jesus made possible the promises of the prophets by tearing down the wall separating the individual from the Holy of Holies. Personal intimacy with God was now available to all. And Pentecost saw God pouring out his Holy Spirit on everyone.

At first (for over 200 years) faith in Jesus, which came to be known as the Way was governed by the Holy Spirit as individual communities sought to live out their faith as the Holy Spirit taught them. They had the benefit of writings like the gospels and the letters that were left behind by the apostles, but there was no centralized authority governing and separating correct doctrine from heresy.

It was if God was confident in His ability to guide his church through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, this was not good enough for men. With Emperor Constantine came the joining of the kingdom of heaven with the ideas and authority of human empire. Within a hundred years Tertullian would lay out for us the doctrine of original sin and the centralized church would have the human authority to make this doctrine universal.

Questioning this doctrine excluded many from the opportunity to serve the church as recognized ministers. Questioning this doctrine caused many to be sent into exile or even put to death for their heresy. Centralized authority which ruled over personal belief crushed relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

We owe it to ourselves and to a world looking for the truth to question the faith of our fathers and live our lives of faith from our own relationship with Jesus through the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Study the Scriptures, study some church history. Why do you believe what you believe?

Just some stuff we shoud talk about.

Monday, January 18, 2010

And now for something completely different. . .

Do you like the story you are in? Does your life make any kind of sense to you? If you were a screenwriter making the movie of your life would you take some "creative license" and tweak it a bit?

Behind the intellectual format of this blog is my underlying conviction that we are all involved in a story. Our story. And our story is happening inside of God's story. Unfortunately, as soon as I drop "God's story" into this post ten thousand different perversions of what I meant are formed in your minds. You see, I am convinced that man's propensity to attempt to control God's story and consequently your story leads him to foolish decisions about God's story.

We could sit and list versions of God's story all day long. We hear from the people who make God into a puppet-master, laying out human history and then "sovereignly" making it happen.
Some say that God is dis-interested. He put it all together, wound it up and let it go. God is something like an absentee father. We know he's there, but he doesn't visit often. Some would make God to be Santa Claus, organizing us into those he likes and those he hates. Dolling out presents to make our lives more comfortable or enjoyable. But only if you are not on the "naughty" list.

Man is eternally creative in his or her attempts to create a God we can live with. But I am more concerned with your story. I am afraid that much of Christian theology over the years has caused many hungry, passionate people to suspend their story and "wait" on the Lord. I do not think we were designed for this. Let me try to explain.

Creation as I observe it is busy being what it was created to be. Trees do their tree thing and ants do their ant thing. The ocean is all oceany and the mountains, well, have you ever seen anything more mountainy? The story of mankind is no different.

We were designed to enjoy relationships. We as humans were put together to be intimate with other beings. Have you ever watched someone who really loves their dog, their cat or their horse? They talk to them, they listen to them, they hold them and they love them. They ooze intimacy in their relationship with their pet.

Have you ever watched a really good parent. Their ability to exist in the world of a two year old and the adult world is uncanny. A really good parent makes their child feel totally connected to them and still gets the bills payed. Children who grow up feeling intimate with their parents are the ones who are best prepared to live their own stories. Do some field research - check it out.

The same is true of friendships, marriages, teams, and communities. Intimate relationship and the pursuit of these relationships is what we were designed for. Being human is being in relationship. Too many of us have allowed a static idea about who God is and what he wants, to interupt our pursuit of intimacy with others. Yes, God has stuff to say about how we live our lives, but he talks to us along the way; from within our story. We were created in his image. We have been asked to love, to risk, to pursue; to create as we live our stories.

I have fallen in love with Jesus. I know that sounds cliche'. My story is my story and I don't apologize for it. I look for ways to hang out with Jesus the same way I look for ways to hang out with my wife, my kids and my friends. I listen to the things he says, the same way I listen to the things my wife, kids, and friends say. I enjoy what he decides to give me, the same way I enjoy what my wife, kids and friends decide to give me.

I don't wake up in the morning waiting for God to tell me what to do today. I take the stuff that bubbles out of my heart (the new one God traded me for) and I act on it. All the time, listening for what my friends have to say as I live my story.

Just some stuff we should REALLY talk about.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The cycle of history

OK. We've spent some time discussing the difference it makes to view life as organic instead of mechanistic. And we've talked about time being more accurately represented as seasonal or cyclical as opposed to linear. So now, let's look at the big picture of what I will call redemptive history or you might think of as the story of the Bible.

Here are a few starter questions:
1. Why is the God of the Old Testament so much different than the revelation of Jesus in the New Testament? (If you don't think there is any difference or that the difference is a minor thing then I would suspect you don't read your Bible very much.)
2. Where does God's justice fit into a theology of grace?
3. Bill Johnson says, "God is in a good mood." Is he always in a good mood? What about the book of Ezekiel when he seems pissed and says quite pointedly, "I will destroy you. . .I will send plagues, war and famine on you to kill you"?
4. Does God intend to punish or judge sin?

The story of humankind is the story of the collision between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this earth. Let me exlain.

Our story begins with God creating us and putting us in an environment that is an extension of the perfect spiritual realm of heaven. This realm (the garden) was surrounded by a kingdom that needed to be subdued and ruled. Enter our choice to pursue knowledge through someone other than our Father. Our choice to not be exclusive in our intimacy with the Father led to a steady increase of our distance from him as we sought comfort, pleasure, knowledge, etc. from a source other than our Father. This "season" of placing our faith in each other instead of our Father culminates in the story of the Tower of Babel. In our passion to be like God we as humans were becoming very adept at doing things that were pretty impressive by pooling our resources and trusting in each other. God's opinion on what we were accomplishing was that it was leading us away from desiring intimacy with him. So he put a stop to it. As intimacy with the Father decreased, evil increased. As the fruit of our decision to trust in someone other than the Father grew He decided to put an end to it. The flood.

Rewind. Start over. Call a man named Abram out of the nations of the world to birth a new nation, set apart to be exclusively intimate with the Father. As the generations rolled by his people decided to share their allegiance, their intimacy, with other gods. The fruit of this decision was so much evil that God says Israel was doing things that even the pagan world found abominable. Read the prophets. God is angry. He decides in his anger to destroy Israel. Enter the kings of Babylon and Persia. Exit the favor of God on Israel.

A remnant. A tree reduced to a small insignificant root. The root of Jesse (look it up). Jesus is born into poverty in a red-neck village on the frontier of the empire. He teaches that he has not come to judge but to save. Again, we choose to live by faith in Jesus or in someone or something else. This decision of where to place our faith will bear fruit. Apparently their is so much grace in this cycle of redemptive history that sin (all sin) is being forgiven and everyone (I think this means everyone) has the extended opportunity to be intimate with the Father through Jesus.

I see a clear cycle of human history. The Father inserts his presence, his love, his creativity, his desire for intimacy into the world. We, as humans decide where we will live from; where we will place our faith; whether or not we want exclusive (think of it as a monogamous relationship) intimacy with the Father. Our decision then grows, matures and bears fruit. What we have birthed by our decsions then illicits a response from our thoroughly invested, incredibly passionate, looking for loving intimacy Father. Another collision. Another cycle. Another opportunity for humankind to choose intimacy with the Father or not.

I think we find ourselves in a season of grace in the midst of cyclical history. The history of humankind pursued by a God who desperately wants to be exclusively intimate with us.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Organic - it's not just for farming

Many parts of our method of obtaining truth are handed to us, and we accept them without giving them a second thought. At one time everybody believed that the earth was at the center of the universe. At another, that the world was flat. These beliefs were the result of centuries of human history that were not static. Peoples and cultures lived, moved, thought, fought, lived and died. The product of these events was the belief system of the following generations.

We in the 21st century are no different. Unknown to most of us is the radical shift in culture that came with the industrial revolution. Late 1800's and early 1900's saw a completely agricultural world morf into a world of machines, assembly lines, technology and life altering inventions (like the lightbulb). Most of us cannot conceive of a world that stops when it is dark and continues again when the sun comes up. Artificial light has changed our lifestyles in ways that we don't even remember anymore.

This industrial revolution has also, over time, shifted our method of obtaining truth. What once was a world where things were cultivated, fed, watered, and left to grow for a season has become a world of time saving devices that need to be fixed and upgraded. We think in terms of fixing parts and upgrading performance. This is radically different than the world Jesus lived in.

Do you realize that every metaphor Jesus used to describe his kingdom was organic. Not once did he refer to a mechanism like a sun-dial or an aqueduct or any type of man made machine. He continually used organic metaphors like planting, reaping, seeds, yeast, trees, etc.

So what is my problem with the industrial revolution? Just this. I think we often think in terms of fixing our lives or our bodies or our marriages or our relationships. We are looking for a spiritual part to plug in and make things work better. Something like a Christianity 7.o or 8.o. I think God grows things. I don't think he fixes things.

Take for instance a husband who doesn't like what is going on in his marriage. He wants to fix it. Some principle or new relational strategy that will make things work like they should. What he fails to realize and probably wouldn't understand if someone told him is that the season of his marriage has changed. The flower has closed up and if he doesn't recognize the changing season and adapt his behavior accordingly there will be no harvest. The heat of summer is upon him; water, weed, tend your flower with love and attention. There is no guarantee because this is not a machine. But, if you will answer the call of the deep place in your wife's heart and tend to her without trying to fix her you will be a good husband. But what will happen? What will the result be? Who knows; this is an organism, not a mechanism.

How would we perceive our relationships differently if we thought organically and not mechanistically? What would we do differently with things like struggle, pain, and loneliness? Yes, I believe that God breaks in on our world and changes things in an instant. But even this is a harvest from someone else's season of planting and watering.

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Monday, January 4, 2010

the cycle of faith

I attended a teen summer camp many years ago and the speaker said a most interesting thing. He said that teenagers who go to the mall are going to hell. You could have heard a pin drop. Every teen there had been to the mall and each one had just been told by the "authority" that they were going to hell. Although, that was not exactly what he had said. He did not say that ALL teenagers who go to the mall were going to hell. What really rankled the kids at the camp was what the speaker did not say.

It's my contention that what we talk about is the dominant part of our culture. What gets the most press becomes the "flavor" of our community. Many churches these days are talking about the power of God and quoting Scriptures like "on earth as it is in heaven". Please hear me. I absolutely love this promise and I lean into it as hard as I can. However, I have noticed that we are not sure what to do with friends that have not acquired their miracle yet. I have friends with cancer, a son who is deaf, and several friends who have disfunctional marriages. I pray for these situations, believing that it is God's will to heal and restore. I do not believe that God sent these sicknesses or hardships to "teach" or "refine". God is not the author of death - Satan is.

So what do I say about those I love who suffer daily; those who battle character deficiencies for years on end? I think part of my difficulty is the traditional theology that sees the death and resurrection of Jesus as a point in linear time after which "all things have become new". I suspect that this is lazy theology. This idea ignores many Scriptures which talk of our suffering and those who remain sick.

I think we may have stumbled upon a major cultural mistake. Two thousand years ago time was conceived of as being cyclical not linear. Jesus life, death and resurrection was unique and world changing. However, the invitation to his potiential disciples is to follow him - to share in his life; to share in his death and "somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead."

We participate in the cyclical sequence of events which begins with a clash between the kingdom of heaven and the powers of this earth (human and demonic). The clash can both undo the works of Satan and produce persecution. In both however, we suffer for a little while so that our faith, which is of greater worth than gold can be proved genuine (1 Peter 1:7). Put another way, the life of living faith in Jesus will take us through seasons of pain and suffering as we battle for true faith and as we carry the burdens of others.

This conversation will applaud the faith of the one who lives with pain and the faith of the one who has been freed of pain. To ignore the seasons of unrealized victory and anticipated freedom in the continuing cycle of redemptive history is to paint those who are battling pain and disappointment, with a second-class brush. As if somehow they are exeperiencing a lesser measure of the love of our Father. What is love? To lay down your life for another. It is my bet that those of us who follow Jesus will experience both the fellowship of sharing in his suffering and the power of his resurrection in a continuing cycle of deepening faith.

Friday, January 1, 2010

who are you talking to?

There is much confusion amongst followers of Jesus as to what Jesus really taught. He says things that seem to contradict. He tells a Samaritan women that he came only for the people of Israel, but when asked who his neighbor is, Jesus makes the hero of the story the Good Samaritan. Jesus teaches that not the smallest section of the Hebrew law is to be forgotten, yet he regularly "revises" the same law when the religious leaders challenge him on things like working on the Sabbath and the law's injuction to fast or to give to the poor.

Why do we have Christians on street corners with bull-horns acting like Old Testament prophets and others posting a 3500 year old Jewish document on billboards? I believe the answer can be found in the context of Jesus' life. How silly we are to ignore the time and culture of Jesus' life as we try to understand what he taught.

Jesus came to a culture that was distinctly Jewish. What does this mean to Gentiles two millenia away? It means that much of Jesus' teaching was specifically addressing a people group who were already the people of God, who already had relationship with him, who already sought his voice and to do his will. When Jesus says in Matthew 5:13, "You are the salt of the earth. . .", he is addressing Jews (the people of God). He is warning Israel that if they don't flavor the world with the heart of their loving Father they may find themselves "thrown out and trampled on". Low and behold most of Israel rejects Jesus and over the next two thousand years we find the Jews (for the most part) on the outside looking in. We find their history repeting itself as the powers of this world trample on them.

Jesus is extremely compassionate and loving to almost everyone he encounters. He heals everyone brought to him, he feeds the hungry, he tells poor people the good news of a new kingdom. However, Jesus saves his more belligerant responses for those who are spiritual leaders. He regularly attacks the behavior and character of the spiritual leaders of Israel calling them names, insulting them, and messing up their church building. He even saves some of his most aggressive stuff for his own disciples who he is grooming to lead when he is gone. He calls Peter "Satan" and he gets openly frustrated with his guys when they cannot heal the boy with a demon. Why the double standard?

I believe that we as humans misunderstand the teachings of the son of God because we have a different orientation than he does. We look at the world as good and evil. We see us and them. We think in terms of right and wrong, anchoring our morality to a static (unchanging) system of belief.

Jesus regulary took a distinctly other-world position or a third choice. He didn't see the choice of stoning a women caught in adultery as either; obey the law or ignore the law. He inserted choice number three. Yes, the law requires her death, let the righteous execute the law. What, no one is righteous? Surprise. Surprise. Hey, I'm righteous, and I decide to give you mercy not judgment. By the way, sweetheart, you probably don't want to sleep around anymore.

Jesus' posture recognizes that two different groups are present when they bring him the woman caught in adultery. Group one, morally upright, leaders in the church, intent on "protecting" their righteousness. To these Jesus has a message that causes conviction; a message of direct instruction, a message that if it does not produce repentance will cause distance between them and Jesus. What happens? What they thought was the morally right execution of their function in the people of God is taken away from them. This causes many "leaders" in the church to secretly resent the teachings of Jesus and to look for ways to retain control, to keep their position.

Group two, the woman.

Jesus was constantly aware of two groups of people who were following him around. Group one were the outsiders, the poor, the rejected, the sorrowful, the sick. These he pursued with love. These, he hung out with in their comfortable places and befriended. To these he said, "I haven't come to judge you but to love you." His kingdom is expressly for them. This is why he has come.

Group two are the righteous, the insiders, the healthy. Now, Jesus is not against these people because they are righteous, healthy insiders. Rather, he resents the posture of those who have gotten theirs and are not concerned that others be included. In fact, I would suggest that Jesus loves the insider just as much as the outsider. But his invitation to these is different. Come, spend your wealth on the poor. Invest, your health and energy on those who are sick. Risk your comfort and safety to attack the powers of this world and undo the work of Satan in the world.

So whether you consider yourself to be an insider or an outsider, whether you are healthy or sick, whether you have tons of joy or regulary sorrow; Jesus invites both groups to be part of a third group. Those who wish to be intimate with Jesus and as they grow healthy in him to invest that strength the same way Jesus invested his strenth - for the salvation of those who are hurting.

Jesus said, "I did not come to call the healthy but the sick." However, he would love it if the healthy would join him in loving on the sick. So God Bless the bull-horns and the billboards. Just keep them inside the church buildings where only the "righteous" can feel the sting of rebuke and wrestle with the law. After all, this was Jesus' model and should be ours as well.

Just some stuff we should talk about.