Tag: hell (page 2 of 3)

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.

Check out Chris Kratzer’s new book getting rave reviews… Leatherbound Terrorism.

In Leatherbound Terrorism, Chris chases the evils of conservative Evangelicalism out of the shadows and gives powerful voice to the cries of the religiously oppressed. Confronting issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, religious greed, hypocrisy, nationalism, white supremacy, privilege, and the weaponizing of the Bible, Leatherbound Terrorism pulls no punches. Endorsed by best selling authors Steve McVey and Baxter Kruger, Leatherbound Terrorism will challenge you, inspire you, and most certainly cause you to rethink your faith and life.

8 Things I Wish We Christians Would Admit

Nobody’s perfect, that’s for sure. We’re all on a spiritual journey in life that is both complicated and filled with ample opportunity for blunder. Yet ironically, within much of modern Christianity, faith qualities of mystery, vulnerability, humility, inability, and uncertainty are often deemed to be sure signs of weakness and nonconformity—what God has painted with beautiful shades of grey and fragility, we quickly want to thin into black and white. Unfortunately, this starch-pressed and cut-and-dry way of believing has rendered our brand of Christian faith to be one that is highly resistant and adverse to healthy criticism, introspection, change, and the embracing of fresh revelation. In the eyes of many who look upon us, ours is a Christianity fortified behind towering walls, moated with religious hoops, and purposed on allegiance, conformity, and world domineering. The presence of questions, doubts, uncertainty, individuality, and the recalibration of one’s beliefs are largely unwelcome and unwanted in many of our spiritual precincts. Some have gone so far as to even suggest that we have become deaf to the cries of Jesus upon our callous, cut-and-paste way of believing and living.

Which is why I believe, if our modern American brand of Christianity is to survive and reclaim its credibility, we must first become people of courage who are willing to be self-aware. What so many in the world discern and conclude about our American manifestation of Christianity, as unpleasant as their voices may ring, are the very truths we would do well to admit—that we might begin a process of healing and become more authentic in our faith.

I wish we would admit.

We Don’t Love Very Well- As much as we might try, with deep noble intention, in the minds and hearts of many, we aren’t succeeding. It’s as if we don’t believe in love, and fear its unconditional giving. We say we love people, yet can act so un-lovingly—just ask the broken, the minorities, the LGBTQ community, the “lost,” our enemies or our disagreers. “Hating the sin and loving the sinner” leaves nearly everyone wondering, why not just love for the sake of loving, and let God carry the rest? Our selfishness in church, family, and society has deafened people to any love our hearts might be singing. We are more interested in confronting, correcting, insisting, and even condemning, and believe those actions are somehow required in being loving. Maybe in reality, we’re just addicted to the idea of loving instead of the actual practice of it. Perhaps we should simply love people as people instead of projects—trusting God with any needed transforming. Until then, the truth is, we don’t love very well, and we would do well to admit it.

We Weaponize the Bible- For many of us, it’s become a kind of fourth Person of the Trinity—seemingly granting us a divine authority to assert and demand the practice, infallibility, and priority of our particular faith understanding and ideology. We have fashioned words about God into an idol of words from God—largely for the purpose of lording ourselves over others. The human carnage that remains from the countless rounds of Scripture fired at our enemies, disagreers, and those we deem to be sinning has become an American spiritual holocaust conveniently camouflaged in the flag of being biblically faithful to Jesus. Yet, the clear teachings of the Bible aren’t clear at all—30,000 different Christian denominations is more than ample evidence. The truth is, with every proof-texting and “this is what the Bible says” declaration, many of us show ourselves to be worshiping a false god, the Bible, and wielding it as weapon for debate, condemnation, power, and our self-serving, empire-building ambitions—we would do well to admit it.

We Don’t Fully Trust Grace- Though we may pepper it into a message, counseling session, or the back page of a monthly newsletter, the thought of giving too much Grace haunts us. For many of us, Grace is a slippery slope that can tragically lead people into a spiritual ditch of rampant disobedience. It’s the bait that gets people into the door for what we believe is the real message, “repent, or else.” To many of us, Grace is what makes it possible for us to have a fighting chance at a relationship with God and eternity spent with Him as long as it’s followed with believing and doing the right spiritual things. Yet, people are quickly learning that apart from a life rested and centered solely on Grace, everything else requires pretending and hopeless striving, as our best efforts always fall short—if we’re willing to admit it. Where the Apostle Paul insists that it’s Grace alone that leads people to a change of mind and heart, and is the sole power to teach, guide, transform and enable us into all truth and right living, we quickly dismiss trusting the purity of his revelation. Instead, we frantically fumble through the other Scriptures desperately looking for a quick fix for our flesh—which always seems to need another “to do” list. We don’t fully trust Grace, the only power of God for life, change, and transformation, which is why we as a people and nation aren’t getting any better—actually worse, if you haven’t noticed. We would do well to admit it.

We Come Across as Arrogant- We have the truth, the one and only true religion, and everyone else is desperately wrong or “lost.” Believe like us, become like us, live like us, join us, and then you’ll be a legitimate and acceptable human. These are the kinds of attitudes and subtle messages many of us exude, intended or not, with our spiritual noses pointed high in the air. Somehow we have concluded that the way of Jesus is to demand and feel entitled to have our faith-understanding dominate in our communities, schools, society, nation, and world. “Those who are first will be last, and those who are last will be first” are words of Jesus that apparently don’t even render a blip on our spiritual radar screens. No wonder why so many people largely want to spit our pretentious, self-serving way of believing out of their mouths. The admirable amounts of serving, giving, and caring we certainly do are often eclipsed by our arrogant, privileged attitudes—many of which we are blinded in seeing by our pride, and sadly unwilling to admit. We come across as arrogant, and would do well to simply admit it.

We’re Mostly Faking It- It’s the people who don’t go to church who are perhaps the most authentic in their faith. They rightly conclude, they’ll never measure up nor be able to apply the principles, disciplines, and admonitions required for faithful living in just one sermon, let alone all the new ones listed the next Sunday. With a brand of Christianity like ours that is so performance driven, many realize that all they can do is pretend, feel guilty, tired, and ashamed—and they conclude that pretending, along with all its trappings, isn’t for them. What amount of sin adds up to a lifestyle of it? What amount of do-gooding adds up to faithfulness? What amount of trusting adds up to truly believing? What amount of prayer, studying, fellowship, and adoration amounts to being a true worshipper? What amount of faithfulness adds up to being a genuine Christian? The truth is, nobody really knows for sure, the playing field is always changing. Yet, one thing so many people absolutely discern is this, to be a player on our team you must first become a pretender who’s skilled at faking it. With a faith-understanding that places its success and legitimacy largely on our abilities, behavior, and capacity to belief correctly and adequately, we will always be people who, in truth, can do nothing more but mostly fake it. We would do well to admit it.

Church is Mainly About Us- The many expensive buildings that remain empty and unused most of the week. The worship services we fight over to embody our personal preferences. The inside rules, policies, handshakes, and politics we create to keep things under the control of a few, and to manage the rest. The big visions we cast to fulfill our ministry egos. The programs we program to stay in competition with our competitors down the street. The periodic mission trips and service projects we commission in ultimate hope of bringing people to us and our religion, all serve to confess a very clear confession—church is mainly about us. As much as we might, with beautiful intention, purpose ourselves on reaching the unchurched and being culturally relevant, if it all didn’t somehow increase our memberships, stroke our egos, fuel our budgets, and seemingly justify our lavish buildings and worship services, we probably wouldn’t be doing it. Perhaps instead of trying to cleverly and creatively package “church” as being mainly about serving outside people from of a pure altruistic agenda of love, we should just openly admit what so many already know to be true—church is mainly about us.

If We Don’t Have Hell and an Enemy, Our Purpose is Lost- What if Grace, who is Jesus, is truly the only answer and loving like Jesus is our only purpose? What if a hell of eternal torment for the unbelieving is actually more of a figment of our imaginations and a product of ancient infernos, mythology, and old-time religion than it ever has been truly biblical? What if all are in Christ from the very beginning? What if the enemy isn’t “them,” but it’s really “us?” What if, because of the cross, there isn’t an enemy at all? What if all of our spiritual warfare is nothing more than shadow-boxing for Jesus? What if hell is the unrestrained presence and force of Grace upon the religious, and heaven is the unrestrained presence and force of Grace upon the humbled and broken? What if our only purpose is to simply love, and love completely and unconditionally? So much of what we envision, plan, and do as Christians would be rendered ridiculous and counter productive. Pull out the cards of hell and an ever present enemy that needs to be conquered, condemned, and converted, and all comes tumbling down. Like a needle needs a vein, we need hell and a constant enemy, even if they don’t exist. We would do well to admit it.

We’re OK With Other People Not Being OK- The collateral damage caused by significant segments of our American brand of Christianity is something many of us have surrendered ourselves into tolerating and even justifying. Numb to the plight of those who find themselves on the hurting side of our faith, our overall mission to make the world believe, behave, and become like us has become for some, a goal we must achieve no matter the cost. Comfortable with adopting a view of God that is willing and just in leaving people behind to suffer and die for some kind of greater good, makes our Christian living one that easily embraces the same sentiment towards our fellow humanity. Because we believe, in the end, that God is OK with some people not being OK, many of us share the same callous way of being a so-called Christian. As much as we claim to embody and preach compassion, our compassion has limits and expiration dates as it bows down to a brand of Christianity that is capable of eating its own and leaving others behind to suffer in our wake. We would do well to admit it.

Before there can ever be unity, peace, and wholeness among us and from us, we must first become self-aware to the point we are willing to admit what so many others already know to be true.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

The Conservative Christianity That Is Killing You

Sometimes in life, we don’t realize the things silently destroying us from within—false beliefs we have long held to be true, misplaced values we have long embraced as being invaluable. As humans, we can be so attracted to the path of least resistance that we become willing to reject the kind of positive change that would free us from our prisons. To think that we could be wrong, misled, or have wasted our lives on things found to be untrue or uncertain is a daunting proposition of regret we’d just as soon put to death, even if it means resigning ourselves to a life holding fast to the lies.

For years, as an Evangelical pastor, conservative Christianity was gutting me from the inside out, stealing the very life it promised to give. I thought I was breathing the ultimate way of living only to realize I wasn’t breathing at all. Sadly, nothing would have changed had I not been confronted by the pure Gospel of God’s Grace and awakened to the heights from which I had fallen.

In fact, if you hold to the beliefs I once did, you are determined that outside of your conservative, Evangelical way of thinking and believing, there is no other way, no other truth, and no other life. For some, even as you watch your marriage erode, your children suffer the rejection and abandonment of your condemnation, your faith-performance fall short, your hypocrisy grow, and your hate and intolerance overtake you, nothing will loosen the grip you have upon your conservative faith understanding. Even as we speak, your fingers are twitching and your mind is rushing ahead to the bullets you’ll fire in the comment section of this post. You have it all lined up and justified in your mind and heart, along with the biblical passages and interpretations to build your defense.

Yet, little do you know, the conservative Christianity that is killing you. Perhaps you would do best to ask your spouse—even better, to question your children. Ask your enemies, those you deem to be sinning, or with whom you disagree. Ask the females, the minorities, the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or transgender people among you, or perhaps just ask the less fortunate.

If they are honest and objective, they will tell you the dark, diabolical tale of what conservative Christianity has truly done to you.

But if not them, maybe, just maybe, your conscience has been speaking, crying out to be heard. Deep down you sense something isn’t quite adding up, there are pieces all together missing. You quickly subdue the tensions in your soul, the questions that tremble below, and cue the rationalizations. Yet, now is as good a time as any to give way to honesty and awaken to the truth that is so desperately trying to set your free—conservative Christianity is killing you.

It’s Killing Your Inner Peace and Joy– For how can you have any peace when so many things in your conservative faith-understanding are deemed to be unresolved? Your eternity, your closeness with God, your divine acceptance, your faith status—unresolved, unresolved, unresolved. One day you’re close with God, the next you aren’t. One day you’re eternally secure, the next day you’re not. One day your life enjoys the gleam of God’s favor, approval, and acceptance, the next day, it doesn’t. How can there be any peace when so much of your faith and spiritual life hinges upon you, your capacity to believe, believe correctly, and spiritually perform? Nothing is ever settled or certain even if you are convinced you’ve measured up. For it’s impossible to know for sure when your good has been good enough. Maybe there is something God sees that you’ve tragically missed.

In front of the mirror of conservative Christianity, all one can do is pretend, medicate their fears and doubts with self-righteousness, and live a life of angst with one eye open, as even our best days will always fall short of a God who suspiciously gazes upon us through the eyes of an incomplete score card.

And so I ask, with all due respect—where is the joy in pretending? Where is the peace in always having an endless, ever growing list of things one must do, become, and overcome that are in fact impossible to ever satisfy? The spiritual gymnastics required to fool yourself and others into believing you are truly happy and fulfilled are daunting in number and surely a hell-on-earth way of living.

In my experience, if there is one word that could truly describe the real faith-life of conservative Christianity, it wouldn’t be “peace” nor “joy,” it would be—never ending, unresolved PRESSURE.

It’s Killing Your Relationships- For how many miles of emotional and spiritual distance have you carved into your relationships with people because your conservative faith-understanding requires you to do so? You can’t just love for the sake of loving, connect for the sake of connecting, or enjoy people for the sake of enjoying people—that would be preposterous. Rather, every person you meet becomes a kind of spiritual project, a potential convert into your faith-understanding, or a shiny new visitor for your church. You measure people spiritually by what you believe is a God-given specialized capacity to have “discernment,” lest you become unclean, dirty, or condone evil. In order to gauge what kind of relational approach your conservative faith prescribes at any given moment, people and relationships have to be rigorously sifted, sized up, and labeled—lost or found, friend or foe, faithful or unfaithful, real Christian or wolf in sheep’s clothing. More so than not, unless they believe and act like you, people are largely designated as a problem to be fixed—and you, the perfect one to do the fixing. If they resist or even refuse—eventually disagreement becomes disappointment, disappointment becomes disapproval, disapproval becomes distance, distance becomes disconnection, and disconnection becomes damnation. Why? Because the one thing that’s largely missing for your conservative faith-understanding is true, unconditional Love. For love is never love if, based on what another person is or does, it can ever grow into hate, conditions, or condemnation.

And so I ask, with all due respect—how is that religious, relational radar working for you? How about with your family, work, community, or even church? How much true connection, community, and influence do you have with people who look, believe, act, and live differently than you? Jesus had so much that it got Him killed. It wasn’t a conservative faith within Him that nailed him to a tree—far from it. It was the conservative faith around Him that crucified Him and sought to put to death the love-life He came to bring.

In my experience, if there is one word that could truly describe the true relational-life of conservative Christianity, it wouldn’t be “humble,” “transformative,” nor “gracious,” it would be—pretentiously, selfishly STRESSED.

It’s Killing Your Capacity To Love- For how many conditions must you write into the fine print of the love you give? What’s it like always having to pump the brakes, filter compassion, prequalify affirmation, and love half-heartedly? The greatest fear of your conservative faith-understanding is to give too much love, Grace, and acceptance—convinced of the terrible things people would do. Yet ironically, the greatest fear of Jesus was for people to believe in a God who would restrict love and that people could ever give too much—that’s why He came. For either God’s Grace is fully sufficient, or it’s fully not. Wouldn’t you agree?

Yet, your conservative faith-understanding believes that expressing love in its highest form requires one to boldly confront sin, convinced that withholding or limiting love is at times both helpful and necessary in fostering God’s plan. In your mind, love, by itself, is much too soft, impotent, and permissive. In fact, the centrality of your conservative creed rests upon a fear of hell, the wrath of God, and His holiness in sending un-repenting sinners to an eternity of torture. In your mind, it would seem these dark potential realities justify and even demand your conditional love-giving.

However, have you ever considered that because Jesus confronted all sin, once and for all—there is, in actuality, no more confronting to do? In fact, to confront sin with a prescribed fear of any form of divine retribution is to confess the belief that Jesus didn’t confront sin, or do so sufficiently. That’s why Grace, the only power Jesus ever employed in His sin confronting and ultimate defeating, is the only power that awakens people to a change of mind and a heart of faith.

In fact, when people awaken to the scandalous, divine freedom they have in Christ to choose sin without fear of divine retribution, it is then and only then, that sin loses its power and appeal to be a good choice. Sin is disarmed of its capacity to serve as a form of punishment, guilt, and condemnation, and is instead correctly internalized as that which steals, kills, and destroys the good things in our living.

In the end, because your conservative faith-understanding refuses to surrender to Love and love alone, you can’t imagine how Love alone could possibly win over another. Rather, in your mind, they too, like you, must first become religiously imprisoned.

And so I ask, with all due respect—how does it feel to be shackled to a restricted life of giving love with conditions, believing that’s the height and sum of God’s love for you, sadly convinced that love doesn’t win?

In my experience, if there is one word that could truly describe the real love-life of conservative Christianity, it wouldn’t be “compassion,” “passion,” or “mercy,” it would be—fine print filled CONDITIONS.

It’s Killing Your Freedom- For when, by your conservative faith-understanding, the Christian life is seen as little more than a test, how can you ever know the freedom of what it’s like to find spiritual rest? When faithfulness is seen as life of sin-management, how can you ever know the freedom of what it’s like to truly be alive, live, breathe, and be burden free? When Church is seen as a building with a cross on top filled with a club of like-minded people, how can you ever know the freedom of what it’s like to actually be the church—anyplace, anytime, anyhow? When love is seen as requiring conditions, limits, and restrictions, how you can ever know the divine freedom of what it’s like to love unconditionally? When hell hangs over your head, wielded by a bi-polar God who draws close to you one minute but turns his back the next, how can you ever know the effortless freedom of what it’s like to love, worship, and adore Him without fear nor obligation?

And so I ask, with all due respect—why is it that the life your conservative faith-understanding wants me to believe is filled with such immeasurable freedom, feels so much more like a life of unimaginable imprisonment?

In my experience, if there is one word that could truly describe the life-trajectory of conservative Christianity it wouldn’t be “limitless” or “free,” it would be—rule-driven, fear-driven RESTRICTION.

It’s true, conservative Christianity IS killing you—taking what God intended to be a life of peace, joy, human community, unconditional love, and life-giving freedom and raping it into a death sentence of religious pressure, relational stress, conditional love, and fearful restriction.

Sounds a lot more like hell to me.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

Christian, Why Aren’t You Pounding On My Door?

It’s not an issue of debate, at least, probably not for you.

In sync with your faith understanding and interpretation of the Bible, you believe hell is absolutely real and anyone who doesn’t repent, say the “sinner’s prayer,” and make the proper life adjustments is destined to spend eternity there.

For you, hell is a God appointed, forever place of unbearable torture and suffering where the occupant’s greatest desire is to die, but they can’t—it’s hell, their due punishment for rejecting a holy and just God.

Therefore, the understood purpose of Jesus is to communicate and manifest God’s love to people while making it possible for them, through their repentance and faith, to be “saved” from the terrifying, agonizing, eternal reality God has prepared for them if they don’t love Him back in return. In your mind, perhaps God doesn’t exactly “send” people to hell nor desire their eternal demise, but they rather choose it. Either way, at the very least, God allows hell for the unbelieving, is holy in doing so, and your prescribed mission is, out of love and obedience, to do everything you can to keep people from going there.

I’m not being critical nor condemning of your faith understanding, just descriptive.

Which leaves me with a question.

If you believe hell is so real and terrible, God loves me enough to send His Son to die a gruesome death on a cross to make it possible for me to avoid it, and you are His plan to tell me all about it so that I can believe all the right things to escape it, why aren’t you pounding on my door every minute of every day to convince me of it? Even if I should turn away, brush you off, or even reject it all together, why don’t you keep relentlessly pursuing it? It’s a hell of eternal torment that you believe in, is it not?

What could possibly be more important? Certainly, not your marriage, family, career, or enjoyed way of life—that would be ridiculously selfish in contrast to the eternal suffering of even just one person, especially in the kind of hell to which you subscribe. What kind of twisted love could one possibly possess that would ever consider resting for just a moment, knowing the potential result if you do?

With millions of “lost” people, you believe, standing at the edge of forever fire only a heartbeat away from eternal torture, how is it that you can be doing, investing, spending, prioritizing, and participating in anything less than the direct pleading, door-pounding, begging, and drawing of every person possible?

And what about your behavior? I hear that your faith tradition believes that little bugger can actually become a stumbling block, even unto the saving faith of another. With all due respect, as much as you seem to be comfortable in talking about everyone else’s personal conduct, for just a moment, can we talk about yours? To think that, for example, an overweight, gluttonous pastor or smoking parishioner might be the primary reason a person concludes, “this whole Jesus thing isn’t for me,” shouldn’t that send every Christian to their local Gold’s Gym after Sunday preaching, not the typical gorging at Golden Corral commonly themed? If that doesn’t potentially shutdown a heathen’s moment of saving faith, what about your 50% divorce rate? What about the 60% of church leaders who watch porn? What about all the church gossip and political infighting? We’re talking about a hell of eternal torment that you believe in, are we not?

Which reminds me, I also recall a couple central, pivotal passages from the Bible that are highly faith defining. One dictates that in actuality, it’s “God’s kindness that leads to repentance” and the other, “the ministry of the Law is death.” So, wait a second. If a white-hot hell is so real and repentance is the sure ticket to the cool breezes of heaven, shouldn’t we be the kindest people on planet earth and exuding a ministry of Grace like the world has never seen? Shouldn’t we be revered in every corner of the planet as being the gentlest, most compassionate, radically gracious, unconditional loving, patient, selfless, generous, serving, and humble people ever known upon the earth—even to a fault?

I know this might be a tough question to answer, but in light of the seriousness of your claims about hell, why isn’t yours a clear, resounding, and flat out earth-shaking lifestyle of relentless kindness, radical Grace, and compassionate character that’s pounding at the doors of every heart and mind in every moment of every day to convince them? I hate to ask this yet again, but this is an eternal hell of unimaginable pain, suffering, and brutal torture at the hands of demons that we are talking about, is it not?

I, and many others, have been carefully listening for your answer, and perhaps we have sadly received it. For as much as this is difficult to say, the truth is, our doors have almost never felt your genuine knock, our hearts rarely ever hear the plea of your kindness, our eyes see so much hypocrisy, and our souls starve in absence of observing and feeling any genuine love, acceptance, and true Grace from you.

Rather, if I’m honest, you seem so desperate to insist that your hell is so real and that I need to take it so drastically serious. Yet, I am growing more and more convinced that, by all the things you do and don’t, you yourself don’t actually believe it, perhaps not even in Jesus either. For if you did, with all due respect, I just have to believe you’d be so much more loving, so much more kinder, so much more gracious, so much more concerned about your own walk, and so much more focused on loving, respecting, accepting, and pursuing mine—you know, like Jesus.

Instead, I see state-of-the-art church buildings, lighting systems, worship packages, budgets, and million dollar pastoral homes and salaries. I see Christian clubs with crosses on top where like-minded, like-skinned people gather like herds of cattle to daintily drivel amongst themselves and viciously judge the world. I see people who are addicted to the sound of their own spiritual voices, consumed by consuming, and content with making their spiritual satisfaction the idolatrous priority of their faith. I see people leaning on their ideologies to the detriment, harm, and abuse of others. I see people who demonstrate little-to-no restraint in highjacking Jesus for political power, personal empire building, and ministry fame. I see people who are feverishly unkind, selfish, privileged, and pretentious—totally at peace with a faith-life of spiritual navel gazing, people-judging, bible-weaponizing, and personal significance seeking. I see people who marginalize, discriminate, and torment those with whom they disagree, dislike, or conveniently deem to be sinning differently. I see people who view the world as a spiritual project—a pasture of beastly humans to ultimately rope into their brand of religious performance, rule-keeping, soul-milking, and mold-fitting. I see people who have spiritually rationalized nearly every form of evil under the sun while joyfully passing it off as biblical faithfulness. For much of modern Christianity has become so thin, white, privileged, cutting, and square, you could use it as piece of paper—best crumpled up and discarded, to be sure. “LeBron pulls up, he shoots, he scores”—all of it, into file thirteen.

If your hell is so true and your faith so loving, how in the world could you ever have time, energy, imagination, resources, or heart for becoming so much of what Jesus is clearly not?

Perhaps the real truth is, “hell” is only as important to you as far as it involves theological debates, condemning perceived sinners, drawing lines, spiritual justifying your platform, mission, and pride, and fearing people into your beliefs.

It obviously doesn’t bother you—that much. Cause you to love—that much. Inspire your kindness and graciousness—that much, nor compels your every all.

Hell—it’s all so convenient, is it not?

With all due respect, if you want me to believe your hell is so real, you are going to have to do a lot better at convincing me that you actually believe it, first.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

Maybe This Is The Real Reason You Believe Being Gay Is A Sin

So, you believe homosexuality is a sin.

I get it—it’s where you are at and what you uphold to be true.

Maybe for you, you’re not exactly sure why you subscribe to that position, other than the countless times you have been told, “That’s what the Bible says.” You want to be loving, accepting, and viewed as a compassionate follower of Jesus, but numerous admonitions from fellow Christians declaring that “loving people doesn’t give license to their sin” seem to give you no other alternative posture than one of judgement and distance. Sure, you’re familiar with a few of the verses typically used to condemn homosexuality and those of the LGBTQ community—since childhood, your mind and heart has been seated around the traditional male/female relationships of Scripture as being the only God-approved model for marriage, gender, and sexuality, but that’s about as far as your thinking has taken you. Deep down, it’s a complicated issue, and quite honestly, you’re not always sure what you believe. Even though you know some LGBTQ people and perhaps might even call them friends, moments of belief-questioning or consideration of LGBTQ-affirming views are quickly summoned to a much more comfortable, default position in your faith, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” For you, you’re hoping it’s as simple and settled as that, and if it’s not, it’s just going to have to be.

On the other side of the coin, maybe for you, it’s all so perfectly crystal clear. There’s nothing to reconsider, nothing to learn or unlearn. It’s a slam dunk, a biblical no-brainer. Not only have you sat under the popular chorus, “This is what the Bible says,” you proudly and boldly sing it from the mountain tops. You believe to know every verse relevant to the issues, even citing original Greek and Hebrew words and context. In your mind, heart, and faith, all things LGBTQ are a deplorable, disgusting affront to God and an offensive abomination before the Lord. Maybe you have never held the sign (or maybe you have), but “God hates fags” largely fits hand-in-glove with the bottom line of your faith understanding. Sure, if they repent, change their ways, and adopt your faith views, there’s hope. However, until that day comes, “ground and pound” is your perceived divine mandate to wrestle the LGBTQ demons out of our culture and country. No matter the consequences or costs wrought by your anti-LGBTQ angst and rage, you are “right” and everyone else will always be “wrong”—even to the exclusion, excommunication, and potential suicide of your own LGBTQ child, sister, brother, parent, congregant, or friend. In your mind, any other way of seeing things is to author confusion where God created infallible clarity—and you, the God appointed vessel of His authority and truth. If a transgender person were to commit suicide and your secret (or not so secret) conclusions to this tragic event were displayed on your church’s worship screen, it might read something like, “They had it coming to them, for the consequences of sin is death.”

Well, no matter where you are on the spectrum of believing homosexuality is a sin, I have an honest question.

Are these really the true reasons you believe being gay is a sin? These are the case “evidences” you really want us to attribute to your actions and beliefs?  “The Bible says so…” “God hates fags…” “Rethinking my views or considering new information is unnecessary…” “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” These are the foundational, core kind of sentiments that make up the sum, depth, and rationale of your thoughts, words, deeds, and creeds regarding one of the most important issues of our time affecting countless God-imaged souls?

With all due love and respect as I truly want to understand and believe the best, if I’m honest, the ruby-slippered Dorothy in me is having a hard time swallowing that pill. In fact, pull back the curtain of your confessions and I wonder if there’s perhaps a deeper Wizard behind the smoke and mirrors of your anti-LGBTQ declarations—and it’s not God, the Bible, or spiritual laziness—in fact, I think it just might be… you.

Maybe, just maybe, the real reason you believe being gay is a sin, is because—you want to. When it’s all said and done, it’s not anybody else’s voice or choice—it’s yours.

In a Christian church-world where there are over 30,000 different denominations who read the very same Bible you do, and come to thousands of different belief-conclusions on major theological issues. In a Christian church-world where elective misunderstanding and ignorance are seen as legitimate positions instead of serious problems. In a Christian church-world where there are countless, growing numbers of biblical scholars with the same love for Jesus, submissive heart for Scripture, and tenacity for Truth as you, who see the Bible as affirming LGBTQ people, not condemning them. Maybe, just maybe, the real reason you believe being gay is a sin is because—you want to. It’s not the Bible saying so, it’s you saying so. In fact, if one can be faithful to the sacred Scriptures and yet come to an LGBTQ-affirming view (which you can) instead of condemning, demonizing, and abusing a whole God-adorned population of humans, why wouldn’t you? Maybe, just maybe, the real reason is because—you don’t want to.

In a Christian church-world where many apparently have little-to-no true fear of having a sin lifestyle of blatant, chosen gluttony and greed that potentially even compromises their eternity. In a Christian church-world where virtually none of its participants would ever dare construct nor hold up the sign, “God hates fatsos.” In a Christian church-world that largely has little-to-no restraint in looking the other way regarding its own sins and strongholds. In a Christian church-world where nearly 50 percent of its married adherents end up divorced, and even the “unbiblical” ones are given a free pass. Maybe, just maybe, the real reason why you believe being gay is a sin, isn’t for fear of condoning it or leading one into hell, but simply because—you want to.

In a Christian church-world that is known for justifying and feeling oh-so-good and righteous about itself through the condemning and demonizing of people they conveniently deem to be sinning differently than they. In a Christian church-world that largely needs a sin-battle to fight in order to justify its purpose, worth, validity, energy, and existence. Maybe, just maybe, the real reason why you believe being gay is a sin is because—you want to. The self-righteous perch from which doing so seems to afford you exclusive divine favor, license for anger, and spiritual justification for hate is just too convenient to step down from. Watching porn on Sunday afternoons never seemed so benign as after a rousing, gay-condemning sermon from Romans 1 and 2. It’s a drug only Grace can disarm, but you refuse the “reparative” cure. Why? Because—you want to.

In a Christian church-world where community is often centered around the conformity of beliefs and behaviors. In a Christian church-world where in many of its expressions you are either “in” or “out.” In a Christian church-world where to believe differently is often met with a kiss of death—discipline, rejection, marginalization, termination, or just a good-ole’-fashion greeting line of cold shoulders and religious spankings. Maybe, just maybe, the real reason why you believe being gay is a sin is because—you want to. The fear of being convinced of LGBTQ-affirming views is just too strong, and the perceived ramifications, just too costly. When the rubber meets the road and you hear the Jesus-call to put the suffering of others above your own—you simply don’t want to.

See, at the end of the day, when Toto draws the curtain open, the scheme that was concealed becomes the truth that is revealed—people don’t choose to be LGBTQ, but they sure do choose to believe whether it’s a sin or not.

In fact, I find it interesting how many Christians proudly proclaim to be pro-life and wear it as a badge of faith-honor, all while at the same time they are certainly pro-choice about the Bible—determined to protect their freedom to use every interpretive knife they can contrive to abort countless people into hell, murder their souls with condemnation, and yank them out of the womb of God’s Grace and affirmation, slicing and dicing them with sin-labels and discrimination—all while singing songs to Jesus with a self-righteous, anti-gay smirk on their face.

When all the smoke clears, perhaps the real puppeteer behind your anti-gay beliefs finally emerges—it’s you. You don’t “have” to believe being LGBTQ is a sin—you want to. When all is said and done, the pain of affirmation has been determined to be greater than the pain of discrimination. The call to take up our cross and follow Jesus, perhaps, is a cost you have concluded is too costly to endure. The ego-humbling, faith-reconstructing, soul-examining, human-loving, life-transforming, and courage-requiring invitation of Jesus to put down the nets of religion for the sake of “the least of these” is finally met with what is perhaps the real sum and truth behind your response—”I don’t want to.”

Maybe, just maybe, this is the real reason why you believe being gay is a sin—it’s not God, not the Bible, not spiritual laziness, nor moral purity or responsibility.

But rather, all because—you want to.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

Check out Chris Kratzer’s new book getting rave reviews… Leatherbound Terrorism.

In Leatherbound Terrorism, Chris chases the evils of conservative Evangelicalism out of the shadows and gives powerful voice to the cries of the religiously oppressed. Confronting issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, religious greed, hypocrisy, nationalism, white supremacy, privilege, and the weaponizing of the Bible, Leatherbound Terrorism pulls no punches. Endorsed by best selling authors Steve McVey and Baxter Kruger, Leatherbound Terrorism will challenge you, inspire you, and most certainly cause you to rethink your faith and life.

How Conservative Evangelical Christianity Wasted My Life

Nobody plans for this moment to come—sitting on our bed upstairs, I called Amy into the room. Up to that point in time, everything I had touched in ministry over the past twelve years had essentially fallen apart, my ability as a husband and father to provide for our family was painfully lacking, and unexpected, critical health issues overwhelmed me with incapacitating, daily battles of insecurity, anxiety, and hopelessness. I was a complete mess—everything seemed to be crashing to the ground as I stood in those moments looking over the edge of my life. It was all so real, so terribly real.

Making her way up the stairs, she entered the doorway. “Amy, I need to talk to you. I want you to find a new husband and father for Harrison and Cailyn. I’m such a failure and your lives would be better without me—you deserve so much more.” Seeing a seriousness in my eyes like never before, with sheer terror in her face, Amy ran out of the room sobbing in tears. I had experienced periods of depression before, but these moments were of an entirely different realm of darkness. I was truly ready for it all to be over—desperately looking for the closest exit sign.

As a young boy, I nearly died of asthma two times, spending much of my elementary days in the hospital. No sooner did that fog begin to lift then the sexual abuse from a family member began. They say sixty percent of people enter the pastoral ministry to “save” one of their family members—if that’s true, it was my father. The very man who saved my life on one of those asthmatic occasions was ironically the same man who sowed deep seeds of condemnation, guilt, insecurity, and inadequacy into my heart. During one semester in middle school, I received a “C” on my report card. My father always said, “C’s just mean you’re average, and we Kratzers aren’t average.” I knew he was upset as he reacted in disgust. Seeing his harsh disappointment, I told my mother, “Dad doesn’t love me.” Insisting that he did, she coaxed me into the living room where my father sat rocking in a chair. She said to him, “Honey, Chris doesn’t think you love him, tell him that you do.” His response, “With grades like that, he’s no son of mine.”

Sadly, behind everyone’s eyes is a story that, if they told you, would break your heart. With a belly full of emotional baggage and gaping, puss-ladened wounds of shame, I entered into pastoral ministry. I wasn’t a conservative Evangelical at the start, but it didn’t take long for the tenets of conservative Christianity to be pimped my direction. Within a few puffs and injections of its seductive self-righteous creed, it became an instant drug of choice to numb the pains of inadequacy long been building in the caverns of my being. Never did there appear to be a better way to appease a conditional-loving father and heal the sins and shame of my youth than to embark on a spiritual climb designed to satisfy the ultimate conditional-loving Father—the god of conservative Evangelicalism who promised to rid me of my demons if I pressed in hard enough and learned to traverse the tightrope of faith. Salvation had finally come in an Evangelical deity offering me a spiritual track upon which I could race to right my wrongs, give value to my condemned life, and render myself lovable at the finish line. Just color within the lines, give the proper responses, think and believe the right things, fight the good fight of faith, and I too could become “successful” for Jesus. Perhaps then, both my father on earth and the Father above could finally love me—perhaps even then, I could finally love me. The ultimate trifecta of acceptance and approval was just an Evangelical “to do” list away, all leading to a position seated high above the world upon which to feel good about myself through the looking down upon others. It was all so righteous and perfect—so it seemed.

With a snappy new Jesus-step in my shoes, I eagerly surveyed the landscape of conservative Evangelical Christianity and its heroes. They all had obvious common denominators—big churches, big book deals, big speaking schedules, big conferences, big baptismal numbers, big budgets, big leadership philosophies, big vision, and even wives with big hair. Every sermon was finely crafted with spiritual formulas, principles, and steps that lead to the big life. Every service was meticulously programmed for ultimate appeal and emotion. The Bible was cut and dry, people were either in or out, sin was clear and easily defined, the truth was black or white, and either you had a place at the cool pastors lunch table or you didn’t. People on the outside were seen as a project to assimilate into the inside, and then to “grow” towards ultimately partnering in the pastor’s grandiose vision to “make fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ” AKA “my big ass ministry ego trip.” It was all so spiritual, and spiritually justified—”purpose driven” to the nines.

I swallowed it, all of it, hook, line, and sinker—my flesh never felt more alive. Job one, clean up my act. Job two, use a bit of smoke and mirrors while carefully pretending all the “to do steps” were working in order to keep people from seeing I couldn’t master job one. Job three, turn off my brain and heart as I learned to believe, say, and do all the right “Evangelical” things even if deep down they made little-to-no-sense, contradicted themselves, or left good people cold, hurting, and condemned. Job four, attain ministry “success” and fame at all costs, using people as a means to what is really a selfish end disguised as a noble mission. Job five, spiritualize it all so that people don’t see the hypocritical phony who’s faking-it to make-it and signing them up to do the same, wrapping it all up in shiny Jesus paper and calling it “faithfulness.” Job six, whatever it takes, convince yourself this is the way, truth, and life even when deep down inside, something is screaming that it’s not—quickly silencing and demonizing every voice that contradicts you. Job seven, if all else fails, program more worship fog, get a tattoo, and start sporting some Buckle brand skinny jeans—the rest will take care of itself.

I tried, I really did. I never worked so hard in all my life—just ask Amy, just ask the kids. I started waking up at 4 a.m. every Sunday morning to memorize my sermons, line for line, word for word—all for the maximum adoration of the congregation and the hopes of validating my life by becoming a superstar preacher. I began writing devotionals hoping they would get published. I read every ministry leadership book money could buy. I attended the best conferences, taking copious notes from which to implement the latest church fads guaranteed to grow your congregation and grant you the ministry of your dreams. I made myself available at any moment of any day for pastoral counseling or care. I studied the scriptures, applied ever prayer formula I could find to maximize my capacity to leverage God for His blessings and favor. We didn’t tithe just 10%, but 20%, often becoming the top givers in the churches we served whether we could afford to or not. I solicited accountability partners to speak truth into my life as a sure fire way to keep me on the straight and narrow. I distanced myself from all the right people and settings, just like I was prescribed. On Sundays, I was the first one at the church, and the last one to leave. Those rare moments when I wasn’t engaged in some kind of formal ministry, you can be sure I was thinking about it. We started churches on a wing and a prayer, barely having enough income to survive. We walked through devastating church splits, worship wars, members threatening my life, and countless conflicts whose marks will surely never go away. Years and years spent in a so-called, “Christian life” trying to convince God, the people around me, and myself that I am valuable, lovable, acceptable, significant—worthy of God, His favor, His blessings, and His heaven.

Don’t be fooled, insisting that “denial” is just a river in Egypt. Whether you’re in ministry or not, this is what you do—this is the hell you live and give, in some shape or form, when your faith concludes, “God loves you… BUT.” There can be no more hiding of the Wizard behind the curtain, this is the performance-driven, endless, restless, futile plight of your soul when the anchor of your faith clings to the diabolical slogan of conservative Evangelical Christianity, “God does His part, but you have to do yours… OR ELSE.” Find me a person who subscribes to conservative Evangelicalism and there you will have found a tragically deceived soul who is sleep-walking this same kind of daily, self-righteous, pretending, performance-driven hell while actually believing it’s heaven.

Look no further than my life for your proof, for there in that upstairs bedroom it all came tumbling down—none of the steps, formulas, principles, “to do lists,” worship choruses, bible studies, sin-management strategies, conferences, recommitments, fasting, prayer sessions, or spiritual disciplines ever worked, and all my pretending wasn’t camouflaging it anymore. The lipstick on the pig was wearing off—conservative Evangelical Christianity had done far more than merely waste my life, it had stolen every remnant of it I ever possessed and left me impotent to face its darkest moments.

All that time, years and years, I was suffocating when I thought I was breathing Life—thinking I was so close to Jesus, yet being so far away from His heart.

All that time, I thought I was helping people when in fact I was imprisoning them—declaring a mixed Evangelical gospel of conditional love that is in fact no Gospel at all. All, while sentencing countless God-adorned people to a fear-driven, empty life of sin-management, God-appeasement, and people-judging.

All that time, I thought I was being a faithful servant when in reality I had become a monster—a sexist, racist, homophobic, bigoted, ignorant, selfish, judgmental, legalistic, hypocritical, two-headed, and heart-divided monster. Without a flinch or a blink of an eye, I could heartlessly condemn people to a Dante-inspired hell of Evangelical imagination and poison their hungry, hurting hearts with guilt, shame, fear, and condemnation all while deceiving them to believe its source was no less than the throne of God.

All that time, I thought I was equipping people when in fact I was using them. Call it “vision,” “ministry dreams,” “reaching the world for Christ,” or whatever label helps you sleep at night—but the truth is, so much of modern Christianity has simply become the franchising of ministry egos.

All that time, I thought the Bible was a kind of convenient, inerrant weapon best used against the self-declared enemies of Jesus and for the defense of a truth that only conservative Evangelicalism possessed, when in fact, it’s actually a perfectly human set of writings best used to inspire all people to progressively encounter Him who is Love and defend His graciousness.

All that time, I thought I knew love and how to give it, when in truth, I knew nothing of it—receiving it, living it, sharing it. I thought loving people required doing so with careful restraint for fear you might extend too much grace and affirmation, or worst of all, catch their disease. Constantly pumping the breaks with people by restricting my love and qualifying His was indeed an unpleasant endeavor that never felt settled in my spirit. Yet, for so long I believed that was the full extent for which God loved me—all at a safe distance, riddled with fine print.

All that time, I thought I was being the picture perfect father and husband, but in reality, I was so consumed by a spiritual quest in which enough was never enough, that though I may have been there physically for my family, in so many other ways, I wasn’t there at all.

So much time wasted, relationships scorched, walls erected, people written off, unnecessary family tension and division created, opportunities missed, life that could have been enjoyed, unconditional love that could have been given, freedom that could have been embraced, lives that could have been set free by Grace, and all I had to show for it in that upstairs bedroom was the painful faith conclusion that I would never measure up, I was a failure, Jesus surely hated me, everything that mattered was slipping through my fingers, and the god of Evangelicalism was probably not only o.k. with it, but holy and just in allowing it, and perhaps even authoring it.

Hearing Amy downstairs crying in desperation pleading with me to change my mind, I fell to the ground on my knees—or perhaps, I was pushed.

In that moment, to which I still can’t put words, Grace awakened in me. As I closed my eyes sobbing on the floor, the real Jesus wrapped His arms around everything about me and refused to let go with divine relentless—a picture in my mind and an embrace of my entirety I’ll never forget.

You can be sure, the real God is nothing like conservative Evangelical Christianity—I know this to be True, He showed me.

Today, years later, I’m alive and truly living for the first time in my life and the future is bright with real hope and real joy. God is Love, Jesus is Grace, we are all the Beloved, and I am free to be fully me—free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I am free at last.

So, I say to you who drink from the devil’s cauldron of conservative Evangelical Christianity—run, run as far and as fast as you can, don’t let it mix you into its brew. It’s a religious concoction of death—pure unbridled death.

It wasted much of my life, don’t let it waste anymore of yours.

Why Conservative Evangelical Christianity Is The Worst Evil Ever Manifested Upon The Earth

By far, the worst form of evil ever manifested upon the earth is conservative, Evangelical Christianity—for there is nothing more diabolical and destructive than to position and assert oneself as having and presenting the exclusive cure for humanity’s deepest, darkest, and most troublesome and consequential realities while at the same time, being the very poison that like no other, perpetuates, enflames, and imprisons all humanity to the very diseases it claims to heal. Conservative, Evangelical Christianity is the cosmic lie that must be called out of the shadows of deception. It is a spiritual veil to an empty life. It is the cancer claiming to be the cure, addicting all its adherents to a hope that is no hope at all. The anti-Christ, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the devil draped in holy garments disguised as an angel of light–these are none other then conservative, Evangelical Christianity at its core.

At the heart of all conservative, Evangelical Christianity is the sum of Satan’s biggest ploy, a mixed Gospel that is in truth, no Gospel at all—an imposturous trick of grandiose proportions that pimps a “good news” proclamation deemed to be straight from the throne of God that is in reality only partially good news, if good news at all. God loves you, BUT. He saves you, BUT. He blesses you, BUT—you must repent, make a faith choice, and love Him back in all the right ways, or else. This is the essence of a mixed Gospel, always containing some level of human performance for its existence and effectiveness in one’s life. God does His part, but you need to do yours—until then, a divine connection is hit or miss at best, and nothing of God reaches beyond this divide until you appropriately reach back.

This is bad news—terrible news. God and His dealings with all humanity are deemed as contractual and conditional at the core, requiring some level of human responsibility for their establishment, continuation, and validity. God is the necessary giver, but humanity is the necessary receiver. Jesus knocks, but we must answer. We pray, God moves. We tithe, God blesses. All is a divine equation where God makes His offers and humanity is solicited to respond accordingly in ways that complete, uphold, access, and maximize what is in reality, a conditional relationship to the Creator. Ultimately, God’s love, power, blessings, and desires are only as effectual as our human capacity to respond correctly.

This is a sure, diabolical death sentence no one can withstand disguised as our only way of emancipation and life, for who among us, with all our human limits of mind, heart, and spirit could ever truly respond adequately in one moment let alone a thousand, successfully tripping all the necessary God-switches. To believe one can even take a step toward doing so is to already be seduced by Satan’s greatest scheme—a humanly codependent Gospel, which is no Gospel at all.

In fact, it this false Gospel that erodes beautiful humans into mere spiritual junkies addicted to the sound of their own faith and faithfulness, leaving them with a shivering, psychotic, bipolar spirituality convinced that hinging upon their faith performance is both their greatest potential hope and their greatest potential demise. If I believe, do, feel, and think correctly, then all is well—Jesus is on the throne, life is good, I’m forgiven and acceptable, blessings abound, and heaven is a certainty. But, if my faith flounders, my actions wander, my feelings waver, or my thoughts collide, then all is not well—Jesus Himself is now justly unsettled towards me and in some way or another there will surely be a cost to pay in goodness, blessings, favor, and perhaps even the eternal trajectory of my life.

So, in panic and desperation, we turn to the latest “Christian” book, or empowering “Christian” conference, or candle-lit liturgy, or emotional worship chorus, or ritual, or sacrament, or spiritual formula, or good deed, or ministry accomplishment, or breakthrough-promising “to do” list, searching for a fresh syringe from which to inject a hope that is no hope at all into the restless veins of our empty, strung out soul curled in the fetal position grasping for life, hoping that today will finally be the day we “get right” and “get it right” and therefore overcome. But sadly, as Satan’s lips grin from ear to ear and his nails course through his wiry beard, that day never comes and never will.

If the good news of Jesus requires anything from us, anything at all, it is in fact the worst news of all. No matter our greatest intentions or desires, nor even in our best moments of believing or behaving, our spiritual performance always breaks down. In the end, whether with God, ourselves, or others, the good that we know we should do is not what we do, and once again, our capacity to escape ourselves is found foolishly and drastically insufficient. Thus, this mixed, humanly-codependent Gospel we believe turns the key towards freedom from all that shackles us, reveals itself to be the very evil that keeps us imprisoned. Behind every person with a sin problem is first a person, not with a behavior problem, but rather with a condemnation problem in heart, believing themselves to be condemned in some way.  A person with a condemnation problem is first a person, not with an obedience or faith problem, but one who has been tragically kept from the one and only cure—pure Grace, the true Gospel. Only pure Grace heals and empowers, any other mixture of any kind only serves to entice, enflame, and imprison every negative aspect of our lives. Therefore, what is pimped as Christian living is in fact, Christian suffering—humans reduced to spiritual zombies given just enough of a Grace-mixture to sustain a pulse, but never the purity of Grace that brings true freedom, healing, and life. This is spiritual terrorism, a sure kind of hell where nothing ever truly gets better, and conservative, Evangelical Christianity its prince. The very moral decay conservative, Evangelical Christianity licks its lips at ridding from planet earth is the very moral decay it creates, perpetuates, and entices with a mixed Gospel that is impotent to solve anything and virtually omnipotent in poisoning everything.

For where you have a mixed Gospel, there you will have some level of human performance required. Where you have some level of human performance required, there you will have the sure presence of self-righteousness. Where you have the sure presence of self-righteousness, there you will have the perceived spiritual justification for the condemnation, labeling, and judgement of others. Where you have a perceived spiritual justification for the condemnation, labeling, and judgement of others, there you will find every kind of hellish manifestation on earth—racism, sexism, discrimination, hatred, violence, murder, war, homophobia, bigotry, nationalism, elitism, misogyny, legalism, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, division, condemnation, and all the like.

Just ask the forty percent of transgender people who commit suicide each year and the countless others that can’t pee in a public restroom with simple human dignity. Just ask the LGBTQ community who live every waking moment of their lives in fear, discrimination, marginalization, and condemnation sentenced to walk on this planet depressed, shamed, shunned, abused, and even murdered. Just ask the thousands of good, Jesus-loving people who have been put out from their church communities—spiritually oppressed, abused, and terrorized, many to the point of giving up on Christianity all together, if not taking their own lives first as the deep scars of religious shame seem impossible to heal. Just ask the millions of people in cities and nations across the world who have been killed, their communities obliterated, and their cultures and faiths demonized by our nation that has turned the cause of Christ into a militant empire that spiritually justifies war and violence for its existence and furthering. Just ask the 6 million people exterminated in the Holocaust, a cosmic atrocity led by a man named Adolf Hitler who claimed, “My feelings as a Christian point me to see my Lord and Savior as a fighter,” and “the true message of Christianity is only to be found in Nazism,” and “I can imagine Christ as nothing other than blond and with blue eyes…” Just ask millions of black slaves from history and millions of others within our modern black communities today who, by the color of their skin, are predisposed as being inferior, guilty, suspect, lazy, and irresponsible and thus deserving of abuse, exploitation, discrimination, and even death.  All this and tragically more, manifested at the feet and influence of primarily a conservative, Evangelical Christian mindset rooted in a false, mixed Gospel that is no Gospel at all, where many of its adherents have become experts at weaponizing the Bible, spiritually justifying hate, condemning those who think, believe, and act differently, furthering a conservative Christian empire at all costs, and outright sucking the life out of living.

When one connects the dots from source to symptoms, the evil and its roots are undeniable.

Beyond the realm of Christianity, if and where humanity is inherently hateful, carnal, and self-seeking on its own, conservative, Evangelical Christianity only serves to enflame all that is bad into the worst by giving it a spiritual justification that transforms evil into being more evil than evil itself. For Satan has found no greater incubator than conservative, Evangelical Christianity through which to cloak his most diabolical and destructive manifestation ever wielded upon the earth—the spiritual justification of evil birthed from a false, mixed Gospel that is no Gospel at all.

To be sure, this is the Antichrist agenda in full bloom. For if conservative Christianity truly believed in the pure Gospel of Grace and its complete sufficiency, then the Christian life wouldn’t be a test, but a rest—all humanity would be seen as equal, worship would be un-programmable, church would be uncontainable, condemnation would be impossible, differences would be inconsequential, people un-judgeable, skin colors and orientations un-shameable, washing the feet of all others would be fundamental, and love, particularly of one’s enemies, would be unconditionally unconditional. All would be Grace. Church, an open table. Life, a freedom to fully love others and fully be oneself.

For the truly good news of the pure Gospel of Grace through Jesus Christ is this… God is love, Jesus is Grace, and you have been made whole, complete, and irrevocably connected to the Creator—solely based on and by Him who is Love, and nothing based on you or by you who are simply the beloved. God’s greatest desire and the cause of Jesus Christ is to awaken the world to that which has already been settled—He is love, you are the beloved, period. You are blameless, pure, holy, righteous, and fully free, and quite frankly there is nothing you can do about it because Jesus did everything about it. The cross is truly, one and done.

This is life abundantly, this is God completely, this is His heart though His son, irrevocably.

That’s why one writer, seeing the drastic differences and the demonic deception and consequences of a mixed Gospel manifested among people, wrote this…

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving grace of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.” –Galatians 1:6-9

Notice, Paul clearly recognized that God does not call nor come to humanity with a message of condemnation, shame, guilt, fear, spiritual performance, conditions, “to do” steps, behavior modification, or sin management, but rather with one word, one message alone… Grace.

If it’s not all Grace, it’s not all Gospel.

If it’s not all Gospel, it’s pure evil—an evil that should be cursed, no matter how controversial or unpopular it is to do so, even unto death on a cross.

Hate me, criticize me, fart in my general direction—I will not stop sounding the alarm.

Never, no way, no how.

All is Grace.

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

What the Hell?

Lately, hell has become a hot topic; all pun intended.

It might be surprising for you to realize that there is rising, legitimate debate concerning various views of hell. I know what some of my readers might be inclined to think, “But it’s so straight forward in the Bible.”  To that, others would add, “so if anybody has any kind of debate about it, they must be moving away from the plain teachings of the Bible.”

Honestly, I understand that kind of sentiment, I really do. In the past, I had my own list of topics that were “no brainers” when it comes to what one should believe and what the Bible “says.”  My Evangelical grooming as a pastor convinced me that the more you grow as a Christian, the more black and white issues should become to you. Furthermore, once you land on a conclusion that fits with what prevails in Evangelical-world and puts you in good company, you can take off your thinking cap and put your heart and mind on autopilot.

However, when I encountered the Gospel of God’s Grace in its purity, it has caused me and challenged me to revisit beliefs and assumptions I have long held. I mean seriously, if I could spend 42 years of my life and become a highly trained and competent pastor, and yet completely miss the most important thing, the real Gospel, it only makes sense that it would be wise for me to reexamine a lot of spiritual things. Furthermore, once you discover that “God is love” and Jesus is to be the ultimate focus and example, one’s understanding of the Bible and how it addresses certain issues is completely viewed through a different set of lenses. Grace changes everything!

In fact, my move away from feeling so strong and sure about the current, popular Evangelical understanding of hell as the place God justly sends people to be punished with an eternity of excruciating torture who don’t believe and/or obey Him, began with the revelation that “God is love.”  This is where all theology and belief must begin and end, and ultimately be judged.

Since God is love, EVERYTHING that comes from Him must come from and confirm that love. Love is not part of His nature, it is His nature. Furthermore, Jesus is the highest manifestation and example of that love.

So, with that in mind, did Jesus have anything to say about Hell? Well, yes and no.

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. There are four words in the Bible that are mistranslated as “hell.”  These words are: one Hebrew word sheol, and three Greek words hades, tartarus and gehenna. These words do not mean hell as we typically think of it today.

Sheol occurs 65 times in the Hebrew Manuscripts of the Old Testament, and it means the grave (the place of the dead) or the pit, as correctly translated in most modern versions of the Bible.  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 means the grave or the pit.  Tartarus occurs only once in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament in the verse below.

2 Peter 2:4  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.

Please note that God cast the angels (not humanity) who sinned down to tartarus and chained them in darkness, to be reserved for judgement.

Gehenna occurs 12 times in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament, and each time that gehenna occurs, it has been mistranslated to mean hell in several versions of the Bible. Jesus Himself who uses the word gehenna 11 out of the 12 times that gehenna occurs in the Bible, for example in Matthew 18:9.

Matthew 18:9
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell (gehenna) fire.

When Jesus uses the term gehenna fire, I don’t believe He means everlasting, tormenting hell fire in the bottom of the earth as we typically think of today. By the term gehenna fire, Jesus means something much different. Gehenna takes its name from a valley located in Jerusalem called the valley of Hinnom. During Jesus’s time on earth, this valley was used as the city dump. A fire was constantly kept to burn up and consume all of the city’s unwanted junk.

It’s extremely interesting and profound to me that Hebrews 12:9 refers to God as an “all consuming fire.”

Could it be that Jesus was poetically hinting at another entirely different kind of experience for those who reject and rebel from God, one that is actually in the presence of God, the all consuming fire? Keep reading to find out.

It is clear to me that scripture has no one unified word nor description of “hell.” Furthermore, the times Jesus uses the word Gehenna, one must assuredly allow for poetic and symbolic uses thereof.  To allow colorific use of a concept such as “pluck your eye out” as not to be taken literally and yet tie down the use of “Gehenna” in the same sentence to mean a literal place in the bottom of the earth where people are tortured by the wrath of God in eternal flames is a huge stretch at best. Furthermore, that kind of place and reality goes directly against the nature of God, who is love.

So, what is hell? What was Jesus talking about? Is it a real place? How does the God (who is love) have connection to hell? Do I have to believe in a hell that is a never-ending torture from the wrath of God upon people who don’t believe and/or disobey, in order to be faithful to the Bible?

Here are some thoughts…

Hell is real- 

Everybody spends eternity somewhere. We are eternal beings having a physical, bodily experience here on earth. Heaven and hell are two real, eternal experiences.

However, I am not convinced that the reference to actual places associated with words (Sheol, Hades etc.) that are interpreted as “hell” are automatically to be taken literally in interpretation. These descriptions have a far greater chance of being intended to be figurative or symbolic.

Hell is connected to God- 

To suggest that God just allows hell to exist outside of himself and beyond his influence or control is to me, a misguided assertion.

“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:3

“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16

There are no realities, eternal or temporal that do not come from God. God does not take a hands off approach to anything, including “hell.”  If you believe in a torturous, flaming, eternal existence of punishment, you must also believe God is the author and sustainer of it, as He is of everything else.

This is of course, a problematic notion for many. It is the primary issue of the atheist and a growing issue among Christians. God (who is love) would create such a place? The same Jesus who befriends sinners is willing to burn them eternally, no matter how potentially justified? Really? This is God, this is love? The God who is love, who delights in His creation, who sets the stars in their places….this is the best idea He could come up with?

Hell is a reality that takes place in the presence of God- 

Many, in order to justify their view of an angry, torturing, violent God who is justified in sending people to an eternity of unimaginable suffering due to their disbelief and/or disobedience, have interpreted hell to be outside of the presence of God. As if God looks away, can wash His hands, and out of holiness, let hell happen. To them, a fiery, tortuous hell is God’s best idea of what to do with unbelievers. And, they will allow/portray God to take some theological distance from burning, screaming humanity so that He remains holy, and justified in doing so.

I am often amazed how when many allow God to have some inconsistencies, it’s on the side of a willingness to allow Him to be a more violent, torturous, and retributive God instead of a more gracious, loving, merciful, and accepting God. Furthermore, they will go to virtually any interpretive and theological length to prove that God is a violent God who punishes the wicked with internal torture beyond imagination and is Holy, just, and loving in doing so. Some, wanting to kind of disconnect God from it all use statements like, “God doesn’t send anybody to hell, they chose it.” For so many years, I used statements just like that.

But then I realized, that’s like me creating a fire-pit in my backyard, determining it to be a place my kids could go if they don’t believe and act correctly, and then say, as I shrug my shoulders while they scream as their skin melts for all eternity, “Well, I didn’t send them there, they chose it.”  Really? My parental hands are clean, free and clear?

Fortunately, this view of hell as being outside the influence and sustainment of God meets the buzz saw of scripture in passages such as…

“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.” – Revelation 14:10  KJV

 “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.” – Psalm 139:8   KJV

In both these passages, the concept of hell is described as being a reality that is IN the the presence of God.

Ruh, roh, Scooby.

Hell is not God doing something contrary to His nature (love), rather doing more of it.

Here is where we come to the interesting issue of God’s wrath.  It is widely asserted that God’s wrath is the aspect of God that is violent and angry, and desires and executes retribution upon disbelieving humanity.  It is God’s wrath that justly punishes the unrighteous.

However, a deeper look reveals something completely different.

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 and temperamental.

The word “orge” actually means  “any intense emotion” it’s where we get words like  “orgy” and “orgasm” from.

It 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 God pouring out anger and vengeance, or retaliation, but rather furious love; grasping, reaching, shaking to possess every person that they might experience His Grace? Wow, now there is a revelation!

Now for some, that is going to feel like wrath. Why? Because there is nothing more torturous than to be loved by someone who you don’t want to be loved by. To be given love when you don’t want it. To be given Grace when you want no part of it. In all truthfulness, that’s hell.

In fact, the writer James articulates in the Bible that when you love your enemies, it’s as if you were pouring out heaping coals of fire over their heads.

The wrath of God isn’t an expression of God’s hate and contempt, but rather a furious, passionate expression of His love and Grace, reaching, grasping for people to experience His love.

God is not schizophrenic, God is not hate and love at the same time.

Daniel 7:10 refers to a river of fire that flows out from thrown of God. What is that? It’s the white hot love of God.

See, the same sun that hardens clay melts wax. Some people will experience the furious, pure love of God as hate, because they hate being loved by God, they hate pure Grace, trusting in His Grace.

The presence of God is the same. When Moses first met with God being present in a cloud to receive the 10 commandments, he saw that experience as one of glory; a powerful, positive opportunity. Yet, the other people who witnessed that same cloud saw it as an experience of fear. Why? Because they didn’t believe and rebelled against the goodness of God.

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

So what is hell?

Hell is an eternal existence in the presence of God who is love, furiously pouring out His love that all people might experience Grace. It is God (who is love) being God (pouring out more and more love), forever.  It is hell for some because they reject and despise Grace. They hate Jesus and His unconditional love. The same Grace and love that is heaven for many, is hell for some.  The difference is in belief. The difference is in heart.

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

It’s interesting that in truth you can’t reject Grace. You can’t stop it’s presence, pursuit, favor, or blessings over your life. You can only love or not love it. Loving, believing, trusting Grace fills your life with heavenly rest. Not loving, believing, and trusting Grace serves to fill your life with hellish frustration and angst. It never leaves you, you can never leave it. Only love it, or not.

God never changes. He is love.

I love how Robert Capon states it…

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

 

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2019 Chris Kratzer

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: