Trees, Life and Death Choices … Oh, My Head!

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‘The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there.  In this garden, He made the ground pregnant with life—bursting forth with nourishing food and luxuriant beauty. He created trees, and in the center of this garden of delights stood the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil … God speaking: Eat freely from any and all trees in the garden; I only require that you abstain from eating the fruit of one tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Beware: the day you eat the fruit of this tree, you will certainly die’ –Genesis 2:8-9, 16-17.

Several times in the Bible we are encouraged to choose ‘life.’   In Genesis, we have the conundrum of the ages:  tree of life vs. tree of knowledge of good and evil.  But what did God mean when He gave us that choice?  I’ve mulled over this mystery through the years without a satisfactory conclusion.  When a friend opined that our minds are the key to understanding the Bible, and the Bible is the only reliable source for living–over experience, intuition, and traditions–I balked, cringed, and threw up a little in my mouth….  So, I decided I needed to spend some intensive time pondering in my spirit, soul, and … yes … mind … as to why I reacted so strongly to a very common thought in Protestant circles since the Enlightenment era.

First, I have to emphasize that I respect our ability to think rationally and dissect arguments logically–even when it comes to spirituality.  I come from a highly educated family that has valued education for at least 150 years.  I also respect the Bible and the wisdom it contains in learning to live out the heart of God.  I’ve studied it my entire life.  However, I learned long ago that our rational minds have limitations.  I believe in living a more integrated way with ‘checks and balances.’  When we elevate or compartmentalize the mind, we devalue intuitive knowledge and experience.  When we elevate and isolate the Bible–asking it to contain historical and scientific facts, moral and rigid conduct codes, societal and religious blueprints–we risk narrowly defining what ‘biblical’ means and putting God in a nicely ordered box.

So, when we look at the Garden of Eden in Genesis and hear God’s command to not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because we ‘will certainly die,’ what does that really mean?  What is the difference between the two trees?  One offers life and one offers death.  We’re told in 2 Corinthians 3 that the Spirit gives life, but the letter of the law kills.  Do you see what we’ve missed?  I have heard sermons about ‘the spirit of the law.’  The verse doesn’t talk about the ‘spirit of the law’ at all–but refers to God’s Holy Spirit.  Could it be that God wanted us to forsake a rules-based system of justice in favor of a relational-based way of living?  Could it be that our minds need transforming to a more childlike development because children are more accepting, more intuitive–more like God’s kingdom?  When we use our brains to figure out the formula of someone’s spirituality, aren’t we missing the point?  Isn’t the point relationship with God–a relationship that God desires and initiates?  A relationship that Jesus embodied?

The vast majority of the books of the Bible record people’s experiences with God.  To devalue spiritual experience in favor of rational thought baffles me.  I believe Jesus encouraged all of us to integrate experience, reason, scripture, church traditions with the Holy Spirit so that we can finally celebrate unity with one another.  We may have differing perspectives on Bible passages; however, we need to allow other views to renew our minds like a breath of fresh air.  When we fight against another’s thought of how to interpret the Bible, or look to the Bible as a rule-book or owner’s manual for living, are we not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil … and choosing death over life … for ourselves … and for others?  The fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil assumes there is only one logical/rational way to interpret the library we call the Bible.  The tree of life beckons us into a messy, intangibly real relationship with an infinite and unlimited God!

So how do we eat from the tree of life?

  • We take the log out of our own eyes before removing the speck from another’s eye.  Jesus encourages us to hold ourselves accountable for our own actions without pointing the finger at others.  I don’t get to tell anyone–especially not an entire group of people–how God expects them to live–especially when the standards/rules are different than the standards/rules for myself.  I’m not the one who has to live with the consequences of those decisions, so I don’t get to force them on anyone.  That’s grace!
  • We constantly evaluate whether we are living out rules and regulations of behavior. Do we believe our worth to God is based on our choices? Do we believe that we deserve grace; but others deserve judgement? We must allow our minds to be transformed and renewed into a childlike state so that our whole being can integrate with the Holy Spirit. That’s grace!
  • We walk alongside.  Offer companionship for the journey.  Offer kindnesses like food, water, safe shelter–physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.  Earn your right to speak into others’ lives by proving you actually care for them and don’t want to change them to your way of thinking.  That’s grace!
  • We ask questions–sincere questions:  What is it like for you to hear…?  Why do you want to make this choice?  Is this decision giving you life?  Do you feel God smiling over you?  Whatever the answer, it’s their life.  If the decision turns out to be unhealthy, refrain from voicing an ‘I told you so’–just help them to get up and learn from that choice.  No shaming.  That’s grace!
  • We rejoice and ache equally for others’ successes and failures–even if our own theology is challenged.  If someone experiences a life-giving relationship that you don’t like, rejoice with him/her anyway.  If someone experiences a break-up of a relationship that you believed ungodly, weep with her/him anyway.  That’s grace!
  • We constantly guide toward life … always.  If the message you offer causes people to want to harm or kill themselves, it’s not fruit from the tree of life.  Only the tree of the knowledge of good and evil turns people away from Christ.  Let your gospel-good-news-great-joy message draw people to the life of Christ.  That’s grace!

I want to learn to live in one-ness with the Holy Spirit.  I want my whole being transformed into God’s presence!  I want to eat from the tree of life!  Here’s hoping more and more of us desire the joy and freedom of humble walking with God and each other!

That’s grace!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

 

 

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Playful Vacations

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This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Once again old men and women will walk Jerusalem’s streets with their canes and will sit together in the city squares.  And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls at play. –Zechariah 8:4-5 (bold for emphasis)

This past week, our family took a vacation with just the 5 of us.  It’s the last one we’ll ever have (and one of the few we’ve taken) before my daughter gets married in April and our family begins to expand.  Since her engagement back in September, I’ve experienced the bittersweet joy of helping to plan her bright future and feeling nostalgic for childhood.  I miss the days of make-believe and playing with dolls, cars, balls, pots and pans.  So much of raising my children involved me getting to play with their toys and entering back into their world of childhood.  As they’ve become young adults and no longer need me as a playmate, I forgot that childlike playing remains important at every age.  Playtime helps relieve stress, combats jaded thoughts, requires silly laughter.  Children don’t carry the responsibility that the adult world forces upon us.

For 5 glorious days, we played.  We walked till our feet could go no more … and then we walked some more.  Riding amusement rides, singing-a-long with princesses and snowmen, laughing ourselves into exhaustion.

For 5 glorious days, I unplugged from technology–leaving my computer at home and only answering calls and texts from my family in the amusement park wondering where I had wandered off to in the crowd.

For 5 glorious days, our friend who works at the amusement park gave us the tour-guide treatment–telling us fun-facts, allowing us to use her discount at the stores, mapping out our day in the park.

For 2 glorious hours, we relaxed on the beach before our flight home. Digging our toes in the sand, listening to the waves as the tide came in, feeling the 80-degree-sun beat on our skin–knowing at the end of the day we’d be back in land-locked Colorado with temperatures in the teens.

So, as I walked toward the ocean confidently in my airplane-ready outfit with my jeans rolled up so I could dip my feet in the cold Pacific, my mind flooded with memories of the 5 glorious days.  Yes, I saw the tide coming in.  Yes, I knew the odds that my clutzy ways just might trip me into the waves.  Yes, I know you shouldn’t try to outrun a wave on shifting sand when you’re not used to the beach.  Yes, I went anyway.  The first large wave just took me off-guard and got my pant legs wet.  Never deterred, I got up and continued walking.  I knew they’d dry before the airport.

Then, the second large wave came with more power, and I tried running uphill …

Without success …

You see where this is going, don’t you?  …

I fell on my butt.  I would have had time to get up and at least just stand there getting my pant legs more wet; but I was laughing so hard at myself–and everyone else was laughing too!–that the wave just washed all over me.  Sand, sea water, denim … there was no way my pants would dry.  Looking through my luggage, I realized the drawback to ‘packing light’:  I only had shorts and t-shirts.  Great for sunny California, not-so-great for snow-packed Colorado.  Well, good thing I almost never get cold.  So, donned with shorts, a t-shirt and my son’s hoodie, we returned home.

Real life.  I heard someone say that we must focus on our mind and the Bible in loving God.  I began to lose my 5 glorious days of playfulness.  Because, once again, all the silenced voices expressed their defeat to me.  The ones who have heard they aren’t smart enough and who struggle with reading the Bible.  The ones who experience the heart of God through empathy, but don’t always have a Bible verse to back up what they feel.  The ones who passionately and sacrificially serve the poor, but haven’t been to Sunday school and don’t know all the stories.  I heard them cry out as the breath was forced from their lungs like a punch in the gut.  Because once again, their view of God was less-than.  Once again, their piece of the spiritual puzzle wasn’t valued.  *sigh*

Perhaps next week I’ll focus on the topic of the Bible’s place in living out the gospel of Christ.

For now, I need to do laundry and maybe rub some sand from my jeans in my hands.  For now, I’ll remember the taste of churros and the thrill of roller coasters.  For now, I’ll envision my 6’5″ body-building 19 year old wearing the oversized, white, padded mouse hands as we frolicked through the park.  For now, I’ll remember the lightness of playing.

For now I am free.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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A New Year … A New Look … A Renewed Heart

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Create in me a clean heart, O God;
restore within me a sense of being brand new.
Do not throw me far away from Your presence,
and do not remove Your Holy Spirit from me.
Give back to me the deep delight of being saved by You;
let Your willing Spirit sustain me. –Psalm 51:10-12

I have updated my website and included a photo of myself (which I have fought against adding).  Being technologically-challenged and artistically-impaired, I struggled to change a system that seemed to work ‘good enough.’  But, change I did.  I hope you like the new look.  For those of you who read my blog via email, visit the site and let me know what you think!

But, as I changed the aesthetics of the site, my heart broke again.  And again, I am tempted to fall into war-path patterns that I’m determined for God to change in me.  Another LGBTQ teen committed suicide.  Another time church culture failed someone struggling to find acceptance and people who would walk a rocky path with her.  How many have to die physically or spiritually before we wake up?!  Each time someone walks away from faith or commits suicide because of a perverse image of God we project, we fail in Jesus’ commandment to love and make disciples.  I read about this girl whose parents rejected her because of their faith, and I want to start swinging the sword.  I hear the statistics of LGBTQ teens and homelessness, suicide, bullying and my heart breaks in all too familiar tear-soaked convulsions.

The ‘good news’ and ‘great joy’ of Jesus’ life has to be good and joyous for everyone, or it’s not ‘good’ or ‘great.’  How do we find the promise of joy in God’s presence with such alarming stories?!  When will we stop trying to create people into our image of ‘christian’ instead of celebrating the image of God they already bear?!

I wish I knew easy answers and quick fixes for these heart attitudes.  For me, I have had to give up ‘Sunday school’ answers and listen to stories from the trenches.  I am learning to allow stories from people’s lives to determine how I express Christ’s life.  My hermeneutics (there’s a college church word!) have changed from an academic and linear focus of the Bible to a more fluid and relational focus.  People and how we relate to each other have to take priority over ‘correct’ and ‘static’ interpretations of the Bible that tradition has ingrained upon our minds.  I choose to interpret the Bible through the lens of:

  • Jesus.
  • grace.
  • humility.
  • compassion and mercy.
  • Good News and Great Joy for Everyone!

Jesus listened to people and their stories.  We get snapshots of him conversing with the ‘less-thans’ in society.  He didn’t quote the Bible at them or list all the ways they failed God.  He asked them what they wanted (there’s a thought) and never told them they weren’t good enough for God.  He encouraged them, healed them, and taught them about God’s vision for their lives and the world.  He offered grace to the oppressed.  He looked on people’s needs with compassion and mercy–not cynicism and self-righteousness.  He gave them hope that the future could be bright, joyous and full of freedom.  When I examine Jesus’ way with people, humility floods my spirit.  And I begin to view the world from a different perspective.  I begin to see how much I relate to life from a holier-than-thou/shame-based view.  I see myself as better than some–therefore, more deserving … and I diminish my shortcomings.  I see others who have more attention or success, and my mind fills with shame as I exaggerate my own insecurities.  When I humbly view myself, I look on others the way I see Jesus looking at those in his culture–weeping, empathetic, sympathetic, and giving all of himself to see life restored–allowing God to determine their path to His heart, and standing between them and the religious hierarchies of the day.

How often have I heard church leaders and church-going people sigh and profess in resignation, “I wish I could accept (fill in the blank of ostracized behavior in any given age: women in leadership, inter-racial marriage, divorce, homosexuality); but the Bible is clear.  I can’t go against God.  His ways are higher.”  We say these things and dismiss the thoughts of injustice and accept powerlessness.  In essence, we are saying that we are ultimately more compassionate than God.  Seriously?!  Even though God implores us to live in relationship with Him and ‘reason’ with Him, we believe we cannot question traditional thoughts of churches?!  Even though Abraham bartered with God for people’s lives, we cannot compromise church positions?!  We silence the Spirit’s efforts to unveil in us more of God’s image than past generations could exhibit because we have bought a lie that God, as revealed to past generations, has to remain as we have known Him.  We don’t allow God to broaden our view of Him, so we don’t build on previous knowledge and encourage the next generation to add their discoveries of faith to ours.  Is this the spiritual legacy we want to leave?!

And I fall, once again, into temptation of looking at my brothers and sisters in Christ as the enemy.

… God’s enemy.

… my enemy.

And again, I see my own depravity and hypocrisy.  Because in judging attitudes in others, I have also sentenced them to righteous destruction.  How to grow and mature in assessing wrong attitudes without pronouncing penalties on their souls is what I hope for this year.

Wars of words have not proven successful in this social media age.  Instead of fighting each other to win a debate, can we agree to listen more and quote the Bible less as we navigate these conversations?  If we need or desire to quote the Bible to someone, can we quote Jesus more than Leviticus?  As we search for ‘biblical’ interpretations, can we focus more on how Jesus interacted with people and less on ‘issues’ and what is ‘unclean’ today?  Can we seek the Holy Spirit’s leading in shaping our theology, instead of relying solely on what pastors preach from the pulpit?  Can we seek out what is just and merciful, keeping our hearts humble, so that we refrain from shaming people and their actions to win a round in this vicious cycle we continue to feed?

Above all, can we try to remember that it is God’s will that none should perish–making it our goal each and every day to present Christ in a way that helps someone choose to live, and continue to figure out what it means to ‘work out’ our own salvation?  Let us treasure our interconnectedness as God’s image-bearers and journey toward unity of the Spirit.

Having someone commit suicide because of church teachings should humble us all into examining how much of the Spirit’s life we express to the world.  May we all cry out for God to create a new heart in the Bride of Christ that exudes the joy of living in God’s presence!

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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