Tag: heaven

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.

Forget It Conservative Christianity, I’m Choosing Hell

One of the most telling aspects of any faith is its vision of heaven. Gaze into the crystal ball of any religion for a picture of their afterlife, and there you will find a clear culmination and ultimate fruition of its true desires, values, and beliefs.

In fact, for Christianity, the concept of the “Kingdom of God” is in essence, a sample-sized, earthly manifestation of a believed future, five-course, eternal reality—a kind of foretaste now of a feast to come later. What any version of Christianity is presently dishing out upon the world’s table in thought, word, and deed is in fact a profound foreshadowing of what truly resides in the heart of their faith and what they hope will extend in greater proportion and size for all eternity. Despite any creed’s best intentions, one is always becoming tomorrow, in reality or vision, what you are doing and believing today.

What will heaven be like?

Well, if you took the current picture of conservative, Evangelical Christianity and multiplied it by forever in a heaven far, far away—for many, this is their preferred vision of eternity.

It’s a vision of American, Evangelical, conservative Christianity manifested upon the cosmos without limits and double-fried in an inch thick batter of endlessness. For them, heaven is their brand of faith and faithfulness being awarded the eternal green light from God to the exclusion of all others and super-sized beyond limits of scope and time. Heaven is everything that conservative, Evangelical Christianity is today injected with steroids, spun into eternity like a breakdancer on crack, and given full reign over all things, forever.

What does this Evangelical, conservative Christianity kind-of-heaven look like? Well, what does Evangelical, conservative Christianity look like now?

From what I see, heaven is an exclusive club of the do-gooders and the conservative-enough believers in which you are so-saved and so-loved, all up until the tragic point you blink with a question or step outside inerrant lines. It’s an eternal existence of warmth when you fit, and cold shoulders and surface pleasantries when, for some reason, you don’t.

It’s hell.

It’s an eternal contemporary, Christian rock themed couple’s cruise where the whole boat is jacked up with people trying to prove how in love they are with each other and Jesus all while slamming Shirley Temple’s as they blissfully walk hand-in-hand with pride past the slot machines that have been unplugged for their spiritually-sensitive accommodation.

It’s hell.

It’s a forever worship service to see whose hands are raised the highest and looks to be pressing deepest into the presence of the Lord “Jeezus,” all while the worship leader is seemingly breaking the all time record for withstanding the squeeze of his skinny jeans before passing out on stage—not to mention the pastor whose hands are sweating in hopes the gold dust machine secretly mounted into the ceiling above doesn’t short out this time.

It’s hell.

Heaven is a place where your unrepentant, wrong-believing, non-KJV, doubt-harboring, sin-dripping wayward loved ones and fellow human beings endure eternal, flesh-melting torture in a place called “hell” while you sip Mimosas undisturbed on the shores of righteous bliss somehow totally at peace and satisfaction with a god who remains completely holy and just in the process.

It’s hell.

It’s the place where Jesus shrugs his shoulders in his “welcome to heaven” orientation speech looking out to those polished few who “made it” declaring with a sheepish grin on his face, “Well folks, I did the best I could—glad at least you’re here.”

It’s the fruition of a long-desired escape from the pesky, inconvenient people with whom you disagree and those who dare to question, offend, and even stand against a cut and pasted, conservative theology and a pretentious, anti-Jesus way of living.

It’s a gathering of predominantly white, starch-pressed people with a few minorities thrown in who have proven their conservative value and Evangelical legitimacy.

It’s hell.

It’s a place where an Ark believed to have carried a few of those specially selected to survive a frustrated god is made into a profiteering amusement park to honor a psychotically personified deity instead of a memorial to remember a humanity that died, and a people who projected their spiritual ignorance onto God with a false, diabolical, bible-making storyline that is so far from His heart, nature, and ways.

It’s hell.

Heaven is a forever-long small group meeting where the highlight of the gathering culminates when one’s spiritual jollies finally climax as you exercise your ultimate, conservative Christian role as spiritual policeman and accountability partner while circling the room with the questions, “what are you working on spiritually?” and “how can we pray for you?”

It’s hell.

Heaven is a place where your kids can finally and forever avoid those dirty, worldly sports groups that don’t have a Evangelical-flavored devotion and prayer session before every practice, play, water break, and game.

Heaven is that place where my LGBT friends and family will be burning in hell, not because Jesus said so, but because conservatism did.

It’s hell.

This, and sadly so much more, is the heaven of conservative Christianity, the spiritual wet dream of Evangelicals, the 72 virgins of Islam shrink-wrapped and spiritualized for Christianity.

To be sure, this is not the vision of heaven intrinsic to the hearts and minds of all Evangelicals, but sadly, no amount of conservative love, exceptions, do-gooding, and redemptive moments can out-sound and out-glare the screeching overall declaration and vision of the conservative, Christian heaven that is exclusive, performance-driven, racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted, elitist, brutal, graceless, inhumane, and filled wall-to-wall with conditional-ladened love.

That’s why I’m a human, a Christian, and a pastor who would rather burn in hell with the broken than float around in clouds with the spiritually fascist.

Perhaps, the scandalous scandal of the Gospel of Jesus is that in the end, to the surprise of all, the tables are turned, and Jesus is found once again, determined to live with and love the very people the religious hope to live and love without.

Perhaps hell is disguised as heaven to the religious, and heaven is disguised as hell to the broken—all to make sure the right people get to the right place.

For the same Jesus that traded heaven once already to be with the religiously outcast will be the same One to do it again—and this time, forever.

So stop trying to assimilate me into your spiritual Borg of a hell you’re pimping as heaven, I’ve made my choice—your mission that has made me a project of your self-righteous quest to desperately valid your empty faith by making it mine, is futile.

Your hell is where my Jesus will be.

I’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and your heaven is not.

That’s why, forget it conservative Christianity, I’ve heard and seen enough—I’m choosing, hell.

 

“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?  If I make my bed in Hell, behold, You are there.”  -Psalm 139

Today, I Heard My Father Speak

I wasn’t expecting it. I’m not the supernatural encounters kind of guy. At least, not with people who have passed. I don’t watch the shows, read the stars, or subscribe to anything related to those arts. The Sci-Fi channel rarely catches my eye, and surely not much of my serious consideration.

Iv’e thought about my father since his death years ago. A complicated man, often battling his own demons. Our relationship, never really close, the emotional distance a product of his generation and upbringing. A tough man, hard man, temperamental at times to say the least. Yet, a good man, doing the best with what he had. One time, saving my life, mere minutes from my death.

I wonder at times as I’m charting life’s course, what would my dad do? It’s a very rare occasion, but there have been reluctant pauses where I felt compelled to summon his wisdom.

Driving here and there, it was just an ordinary day, reflecting between songs on the radio. Weighting on my soul, we’ve got some big decisions to make, complicated paths to navigate, and then the conversation began.

In my depths, I really wanted to hear, maybe for the first time, “Dad, what would you do in this situation?” A view of my in-heaven father. His face, off in a distance, coming to mind. In a way that was more real, more genuine than I long remember, my heart flooded with adoration for him, verbally expressing without a sound, “Dad, I love you.”

Immediately, with no time for interjection, speaking to me directly, with sadness in his voice he replied, “Son, I know you do, but you have lived your life not knowing my love for you.” With shear surprise, aware that something was much different, “Dad, this is really you?” His response, “my life son, now, is more real than yours.”

I Know, it’s all so bizarre, really indescribable. A figment of my imagination? Not this time, something was much different. I can’t put my finger on it, but the pulse is real. I heard my father speak.

For a few seconds, I had a sense of the universe expanse, of life’s sure pleasure, a perspective far higher than ever before. In fact, he didn’t speak answers, just an affirmation that life is to be enjoyed. Relax son, the essence of everything is so much bigger.

Oh crap, I’m tearing up as I write. This isn’t supposed to be happening.

Dad, I’m looking forward to more time, doing what we never did before…

just talking.

Today, I heard my father speak.

He’s not dead, in fact, he’s finally…

truly alive.

And, in some new way…

so am I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Jesus Hate Blow-up Lawn Santas?

Hate me forever, label me a heretic, or just defriend me, but I just don’t think Jesus is as mad as some people hope He is about how we celebrate Christmas in our culture. I get what people are trying to say when they shout, “put Christ back in Christmas.” But truthfully, I am so sick of the pretentious, religiously-spirited, gag-me-with-a-multicolored-pitchfork, version of Christianity that statement often spews from. Besides, we didn’t put Christ in Christmas in the first place, I hardly think we can take Him out of it. I mean seriously, is God really that offended and upset by it all? Is our culture really going to hell in a hand basket, and our celebration of Christmas as a culture just a reflection of that? Truly, I wonder what some Christians would do with themselves if there were nothing in our about our culture they could find to bark at, judge, and condemn?

I would suggest that some of the things we do as a culture with Christmas that are deemed so off-message are in fact some deep, sacred longings placed in our hearts by God Himself. Things that would seem to indicate that we are so far from what Christmas is about, in fact, might be closer than we ever believed!

“God has set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Isn’t that what the lights, candles and glitzy decorations are all about? We long for a celestial, cozy, dreamy world where our senses are dazzled with snowy peace, bright purity, and the visually fantastic. Maybe we don’t flesh it out all perfectly and theologically, but deep down, we want what God has prepared for us… heaven; this world renewed and reconciled back to God. Heaven, the world of the fantastic, pure, celestial, and a dreamy eternity. We want a world where the baseline stories (many secular) of Christmas live; good wins over evil, our priorities are placed in the right order, families heal and last forever, life is everlasting, and things are restored to how they should be. That’s Rudolph, Santa, Frosty, the Grinch, Elf, and the list goes on and on. Maybe as far away as it might seem, we are actually closer than we first believed. It’s all a longing for heaven and a longing for Grace. Ironically, two of the things the “church” and many Christians are the most stingy about.

Or what about the packages, the ribbons, and the bows. Is it really all that bad? God did create us to be blessed, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and yes, materialistically. Sure, some of us rush ahead to take it for ourselves; that’s obviously not good. But, the sense and longing to have blessed lives where we were created to receive (from the Lord) with abundance is still under the surface, it’s their deep in our hearts. God put it there. It’s heaven isn’t it? It’s Grace isn’t it?  Where everyone has (and knows that they already have in Christ) what they need and are blessed by the Lord to beyond satisfaction, never hungry nor thirsty again. Our inheritance from the Lord, fully given by Him and fully received by us, with wealth beyond measure. That’s Grace, is it not?

And then, the giving. We have this deep sense that we are created to be blessed to be a blessing. We all want to give, to have something worth giving. Maybe we try to purchase this experience from malls, shopping centers, and online sprees, but we just want to love and be loved, God put that in our heart. That’s heaven isn’t? Where we love and are loved without restraint or limit. Where we have everything to receive and to give. That’s Christmas. That’s Jesus. That’s heaven. That’s Grace!

Isn’t all of this what we love about Christmas. It’s magical like that.

We call it magical because that’s the best word we can find, it’s the closest word we can think of as we get a touch of the eternity God wrote in our hearts and the Grace He has given to us. But, God knows the perfect and complete words. God calls it Jesus… Heaven… Christmas… Grace.  Truth is, it’s better than magical… it’s all real, it’s heaven, it’s Him. Wrapped up in one package… Grace.

Maybe as far away as it might seem, we are actually closer than we believe? Maybe Jesus isn’t as mad as some people hope He is about how we celebrate Christmas in our culture. Maybe, many of the people ranting things like, “put Christ back in Christmas” are in fact the ones who are the most successful at taking Him out and turning people away from seeing the true Gospel… all Grace, all the time… and all heaven, now and for all time.

In fact, maybe it’s the religiously-spirited Christians who want to take Christ out of Christmas the most, because when you truly have Christ in Christmas, there is only Grace; no more place for fear tactics, Law, religious rules, “hunger for Jesus,” platforms from which to condemn and judge, or “to do lists” in the Christian life. There is no more need to “work on your life,” “become successful for Jesus,” and “change the world for Christ.”  Grace shows us that Christ finished the work on your life on the cross, you don’t become a better person through your efforts, you are a better person because of Christ’s complete effort on the cross. You don’t become successful, Jesus already made you you successful. Success is what you are, not something you accomplish. God’s greatest desire and calling for your life is to simply enjoy Jesus, as you realize you don’t change the world. God changed you and you just go be yourself… you are the change.

Maybe it’s the “churchy” religiously-spirited, canned Christian culture of our day that is the one that hates the thought of truly having Jesus in Christmas because so much of what they prescribe, assert, declare, do, create, and teach is rendered powerless, useless, and even evil by the advent of pure Grace born into the world in a manger. See, Grace isn’t a new theology or fad, it’s a person… Jesus.

So, when you take Grace out of Christmas, you have taken Jesus out.  Now, who does it sound like would want to do that the most?  The broken and humble who sense they need it , or the religious who want to control it, ration it, and mix it with rules and regulations so they can keep their religious oratories and organizations afloat with people who come back for more and more because all their trying, striving, and Christian performance never measures up and never satisfies for long.

Grace is the antidote religious pimps don’t want their addicted followers to discover. It’s not good for business.

“Put Christ back in Christmas!”  That’s right, “Church,” put Christ (Grace) back in Christmas!

Gotta run, looks like my blow-up lawn Santa needs to be pumped up.  Ho, ho, ho!

What We Love About Christmas

Hate me forever, label me a heretic, or just defriend me, but I just don’t think Jesus is as mad as some people hope He is about how we celebrate Christmas in our culture. Behind some of the things we do that are deemed so off-message are in fact some deep, sacred longings placed in our hearts by God Himself. Seems like we are so far from what Christmas is about when in fact, we might be closer than we ever believed.

“God has set eternity in the hearts if men.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Isn’t that what the lights, candles and glitzy decorations are all about? We long for a celestial, cozy, dreamy world where our senses are dazzled with snowy peace, bright purity, and the visually fantastic. Maybe we don’t flesh it out all perfectly and theologically, but deep down, we want what God has prepared for us… heaven; this world renewed and reconciled back to God. Heaven, the world of the fantastic, pure, celestial, and a dreamy eternity. We want a world where the baseline stories (many secular) of Christmas live; good wins over evil, our priorities are placed in the right order, families heal and last forever, life is everlasting, and things are restored to how they should be. That’s Rudolph, Santa, Frosty, the Grinch, Elf, and the list goes on and on. Maybe as far away as it might seem, we are actually closer than we first believed.

Or what about the packages, the ribbons, and the bows. Is it really all that bad? God did create us to be blessed, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and yes, materialistically. Sure, some of us rush ahead to take it for ourselves; that’s not good nor Godly. But, the sense and longing to have blessed lives where we were created to receive (from the Lord) with abundance is still under the surface, it’s their deep in our hearts. God put it there. It’s heaven isn’t it? Where everyone has what they need and are blessed by the Lord to beyond satisfaction, never hungry nor thirsty again. Our inheritance from the Lord, fully given by Him and fully received by us, with wealth beyond measure. And then, the giving. We have this deep sense that we are created to be blessed to be a blessing. We all want to give, to have something worth giving. Maybe we try to purchase this experience from malls, shopping centers, and online sprees, but we just want to love and be loved, God put that in our heart. That’s heaven isn’t? Where we love and are loved without restraint or limit. Where we have everything to receive and to give. That’s Christmas. That’s Jesus. That’s heaven.

Isn’t all of this what we love about Christmas. It’s magical like that.

We call it magical because that’s the best word we can find, it’s the closest word we can think of as we get a touch of the eternity God wrote in our hearts.

But, God knows the perfect and complete words. God calls it Jesus… Heaven… Christmas. Truth is, it’s better than magical… it’s all real, in heaven, in Him.

Maybe as far away as it might seem, we are actually closer than we believe? Maybe Jesus isn’t as mad as some people hope He is about how we celebrate Christmas in our culture.

© 2017 Chris Kratzer

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