Tag: legalism (page 1 of 2)

Trump-Loving Conservative Christian, Excuse Me For Expecting You To Act Like Jesus

What was I thinking, right?

Feeling like Charlie Brown, flat on his back with stars spinning around his head after Lucy exploits him once again with the infamous kick-the-football trick—how could I be so stupid?

I guess I should have known better, history tells the tale. Conservative Christianity in all its many forms has sadly been an undeniable contributor to more human atrocities than perhaps any other faith group. The Crusades, the pillaging of the American Indian, the rise of Nazism, black slavery, sexism, the demonization of the LGBTQ community, and the onset of Transgender suicides are just a few examples. Find me a place where discrimination, spiritual oppression, bigotry, sexism, racism, imperialism, and the drums of war abound, and there you will have found, in some order or fashion, the direct influence of conservative Christianity.

Yet, with all your state-of-the-art worship facilities as far as the eye can see, and books upon books about Christian living. With million dollar celebrity pastors, inspirational conferences, hip concert t-shirts, and clever bumperstickers calling me to repentance. With all your sin-busting accountability partners, schools, colleges, and radio stations. With Bibles for every interest group and study guides to go with them, you almost had me reconsidering—maybe you’ve changed?

The way you quote scripture so easily and raise your hands in worship so passionately. The way you claim the inside scoop to all that is truth so confidently, and put on such a glistening smile so convincingly. The way your children win top prize at nearly every “Bible memorization” contest, fold their hands in school prayer, and have those cute little “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets. I mean, just the sheer mass and volume of scriptural Memes that daily adorn your Facebook page—certainly, you’ve turned over a new leaf and things must be altogether different.

No more bigotry, discrimination, double-standards, self-centeredness, legalism, condemnation, and overall spiritual nastiness—it’s a new day with an all new heart for Jesus, right?

Just when I started to believe again—renewed my hope in hope. Just when I was ready to be the proud prodigal father and usher in a planet-shaking party. You elected him, you support him now, and the love affair still continues. Trump—the bright orange flare shot out of hell as a sure sign and declaration that nothing about conservative Christianity has changed, but tragically has become far worse. Even Satan himself tires of his tomfoolery.

Never has there been a more childish, dishonorable, arrogant, hypocritical, salacious and unpresidential President in all of American history. Worst of all, apparently none of that matters to you and some within your tribe actually celebrate it. The nationalism of your conservative faith, the preservation of your privilege, the full fruition of your xenophobia, and the expanse of your spiritual policing, are apparently worth the hypocrisy it’s costing you and the countless lives it’s destroying. Hell has no fury and Jesus has no enemy like a Trump-loving conservative Christian.

With all due respect, your diabolical joke-of-a-gospel is no Gospel at all—seducing people into a pretentious, performance-driven, self-righteous, elitist, white-centered, male-dominated cult that looks nothing like Jesus, all while pimping it as biblical faithfulness. It’s a grand cosmic scheme, whose primary purpose is to spiritualize hate, discrimination, greed, imperialism, violence and condemnation—turning Jesus into the hood ornament of your world bulldozer.

Yet, the best ideas you’ve contrived in defense of your creed and its orange-haired messiah, is to point fingers at Hilary’s mistakes, diminish Obama’s presidency, and bullhorn your talking points and proof texts in hopes of drowning out your dissenters.

Well, excuse me for expecting you to act like Jesus.

Excuse me for being a tad bit embarrassed when you dare to call yourself a Christian.

Excuse me for getting upset when I see you leave the poor helpless, deny healthcare benefits, and prosper the rich at the hands of your ruthless insatiable appetite for power and privilege.

Excuse me when I vomit at the sound of your empty, self-aggrandizing worship while you belittle, ostracize, marginalize, and build walls against refugees, foreigners, and immigrants.

Excuse me why my neck veins bulge at your condemnation of the LGBTQ community with greek words in a book that were not translated to mean “homosexual” until conveniently in 1945, by conservative Christians.

Excuse me while I raise my eyebrows at all your legalistic self-righteous sin-inspecting ways, while your make-up ladened daughters dance in two-piece costumes, sixty percent of your husbands and pastors watch pornography, and your divorce rate is higher than that of atheists.

Excuse me when I choke on my spit, when you stand on the sidelines of everyone’s sexuality, as if you have the divine authority to dictate every play—especially when it seems like your the one with the issues, wanting most to get into the game.

Excuse me for the face-palm when you put on display the full fanfare of your racism, deprecating people of minority who protest, express rage, and demand rightful justice in ways that are not to your privileged comfort or liking.

Excuse me when I grow in anger and frustration with every legislation you seek to impose that reverses the desegregation of our school systems, Christianizes public education, and further turns our country of religious freedom into a totalitarian Christian state and nation.

Excuse me when I laugh in disgust at all your boycotting, demands, and vacillation with Transgender people in bathrooms, when more sexual crimes are committed in public restrooms by Republican politicians than have ever been committed by a Transgender person.

Excuse me when I cringe at all your claims to be a people and a faith that are pro-life, when you portray God and interpret the Scriptures in every way possible that justifies the spiritual, emotional, and even physical death of the people with whom you disagree or deem to be the enemy.

Yes, excuse me.

Excuse me when I call you on the carpet for electing and supporting a President who couldn’t even meet your church’s requirements for serving in the nursery.

To be sure, we’re all saved by Grace, but this is getting ridiculous.

Where you take and deny, Jesus gives and blesses.

Where you build taller walls, Jesus builds longer tables.

Where you judge and condemn, Jesus loves and embraces.

Where you huddle in like-minded clubs with crosses on top, Jesus is serving and unconditionally loving the masses.

Where you quote and proof-text, Jesus redefines, reinterprets, and puts love at the highest place.

Where your faith seeks to make the most of you, Jesus seeks to serve the least of these.

Where you smite, deny, and demonize the enemy, Jesus is giving Grace and loving scandalously.

Where you elect, embrace, and support such a Christ-less president, Jesus asks the sure question, “are you serious?”

You want to silence my rants, convict me of overgeneralization, and declare me to be equally as judging. To that, my response is pure and simple. As much as you tout yourself to the world as being all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips—excuse me for expecting you to act like Jesus.

What was I thinking?

Evidently, just because there’s a cross on top, a Bible in hand, or verses in a Facebook post, doesn’t mean there’s Jesus—in a building, mind, or heart. In fact, more and more, it’s becoming a sad indication, He’s probably not.

Trump-loving conservative Christian, excuse me for expecting you to act like Jesus.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

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.

If This Is What It Means To Be A Progressive, I’m Out

I am deeply proud and honored that there are many who would call me “progressive” and include me in their fellowship.

Those that know my heart and are familiar with my writings understand me to be an outspoken voice standing in fierce solidarity with those bullied, marginalized, discriminated against, and condemned by significant segments of conservative Christianity and privileged society as a whole. I have been highly critical of conservative Evangelicalism and a passionate advocate for the LGBTQ community.

Having been, years ago, an anti-LGBTQ, racist, conservative, Evangelical pastor myself, the radical change of mind and heart I experienced in regard to these and many other issues came solely from revelations of divine Truth. I have no skin in the game, only that first and foremost, as a lover of the Gospel of God’s pure Grace through Jesus Christ, I am also fervently convinced that all humanity is beautifully and wonderfully made, affirmed, and euphorically delighted in by our Creator. Grace is the great equalizer—none of us better, only different—all of us, divine.

As a Grace-guy, I find myself resisting and even cringing at both conservative and progressive entities whose seemingly chief desire is to assimilate me into their ideological Borg—discerning my value and worth and their interest and affiliation with me based primarily on my willingness to conform to their scrolls of codes and creeds, blindly echoing their every sentiment to the exclusion of my own.

Grace makes me a free thinker, believer, soul, and human being. I fit in no box, nor can any label affixed upon me, perfectly stick. I am unique, beautifully complicated, and wholly divine—Grace has made me so. I will protect the sacred diversity that is me and seek out a unity and community that is founded on a love, not of what we share, but on so much of what we don’t.

Thankfully, among “progressives,” I often find such a place. So many of us are beautifully inclusive and humbly hospitable to those who harbor differing beliefs. We fully understand what it’s like to be a toy on Misfit Island and to be on the receiving end of condemnation’s fiery darts. With boldness and bravery, our ethos stands for so much of what Jesus extended His arms. To be sure, I am a proud “progressive.”

Yet, at times, it seems there are nuances among certain segments of the “progressive” movement that solicit in me concern and even a desire to create some distance. With an unsettled spirit, I wonder if there will come a day when these questionable observations are found to be truly indicative of where things are going and what will be required to be a real-deal “progressive,” knowing that if this is who I must become in order to carry the banner—then sadly, I’m going to have to bow out.

For example, if I have to become a Smug, Pretentious, Elitist—respectfully, I’m out.

Is there a good bit of ignorance within our culture today? You bet. Are there people who are determined to misunderstand even the clearest of common sense and truth? Yes, and amen. Are there those who blatantly refuse to examine important issues from perspectives outside their own? Absolutely. Are there conservative Christians I want to punch in throat? Damn straight I do.

However, is everyone who disagrees with me a stupid, ignorant, uneducated redneck? Absolutely not. Am I somehow better than them because I have come to believe certain things and adopt certain views? Never, no way.

I find nothing “progressive” about holding onto ones beliefs so tightly that we become an ideologically constipated, self-righteous jerk in the process—creating exclusive clubs of like-minded people who conveniently house a double-standard of tolerance.

We can’t expect those with whom we disagree to truly listen and consider our message from the high tower of a self-aggrandized, ego-ladened enlightenment or closed-knit, hifalutin communities. When Jesus was given all power and authority—the sum of all enlightenment and progress, His first action wasn’t to smugly declare how astute and empowered He is and how juvenile and impotent are all others. No, his first action was to humbly serve, and that—washing feet, even of those who would deny, disagree, and betray Him and His cause.

There are serious levels of ignorance, evil, and systematic deception that must be boldly and aggressively corrected in our culture, but only a default attitude of humility and true inclusiveness will create the needed posture.

If I have to become an Impulsive, Ill-informed Alarmist—respectfully, I’m out.

We have serious problems in this world, many stemming from conservative, religious circles—particularly Christian. There are real people dying, being abused, discriminated against, marginalized, and even taking their own lives at the hands of religiously-driven hate. For our cities, states, country, and people everywhere, these are terrible realities and constant threats that must cause us alarm and solicit our assertive action.

Yet, in my mind, this urgency is all the more reason I must resolve that my words be credible, and my positions and actions be accurately informed. In the heat of battle, it’s easy to cast aside restraint and settle for unfortunate instances of misguided collateral damage in the wake of our rage. This is almost unavoidable in our social media-driven culture where the truth, is at times, hard to ascertain.

However, if my default position has to become one where I swing at every pitch that comes across the plate, swallow every “breaking news” report, buy into every Facebook post—crying foul and screaming “fire” with every perceived action of the enemy, then with all due respect, I’m out.

Grace teaches me to never bury my head in the sand nor ever believe that silence is always a virtue. Indeed, sometimes the sky is truly falling and someone needs to shout it from the rooftops, even taking up arms for the fight. Many times I have been that very person, saying the tough things that need to be said, and risking much in doing so.

But Grace also teaches me not to strike at everything that moves. If I have to take a default position where any piece of information that casts a negative shadow upon those with whom I disagree is automatically assumed to be true in whole or part, out of lust for more of that which can further justify my positions and my plight, then with all due respect, I’m out.

I get it, for so many of us, myself included, our radar screens are set on high alert, and rightly so. These are dangerous times and there are sure amounts of defensiveness needed to be taken, paranoia to be had, rage to be expressed, and rants to be written. Nothing reddened the face and swelled the neck veins of Jesus more than religiously-spirited, bigoted and discriminating people who withheld Grace and sowed seeds of injustice and violence.

But that doesn’t change my responsibility to see good where I can see good, give the benefit of the doubt where I can grant it, cast off fear where it’s safe to do so, wait for the facts where waiting is what’s needed, proclaim innocence where there is innocence, and render benign that is which is benign—especially where in doing so corrects my perceptions and even disarms my rage.

If I am going to be taken advantage of, abused, or discarded, I’d personally rather it be while living a life from a default posture of believing in the best than a life imprisoned by always assuming the worst. Never is there a more important time to believe in hope and love then when we are tempted to conclude that worshiping fear would be better.  And never is there a more poignant way to spit in the face of our enemies then when we are still yet determined to believe in the good when our enemies would have us to be consumed by the bad.

If I have to become a Pro-Choice Militant—respectfully, I’m out.

There is perhaps no more complex issue of debate in all of our culture today than abortion.

I understand the fragile and polarizing nuances of this issue and continue to vigorously study them out from the perspectives of both sides—biblically, scientifically, and psychologically. I totally respect all people of all viewpoints who know where they stand regarding this sensitive topic, and do so boldly.

Yet, if being a “progressive” means that I can’t settle, at least for a season, in an area of grey and have serious inhibitions about prematurely pitching tent in any one camp regarding such a multi-layered and important issue, then with all due respect, I’m out—lest I find myself succumbing to an all new form of fundamentalism masked in “progressive” veneer, where I’ve simply jumped from the narrow-minded ovens of conservative, Evangelical Christianity into a whole new kind of legalistically-spirited frying pan.

On one side, I can’t silence the voices nor bleach the images of real mothers crying in my office wishing they had never been granted the choice to abort their child—for them, the guilt and regret is life destroying. Nor, on the other side, can I silence the pain of real mothers who have been raped or forced into ultimate situations of life and death, and fathom the retraction, in those moments, of their right to chose.

In the same way that love, is love, is love, at times I wonder if maybe also—life, is life, is life. Right now, it’s all fading to grey, and if that can’t be o.k., with all due respect, I’m out. For if it’s not the issue of abortion today, it will be another complicated issue tomorrow of which, for a season, I may be uncertain or undecided.

If I have to become an Ideological Slave—respectfully, I’m out.

Having traveled around the block a few times, I have determined that I’m just not going to be owned by anyone or anything. I’m not going to be dragged around like a dog on a leash by the ideological expectations of others, no matter how noble.

If being a “progressive” means I have to surgically hate all the right people, disagree with all the right things, and oppose all the right viewpoints—carefully making sure to color within all the “progressive” lines, then with all due respect, I’m out.

If it means, for the sole purpose of keeping informed by their posts populating my timeline, I can’t “like” the Facebook page of a person or entity with whom I or another disagrees without being threatened the loss of “progressive” support, friendship, or association—respectfully, I’m out.

Spiritually speaking, God’s revelation throughout history and over the span of our individual lives is a progressive one—God is continually revealing more and more truth through our awakening to more and more Truth. This requires me to be open and never leaning upon my own understandings to the exclusion of my willingness to consider things anew.

I’m a human being on a journey for crying out loud—not a “progressive” project where the primary goal is to conform and carbonite me into a set of beliefs, positions, and behaviors. That is regressive, not progressive—an act of the Empire, not the Rebellion.

There is a complexity to each of us on our paths to encounter God, ourselves, and the world—seeking to arrive at the Truth of it all. If being a “progressive” does not allow for people to be where they are at, wander along this path of enlightenment, and still find, at some level, inclusive community among us at all points along the way, then with all due respect, I’m out.

If the fruits of being a “progressive” is in the creating of peasants, cloned to simply serve an Empire under a spiffy new name, I’m out.

If I have to become a Hyper-Offended Watchdog—respectfully, I’m out.

I have no reservation nor restraint in declaring from the mountain tops that nothing is more offensive to the person and cause of Jesus Christ than conservative, Evangelical Christianity and the violent, discriminatory, bigoted actions and attitudes of many of its adherents.

In the same way, as a communicator and writer, I firmly believe nothing is perhaps more important than the words and terms we use, requiring our educated carefulness and intentionality while giving priority to how our vocabulary is received and internalized by the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. The common phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me” is a sure lie from the pits of hell and a convenient copout for the privileged. Words carry with them the power of life and death, and far too many, with intention or not, use them in ways that hurt, abuse, destroy, belittle, demean, and demonize the very people and things God loves and affirms so dearly. This is a severe, epidemic in our culture and world as a whole, and many are dying from the mere weaponizing of words.

Yet, if my default posture when navigating what can be a very ignorant, discriminating, hateful, and careless world, must become one devoid of common sense while focusing every creative fiber of my mental being in the seeking out and connecting of discriminatory, racist, privileged, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and condemning dots where there are none in reality or intent to connect, then respectfully, I’m out.

There is far more than enough in our world for which to take necessary and appropriate offense without having to fabricate or make much out of what is truly benign or all together nonexistent.

I know I will always be a Grace-guy and most certainly a “progressive” in heart who passionately wants to be a contributing member of this important movement, but if these are the kinds of things I must become to keep the keys to the kingdom, then with all due respect, I’m out.

Grace is brave, be brave.

Is Jesus Gay?

At times, there is silence for a reason as some things are best said by being left unsaid.

That there is no mention of Jesus’ sexual orientation in scripture is perhaps reflective of a profound, cosmic reality that one’s gender nor orientation are a prerequisite for determining that which is of the Divine. To the dismay of much of western Christianity, Jesus wasn’t purposed on being imaged into a caucasian, American, heterosexual, republican, gun-owning, blue-eyed, conservative male with flowing locks of brown hair—but rather He is the surest example of what it truly looks like to simply be fully human and fully rested in the Divine.

Was or is Jesus gay in terms of sexual orientation or behavior? I don’t believe so—but it certainly doesn’t matter. For being gay is about so much more than mere sexual orientation or gender identification. It’s about being a beautifully created soul adorned with eternal extravagance imaged in the splendor of the Creator, who no less bears the arduous task of navigating their unique, human experience through the minefields of a brutally inhumane world that would quickly ransack those who break religious molds, clawing to strip them of their divine value, identity, purpose and worth. Beyond the gravity of sexuality and orientation, this is the deeper, ultimate essence of the plight intrinsic to being gay—to be fully human and fully alive while sweating beads of blood in determination to find one’s way and hold onto one’s inherent dignity and God-delighting in a spiritually nefarious, different-condemning, and different-killing world.

In this way, Jesus was surely gay.

For in the face of being ostracized and derided by His own Nazareth family of bigots determined to misunderstand Him, Jesus is the gay man and the lesbian woman who live in the constant, gruesome torment of coming out, being known, and fully living their God-designed personhood—a kind of hell on earth of daily accusation and rejection God never weaved into the tapestry of what anyone should endure.

Or crying over Jerusalem, begging for His heart to be understood and His people to receive Him, Jesus is the parent who lies awake deep into the night, tirelessly fighting in solidarity for the defense, worth, dignity and affirmation of the LGBT child God has blessed them, but the religious deem a disgrace—Jesus, not just the parent, but also too the LGBT child born innocent by the Spirit’s authoring, pursued by the cunning Herods of our world whose sure desire is to seek out and kill them.

There, praying in the garden of Gethsemane, begging for divine reprieve, Jesus is the lesbian teenager, trembling in terror as she cuts her arms and threads the noose, convinced that giving up is the only way out, and the only sure resolve to the pain that is before her.

In the outer courts, confronted by the religious through the evil venom of their creed—backed into a corner, a pointed finger pushing at His chest questioning His true identity, Jesus is the transgender person whose truth is too truthful for the world to hear nor see.

Then, from the confines of Pilate’s Praetorium where flogged beyond recognition, to a savage, religiously-conspired cross where nailed, pierced and left to die of internal suffocation, Jesus is the Orlando night club and every LGBT person ever murdered in body, mind or spirit—crucified to death by religion, ignorance, and hate, and even good people who remain silent and unengaged.

In all these ways, Jesus is surely gay—not just gay, but One of us all for whom religion has demonized, illegitimized, and crucified in hate.

For Jesus didn’t die just for humanity, He died as humanity—all of it. Transgender, black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor, conservative, progressive—the haters, the lovers, the lifted high, the beaten low, the Christians, the Muslims—every type, color, creed, and flavor.

Everywhere there is religious oppression, everywhere there is bigotry, discrimination, or injustice—where there is the branding with labels or the withholding of Grace, Jesus is there in Person and as the person being deprived of that which has been given to them freely and irrevocably from the goodness of His Name.

In this way, if you can’t handle the notion of Jesus being gay then you aren’t fully understanding the essence of Jesus being you.

To be you or to be gay is essentially one in the same—it’s what it means for all of us to simply be human, created in the likeness, image, and favor of our Maker, living in a religious world that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy all that His hands have made, with special sights on that which the religious deem inferior or against the grain.

Run your fingers through the strands of an LGBT soul, then through mine, or that of any other, and soon you will declare the only declaration that can be truthfully rendered—that none are better, only different. For the sooner we see Jesus in and as the people around us, the sooner the lenses of God’s affirming view become the windows through which we see ourselves and all humanity.

If Jesus isn’t gay then Jesus isn’t you, and if Jesus isn’t you, then the incarnation is a fake, and your resurrection a certain uncertainty.

No one chooses to be LGBT, but in Christ Jesus, God has chosen to be—not just One of them, but He even does the unthinkable and dares to be One of you.

Yes, that’s right.

Jesus is gay, Jesus is me, and Jesus is even…

You.

Is Evangelical Christianity The Antichrist?

There is great speculation in regards to the reality and essence of the antichrist. Differing descriptions are given throughout the Bible, many of which have been leveraged by Hollywood-style dramatization. Be it a real person or government— many entities or a singular manifestation, the one thing that holds all viewpoints in common is the clear presence of an anti-Christ spirit that stands against Jesus in action, word, and creed.

For many, the predominant conclusion is that the antichrist is some kind of carnal, sin-dripping, non-believing, God-hating entity from the world that desires to thwart all things Christ, especially when viewed as a singular, eschatological figure. Popular, individual candidates have been Hitler, Obama, Caesar, and Napoleon.

For those Christians who paint with a broader brush, identifying the antichrist is centered on looking for the brightest blip on the radar screen of organizations, ideologies, and cultural realities believed to be wielding the most anti-christian, sin-seductive activity in the world. Homosexuality, ISIS, and liberalism have been frequently declared as primary contenders.

Bottom line, whoever or whatever is determined to be deserving of this diabolical label, the “antichrist” serves as yet another “they” or “them” that fundamentalists can rage against and leverage with fear for the conversion of souls.

It all seems so cut and dry, does it not? Revealing the antichrist is simply a conservative Christian, finger-point away.

Not so fast.

If you asked Jesus to cast a spotlight, revealing a person or people who are best qualified for the antichrist label, He wouldn’t bull’s-eye a demonic candidate from the sinning world, not even a Herod, a Pontius Pilate, or the likes of a Roman Empire— though all certainly anti-Jesus in their own way. Rather, His eyes would gaze straight into the heart of the religious, as they have pierced many times before.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”  –Matthew 23:15

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”  –Matthew 23:17-28

In the same way, I find it interesting when examining the primary biblical descriptions used by conservatives in determining the antichrist, or a spirit thereof.

“Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction”  -2 Thessalonians 2:3

“By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.”  1 John 4:2-3

On the surface, it would seem these two passages serve as a slam dunk for conservative Christians in the identifying of the antichrist as a worldly, liberal, pantheistic, wayward, sin-loving, Jesus-debunking, progressive-minded entity who dwells outside of their Christian fundamentalism.

However, a deeper look reveals something much different.

First, the “lawless” person described in 2 Thessalonians is widely misunderstood. It’s a reference often used by conservatives as a clear determination that the antichrist is one whose lifestyle is characterized by licentiousness and a blatant disregard for doing what is right and good in the eyes of God. Therefore, the antichrist is easily revealed by their disobedient, sinful, morally rebellious actions. Find a person or reality that is living or advocating choices of sin, and there you have it— easy peasy, lemon squeezy, you’re the next contestant on “The Antichrist is Right.”

However, “lawlessness” can’t be referring to the Law or fulfilling any kind of legalistic, moral standard or spirit thereof through personal performance, as Paul declared, we are “under Grace, not Law.” In fact, it is under this Grace that Jesus flips the tables of religious thinking and ushers in a radical new way of calibrating our life and living, turning our attention fully away from any efforts to appease God (Law) through our faithfulness, to a focus on simply loving people (a life of Grace).

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34

The truth is, if there is any kind of “law” in our lives, under Grace, it is solely to love people— completely, thoroughly, and unconditionally. This is to be the singular, exclusive focus and foundation of any impulse or action in our Christian lives.

Being “lawless” isn’t adopting a life of moral rebellion or missing the mark of Christian obedience, but rather, becoming a loveless person. For to be lawless, is to be loveless. Period.

Second, the passage from 1 John 4 focuses on Jesus and His manifestation of God— in other words, the author is appealing for a firm understanding of who Jesus is and what He brings.

For conservatives, this passage, and others like it, are wrapped as clear admonitions that an antichrist label can be firmly affixed to anyone or anything that doesn’t properly repent of their sins, turn to Jesus as their salvation, and sandblast their lives into moral, conservative purity.

This is the very essence of the Evangelical gospel of who Jesus is and what He brings— the world is bad, people are a project, and we have exclusive revelation and rights to the solution. Believe in our Jesus, repent of our list of sins, become discipled in our “sin recovery and management” programs, agree to stand against all the things we stand against as you learn to spiritually police a wayward world, and adopt our elitist lifestyle of “hating the sin and loving the sinner” all while you sing choruses of how “on fire” and “radical” you are for Jesus— hands in the air of course.

Oh, and one more itsy bitsy, wee-little thing. If you don’t subscribe to this playlist, our same people-loving Jesus will drop-kick you into the eternal barbecue pit down under where somehow you will be separated from an omnipresent God to be tortured forever as people in heaven high-five with rousing hymns of “He is Holy and Just.” Not to mention, we will be forced to draw the only conclusion available—since you are anti-us, you are obviously anti-Christ. We love you, we really do… but.

The problem is, that’s not the Gospel. That is not who Jesus is and what He brings.

Jesus is Grace, and Grace is the Gospel. It’s all Grace.

There is only Grace. Period.

This is the divine, cosmic assertion from the megaphone of heaven that rings salvation to the broken and torment to the religious.

Through the cross, it’s all one-and-done. Salvation, for all. Wholeness, holiness, sanctification, righteousness and justification, for all. New creation life, without blemish or condemnation, for all. Grace, love, acceptance, and affirmation, for all.

None are better, only different. Grace, the great equalizer—lifting the condemned, deflating the condemners, writing us all onto the same page and into the same plot— rendering all our performance as irrelevant to the leveraging of God, and ourselves over and above another.

Salvation isn’t something you get, sanctification isn’t something you become, holiness isn’t something you achieve, it’s who you already are and what you already have, because of Jesus.  And faith— your effortless, beautiful awakening to all this, that Jesus has fully furnished and finished on humanity’s behalf.

As you believe it, you feel it, you desire it, and you live it. Grace upon Grace. Breathing for the first time.

There is nothing left to do, only everything to believe— God is love, Jesus is Grace, and His Gospel is peace.

It’s as simple and good as that.

Everything else is just a spiritual veil to an empty life— a vaping of the Law as if it’s the Gospel, inhaling death as if it’s life.

The most anti-Christ thing one can believe is that God is anything but pure love, Jesus is anything but Grace, and our lives should exhibit and manifest anything but unconditional love for all people— no “ifs,” “ands” or “buts.”

The most anti-Christ thing one can do is to look to our efforts, however spiritual they may seem, and believe any of it actually works with God or ourselves— brainwashing people into a life of spiritual striving and a subtle positioning of oneself as better than another, having the capacity and even a calling to judge, change, or condemn.

That, is to believe and do what is pure evil and anti-Christ.

For the message of Grace takes the Law and sin so seriously that it bows down its entirety to the sobering reality that no one can summon the will nor apply enough spiritual “to do’s” to master or manage it. It takes Jesus so seriously, that no bible, denomination, organization or person can perfectly reveal the Father but Him. It takes Grace so seriously, disarmed by the awareness that nothing else works to change or empower. It takes God so seriously, that love is all He is and all He brings, exclusively and completely. It takes the Christian life so seriously, that all we can, and are capable and called to do, is to simply love, as God first loved us, without condition.

It’s Jesus + nothing, or your gospel is nothing but anti-Christ ladened, bad news.

Yet sadly, as much as I love all my Christian brothers and sisters and wish my observations and experience could surmise a different conclusion, I can’t identify a more Jesus-misrepresenting and loveless manifestation on earth outside of Evangelical Christianity— whose blatant hallmarks are a law-mixed, performance-driven gospel, legalism, judgementalism, bigotry, discrimination, condemnation, and spiritual elitism— all in the name of Jesus.

Disgusting.

To be sure, for some, they are unaware of what comes in the Evangelical to-go box from which they consume. For others, they do not subscribe to all the artificial adding and fillings immersed in this brand of faith —doing their best to eat around it. In that way, the term “Evangelical” will always be imperfect in its use. For that, I apologize.

However, if your are looking for the antichrist or its spirit among us, before you go pointing fingers, perhaps a mirror would best do. Somewhere along the way, we have too open our eyes to the heights from which we have fallen.

What is and has been the primary catalyst behind the uprising of rampant prejudice in America and beyond?

What is turning more generations of people away from Christianity and the person of Jesus?

What keeps more people from loving freely without restraint, restriction, condition or apprehension?

What has caused more people in the LGBTQ community to lose hope, spiral into depression, and even hang a noose to take their own lives?

What has marginalized, minimized, and deprived more women of their equal rights, status, gifting, calling and capabilities within the faith community and all of life?

What has enticed and imprisoned more people into a life of sin and hypocrisy through the proclamation of the Law and the mixing of it into the Gospel?

What has personified God more as an angry, vengeful, schizophrenic drunk who storms out of heaven to love you one moment and hate you the next?

What has done more to turn “church” into a club of pretentious people who talk amongst themselves and judge the world?

What has inspired this great nation, from our birth all the way into our present, to justify more acts of violence, hatred, privilege, and greed?

One answer: Evangelical Christianity

Behind every legislation of discrimination, transgender suicide, homophobic rant, sin-enslaved  human, dechurched follower, and disillusioned Christian is the touch of Evangelical Christianity, in part or whole, directly or indirectly. This is the print our steps are making and the legacy we are leaving— a ministry of emotional, spiritual, and physical death pimped as the way, truth, and life.

Oh how we Christians have become experts at not only missing the point and the plot, but missing the very people and creeds contributing most to the sabotaging of all that is truly Jesus and what He brings.

Look no further, it is us, we are the “they”— the fallen from Grace.

Perhaps, of all that would seem to be so easily anti-Christ, we are the most anti-Christ of all— loveless, Graceless, and therefore, Jesus-less— addicted to our self-requiring Gospel and a love filled with conditions, the very attributes that Jesus discerned and declared as most anti-Himself.

Why Modern Christianity Makes People Vomit

It’s not a new revelation that modern Christianity is on the decline, especially the American brand. There are growing numbers of good, thinking people who are vomiting out the spiritual elitism, arrogance, and religiosity that oozes out of the pores of countless Christians and their church culture. Yet sadly, as many that yell “fire” in hopes to solicit a cure, most Christians simply resolve to bury their heads in the sand and cling to their black and white, cut and paste spiritualities. Like Linus with his blanket, nose-blind to their own reality, many Christians refuse to let go of the very things that make them stink—sending many, kneeling to the porcelain altar, vomiting it all out.

There are real reasons for all the upchucking— many that are hard to hear, but nonetheless, true. I don’t pretend to believe any of this will make much of a difference, only that someone should have the guts to unveil the true reasons for all the spewing.

We Know You are Faking It-  When the Christian life is centered on one’s spiritual performance, the best anyone can do is pretend— we know you’re pretending.

What you are proclaiming as the cure is really the poison. Your focus on sin, sin-management, and personal, spiritual improvement only imprisons people to the futility of their efforts to get better—leaving them addicted to the lie that if they would just try harder, pray longer, or do more spiritual things, one day they’ll arrive. We see you drink in the motivational messages, the calls to “get radical” for Jesus. We hear the fear tactics and religious prescriptions, the weight you place on guilt and shame. We see the wads of cash you lay down for the latest “to do” books on Christian living and the conferences that peddle them. It’s all about you and your quest to become somebody for Jesus.

Yet, we aren’t fooled, for all the WWJD stickers lining your bumper, we see that nobody is living it like you pretend to be. We are wide awake to the spiritual game of competitive Christianity you are playing.

The truth is, your faith is undoable, leaving people with the only thing left to choose— look the part, go through the motions, and hope nobody sees behind the veil to the ghost town of your spiritual life. There should be no surprise to see countless people simply opting out, realizing it’s more genuine to stay home than it is to be a part.

Grace is the only power that changes anything. Grace proclaims it’s not your performance that defines you, it’s Christ’s. Grace awakens us to the reality that we are already whole, complete, sanctified, justified, pure, holy, righteous, and saved—with no reason for any sense of guilt, shame, fear, or condemnation dwelling in our lives. The very things your modern Christianity are trying to work into our souls are the very things Jesus erased. The Gospel of Jesus is all Grace, or it’s not all Gospel. Grace levels the playing field—none are better, only different.

Yet sadly, Grace isn’t sufficient for you. You’d rather play a losing game and gather others around the misery of your hopeless spiritual plight, while believing its salvation—addicted to the Law you are pimping as Gospel. All, while the spiritual and moral decline of those under your legalistic chemtrails increases all the more as they breathe in your toxin—sending the masses vomiting to the hills.

You Say Stupid Stuff You Think Is Spiritual-  The talking points you’ve cocked and loaded for any given moment, the spiritual cue cards ready for the perfect “Christian” response, the cheesy Facebook memes with outdated fonts and clip art, all leave people inwardly concluding, “Gag me with a multi-colored pitchfork.”

We can tell, though perhaps your intentions are good, you don’t have much of a grasp on the script you are repeating, and for some, there’s a sure void of genuine heart behind what rolls off the tongue. Things like, “I’ll be praying for you,” “God will never give you more than you can handle,” “You just need to press into God more,” “Hate the sin and love the sinner” all render people flat and spiritually comatose.

Chances are, it really wasn’t about actually praying, and even if you do pray, does that mean God will now magically release a blessing on one’s behalf that He was withholding in wait for your petition? Who’s in control of God anyways? You? God? I have a hard time believing a pithy little statement asserting what “God gives you to handle” is going to resonate with a dying cancer patient and their desperate family. Does God really “give” that stuff out anyways, and out of the goodness of His little heart, stops just a wee-bit short of “too much?” Besides, how exactly does one “press into God” more? Is there a special valve you push, some hip-posture you take? What does that even mean?

How about just genuinely caring about people beyond a prepackaged response, getting involved in their lives, walking with them a mile or two, and leave the Christian talking points on the pew.

You Suck At Being Human-  It’s pretty obvious, at least the impression you create— you care more about rule-keeping, creed-following, and church-life than you do about real people, especially those who are offensive to you.

Surely to your surprise, when onlookers observe your Christian life they conclude that becoming more like you is a downgrade, not an upgrade. For to walk upon your path and adopt your values is to become more judgmental, arrogant, phony, exhausted, and legalistic —loving less, enjoying less, and being free… less.

It’s all a drag, a constant spiritual skate on thin ice— parsing every word and action. You boast of a freedom that looks more like prison. You can’t love simply for the sake of loving, there always has to be a catch— some kind of condition, restriction, or spiritual agenda. It’s all so complicated and involved. Line after line of fine print— swimming in a sea of forever pretentiousness.

Why can’t you just be human?

Like Jesus.

Your Worship Is Empty-  For all the subwoofers, intelligent lighting, video packages, church-franchising, and skinny jeans, as much as you may have a heart to “reach” people, you come off like a microwaved hamburger; done on the outside, still frozen in the middle.

Sure, people come, and it all may be musically, visually, and architecturally impressive, but a show never changed anyone; at least, not in the right ways. Where are the choruses, “My life sucks right now, and so does God?” I know, that would be too raw and real to where many are truly at I guess— doesn’t fit a starch-ironed, pleated theology, or look good on LED-shaded projection screens. Since when is a healthy faith journey simply a matter of inspiration, cutting and pasting bullet-points, and conjuring up the determination to give another college-try at becoming a better, “sold-out-for-Jesus” person the upcoming week.

By the way, how’s that going for you— all the “becoming a better person for Jesus” stuff? Well, I can tell you— the world sees, that behind all the religious theatre, it’s not. Nobody is getting fooled, but you.

Why? Because light shows, movies, television specials, clever spiritual acronyms, inspiration, and self-determination never changed anyone. Only Grace can, and does.

Shows are easy— loving people, giving Grace, being real… much more messy—all that money can’t buy.

The world is insulted that you approach them like a commercial audience to be inspired into a sale.  People are too smart for that, and quite frankly, too valuable and filled with divine dignity to be belittled by your spiritual snake oil.

We see the show, but not near the genuine, humble love for people. That’s why we vomit it out. Away from us you evil doers, you worship God with your lips, but your heart is far, far from Him.

You Think You Have It-  So drunk on the sound of your own voice, as if God allotted you exclusive awareness to all things Bible and its proper interpretation, you cling onto your truth as if the Deity has trademarked your understanding.  No room for questioning, no room for thinking, no room for living to the beat of an alternative drum—if only to assimilate us all into the collective of your spiritual Borg.

You are always right; a true, genuine follower of Christ—everyone else, some shade of rebellion and unfaithfulness—desperately in need of your discipleship. We, the wayward, dwelling somewhere in the darkness cast by the throne upon which you sit— as you spray on your favorite morning perfume, “Arrogance” by Chanel Evangelical, we can’t help but be confronted by the stench that falls. What you smell as flowers, we smell as feces.

It’s all so convenient, so intoxicating— that you have “it,” and everyone else, by your declaration, does not.  Oh, how our gag reflexes can’t help but spit out that attitude, and all that comes with it.

You See People As A Project- We are the potential notch on your “conversions” belt. Like Chia Pets, ordered for a rainy afternoon, you pour yourself into our lives for one underlying purpose— to see, if upon us, your ideology will grow.

Everything you do, even the love you express, has an agenda in the shadows—not that we become fellow “learners” with you, but rather, that you are the “learned,” and we are to learn to be as learned as you. Your’s is not an introduction to Jesus, but an induction into religion.

We sense the fingers crossed behind your back, hoping that by your efforts and clever ministry strategies we might start saying the right things, doing the right things, believing the right things, all because you befriended us in fulfillment of your pre-packaged, purpose-driven mission statement.

It’s what you think you are supposed to do, but ironically, what we see Jesus never do—treat people like a project.

You Read Into A Book And Turn Off Your Brain-  The Bible is everything to you— and by “everything,” I mean everything.

It’s your salvation, justification, license for condemnation. It’s your indoctrination, discrimination— not the just the Bible, but your literal, black and white, leather-bound approach. Like a deer caught in the high-beams, you’re entranced by its religious capacity to condemn and self-justify— blocking your ability to see its Light and rendering you as an obstacle to God’s intention.

Whatever lines you auto-tune to echo what you want them to say— those becomes undebatable to you— more definitive and directional than Jesus Himself. To you, the Word hasn’t become flesh, He has become fine-printed in the nuances of your interpretation.

Forget all the science the screams for an old earth. Forget the eyes that clearly see evolution within Genesis creation. Forget the brain in which a God who is Love can’t compute a God of eternal, tormenting hell. Forget the grey, the mystery, the journey, the humanity within every word and page.  Forget those, who lives were immersed with Jesus, yet completely missed His essence because they had their heads buried in the words.

You personify the Bible as God’s plan to turn off a thinking brain and a beating heart— best used to win arguments, justify hate, and draw lines in the sand as to who is in and who is out, right and wrong, and good or evil.

What God created to be a launch pad to a Jesus encounter, you have reduced to a roadmap from Jesus, declaring of which, you hold the navigation key.

All your Bible-thumping, memorization, proof-texting, and debating squeezes the abdominals to a full-on upchucking.

You Unify Around What You Are Against-  The motto of the sum of your Christian philosophy, “Don’t drink, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls that do.” Don’t do this, don’t do that, we are against this, and we are against that.

Nothing enflames the passion of your cause more than to discover a new enemy. If you can’t find a real one, you simply string one together—homosexuality, liberality, wars against Christianity, prayer in schools, transgender equality—always some ax to grind. Nothing takes the wind out of your sails than to be absent of sin-targets for which to take your self-righteous aim— those who sin differently than you, your favorite sitting duck.

It’s all so obvious as you live out your religiosity, love is an accessory, and apparently so is giving a damn. Satisfied with taking shelter behind the walls of your spiritual pride, you refuse to reexamine, to fully consider, “maybe we’re wrong.” Besides, there’s way to much too sin to point out to ever begin to look at your own.

Communing around the sacraments of your hate, you hijack Jesus, and make him the hood ornament of your world bulldozer— known best by all the things you are against, not the common sense, Jesus-things you should be for… unconditional love, grace, humility, selflessness, serving, sacrifice… and on, and on, and on.

All, while more and more good, thinking, love-believing, grace-intoxicated, Jesus adoring people, vomit it all out of their mouths— and rightly so.

Get in line behind Jesus, all ye fellow heathens, He is joining us—leading the way of gag…

“I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking… you make me want to vomit.” -Jesus    (Revelations 3:16  MSG)

To Those Hurt By Franklin Graham And His Supporters

There’s is no denying the hurtful, deplorable words recently communicated by Franklin Graham to the LGBT community.

His timing, message, and condemning posture are extremely disappointing and disturbing at best. The hateful march of many of his supporters rallying around their captain has left ditches full of casualties, shot at point-blank range with fiery darts of condemnation, hate, and judgment.

Yet Franklin Graham and his supporters are a symptom and product of a much deeper cancer in our Christian culture, the Evangelical highjacking of the Gospel, God, and what it means to follow Jesus. Until this spiritual disease in our nation is healed and the heart of Christ reclaimed, this religious spirit will continue to spread and spew its vomit. Hurting, harming, misleading, and destroying the lives of many in its path.

For those of us who are of the LGBT community or allies thereof, these are difficult times requiring great courage, honesty, togetherness, patience, faith, and Grace. Now more than ever, it’s time to be brave.

There is real hurt, pain, and hardship caused by those who would use Jesus to spiritually justify their bigotry, hate, and the pimping of a Gospel that is no Gospel at all. Never apologize nor shrink back from your cries being cried and your voices being heard. We must never become the evil done against us. We are a people of love because God is love. But that does not mean for us to be silent, or perfectly varnished in our feelings or even in our expressing. Jesus confronted the religious spirit of His day openly and honestly, and we are no less Jesus in our doing so.

In fact, in two instances, Jesus is specifically recorded as becoming angry. Not violent, but angry. Both times, at people who interestingly enough, were withholding Grace.

It is indeed right and salutary that we should be emotional, even carefully confrontational where we see Grace withheld, and condemnation and judgment its replacement. Opening wide the floodgates, with honesty in our sails. Yet, all a river leading us to become servants, lovers of our enemies, compassion overflowing. A stream that cannot be stopped, because love is unstoppable. For that is the gift of an enemy, that we learn to love anyway. Furiously and fearlessly.

Even as we hurt, even as we cry, even as we confront, even as we defend, even as we are crucified, we love anyway. Washing the very feet of those who would stomp on ours.

Please understand, Franklin Graham’s voice and those of his supporters, do not represent the Gospel nor Jesus. That is my opinion. His words, their words, are nothing like Him, nor the Gospel He brings. For God is love, Jesus is Grace, and His message is peace. Love, unconditionally without conditions. All affirmed, all included, all delightfully delighted in Him and by Him.

Just imagine what it’s like to be Franklin Graham. Immersed in a religious system at such a level that few ever have the discernment or courage of heart from which to break free. Constantly placing the footings of his faith, life, relationship with God and self on his performance. Forever being preoccupied with sin management, rule-following, and closeness-keeping with God. Imagine, the daily spiritual struggle and unrest in his life. Always having to live up to spiritual expectations, sleeping with one eye open, justifying and medicating shame with self-righteousness. Believing in a Gospel where God loves you… but. If you don’t do this, or you do that, all could be as nothing. A God whose justice, holiness, and love look like the eternal torture of billions of people who simply didn’t follow certain prescribed religious steps and expectations. Where there is no room for incongruent thinking, spiritual exploration beyond the tracks. Where you never get to fully love without restraint. There is always a governor affixed to the pedal of your heart. I love you… but. Just imagine what it’s like to be Franklin Graham.

I, and others, have been there, done that, and have the t-shirt. And I can tell you it’s a living hell that you’re fooled to believe is heaven.

The more Franklin Graham and his supporters speak, the more our hearts should be filled with deep sadness, even compassion. If it hurts so much for us to hear him, imagine what it feels like to be him. For the language he speaks out, is first the language he echoes to himself, believing God first decreed it. And perhaps there is not greater hell then self-condemnation, growing full term into religion, all the while believing its the best of heaven. Imagine what it’s like to be Franklin Graham. We are getting a mere taste of his reality.

Be doubly assured, God is working in Franklin Graham’s life just as He is with you and me. Not through punishment, fear, guilt-trips, manipulation, rules, or condemnation. All through Grace.

In the same way, we can be, we must be… a manifestation and message of Grace to him.

Especially as it hurts, even as it hurts. Where life is a cross, not a couch. This is when Grace is most convincing.

To hurt and to give Grace at the same time, is to be fully human, fully Jesus. On the cross, blood flowing down, agony upon agony, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Grace upon Grace.

For Grace is the only thing that changes anything and anyone. Grace wins where everything else does not and cannot.

At the heart of Grace is… forgiveness.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what Franklin Graham has said is now somehow true or acceptable. It doesn’t mean what he has done, is somehow now approvable. It doesn’t mean the hurt should somehow now be instantly removable; the anger subsided, and the injustice now somehow justified. It doesn’t mean any of that. For him or anyone else beside him.

It does mean, however, we emotionally release the false-accusers in our lives of the debt they owe that they cannot or will not repay.

Franklin Graham and those among him, they owe, and they owe big time. An apology, innocence returned, sleepless nights re-slept, tears removed, depressions lifted, tragedies averted. They owe big time. We all have our list.

Yet chances are, they cannot or will not repay. That apology is not coming. The affirmation is not coming. The compassion is not coming. The change of heart and mind… not coming.

Forgiveness means we no longer live with the bitterness, longing, and emptiness that comes from the expecting, even the demanding of a return. It gives us the power to be free, to never let the lack of integrity in another become the lack of integrity in us. To sing choruses crying, “It is well with my soul” not because it is necessarily all well with them, but forgiveness has necessarily made it all well in us. They no longer rent space in our heads, nor can their words unravel what God has knit together. Forgiveness has developed our immunity from the false-accusers within our faith. For we know who we are, and Whose we are. Beautifully and wonderfully made, the divine artistry of our Maker.

Forgiveness is releasing our offender only to realize we were the prisoner.

Franklin Graham, to all who gather around him, we love you as is. There is no condemnation for you, not from God, not from me, not from us. You are unconditionally loved without conditions. None of us are better, only different. We consider you, and all among you, cherished members of the family, completely included and affirmed.

To those who have been hurt by Franklin Graham and his supporters, walk with confidence today, that you are loved, affirmed and celebrated by your Father in heaven. Your LGBT child is loved, affirmed, and celebrated by your Father in heaven. Nothing to change, nothing to be rearranged. No sin, no darkness within. None.

You are secure in His arms of approval and pride. You are the joy set before Him, His affections are ever upon you. Unmovable and undeniable.

Lift up your head, lift up your head I say! You are the revival God is bringing to the world.

For such a time as this, you were born.

Be brave!

Love furiously and fearlessly.

Be brave!

Jesus loves Tattoos

Christians who harbor a religious, legalistic spirit love to tout what they are “against” in the world. I am sure some are well intentioned and simply want to be faithful, yet many live their lives examining the lives of others to see where they line up or don’t line up to their understanding of the Bible.

One such area some Christians stand against is the issue of tattoos.

It’s interesting to me that most of the bible passages people use to bash other people with for doing something they don’t agree with are often taken out of context. As the saying goes, “if you take the text out of the context, you will make a con out of the text.”

If you take a passage from the Bible out of context or don’t see how certain words have been translated over the course of time in interpretive ways, you can make the Bible basically say just about anything.

So let’s take a look at the one passage in the Bible that some believe deals with the issue of “tattoos” today.

Leviticus 19:23-28  “When you enter the land and plant fruit trees, leave the fruit unharvested for the first three years and consider it forbidden. Do not eat it. 24 In the fourth year the entire crop must be consecrated to the Lord as a celebration of praise. 25 Finally, in the fifth year you may eat the fruit. If you follow this pattern, your harvest will increase. I am the Lord your God. 26 “Do not eat meat that has not been drained of its blood. “Do not practice fortune-telling or witchcraft. 27 “Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards. 28 “Do not cut your bodies for the dead, and do not mark your skin with tattoos. I am the Lord.

Seems pretty straight forward right? “…do not mark your skin with tattoos.” Not when we come to understand that though all the Bible is written for us, not all of the Bible is written to us. Furthermore, to assume that what was meant by a term in its Biblical/historical context is what it should mean for us today is a very dangerous interpretive tactic.

Thus, the importance of context. This passage in Leviticus, including the surrounding verses, is specifically addressing the pagan religious practices of the people living around the Israelites.  The focus here is prohibiting cultic worship and witchcraft. God does not want them engaged in the same religious practices that could lead them away from trusting Him as the One true God.

Furthermore, check out verses 26-27, “Do not eat meat that has not been drained of its blood. Do not trim off the hair on your temples or trim your beards.” Obviously many Christians today eat meats and don’t groom like Sasquatch and in doing so are not participating in cultic worship and witchcraft. In the context of Leviticus 19, these customs were associated with pagan rites and rituals. Today they are obviously not.

Tattoos of today are dramatically different than they were for those of Leviticus 19 in purpose, meaning, and practice. Today, tattoos are an artistic means of self expression and bodily ornamentation. It would be nearly impossible to find a Christian today who doesn’t modify their appearance for beauty or expression in many ways such as fashion, makeup, plastic surgery, haircutting, coloring, tanning, weight loss, body-building, piercings etc.  Many of these practices were associated with false religions in Old Testament times, but in our context today, they do not create nor symbolize an automatic connection with evil or pagan religion. The context today is entirely different for us and for God.  Tattoos today do not link the wearer to cultic worship practices as they did in the context of the Israelites of Leviticus 19.

Yet another reason to believe all people, including Christians, are free to tattoo their bodies is that New Testament believers are not bound by the Old Testament ritualistic and purification laws in order to establish and maintain a relationship with God. If we were, we would also be shackled to rules that would restrict shellfish, pork, hairstyles, certain fabric combinations, and even eating cheese.

Some people feel that changing the body somehow defiles God’s creation. So, does piercing ears, correcting a physical abnormality, cutting hair, clipping our nails, getting a tan or using an orthodontist also defile God’s creation?

The fact that some Christians avoid getting a tattoo and project their belief about tattoos onto others because they are trying to impress God, maintain their relationship or good standing with Him, bolster their spiritual pride, or want to condemn or judge others is all the more reason why Jesus in fact loves tattoos. Religiously and legalistically spirited Christians love to try to find biblical perches from which they can stand over and against people. Fortunately, Jesus is the ultimate perch destroyer as He levels the playing field by making faith and the Christian life about His performance, not ours; His righteousness, not our religious rule-keeping.  Jesus especially love tattoos because now they represent the freedom He purchased for all people to live under Grace, not Law; His righteousness, not rule-keeping.

Getting a tattoo certainly isn’t for everybody, and anyone can use a tattoo to communicate things that are not good nor of God. But tattoos in and of themselves are not evil nor unfaithful.

The refusal to get a tattoo for so called “Christian” reasons  should be seriously examined for underlying spiritual pride, idolatry of religious performance, and legalism. The avoidance of getting a tattoo because “I want to be a faithful Christian” may just be a matter of Biblical misunderstanding or could very well be a spiritual veil to a life devoid of Grace.

 

Dispelling Fears about Truly Loving Homosexuals

I hate being put into any one camp as a Christian, but I consider myself (for conversation’s sake) to be a conservative Christian. I greatly value the Bible, and consider it to be God’s Word. I take sin seriously and desire to be a person of Truth.

For me Grace and Truth are not two separate things, like Grace is the nice side of The Gospel and Truth is where we get to point out people’s sins and stuff. Grace and Truth are not a reference to separate things or two aspects of one thing, there are a reference to one person, Jesus.

That might help to explain why this whole “lifting out” and “above” of the homosexual issue is both disheartening and disturbing to me as a Christian. The more I read, the more barbaric conversations I see and hear between Christians about homosexuality, the more I sense that the controversy among Christians surrounding homosexuality is much more driven by fear than by most anything else. Why else would one sin (for those who believe it is a sin) be given so much more blatant attention and bias than all the others?

I think we need to start with the common ground that we all as Christians love Jesus, want to be faithful, and don’t want to be a hinderance, but rather a help to the cause of Christ.  I have a hard time thinking of too many Christians I know who don’t have these intentions  in their core. Perhaps there are some, but few and far between.

Beyond that common ground, there are a host of issues that have come to the conversation table that have resulted in a wide variety of differing views about homosexuality. Many of them, I suspect, are motivated by fear, particularly among many evangelicals.

It’s interesting to me that the bible doesn’t call us to tolerate people who sin differently than we do, but to love them. If Jesus merely had lifted a standard of “tolerating” as our template, sadly much of the Christian community still wouldn’t get a clean pass, as we can’t even act “tolerating” to homosexuals in our churches and Christian organizations . But the standard is even greater, it’s love, not tolerance.  Love doesn’t erase people, look away, simply tolerate their existence, treat another’s sin as more sinful than theirs, or judge, condemn, or send to the curb as second class citizens or no citizen at all. This is not love.

For many, they are truly afraid of truly loving homosexuals. Why?

Let me identify and help dissolve some of the fears behind an unwillingess to truly love homosexuals, or even just tolerate them.

Fear 1: If we truly love homosexuals, we won’t be faithful in defending what the Bible says about homosexuality.

Let me put your heart and mind at ease, or make you really angry… your choice. The truth is, no one truly defends what the Bible truly says, they defend what they believe the Bible says. It’s not the authority of scripture that they are truly defending, it’s the authority of their beliefs about what scripture says that they are ardently trying to defend. Need proof?

Lets just take an issue far more major, essential, and important than homosexuality… like “salvation.”

There are large evangelical, biblical, scholarly people who believe that salvation is a gift from God given to all people received by personal faith in Christ. According to their beliefs, God loves everyone, wants everyone saved, and provides the way through Jesus for them to be saved, through faith. Anyone can believe and receive this gift of salvation. This group can line up many bible passages that they claim to be authoritative proof that their belief is right and faithful to God’s Word.

But did you know there is also an equally large group of evangelical, biblical, scholarly people who believe that salvation is a gift from God given to some people and not to others as He predestines some to enjoy heaven and some to burn in hell, giving people no choice in the matter whatsoever. In fact, according to their beliefs (including popular pastors like Francis Chan, Mark Driscoll, David Platt etc.)  even people who want nothing to do with God, God regenerates and makes them unwillingly believe in Jesus through “irresistible grace” so that they go to heaven, but God withholds doing this for others, and thus, they sadly go to hell. They too, line up their bible passages they claim to be authoritative proof that their belief is right and faithful to God’s Word.

Obviously, using the very same Bible, these two large groups who each claim to be biblical, conservative, evangelical, authority-of-scripture loving Christians have come to two very, very different conclusions about the central foundational issue of Christian salvation. In fact, each group often declares the opposing group as not submitting to the authority of God’s Word and faithful interpretation. They both claim that what they believe is what the Bible “plainly teaches,” that theirs is the absolute truth of God’s Word, and that they are the true guardians of the authority of God’s Word.

This is just one example of so many examples of how Christians who claim to be bible-authority loving, evangelical, and faithful have come to very different conclusion/beliefs about what the very same bible says or doesn’t say on essential and non-essential issues. Who truly can claim they have got it right and are in sync with the authority of the Bible? Obviously, both can’t be right and true to God’s Word?

Now we arrive at homosexuality. An issue that many Christians would say is a slam dunk, cut and dry issue. Surely, we Christians, who easily can get the whole issue of salvation right (lots of sarcasm intended) have the inside scoop to what the Bible truly means about this issue.  You can see in how we have handled the central issue of salvation so well that certainly, we can handle the simple “pop fly ball” of homosexuality (more sarcasm). Besides, we are the authorities of the authority of the Bible, can’t you tell by how many denominations with entirely different beliefs we have? Trust us, we know what we are talking about and know the plain truth about what the Bible teaches, especially about homosexuality.

The truth is, as with the issue of salvation, there are biblical, scholarly, Jesus-loving, conservative people whose views and understanding about what the Bible truly says about homosexuality are greatly differing. Each brings their Bible, passages, word studies and lexicons to the table and having read the same Bible conclude very different understandings, each one claiming they are the authority on the authority of the Bible and what they believe is the plain and faithful teaching of God’s Word.

I am not going to get into that debate only to say that there is one, and both sides feel just as biblical, scholarly, faithful, and Jesus-loving as the other.

My point is this, if you refrain from truly loving homosexuals, letting them in you church, sitting besides them in a small group, hiring them in your company, or allowing them involvement in your ministry because you fear in doing such things you are not defending what the Bible says about homosexuality, what you are truly deliberating over is not what the Bible truly says, but what you believe at that moment the Bible says.

What if you are wrong, what if you got the interpretation wrong and in the meanwhile you isolated, condemned, and marginalized an entire people-group in the process when you shouldn’t have? What if you have made an idol out of your understanding?

Jesus once addressed this type of issue to people who wanted to place their stances on the Word of God over their stance with people.

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).

I love what Steve McVey says of this passage and issue…

“They had their Bibles in hand and studied them much. In fact, they could quote most of the Old Testament, but Jesus said they simply didn’t get it. While they professed to be focused on living by the teaching of their Bibles, Jesus said they were missing Him. 

There are Christians today who talk more about the Bible than they do Jesus. That should be a red flag. The Bible is not an end unto itself. Nor is it a guidebook or a handbook for living. The Bible is a grace book that points us to Jesus Christ. He is the end that we pursue. If we are not led to the person of Christ and to faith in Him, like the Pharisees, we are missing the whole point of the Bible. I realize this viewpoint may be uncomfortable for some people. It may sound to you like I’m minimizing the place of the Bible in our lives, but I certainly hope not. Remember, this is coming from somebody who has spent his life studying, emphasizing, and teaching the Bible! I love the Bible more than I have words to express. But it’s a paradox. As much as I love studying the Bible, and as much as I love teaching it and helping other people discover how great a blessing it is, learning the Bible is not the main thing. As we live in Him and He lives through us, we will approach the Bible in the right way, knowing that Christ is our life source, and the Bible points us to Him.”  –McVey, Steve (2011-02-01). 52 Lies Heard in Church Every Sunday (pp. 79-80). Harvest House Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Bible is important, no doubt, but the truth of the matter is, we should be very careful not to lean on our own understanding to the point we are willing to miss the heart of Jesus for truly loving all people. None of us are truly the authority on what’s authoritative in the Bible. This is what the Pharisees were never willing to do, that is, to come down from their religious pride they would call “faithfulness to God’s Word” and stand with people.

Christians are great at claiming “authority” when they feel their throne lowering and their control slipping away.  In contrast, when Jesus used the fullness of the power of authority, he washed people’s feet. When we Christians use authority, we tend to erase and marginalize people and people groups.

This must come to an end if we are going to have a voice that has influence in the world.

Fear 2: If we truly love homosexuals, we will be condoning homosexuality.

Jesus was not afraid to associate Himself with people whose lives were sinful and questionable at best. If you believe all homosexuality is sinful, it may also be that you join those who believe the same and fear that drawing too close and giving them equal respect, involvement, friendship, employment, acceptance, and/or love might mean you are or appear to be condoning homosexuality.

Recently, World Vision, a Christian organization explored this issue by changing their policies to be open to hiring homosexuals in their workplace. Later, after Christian pressure, they changed back to their original policy to not do so. The main issue it seems is that many Christians insisted that to hire homosexuals was to condone sin and a sinful lifestyle.  Many would say that homosexuals are not just sinning, but living a lifestyle of choosing sin willingly without any sense of repentance.

Here again, I am not going to get into the issues of whether homosexuality is a sin or not or that people who are homosexual are committing a lifestyle of sin by their rebellious choice.

However, I do wonder if companies like World Vision treat other sins like they treat the believed-to-be-sin of homosexuality when they hire and manage people. Do they check to see if all the fat people they hire are fat for exclusively medical conditions beyond their control rather than being an issue of gluttony? If so, how is that determined? Do they interview and explore every divorced person’s marriage history, determining if the divorce was biblical or not, because many would say that remarriage after an unbiblical divorce is adultery, a sin? If so, who makes this determination?

But let’s take things even a bit further. The truth is, every Christian has an area where they are knowingly sinning and even unrepentive, just like many Christians would declare homosexuals are doing. Yup it’s true! Don’t believe me, read on.

The bible teaches, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” -James 4:17

Many Christians know they should be obeying speed laws, never running red lights, should be tithing 10%, should  have constant pure thoughts, should never covet their neighbor’s home, should be completely satisfied with their own looks, giving to the poor, should care for orphans and take care of widows, should not have selfish thoughts, should have faith instead of worry, pray without ceasing, and the list goes on and on and on. There is so much good we ought to be doing that no one could measure up.

Yet, are you repenting (a concept most evangelicals mistakenly believe means to “change your ways”) right now of all the good you ought to do but are not? You aren’t repenting because to do so would take every moment of every day as there is always something good you know you should be doing but you aren’t.

But if you are going to live by the notion that unrepentive, repeated sin is the crossing line that determines whether loving, welcoming, including or hiring a person is condoning their sin or not, than your “not doing the good that you ought to” is not only sin, it’s an unrepentive lifestyle of sin of your free choice that you and every Christian is living right now! You should never be hired, included, accepted or welcomed because you are living in sin, and we can’t condone that!

Btw, I was just wondering, how many times do you commit the same sin before it becomes a lifestyle of sin? 2 times, 5, 1o? Who makes that determination anyways?

Furthermore, if this is the line of believing you are going to take, then every person Jesus interacted with and even those He called as disciples He did so as an act of condoning sin. Peter , for example, had it in his heart the capacity and later the actions of denying Jesus, and Jesus knew that long before it ever even happened. Was Jesus therefore, condoning his sin?  He ate and drank with sinful people, was He in doing so condoning their sin? He even called/hired broken, sinful, lifestyle-of-sin type people onto His team, was He therefore condoning sin?

It was only the religiously-spirited Pharisees who would draw this ignorant conclusion of Jesus and condemn Him for doing so. It is the same today.

Imagine if World Vision had taken a stance like this… We want to hire every qualified homosexual person we can find, not because we agree with everything about them or their lifestyle, but we would rather have them around the influence, safety, and care of the people of Jesus than the world. We believe we can do a better job of loving them and coming along side them as we all grow in Grace than anyone else. And what better way than to work side by side together, doing life.  We want them to be exposed to the life of Christ in us (if they aren’t already) and the Holy Spirit around us that they might have every opportunity to consider the claims of Christ and their true identity and life in Him. We will let the Holy Spirit be our judge and jury and us their friend and coworker. We will trust the Holy Spirit with any change that needs to take place in any of our lives, and to protect our reputation and character as an organization. We do not see their employment as a threat to the integrity of the Gospel nor our Christian organization, but a result of it.

In fact, I would suggest that companies, churches, and organizations that withhold the full Grace of the Gospel, or communicate any hint of the Law to homosexuals through not welcoming, including, valuing, respecting, hiring, or empowering them is doing far more to condone their sin (if that is what you believe) than by bringing them into the arms of your love. The Bible clearly teaches that it is the Law that entices us to sin, not Grace. Giving Grace and acceptance does not condone sin, it is in fact the only Gospel chance, through the Holy Spirit, for true change to occur. It is God’s kindness that leads to a change of mind (what repentance really means).

If you are truly afraid of condoning sin, then welcome, love, respect, hire, befriend and involve homosexuals in  your life, ministry, or organization. To not do so condones far more sin. Trust God with your reputation, and Grace to manage and influence people… Jesus did.

Fear 3: If we truly love homosexuals, we won’t be taking sin seriously. 

Sin is serious, there is no question about that. But, how we go about taking sin seriously is even more critical.

The truth is, Grace and Grace alone is the solution to sin. Jesus was and is the solution for all sin, and He is Grace. Grace is not a new theology, program, or fad, He is a person, Jesus.

We are not the solution to sin. The Law shows us we can never solve the problem of sin by any effort or aspect of our lives and living. Alone, we are powerless against sin. Jesus alone, is the only power to overcome it. God took sin so seriously that He dealt with it completely and eternally through Jesus knowing we are powerless against it. When we harbor any level of belief that any aspect of our performance can resolve issues of sin in ourselves or others we are in fact not taking sin seriously, but rather minimizing the seriousness of sin down to a level of human ability to resolve.

The Bible shows us that the more we focus on sin, the more we will sin. Yet, the more we focus on Jesus, the more we will understand our true nature and identity in Him and therefore live victorious lives.The best way to take sin seriously is to take the finished work of the cross seriously. Taking sin seriously means to stop focusing on sin and place your focus on Christ and what He has done for you and to you. And not just you, but everyone.

As Christians, taking sin seriously means doing everything we can to help people experience the Grace of God through Jesus Christ, the only solution. As Christians, our identity is secure in Him, and His Grace is what promises to carry out the good work in us. Taking sin seriously means trusting Grace completely. We should never fear sin or sinful people in such a way as to keep us from befriending, hiring, welcoming, or involving homosexuals (if you believe homosexuality is a sin). In fact, what we should fear is not taking sin seriously enough to manifest the remedy to sin, the Grace of Jesus Christ and the companionship, friendship, and fellowship of His people whether in the context of a church, organization, or a company. We in fact minimize the power of sin and compromise the Gospel when we think that we can marginalize certain sinful people in the work place, a Christian organization, or the church and yet consider them our mission, as if keeping them at arms length, compartmentalizing them, and hoping they get our message from a distance is the best strategy for the Gospel. Do we truly trust Grace to be the remedy for sin or would we rather have people working, living, involved, and empowered by the world as if the world were a better place for people to work out this sin issue in their lives? Is sin serious enough to us to manifest what Jesus has done about it and our trust of the power of the Gospel in us and through us enough to walk along side of it without fear of contamination or reputation? If you truly believe Christ lives in you and as you in this world, contamination and reputation are much more likely to become an excuse than a real concern.

Now more than ever, preaching the Gospel means being the Gospel. You can’t be the Gospel through mere words, you can only be the Gospel of Grace through being, walking, befriending, and doing life with people. Just like Jesus did. If the mere message was enough, Jesus would have merely passed out teaching tapes.  The Gospel was never intended to merely be a speech, but to be a stance with people. And not just select people, but broken, hurting, confused, difficult, dirty people who sin differently than you.

When God manifested the reality of His taking of sin seriously, it resulted in the serving of people infected with the very thing He detested  by coming out of heaven and walking, hiring, befriending, involving, empowering, and ultimately dying for them.

Taking sin seriously is not in what you are willing to disapprove and disassociate from, but who you are willing to be the Gospel of God’s Grace with in life, work, church, and friendship.

Fear 4: If we truly love homosexuals, we might start attracting too many gays.

Yes, I have heard pastors, ministry leaders, and Christians vomit this kind of sentiment, “what if we start attracting too many gays?”

Really? I am sure before Jesus left heaven to be born on earth, God’s last words to Him were something like, “Hey Jesus, Son, old pal. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t attract to many sinners, I have no clue what to if that happens, it would be a huge mess.”

I suppose I can understand the anxiety, sorta. Ministries, churches, Christians, and Christian organization are under a lot of pressure. Unfortunately, mainly from other Christians. We Christians are experts and flogging each other, with a little bit of salt in our hands to rub on afterwards . So, I can understand the anxiety, but I don’t necessarily agree with bowing to it.

It’s amazing to me how ill-equipped many Christians, ministries and churches feel in ministering to people whose sin (if you believe homosexuality is a sin) is not only different from theirs, but believe its presence automatically threatens their reputation and integrity. Sure, some are more than willing to allow homosexuals into a worship service, event, gathering, or to have a doughnut together at the church cafe’, but the idea of including them as valued parts of your organization or ministry sends many into a tailspin of fear.

Why? Because of several of the fears already addressed previously in this article. For many churches and ministries, they see themselves more as an institution to be maintained rather than a mission to be extended, and at the end of the day, preserving their institution is more important than standing true to their mission. They are willing to be misunderstood and rejected by the people they are supposed to reach in the process of making sure they are understood and accepted  by the people they wish to keep… Christians, Christian donors, Christian supporters.

What are we going to do with the homosexual visitor who wants to become a member? What do we do with the homosexual member who wants to volunteer? What do we do with the homosexual volunteer who feels called to lead? Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Here’s what many do, we welcome them enough to feel good about ourselves, but politely (or not so politely)  keep them at a distance so that they don’t threaten the other ways we want to keep on feeling good about ourselves… you got is, church politics, christian politics, ministry politics, denominational politics etc.

There are legitimate concerns about involving people into areas of volunteering, employment, and leadership. We must be discerning and wise. But anyone can have an agenda, selfish motive, lack of character, illegal background etc. Is homosexuality in and of itself an automatic disqualification from being volunteer, employment, or leadership material? On what grounds? Sin? Willing sin?

Yes, we Christians with our churches, organizations, and ministries want to have our cake and eat it too. We want to say homosexuals are a part of our mission (if you believe they need to be seen as a mission in the first place) but not have to deal with the unfortunate mess integrating them into the life of your church, ministry or company would entail in our Christian culture today.

Unless of course, they clean up and repent of their ways, then they are one of us! If they join us on the evil, spiritual seductive treadmill of self-improvement where God does His part and we do our part, then they are one of us! If they hate themselves but not knowing exactly why like we do, then they are one of us! If they join our hypocritical plight and become inspired by message after message of the things they need to do and not do to be a better Christian and act like they are actually making any progress when they really aren’t, then they are one of us! If they reject their sexual orientation and claim it’s all a choice like we believe it is, than they are one of us. By the way, I was just wondering, if you are a heterosexual, when did you choose to be heterosexual? Just curious. If they just get an accountability partner, those precious little spiritual gems, then they will be one of us!

No wonder why the real concern shouldn’t be about whether we will attract too many homosexuals, it’s will we attract any at all? And if we do, will they even stick around long enough for us to know their story. I know, we hope not, and may not even care. That could get too dirty for our porcelain Christian life, ministry, or church.

Besides, why would they want to become any more like us and believe more of what we do? Why would they want to join our futile, self-focused, performance-driven so-called Christian walk that never gets truly any better but rather just pretends like things are. Why would they want to get involved in our church where what we are against is far more important than what we are for, where the Holy Spirit’s ability to change people has been replaced with rules, regulation, guilt trips, and fear. Why, why, why?

If you, your ministry, or your church fears attracting too many gays, let me put your mind at ease, trust me you won’t! And thank God for that! They would do better to go straight to hell, the place many have likely deemed they are all going anyways.

Fear 5: If we truly love homosexuals, we will be adapting to our culture.

One of the cries I often hear from those who seem to want to condemn all homosexuals to the fires of hell and claim that the Bible is perfectly and unquestionably clear that God feels the same is that if you disagree, have questions, harbor doubts, or just aren’t sure about the whole matter, you are not only just “adapting to our culture,” you are not staying true to the authority of God’s Word.

I truly believe that there is little cultural influence in the hearts and minds of those who humbly and truly wrestle with the issues surrounding homosexuality. For both the homosexual and the one who wrestles with what one as a Christian is to believe and do with this issue, the depth of struggle, inner debate, spiritual searching, biblical study, and desire for truth is far deeper than one merely bending to the winds of culture.

People are discovering firsthand, not primarily through cultural experiences, but personal ones, that this issue is much more complex than meets the eye and the black and white tunnel vision of those who are quick to cherry pick their way through the scriptures in order to build their case for what they are against in life and in the world. Furthermore, Christians are coming to realize there are other credible ways as to how one could interpret the biblical references to homosexuality than merely what has been commonly offered. It’s not just clear, cut and dry. These are not far-fetched, doing a “dance around the truth” kind of exegesis exercises being done, but real, faithful biblical scholarship by people who are just as serious about Jesus, the Bible, and sin as anyone else.

I am sure there is a homosexual agenda in both the Christian culture and our culture at large, but there are also a lot of other agendas within our Christian culture. Agendas are not new. And I would dare to say it is not agendas that are driving the reevaluation of this issue, but rather compassion, and biblical revelation.

If Christians were continually prone to merely adapting to culture and that was the driving force behind the questions people are posing to what has previously been accepted and taught as the plain, clear truth about what the bible says about homosexuality, than I am curious as to why for the past 15 years, our culture has become much more health, weight, and nutritionally fit minded, yet the church is clearly not adapting to that much.

Don’t worry, if you wrestle with what the bible says about homosexuality and how to handle this issue in the lives of others, chances are strong that you aren’t merely adapting to culture, but working through issues that are much more complicated than that. Furthermore, you are trying to navigate the application of the Grace growing within you. Grace has filled your heart with wisdom, compassion, and truth. And looking at the world through the eyes of Jesus has begun to look much different from when you merely saw it through the eyes of “church”, “religion”, or “legalism.”

Keep growing in Grace, perfect love casts out fear.

Are You a 21st Century Pharisee?

I don’t suspect this post will be popular nor well received by some in the “Christian” camp, maybe even by many. But, neither were Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Is this a kind of “Kratzer Manifesto?” Who knows, probably not. But, for sure, it is with strong conviction that I write.

I believe, from personal observation and experience, that our current Christian culture in America and abroad has been infected with epidemic proportions of the religious spirit manifested by the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. And yet, for most believers, we are so entrenched in it, we don’t even realize the religious stew in which we soak.

It was the Pharisees who leveraged Judaism into their own self-righteous system of rule keeping, regulations, self-improvement, condemnation, political structures, and inside handshakes.  In many ministry contexts today, we could simply take these same realities and put the title “church” over them and the descriptions would equally apply. Many churches of our time have knowingly or unknowingly created and given harbor to the modern day, 21st century Pharisee and then given them the title “Christian.”

In fact, let’s look at several of the defining characteristics and distinctions of a 21st Century Pharisee lest perhaps maybe you (or I) are one of them?

o.o1 Memorization verses Meditation – In our Christian culture we have determined that memorizing Bible verses is automatically a worthy and necessary pursuit in the Christian life.  There are entire children’s ministries that revolve around having young people memorizing Bible verses, complete with memorization competitions. What could be wrong with that, right? Almost everything.

Unfortunately, the benefits of memorizing Bible verses has skidded off the road into a ritualistic activity of self-righteousness that is purposed on one-uping other Christians, arming for debates, and confronting sinners or those who disagree with you. The truth is however, the Word of God memorized alone merely brings us up to the level of Satan himself, who knows the scriptures back and forth as every good Pharisee did as well. It is a disturbing trend to see people viewing scripture memorization as a spiritual work-out and assume that if you memorize some Bible verses you are growing spiritually. Surely, in many Christian precincts, we have made an idol out of Bible memorization and turned God’s Word into peacock feathers we put on display that others might admire and yield to our spirituality.  To be sure, memorization alone has never moved one single Christian forward in their walk, and in fact, has surely moved many backwards.

It is interesting that the Bible never specifically instructs us to “memorize” the Bible, but rather speaks frequently about “meditating” on God’s Word.

Memorization is something people do to pass tests and regurgitate information, “meditation” is what people do to encounter God and be transformed by His personal revelation into their lives.  Meditation is reading and learning a verse(s) repeatedly, bringing it to mind and heart over and over again, asking God to personally speak revelation into their lives. It is an encounter with God Himself for the purpose of revealing Himself into one’s life personally and uniquely. It is a matter of heart, hearing, and being encountered by the living God on a personal, transformational level.

It is no wonder that the religous spirit of the Pharisees puts such value on memorization, it’s all about passing tests and giving them.  They did this to Jesus repeatedly and are certain proof that one can memorize the scriptures and never encounter God. But, you cannot meditate on His Word without a personal encounter with Him.

The Pharisees memorized words on a page, the whole Torah in fact.  But not revelation from God. Words only take reading (or hearing), memorizing only takes remembering. Revelation takes an open heart, postured in faith and expectancy with a personal connection with God.

The purpose of God’s Word is to lead us into experiencing God’s revelation personally for our lives and living. Meditation provides for this, memorization alone does not. Modern day, 21st century Pharisees memorize, in their minds, what is written, followers of Jesus receive and remember personal revelation in their heart. Big, huge, cosmic difference!

o.o2 Discipleship verses Identity in Christ- Obviously, discipleship as “learning” is a valuable Christian experience. We all need to learn from God and others.

But what many today call “discipleship” has taken on the garments and perfumes of the religious Pharisees. We have turned “learning” and being “learners” into a gnostic-type process of ascent.  With “accountability partners” and “motivational conferences” to do better we have turned “learning” into a spiritual treadmill, striving and trying to become a better person.

In most Christian circles, “discipleship” starts from the premise that there is “someone that you are not, who you need to become.” Therefore you need to come to these classes, attend these groups, listen to these cd’s, and take on these practices and behaviors in order to “become a fully mature person in Christ.”

Yet, living from our “Identity in Christ” begins from the premise of being more fully who you already are in Christ through faith.  This is a huge distinction, and radically changes nearly every dynamic of the Christian life and how we “spur each other onto good works.” Moving from a child of God, to a son or daughter, to an heir, priest, and king in the Kingdom is not a process, it is in fact, a reality already established and accomplished by Christ for those who believe. In Christ, there is no “growing more,” there is only becoming more of who you already are through faith in Christ’s performance in your life, not yours.

Today’s “discipleship” places a certain amount (if not a large amount) of faith and reliance on one’s ability to do better as a Christian. However, living from our “Identity in Christ” seeks to increase one’s placing of faith and reliance on God’s work and will in or lives.  It is not a pursuit of becoming, it is a growing faith in who we have  already become through and in Christ.

Modern day discipleship merely ends at what Jesus has done FOR you, but living from our “Identity in Christ” continues on to what Jesus has done TO you. “Discipleship” focuses our consciousness on what we need to do better and aren’t doing right, “Identity in Christ” focuses our consciousness on the author and perfector of our faith, what He has done to make us right and how to live rightly from who we already are and have in Him.

Therefore, today’s “discipleship” stresses producing fruit, as if producing fruit is something we could actually do. Yet, living from our “identity in Christ” stresses bearing the fruit God produces.

It is now easy to understand how the discipleship mindset of the Pharisees involved levels of ascent, information to be mastered, numerous hoops to jump through, and a hierarchy of the “learned.”  Today, you can see this same mindset in churches through various forms.  To be sure, our basic concept of modern day discipleship approaches people and the Christian life as program of progression through steps, rules, formulas, and “to do” lists.  Yet Jesus said in contrast “my yoke is easy, my burden is light” in direct reference to his discipleship process, of which His performance is the process, not ours. Jesus’ work on the cross is the discpleship program and process, faith is what receives it.

If there is any process to the Christian life, it is in being more of who we already are, all through faith, not “becoming” through trying harder and doing better. Faith in Jesus’ life in you is the key, not formulas for making your life like Jesus.

o.o3 Obedience verses Faith-  On a deeper level, there is a reason why we have taken a performance-driven approach to things like discipleship.

First, it is perhaps because we don’t fully believe in and trust God’s work in us. For many, the Gospel just isn’t sufficient enough, there has to be something we must do or can do. To leave our lives and living completely in the hands of His performance and not ours is seen as a risky concept. Surely, the same Grace that saves us, can’t be the same Grace that sanctifies and secures us. Though not many would say it that way, when push comes to shove, that’s what they believe.

Second, it’s because we believe and have somewhere have been taught that the foundation of the Christian life is obedience. To be sure, we have become Christian-centered Christians. Our performance is our preoccupation. The Christian life is all about what you do and don’t do.

Third, a performance-driven approach to the Christian life appeals to our flesh and culture. We love to feel the adrenaline rush of feeling like we have accomplished something and that our lives and destiny our in our hands.

Unfortunately, these three reasons have become the faulty foundations from which we live and teach the Christian life.  In short we believe that obedience is the root and faith is the fruit of the Christian life. This is modern day Pharisee-mindset at its finest.

The truth is, the foundation of the Christian life is faith, and the fruit is obedience.

This foundation shift changes everything.

Following rules, list of “to do’s,” striving to be better, trying to do better, recommitting your life to Christ, pledges, resolutions etc. all have never truly moved people forward spiritually. They only served to create a self-serving facade of a spiritual veil to an empty life.  In truth, they are modern forms of the Law, aimed at engaging your will to change your life.

The reality is, the Law was created to show you and I our will can’t change anything, no matter how hard we try.  Yet, the Pharisees used it as a way to indoctrinate people into the self-righteous, never ending treadmill of religion. The same thing is happening today in modern Christianity, only we have given it new names like, “discipleship”, “Christianity, “spiritual growth.” Just browse the aisles of your local Christian bookstore and you will see the performance-driven mindset we have made of Christianity and the Christian life.  And the deeply, tragic reality is, we are addicted to it.

Yet, the truth is holiness isn’t a lifestyle you choose to live by, it’s an identity you to choose to receive through faith. The obedience of the New Covenant is an obedience of faith, not rule keeping. The Law only serves to actually entice us to sin more, not less. Rather, it is the Grace of God that teaches us to live rightly. Faith is the root, obedience is the fruit. A person with an obedience problem is a person who has an identity problem. They don’t know what Jesus has done TO them, and/or believe it. Disciplship isn’t about a process of becoming, it’s an awakening to who you already are in Christ, and believing it. It’s all about His performance, not ours.

o.o4 Membership verses Manifestation- Where I would agree that in church-world, uniting people around shared vision and values is highly important. Unfortunately, in most church settings the concept of “membership” has taken on a whole other life and purpose.  In fact, it hasn’t been until recent years that the concept of utilizing membership as a tool for church unity has existed.

Rather, in most churches, church membership serves several other purposes… it show who’s “in” and who’s “out,” it’s a means to get people to commit to your brand of church, it identifies people who are “trusted” to serve, it’s a status from which members declare and receive certain “rights” and “privileges,” it’s a way of tracking people and charting trends, it is a status that makes one feel they have accomplished something of value spiritually and are “covered” in that area of their life, and it’s a number used by pastors and leaders to gauge success.

In this way, “church” has become much like a club you join.  There is little difference between the basic concepts of membership at a local church than there is at a local YMCA.  The consumerism mindset of our American culture has found its way into the “church” and church membership is just one example.   Pastors use it to bolster their egos and members use it to legitimize demands, benefit from privileges, have their say, attain status, and put a notch on their spiritual belts.

Yet, it’s interesting that the concept of membership in the Bible is not specifically present, and the closest we get is with groups of Christians gathering and serving together with shared vision and values, nothing more nothing less.  Obviously, the New Testament is not meant to confine churches and limit the freedoms to what is possible, but I would suggest that what we have made church membership into is nothing less than yet another example of the modern, 21st century pharisee-mindset at work. What could be more legalistic than to make “church” into a club with a cross on top where some are “in” and some are “out” complete with inside handshakes, politics, levels of status, special privileges, and a process by which you can feel righteous in your life, all through a simple church “membership.” Jump through the hoops, and you too can have one.

At a core level, followers of Christ should not be identified by nor take their identity from any form of membership, but rather should be manifesting Christ (their true identity) and partnering together to share the Gospel and build the Kingdom.  Instead of merely attending and being a “member” of a church, we should be “being” the church to the world.  Enough with superficial, spiritual club memberships that turn the Christian life into something one attends, gets involved with, and earns their place in one or two days a week. Lets get back to the heart and be people of the “The Way” as we spend our time manifesting the Grace of Jesus to the world, individually and together. Let’s not let our preoccupation be with “what’s in it for me” but rather, “what is in me that I need to give to the world.”  The church was never meant to be a club, but a conversation of believers with the world about the Grace of God through Jesus Christ. Meeting together was never meant to transform into melding together through traditions, memberships, and institutional mindsets. The church becomes the hope of the world when we Christians see ourselves as the manger of the Gospel, not a member of a religious organization.

o.o5 Law verses Grace- Truth be told, most Christians are suspicious of Grace. They believe, if left unrestricted, it promotes sin, and hate it because they can’t use it to one-up other Christians, point out their shortcomings, and thump their Bibles. For sure, Grace disarms and frustrates the religious, but frees and fortifies the broken. Yes, many Christians do value Grace to an extent because they know you can’t sell God without at least some of it, but also like to keep a lid on it, because in their minds too much would be too much and they could lose control.

The formula they hold to is…  Grace + Law= Gospel.

That’s why they believe rules, guilt, fear, shame, to-do lists, steps, and formulas are what are needed to move the Christian train down the track. Appeal to a person’s sense of guilt and a perceived ability they can turn their lives around. Break them down and then show them how to build themselves back up, looking and acting just like “us.” This is the drum beat of the historical and modern day Pharisee.

However, what may work for a military boot camp, does not work for Jesus nor the Christian life. Punishment has never made anyone Holy.

The Gospel is Grace, or it isn’t the Gospel. God does the work, we believe, and thus receive.  The formula is… Grace + Law = Law,  Grace = Gospel

There is no mixture, and if there is, there is no Grace.  It is not, “God does His part, we do our part.”  Rather, it is, “God does His part, and our part is to realize we don’t have a part; only to believe.”  Faith is the currency of heaven, not our efforts. Favor is unmerited or it’s not favor at all.

A person who truly receives the pure Gospel of God’s Grace does not sin more than sin less, because they know who they truly are in Christ and believe it. They are not sin conscious, they are Jesus conscious. It is their identity that defines their performance, not their performance that defines their identity.

This revelation of the new covenant Gospel of God’s Grace changes everything, rules and rule keeping never changed anything. It is all Grace, or it isn’t Grace at all.

The Pharisees hated Grace, at any level. They loved to condemn, push their rules, and display power point presentations of their religious standards and traditions. And though I hate to say it, I suspect they would be very comfortable in most churches and with most Christians today where this always enough of the Law around to make sure Grace is kept contained and quantified. The modern day, 21st Century Pharisee at most thinks Grace is the appetizer, it’s the bait that leads to the catch. It’s a nice thing that leads to the real thing. It’s part of an equation, but not the solution. For them, the solution is God + you, together saving and sanctifying.

However, the Gospel is Grace alone through faith. It IS the solution, not a part of it. It’s the main meal, the only meal, not an appetizer. There is not hook, there is no catch, there is only Grace. Grace needs no side kick, lead in, bate, appetizer or trailer, it is the whole deal, the real deal, and the only deal. Its host is faith, not performance. It is attracted to our weaknesses not our strengths. Everything else is a con, scam, and substitute.  Grace is the only thing that works, changes, and transforms. Believe it to receive it.

o.o6 Consuming Crowd verse Complete Cooperatives- If one were to attend a church service in America, you would very likely experience a message that has a basic theme of “how to be a better person.” or “what you need to do more or less of in your life” and a worship experience that was bent towards appealing to a cultural desire to hear good music, be emotionally moved, and get motivated for Jesus.

Now I know I am walking on a thin line here because there is an important value in communicating the Gospel in culturally relevant ways with excellence.  I am a firm believer in utilizing modern communication methods and technology to share the Gospel.

However, in most cases, it is not the Gospel that is being sold, but rather a spiritual experience that appeals to a desire to enhance our lives through our own habits and actions with a little help from Jesus along the way.  To be sure, we have become a culture of Christian consumers looking for the best worship experiences, programs for our kids, and inspiring messages to utilize in improving our lives. Many-a-church have been happy to join the competitive race among pastors and leaders to be the latest and the greatest to serve the needs of consumer Christians. Nearly every conference on ministry you can attend centers on ministry and leadership performance in some way or another. Pastor and leaders spend big bucks looking for that latest program, principal, strategy or idea that is going to take them and their church to the “next level” of success; success being defined by numbers, baptisms, and overall growth.

We are a culture of consumer pastors leading consumer churches that breed consumer Christians. It is the American dream turned into the pastoral dream turned into the church dream turned into the Christian dream. This is nothing less than the traditional, Pharisee philosophy of ministry made modern.  Finding the best Rabbi to follow who fits your needs and desires has simply turned into finding the best church to attend, conference to experience, or program to implement. Instead of being spiritual leaders and churches that have The Name as our identity and nature, we strive and strive to make a name for ourselves and our ministries.

Yet, what would happen if Christians saw themselves not as incomplete people who constantly need to consume more of the Jesus they already completely have, but as complete people in Christ who came together to express their love to Jesus and manifest the Gospel to others? There is truly something misguided with the Christian who sees themselves as desperate for more of Jesus in their life. How can you want or need more of what you already have fully?  This desire for “more of Jesus” belittles the cross and suggests that the Gospel comes to a person in portions, as if God were withholding Himself from us. Indeed, we live under an open heaven. When Jesus said, “it is finished” He meant it, giving the everything of Himself to the nothingness of us.

The only thing that a believer needs to consume is that which strengthens their faith in Christ’s performance, not a plea to muster more energy for their performance to do more or do better.  In fact, the job of the Holy Spirit in the non believers life is to convict them of their unbelief in Jesus, but the job of the Holy Spirit in the believers life is to convince them of their righteousness in Christ.

I would venture to say, most of what Christians consume spiritually is purposed or translated into striving to behave better and do more.  This is religion and its religious cycle at it’s best, just in modern forms.

But Jesus through His Grace, breaks the cycle. He completes us completely, our performance does not. There is nothing we can consume other than Jesus and His Grace received through faith that will heal, change, or transform any and every aspect of our lives. Jesus is not in the business of making good people better, but giving dead people Life.  He is not into life enhancement, but complete life remaking, all by His work, through our faith.

o.o7 Performance verses Rest- To rest is to believe, to perform is to doubt. The moment we look to our own performance for our worth, value, and standing, we have stepped away from trusting in the performance of Jesus and His finished work on the cross. Pharisees then and now are all about performance, all in the spiritual disguise of  modern terms like “faithfulness,” “radical obedience,” “serving,” and the like.

Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with acting in response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and to be sure, we are not talking about working hard in life economically. Rather we are talking about our efforts to appease God, gain the gleam of His eye, legitimize our faith,  prove our worthiness, give our lives value and worth, remove guilt and shame, and make a name for ourselves. So many Christians are turning to church activity and “serving” to right the wrongs, even the score, legitimize their faith, and heal the scars of guilt in their life.  Most don’t even realize it, or would ever admit it.  Yet, unfortunately, the church, like the performance-driven systems of the Pharisees are happy to oblige.

Rest is not the absence of activity, it is a foundation of faith in Christ’s performance over, above, and despite ours. When we rest, God works. When we work, God rests.   Pharisees then and now, are repulsed by those whose lives are ruled by a foundation of rest. Rest disarms the power of fear, guilt, shame, failure, and success to define or persuade a person’s life, the very things that religious people and groups thrive on to motivate and legitimize their lives.

Performance is founded on self-righeousness. Rest is founded on righteousness in Christ.

 

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