Monthly Archives: January 2009

Rejection of the Witness

rejection-of-the-witness

The Biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah is usual read as God’s rejection of the twin cities vile and wicked practices. And more often than not by most Christian readers the homosexual acts that are explicitly written about tend to be the reason for Gods’ judgment. We even use the term “sodomy”, a word derived from this biblical town, to describe “any of various forms of sexual intercourse held to be unnatural or abnormal, especially anal intercourse or bestiality”(answers.com). But what if we have read the story wrong? What if we have read into the story a justification of the judgment of certain sin?
Homosexuality is the villain of all sin in modern Christendom. As someone once said homosexuality is like the “deal breaker” sin. Go-ahead lie, cheat, steal, God will still forgive you, but god-forbid your engaged in homosexuality. Its instant damnation… I mean after all look at Sodom and Gomorrah God just wiped them off the face of the earth because they were practicing homosexuality.
I think it’s safe to say that homosexuality is not an activity condoned by Scripture along with many other practices such as adultery, drunkenness, disobedience to one’s parents, etc…
Yet, the issue of this text has more to do with Sodom and Gomorrah’s rejection of the witness’s God sent to them. In Genesis 18 Abraham meets 3 men, these 3 men are taken to be angels and one seems to be a theophany (God appearing to man).  As the men leave camp with Abraham God tells Abraham his plan to go “inspect” Sodom and Gomorrah. After a minute of bargaining with Abraham God acquiesce that if 10 righteous men can be found he will spare the two cities.
In the end, only Lot and his family are spared. However, the text does not say they are spared because of their personal righteousness, but because they recognized, welcomed, and obeyed the two witnesses sent from God.
Likewise, Jesus confirms this interpretation when he speaks the towns of Korazin and Bethsaida. He says there punishment will be worse on the Day of Judgment than Sodom and Gomorrah. And their judgment comes because they rejection of the testimony of Jesus, not because of any particular sin or grievance.  I suppose even if we were still to assume Sodom and Gomorrah were judged because of sexual deviance, Jesus says a more heinous sin is rejection of his testimony.  If there ever was a deal breaker sin its rejection of Jesus not homosexuality.  In way or another, Jesus said this is how all men will be judged; based on acceptance or rejection of the witness of God they have received.

* In Matthew 10 Jesus tells those who reject the testimony of  Jesus brought via the disciples will be judged more serious than Sodom and Gomorrah.

Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
Matthew 11:20-24

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Our love for God is expressed through our love for others.

Our love for God is expressed through our love for others.

love god love others-love others love God

Love God love others-Love others love God

Jesus said our love of him would be expressed by our loved for others. As we love outwardly, we love upwardly.

In Church today our spirituality is often manifested by how ferequently we pray or read, how loud and free our worship is, or by what divine gifts we operatate in such as healings or speaking in tongues. Yet, Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth says you can have all these things in operation but if you have not love, you have nothing. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:21-23). In fact the verse which preceed this one says, “by their fruit you will recognize them”(Matthew 7:20) The things we do can not stand alone, all we do must be rooted in love, genuine christ like love. The love we have for God should manifest itself as love for others otherwise it is selfserving love wihich is really no love at all.

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

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What is the highest form of spirituality?

In the search for truth and life, one inevitability is force to grow. But what does that growth look like? A child progresses from crawling to walking, yet, the stages of christian maturation are vague. What is the highest form of spirituality? What does a mature follower of Christ look like, act like, think like?

Christendom has taught for years that the highest form of spirituality has been a aesthetic lifestyle. From this thought monasticism was birthed, caves were tunneled out, monasteries were built and simple robes were sown. It was felt it one truly wanted to serve God to their fullest ability they were to shrink back from the world and dwell within themselves. These groups of people throughout the centuries sought out a mystical expression of their faith separate from the world.

In most other types of Christianity the mystic experience is rated as the highest form of sanctification.  In Catholicism the monastic life is the way of perfection, and mystic rapture is the highest attainment and reward of monastic contemplation and service.  In Protestantism, which has no monastic leisure for mystic exercises, mysticism is of a homelier type, but in almost every group of believers there are some individuals who profess to have attained a higher stage of sanctification through “a second blessing,” “the higher light,” “complete sanctification,” “perfect love,” Christian science, or Theosophy.  The literature and organizations ministering to this mystical life, go on the assumption that it far transcends the ordinary way in spiritual blessings and sanctifying power.
Mysticism is a steep short-cut to communion with God.  There is no doubt that under favorable conditions it has produced beautiful results of unselfishness, humility, and undauntable courage.  Its danger is that it isolates.  In energetic mysticism the soul concentrates on God, shuts out the world, and is conscious only of God and itself.  In its highest form, even the consciousness of self is swallowed up in the all-filling possession of God.  No wonder it is absorbing and wonderful.  But we have to turn our back on the world to attain this experience, and when we have attained it, it makes us indifferent to the world.  What does Time matter when we can live in Eternity? What gift can this world offer us after we have entered into luminous presence of God?
The mystic way to holiness is not though humanity but above it.  We can not set aside the fundamental law of God that way.   He made us for one another, and our highest perfection comes not by isolation but by love.  The way of holiness through human fellowship and service is slower and lowlier, but its results are more essentially Christian.  Paul dealt with the mystic phenomena of religion when he dealt with the charismata of primitive Christianity, especially with glossolalia (1 Cor. Xii-xiv).  It is a striking fact that he ranks the spiritual gifts not according to their mystic rapture, but according to their rational control and their power of serving others.  His great chapter on love dominates the whole discussion and is offered as a counter-poise and antidote to the dangers of mysticism.

…A religious experience is not Christian unless it binds us closer to men and commits us more deeply to the Kingdom of God.

-Walter Rauschenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel, pg104-105

Often the isolated mystical expression of life does make us feel closer to God as get further away from the world. However, if we were to graph Christian maturation, this form of Christian expression could be compared to infancy; where instead of engageing this world one withdraws. It is like a child who is scarred of the darkness in a unlit room will just choose not to enter, instead of turning on the light and entering. And in like manner, the christian after salvation who now clearly sees the sin and depravity of the world comparred to hollyness of God chooses to retreat to a meeting place with God in the closet of his house instead of bringing the light of God into the world. God’s purposes for us is not to flee from this world but to redeem it. We are called to bring order to chaos, not abandon ship. Seeking the Isolation with God feels good because it feeds our selfish wants. And if we come back to the definiton that sin=selfishness then seeking isolation with God apart from the world is not only neglecting our duty to redeem it but it isa willful act of sin. The main expression of the Gospel is to love God and love others. We can do this seeking God in our closet. And just like the child who is scarred of the dark, it may be a scarry proposition for the Christain to enter into this world fearing that the mud of this worlds perversion might stain the white clothes Jesus just gave us. But we have to remember our righteouness does not come from ourselves but from God, and nothing we do can make him dirty.

Jesus prayed that we may become on just as he is one with the Father ( John 17:22). So it would seem that the higest form of Spirituality is not isolation with God, but unity with man, that we do not mature the better we relate to God, but the better we relate to others. Jesus in Matthew 25 says he will judge our relationship with him not on how we treated him, but how we loved the least of these.

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Defining Sin. The untouchable just became more untouchable.

In one of my earlier posts I mentioned this concept, but here I would like to come back and explain it in full detail.

Sin… The dreaded untouchable topic, and the more we learn about it the more we don’t want to talk about it.

sin-n-love
*The above diagram will be my working definition.

I believe this definition, that sin=selfishness & love=selflessness is not a far stretch from a theological viewpoint. From strict biblical language the word sin “hamartia” (ἁμαρτία) which is an archery term meaning “to miss the mark.” Furthermore, expanded for a theological meaning renders the definition “to miss the mark of God’s perfection.” Simply, anything that does not hit the bull’s-eye of perfection would then be considered sin. This definition, although it may help describe the literal meaning of the text, does not help us to composite a complete view of what sin is. Viewing sin through this traditional lens of draws upon references to the law, creating a black or white system in which there is much grey. In a system that says sin is trespassing these set list of rules and laws is rally labeling the acts sinful and not the person. The act of eating pork for the Jew is sinful, not the disobedient Jew eating the pork. Jesus said in reference to ceremonial hand washing, that its not what enters the stomach, which makes someone sinful, but what flows from his or her heart. Its not the actions themselves which are sinful, but the heart that produces these act that is sinful.

Our primary definition then stands, sin=selfishness. Someone is labeled sinful not because of the acts they commit, but because of the heart in which they commit them. Thus, anything can become “sin” if it is done out of selfishness. Likewise anything can become a righteous act of love if it is done selflessly. The Scripture there have been many troubling passages where an act was committed that was clear breaking of the black and white law given from God; yet, it is somehow not seen as wrong, and never punished. Exodus 1 tells the story of when Pharaoh became scarred of the increasing strength and number of the Hebrew people so he ordered the midwives to kill all the newborn boys. However, the midwives feared God and did not do this, instead they lied to Pharaoh about why the Hebrew boys were still living. Now, we all understand lying to be “sinful” yet, it is not viewed this way here. Because when any act is done out of a true love for God, and love for others it is not a “sinful” act. There are many of these moral and ethical paradoxes that grey the line of the law, which is why the law isn’t perfect. God gave the law only as a guide to try to help illustrate acts that where selfish in nature. And to be fair there are several acts written about in the law that can only be committed out of selfishness. There is never a point at which you can become an adulterous out of selfless motives. (Oh and doing it because they wanted to is not selfless, being selfless does not just mean doing what others want but doing what is in the best interest of others, which is also the definition of love.

Someone at this point might also interject that you can “love” out of selfishness just as you can out of selflessness. To that I would simply answer any act of love done selfishly is no act of love, but a backdoor pat on the back. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons is not love, its just doing the right thing. Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This perfection means, like God we must love everyone, not just those who love us back.

The Pharisees had become masters at keeping the Law, yet, Jesus still found fault with them, and this was because even in keeping that the letter of the law they missed the heart. The Religious leaders would tithe on everything down to their spices, yet Jesus tells them they have forgotten the most important aspect of the law– justice mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23). Jesus confronts the loophole in the law they have created. On the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21&22), furthermore Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27&28). Jesus in these passages highlighted the scary truth, that even if though they were able to follow the law they were still guilty of the heart of the law, and the heart of the law says that sin is not committed by doing certain acts but by doing anything out of selfish motives. At the end of this sermon Jesus gives some very harsh words we are all familiar with. He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” The question is raised how could these men do these miracles in the name of God yet still be denied access to the Father. And the answer is because of the motive in which they were done. The will of the father is not that man can perform miracles but that man would love his fellow man. Remember God is love, and we are called to be imitators of God as dear children (Ephesians 5:1).

This is where the conversation will become uncomfortable for many. If sin=selfishness then those who covert to Christendom as way of escaping personal damnation have turned “getting saved” into a sinful act, and in all reality not “saved” at all. I know that may be a hard concept to swallow but let’s examine this deeper. The number one preaching point in Jesus ministry was the Kingdom of God. Above all other topics Jesus preached the most about the Kingdom of God. Jesus began his ministry with this simple proclamation, “repent the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Now if we begin to brake down this message into its parts we’ll begin to understand it as a whole better. “Repent” meaning to have a change in mind, to take a 180-degree turn in your course of action. Jesus is calling people to turn from the way they were, the selfish ways that comes natural to all of mankind. An in place of this he is offering the Kingdom of God. But what is the Kingdom of God? Much discussion could be placed here, but for space purposes I’ll keep it brief. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom or fellowship in which all lives are surrendered to the King, whom is God. The Kingdom of God is a way of living more fully in the presence of God by become more like him, which is in essence become less concerned about us. The Kingdom of God is a community where we are all united as one. So in a grand perspective to be “saved” is to put a stop in selfish thinking and acting and begin loving others and thinking and acting as one, remembering Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane before going to the cross that all his followers might become one just as he is one with God.

This may seem like a foreign concept. However, Jesus said he would judge our love for him on our treatment of others. Jesus separated his true followers from those who were not based on their care of him when he was sick and hungry, imprisoned and outcast. To this his follows asked when were you sick, hungry or imprisoned. This is when Jesus told them that by taken care of their fellow brother in their times of crisis they were essential taking care of Jesus. So as we selflessly take care of the needs of others we truly love God.

Therefore, to the convert who seeks salvation so that he may be pardoned from the repercussions of his selfish life, no salvation can be offered because no repentance is ever made. This is very reminiscent of the rich young ruler who claim to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” Jesus then begins to walk through the Law of Moses one by one. The rich young ruler replies he had never broken any of them, and asks, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Here Jesus replies, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Although, the right young ruler had followed the letter of the Law he had done it selfishly just like he was selfishly seeking a way to obtain eternal life all on his own ability. To this Jesus told him to go and demonstrate one unselfish act, to sell all he had and give it to the poor. The young ruler could not do it, and so he left the presence of Jesus empty handed, which is how many who have sought out eternal life for selfish gain will also end up.

* Many of the above ideas came at under the heavy influence of Walter Rauschenbusch’s book A Theology for the Social Gospel.

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