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Sin?

I find the concept of sin very confusing.

I’m a pastor, you would think I should have this down, but I don’t.

I can tell you all about the definition of the word and I can teach you about what the word actually is in Greek. I can exegete (fancy church language for interpreting) some Scriptural passages for you. But it all seems to be lacking.

There are religious people who will attempt to give you lists, even Paul, author of a lot of those New Testament letters, loved his lists of things Christians should not do. The problem with these lists being the sole definition of sin is that it limits the discussion to behaviors and contexts Paul or any other list maker is familiar with.

Let me suggest another possibility that’s about half-formed in my mind. Somewhere between reading ch 5-7 of Matthew’s Gospel, The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute, and I-Thou by Martin Buber, this idea began to come together for me.

Sin is any behavior, word, thought, or feeling that moves a human, including ourselves, from human to object.

Let me give you some of my building blocks and we’ll see if you agree:

  • In the ch 5-7 of Matthew, Jesus lays out the best Christianity 101 ever. Part of His message is a list of laws that He then takes to a different place.“You have heard it said…but I tell you,” is His formula. The laws He’s referring to deal with behaviors, but Jesus takes us to a place of intention behind the behavior. Law = cheating on your significant other is bad. Jesus = the bad starts with lust. Lust is not attraction to another human being that could lead to a life-giving relationship, lust is ONLY about physical attraction and what one wishes to do to another human being.
  • In Buber’s book, Buber lays out two basic words/concepts that are at the heart of all human experience and understanding. I-You is pure experience found at the heart of human to human relationship. (Buber actually includes the possibility of an I-You moment with a tree, but we’re going to stick with people for this topic.) I-It is when analysis and manipulation jump in. Let’s just continue with our example above. I-You would experience the whole person as beautiful and would be completely present with that person for however long the encounter lasted, even if it was just momentary eye contact. I-It leaves the experience of relationship to make judgments about desirability and what it would take to advance the encounter to something physical.
  • Last piece, once we move a person from I-You to I-It, it does not matter how we treat the other person or what our behaviors are, they will be able to read our intention on some level and it will alter the relationship. Back to the lust. It does not matter how sweet and noble we act if all we’re thinking about is how to use the other person. Our thoughts will change the dynamics toward the sexual somehow.
  • You could put any example in the above points: anger, impatience, the need to control, etc etc etc.

Back to my proposed understanding of sin:

Sin is any behavior, word, thought, or feeling that moves a human, including ourselves, from human to object.

How the hell do we fight that??

I have thoughts on that and they are pretty straightforward to understand. I am stealing/modifying this from The 12 Steps.

  • We have to be aware of this tendency of ours to I-It people and admit that we cannot control it. (Romans 7:13-20 speaks to this.)
  • We have to believe in a higher power. The Triune God is my jam, particularly since Jesus enters into humanity to show us: that He gets us, how life without sin could be, and to change our relationship with God. (John 10:7-17 is my favorite but there are SO many passages about Jesus being the path to life.)
  • We have to allow God to take over our will through the power of the Holy Spirit and teach us the better way. (Back to Paul! 2 Corinthians 5:13-21)

Lists of behaviors are too easy to misinterpret and manipulate. My understanding of sin is far more challenging in a lot of ways but may actually go further in helping us heal the big problems we are facing. (Not to brag.) Imagine all the ways the world (yes, world) would be different if none of us ever lost sight of the beautiful humanity of every person? Children wouldn’t be allowed to starve, rape would be inconceivable, and the cost of war in terms of life lost would be unbearable. Not to mention the health brought to friendships, co-workers, marriages, parent-child, etc, etc, etc. The way we treat our own bodies would have to change. Even care for creation would have to change because unsustainability is deeply connected to the objectification of other people and future generations.

I am always game for a lively discussion. Thank you for reading my initial thoughts on sin.

Blessings.


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Alexis Johnson is a mom of two, married to a seminary student/new clergy, an Ordained Elder in the Iowa UMC, and feeds three furry mammals. So busy. Alexis is busy. But she is passionate about God and passionate about people. She is always up for good conversations and connecting, especially if there is coffee or wine involved.

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Beardcast

Beardcast for 1.4.18 Resolutions vs Discipline

This week on the Beardcast Matt and Zach discuss the differences in resolutions and disciplines.

You can listen to the audio version of the Beardcast here

 

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Blogging

“What is God Calling Me To Do?”

“What is God calling me to do?”  If I had a nickel for every time I asked myself that question I would have that vacation home I’ve dreamed about for so long.  For many years I questioned whether or not something was wrong with me because, unlike so many around me, I felt no calling on my life.  I felt as if I were drifting through life, working to pay the bills, feeling angry that I couldn’t find my passion, my calling.  Many nights were spent in tearful prayer, begging God to reveal a plan for my life.  I kept thinking, “There has to be more to life than this.”   I couldn’t escape the feeling that God created me for something greater than just aimless living, that surely I had a purpose.

I can’t tell you that I have answered this question of “what God is calling me to do.”  If you google this question you will find many who have attempted to answer this, and many more who are seeking answers.  So many of us want an easy answer, we want to see it in black and white – a billboard on our highway of life, “Mikel, you should ______ – Love, God.”  If only.
It’s not that easy, however, there is beauty in that.  There is much to be learned in the journey, whatever that journey looks like.  By not limiting my identity or purpose to one thing, my “calling” if you will, I have been able to live a myriad of experiences.  I have learned so much about myself.  I have discovered I am stronger than I ever believed I could be.  I have learned to depend on other people more than makes me comfortable.  I have learned to expect the unexpected and to never get so comfortable that I become complacent.  I have learned to stop comparing my callings to other people and I have learned that even those who think they have life figured out, are just as lost as the rest of us.
The danger in trying to answer the question of “what is God calling me to” is that we often forget the live the life that we were given.  We forget that God is speaking to us in the quiet, in the chaos, in the mess, in the emptiness.  We can forget that we have an opportunity to live our best lives where ever we are.  We can get so caught up in the searching we don’t realize that we are already at our destination, and that our destination can change as we change.
We tend to make things more complicated than they are.  I’m as guilty as anyone.  However, I have learned to find peace in my uncertainty in knowing that there are really only three things we need to worry about: Love God, Love others, Love yourself.  If we can manage that, even to a degree, the rest will fall into place.  Enjoy the journey.

13087918_10154164251769938_6289861413863975931_nMikel is the woman behind Zach’s beard.  She made from peppermint mocha, Christmas cheer, and adventure.  Mikel lives in North West Montana with her wonderful husband and kids.  She loves a good adventure and being in the mountains.  (Don’t tell anyone but I’m pretty sure she’s Wonder Woman!)

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Blogging

Puff Sleeve Theology -6 Tips to Discover Your Calling

Two months ago, I moved back into my old room at my dad’s house – totally living the millennial dream, folks – and I discovered that my brother had convinced my dad to subscribe to Netflix. If you knew my dad, a man who refuses to use electric or gas heat in the winter because it is expensive, you would understand this feat might as well have been Harry Potter level witchcraft.

While I still have not unraveled the mystery of how my brother arranged this, it means my dad has access to the internet and Netflix. It also means, by extension, that I have access to the internet and Netflix. Since winter is coming and I live in a cold house, this is an exorbitant luxury for which I am extremely grateful…and last night, I discovered the Netflix original series, Anne with an E. As a child I loved these books, so naturally I had to watch the first episode.

It was beautifully done, but what struck me most as an adult is this little girl’s obsession with puff sleeves. She is absolutely maniacal about these sleeves, y’all. She wants them so much she speaks about them incessantly, and I feel like every other scene mentions these blasted sleeves.

(At this point, if you are wondering how Anne with an E has anything to do with God’s calling, we’re almost there.)

She is obsessed to the point she cannot let go of the possibility that one day these sleeves will adorn her tiny shoulders. She talks about them to others, imagines how they will look, and requests them at the first opportunity in her new home. Anne might be a childish fictional character, but her behavior reflects our own. When we want something badly enough, we obsess over it. We talk about whatever our obsession is constantly to anyone who will listen, we research it, we imagine it over and over again, and we often idealize it.

This connection between Anne and our own obsessive nature led me to a question. What kind of responses would I find, if I became obsessed with determining my calling? Would the answers I found be helpful or inspiring? What would I learn, if I googled – What is God calling me to do?

What I found were surprisingly well written recommendations that would help guide someone away from being merely obsessed to being meaningfully focused on discerning his or her calling.

These are the top four tips I discovered from googled blogs and articles:

  • Pray: You should be talking to God about your calling at least as much as Anne talks about puff sleeves. God does not grow weary of this conversation, so have it often.

 

  • Dive into scripture and listen carefully to what compels your heart to action: God wants you to know your purpose and fully live the abundant life Christ gives. Often the best way to discover your calling is simply to read God’s word and embrace the pieces of scripture that stir you to make the world a better place, to seek justice for those who are oppressed, and to serve as a witness of God’s amazing love.

 

  • Acknowledge that your job does not have to be your calling and that is acceptable: Your calling is far more than a profession or trade. Do your best not to limit God by determining that your calling and your job must be synonymous. God has been known to use a volunteer or two. Last time I checked Exodus, Moses didn’t get paid to drag the Israelites out of Egypt. Noah didn’t receive a commission for every animal he welcomed onto the ark and Lydia wasn’t on the clock when she provided hospitality to Paul. In fact, her secular job is what allowed her to live into a calling outside the realm of her professional work.

 

  • Trust God to help you discover your calling, but try not to be discouraged if God does not provide something tailored just for you: Our greatest calling is simply to be a disciple, who loves God and our neighbors. God might not call you to be a specialist, but God calls each of us to be practitioners of our faith. God calls us all to serve as a witness of Christ’s love and grace. The calling of discipleship transcends everything else.

 

When we are as obsessed as Anne is with puff sleeves, however, we rarely stop with Google. As I have tried to discern my calling, with my own Anne-like tendencies, I have discovered two additional recommendations that are completely obvious, but no less helpful.

 

  • Talk to other people about your calling: Family, friends, and mentors who know you best can often see your calling before you do. Listen to their words of wisdom and ask them to pray for your discernment. Lastly, listen to the people God puts on your path. God does an amazing job of confirming our gifts, talents, and calling when we listen.

 

  • Your calling can change: This is not a heretical statement. While our call to discipleship will not change, the ways in which God uses us for higher purposes can evolve and that transformative process, no matter how unnerving, can be God ordained.

I believe when our obsession with finding the “perfect” answer to the question of calling ends, then God can do the transformative work required to guide us in our callings…so let go of your perfect puff sleeves and enjoy the journey. I promise, whether you are a specialist or a disciple at-large, living your calling will be the greatest adventure of your life.


19732366_847958712354_4601996656973187886_nMy name is Leia, which should tell you that my dad’s favorite movie is Star Wars and I have some very unfortunate nicknames. I studied International Relations in undergrad and couldn’t find a job to save my life, so I changed my plans and studied communications in graduate school.  After 7 years in communication, fundraising, and development serving five conferences and a short stint in fundraising consulting, I have been given the amazing opportunity to return home. Now, I am serving the Arkansas Conference of The United Methodist Church in communications and I am beyond thrilled about this gig!  Currently, in my spare time, I am teaching my dad how to check his voicemail on his new smartphone.

 

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Blogging

The Kentucky Fried Chicken Incident!

 

We can be anywhere and witness God, even in a fast food restaurant.  The question is:  Are you observant enough to know it when you see it?  

As Christians, we often go through life, wearing crosses or making some display of our faith to the public, but if someone asked you the question:  How does the fact that Christ died on the cross affect you on a daily basis?  How would you respond?   99% of people that profess to be Christians don’t know what Christ’s crucifixion provided us on a daily basis.  I saw this on a TV show recently, a researcher trying to figure out the reason that attendance is down in churches nationwide, asked that question of hundreds of professed Christians.  They had an overwhelming response of silence. (You know, when the editor of the TV story puts in the sound of crickets chirping in the darkness and the video does a close up on their blank expressions!) They know why they are Christians, because He died for us to receive eternal life in heaven.  But they didn’t know how that gift affected them in their daily lives.  

I thought on that for a while.  It is not an easy question to answer right away.  Your first thought is salvation, but we don’t witness it daily – or do we?   

Last Saturday, my family was sitting in Kentucky Fried Chicken.  It was early for the lunchtime, and the crowd hadn’t shown up yet.  We were the only ones sitting in the restaurant, and there were 4 employees in the cooking area relatively bored.  A man looking to be about 20 to 30 years old walked up to the counter.  He was cleanly dressed in fairly fashionable clothes.  He asked for a certain employee.  They asked if they could say who was asking for this girl, and he said, “No one of importance, I just want to thank her.”  This caught our attention, and we couldn’t help listening.  We were sitting in the closest table to the counter.  The girl came up to the counter, a co-worker stayed back for her protection, because they watch out for each other.  The man said to the girl, “Do you remember me?  I came in here early in the week and didn’t have the money to pay for my meal, and you paid it for me?”  At first, the girl looked at him as though she was trying to figure out if she really remembered him.  Then her face opened up like she couldn’t believe this man had come back to thank her.  He then handed her an envelope and said again, “ I just want to thank you, I hope you enjoy this” and quickly walked out.  He never spoke his name.  The co-worker looked shocked too and quickly asked the girl what was in the envelope.  She said with a smile on her face, “It’s a Caliche’s gift certificate”.  Caliche’s is a local frozen custard shop.  At that point, my family looked at each other at the table and thought, “Awww, how sweet is that”.  It was sweet of the girl to pay for the man’s meal, and sweet of him to repay her in kindness.  And by the look of this man, he was not homeless or destitute.  How many people would have paid for his lunch in the same way they would help a needy person?  We are often quick to help people who we think are worthy of our money or time based on our need to judge their situation and our need to feel good.  But sometimes, you may not be helping someone who is physically hungry; maybe you are helping someone who is spiritually hungry.  

 

There are at least four lessons here.  One, be quick to do a good deed like the KFC employee did.  Two, be purposeful in repaying kindness.  Three, while passing on the good deed in a pay it forward motion is nice, and keeps the idea of “Good Karma” going, it is also important to thank the individual who was kind to you.  Why?  Because so often, good deeds are overlooked, unappreciated, and taken for granted, and people need to have their good habits reinforced, because if they don’t get that positive feedback, they quit doing those good things and become hard hearted.  God doesn’t want us to become hard rocks, he wants to keep us tender hearted enough to not only know when to react positively, but also be able to witness when others do it.  The fourth lesson is about the man who paid the girl back.  He may have needed to be able to learn how to receive God’s blessings.  He may have needed to have his faith restored with this girl’s act of kindness.  It is obvious that no one works as a fry cook in a KFC if they are financially secure.  So his way of paying her back was sweet because he could have handed her the money, but in her perspective that money was already gone.  So he gave her a sweet treat that she could enjoy in a different location to where she worked.  

It is this witness of small random acts of kindness that we need to see on a daily basis.  This is what keeps our heart well in a spiritual way.  Loving your neighbor is the key to salvation.  An old friend, Fr. Peter Sanderson’s favorite sermon was his shortest.  He said, “Little Children, love one another” and he was done.  He knows it is the key to all things in faith.  If we live in love, we will be walking with Jesus, and we will be on the right path every day of our lives.  It is the key to our salvation.   

I know there are lots of lonely people out there.  I know that telling them Jesus loves them often falls on deaf ears.  But the fact is, we don’t have to be in love, or feel love directly from another person to know what love is.  We can witness love in many different ways.  Witnessing love on any level, from a distance, or seeing an incident in which you yourself are not involved, is how we know God loves us.  That “Aww” moment you feel when you see something really sweet is a reminder that God is near and loves us.  Now, we just have to recognize it and not live with blinders on, look past the distractions and witness God’s love.  

So, if someone asked me on Saturday afternoon, after I got to witness this incident, “How does the fact that Christ died on the cross affect you on a daily basis?”  I could answer like this:  He did it out of love for us, and because of His love for us, we can see love in others.  If we can’t see that, life is hard, so hard, it is not worth living.  Anyone who says they can live without love of someone or something is full of rocks!

Hebrews 6:10 God is not unjust: He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him, as you have helped his people and continue to help them.  


100_3566Madeleine is a young woman, who at a very young age heard God calling her to mission.  Over the years she has brought God’s love and hope to children who are fighting for their lives in hospitals receiving treatment for various childhood cancers but providing handmade pillows cases and port pillows. She continues to be an inspiration in the lives of youth and adults.