Month: June 2017

Sorry Conservative Christian, I Don’t Owe You Anything

You’re right, I’m pissed.

Not just pissed—I’m disturbed, dismayed, and utterly repulsed at what has become of so much of modern Christianity. The undeniable carnage that rots at the feet of conservative Evangelicalism should send every soul into rants of injustice and blasphemy. I’m not going to apologize for my vehemence—in fact, I’m wondering how you can remain so acquiescent. Blinded to our privilege, arrogance, and greed, we have made a mockery out of Jesus and raped His Gospel into good news for the privileged and ideologically-conforming, but terrible news for the rest—how convenient. Marginalizing, condemning, and destroying whole groups of God-adorned people at the wave of our Evangelical wands, we cozy up to the devil himself while hoping to convince the world we sit at the right hand of Jesus. It’s terrible, disgusting, and flat out evil—and I’m determined to chase every fiber of it out of the shadows, giving voice and courage to all those it oppresses.

I know, you disagree.

In fact, you’re all but convinced I’ve gone plummeting off the deep end—steering my life, thinking, and believing straight into hell’s toxic ravine.

With seemingly everything I say, write, feel, and believe, the glare in your eyes and the rejection on your face shows me all I need to see. I’ve stepped outside the lines, disappointed expectations, and called into question the sacred cows of conservative Christian belief. You don’t like it one bit—that needling under your skin. If there’s one thing—that’s the one thing, that’s perfectly clear.

At times, I can’t help but notice—grinding down with every muscle in your being, you try to squeeze out some politeness to wrap around your disagreements. I appreciate that, I really do—your heart and noble effort are shining through. Yet as flowery as you hope I’ll receive it all and the sure goodness of your intentions, the time-released stench coupled with your corrective words is a scent I can’t ignore. Coated with the perfumes of religious condescension, so often your displeasures with me steep and steam of freshly spewed manure—as much as I may try, I just can’t un-smell it.

It’s not the reality that we don’t see eye to eye, or that you’re completely missing my heart. It’s your apparent determination to misunderstand, deflect, and reject without pause or genuine review that tells me any hope has vanished—jumping ahead with your assumptions and conclusions before the trigger sounds the start.

It’s not that I don’t respect your faith, beliefs, personal perspectives, and ways of thinking—I do. It’s not that I don’t care about developing or preserving some kind of relationship with you—I do. It’s not that I don’t desire peace between us and mutual understanding—I do. It’s not that I don’t want to hear from God what He might desire to say to me—I most certainly do. But somehow, it seems, a seat at the table for conversation and the sharing of differing views, just isn’t enough—for you. Instead, without my desire nor consent, you keep jumping the fence, claiming an entire space and authority in my life to call me into accountability—as if Jesus has surrendered the throne to your right-wing conservative ideology and made my entire being your imminent domain. With all due respect, when did God grant you exclusive access to the inside scoop on all things Jesus? Tailing my every move, turn, and twist along this spiritual journey, I don’t ever remember God assigning you to the role of spiritually policing me.

The truth is, I don’t owe you an explanation, justification, rationalization, or clarification. I don’t owe you a bible verse, proof text, theological reasoning, or an example from history. I don’t owe you a visit to your church, the reading of an article, or a talk with your pastor. In fact, when it’s all said and done, I don’t owe you a damn thing—in a manner of speaking. My freedom in Christ and His Spirit to guide me dismantle all pursuits from you or any other to control me and make me your project. There’s nothing like meeting the buzzsaw of my iron-plated identity in Him—wait for it, you’ll see.

Every time I speak, you’re cocked and loaded with the very same litany.

You say that I’m being just as judgmental and intolerant as the people with whom I disagree. With all due respect, I have found more so than not, that’s what people say who are ignorant of their privilege and the shadow it’s casting. It’s the height of all spiritual arrogance to wrap yourself in the garments of religious authority and elitism, and yet cry foul at the presence of constructive passionate criticism. That’s like the sun shaming the stars for claiming it’s hot, bright, and big. Until you’re willing to be last, you’ll never understand the sacred responsibilities of being first. If you have a problem with the people under your feet crying out to be heard as they protest your perniciousness and reveal it for what it is, you’ll need to take up your complaint with Jesus who was murdered for doing the same.

You say my observations, descriptions, and admonitions are too broad and sweeping—as if people don’t have the common sense to see themselves (or not) in the mirror my words are creating. With all do respect, I’ll start caring about your concerns regarding the presence of broad-sweeping descriptions when you reject a faith that condemns to hell whole segments of God’s sacred humanity. I’ll start worrying about making sure I’m painting by the numbers when you stop labeling entire communities of people as “sinners” in need of “reparative therapy.” I’ll stop making blanket statements when you stop boycotting entire industries. I’ll stop describing things in general terms when you come to realize that “all lives matter” doesn’t matter until, “black lives matters” matters first.

You say that I’m not loving unconditionally those I criticize, in the same way that I’m calling for it. You say I need to just “move on” to some kind of “joy” that comes from making peace with all of it. You say there’s a “healing process” to be had so I can “grow up” and put aside my angst and aversions towards religious conservatism. You say that I don’t include enough biblical references and sound theological reasoning. You say I’m always pointing out the problems and never shining light on the solutions.

Really?

Does unconditional love require the refusal to speak on behalf of those with whom conservative Christianity has condemned and abused? Does it require a passive silence in the face of evil at its purest?

You assume that God’s desire for me is a “joy” that comes from some kind of spiritual numbness to the pain of others and the evils of religion. Until my dying day, I refuse any such twisted “bliss”customized for the privileged who can turn their backs and look away—until that day, of course, when there are no privileged, but only people equal under Grace, all treated the same.

With all due respect, in regards to who I am or what I pursue, I don’t owe you a spin on your Scripture pole nor a lap-dance upon the legs of your orthodoxy. I don’t owe you a prancing around in your legalistic lingerie nor photos for your vacation from caring about humanity. Know this, and know this for sure, I don’t owe you a blasted thing, because the last thing God desires for my life is for me to start answering to you.

Instead, from the megaphone of heaven trumpeting in my ear, there is a sure and voracious calling to be fully me, free and alive—to manifest the heart of Jesus who called the religious evils of His day out of the shadows, and stood in solidarity with the religiously condemned. Jesus didn’t just “move on” as if people are disposable, rather He died and took everyone and everything broken unto Himself. How dare you entertain the idea that doing anything of a different flavor could manifest He who is the Bread, broken for the world.

Nothing could ever inspire me beyond the redemption of people abused at the hands of the brand of Christianity you seem to so desperately want me to appease and approve. I will not leave nor forsake the least of these until all of us can cross together into a land where Grace is given full room to rule and reign—now, welling up to eternity.

No, there is no “healing process” for me—by His stripes I am healed, and perfectly made whole already.

If you’re so concerned about solutions to the problems, why don’t you just go and be one.

As for me, hear me and hear me well. I’m gonna be all up your kool-aid—I’m not going away. I’m not shrinking back or bowing to your editorializations and expectations—hell no, no way.

Today is the day of my soul emancipation—I’m breaking free from your shame, guilt, condemnation, and loaded lines of questioning.

Sorry conservative Christian, play every card in your religious deck. I’ve come to realize the truth that Grace has convinced me—I don’t owe you anything.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

Hell-Believing, Wrath-Preaching, Fire-Breathing Christian—What If You’re Wrong?

Chances are, it’s a belief you’ve grown up with all your life—God loves humanity so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross in order to save us from His eternal punishment of sinners who don’t love Him back in return through believing in His Son and repenting of their sins. As the story goes, through His crucifixion, Jesus took upon Himself the punishment from God that we deserve for sin. God required the death of Jesus in order to forgive sin, and personal faith and repentance are how we benefit from that event. Otherwise, the work of Jesus isn’t applied to our account and we are doomed to spend eternity in a place of unimaginable suffering where our greatest wish is to die, but by God’s design we are prevented from doing so—it’s hell, and it’s forever.

For those who might find this storyline of human redemption difficult to stomach with its dark portrayals of God, the Gospel, and Jesus. For those who wonder how God could claim to be so loving and yet act so sinister in not only imagining this kind of hell, but creating it and making the brutal murder of Jesus the only way out of it. For those who dare to look ahead towards the psychotic duplicity of what it might feel like enjoying eternity in the bliss of heaven while your loved ones scorch in unbearable suffering. For those this whole damnation-thing strikes their conscience as being a bit unsettling, unnerving, and confusing—we’ve been taught a simple fix. Hell is a necessary and natural manifestation of God’s divine holiness and justice. In heaven, we will encounter these attributes so completely and fully that any doubts we might have about God or people suffering eternally will somehow no longer haunt us, but rather rest peacefully and easily upon our souls. So much, that in the presence of God who allows for, created, and sustains hell, we will be forever desiring to sing His praises as millions of others suffer unimaginably.

In short, the brutal, violent death of Jesus and a hell of eternal pain and suffering have been handed down to us unquestionably as the ultimate reflection of God’s character and His best ideas for how to extend and make real His deep abiding love for humanity.

Maybe for you, these popular teachings regarding God’s narrative of salvation are a comfortable fit and central to your faith understanding. In your mind, if people go to hell, it’s their fault, not God’s. God can do whatever He wants, and if Hell is the setup, so be it. Besides, the Scriptures are clear, people have been warned—believe or burn, that’s the Gospel. If one rejects Jesus and refuses to heed His commands, they’ll get their just reward—an eternity of torture. God is holy, just, and sovereign no matter how vicious and brutal things play out—for His ways are not our ways, who are we to cross-examine the Divine? Therefore, you proudly and boldly declare the reality of a flaming eternity and the glory of God in sending (or allowing) people there who reject Jesus or live disobediently—thanking God, it’s not you, of course.

Or perhaps for you, as much as you dislike thinking about hell and are even inwardly perplexed by its reality in contrast to a loving God, your understanding of the biblical witness and teachings of Jesus seem to leave you no other choice but to conclude that hell is real and real people will be spending eternity in some kind of suffering existence that affords no hope and no way out. It’s not how you would draw it up, and the whole idea is secretly unsettling to you. When it comes to God’s wrath, burning in flames, and the brutal crucifixion of His own Son, you’d just as soon focus on something else and hope it all comes out in the wash. You have your doubts, a lot of questions, and significant uneasiness with it all, but that’s about as far as you’ve taken it.

Wherever you are on the spectrum, chances are, without a hell for unbelieving sinners, the foundations of your faith understanding make little sense and largely comes crashing to the ground. In your mind, if there’s no hell, there’s no purpose for Jesus. If there’s no hell, there’s no purpose for believing. If there’s no hell, there’s no purpose in being a Christian. If there’s no hell, what’s the motivation? If there’s no hell, what’s our message? If there’s no hell, what’s the Gospel? If there’s no hell, what happens to all the effort I’ve put into my righteousness?

So, as difficult, foundation-shaking, and faith-unraveling as this question could potentially be, I’m still going to ask it—what if you’re wrong?

What if hell is nothing like you think?

What if hell (if a place at all) is actually just as Jesus alluded, a literal place (Gehenna) located in Jerusalem associated with the valley of Hinnom that was used as the city dump where a fire was constantly kept to burn up and consume all of the city’s unwanted junk? In fact, the word Gehenna occurs 12 times in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament, each time being mistranslated to mean “hell” in several versions of the Bible, even though Jesus used it as a clear reference to a city dump.

What if it’s an embarrassingly huge stretch of theological abuse to determine in one moment that the admonition by Jesus to, “pluck your eye out” is certainly not to be taken literally, but yet in the next moment, His literal use of “Gehenna” in the same sentence should somehow be unequivocally understood to refer figuratively to a real place in the bottom of the earth where people are tortured by the wrath of God in eternal flames? Really?

What if the other three biblical words traditionally interpreted as referring to a “hell of fire and eternal torment” actually are grossly mistranslated and don’t actually mean “hell” at all? In fact, Sheol occurs 65 times in the Hebrew Manuscripts of the Old Testament, and it simply means “the grave” (the place of the dead) or “the pit.” Hades occurs 11 times in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament and it is the direct equivalent of the Hebrew word Sheol. Thus, it also simply means “the grave “or “the pit.” Tartarus occurs only once in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament in this verse: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell (tartarus) and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment.” Notice that God casts the angels (not humanity) who sinned down to tartarus and chained them in darkness, to be reserved for judgement.

What if the single word “hell” we use today and associate as “hell” (a place of fiery, eternal torture) is actually not found in the Bible—nowhere, and in no manuscripts? It’s true.

What if, in fact, much of modern Christianity’s convenient love affair with a hell of flames, wrath, and demons comes much more from the influence of Dante’s “Inferno” than ever could be derived from the true words of Jesus?

What if hell is actually a reality experienced in the presence of God, not apart from Him like commonly taught? In fact, two writers in Scripture describe this very notion: “The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb,”  and “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” 

What if hell is not the result of God doing something contrary to His nature (love), but rather doing more of it? In fact, the Greek word for “wrath” in the New Testament is the word “orge.” Unfortunately, the way this word has been translated has been shaped greatly by our pre-existing concepts of God as being angry, temperamental, and hell-bent on punishing. The word “orge” actually means “any intense emotion.” It’s from where we get words like “orgy” and “orgasm.” At its core, “wrath” has to do with a very strong passion—not even associated to anger. In fact, the root of “orge” actually means “to reach out in a straining fashion for something that you long to possess.” 

What if the wrath of God is not Him pouring out anger, vengeance, or retaliation, but rather His furious love—grasping, reaching, shaking to possess every person that they might experience His Grace?

What if hell is the experience of religious-hearted people who despise the pure Grace of God and His unconditional love and inclusion of all people into Himself and the Kingdom? In the eternal presence of the white-hot love of God forever flowing out as a river from His throne (Daniel 7:10), their souls are scorched with frustration, rage, and torment as their self-righteousness, conditional love, and religious arrogance, bigotry, and intolerance are exposed—stripped, and rendered powerless and evil. All of it deemed as filthy rags fit for the lake of God’s all consuming fire—the blistering flames of Grace. The presence of all people of every color, gender, orientation, stronghold, sin, and creed sends them into legalistic episodes of uncontainable protest and rage—how can this be, how is this fair, how dare the cross include all of these? Resigned to spend an eternity in the presence of pure Grace, the only way it becomes heaven for them is to do what many will refuse—to repent of their demonizing of God, their worship of the Scriptures, and their own legalistic understandings of it all to the exclusion of truly knowing Jesus and His heart. For the same Grace and love that will be experienced as heaven by many, will be a sure torturous hell for some. Jesus forever flips over the tables yet again, and those whom religion joyously sends to the curb are given a prized seat of bliss, and those whom religion gives elite privilege are found to be pouting and wallowing forever in religious disgust.

What if Jesus didn’t die to save us from white-bearded, angry, and vengeful God, but to save us from a fear-driven faithless life of believing He is?

What if Jesus didn’t die at the hands of a God who required His blood-soaked death in order to forgive, but rather at the claws of the religious and their diabolical systems of evil whose chief desire is to murder pure Grace and all its self-righteous destroying, all-including implications?

What if, in the hands of a world dripping with oppression, Jesus, through the cross, chose the way of nonviolence, sacrifice, service, forgiveness, inclusion, and unconditional love to model and manifest the Kingdom that was already eternally established by His Grace?

What if Jesus didn’t die to forgive us, but to manifest to the world that God already had, long ago outside of time in the realm of eternity?

What if God isn’t schizophrenic after all—harboring unconditional love for humanity one moment and eternal hate the next?

What if the truth is, you can’t reject Grace—you can’t stop its presence, pursuit, favor, or blessings over your life or that of any other, you can only love it or resist it? Loving, believing, trusting Grace fills your life with heavenly rest. Not loving, believing, and trusting Grace fills your life with a hell of frustration, self-righteousness, bitterness, religiosity, judgementalism and angst—as long as you desire, even for eternity.

What if God isn’t an insecure, limited, and codependent parent, whose capacity to save, love, and forgive are restricted to and governed by the obedience (or disobedience) of His children—thus, making them the Lords of the future, not Him?

What if God never changes—He is love through and through, forever and always, no matter what or who?

What if the presence of alternative biblically-faithful interpretations regarding ones understanding of hell and God’s connection to it back you into an interpretive corner, so much that if you believe in an eternal hell of torment and torture for the unbelieving and a God who would author it, you are doing so solely by your own choice?

For the results are in—history paints the picture. We Christians have been drastically wrong before—wrong about racism, wrong about equality, wrong about violence and war, the list keeps on growing.

Hell-believing, wrath-preaching, fire-breathing Christian—what if you’re wrong, yet again?

If I’m wrong, then God will most certainly go ahead, around, and over me in a divine full-court-press to scare the hell out of the people I’m misleading—literally. For there’s nothing about me or my message that the Holy Spirit is powerless or unwilling to usurp. Any wayward guidance on my part can easily be reversed by the omnipotent leading of the Father. I would boldly stand before the Throne having exaggerated the goodness, love, and Grace of God—if ever that could be a thing.

But, if you’re wrong, you have participated in nothing less than the evil demonization of God and the sheer blaspheming of His Spirit. You’ve allowed your spiritual laziness, vulnerability to religious brainwashing, and twisted comfort with the notion of people going to a torturous hell and a God who would create it, to win over your heart, mind, thinking, attitudes and actions. You have leaned on your own understanding of the Scriptures to the spiritual abuse of others—imprisoning them into a life of fear as they are raped of their capacity to know the joy, freedom, and peace that comes from awakening to God who is love, Jesus who is Grace, and the Gospel that is truly good news for all.

Hell-believing, wrath-preaching, fire-breathing Christian—what if you’re wrong?

Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness… I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love?  -St. Isaac the Syrian

“The flames of heaven will be hotter for some than the flames of hell could ever be”  -Dallas Willard

Grace is the celebration of life, relentlessly hounding all the non-celebrants in the world.”  -Robert Capon

Grace is brave. Be brave

Conservative Christian, I Beg Of You, Why Can’t Love Be Enough?

Why don’t people go to Church?

Why do many cringe at modern Christianity with their gag reflexes in full bloom?

Why are conservative brands of faith losing so much of their credibility and influence?

Do we really want to know—could we handle the truth—would we even listen to their reason?

It’s not because of some kind inherent distaste for Jesus and a rejection of His Truth. It’s not from a deep dark cultural stronghold of apathetic spiritual laziness. It’s not because of some depraved aversion to God and holiness rampant within society. We may wish it were all so easily wrapped up and reasoned away with the simple declaration that the “world” is showing itself to be as hopelessly lost, blind, wayward, and carnal as we deem them to be—but they aren’t.

In fact, the Light God has placed within all people shines into the religious darkness of our day, revealing a disturbing manifestation humanity can’t ignore—the reckless tampering and deep distrust of Love within conservative Christianity. For all of our spiritual fanfare, many rightfully discern that something is deeply askew among us, and though they may not always be able to put their finger on it, they can’t shake the unsettling in their spirit. The one place, the one people with whom love should boldly rule the day, be adored in all its splendor, and lifted high up above all things, is among Christians. Yet, the loudest confession heard around the world from the megaphone of conservative Christianity is sadly this—”Love isn’t enough.”

Try as we might to frantically plaster heaping loads of lipstick upon the pig of our conservative brand of Christianity, people aren’t stupid. The Judas that is conservative Christianity has sold out Love in exchange for power, betrayed Grace with the kiss of control, and crucified it all into a self-righteous religion for the privileged—daring to pimp it as the one true authentic way of Jesus.

Instead of being unified by love and that being enough, we insist on gathering in cookie-cutter groups of like-minded people corralled together by a laundry list of beliefs, values, and vision we must agree upon to have membership, relationship, and community with one another. Love takes a back seat (if a seat at all) and must first yield to our creeds instead of our creeds first yielding to Love. Hollow Churches of fake unity span the horizon as far as the eyes can see—people resign themselves to going through the motions and agreeing on the surface in order to fit in and meet expectations. Love doesn’t rule in our churches, rules rule in our churches. Compliance, conformity, conditions—everything but Love. Spiritual growth is restricted and restrained—coloring outside the lines of conservative ideology is shamed, even if just for a season. Where Jesus wants to build longer tables where every creed, orientation, gender, belief, color, status, shape, and nationality has a seat, we build taller walls of every spiritual, relational, and physical dimension and try to sell it to the world as true community.

Instead of simply loving people and that being enough, we treat them as projects—a spiritual notch for our religious belts. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that we not only have the calling but the capacity to change people, even ourselves. What only the Spirit can do, we have hijacked into our own personal and corporate mission. The truth is, we don’t trust the Spirit, nor Grace, nor Love to do what only the Spirit, Grace, and Love can do—quite the opposite. Rather, in order to legitimize our own efforts and justify our fleshly interventions, we declare pure Grace to be cheap, unconditional Love to be dangerous, and the Spirit needing our involvement. While Jesus’ greatest concern is that people get more than enough love and believe in it completely, our greatest fear is that we would grant too much of it and cause people to trust it too deeply. You say that God loves me where I’m at, but enough not to leave me there—which is of course, where you see the beginning of your mission to try and fix me. I say, God loves me enough that He doesn’t need you to repair, change, confront, or direct me—His Grace is sufficient, His Spirit fully capable, and His Love is more than enough to do the trick—with or without you. See, that’s the real kicker, isn’t it? For if God ever did use you in another’s life to help in the molding, it would be through the fruits of the Spirit not the nails, crosses, proof-texts, and conditions of your conservative methodology. Why? Because I, like everyone else, am a divinely made person not a church mission project.

Imagine if Christianity became a faith where love is enough, and therefore our unity could be founded not on a contrived fabricated alignment of ambition, thinking, and believing, but on a genuine willingness to agree to disagree and embrace our differences—all at the table.

Imagine if Christianity became a faith where love is enough, and therefore the everything of what we had in common was our mutual respect of all people of all faiths, backgrounds, and settings as created and divinely imaged by God Himself no less than we or anyone else—no more discrimination, marginalization, or people-judging.

Imagine if Christianity became a faith where love is enough, and therefore we became a people of genuine equality, where everyone is beautifully different, and beautifully no better or worthy—no more one-upping, privilege-seeking, or people-labeling.

Imagine if Christianity became a faith where love is enough, and therefore the Spirit was given full trust and freedom to work in the hearts, minds, and souls of people as we simply loved them unconditionally—no more strings attached, fine-print, deal-breakers, or hidden expectations.

Imagine if Christianity became a faith where love is enough, and therefore loving people (beginning with ourselves) was the only “to do” if there ever needed to be a list—no more people-policing, sin-managing, fruit-inspecting, God-appeasing, faith-proving, self-improving, or becoming all-you-can-be for Jesus.

Imagine if Christianity became a faith where love is enough, and therefore we became a people best known by “the greatest of these is love” instead of “the greatest of these is us”—no more violence, condemnation, and insisting on our own way.

For sadly, we have made Jesus into so much of everything He is not and following Him into such a tiring, empty, phony, love-less, and selfish pursuit. If only we could see what we have become and the people who are dying on our vines, destroyed at the feet of our conservatism. The shade we throw at the world is scorching good people, nailing Jesus back upon the cross, and declaring to the planet, “Love doesn’t win, Grace isn’t sufficient, and Hell is the heart of the Father for people who don’t love Him back in return.”

Conservative Christian, I beg of you, why can’t love be enough?

Why can’t love be enough as the sum and singular message of the Gospel of Jesus?

Why can’t love be enough to bring us together and graft us into authentic community?

Why can’t love be enough to fulfill and maximize our divine responsibility and care for people?

Why can’t love be enough to make our worship attractive, churches deemed as successful, and our faith relevant?

Why can’t love be enough to drive our aspirations and quench our thirst for significance?

Why can’t love be enough to guide our exegesis, calibrate our theologies, and dictate our use of the Scriptures?

Why can’t love be enough for those with whom we disagree, believe to be sinning, or even show themselves to be an enemy?

Do we really need all this other stuff? Nationalism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, judgmentalism, self-righteousness, selfishness, and elitism? Bible-weaponizing debates, clubs with crosses on top, and a gun-carrying, militant, Republican version of Jesus who feeds the multitudes but denies healthcare to the hundreds of thousands?

Is this truly the heart and way of Jesus?

I just want to love God, myself, and people without restriction, conditions, or limits. I want to be free to journey with Jesus, fully abandoned to where His Grace might take me. I want to experience the joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction of a life lived outside the confines, condemnations, and religious rule-keeping of religion.

With a world watching, waiting, and carefully listening to the beat of our hearts in hopes of seeing Jesus.

Conservative Christian, I beg of you, for the sake of heaven and all humanity, why can’t love be enough?

Why. Can’t. Love. Be. Enough?

Grace is brave. Be brave.

Dear Conservative Evangelical Christian, Is This The Darkness You’ve Become?

I know, because it was me.

I’m the guy—I’m the pastor who once embodied the very evils that often become of those who sit at the feet of conservative Evangelical Christianity.

I was seduced, deceived, and wasted years of my life adopting and exuding a kind of religious hate and harm that levels nearly everything in its path. Little did I know, the person I had become while nursing at the cold steel-plated breasts of conservative Christianity. What I thought was the way of Jesus, was no way at all—a twisted gospel so sinister and callous only Grace could free my soul and break my fall.

To those who have ears, let them hear the alarms sounding from the halls of heaven—these are the evils, the darkness that will surely become of those who eat of the demonic fruits glistening as they dangle from the tree of conservative Evangelical Christianity.

It wasn’t my fault, and surely not my intention—neither is it yours, or anyone who becomes a conservative Christian. We are good people with good intention, tractor-beamed by the Death Star of conservative Evangelical Christianity.

Search your soul, let honesty rule the day—are these the dark, diabolical things you are subtly becoming?

A Person Who Makes Faith An Exclusive Club- For at the feet of conservative Christianity, “making disciples” who simply awaken to the Grace of Jesus has sadly eroded into the pursuit of “making people into people just like us.” New converts don’t become free-thinking, free-living “learners” of Jesus, but spiritual lapdogs—molded to submit and serve conservative churches, denominations, and faith constructs. Instead of falling in love with Jesus, they are led to fall in line with conservative Evangelical Christianity. Faith becomes, not a journey to be traveled but an ideology in which to be conformed. People are intentionally evaluated based on their willingness to comply and manifest the prescribed behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes. Nothing could be clearer than the lines that are drawn by many conservative Evangelicals as to who is in, and who is out—who is faithful, and who is not. Proud of this exclusive privileged club, conservative Evangelicals excel at the use of control, fear, guilt, and power to herd the cattle, milk them for all they’re worth, and brand them into the fold. There is perhaps no greater darkness than one who rejoices in an exclusive, pretentious, and people-manipulating faith.

To those who have ears, let them hear—is this the person you are becoming, one who would dare embrace a faith that makes Jesus into an elite cult of conformity and limited accessibility?

A Person Who Embraces Collateral Damage- For in the halls of conservative Christianity, people are not the primary purpose. Rather, preserving the conservative Evangelical institution trumps all other pursuits. If in this process of furthering, protecting, and extending conservative Evangelical Christianity, a person is harmed—so be it. Doctrine, power, and dominance are lifted above all things. When push comes to shove, theological submission, creedal conformity, institutional preservation, an ideological alignment are determined to be far more important than serving, sacrificing, and putting the needs of others above ones own. If, in order to preserve and prosper conservative Evangelicalism, people must die in war, sinners must be condemned to hell, disagreers must be demonized, non-conformers must be cast out, and people must suffer emotionally, spiritually, or physically—that’s just a part of the cost of following Jesus. Easy come, easy go—there is perhaps no greater darkness than one who could be so callous and ruthless in the name of Jesus.

To those who have ears, let them hear—is this the person you are becoming, one who would dare participate in a faith that allowed and fostered such religious oppression, brutality, suffering, and violence?

A Person Who Belittles Jesus and Sin- For at the center of conservative Christianity is the fundamental tenet that sin is actually manageable, spiritual growth is possible, and holiness is attainable through the exertion of human performance in concert with Jesus. Faithfulness is seen as a team effort—God does His part, but we must do ours. Sin is softened to a depravity that is within human capacity to overcome through spiritual disciplines and the harnessing of our will. Jesus is belittled into a life-partner who bestows his presence, favor, blessings, and power in as much as we spiritually perform correctly. Jesus didn’t die on the cross because sin is so sinful that only He could manage, conquer, and destroy it and give us righteousness, holiness, and sanctification as a free gift. Rather, Jesus died because sin isn’t so sinful and He isn’t so powerful, the best He could do is offer its management, conquering, and destruction through a conditional contract of mutual performance between us and Him. Therefore, at the table of conservative Christianity, self-righteousness is not only a thing, it’s the centerpiece of ones entire faith. It’s a living hell of rule-keeping, sin-managing, and do-gooding in fear and pressure to meet expectations, never truly knowing when enough is enough. But not just that, it’s the imposition of this hell onto others through the judgmental, condemning, and people-measuring attitudes that surely grow when self-righteousness is the meal upon which you are feasting to stay alive. There is perhaps no greater darkness than one who replaces Jesus and His Grace with a self-righteous, judging, fear-driven, legalistic, Jesus-minimizing and sin-minimizing faith.

To those who have ears, let them hear—is this the person you are becoming, one who would dare belittle Jesus, the cross, and the power of sin?

A Person Who Demonizes God- For in order to justify the very existence and legitimacy of conservative Evangelical Christianity, one must choose an interpretation of hell that is filled with eternal torment for the unbelieving and disobedient, and a picture of God who is willing and just in sending His creation there. Without this Dante-inspired characterization of hell and a God who is complicit in its rendering, the house of cards that is conservative Christianity crumbles to the ground. To accomplish the ultimate end of conservative Christianity where the unrepentant are damned to an eternal suffering beyond human imagination, God must be demonized into the most diabolical parent in all the cosmos and an impotent deity who loves His own creation less than the devil himself.

With the sure presence of alternative, scholarly, and faithful interpretations of Scripture that view God as pure Love. With the sure presence of alternative, scholarly, and faithful interpretations of Scripture that see Jesus as the One who overcomes the dark systems of the world for all humankind. With the presence of alternative, scholarly, and faithful interpretations of Scripture that understand hell to be an eternal existence in the presence of God, where Grace is so fully, powerfully, and inclusively extended that it becomes unbearable to the religious who would limit it with condition. With all the many faithful interpretive options, believing in a hell of eternal torment and a God who allows it, is not just a convenient interpretive choice, it’s an affront to the cross and a murdering of God. There is perhaps no greater darkness than a willing blasphemer who warms their self-righteousness around the religious bonfire of a hell-loving conservative Evangelical Christianity.

To those who have ears, let them hear—is this the person you are becoming, one who would dare to error on the side of demonizing God and misrepresenting the wondrous life and future He has secured for all people?

A Person Who Steals Life, Joy, And Freedom- For on the horizon of conservative Evangelical Christianity there is always a sin to point out, a behavior to avoid, an issue to stand against, a debate to be argued, a rule to keep, an expectation to meet, and a “to do list” to accomplish. With so much to be against, so many battles to fight, and a life lived in a constant state of trepidation—all joy, enjoyment, rest, and true surrender to the Spirit is quickly and thoroughly snuffed. The blackhole of conservative Christian living not only sucks the life out of its adherents, but many of the bystanders who get caught up in their downward spiral. Deep within, the unsettling reality constantly rears its ugly face—the truth is, you’ll never measure up, your faithfulness eventually breaks down, you’re doing more damage than good, and all you can do is pretend and hope it’s enough to fool God, others, and yourself. The freedom that you’re convinced exists because of the confines and obediences of your conservative faith is in fact the very prison in which Satan has seduced you—believing that life is found in what is in reality, a ministry of death. There is perhaps no greater darkness than a strung-out, exhausted, judging, sin-focused, and performance-driven Christian.

To those who have ears, let them hear—is this the person you are becoming, one who would dare to waste your God-adorned life bewitched by Satan into living a life that is no life at all, bringing death to every good thing in and around you?

A Person Who Has Made An Idol Out Of Their Understanding- For there is perhaps no Christian faith-expression on all the earth more insistent that their beliefs about God, Jesus, and the Scriptures possess the exclusive divine stamp of approval, accuracy, and authority than conservative Evangelical Christianity. With a kind of callous arrogance, there is little consideration among conservatives that perhaps their understandings of the Bible are not exclusively faithful and could even be flat out wrong. With cocked and loaded phrases like, “the clear teachings of the Bible,” many conservatives sit on the thrones of their biblical interpretations eagerly waiting upon anyone who would dare challenge their long-held perspectives. With interpretive blinders restricting their view, many seldom see their evil idolatry of Scripture. For if our understanding and revelation of Jesus is restricted to the Bible, we have not only fashioned the Scriptures into an idol, but have silenced the mind of Christ within us and the work of the Spirit. There is perhaps no greater darkness than an arrogant, ignorant, bible-worshiping believer who builds their house upon the sands of their interpretations.

To those who have ears, let them hear—is this the person you are becoming, one who would dare lean on your own understandings of Scripture to the squelching of the Spirit, the dethroning of Jesus, and the detriment of other people?

A Person Addicted To The Accessories- For in order to feed the fleshly addiction of conservative Christianity to “get more Jesus” and prove yourself to be “sold out” for Him, one must be constantly consuming from the spiritual drug lord that is conservative Evangelical Christianity. With every book, conference, worship chorus, building project, concert, revival, retreat, group, event, and prayer marathon, many conservative Christians see faithfulness as moving from one spiritual fix to the next. Because Jesus isn’t enough, Grace isn’t sufficient, and Love doesn’t win, conservative Christianity creates famished consumers hopelessly addicted to the accessories. Mesmerized by the latest Christian fad, worship album, book, mega-pastor, or “secret” to taking your faith to the next level, adherents to conservative Christianity are stripped of their cash, drained of their souls, and imprisoned to a life chasing after a God who is already there and a peace you can’t fabricate. There is perhaps no greater darkness than a spiritual junkie addicted to the consumerism of Jesus.

To those who have ears, let them hear—is this the person you are becoming, one who would dare turn Jesus into a corporate franchise and good people into the spiritual addicts that fuel it?

A Person Who Spiritualizes Arrogance and Greed- For it’s not enough for evangelical Christianity to worship, believe, and express their faith within the framework of the freedoms of our country. It’s not enough that they enjoy the rights that all others do under our Constitution. It’s not enough to follow the call of Jesus to serve, sacrifice, and consider others as more important than self. Instead, in every arena of life, society, our nation, and our planet, conservative Evangelical Christianity is aggressively insisting on its own way to the discrimination, the reducing and restricting of rights, and the suffering of other people. Greed and arrogance drive conservative Christianity to be a brand of faith whose ultimate goal isn’t to lead the way in serving the world, but to lead the way in dominating it. There is perhaps no greater darkness than a religious glutton whose heart and aspirations have been poisoned with the cancer of conquering.

To those who have ears, let them hear—is this the person you are becoming, one who would dare turn Jesus into a world bulldozer driven by religious pride and the desire for power?

Search your soul, let honesty rule the day—conservative Evangelical Christian, is this the darkness you’ve become?

Grace is brave. Be brave.

9 Things I’ll Tell My Child If They “Get Saved” At Vacation Bible School

It’s bound to happen, seems like almost every year—one of our children is invited by a friend to their Vacation Bible School. We seek to respect and trust the Spirit’s work in our children’s lives enough to allow them a variety of faith experiences. Yes, we are Christian parents who love Jesus, no less. Our children know Him well, pray and sing songs, and hopefully see Him most clearly in our life examples.

It hasn’t happen yet, but this summer could be the year when one of them rushes home and declares, “Guess what mom and dad, I got saved at Vacation Bible School.” If that day should come, here’s what I can’t wait to tell them.

A Long Time Ago, In An Eternity Far Far Away—God Had Already Saved You- I’m not trying steal any thunder or bring down the moment, but that’s the really good news—the one and only true Gospel! You’ve been in Christ’s arms since the very beginning. There’s not a chance He’d ever take a chance in letting you go. He loves you that much—always has, always will. Sure we make mistakes, even lose our way. But, forgiveness isn’t an event, it’s a forever reality that can’t be taken away—God made it so, before you and beyond you, when you didn’t even know. You don’t even have to ask for it or earn it in any way, just embrace it’s already there and always has been, each and every day. That will keep your heart clean from useless shame and guilt and free you to want to do good purely for the sake of doing good. I’m glad you “got saved” but there was no need to, you already were—completely and thoroughly. That’s the real awakening that’s taken place, now you can fully breathe—the air of true freedom.

God Is Only Love, Not A Monster To Fear- He’s not keeping score, there’s not even a test. Life is not an exam, it’s a rest. You don’t have to earn anything, do anything, or appease Him in any way. It’s Christ’s performance that defines your life, not yours. He doesn’t love you one moment and turn His back the next. There can never be distance between you, He is in you every step of the way. When people talk about wrath, hell, and doom and gloom, you can be sure that all of that has been highly confused. God is only Love, pure as pure can be. His heart has nothing but affection for you and all humanity. Rest in the flower bed of His Grace and enjoy the smell of true life, now and everlasting. You don’t have to live with one eye open, God is only out to bless you and exceed your best expectations—no matter what.

God Didn’t Kill Jesus, Religious Villains Did The Trick– Jesus didn’t die to save you from an angry God, but to save you from living a life believing He is or ever could be—angry with you. Jesus didn’t die because it is was required to forgive you, Jesus died because He already had it in His heart to do so. The way of Jesus is non-violent, gracious, kind, sacrificial, and serving. The way of religion is condemning, self-righteous, prideful, and greedy. Jesus takes all of our religious inclinations, rebellion, pride, gracelessness, and self-righteous addiction, and allows us to murder Him with it instead of punishing us, destroying us, and seeking revenge. In doing so, Jesus takes our entire being and fills it with His perfection, showing to all the world on a cross, that we have been made perfectly perfect and Grace ultimately wins.

Hell Is The Terrible Feeling Religious People Get When Unconditional Love Wins- No, it’s not a place where people burn in horrible pain forever—God would never do that nor allow it. Yet some people can become so selfish, conditional, unforgiving, hateful, judgmental, self-righteous, religious, and insistent on their own way, that when God turns up the heat of His white-hot unconditional love and Grace, and pours it on them and everyone else without restraint, it frustrates and shakes them to their core, burning their self-righteous flesh. To them, pure love and Grace feels like excruciating pain because their true heart is exposed and all their religiosity is derailed. For nothing feels more torturous than spending an eternity immersed in wall to wall Grace when you hate nearly everything about it, and everyone is getting it, equally and regardless.

Jesus Is What’s Important, Not A Book- Here’s an inside secret you should surely know, when people say, “this is what the Bible says,” what they really mean is, “this is what I think the Bible says”—see the difference? Some Christians worship the Bible and use it as a weapon—hurting people, judging people, and Lording it all over them. For them it’s all about control, fear, and bringing people into religious conformity and submission. The Bible is beautiful, but not perfect. It leads us into our own encounter with Jesus, but should never become His replacement. The writers had their own human sense and perceived experiences of God, not always understanding what’s happening nor Who is doing it, though they might have believed and even wrote that they did. Read the Scriptures, learn to love them passionately, but only let Jesus be the one true guide of your interpretation, use, and understanding of them. That way, you’ll discover over time, all the ways Jesus redefines, reinterprets, and even discards some of what’s written—and you should too.   

Be Yourself, You’re God’s Perfect Plan- If you want be a doctor, be a doctor. If you want to fly to Mars and form its first colony, go red or go home. If it turns out you’re gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender in orientation or gender, be that without fear or intimidation. You are God’s perfect plan, you are the revival He is bringing to the world—as is. You, just be you, one hundred percent. There will always be haters and those who label and dissect. Listen to the Christ within you, the Light He has placed in every human. Don’t worry about living some perfect will, dream, or “big thing” God has planned for you. Know this for sure—you are the dream, you are the plan, you are the big thing God is doing. Do what you love to do in ways that honor God and serve people—He is always for you and by your side. The canvas of God’s life for you is loaded with potential and countless possibilities, don’t let anyone paint it for you, nor convince you that you’ve ruined it or wasted it all together. The pursuit and expectation of perfection should always be your enemy and never your friend. You are God’s perfect plan, so now just go and live—free. Do you, everyone else is taken.

You Aren’t Any Better Than Anyone Else- Just because you’re “saved”, a “Christian,” or whatever people want to call it, doesn’t mean you’re better or can look down upon any human. Grace is not only what saved you, but is the great equalizer. All of us are different, but none of us are better. Different people believe and do things differently. Our job is to love unconditionally and trust the Spirit to do any needed correcting. Set healthy boundaries, set a good example, and be the best you that you already are in Jesus, but never believe that in doing so, that makes yourself any better than the least of these. The way of Jesus is to serve, listen, understand, respect, welcome, and desire community with all people. Human equality is not just a social value or ideal, it’s what the Gospel looks like when truly manifested upon the earth.  Everyone is created in His image, not just you.

Grace Is God’s Super Power- Not punishment, correction, discipline, condemnation, rule-keeping, guilt, shame, fear, sin-management, spiritual commitment, or rededication ever made anyone Holy. All any of that does is further imprison us to the futile insufficiency of our own performance that can never measure up. Grace is the only power to heal, change, and transform anything or anyone. Run, as fast as you can, from any person, pastor, or message that would seek to convince you that Grace is too soft, slippery, dangerous, or incomplete. It’s God’s kindness that truly changes hearts and minds, nothing else. The Christian life is never about becoming something tomorrow that you aren’t today, but rather about your actions effortlessly catching up with your perfect, unblemished identity in Jesus Christ. All is Grace. Grace is the Gospel—period, full stop. Nothing else matters, nothing else works.

You Are The Church, Earth Is The Sanctuary- If church becomes a place you go on Sundays, you’ll never get there. All the stuff that looks so cool—worship screens, smoke, and lights, buildings, cafes, camps, and conferences, can all be highly overrated and deceptive. We all want to belong and that’s so important, but hanging out in a club of like-minded people to get all spiritual about Jesus, isn’t the sum of what He has in mind for His followers—I dare to say, it’s not even a priority. You are the church, and the earth (not a building) your sanctuary. Wherever you are, there’s the church. Community in Jesus can be found with anyone, anywhere—even among those who believe differently. Mutual respect is the glue that creates authentic, spiritual relationships and true community. Jesus is all and in all, that’s the most important thing you’ll ever see about what it means to be a Christian, be the church, and live in community with your fellow humanity.

Christians Can Be Scary- Just because someone is a “Christian” doesn’t mean they’re on the side of Jesus—that’s a very important distinction. I know it sounds weird, but Christians can be some of the most hurtful, hateful people. It’s not something to get all judgmental about, but rather deserving of our deepest sorrow and empathy. You’ll never go wrong standing in solidarity, defense, and support of those whom some Christians will hurt, condemn, and even put to death—spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Religious oppression is everywhere and rampant among American Christianity. In fact it’s one of our planet’s greatest evils. Sadly, the people who will oppose your heart for Jesus, the freedom you seek to live, and the Grace you seek to give will be the Christians around you—and they will do so aggressively. Be not afraid, God’s grace is sufficient. Greater is He that is in you, than in their religious, worldly religiosity.

I’m glad you “got saved” at VBS this year. Now, may true salvation come as this little saying, I pray, becomes your life motto…

Grace is brave. Be brave.

© 2017 Chris Kratzer

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