Sin: Chosen or Inherent?

Narrate-1-2Group texts…You either love them or hate them. “Is man born sinful or do we become sinful through our choices?” That was the question which a friend group texted me this past Thursday. Sadly only one other person responded to his inquiry. I’ll be honest; the lack of response bothered me. I get it. It’s a tough question; especially to answer via text and to be truthful no one wants to appear ignorant. That said the proverbial silence was deafening.

Why is it that we are afraid to try to answer the tough questions? The world is asking tough questions. Are we silent toward them as well? Proverbs 27:17 testifies, “As iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another.” I love hearing and discussing other people’s perspectives. I don’t have all the answers but there is something in the discussion, in the relating, that sharpens me. It helps bring the truth to the surface and into focus. With that in mind I thought I’d share with you my response to this question. This is my perspective.   I’d love to hear yours!

Were we born sinful or do we choose and become sinful?

Were Adam and Eve born/created sinful or did they become sinful through choice? From where I stand I think it starts with God’s original intent. Did God make creation and Adam/Eve perfect? I don’t think so. I don’t believe creation nor were Adam and Eve perfect. The scripture doesn’t say they were made perfect. It says they were made “very good” (Genesis 1:31), Adam and Eve even being in the image of God. The word image in Genesis 1:27 is the Hebrew word “tslem” literally meaning “an illusion, a phantom representation.” The connotation indicates a hollow shell which is a starting point not a complete product. I don’t see Adam/Eve as perfect or complete like God. If they were they would not have been lacking in the knowledge of good and evil nor would she have been able to be deceived.

While they lived for a time without sinning it does not mean that the propensity for sin was not in their bodies. I’m of the persuasion it was in direct correlation with God’s command (Romans 7:8-12) to eat of one tree (spirit) and not eat of the other (flesh). God created them with not only the opportunity for sin but the propensity to sin within themselves, self-will and a carnal/natural mind. Romans 8:7 explains, “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” If God had not issued the command “do not eat this” there would have been no opportunity in that regard for them to sin. Yes, sin is a choice but it always stems from rebellion & self-will in the heart of man, hence within the man.

Not only did God create them with the ability/propensity to sin by giving them a will; God deliberately gave them the opportunity. He created the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, placed it in the garden, cast the serpent into the garden, then places them in the Garden and says, “Oh yah, you can eat of every tree except this one.” If God’s original intent was that mankind NOT sin He had to be a complete idiot! If He didn’t create and set it all in motion this way knowing mankind would sin He is no longer omniscient nor is He omnipotent .

The fact of the matter is God knew what he was doing. He designed it this way because His original intent was that His creation understand love and choose to enter into a willing union of love. We gain no truer understanding and appreciation of love than through redemption. In our sin and His work of redemption we see, experience and come to understand God’s perfect, unfailing love and freely choose to love Him in return. God’s original intent was always redemption. Sending His Son was not an afterthought that arose as a solution to a problem that He didn’t see coming!

In Revelation 13:8 John testifies that Christ is the, “Lamb slain from the foundation of the World.” Peter echoes that truth declaring, “…you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundations of the world, but was manifested in these times for you.” (1 Peter 1:20) Paul also reiterates this forethought and our part in it by stating God, “…chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)

When Adam & Eve sinned the propensity within became reality without. Creation became subject to futility (Romans 8:18-22). The “…whole word lies under the sway of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) This sway is an outside influence which tempts the inside rebellion. Paul speaks of this external/internal battle at length in Romans 6-8. He plainly states that we are not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies (Romans 6:12) and testifies to the sin within himself stating, “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present within me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will I will not to do that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” Paul repeatedly declares that sin is within his flesh.

Ultimately I see three truths in the Scripture. 1. Sin is in the world. 2. Sin is in me. 3. In Christ I have been freed from power of sin and death but I must choose to abide in and walk in the Spirit.

I know people are arguing, “I was made this way” and maybe they were. But the question remains, “…Oh man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘why have you made me like this?’ (Romans 9:20)

The fact is we all have sin in our members in some capacity or another stemming from our desire to be self-governing rather than submitted. Maybe people are born with predispositions to sin in certain ways. I don’t know. But in Christ we are all given the power over sin & death. In Christ we are given the power to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:1-2). In Christ we are all called and equipped to walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the lusts of our flesh (Galatians 5:16-25), regardless of our chosen preferences or predispositions.

Paul goes on to explain the reason why we are to walk in the spirit and not the flesh declaring, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 1-7

Regardless of our sin, chosen or predisposed, God’s design and original intent still stands; redemption leading to a union of eternal love in which He will forever reveal the exceeding riches of his grace and kindness toward us in Christ.

So All May Hear

image“Are you excited?”

That is the question everyone keeps asking me.

“Not really.  I just want it over with.” I truthfully reply.

No, I’m not getting married.  That took place almost sixteen years ago and no we’re not having another kid.  Been there, done that…four times.  We’re all good on that front.  So what is the subject behind this burning curiosity as to the state of my excitement? Sunday May 25th I will run my first marathon, and “no” I’m honestly not excited about it.

I’m tired.  I feel like crap.  I’ve lost most of the past month to injury and illness. I’ve logged hundreds of miles running over the past four months in training for this.  Every Saturday has been devoted to my weekly “long run.”    I want my Saturdays back.  I want to revel in the act of doing of absolutely nothing! I just want it done.

You may be asking, “If that’s how you feel why bother to run?”

The answer is simple, “So all may hear.”

I’ve been a preacher for over 15 years.  Over those years I’ve been blessed to be able to preach the gospel to thousands of people throughout the world.  One thing I’ve learned; I can’t reach them all.  I can’t do it alone.

There is a kid named Alex.  He’s 19 and preparing to give up a year of his life to go around the world and preach to Muslims.  He’s laying down his life so others can hear.

There is another kid named Isaiah; also 19.  Rather than seek greener pastures of bigger and better he is answering the call of God by serving in his home church. He’s laying down his life so that others may hear.

I call them kids because I’m old enough to be their dad.  Truth is they are men; godly men and I love them both.  They decided to run this marathon as a platform to preach the gospel and as a tool to raise money for Alex’s trip.  I decided to run with them because their heart for Christ and passion for the lost is infectious.  They inspire me and we can accomplish more together than we can alone.

Both of these men carry a burden.  It’s the burden of lost souls.  It’s not convenient.  It’s not comfortable.  Their heart groans for the lost and they are doing what they can to make sure none are lost due to the lack of hearing.  Whether it is half way around the world or in our own back yard, people need to hear.  They need to be introduced to Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul recognized this need and declared,

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written; How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things.” Romans 10:14-15

This marathon isn’t about me.  I’m doing it for them.  I’m doing it for the people who will hear the gospel through them.  Am I excited about running 26.2 miles?  No.  But, I am excited that people will hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And so I run…so all may hear.

May Grace Ever Be The Tide

imageI turned forty recently.  I don’t feel any different and apart from the increase of a few white hairs making their way into my stubble I’m told I don’t look the part either.  Yet it seems the responsibility of the masses to remind me that my life is now half over.  Thus was the position I found myself in as I sat across from a friend over coffee on this most recent birthday morning.

“What do you want to do that you haven’t done with the first half of your life?” he asked.

I was at a loss.  In my youth I was all about what I could do for God.  It was a drive born of zeal and facilitated in judgment.  I had accomplished many things.  Yet for all I had accomplished I had left a trail of wounded and broken souls in my wake.  Some I had  broken.  Others I had found in such a state and simply passed them by leaving them to sink.  Worse still, others I had drowned with the waves and weight of my self-righteous judgments.  Regardless, over the past three years I had become haunted by the shipwrecks.

As I reflected upon the inquiry I vocalized a truth that I had long been harboring.  I wasn’t really interested in “doing” anything.  I wanted to “be” something.

“I want to be a man of grace” I replied.

Two days later I was walking the streets of Little Italy in San Diego.  As I traversed the crowd the Holy Spirit began testifying of the truth that every person was a vessel meant to carry the Spirit of God.  Sadly most of these vessels were adrift, lost at sea.  Some were sinking beneath the waves.  Yet for all, this truth remained; only the grace of God can save.

As this somber reality invaded my conscience I passed by a lonely store front.  In another life it had been a showroom for seafaring vessels.  Atop its faded brick exterior was affixed a testament of hope.

“A rising tide lifts all boats”

If a rising tide lifts all boats, may grace ever be the tide.

What’s Your Mark?

Narrate-13If you had to pick one word to describe yourself what would it be?  Funny, successful, attractive…perhaps when you look in the mirror the words echoing in your mind have a darker voice.  Perhaps that voice says you are fat, ugly, worthless or unlovable.  If I had one word to describe myself I would say “marked”.

Webster’s dictionary defines a mark as “a visible impression assumed or imposed.”  My life bears the impressions…the scars… the marks of the encounters I’ve had and the choices I’ve made.  It also bears the resulting marks of choices others in my life have made that affected more than them.

For many years I allowed these scars to define me, whether directly or indirectly. For even my attempts to cover and not be defined by my scars was an action born out of my scars.  Despite my efforts I was marked; perhaps not to the world but to myself.  Try as I may I could not escape my scarlet letter.

On Halloween night 1998 I received another mark.  On that night I had an encounter with the risen Jesus which left an imprint upon my life that has been growing ever since.  It is a mark of His person that has been imprinted upon my being.  It is a mark of renewal and it heals all my other marks.  Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new!” His imprint on my being is a mark of Life.

I’m no longer ashamed of my marks.  They are no longer a scarlet letter.  I bear a greater mark.  My mark is a symbol of love; it is an emblem of grace.  Above all it is a testament to the power of renewal.  I have been marked by Life…for life.  That is the mark, the visible impression I have received.  That is the mark I am now called to leave behind on the people I encounter each day.

If every encounter leaves a mark, what mark are you leaving behind?

Abandoning Resolutions

imageResolutions…we all have made them and let’s face it we all have broken them.  “I’m going to go to the gym four times a week”.  “I’m going to get up early and read my Bible every day”.  “I’m going to be better at posting to my blog”.  Honestly, I can’t think of one resolution I have made that I haven’t broken eventually.  This year I don’t want a resolution.

Resolutions spring from the momentary desire for change.  They are cries of deficiency.  Resolutions are instigated by desire, but facilitated in weakness.  We say will power, but lets face it.  If I’m already weak in that area how am I now suddenly through will power going to change that area?  It’s a recipe for failure.

I don’t want a resolution.  I want a revelation.  I want a revealing of truth which supersedes my perspective, presumptions and preferences.  I want a revealing of God which transcends my “reality”.  Revelation of His Word, of His Truth, of His Person is the only thing which can fuel my spirit on to mastery over my flesh and bring me into agreement with His Life…The Life.

Resolutions are conceived in the desire for change.  Revelation gives birth to the ability to be transformed!

The Prodigal resolves, “I will return to my father’s house as a servant and as a servant I will have bread.”  The Father reveals, “You are my son!  My presence is your true inheritance and all I am is yours!”

Resolutions are cries of deficiency.  Revelation is the proclamation of His abundance and ability.

Resolutions are formed and abandoned on whims, circumstance and convenience.  Revelation is the manifestation of Truth empowering eternal transformation.

This year I’m abandoning resolutions and pursuing revelation.  How about you?  What are you going to pursue?


tresspassMy neighbor’s kid, he’s a squatter. No…literally, a squatter.  The kid lives on my side lawn.  From dawn till dusk he’s there….in my yard.  But it’s not his uninvited presence that irks me.  It’s the fact that, well, like I said…he’s a squatter.  The kid literally will drop trow and cop a squat anywhere.  I don’t know why.  Could be nature, could be nurture.  I don’t know.  But I do know where…my lawn!

Now when in the course of this six year olds life he decided to go ‘free range’ is a mystery to me. Like a lawn gnome that leaves you wondering, “Why?” this kid’s presence and miscreant activities leave me befuddled.  There are only two things I know for sure:

  1. He’s not my kid. I’ve got four of my own and while their names may occasionally escape me I still recognize their faces!
  2. This isn’t his yard. I verify that fact with every monthly mortgage payment!

So the question remains, “What event in the course of this six year olds life led him to believe that my lawn is his? What instilled this squatter’s mentality?”

Truth is many of us are no different than my neighbor’s kid. We too go through this life as squatters.  Laying claim to that which we paid no price for and ‘dumping’ on others along the way.

Jesus said, “…the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44 italics mine)

Far too often we see the field. We see the treasure in it, but like squatters we feed off the treasure without buying the field. Instead we hop the fence and free range.  We call to God when in need and forget him when things are fine.  We’ll attend church as long as it doesn’t go over one hour.  We want programs for our kids, but were just too busy to help teach.  We’ll freely give our opinion as to the latest message, event, lack of event, and the general state of everything holy, yet refuse to be a part of any potential solution.  And let’s not forget about our wallets which instinctively pucker up tighter than a snare drum or are conveniently not on us when the offering plate is passed.

Squatters take while refusing to give. They ingest, but the only impartation they deposit is similar to that which can be found on my lawn!

Now if you’re young in your spiritual life you may not know any better. Like my neighbor’s kid.  When he was two or three and still potty training it wasn’t that big of deal.  But eventually time moves on and so should we.  At six the kid should know better and spiritually we should too.

There really is little excuse for prolonged immaturity. At its core it’s simply selfishness.  My neighbor’s kid doesn’t want to be inconvenienced to stop playing and go to his own house to use the bathroom.  He doesn’t want to pay that price.  Don’t let it be that way in your spiritual life.

Remember, while we are commanded to love everybody…nobody likes a squatter.


Clean Your Plate!

photo  I have a confession to make.  Two actually.  First, that picture of rugged toddler masculinity is in fact me.  The second confession is that just like that two-year old birthday boy I still tend to be a picky eater. Growing up three words I hated hearing the most were, “Clean your plate!”  When I was a wee little lad still sporting the high chair I developed a method for avoiding the food I disliked.  Like a king upon his throne I would dismiss the evening offerings with the regal grace of a flip of the wrist.  In other words I would throw it on the floor beneath my high chair.  Yet, for all my firstborn right, for all my toddler cunning my mother was far shrewder.

One evening I sat upon my throne sifting between the edible and the remaining slop not fit for man or beast.  After surveying the offering I rendered my judgment…TO THE FLOOR!!!  Suddenly, like the space shuttle in launch, the moorings of my tray were released and I found myself being lifted from the earth.  What began as a glorious trip to the heavens quickly transitioned into a crash landing across her knee.  Yes…I got spanked.  To make matters worse, my mother had gotten wise to my rendering of culinary judgment.  Unbeknown to me this bastion of maternal affection that brought me into the world had secretly placed a sheet beneath my high chair. If I wouldn’t eat it from my throne, I would eat it from the floor.  And eat it from the floor I did!  Well played mother, well played.  I told you she was shrewd!

Now, reading that you may laugh. You may be horrified and think its abuse.  Relax.  I’m OK.  To tell the truth I’m grateful for that experience.  It’s one of the earliest memories I have and while I didn’t realize it at the time it was the first spiritual lesson I ever learned in life: You can’t just eat what you want.  Often it’s that which we find most unpalatable which is most necessary for us to consume.

2,000 years ago Jesus dealt with the finicky eating habits of the masses.  But, rather than cave to their tantrums and “cook” to their whims Jesus challenged them to expand their palate.  Jesus put a sheet under their high chair stating, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no part of me.”

When Jesus said we must ‘eat his flesh and drink his blood’ what was he saying?  Here is what I believe.  The flesh and blood symbolized all of who Jesus is.  It’s the total package not just the attractive part.  Jesus is the bread and Jesus is the word.  To have life we must consume and digest all of the word not just the parts that are easily palatable to us!  We can’t pick and choose what we like.  We can’t pick and choose what we believe and ignore what we don’t like.

All of his word is truth and we must accept that and incorporate it all into our daily life.  If we are unwilling to accept and consume all of who he is we aren’t actually serving Jesus.  We are serving a God after our creation.  This is the essence of idolatry; the exaltation of our carnal reasoning.  Like Adam in the garden we disregard and we substitute based upon the preference of our carnal man.  As with Adam our result will be the same.  When we feed only according to our fleshly preferences we eat of death.

So why does he want us to consume all of him?  Because unlike manna he is the bread that rises!  As we eat all that he is, he promises to raise us up unto eternal life.  When we consume all the Word of God and apply it to our daily life our carnal man gets crucified.  It’s uncomfortable.  Let’s be honest it downright hurts!  But, here’s the thing; there can be no resurrection where there has not first been a death!

Four times in John chapter six Jesus declares that it is the Father’s will that we be raised up.
39 And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.
40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.
44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
54 Whosoever eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

The unpalatable word will kill you, but that’s alright.  It’s supposed to.  The Word that kills you is the Word that will perfect and resurrect you.  So go on…“clean your plate!”