Your Idea of Sin Sucks

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I was hoping to visit a new church this past Sunday, and looked up an old church I use to attend when I first moved to the city several years ago. I was really disappointed to see that the founding pastor had left and that the church seemed to have gone in a different direction. I decided to browse through their website to try to get a feel for what the church was like now. The new pastor had a little welcome video, so I watched that. The guy is old school Baptist and used to teach at a prestigious — well, at least a well-respected, conservative — Bible college. And his video reflected exactly what you’d think. Lots of church language that punched all my sensitive buttons and made me rethink whether I wanted to visit this place afterall. What clinched it though, was when he talked about his desire as a pastor for “sin to grow sour in our mouths” … I just felt my spirit cringe. And that was it. I was done.

I can only imagine what their version of sin would be. And this is the relevant point. From time to time I get asked that basic question: What is sin? And if you’ve grown up in the church, or spent any amount of time in church at all, you’re probably likely to start with the Ten Commandments. And from there you’ll soon find yourself spinning out into dozens and dozens of other little commandments until you end up with a list of about 613 new rules. (In case that number doesn’t mean anything to you, it’s the number of commandments in the Hebrew Bible – what many in the church world like to call “Old Testament Law.”)  So much for Christian liberty and being free from “the Law.”

As a gay Christian with lots of gay, lesbian and transgender friends, I could only imagine what that pastor would tell us were sins in our lives that needed to be repented of. So yeah, the next thing I checked out was the section on their website about what they believe, and looked specifically for their statement on homosexuality. And sure enough, they take the old traditional stance that it’s sinful, part of the corrupt human nature, and can be cured — or at least controlled — by prayer, accountability, and counseling. In other words, an ex-gay program. #ChristianFail

To be honest, the very fact that he even was talking about sin in his introduction video kinda turned me off. Did I really want to be part of a church that focused on sin?

Sure, as a Christian I know that sin-consciousness occupies a big part in the teaching of the church. But in my opinion, sin is best addressed by focusing on love. We don’t need sermons or lectures on the things that are wrong with us or the things that we need to change to make us better people or more pleasing in God’s sight. Nobody needs fingers pointed in their faces — go and sin no more! The Church would be better served by helping us have a closer walk with God — and the sin part will take care of itself.

If we call ourselves Christians and are actually concerned about what commandments Jesus said we should follow, we’d quickly realize that there is only one law or rule we need to focus on. And that is the law of love. Jesus broke that into two parts, loving God, and loving each other. And, as a friend recently pointed out, he added a third part too: loving our enemies. Seems to me, everything is covered in that one overarching law. So if we can learn to love, sin won’t even be an issue.

So, what is the definition of sin anyway? The Biblical languages have several words for the various types and shades of sin, but I’d say they all boil down to anything that contradicts the law of love. As simple as that. That might be why Jesus never saw fit to hand down to us another set of tablets or lengthy lists of do’s and don’ts.

If you’re doing something or saying something or maybe even thinking something that is hateful or harmful to someone else, that is sin.

And frankly, when it comes to sinning against God, I think that pretty much covers doing anything harmful or hateful to each other. God is concerned about how we treat each other. And yes, I’m sure there are other acts that are offensive to God himself, that might be considered “sinning against God” — but truthfully, at this moment, I can’t think of one. Even our anger or shouting matches at God, our doubts or our “blasphemies,” don’t seem to trouble God that much. He’s a big boy. He can handle it.

Likewise, if we do something harmful or demeaning to ourselves, that is sin. It breaks the law of loving ourselves. We are made in the image of God, and that image deserves some respect. Jesus said we were to love our neighbors as ourselves, but if we don’t love ourselves how can we love our neighbor? So inherent in his command to love others is the command to love ourselves. I guess that would be the fourth part of that single law of love. (The Church could sure stand to spend some time teaching on how to do this in a healthy way, instead of beating us up all the time. Just a thought.)

So then: Love God. Love each other. Love your enemies. Love yourself. Anything that contradicts that is sin.

With that basic definition in place, we no longer need a never-ending list of do’s and don’ts. We also no longer need someone telling us all about our sins — or really, things they find offensive about us, things they want us to change.

The Golden Rule suddenly takes on a whole new importance in that light. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the same as “love your neighbor as yourself.” Likewise, the flipside of that is “don’t do unto others what you don’t want done to yourself.” Everything that falls under that definition is sin.

And frankly, that means someone pointing their finger at me, telling me that my love for another person is sinful, is an act of sin itself. It is contrary to the law of love. So, Is it a Sin? Is it a sin if I bad-mouth my boss? Or get wasted Saturday night? Is it a sin if I sleep with my boyfriend or girlfriend? What about watching porn? Does it violate the law of love — loving God, loving others, loving myself? Is it hateful or harmful? Then there’s your answer.

So, my two cents worth to those occupying pulpits across America and around the world is to focus on teaching us how to love God, love each other, and love ourselves better. And leave creating a new set of Stone Tablets to the One who can write them with his finger.

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STEVE SCHMIDT serves as Teaching Pastor 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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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.

 
 

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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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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…