Sunday, January 17, 2016

Have we crucified the cross?

Do you remember playing with Chinese fingers traps as a kid? I can't be certain when or to whom but I'm pretty sure I made one of my cousins cry when they placed their fingers inside only to realize to their horror that they couldn't get them out. Ah, the joys of being an older child.

If you don't remember, these toys they are small tubes woven out of something fiberous - usually bamboo. The trick is once you put your fingers inside and try to pull them out the tube constricts. The more you pull the tighter the trap gets. It's only by relaxing and pushing your fingers together that the trap can fall off. By the way if you didn't know this secret and I spoiled the surprise I sincerely apologize and would also like to know what it feels like to be seven years old. :)

As I stated in my last post I believe the gospel of Jesus is very simple. I understand it as God coming down to man to demonstrate empathy and compassion on us while we experience the growing pains of life. I believe Jesus teaches unconditional love that comes straight from the heart of God the Father and that His love is complete in removing the stain of all sin from our lives.

I have been away from the Sunday church gathering for four months now. One verse I have had thrown at me over and over is Hebrews 10:25 which reads "Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." I suppose the intention behind telling me this is that I'm doing something wrong in missing church and that I'm disobeying God.

This is the problem I see with how people use the Bible today. We pull out passages and then correct people with no regards to the context - both the exegetical context and the heart context of the person being chastized. I wonder if we behave more like Pharisees who Jesus said, "bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they will not move them with one of their fingers." Do we preach another gospel? The gospel of sin management. Have we crucified the cross?

When I read the entire chapter of Hebrews 10 there are a number of things that stand out to me. The chapter opens with the author saying that animal sacrifices are not only insufficient for the removal of the consciousness of sin but actually serve to remind people of their sins annually (verses 2-4).

The author then goes on to say that God knew this system of religion wouldn't ease the conscience of people and needed to come in human form (verse 5) and do away with this empty religion and replace it with a one-time act of sacrifice and empathy (verses 9-10). This one act is all sufficient for every wrongdoing a person has committed, is committing or will ever commit (verses 14-18).

He then speaks of how Christ is now our high priest, serving over the house of God right now and we can draw near to him with a heart of full assurance that our conscience is clear and our faith is secure (verse 21-23). We also are to think about each other and how we can encourage each other in love and good works (verse 23).

It is in this context that we hear the instruction to not forsake one another. It is not a blind, heartless dictate that means we need to do this or burn. It is not about evoking guilt in someone but drawing out faith, hope and love. Especially love.

One more interesting thing stands out to me. Right after the verse about gathering together the author warns about willfully sinning after receiving the knowledge of truth. Here's how verses 26-31 read:

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,”says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

What does it mean to fall into judgment if we sin willfully? I've grown up with this passage taught to mean we are to control our feelings and temptations and not sin. And if we keep on doing the same sin we can kiss our salvation goodbye because we are willfully not changing.

Do you want to know the receipt for creating an addict? That's a key ingredient. Throw some shame and guilt over a person's feelings and you'll close the loop of the shame cycle, driving them to any sort of addiction: drugs, alcohol, sex, you name it.

That cannot be the correct way to interpret this passage because Jesus told his disciples they were to forgive not just seven times but seventy time seven (i.e. never stop forgiving). It can't be habitual sin that the author is speaking of.

So what is the willfull sin that causes judgement? What is the sin that tramples the Son of God underfoot, that treats the blood as common and insults the Spirit of grace?

It is one thing and one thing only. It is the thing the Pharisees did which Jesus referred to as blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. It is the same thing Eve did in the garden of Eden that started this whole chain of events. And I believe it is the same thing Christians are preaching today. One word. Mistrust.

Unless a person comes to the knowledge in their heart that God is good and can be trusted they can never experience freedom. Ultimately there is one question we all need to answer in our own way and own time. Do I choose to trust God or do I choose to trust myself?

I have come to understand that trusting in myself is the same as trusting my own intellect and mind. To the extent that I can direct my thoughts, build mental models and control my actions I am acting out of my own strengths and skills. I can manage my sin through sheer willpower. I'm in charge.

But when I trust my heart, namely trust my emotions, I am powerless. Emotions appear to be irrational. They come out of nowhere. We can't predict them and we can't control them. They just happen as a result of what we experience. We can't control them but we can decide how to respond to them. And we don't always respond in the most beneficial way. And that's okay!

This is where the cross comes. By Jesus coming and entering into our pain he is telling us that it's okay to respond to our emotions inappropriately. Just like we as parents are training our children to process and respond to their emotions, so to is God training us to respond to our hearts. And we are going to get it wrong. And we need to be okay with that. God certainly is.

There's a reason Jesus said that to enter into the kingdom of heaven we need to become like little children. Children make mistakes and are loved. Mistakes are just choices that lead to consequences. Nothing is unrepairable. When we fear making mistakes we can't learn.

We are so wound up and fixated on getting it right we end up squelching the very life we were given to live. But when we are humble. When we just take life as it comes, trust that our hearts are being shaped, learn and above all trust that God is loving us, then and only then can we experience life as God intends it.

So back to the Chinese finger trap. Maybe it's time to stop pulling on the trap, just relax and let it fall away.

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