“Go and Sin No More”? You don’t get to say that. Ever.

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We hear it all the time. We can argue the grace and forgiveness of Jesus till the cows come home, how he forgave the woman caught in adultery. “Neither do I condemn you.” “See how gracious Jesus is?” we say. And then some smart Christian inevitably comes back with, “Yeah, but he also said, ‘Go and sin no more.'”

And there goes the image of a gracious Jesus out the window. Like a political ad for local politician: “Jesus: not soft on crime, not soft on sin.” Might as well just go back to Levitical law.

This morning, though, a new thought dropped into my head. I’d been talking about random things with God, and somewhere in the back of my head I must have had this annoying scenario playing out. Yeah, I HAD just read that recently in one of those Christian forums on Facebook. The topic was “gays and Christianity,” as it always seems to be these days, and some guy threw that back in someone’s face: “Go and sin no more.” Annoyed me, but I walked away, not wanting to engage in that pointless discussion for the millionth time.

So I guess the thought wasn’t completely out of the blue, but it did surprise me anyway. Wasn’t expecting that. Wasn’t even actively asking God about it. But you know, when you’re just chatting with God over your morning coffee, he’ll throw things at you you weren’t expecting.

go_and_sin_no_more“You don’t get to say that. Only Jesus can say that to someone.” Just like when he said a few moments before to the crowd who wanted to kill the poor woman, “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone,” and they all walked away, recognizing their own failings and weaknesses. Jesus was the only one there who qualified. He was the only one there without sin, so he was the only one qualified to throw a stone — and he chose not to. Now THERE’S an image of grace for you: “the only one qualified to condemn you chooses not to.”

Then, when the crowd has all gone their separate ways, he turns back to the terrified woman crouched on the ground, humiliated, embarrassed, shamed. And he says these wonderful, tender words to her. “Where are your accusers?” — Hey, look. He makes the point himself: he is NOT one of her accusers. — “Neither do I condemn you.” And then the words thrown back at us gay believers too many times: “But go and sin no more.” Well, Jesus never says the “but.” It’s not a condition or a contradiction. His grace isn’t conditional on our perfection.

Here’s the kicker. The only one who was qualified to throw the stone, the only one qualified to condemn her, is also the only one who gets to say “go and sin no more.”

The rest of us are too imperfect, too guilty of our own shortcomings. We’re in no position to judge anybody. Kinda like that thing he said to another crowd somewhere else: “First take care of the log in your own eye before you try to remove the splinter from someone else’s.” So, we’re also in no position to tell someone else to stop sinning. Ever — or at least until we’ve reached perfection ourselves.

So the next time some argumentative Christian throws that line in your face — “Jesus also said to go and sin no more” — you can respond, “the only person who gets to say that to me is the only one qualified to throw that first stone. And it isn’t you.”

Go in peace. You are LOVED — and He isn’t one of your accusers.


photo credit: Jesus and the Woman, from : The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos (LDS)

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STEVE SCHMIDT is a Bible teacher at Expressions.Today in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He is editor of IMPACT Magazine, and blogs here on the Cafe Inspirado column. Plus you can find him making random comments about life on Facebook.

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Stupid Religion

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I just had another one of those conversations.  The conversation I seem to have a lot these days with my Christian friends. Gay and straight. About what it means to be a Christian.

Am I still a “good Christian” if I don’t go to church? Am I a good Christian if I cuss, if I have sex with my girlfriend or boyfriend? And of course, that one question that seems to preoccupy the evangelical world right now: Can I be a good Christian if I’m gay?

Franklin Graham, the hostile son of that epitome of Christian kindness Billy Graham, thinks not.  And he’s spouting his morality-driven view of Christianity in all the media.  For him, and for many in the church world, Christianity is defined in terms of do’s and don’ts. Rules. Outward behavior.

And ya know, to some extent, I would agree with that. But only to the extent that “behavior” is defined as how we treat other people.

Christianity, at least for most Protestants, is defined by our faith in Jesus, and then how that faith translates into real life. More than just simple head-knowledge or believing something to be true, it is the transformational power of relationship with the Living God that defines us – proves us – to be true followers of Jesus. In a word, what makes us “good Christians.”

And that’s what I’ve come to conclude, after living my entire life in the church, growing up in a conservative evangelical home, going to an evangelical, charismatic seminary, and wrestling with God to sort out my own relationship with him.

Any so-called religion that does not result in a growing relationship with the Living God is a fake.

And any religion that does not transform you to treat other people around you in a better, more loving way is garbage.

If your religion – even if you can pull up all kinds of Scripture to justify your actions – results in alienating or hurting people, guess what?  You don’t know God, and you are not practicing God’s ways. You are not walking in the way of Jesus.  Period.

Because, at the core of it all, Jesus did not come to give us another book of holy rules to live by.

God is love, and the one who walks in love, lives in God, and God lives in him. … The one who claims to love God but treats his neighbor badly is a liar. – 1 John 4

A friend messaged me today on Facebook, in dismay over the cruel and cutting comments he received in one Facebook Christian group. They were targeted against “the gays,” of course, and our so-called delusion that we were saved.  My friend was puzzled how they could be so mean yet claim to have the truth.  For me, it was the same old, tired, story.  Stupid religion.  Words, Bible-knowledge in the head that never transformed the heart.

And this isn’t just a Christian thing.  Americans in general love to pick on Muslims and claim the actions of the radical fundamentalists are obviously not the actions of a Loving God – it’s a fake religion.  I’d have to agree – not about Islam in general, but about the hateful actions of radical fundamentalists.  And Jews, I’ve seen the reality of throwing stones and cold-hearted shunnings of the ultra-conservative against those who do not dress appropriately or honor the Sabbath as they believe it needs to be.  Even Buddhism, that religion known for its peaceful focus, has militant sects.  And my New Age/New Spirituality friends who have helped me see God in new and expanded ways … I see hearts seeking contact with the Universe, but sometimes in manipulative ways, trying to re-establish links with our own divinity in order to get what we want out of life.  And we Christians are no different. We have our militant sects, our KKKs, our Westboro Baptist Churches, our Franklin Grahams, even our seemingly Biblical messages coming from Assembly of God pulpits promoting a cultural agenda instead of offering the life-giving words of a Loving God.

Where is the personal transformation that comes from the faith? Where is the reflection of the God who sacrificed himself so that he could establish a better connection with humanity?

StupidReligion-274835316_3c95528b66_zI saw just a few days ago another post on Facebook by well-meaning Christians, trying to encourage holiness and morality in our “easy-believism” faith.  They quoted Jesus, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” And their emphasis was on keeping the laws of morality and purity, of “cleaning-up” the life of the Christian.  And my first thought was, “and what were Jesus’s commandments?”  “This is my commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you.  By this the world will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35; 15:12,17)

Funny, Jesus didn’t say the world would know us by our clean-cut looks, our short hair, our modest clothes, or our sexual abstinence. He didn’t say our church attendance was the fulfillment of the law.  He said it was Love.  Period.

“But we do love you,” many Christians say. “That’s why we are trying to get you to stop living your sinful lifestyle.”  Or, in other words, “we love you, sinner, but we hate your sin.”   Haven’t we debunked that view enough already?  You cannot truly love someone while you are throwing stones at them. That’s not the life Jesus demonstrated for us.

If your religion is not transforming you to love your neighbor – to treat your neighbor as you want to be treated – then you are deceiving yourself. The truth is not in you. And you do not know the God you claim.

It’s really that simple.  “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and yet do not do the things I say?” Jesus asked.

My friend today did not know how to respond to those harsh words wielded by “good Christians.”  Honestly, he didn’t need to respond. Sometimes battling words accomplishes nothing. No one listens. No one is changed. But for his own reassurance, I suggested this.

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It really is that simple.

Love God. Love your neighbor.

And that “love neighbor” stuff isn’t just some vague, undefined feeling: “oh, yes, we love those sinners.” It’s your heart transformed by the power of God into loving action. It’s how you treat them. It’s what you say to them.

All the rest, all the verses from the Bible you can quote and hurl at people to prove your point that what they’re doing or how they’re living is wrong – all that is just religious technicalities. It is law. It is death. There is no life in it.

Without real love, all you have is a stupid religion.

 

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photo credits:
Angry God, Matt Katzenberger – flickrcc
Church Rules, Debby and Gary – flickr, cc

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He blogs here on IMPACT Magazine’s Cafe Inspirado column, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.

 
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One little word that makes all the difference

flowers-in-hand_277221852There I was, minding my own business, innocently browsing through endless Facebook posts from my infinite number of friends (never been more popular in my entire life!), and I noticed that one buddy in a moment of excitement and adoration wrote out the doxology as his status.

“Praise God to whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above, ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

Only he got one word wrong — as some of you may have already noticed.

I grew up in church where we sang this almost every Sunday, so it jumped off the screen at me.  And it’s always those little windows of time when you see something old in a new light that spark fresh insights.  That one little word makes a huge difference.

From whom” not “to whom.”

Big deal; who cares?

Okay, call me knit-picky, but it effects how we view God, how we view our relationship to him — how we view life.  God deserves our praise, to be sure.  And my mom taught me at a young age the incredible power that is released into our lives when we praise God in the middle of our difficult circumstances.  There’s value in that; it’s honorable to send your blessings to God.  As that cranky old oatmeal commercial guy used to say, “it’s the right thing to do.”

But we miss a powerful point about the character of God and his amazing love for us if we get that one word wrong.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows”, James tells us.  God is a generous God, a giving God. One who pours out good stuff on us, just because he loves us.  And he doesn’t quit when we mess up.  He doesn’t change his mind.  Like that powerful revelation in Exodus when he proclaims his name to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love … (Ex 34:6).

That good stuff is for us.  
And if we miss that point, we’re missing out on some jaw-dropping grace,

some amazing love,

some unheard-of favor. 

Not because of who we are, or the fact that we’re constantly buttering him up with our praise.

Just because that’s who he is.

 

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  That’s your heritage.  That’s your birthright.  We can love him all the more because of his love for us, because he is constantly pouring out blessings — even when we don’t see or feel them.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” That one little word can turn your whole day around.

 

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photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

 

This blog was orignally posted on Cafe Inspirado, Aug 15, 2011.

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He blogs here on IMPACT Magazine’s Cafe Inspirado column, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.

 
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You’re Trying Too Hard

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #e10069;”]W[/dropcap]hy do we always try to make things so complicated? Life. Love. Faith. Our walk with God. Churchy terms like salvation and righteousness sometimes give us the impression that our day to day life requires special activity to achieve a harmonious existence: one where we’re living in reality in the here and now, at peace with our fellow human beings, and in touch with our God. But it’s really all very simple. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. Effortless. If you’re struggling with it, here’s a little message from God for you: Relax. You’re trying too hard.

When God called Abraham about 5000 years ago, he didn’t give him a set of detailed instructions to live by. He didn’t hand him road map or a rule book. Abraham (actually he was called Abram then) was minding his own business, probably looking into the starry sky, reaching out with his heart, seeking the Creator of All, when God spoke to him. “Just go to the place I will show you.” No lengthy list of directions. Just a vague, pointing in a general direction: head that-away and I’ll show you where to go. It was a walk, plain and simple. And that’s a model for us.

In the very early days of Christianity, when Jesus’ original disciples were building the faith community, working out the details of it all, they ran into a sticky situation. They were mostly all Jews. They all got along; they knew the rules of social etiquette. But it started getting messy when a bunch of non-Jews wanted to connect to their God. They had to rethink things. God was the God of Israel. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. So did these non-Jews have to convert to Judaism in order to join the group, to enter the Kingdom of God? After some lengthy (and I’m sure heated) discussion, they arrived at a conclusion. A really simple one. These non-Jews (us!) would enter relationship with God (“be saved”) by grace, just like the Jewish disciples were. Peter put it succinctly: “Why do we try to test God by putting on their necks a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:10). So, no. No new rules for the new-comers. No converting to Judaism, no circumcision, no enforced observing the Sabbath, no tithes. Just grace.

Let’s translate that into present day language: if you’re wanting a better relationship with God, you don’t need to “convert” to all kinds of churchy ways. You don’t need to adopt a “religious” lifestyle. You don’t need to clean up your act, or stop drinking, or dancing; you don’t need to take out those extra ear rings or hide your tattoos. You don’t have to cut your hair or change your clothes. You don’t have to stop going to clubs Saturday night or even start going to church Sunday mornings. No rules. Just seek, and there will be grace. That’s because the hard work is already done. Jesus did all that was necessary to make that connection for us on the cross. We just gotta accept it and go.

 

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This is a big deal. This is important. Because we’re all wearing ourselves out trying to get in good with God ….  We live frustrated lives because other people try to hand us the old rule book. We can become depressed, even suicidal, because of these impossible “requirements.” But they are all wrong!

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And it’s not like those early apostles just made that up. This new simple relationship was foretold prophetically by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and probably others. There’d be a “new covenant”, a new way of God interacting with humanity. And it would NOT be like the old way, with its tablets coming down from a mountain, it wouldn’t be made of 613 commandments, a list of do’s and don’ts. “It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers … THIS is the covenant I will make with them: I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will someone have to teach them “This is how to know God” because they will all know me…” (Jer 31:31-34). Ezekiel says it similarly, “I will cleanse you from all your impurities; I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; … And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezk 36:24-27).

God himself would change our hearts because his Spirit would be in us. Our job is just to cooperate with those changes, to grow with the relationship.

It wouldn’t be some radical thing. We wouldn’t become saints overnight, perfect in all our ways. But little by little, day by day, as we go, we’ll grow. And in the meantime, in those rough patches and in messy times when we screw up, it’s all just a simple thing: love and grace. No rules, no worries. No guilt, no beating ourselves up — and no one else being able to judge us or point fingers at us. It’s none of anybody else’s business. Like with Abraham, it’s just a daily walk thing, a “go, and I’ll show you as we go” kind of thing.

 

Throw out the rule book

If anybody, and I mean ANYBODY, on TV, on the radio, in a church, behind a pulpit, or even just over a beer, tries to hand you a set of rules in order to “please God”, throw it back at them. “It will NOT be like the covenant I made with their forefathers.” No laws. Just a day to day walk. If your best Christian buddies, if some saintly woman of God, if your dad or your mom tell you gotta give up the gay thing because God hates that, you just tell yourself (and them): “MY relationship with God, my covenant, is NOT like those old rules.”

This is a big deal. This is important. Because we’re all wearing ourselves out trying to get in good with God. Trying to hear him better. Trying to “live right.” Or stressing over the fact that we really want God in our lives but have been told by everybody for so long that God rejects us because we’re gay or lesbian or transgender, or … whatever else we may be. We live frustrated lives because other people try to hand us the old rule book. We can become depressed, even suicidal, because of these impossible “requirements.” But they are all wrong! It’s really just a simple thing. The hard stuff has already been done — by Jesus.

Our job is simple: to seek God. God promised this very simple reciprocal relationship: “If you seek me, you will find me.”  And the rest is just the day to day working out of the details, as our hearts respond naturally to that relationship. No rule book. No laws. It’s all grace — a state of freedom and acceptance, of simple living.

So if you’re wrestling with trying to get your life in order to connect better with God, if you think you need to stop doing certain things, or even to start doing certain things in an effort to reach out, this is his message to you right now: Just stop. It’s so much easier than you’re trying to make it. All you have to do is seek. How ever that translates in your life — whatever it is you gotta do to clear your mind a bit and connect. Just seek. He’ll be found. In the day to day whispering relationship between you and him. That’s his promise. So stop worrying about it so much. Stop struggling. Relax. You’re trying too hard.

 
 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.
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One word that makes all the difference

There I was, minding my own business, innocently browsing through endless Facebook posts from my infinite number of friends (never been more popular in my entire life!), and I noticed that one buddy in a moment of excitement and adoration wrote out the doxology as his status.

“Praise God to whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above, ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

Only he got one word wrong — as some of you may have already noticed.  I grew up in church where we sang this almost every Sunday, so it jumped off the screen at me.  And it’s always those little windows of time when you see something old in a new light that spark fresh insights.  That one little word makes a huge difference.

From whom” not “to whom.”

Big deal; who cares?

Okay, call me knit-picky, but it effects how we view God, how we view our relationship to him — how we view life.  God deserves our praise, to be sure.  And my mom taught me at a young age the incredible power that is released into our lives when we praise God in the middle of our difficult circumstances.  There’s value in that; it’s honorable to send your blessings to God.  As that cranky old oatmeal commercial guy used to say, “it’s the right thing to do.”

But we miss a powerful point about the character of God and his amazing love for us if we get that one word wrong.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows”, James tells us.  God is a generous God, a giving God. One who pours out good stuff on us, just because he loves us.  And he doesn’t quit when we mess up.  He doesn’t change his mind.  Like that powerful revelation in Exodus when he proclaims his name to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love … (Ex 34:6).

That good stuff is for us. 
And if we miss that point, we’re missing out on some jaw-dropping grace, some amazing love, some unheard-of favor. 

Not because of who we are, or the fact that we’re constantly buttering him up with our praise.

Just because that’s who he is.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  That’s your heritage.  That’s your birthright.  We can love him all the more because of his love for us, because he is constantly pouring out blessings — even when we don’t see or feel them.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” That one little word can turn your whole day around.

Meditation over Morning Coffee: Grace & the Law (ongoing)

You know that principle of synchronicity? It’s the idea that a coincidence of events can somehow seem related in a meaningful way.

I’ve been re-invigorated lately by new perspectives on Grace — that whole simple yet staggeringly profound force of God’s favor given to us, completely undeserved and unearned by us. In fact, we CAN’T earn it. If we did, as soon as we begin trying to fulfill the Law to live up to religious standards, our very efforts neutralize grace. The Law, those old standards which we compared ourselves against, they’re all gone, they’re done away with. They were completely met, our obligations completely fulfilled by the work of Jesus himself. The Law has no say over us, no authority, and no power.

And now, this morning, grabbing a “quick read” in the Bible before heading out to church, another nugget on this incredible gift of removing the burden of the Law off our backs:

He who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the Law. (Romans 13:8-10)

Like a good cup of coffee, that nugget just slid down, giving me that warm, comfy feeling deep inside. Life is so much simpler with just one principle to follow.

Just something to think about over your morning coffee…