Creation, Original Sin, And All That Good Stuff Part 2…..

Adam and Eve hanging out in the Garden, nurturing and caring for the creation and living in a state of gratitude; life was good and abundant, with Adam and Eve the benevolent leaders of all creation, no need to subdue or bring anything into submission, so far, so good. Enter the serpent; that crafty creature who twisted the words of the Creator leading the first humans into doubt. We know the rest of the story, right, at least what is recorded in the Bible; Eve ate of the fruit, offered it to Adam, he ate, and voila, sin was born. God comes along looking for the man and woman who were now aware of their nakedness and were hiding. Of course, God knew what had happened, but He wanted their version of the story. Long story short, Adam blames Eve, then God hands out the consequences. Adam had enjoyed “avad”; caring for and nurturing the creation, but now he would “atsav” – toil by the sweat of his brow. No longer would Adam speak and the creation would respond.

This is where the subject of free will and original sin come into Christian theology. Here’s my take on it; God gave free will to man when man was created, it existed in man from the moment Adam was fashioned from the elements of the earth. The problem was not that Eve chose to exercise her free will, the problem was that she and Adam had been given dominion over the entire earth and were to subdue its inhabitants, the serpent included; they were to walk among the creation as the benevolent leaders, keeping the creation in check, so to speak, not letting any in creation get the upper hand. The serpent, however, did take the upper hand by introducing doubt, telling a half-truth, skewing the words of the Creator, and instead of Eve subduing the serpent, she chose to have a conversation and allowed the serpent plant a seed of doubt.

God’s directive had been clear, so what happened with Eve? I don’t believe the act of eating the fruit was the “sin”, the disobedient act that led to what the church views as “original sin” resulting in condemnation of all mankind. Rather, I believe Eve allowed her heart motivation to be affected by her conversation with the serpent; she wanted the knowledge the tree offered, and she didn’t take into consideration that her decision would affect others. Isn’t that self-centeredness? When our heart motivations are inward centered, centered on self, instead of outward centered, centered on others, we choose wrongly.

Man, made in the image and likeness of God, operated within free will from the get-go. God is free to exercise His will freely so it stands to reason that man would enjoy that as well. God is Love, He is merciful, kind and just, and only chooses to act righteously.  Eve’s decision did not take into consideration how her one act would affect Adam. As the story goes, Adam and Eve were put out of the Garden to prevent them from eating of the Tree of Life and living forever; forever able to make self-centered choices. Wow, wouldn’t that create a lot of unnecessary havoc!

So, let’s talk about “original sin”; the concept identified by the church as the reason we all need salvation. The church contends because Adam and Eve sinned, every person from that time forward would be born a sinful being, in essence, from the moment we are conceived we are doomed without having done a thing! If free will got Adam and Eve in trouble, how is it that a fetus, so many cells destined to become a human, has already sinned by virtue of fertilization? Doesn’t make sense, at least not to me. Further, in Genesis 4, in the story of Cain and Abel (Adam and Eve’s sons), Cain kills Abel and God curses Cain. Are we to assume man from Cain on down, now has received a second helping of condemnation for his sin?

The Creation story, as is much of the Bible, is just that, a story, which is not to say that it is falsehood; only that a story is man’s interpretation of higher spiritual principles and concepts. We understand what we do not know through the eyes of what we do know. The Catholic Bible says as much in the pages explaining how the Bible came to be, along with other interesting facts and ideas, so not even the church supposedly built on Peter, the Rock, the first church, believes the Bible to be a book of absolute fact; rather the Bible is God’s inspired Word as seen through the eyes of man in story, poem, allegory, and the like.

Original sin, a foundational doctrine of the church, teaches man screwed up and thereby cursed all of mankind necessitating the need for a Savior, the One we know as Jesus. The church fails to answer questions that we have all likely had, at one time or another, and have passed off as a mystery God will reveal in the sweet by and by. Study of church history will show that original sin is a post-New Testament idea, and did not enter any teachings until after the time of Jesus. Interesting, is it not? Yeshua (Jesus) never mentioned it. To further challenge the church mindset, the original script and characters involved were Jewish, and as is often the case, a different picture emerges. In Hebraic thought, sin is merely an act of disobedience, a wrong choice, the opposite of righteousness, and speaks to our relationship with God, our nature as humans, versus a flaw in our character.

When God created man He declared him good, so how did man become flawed? Man was created in the image of God, endowed with the ability to choose; free choice, as it were. Evil, or disobedience is a choice rather than a thing, or creature, as we are often taught; the serpent in the Garden being the embodiment of evil. God did not “create” evil, it doesn’t exist without choice. Why would a loving God create evil to trip up the created He called “good”?

Church history is enlightening; it gives one a very different view of the Bible and of man. The doctrines we have come to know and believe as the inerrant Word of God is, in reality, a doctrinal soup based on the theories and interpretations of Augustine and embellished by various writers that were not established until after the advent of the New Testament church. These theories and interpretations have been used to justify man’s nature and the traditions and practices of modern religion; we accept them without questioning their source. It is my firm belief that there is a God, a Universal Life and Light, a Power greater than ourselves, and that we have been created in His image. Man, however, has done a fine job of creating God in his image…..

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Possibility Thinking…..

Several years back there was a television preacher who advocated and taught the power of positive thinking. Depending upon which side of the Christian fence one was on determined how his message was viewed. Some cried foul, misrepresentation of the scriptures, Christianity-lite, and some embraced his teaching. Because of the doctrine I was being fed at the time, I stood with the misrepresentation crowd, and not necessarily by choice. It was confusing to me why thinking positively was a bad thing, but what did I know? Didn’t the Bible tell us to do that?

Philippians 4:8-9 says, “focus your thoughts on what is true, noble, righteous, pure, lovable or admirable, on some virtue or on something praiseworthy. Keep doing what you have learned and received from me, what you have heard and seen me doing; then the God who gives shalom (peace) will be with you.” (The Complete Jewish Bible). The answer is yes, the Bible does tell us to think positively. The Bible also takes thinking a step further and crosses right over into doing, which makes more sense. Thinking positively is a good start, but it isn’t the whole enchilada! Paul is teaching an if/then concept here. Now, realizing I am quick to point out the Bible has been massaged many times over so we can’t truly be certain anything is stated as it was, or if it was, originally, I do maintain there is wisdom to be found even if the words and concepts aren’t 100% authentic. As I have stated before, I believe God watches over His message, concerned more with intent than exact wording. So the message in its entirety becomes train your mind to think positive thoughts and the thoughts will lead to positive acts; the result will be God’s peace in the midst of doing His will.

Like begets like; positive and negative thinking not excluded. The more negative thoughts we have, the more our speech becomes negative, and soon negativity seems to be closing in on us. In essence, we paint ourselves into a box, a black box of doom, gloom, and depression. Thinking and speaking positively allows us to see other possibilities in the midst of problems in our lives. Life is not fair, life is difficult at times, and how we approach those times will affect our perception of the outcome, and may even affect the outcome itself.

Training the mind and heart to think and speak positively is a process. Isn’t everything? In the beginning we have to practice thinking and speaking from a positive viewpoint, looking for the good versus the bad in all situations; no easy task for many. The Charismatic mindset, from my past experience, is a form of positive thought and word, and yet it often seeks to deny the reality. I heard a well-known Charismatic evangelist say that if he had a headache he would rebuke it, tell the headache to go away, but would never admit to anyone he had a headache. In psychological terms that is called denial, some would just call it a lie. His teachings and beliefs were and are commonplace, often based on scriptures like Mark 11:23-24Yes! I tell you that whoever does not doubt in his heart but trusts that what he says will happen can say to this mountain, `Go and throw yourself into the sea!’ and it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, trust that you are receiving it, and it will be yours. ” (The Complete Jewish Bible) Charismatic theology has been deemed by some as the “name it claim it” theology largely because of idolatry of scriptures like these.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with the above scripture; my opposition comes with how we use any scripture. Having known plenty of Charismatic adherents, scriptures like Mark 11:23-24 are treated as if they are edicts from on high, given far too much power, makes the focus about us rather than God, and are often spoken as an incantation, of sorts. This is misuse of the scriptures. Yeshua (Jesus) left us with the possibilities, a way of thinking differently to open the minds of His followers. Keep in mind the religious leaders of the day were among the few literate, and therefore those who were not depended upon them for interpretation of The Law. Yeshua is debunking that mindset when He says, “if anyone…” Anyone is you, me, the guy down the street; anyone is not just the person standing at the pulpit. Yeshua is saying with faith, ordinary people have power within them that can move mountains; the playing field has been leveled. Open the mind to possibilities!

Here is where we go astray; when the outcome is not what we expect, we assume we have done something wrong, or someone is quick to point out if we only we had a little more faith the ‘mountain’ would have moved. That mindset breaks people! Instead of allowing our relationship to teach and transform us on our journey, we become disillusioned, believing we have failed, and negativity moves in and sets up housekeeping. Some “get mad” at God, or lose faith in Him because He didn’t do what we said. What’s wrong with that picture?

Another scripture often used in the Charismatic/Pentecostal venue is Mark 16:17-18 “And these signs will accompany those who do trust: in my name they will drive out demons, speak with new tongues, not be injured if they handle snakes or drink poison, and heal the sick by laying hands on them.” (The Complete Jewish Bible) The extreme adherents are those who actually handle snakes, or drink poison; the remainder believe it possible when needed, or smorgasbord the list believing in new tongues and healing the sick, yet set aside the snakes and poison. Again, I believe it more a concept to teach a principle rather than an actual directive; the concept being the impossible is possible when we believe, or trust God is capable. Too often we put God in a box of impossibility, in other words, deciding He can do this, but probably not that.  To say with faith we can do the impossible through His is to demonstrate a principle.  The above scripture discussion in Mark allegedly took place following the resurrection when Yeshua (Jesus) appeared to His disciples, rebuking them for not believing He had risen, showing He had just done the impossible.

The possibility also exists this scripture was not found in the original texts at all. Mark was a friend of Peter, not having the advantage of actually walking with Yeshua as Peter did. Biblical scholars also note that Mark wrote more about what Yeshua did as opposed to what He said. Some of the earliest manuscripts end the Gospel of Mark at verse 8 of chapter 16 when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, later versions include verses 9-20 completing the resurrection and Yeshua’s appearance to others following, so we really have no clear directive at all, it seems, for driving out demons, handling snakes, drinking poison, speaking in new tongues, or healing the sick.

What if this scripture was meant to be metaphorical? Is it possible these scriptures are related? Yeshua said do what He does. How did He live His life? He lived a life of peace, of trust, of power. His thoughts were focused on His Father, in other words, positive thoughts. As Yeshua journeyed through His life clothed in the flesh of humanity, He healed the sick, cast out demons (negativity fled), the words He spoke were definitely new to the ears who were able to hear, and He called the religious leaders of the day vipers. The curses, or poison of those opposed to His teaching did not harm Him. In Him, we can do the same. Possibility thinking? Perhaps…..

The Road Less Traveled…..

Metaphorically speaking, have you ever found yourself standing at a fork in the road? Which way to go? Looking down each road, one familiar, one less so; faith will have to lead the way.

I am a truth-seeker. How much of what I believe have I just accepted because someone told me? As I stand here looking down one path, then the other, I hear voices from the past; voices that have shaped how I view God, the church, the Bible, and life, in general. What resonates within my spirit is not the teachings of the past, the lessons from various pulpits, or even people I hold in high regard. I don’t necessarily believe they are wrong, just that the interpretations they embrace, I cannot, or at least not fully, not any longer. There was a time when I believed that Christianity as it is preached across this country was the only way to heaven, the only way to journey with God. Today, I see organized religion as tainted, very often invoking fear to maintain the census, or worse, promising wealth, prosperity and an easy life from here on out if only we would come on bended knee, wallet open, and repeat the incantations, otherwise known as prayers of salvation, or any version thereof. At best, church is a gathering of people going through the motions of rote religious form hoping to fulfill an undefined quota of attendance and good works resulting in a seat in heaven. As I reflect on the words I have written I can see where some would think them a harsh judgment of the church, and that is not my intention. For a moment, set aside defense of the church, its practices and doctrine. Church and God are not synonymous.

One can have a deep and intimate relationship with God apart from church membership. We belong to churches because we seek to belong to a group of like-minded people; the reason for any group existence. If one feels connected, accepted, affirmed or nourished in the church setting, by all means, be present, be there. Certainly there are those who attend truly seeking relationship, living out the spirit of Yeshua’s ministry to a lost and hurting world; the genuine believers whose lives are centered on Yeshua whether inside or outside the walls of the church. Can one find God in church? I believe so, but in the end, God’s presence is everywhere; attendance in church is neither mandatory, nor guarantees a spot in heaven; therein lies a misconception.

Recently, I had a very spirited discussion with a childhood friend of my kids. I liked the young man as a kid, and now that he is grown he has adopted some ideologies I cannot embrace, nevertheless I still hold the kid close to my heart. One of the comments he made was that the church was “largely responsible” for my children turning out to be “great human beings”. I disagreed loudly and clearly, and my children chimed in, as well. Church provided them a place to meet friends, go on trips, and generally hang out in a safe environment. Do I believe it is responsible for their strength, resilience, compassion and humanitarianism? Not in the least. As one of my daughter’s pointed out to him, the church we belonged to knew the condition of our house, the abuse within its walls, and chose to turn a blind eye. Further, when I did reach out the pastor commented, “we have a lot of controlling men in the church”. That statement is concerning on a couple of levels and a mindset that must change.

In essence, often church leadership is condoning abuse in the name of Jesus, and willingly turning away from those most in need. Abuse of others occurs in churches across our country and likely around the world, when we exclude people from church life because of status, or lack thereof, lifestyle choices, and addictions, to name a few. Listen carefully to many of the sermons preached on any given Sunday; sermons dripping with the do’s and don’ts and why-I-don’t-measure-ups, and the need to scrub and scour the vessel until acceptable to God. Man puts conditions on God’s acceptance of the wounded, the sick, the needy, deciding who is worthy of God’s interventions. Matthew 11:28 calls those who are in need of relationship, “Come to me, all of you who are struggling and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Complete Jewish Bible) Notice the verse says “all”; it is all inclusive, it doesn’t leave anyone out. We all struggle, we are burdened, and we are all in need of rest.

The church has carefully crafted the image of God and Yeshua (Jesus). From historical accounts of Yeshua, we know that He was not well received by the religious leaders of the day, shunned by the elite, linked to prostitutes and criminals, accused of being a drunkard, His methods called into question as from the devil. In other words, Yeshua wasn’t the popular kid in town. He challenged conventional thinking and the religious leaders, and worked outside the box. Many tend to picture Yeshua gliding through the streets of ancient Israel, a Pied Piper, of sorts, children and lambs trailing after Him. Yeshua came to restore relationship with God and in so doing upset the norm. Those who embraced Him, sought Him out, listened, followed, and ultimately took His message forward after His death and resurrection were not the synagogue pew-sitters of the day. Yeshua’s life and message resonated with the lost, the lame, the infirm, the drunkard, the prostitute, the tax collector, those who did not have place or voice in mainstream society. Why? Their hearts and minds were open, they sought truth, healing whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual, they wanted relationship, truth.

So, here I stand at the fork in the road. One road is familiar, comforting only in that I recognize the path and its foliage. The other not as familiar. I perceive the path as partly shrouded in shadows, clarity not as obvious, however, the clarity of the other is based on familiarity more than truth, and my goal is truth. In the words of Robert Frost, he took the road less traveled and it made all the difference…..

Learning From the Journey…..

The other day I was in the process of doing a little research for a book I am writing about domestic abuse. I was specifically looking up spiritual abuse, mostly as it pertains to church teaching and doctrine justifying and overlooking the many cases of domestic abuse sitting in pews every Sunday. By definition spiritual abuse includes the misinterpretation of the Bible for selfish gain, encouraging ritual not included in the Bible, or opinions that are represented as fact, to name a few. If we look at the broadest definition, spiritual abuse would include every church and religion in the world, and I don’t agree with that.

Interpretation of the Bible seems to be at the root of most church-related definitions of spiritual abuse. Don’t we all interpret the Bible? I try to use the original text and keep everything in context as much as possible, but even then we can’t be 100% assured we are correct. In my prayer time I ask God to guide what I say and write so as not to mislead anyone. I surely would never mislead on purpose, and I am certain there are many in the pulpit who feel the same.

We have all heard the stories of church leaders who have exploited their congregations for personal gain or sexual favor; we also know the stories of cult leaders who have led their flocks into mass suicide. These are the extremes, the media sensations that make it onto the five o’clock news. But what of the more subtle abuses?

One source states that spiritual abuse occurs when others are held to a spiritual standard of acceptance or behavior, in other words, how we perform as “Christians”. Whoa…….that is concerning! How many of us have been in churches where the teaching from the pulpit involves climbing the ladder of spiritual perfection? Do this, don’t do that, memorize scriptures, wear a certain style of clothing, avoid or even  condemn certain types of people, learn the handshakes, pass the snakes…. Ok, now I’m getting a little ridiculous, but you get the picture.

Abuse is an umbrella term for the many types of abuse; the goal and end result of any kind of abuse is control and domination of others. The scariest type of spiritual abuse is the subtle, insidious indoctrination of a group of people. It is happening in churches all across the nation, their brand of abuse even permeating the homes of the congregants. Ever had a friend who “got saved” and your whole relationship changed, or worse, ended because of their “salvation”? You may even have noticed an aire of superiority since the salvation moment. What about the people who see or suspect demonic activity behind every negative event, misstep, or “unsaved” person?

I was part of all that nonsense for years, but I never felt that I fit in; something did not resonate well within. We should never rely on another for our understanding of anything. We are intelligent beings, capable of deciding for ourselves, and yet many churches attempt to strip us of our God-given ability to reason and decide for ourselves. I realize deciding for themselves is what got Adam and Eve in trouble, but God still let them do it, didn’t He? And, the story most of us get on that event has been colored a bit, too, by man, if we only read and accept the Biblical version or interpretation without the advantage of digging into the Greek and Hebrew texts.

So where does that leave us? Through prayer, study, more study, and more prayer, I have decided that our journey with God is individual, and it was designed to be that way. I keep coming back to the life and death of Yeshua (Jesus), believing His purpose, clothed in the flesh of humanity, was to open the door, once and for all, to all who would seek relationship with God. The relationship is what Adam and Eve had lost, not the amenities of living in the Garden. Yeshua restored what had been forfeited.

Do we have boundaries within that relationship even though we are not bound by Jewish Law? I believe we do. God, and Yeshua while He was on the earth, taught, with the familiar; those things common to man. Parenting is one such example. Do most of us parent by setting boundaries to prevent our children from experiencing life, to stifle them? No, but we do want our children to be safe, and to learn how to accept and love others, ultimately to live peacefully with all in the world at large. We journey with our children. We take them by the hand and teach as they grow. No one holds their child for the first time, looking lovingly into their unfocused eyes, and says, “ Do not run into the street, talk back to me, take drugs, hit others, disrespect your elders, do not steal, kill, or destroy, and whatever you do don’t drink, smoke or get tattoos!” That last part is obviously tongue in cheek!! I couldn’t resist, given the many “Christians” who believe any who drink, smoke, or get tattoos have boarded the fast train to hell! We haven’t. Boundaries are good, however.

Our journey with God is the learning process, much like the journey with our children. God meets us where we are in our lives at the moment we reach out to Him. He doesn’t back up the spiritual-do’s-and-don’ts dump truck and unload on us; many times the church believes it their duty to do so.

I have journeyed with God for many years, and I have also been in several different churches during my life. Each had their own set of standards that makes one acceptable to God, as determined by their interpretation of the Bible, and their particular doctrinal tenets and beliefs. Some aligned with scripture, many did not. As humans we desire to congregate with others of like mind, thus one of the reasons people gravitate to churches when seeking to journey with God. I don’t blame them; it’s human nature. We do, however, need to read, study and question for ourselves and not lean on the understanding of others. There is a scripture in Proverbs addressing that very thing.  “Trust in ADONAI (God) with all your heart; do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him; then he will level your paths. Don’t be conceited about your own wisdom; but fear (as in respect) ADONAI, (God) and turn from evil.” (Proverbs 3:5-7 The Complete Jewish Bible)

Having the advantage of years in the church I believe that many put their trust in their pastor’s interpretation while paying lip service to trusting in God to guide and teach. This scripture tells us that we are to let God level all our paths; in other words teach us as we journey with Him. Alone, we do not possess wisdom; we may have street smarts, but that is not wisdom. Pastors are on a journey as well, so do not have the only and correct interpretation. Accepting their interpretations as gospel is treading dangerous ground.

Am I suggesting people leave the church? No, of course not. I would like for us to consider what is taught; search out our own understanding as it applies to our journey with God. Accept what resonates, set aside that which does not for a later time. We needn’t reject what does not make sense since we are all at different places in our journey; that which does not make sense or apply today, may tomorrow.

I have been asked on many occasions to start a church. If I were to consider that, it would need to be different from all else out there, otherwise the purpose would be defeated. So the question becomes how to do that? At the moment I don’t have the answer, yet I believe many would gravitate toward something different from the standard fare. I don’t agree with everything I hear, or read, nor do I expect others to readily ingest everything I say. The lesson is in the discussion; how scriptures, and the Bible as a whole speaks to each of us. In so doing, we learn from one another’s journey…..

Journey to The Shack…..

There are just some books/movies that speak so much truth, touch us so deep within, we are forever changed. The Shack was one such book/movie. I read the book when it first came out. Last night one of my daughter’s and I watched the movie. It would be an understatement to say I shed a few tears; the floodgates let loose.

The movie made a much bigger impact than did the book, at least for me. Perhaps because I am at a different place in my life, my spirit more open to being washed with the beauty of such a tragic story. And, the word “journey” was used several times to describe the relationship we have with God; the word had been hidden from me when I read the book years ago. Hearing “journey” being used confirmed the desire I have to bring understanding of God and His love to those who have no use for organized religion, yet yearn for relationship with the Creator. The word I have used so  many times.

The book/movie portrayed God as a woman, kicking up controversy; a fact that likely preempted some people from reading based upon a false assumption. I just accepted it without question. When I read the book I had actually missed the significance however, in the movie the choice made perfect sense.  So why a woman to  portray God in the flesh? God meets each of us where we are in life. The main character saw God as the woman who comforted him when he was a child after his father abused him. The kind face, the easy way she had when she wrapped him in her arms, the offer of a freshly made pie, all represented safety, guidance, and the affirmation of love he desperately lacked. God is what we need at each moment of our lives. Sometimes our perception of God is based on negative images of Him we have learned in church or through relationship with the religious. How tragic; when we need Him most we reject His offer of comfort based on ill-perceived images of a judge seeking to condemn any who step out of line, or any other version that negates His true character.

“God” (the movie character) pointed out to the main character he was “stuck” in the tragedy of his daughter’s loss. How many of us have been stuck because of an unexpected upheaval, tragedy, or event in our lives? One of my favorite lines from the movie was, “When all you see is your pain, you lose sight of Me.” Isn’t that what happens to most of us in the midst of a job loss, financial ruin, terminal diagnosis, or unexpected death? Our focus becomes the circumstance, the situation, the loss, and we cannot see beyond the intensity of the pain to the One who understands, comforts, and heals.

The person of the Holy Spirit takes the main character to a garden and shows him a beautiful, yet tangled mess of flowers and foliage. The main character comments that the garden is a mess. She (the Holy Spirit – don’t anyone freak!) tells him he is the garden; the beautiful mess is how the Trinity see him. Each of us is a mess in our own right, are we not? Yet there was beauty in the midst of the tangled and twisted foliage. We are beautiful to God in our tangled and twisted condition. Too often we curl into a ball of depression and wither when He would prefer to help us rise from the ashes.

In order to fully appreciate the gold in the movie it does warrant being seen more than once. I did manage to write down a few quotes that spoke to me. One such quote was, “Religion is way too much work. I don’t want slaves, I want friends.” Yeshua (Jesus) and the main character were having a deep conversation about misconceptions related to Yeshua’s character. True statement! Religion IS too much work! Religion requires that I earn God’s acceptance and love, that I work my way toward restoration instead of embracing the fact the work was already accomplished on the cross. We tend to make a relationship with God so much harder than it really needs to be, when in reality relationship should be easy, peaceful, and refreshing.

In the end the main character understood God in a very different way, and learned God had been there through all the hard times in his life. The main character wanted to know why God allowed such tragedy and heartbreak; don’t we all? The answer was similar to what many of us have heard, and the answer was just as difficult to embrace coming from the character of God in the movie. The words of the book and movie were penned by a human; in the words of Paul, “we see through a glass, darkly…..” (1 Corinthians 13:12 KJV), and as humans we are only privy to the story we see with our earthly eyes. For the time being, we cling to faith to fill in the blanks until we see Him face to face.

For the main character, the warm, inviting cottage, the smell of pie baking in the oven, sunlight streaming through the windows represented God, the place where he could find relationship and feel close to God. Where do you go to find God, to cuddle in, or take refuge from life’s trials and tribulations? How does God manifest to you…..?

 

Learning, Changing, Becoming More Like Exercise Barbie….. I Mean God!!

The fateful day Eve handed the fruit to Adam, setting into motion curses for all mankind, one curse was omitted; looking at forbidden carbs would cause a pound of fat to be added to each thigh, and it would take a month of exercise to remove said pounds. I’m fairly certain when naked Eve roamed the Garden, perfect body, sans stretch marks and cellulite, she never gave thought one to the struggles she bequeathed the sisterhood.

Since I met and married my hubby a few years back, I have not exercised like I had prior. He is the most wonderful cook, creating luscious meals, beautifully presented every evening which has added to my overall condition today. Menopause kicked my butt, too; another gift I will leave at the feet of Mother Eve. Notice I have not taken responsibility; I was fine until hubby and menopause came along!

My kids have said they want me to live til I’m 125 years old; not going to guarantee that, but I do come from a line of long-livers, so getting back into shape and watching my diet may just get me close! Time to get busy, even though I assume NO fault! What exercise program to choose? I want what every woman willing to admit she hates exercise and would prefer to sip wine and eat succulent hors devors poolside in a bikini wants; easy, sweatless, and guaranteed results within the week.

One evening while sitting on the couch, I watched an infomercial for a reportedly fun and effective, exercise system. Ever notice everything now is a “system”? Three DVD’s to sculpt and shape my body back to bikini-ready. Well, I’ve never been bikini-ready, so maybe I could shoot for yoga pant-ready. Three Exercise Barbies, not a visible drop of sweat on their toned, graceful bodies, smiled their way through demonstrations of the easy, yoga-inspired movements.  Mesmerized, I watched while sipping my wine and enjoying a bowl of Cappuccino Chocolate Crunch ice cream, a warm puppy in my lap……oh wait, that warm puppy is just my tummy resting comfortably on my upper thighs. Is any more motivation needed? Anyway, the “system”, challenging, but doable, included a gal who performed the “modified” versions of the exercises for those of us who are not as fit as front-and-center Exercise Barbie. I had committed, I was getting back into shape. Round is a shape, right? I used to have a thigh-gap, what the heck? I patiently awaited the exercise system’s arrival.

First night; survival was my goal, and I survived. When I finished I was still breathing, which actually was my primary goal, but still had to get up the stairs from the family room, inconveniently located in the basement. Twelve steps separated me from the top. Our three puppies sat at the top looking down at me with pity in their eyes; at least that is what I saw. If I tossed them a rope, maybe a team effort on their part would pull me to the main level? No, stupid idea; that would require me to search the basement for a rope and I didn’t have that much energy left. I considered calling for my husband, but “I am woman”, dependent on no man, or woman, for that matter, and decided to drag myself up the stairs to the main level. Only 12 steps, but when my foot landed on the main floor it felt like I had conquered Mount Everest. After a week, I was able to walk up the stairs on 2, albeit wobbly, legs. Mind you, the climb did deplete the miniscule reserve of energy left in my body, but I made it all the way to the shower.

Trust me, perfection is nowhere in my personality profile. I have been known to let profanities escape my lips when pushed, and insane remarks from perky Exercise Barbie pushed some major buttons. Most evenings I can be heard adding colorful commentary to her cheerleading encouragement to challenge ourselves. I say “ourselves” as I imagine a sisterhood out there with the same goal – to survive, I mean to get fit. At the end of one video with a particularly grueling set of exercises designed to sculpt and shape my body using my own bodyweight instead of free weights – see I listen to Exercise Barbie – she says something like, “Don’t you love the high you feel after you finish?!” flashing pearly white teeth, no sweat visible anywhere. Expletives flew out of my mouth like machine gun fire. High? What was she talking about? If I felt high it was only because my brain was lacking oxygen!

So what does any of this have to do with our relationship with God? Fortunately, our journey with God needn’t be so grueling! His mercies are renewed every day, giving us another opportunity to get it right, to bless more people than we curse, to praise more than we complain, to see and acknowledge the beauty He brings from the ashes of our lives.

Sometimes our relationship with God gets derailed, some of us experience the ebbs and flows of relationship, and still others have little to no relationship with God, and don’t know how to go about starting one. There is no magic in getting started on a journey with God. No recited prayers, no secret handshakes, no special meeting place, no equipment needed; just start talking to Him. When we have been derailed by a series of events that leave us confused, or an unexpected loss blindsides us, sometimes we think God has left our side, or no longer cares about us. Maybe our church experience left us disillusioned and we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

In any case, a journey with God isn’t like staying fit. When we stop paying attention to a healthy diet and exercising, we lose muscle tone, gain fat, our energy is depleted; we start back at ground zero, or close to it. Relationship with God is always within our grasp despite any circumstances that have kept, or taken us away from Him. He never moves from our side; we move away from His, so God is ever ready to start a journey with us, or pick up where we left off and start anew.

We don’t need to be perfect, or even close to perfect to be acceptable to God. He loves each of us the way we are right at this moment. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and He knows we are going to mess up more times than we think we will mess up. God’s love remains steady, unwavering, and He won’t require us to do this or that before we start the journey because that is what the journey is about; learning, changing, becoming…..

Depraved and Hopeless……I Don’t Think So!!

Original sin; ever given it much thought? Having been in a church most of my life, fundamental or denominational, one just accepts that Adam and Eve messed up, got kicked out of the Garden, are separated from relationship with God, and we as their descendants, get to partake of the curse with them. Somehow seems unfair, doesn’t it? Then the “Salvation Prayer” comes along and, voila, there is a way out of the consequences of original sin! Say a few words, accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and a spot is guaranteed in heaven. The fundamental, non-denominational churches are more likely to stress the need for the “Sinner’s Prayer” or Prayer of Salvation, but in their own way, denominational churches preach to original sin and it’s consequences. Romans 6:23 is responsible for that mindset; “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NIV) and is interpreted to mean that without “accepting Jesus as Lord” we are lost and won’t gain entrance to the pearly gates.  I have actually had people ask me whether or not a loved one went to heaven after death because the loved one hadn’t recited the Sinner’s prayer before their death, and their fear and anxiety was real. My heart hurt for them; not only were their hearts torn wide open because of the death, but the thought of their loved one being denied access to heaven only compounded their sorrow.

In context, Paul is speaking to the Roman Christians and letting them know that prior to Yeshua (Jesus) they were “slaves to sin” (verse 17), and now they are slaves to God. Logically speaking, if I am a slave to something, I am held in it’s grip, unable to free myself, in other words, I have no way out. Paul was a Jew, so I am a little confused as to why he taught this.

Judaism does not recognize original sin in the same way that Christianity teaches. The Jewish faith recognizes man’s sinful nature in that we have a choice; to sin or not to sin. Judaism however, does not view man as hopelessly and helplessly chained to sin. God created man in His image affording man the ability to think and reason, to choose good over evil. Christianity often leaves us with the impression we have no choice, we are sinful, depraved creatures in need of salvation, and our only way out is to repeat the Sinner’s Prayer to gain access to Jesus and eternity. In Romans 3:10-12 Paul says this “So are we Jews better off? Not entirely; for I have already made the charge that all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, are controlled by sin. As the Tanakh (Old Testament) puts it, There is no one righteous, not even one! No one understands, no one seeks God, all have turned away and at the same time become useless; there is no one who shows kindness, not a single one!” Notice Paul says no one is righteous and that we are controlled by sin. Remember Paul is an educated Jew, fully aware that his religion does not believe in original sin the way he is preaching. Makes me wonder if Paul’s words have been massaged a bit by interpreters down through the centuries.

While I would agree that we can choose to sin or not to sin, I do not agree we are controlled. To be controlled implies we don’t have a choice, and clearly, we do. Perhaps Paul is overstating to make a point, if this scripture is accurate, however the vast  majority of Christians believe we are depraved beings with uncontrollable desires to sin and our only way out is to accept Jesus as Savior. I beg to differ. I do believe we have a free will and are able to exercise it, but am I compelled to always choose to sin? Obviously, the answer is no. There are countless millions of people who do good apart from ever reciting the prayer of salvation, sitting in a church pew every Sunday, or carrying around a Bible. Looking at the scriptures, if there is no one righteous, what about Job, Abraham,  Zechariah, Elizabeth, and others? God declared them righteous; was He wrong? Taking that a step further, if the prayer of salvation is necessary for entrance into heaven, what about those prior to the advent of Christianity? The church gets around those questions with long-winded explanations that hold little Biblical water. 

Christians tend to forget that the Old Testament speaks to the New Testament; it is not obsolete. Although man did what God had asked they not do, we are not without hope, depraved, sinful beings, unable to choose good. Neither do we need to recite the Prayer of Salvation, go to church, memorize Bible verses, or whatever conditions church doctrine has added to our journey with God. Moses gave this speech to the Hebrews in the last days of his life, assuring them that God was not far off, righteousness and relationship with God was within their reach. Deuteronomy 30:10-14 says, “However, all this will happen only if you pay attention to what ADONAI your God says, so that you obey his mitzvot (laws) and regulations which are written in this book of the Torah (First 5 books of the Old Testament), if you turn to ADONAI your God with all your heart and all your being.  For this mitzvah (commandment) which I am giving you today is not too hard for you, it is not beyond your reach.  It isn’t in the sky, so that you need to ask, ‘Who will go up into the sky for us, bring it to us and make us hear it, so that we can obey it?’  Likewise, it isn’t beyond the sea, so that you need to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea for us, bring it to us and make us hear it, so that we can obey it?’ On the contrary, the word is very close to you – in your mouth, even in your heart; therefore, you can do it! (The Complete Jewish Bible)

Where does Jesus fit into this? Jesus fulfilled the law; we are no longer bound to its commandments in order to have relationship with God. Jesus opened the door for us to journey with God. We are not depraved, hopeless beings controlled by sin in need of a man made prayer to save us from eternal damnation, as the church teaches. Jesus is referred to as the Word of God, the Bible is the word of God; both are close and we are invited to journey with Him, capable of journeying with God without the need for special prayers or conditions for relationship…..