What is Sin… Really?

accountability pageYou see this article on “Accountability”, and read this Inventory List for Conscience. It helps you know how and when you’ve “sinned” so you can get forgiveness for it. And your heart responds that there’s value to this, it isn’t “bad”… but somehow you feel it hasn’t quite hit the mark.

USCCB You do more research, you find a Catholic treatment for the Examination of Conscience, and you look it over. Again, not that it’s “bad”, but it just doesn’t seem to scratch the itch in your spirit as you ponder the questions of living in righteousness, versus committing sin. Somehow, virtue and sin don’t seem so cumbersome, so convoluted.

You decide to teach on this topic, and so you begin…

Sin… righteousness… love… peace… one day you are sitting and pondering, studying, working on a lesson or a sermon, and you find yourself grieving, praying, seeking how effectively to communicate something you see in your heart as so simple… You lean back, your brow furrows, your eyes close for a moment…

And suddenly, you no longer seem to be at your desk… You realize that God has heard your heart and your prayers, and He is going to teach you something, show you something, to help you understand and teach…

You find yourself standing out in a large empty space, dim but not utterly dark, neutral neither warm nor cold, with just a sense of vastness, not fearful or threatening. There in the distance you see light on the horizon and you choose to walk towards it. Startled with surprise, you find that each step moves you very far, as if your will moves you forward by thought, not physics.

As you approach closer to the light that a moment before was on the horizon, you realize that you are about to look upon the Father… God… the Almighty over All. Somehow, you know you are at the very Beginning, the Before the Beginning. This, is the Void, the Formless Void, and God (in whatever form and manner you perceive Him/Her) is smiling in welcome at your arrival. Amazingly, when He smiles, He smiles all over… His eyes, His hands, His heart… all welcomes you, and you stand just steps away from Him, unsure of whether to look up or down, to bow or to stand.

He takes your hand, raises your chin, smiles, and simply says, “Behold…”

He turns towards the Void around Him, extends His arms, and the radiance from His heart moves outwards reaching to touch all around Him. You realize, you are watching Creation. As you stand there, awestruck, you know that matter and energy have come into Being.

With another sweeping gesture, His arms raise again, and with a pulsing motion forms take shape all around you, near and far. You see planets, stars, sand, rocks, the forms of grass, trees, even animals. But all seems still.

“Now watch…” He says with a smile, as He turns to you, then back to His work.

You see a richer glow begin at His heart, as it flows upwards and outwards through His arms and fingers. You know, without knowing how you know, that He has just brought forth Life… and you see all these living things now begin to move.

Then, in a way you cannot describe, you see Him touching all of this… Everything… all at the same moment, and you realize that He is loving, He is feeding, He is upholding… All that is. All that He has created. That all of this is from Him, part of Him, has come from Him and is yet Him and His.

He turns to you again, and says… “Here is the best part…”

Again He faces His creation and the glow from His heart moves out through both His hands and His lips as He sings forth music unspeakable. Now there appear… “children”… is the word that goes through your mind. You hear Him sing, “My Children”. And you see that He is singing forth everyone, everywhere, everywhen. The beauty of it all leaves you breathless.

He turns to you again, reaches forth, and puts His hand on your chest.

You are filled with warmth, as a glow lights you up and flows outwards from your heart through every part of your being. You can feel and see that this warmth, this glow, are extending themselves from your heart outwards to your hands, and upwards to your tongue and lips.

You feel moved, without knowing why, and you embrace Him… God… the Father… the Lord of All. Fear doesn’t even enter your mind, though you’d never have imagined doing such a thing before. And He returns the embrace, kisses you on the top of the head, and you are filled with a fullness of love, safety, and nurturance such as you have never known before. You realize, for the first time all the way through you, that He is truly, utterly, and only Good… and you never need doubt, never need ever but to trust Him completely forevermore.

He directs your gaze to the world we know. And He bids you observe His children, their hearts, hands, and lips.

As you look at the world, you see people. Myriads of people… good, bad, young… old… confident, frightened, hurting, healing… You see all kinds of people, doing all the kinds of things people do.

You see some people with dim hearts, laying hands on other people who glow a bit, and where they touch their hands glow as the object of their touch grows dimmer. The heart of the takers has a reddish dim glow, while children start with brilliant white and gold.

Here and there you see clusters of brilliance, often among whom are hearts that reach out with pulsing connection with this heart of God alongside you. You see that God continues to touch, to nurture, to maintain all His children, all these people. But there are vast differences among individuals how they respond to His touch.

Some people welcome, embrace, and reach towards it. Others simply receive it without response or seeming to notice Him. While still others, those with the dimmest glow, seek to avoid His touch and His love and life (for you realize these all are one in Him).

But as you watch longer, you see that everyone, even the most golden or brilliant, have moments when their hearts flash red, and they touch others with a dimming effect. And much touching seems not to have impact. And some touching, brings light to others and eases their way.

“What am I seeing, Father? (or Lord?)” you ask.

“You are seeing the answer to your questions, My child. Righteousness, sin, virtue, love, life… all of it. It is as simple as ‘relationship’… with Me, with others, with yourself. I, and Only I, give life through love. That is all I do, always. And life only comes through love. But children of free will as you are, you may choose at any given moment to GIVE life through loving another and giving from Me through your heart, your hands, your words… to love another and so give them life. Or, you may choose to TAKE life from another, deprive, neglect, injure, or wound another… diminishing their life, feeding upon them, to love yourself.

“It is quite simple, but very difficult to put in words. Nothing living stands still. Life requires consumption. I Alone am the source of life. I alone can feed you with love, life, and being. When you feed from Me, (I once expressed this as ‘eat My body’), I can fill you utterly and beyond. Water that you never thirst again, bread that you never die. To let Me fill you, and then to pass along such love, such life, such abundance to those around you through your heart… this is love, this is righteousness, this is virtue.

“But to choose instead to feed on others, to love the self at the expense of others, is to deprive them of life. This is to consume others for the sake of the self. Whether materially, or emotionally… to feed the ego by belittling others and making them smaller, is no less a taking of their life as to wound them physically. This is predation. This is vampirism. This… is sin.

“Not only is it wrong, for it takes life from another. It is also ineffective. You cannot truly live on ‘second hand life’. Only I Alone can give full life through love. To steal the life of another will never fill or sustain a person. It can barely maintain them. Eventually, such predation leaves only the empty shell of a life.

“Sin leaves you empty and hungry, no matter how much you grasp or take. Like ’empty calories’, there is no real life to it. The hunger gnaws, and will continue to do so until real life, real love, real Light is found.

“So there you are, Blessed child. To give life to others through love of them and Me, is righteousness. To take life from others for love of yourself, without Me, is sin. Any questions?”

You shake your head, a bit bewildered. This really is quite simple. He hugs you again, kisses you atop the head, and your eyes open…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

You are again seated at your desk wondering how in the world you can ever find the words to explain this.

Then you remember, Jesus said,Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” [Matthew 15:17-20]

And you get it… everything is sacred. It is ALL held together in His hands, His heart, His love. To treat anything, especially ANYONE… as less than sacred… to fail to love anything or anyone that He died to redeem in the greatness of His love… Yeah, that’s just not OK. You get it now. Righteousness is treating sacred things that He loves as precious. Not to do so… well, yeah, that’s sin. And we do it, because sometimes we choose to… but still He breathes us, He touches us, He loves us… and thus, He lives us.

“Ain’t that somethin’?”  you ponder, silently…

Hawks and Doves

 

Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge
Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

I was awakened Saturday morning by a beautiful, red-tailed hawk on a tree branch inches away from my open bedroom window.

I heard the screeching and did not know what it was at first. A bird I did not recognize.

Creeping silently to the window, I raised my head to see this wondrous creature yowling into the morning sun. And then I looked down.

The diet of hawks is about 85% rodent, which is what I expected to see. What I saw horrified me; in the claws of this great raptor was another bird, dead and limp.

These are the birds that usually waken me with soft songs of love and grace. Harmonies of hope and new beginnings. Not today.

“We are under the sad delusion our mission is to be hawks for Christ”

As I watched the hawk attempt to both feast and hang onto her prey, I was further disturbed as she plucked the feathers one by one seeming to ravage her quarry as she laid waste to the spoils.

I wholly recognize this was the hawk’s way of getting to the meat it needed to survive.

Yet, an hour later, as I sat down to write my Sunday poem of praise and love, the Spirit would not allow me to do so. He took me back to the image of that hawk and opened my eyes to the way we treat each other.

red-tailed_hawkWe aim our hawk-eye, judgmental sights on one another. We dive down and capture our prey. We pick and pluck and extricate each lapse, defect, mistake. We are under the sad delusion our mission is to be hawks for Christ and hunt down every sinning miscreant; pluck out each feather of iniquity so we can gorge on the intestines of ostracism.

We want to savor the spoils of our “success,” beat them into submission and walk away as we pat our self-righteous, hawkish backs, engorged with a meal of “I did it for Jesus.”

~                      ~                      ~

Here in my little corner of the world, I continue to beat the quiet drum of the dove.

The drum that says we are to love; we are to be peacemakers. The drum that says we are to show the grace and mercy of God; the compassion of Jesus, the outstretched arms of our Father.

We have two missions, if we choose to accept them, which I wrote about in Back to Basics 3 and Part 4.

We are to be the light and love of the Lord so people can see and experience Jesus through us, and to bring the Good News to people, creating an open door through which they might step and choose to be embraced by the Father.

It isn’t important what we say but how we are heard. If all we do is rant and screech, we are like fingernails on a blackboard, like clanging symbols.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

Instead of focusing on what we want to say, let’s pay attention to what Jesus says, those red-lettered words. Let’s bang the drum of love:

“For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17 NASB)

“So I give you a new command: Love each other deeply and fully. Remember the ways that I have loved you, and demonstrate your love for others in those same ways. Everyone will know you as My followers if you demonstrate your love to others.” (John 13:34-35, The Voice)

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8 NLT)

We must not mistake accusation and condemnation for love. We must not mistake what we think of as brutal honesty as ministering in love. We must always test our own thinking and agendas with the Words of God. And we must always yield to love, abiding in the wisdom and fruit of the Spirit.

Sharing My Crayons

I would love for everyone to know the people in my life that have affected me in a positive way. I want to share my friends like I would share my crayons. That sounds hokey but it’s as simple as crayons. For me, crayons have been as close as friends. The various colors and what can be discovered from them.

In a world where the creative ones have a bit of a harder time fitting into the norm, my friend Ann has been a source of comfort. I’ve only known her a little while yet I do know that a lifetime of kindred spirits has just begun.

Here is the exact post from her Facebook page. She has given me permission to post these insightful words on parenting. The raw deal and the real deal. Enjoy the read and be looking for her blog to begin soon (we are working on that this week).

Cate B and Ann

Meet Ann:

“I took this photo almost 2 weeks ago and I’ve been thinking about posting it ever since. But I knew that if I did, I would want to be real honest about this particular picture. 

This sweet mother/son selfie was taken on a date I went on with Kaiden. I can hear it now, “Awww! That is so sweet! Awww!” And you’ll begin to envision what a sweet, loveable, fun, bonding time that must have been. 

And I must interrupt your envisionings with a bit of reality. Those were the envisionings I had when I had planned this date. But then I went ON the date…. And the picture you see was one of the very few, very few, sweet bonding moments of the whole evening. 

The majority of the evening was spent “bonding” if you will, in a battle of wills. Fishing him out from under the table because I wouldn’t let him play games on the little game thingy that was on our table. (Thanks Applebees, thanks a LOT!) He didn’t want to eat his food, he talked back… The list goes on. It ended with an epic tantrum in the parking lot. NOT exactly how I would have preferred our date to go. 

You see, right now we are going through a sowing season with him. A season of working the soil of his little heart. And it’s a HARD, gritty, sweaty, endless (or so it seems) toiling, thankless, season. It’s a season where we are planting seeds. The thing about planting is that you don’t see the fruits right away. That’s the hard part. You put the seeds down and they get covered up and because you can’t see them down in that soil, you can’t see what they are doing, you can’t see if they are germinating and taking root. 

So we work that soil constantly, going after the weeds relentlessly. Relying on the grace, power, and instructions of the Master Planter. Carefully tending the soil of our own hearts. Living on faith and refusing to listen to the uprooter of the seeds. The lies that he whispers: “your child should not be acting this way in the first place.” “You’re messing him up.” “You’re not doing enough.” “You’re not doing it right.” “You’re not good enough.” 

We stand firm on the Word and we water that soil with truth, love, and destiny. And we choose to live by faith, that we will see those precious seeds sprouting, come spring and summertime. And eventually there will be a full, thankful, abundant harvest. 

You might wonder why I’m writing about all this. Well, getting these words down where I can see them, it encourages me, it boosters my faith. And I value transparency. Social media can really make it seem like we have perfect relationships, perfect lives. I am working daily to lay down perfection and pick up LIFE. It’s messy, it’s hard, it’s real, I don’t have it all figured out, but it’s beautiful. 

And maybe, along the way, another parent who is going through this hard season of planting seeds, will be encouraged along with me. We got this friends, because God’s got us. And he supplies the seeds and the knowledge for the planting.”

Ann and Kaiden
Ann and Kaiden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Basics, Part 2

(ancient art, unknown artist)
(ancient art, unknown artist)

The theme of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) is Jesus’ call to righteousness. In the commentary section of the NLT Bible, it says (emphasis mine):

“Jesus uses the term for moral behavior that conforms to God’s will. Specifically, righteousness is doing the will of God as Jesus reveals it. This ‘revelation of righteousness’ unifies the entire Sermon. Jesus reveals the will of God as it contrasts with traditions. The realization of the law in Christ means that obedience to all of his commands is the only acceptable response for his disciples.”

Jesus lays out the lifestyle and character of his followers – those who do the Father’s will – through the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). By recognizing our weaknesses, by being humble, by thirsting to do God’s will, we shine a light on the nature of God. By having pure motives and being peacemakers, we carry forward the intent of Jesus.

By doing the right thing – even when no one is looking, even if we are badgered or insulted – we are faithful to the One who saved us by His grace alone. By loving all people, we do not become children of God; we show the world we are God’s children, transformed by Christ.

We must carry the commands of Jesus in our hearts, in our thoughts, in our words and in our actions, for “whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19-20)

Jesus spoke strongly against anger, name-calling, adultery, lying, retribution, violence, hate and judging others. He told us in order to follow him we need to turn the other cheek, forgive, and love our neighbors. He commanded us to love our enemies, pray for them and go the extra mile for them! Significantly, Jesus told us to ask, and continue asking God for help in keeping these commands because we cannot – and in fact, have a tendency not to – do it on our own.

The apostle Paul clarifies this command beautifully:

Don’t pay people back with evil for the evil they do to you. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘Vengeance is Mine,’ says the Lord.  But, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink. If you do this, you will make him feel guilty and ashamed.’ Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21, Deuteronomy 32:35, Proverbs 25:21-22)

How can we continue to justify chaining ourselves once again to the traditional, pharisaical Old Testament Law and revert back to blood and sacrifice when the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross ended all that forever? We have embraced exclusion and wall-building, support state-sanctioned killing and national war. We have supported class- and race-based justice. How? With our votes. With our sarcasm. With our silence.

In doing so, we allow the Gospel to be kidnapped by wolves in sheep’s clothing professing to be Christian but following an entirely different and destructive “gospel.” When we ignore His true commands, we nail Jesus to the cross all over again.

We must read and deliberate long and hard on the words of Jesus. We must consider the consequences and impact on our own eternal life when we distort his words into something he never had in mind. We must remember The Son’s words came directly from The Father he served – our Father, who desires all of us to be reconciled to Himself.

(Holy Bible, New Living Translation, 1996, 2004, 2007, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Il., 60188)

Following the Thread

But I am like a green olive tree, thriving in the house of God.

I trust in God’s unfailing love forever and ever. (Psalm 52:8)

OliveTree

On occasion I like to look at a verse revealed to me and follow the thread (those tiny, inside marginal notes) through my Bible until it leads right back to that verse again. My devotional this morning presented me with the verse above.

I do thrive when I spend time with God. There is nothing better than opening my heart and mind to the Spirit, allowing a mystery to be imparted from the Living Word. Sometimes, His hand, His love and grace travel deep into my core, and I feel Him surrounding me with His unfailing love. Which led me to the verses below.

goldthread.1The Lord once called you a green olive tree; beautiful with good fruit. (Jeremiah 11:16a)

And the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against these things. (Galatians 5:22-23)

But some of the olive branches have been broken off, and you, a wild olive branch, have been grafted in their place. You get your nourishment from the roots of the olive tree. So don’t brag about being better than the other branches. If you brag, remember that you don’t support the root, the root supports you. (Romans 11:17-18)

As I respond to other people – people unlike me, who have different ways of being, contrasting points of view, I must recall His commands to love. They are not many and are not optional, but vital to my life under His domain. Instead of letting anger or fear control my mind and heart, I humble myself to the Spirit’s control.

As I allow His Spirit to work in me and mature my faith, His strength uplifts me and enables me to embody His fruit when I alone cannot. He empowers me to love, to have patience, to be kind and generous, to be gentle and to have self-control.

I am the Vine and my Father is the Vinedresser. Abide in Me, and I will abide in you. A branch cannot bear fruit if it is disconnected from the vine, and neither will you if you are not connected to Me. I am the Vine, and you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear sweet fruit. Without Me, you will accomplish nothing. (John 15:2, 4-5)

What mysteries are revealed to me in the thread of these verses?

Do not adhere to ideologies; to not cling to law.

Do not hold fast to doctrine; do not grasp onto litmus tests.

Do not worship the word

Or let it become your god.

Instead, hold fast to Jesus; cling to the Father.

Worship God; give dignity to His name.

Gain nourishment from the roots of the Tree;

Obtain wisdom from the Vine.

Discern with clear eyes through truth and the Spirit.

Forgive, dispense grace and mercy; offer compassion and love.

Honor all life: the unborn; lgbtq; Christian, Jew and Muslim; Democrat and Republican; man and woman, white collar and blue collar, those from every nation, faces of every color, for God loves the heart.

Whenever possible, be a peacemaker.

Stay humble, open to the Spirit’s teaching.

We are here at His behest, His creation, all beloved children of our Father.

Isn’t it time we treat each other that way?