Tag Archives: Bible

Putting the Pieces Together

Let’s say then that sin isn’t breaking rules. And that’s important enough to repeat. Sin is NOT breaking rules. rules2Sin is creating a dead spot in our soul by breaking a relationship with someone who loves us. It is choosing to create separation. That separation is from what is life-giving. Life-giving sensations, feelings, sensitivities are all part of our whole natures – our souls and when we choose against that we deaden some part so that it doesn’t respond as it should. When it doesn’t respond, we don’t act in the way we like to act. We create false experiences of relating with other people that separate us from them and in some cases causes them to choose separation from us and others as well.

The Bible tells us that first human beings did this. They chose to deaden their relationship with God. And so, instead of being life-giving to the world and to oSo,ther people, they began to regularly, intimately and intricately create separation and deadening experiences in others. We passed it on, like an infection. And we see it happen that way every day, in subtly gentle ways and in massively horrific ways. In can be passed along, like a cold, in common interaction, like an advertisement that takes a heart-felt truth and turns it into a sales promotion, by whining ourselves into isolation and even by selling other humans.

One of the things that teaches us that sin is not breaking rules is that Jesus is not made sinful by being with us, touching us or associating with us. What became known as “holy” was seen as clean and pure. We were told that God was distant from us… clean and pure, unable to abide the touch of sin. A friend once described this as similar to a ink line on a silk shirt, as when some doesn’t realize the pen is still open and puts in into the pocket, marking a short line across the material.penshirt It is ruined. There’s no getting the ink out of the silk. In this same way, my friend said, God can’t allow sin to touch him.

The problem with that is Jesus, who came and lived with us. Jesus touched people who were sinful, who were told they were out of the reach of God and who, it was claimed, could “infect” someone else with their sin. But that’s all “breaking the rules” sin, the Law. Jesus came and reinterpreted the Law and taught us that we had no idea what it meant. Some people who read Jesus’ reinterpretation, in the Sermon on the Mount, will tell you he makes righteousness beyond the reach of everyone by what he says. But what Jesus was telling us was that we got the point of the Law wrong. The Law wasn’t a set of rules that we had to avoid breaking. The Law is God saying, “Don’t do this because it will hurt you, it will deaden a part of you. Do this instead because it will bring you life.”

So, Jesus didn’t die to make us pure and holy. He died by receiving the consequences of all the death created by human beings throughout history. All the death we create within our souls and within the souls of others, Jesus received so that a way could be made for us to re-grow the dead parts into life-giving, healthy parts.

What Jesus brought us was the means of finding life, of living with each other and growing into wholeness in our souls.

More to come…


An Arena of Safety

“Naked and unashamed…” the description of Adam and Eve that starts their existence is one that gives design to marriage.

When a couple marries they make vast promises to each other. For many people these vows mean, essentially, “I’m going to stick.” I think that’s cool. But the way I look at it, the vow of marriage means even more, that I am deciding and declaring in public that I will provide you with an arena of safety. In this place you will be able to be as vulnerable as you can possibly get and you will be safe. Things won’t hurt you here. For me this is the essence of sexual and sensual expression that is blended throughout marriage and is God honored. I will create a space where you don’t have to prove anything and that space is simply my presence. You can be who you truly and actually are and you will be safe as that.handholding

God’s pleasure in sexuality is not fully appreciated it seems to me. If we take the Bible at face value he reveled in it at creation. Then, just about the center of the book is an erotic poem entitled “Song of Songs.” Some people have tried to explain away the eroticism by attaching figurative spiritual meaning to it. That’s interesting, but I can’t completely buy it. There is Midrash, old Jewish commentary on Scripture, where an ancient Rabbi said that when the lover is describing his love’s breasts as “twin doves,” he was actually speaking about the two tablets of God’s law handed down to Moses. I’ve read the passage a number of times now and, in context, I’m pretty confident in saying the lover had something else in mind.

Other folks have taken the illusions and Christianized them, suggesting that Paul’s description of a husband loving his wife (Ephesians 5:25-32) being like Christ loving the church opens up the meaning of Song of Songs. Yeah, ah, no… I’m not seeing it. But I do find the arena of safety in Paul’s words as I do in the Song. Paul describes a husband as taking on the role of a body servant for his wife, one who intimately prepares and assists her from bathing to dressed in order to meet the one who loves her best as her truest self. Now, there’s a spiritual image I can move with. This is like Christ loving the church and the description of how a man treats a woman.

Or at least how a husband ought to treat his wife… he’s to be about two directions of work. He is to provide an arena of safety where he assists her spiritually in getting ready to come into the presence of God, some day, fully, prepared. He’s also to assist her to come into his own presence here and now, clearing away anything that doesn’t make her feel as completely safe and fully herself as she is when she is alone with him.

Wives teach their husbands that they also live within an arena of safety with them, but in what may be construed as a simpler fashion. She teaches him that the core of who he is deserves respect and she does. She teaches him that weaknesses he knows he has can be overcome with humility to God and partnership with the Spirit, and that he has the wherewithal to come into anyone’s presence and never lose his worth because of the work of Jesus in his heart. All of these are expressed in the respect she teaches her husband can be relied on.

Now, I’m pretty sure that I can be accused of utopian ideals in marriage, but I can make this even more idealistic. Suppose we kick it out even wider in scope and decide to treat the other gender as if inviting them into a wider arena of safety, one not as intimate as that in marriage, but moving in the same direction, maybe seen as care and value. Yeah, there’s an idea for the Body of Christ. Beyond our reach? What’s beyond the reach of Christ?


10 Reasons Men go to Church

One day I asked my Mom, why we went to the Presbyterian Church and she said, “Oh, your father said, ‘that’s where they preach the Gospel,’ so that’s where we were going.”

That’s the first reason a man goes to church.
They go to church to hear plain truth about living.
They go to find verbs that when acted out create worth.
They go to find one or two relationships on which they can count.
They go because they want to be in a community where others can depend on them.
They go because they believe that whatever they’re asked to participate in will make someone else’s life better.
They go to get stronger in making hard choices.
They go because they find things that make them laugh, that don’t make them embarrassed or ashamed at the same time.
They go because they don’t have all the answers and they believe they’re gathering with others who know the same thing.
They go because they feel a potency that draws them into a depth of living they desire to know, and because they believe it can bring about change they cannot achieve on their own.

Personally, if I didn’t find these kinds of things… I’d rather be camping.

When I messed up…

Been thinking on humility lately and that put me in mind of moments when I learned it. I wrote a short story once about a boy who comes to bat and hits a grand slam, game winning home run in the bottom of the ninth. I wrote that story out of personal experience. Twice I got up to bat with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, but both times I struck out. Twice, with two different teams, I walked off the field having let down my coach, every teammate and parent on our side. I know how miserable feels.littleleague
I spoke at my college baccalaureate and had seated in front of me every important person in my life at that moment. I was one of two students chosen by the rest of the class to speak at this service on the eve of graduation. It was there that I completely lost my place in my speech just a paragraph into it, couldn’t find any way to move ahead with an incredibly dense silence hanging around me and finally ended up reading, simply reading, my outline. I know how empty feels.
I closed a church that I founded. A small group in that church sought to recreate the nature of the church and I couldn’t recapture their hearts to help them recognize what we had or how we were doing things. They couldn’t hear the mission of the church and so they left with destruction in their wake. closedAfter a last worship service and giving away all the material goods of the church, I locked up the doors and left without a job prospect. I know how defeated feels.
These aren’t all the times I missed but they were significant.
I know what it means to come up short, to forget, to pick wrong, to reveal too much, to enable users, to allow others to think what isn’t true, to choke, to not pay attention. I know how losing feels. I know what it feels like when a little piece of my soul goes dead.
And one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t win life.
You live life.
It didn’t teach me this initially. At first all I learned was that I was a loser. Other people can be great instructors of that. I didn’t learn to try harder or to give it another shot or to find a way. I learned I was worthless and I pretty much accepted that. I grew in deep, dark confidence that I was a loser, until I came upon people who had lost more than me. But when I found them they were not caring about losing or winning. They were caring about people. And the reason they cared about people was because Jesus cared for them.
It was through them that I learned to surrender.BXP157711
I’ve learned that I am not the center. I saw the destruction of so many kinds in my life was re-handled, cleaned, cleared and reshaped. It lead me to see how big life is once again. It made everything slow down, get wider, taller, and thicker. Losing wasn’t as real as living. Neither was winning.
Not too long ago, I had a friend turn to me and in joyful evaluation of an event at church say, “Well, I’d call that a success.” And I didn’t know what to say. I suddenly realized that I didn’t evaluate success the same way anymore. I didn’t evaluate myself the same way anymore.surrender1


Noah (without spoiling the movie)

We went to see “Noah” this past weekend. Some atheist director of large movies took on a study of the Bible. For all the things that could be said about liberalities, secularizing, environmentalism, I thought it did an exemplary job of exploring how people hear God. In some people’s imagination, brought vividly to life by Bill Cosby, back in the day, it was an audible voice out of the skies. noah 3But that’s just someone’s imagination. When the Bible says, “God told Noah,” it doesn’t say “in an audible voice out of the air.” It just says God said it. If someone tells me that MEANS it was an audible voice, what it really means is that this is the way this person imagines it. But God doesn’t speak to people only with an audible voice.
Sometimes God sends a dream or fire from heaven or a vision or visits in a form people can understand as a person or in a book (like THE book) or through an angel or through a prophet or in a still, small whisper or in a pillar of smoke or a pillar of fire or a burning bush and a voice or in a particularly vivid way as Jesus.
God speaks in ways that we can understand and it is fascinating that this is what Noah is told in the movie. I believe one of the core elements of this vision of the story is the exploration of how God speaks to people. At different points God speaks:
• Through the repetition of his story as told to others
• Through creation
• Through dreams
• Through ritual
• Through verbal blessing of one person to another (confirming the blessing)
• Through shared wisdom
• Through signs (like a flood or a rainbow or a miracle)
• Through angels
• Through forgiveness
• Through community interpretation
All these ways that we read in the Bible of people seeking after knowledge or understanding from God and finding it or shown in this movie as it tells the story. We even have the example of someone demanding God to speak, essentially telling God to say what this person wants to hear, without looking at what is right in front of his face and has been throughout his life. And we see someone corrupting words and ideas we find in Scripture as one who has heard the words, but is making them fit his own design or imagination.
I was impressed with the adherence to Scripture’s telling us that people were given plants to eat before the flood, or the story of Creation (with a gentle variation) being passed down as God spoken or all the animals being drawn to the ark and Noah not having to get them. I was also impressed with the combining of the issues of free will and God’s ordaining something and miracles and God’s seeking our partnership (a rather fuller act of obedience some believers don’t seem to appreciate). I also like that they utilized elements that so many Christians latch onto, that the ark is broken in two in the mountains or that it was a big “box” more than a ship.
And I liked the “explanations” that were given, suggesting how the events may have played out without diminishing the story as Scripture presents it.
noah 4Overall, I found “Noah” to be a retelling that reminded me that God is involved and enjoys our world, doesn’t wink at the damage humans do to each other and the world, desires a relationship with us and understands our fragility. Those who are seeking to “defend” the faith and who use “Noah” as a supposed attack are not only shadow-boxing, but are also missing a chance to open a generous extended hand of friendship. We should never forget the guy to whom Jesus said, “You’re not far from the kingdom.”

Best Sensitivities

I was stopped by a waitress the other day and asked how it was going. She doesn’t come to First Presbyterian, I just frequent her place and she serves me on a regular basis, so she knows me. “How’s it going at the church? Are people throwing things yet?” She was asking if people were taking aim at me as a pastor and getting in my face. I just told her the truth. “Oh, sure,” I said. “Really?! Already?! Are they throwing the heavy stuff, rocks and bricks?” “It’s a group of human beings,” I told her. “We all do the same things…”
She has an interesting perspective on church people and how life in a church works, don’t you think?
How we take care of each other will always be the tell-tale mark of believers. ” By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) It’s never going to change. The first mark observed is not whether we’re good or know the Bible verse or sing in the choir or at church every time the doors are open. It will be how we care for each other.
On any given day I’ll get emails or notes or phone calls or visits where someone tells me what a bum I am or what a lousy job I’m doing as a pastor or they’ll tell me how glad they are that I’m here or how they have grown, changed, been relieved by a sermon or a comment or a visit or a prayer. It’s not that different from anyone else’s life, I think. Someone will come into your face and tell you what they think of you. It might make your day or make you feel bad. So, I should say that almost all of what I am told makes me feel great.Firstpres
I think one reason that the weight is on that side is because so many, many people aren’t focused on me. They’re focused on what they’re building or studying and they’re feeling like God’s involved with them. They have a sense that at this church we are creating something that will bless and honor God and will call us into loving each other deeply. We are creating a community of faith where people
• are able to easily explore actually getting in touch with God’s Spirit
• know themselves better and know how they work best with others
• know the kinds of gifts or abilities God’s given them to work in the world
• find that children are learning how to pray for each other, how to sing together and how to care what’s going on in each other’s lives
• know that they can trust the Bible and that its telling them how God loves us
Whether it is the business end of budgets and calendars and processes or it’s the internally challenging aspects of insights or learning or trying new things, people are at work and seeking to serve God. All of it is spiritual and sometimes it’s just great to be around and sometimes it’s plain wondrous.
There are pastors in this world who hate their job. I just read about a pastor who took his life and I sat with another who got dumped by his church and I ate with another who is always looking for a place to go where he won’t see “anyone from the church.” I can appreciate the ache but I’m just not there myself.
I love every square inch of this place and what’s going on here. That’s why I was able to tell the waitress, “We all do the same things… but we’re headed in a better direction.” It’s not that we’re not human. It’s that we’re learning, growing and changing to become, once again, truly and fully human… the way God made us to be.