Tag: life (page 1 of 3)

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.

Thankful For Nothing

In a world of everything, I am thankful for nothing.

I know, it feels like everything—that thing that you did.

You made a mistake, you screwed up—words you said, choices you made, plans you created. The moment got the best of you, it wasn’t supposed to happen that way—everything spiraling out of control. The crack on the ceiling became the whole house falling. It was bad—really, really bad.

So now, you run, but you can’t run fast enough—the medication, can’t medicate deep enough. Your success, can’t be successful enough. What you want to let go, won’t seem to let go—the guilt, the shame, the cost, the regret. At times, it’s all so overwhelming. What you did, it feels like—everything.

In your mind it’s haunting you, certainly this is all reason for His doubt, reason for His questioning—reason for your one-eye-open living. Will you get the ax? Will God storm out of the heavens like a drunk out of bar—put you in your place under an angry thumb? Is this the time you pushed Him too far?

I know, it feels like everything—that thing that happened to you.

They stole your innocence, betrayed your trust—said terrible things, did terrible things. It wasn’t fair, wasn’t right—completely wrong in every way—stealing things that can’t be replaced. The hurts run deep, straight to the arteries of your soul—you’ll never be the same. Tragedy has many faces—some innocent, some not. You weren’t suppose to be alone, but now you are—the chair where they sat—now empty. No greater pain you have ever felt than being without, being alone—once loving in the physical, to now love in memory only.

So, you run, but you can’t run fast enough—the medication, can’t medicate deep enough. Your success, can’t be successful enough. What you want to let go, won’t seem to let go—the bitterness, the anger, the revenge—the hurt, the loss, the emptiness. What happened to you, it feels like—everything.

That’s why, in your mind, the questions pound you—is He real, was He asleep at the wheel? How could this ever happen under a God who’s supposed to be so loving? Beating His chest, crying every tear, feeling hung out to dry—perhaps these doubts should have been doubted long before. What you thought was a trust now seems so un-trustable.

I know, it feels like everything—what you are doing, who you are becoming, the life you are living.

The real you, the fake you, something in between—your secret thoughts, insecurities, desires, dreams. Passions in your heart—if only to love and be loved in return—declared of value, overflowing with worth. Fully accepted—never to die with your song still inside. You’ve got one life—air to breathe, breaths to take. Am I good enough? Am I like-able, love-able? Do I qualify “as is,” or something different? Status, labels, “likes” on Facebook—I don’t want to waste anytime. Fit in here, fit in there—maybe have no fit at all. Am I getting this right? Doing this well?

And so you run, but you can’t run fast enough—the medication, can’t medicate deep enough. Your success, can’t be successful enough. What you want to let go, won’t seem to let go—the insecurities, the uncertainties, the voices in your head—the naysayers, fair-weather players—the push to be seen, heard, affirmed, believed.

What you are doing, who you are becoming, the life you are living—it feels like—everything.

That’s why, in this world of everything, I am so thankful for nothing.

For nothing can subtract from God’s love for you. Nothing can change His mind, reduce His delight—kink the garden hose of His favor drenching you.

No mistake, no miscue, no atrocity—nothing of you can edit anything of Him.

All decided, once and for all—God’s perfect, unconditional, unrestricted love. Always has, always is, always will be, for there is nothing more pure, more sure than God’s heart—His love, His affections for you—nothing.

There’s nothing for Him to reexamine, to revaluate, to retract—nothing from Him withheld, reserved, restrained.

Nothing.

Nothing else is God but love—perfect, eternal, unconditional, unlimited love. All, poured out for you, for me, for everyone.

In a world of everything, I am thankful for nothing.

For nothing can improve upon the you that God has already finished—there’s nothing of blemish, nothing of sin, nothing of darkness in you within. Nothing to work on, nothing to strive for, nothing to earn—you are whole, complete, righteous, forgiven, forever pure. It’s nothing of what you do, only everything of what He did—there’s nothing left to do, only everything to believe, in Him

It’s not about what people think—not what people say. Not the height of your attitude, not the depth of your gratitude—nothing half empty, nothing half full. Nothing of your religious effort, believing, or work—nothing at all.

Nothing to fear, nothing of which to be ashamed, nothing of tarnish upon your name.

You are righteousness, when you get it all wrong—you are success, when failures go on and on—you are whole, even as it all unravels to the ground.

As He is, so are you—nothing less than the beauty of Jesus—nothing.

In a world of everything, I am thankful for nothing.

For nothing is the sum distance between you and God—He is beside you, within you, all around you, as you. Nothing closer, nothing thicker, nothing more real than the realness of His hand holding yours—you have never been alone.

He is your strength when yours is nothing—He is your guide, when your sight sees nothing. He is your hope, when hope seems like nothing.

Grace is awakening to the hug God has always had around you—a Grace that nothing can remove.

So, in a world of everything, I am so thankful for nothing.

Absolutely… nothing.

For in the nothing, I find everything for which to be thankful…

Nothing.

Love Cannot Be Out-Voted, Be Brave

For many of us, the 2016 presidential election has cast an ominous shadow—these are dark days for sure. It feels like we have lost nearly everything as at the mere casting of a ballot, so many of the things we value have been voted irrelevant and many of the people we deeply love, now exposed to even higher levels of the very bigotry, discrimination, abuse, and hate that already plagues their God-adorned lives. We are nervous, afraid, unsettled, uncertain, and rightly so.  Few seem to truly understand the plight of the marginalized and oppressed, and much of America has apparently decided that no matter the cost in character, lives, justice, and truth, holding onto ones privilege and power is far more important—the emergence of equality always feels like war to the privileged.

In the very same way, at the cross, Grace appears to be dying, dead, deemed irrelevant, and all hope murdered out of existence. The forces of evil that seek to steal, kill, and destroy the very values and people God loves and affirms so deeply, seem to have won the day. Jesus is dead, Grace has been out-voted, and evil has the victory—a complete cosmos-level of shock blanketing many who witnessed that day—the nails, the dripping of blood, the stopping of breath. The privileged and religiously-spirited appear to have won the battle against the heart of God, whose manifestation in Jesus brought a radical message of heaven-sanctioned Grace, life, freedom, equality, affirmation, and acceptance for all—none are better, only different.

Yet, ultimately, in due time, a Light appears revealing nothing could be further from the truth. It took some time, but as His followers listened, allowed their hearts to be still, and remembered the Jesus they had come to love and follow, a new Hope, a new perspective, and a new path revealed Itself—One greater than they had ever known before. What looked and felt like insurmountable death was resurrected into unstoppable life. For nothing can out-vote Love.

The way of Jesus, at times, feels like a losing one filled with moments of desperation and gut-wrenching unfairness. The days ahead will be important times to mourn, to be shocked, to allow ourselves to experience the full range of emotions and empathize with others that do also. It’s a time to fiercely beat the chest of God, cry out for understanding, and be completely, thoroughly, and unapologetically honest about our doubts and disbelief.

Yet, these are also days to be still, to listen, to learn, to look at ourselves in the mirror, examine our hearts, consider our ways, and remind ourselves, greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.

Love wins, love cannot be out-voted, and we the people of Jesus, lovers of Grace and truth, are a brave people—not just brave, but unstoppable.

Perhaps, a battle has been lost, maybe so. But we who are still yet determined, in the face of our enemies, in the shock of our disappointment, and in the quaking of our fears, to continue to love unconditionally, carry ourselves with true humility, cling to Hope unwaveringly, stand with the oppressed unyieldingly, and live the way of Jesus exceedingly, have already won the war.

We are never a defeated people as long as we are a people of Love unconditional.

Now is the time, like never before, to show the world in this season of darkness that we are the possessors of true Light—do what you will, take what you take, hate what you hate, abuse what you abuse, but we will never become the evil done against us!

Never.

We will never take up the sword over the plowshare, we will never rejoice at the mourning of others, even the demise of our enemies, nor we will ever be rendered silent in the defense of all that God affirms and delights.

Never, no way, ever!

We are Lovers, lovers all the way.

Surely, these are days to be sacredly sad, but these are also days to be unbridledly brave.

Brave enough to cry.

Brave enough to hurt.

Brave enough to hope.

Brave enough to live.

Brave enough to still yet love—and that, unconditionally unconditional.

It’s time to be brave, for Love cannot be out-voted.

Never, no way, ever!

 

Grace is brave, be brave.

I’m Done: Why I’m Completely Walking Away From Church, Ministry, And Most Everything “Christian”

I promise, it’s not you, it’s me.

That, I’m convinced.

I’ve tried, I really have. Twenty-two years of ministry—even more time, simply being a “Christian.”

I can’t do it, and it’s high time to call the wizard out from behind the curtain.

This whole American-Christianity thing, I’m just not good enough. I can’t pull it off.

Church, ministry, “Christian” stuff—I simply don’t have what it takes.

I mean, you Church folks are amazing, I don’t know how you do it. The way you keep your righteousness and closeness with God afloat through a vigilant life of sin-management, do-gooding, and Christian faithfulness, I can’t even begin to lift that kind of weight, let alone hold it up. For me, every time I’m admonished with things I need to do in order to be a better person or become a more “fully devoted” follower of Jesus Christ, I don’t even get close to mastering just one of them, not to mention the five others listed in the sermon notes. And before you know it, the next Sunday, we’re on to a whole new set of things I need to go after. Honestly, I just can’t keep up like you. I’m so far behind from being a “real deal Christian.” And quite frankly, I’m ashamed of my incapacity to spiritually perform at your level. I truly don’t know how you field that kind of pressure and keep good going with all the spiritual consequences ahead of you if you don’t. Your fear management skills must be impeccable.

Something is wrong with me, I’m sure. All the accountability partners, prayer warriors and small-group interventions have somehow fallen flat. Years of Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, pastors, and mentors hoping I’ll get serious enough to get my life on track. I feel like such a hypocrite and fake to just take a step towards your fellowship, as if I’m even close to making the grade or would ever be capable of drawing within your lines. It all leaves me so empty. I feel everything in my soul shutting down at just the thought.

I look around, and everyone else is so much more spiritual. All the inspirational posts they have on Facebook, all the good things they are doing for the Lord—so deep into worship and prayer with their eyes closed and hands raised, loving every minute of it with complete abandon. There’s this ardent love and commitment to Jesus that’s just dripping from everybody’s lips with such eloquent and Jesus-flavored verbiage. And here I am—riddled with serious doubts and questions, embarrassed that I’m not feeling nearly as into Jesus as apparently I should. Heck, truth be told, I’m still struggling with a good amount of the bad stuff you folks seem to be so far beyond. My beliefs change, my behaviors fall short, my passions fade—no wonder why, from time to time, I’ve gotten the disappointed looks, cold shoulders, and leadership “time outs.”  What was I thinking, I’m way out of my league. Repentance here, pointing out sin there, keeping people from an eternal torture in hell prescribed from a God who is Love—I don’t know how you stomach it all. It’s true, I really should be so much further along by now, but for some reason, all the formulas, disciplines, rituals, steps, and “soaking” in worship aren’t working for me. And trust me, I’ve tried—really, really hard.

Church, I want to fit in so badly, I want to feel like a genuine follower in American Christianity, but I just can’t. Whatever it is you have, I simply don’t have it in me.

I mean, you people in ministry—you got it going on. All of you, rockstars for sure. How you keep up in the whirlwind of competitive Christianity is beyond me. It’s everywhere—in all my searching, I’ve been hard pressed to find a layer of Christian ministry that hasn’t been turned into pretty much a kind of all-out ministry cage match. Quite frankly, I don’t know how so many of you do it—making sure your ministry is out-growing the next, your blog posts are the first written on the latest controversial subject, your platform is increasing, your branding is on point, your engaging your following, updating your Twitter account, promoting your latest “thing”—on and on and on, keeping up with ministry trends, making sure you’re “in” with all the right people, all while having the picture perfect marriage and family pimped with the latest fashions, fohawks, tattoos, and skinny jeans required in order to be relevant.  Wow, I bend a knee in your honor and awe.

And then, the criticism. All the people determined to misunderstand you—the people who treat you unfairly, kick you to the curb, and hang you out to dry. The fellow people in ministry who sabotage you, seek to undermine your influence, use you, and are always trying to “out minister” you. How you shrug it all off and plow through—my hat goes off to you.

I’m sure I just don’t have enough faith and I am way too insecure. I should be so much stronger in my identity in Christ, but a lot of times, I’m just not. Thank God there are celebrity ministers out there within every camp and kind who do, say, and write so much better than the rest of us—makes up for all my floundering for sure. You folks are heroes, how you stomach and swim in the business and enterprise that is empire Christianity is way beyond my capacity—the compromises you have to make, the duplicities you must have to embody—yours is a high wire act I’m just not good enough to swing.  As much as your table in the lunch room captures my attention, I can’t hang with you all, though my ego might keep on dreaming. I must concede, I just don’t have it in me.

I mean, “Christian” stuff—your imagination is mind-boggling. Christian yoga, Christian yoga pants, Christian basketball, Christian football, Christian dance, Christian art, Christian music, Christian movies, Christian television, Christian bathrooms, Christian food, Christian fast food, Christian books, Christian book marks, Christian clubs, Christian groups, Christian values, Christian principles, Christian nations, not to mention,  Christian ___________. Oh, and I almost forgot, Christian_____________.

I am amazed, you are the masters of drawing lines—defining who’s in and who’s out, what’s in and what’s out, what’s good for me, and what’s not.  My radar for sin and uncleanliness just isn’t that good. Thank God, you label it for me.

But even still, if I’m honest, I find myself deeply wanting to “be with” and “in with” so many of things that aren’t necessarily “Christian.”  And for that, I know I am suppose to feel, “dirty”—but, I don’t.

Surely, something is wrong with me—terribly wrong with me. I’m damaged goods, falling away, chasing wayward spirits of doctrine, or something “biblical” like that. Yet, I can’t help it. Something inside of me that I have been told for years is so weak, meek, and poor feels, yet all so strong and divine, drawing me away— far, far away.

I’m pretty sure I am going to hell, at leasts that’s what “they” say.  So, I guess that’s just how it’s going to have to be, because I simply can’t fake-it-to-make-it anymore. You folks have it, I don’t.

I know breaking up is hard to do, but I’m done. I’m walking away.

Church, ministry, so much of this “Christian” stuff.

I’m done playing the game, running the rat race, never measuring up or doing enough. I’m done competing, sacrificing my sanity, and being spiritually cross-checked every time I have an open shot on goal.

I’ve simply resigned myself to a life of trying to fully be myself—relying on Grace and loving some people along the way as best I can, believing that in so doing and in so being, Jesus is somehow pleased.

I’m a firm believer that you don’t lose friends, you lose people who you thought were friends.

And better than that—you don’t stop loving, you just learn to love more honestly.

I sense I’ll be doing the former, and I know, I’ll be doing the latter.

For honesty is the first thing that grows from a life planted in Grace.

Forget It Conservative Christianity, I’m Choosing Hell

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

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

What will heaven be like?

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

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

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

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

It’s hell.

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

It’s hell.

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

It’s hell.

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

It’s hell.

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

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

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

It’s hell.

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

It’s hell.

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

It’s hell.

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

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

It’s hell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your hell is where my Jesus will be.

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

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

 

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

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.

This Is What It Feels Like To Be Loved By You : An Open Letter To Conservative Christians

I love you, and I am one of you—no, not a conservative Christian per se, but a fellow Jesus-loving, God-created human being journeying along this mutual path of faith—a travel that is often dimly lit and consistently uncertain. At the end of the day, I am trying to center by life, understanding, and beliefs in the person of Jesus, as are you. We are fellow children of God, sisters and brothers in faith, bedazzled by the Father with divine dignity and worth. Ours, is a journey with much in common.

At one time, I shared much of the same conservative perspectives, tenets, and interpretations as do you. I understand fully the foundations upon which you stand and the lenses through which you see God, scripture, and the world.  Over the course of 21 years as an Evangelical pastor, my knowledge of conservative Christianity is intimate.  I respect you and the framework from which your faith is established.

Right now, we live in a pivotal time and space, loaded with opportunity to be Light that outshines the shadows. The earth and all that has life and breath is opening wide its arms and lifting its chest in hopes of being collided with fresh winds of divine rendering, bringing life to its every limb, bending and swaying all humanity as the Spirit blows free with freedom.

One of the most awakening moments in my spiritual journey came when I was confronted with the person I had become and the stark reality of what my conservative Christianity had done to me. With the noblest of intentions, I had become the opposite in results. So much of what I held certain to be of truth, faithfulness, and the person of Jesus was chased out from behind the masks of my religious ignorance and pride—revealing a monster of demonic proportions dressed as faithfulness to Jesus and the Bible. What stared back at me in the mirror shook me to my core—I was irrevocably convinced of being so close to His heart, but discovered in truth, I was universes away.

I wonder if you know what it feels like to be “loved” by you and to interact with your faith understandings and pursuits.

As well intentioned as I know you are, quite honestly, your love often feels highly conditional and even pretentious, if not all together condemning. To be sure, there are many in your faith tradition, like you, who are loving and pursuing with great ambition, but it feels like any love that’s given is mainly because at some level, you kinda have to—all seemingly all part of your faith obligations and spiritual mission. I am sure your heart is real, but it feels like you love me more as a project than a person, with an overall goal to “disciple” me into thinking, believing, and behaving just like you. You call it transformation, the manifestation of a God who loves me enough to “meet me where I am at, but not leave me there”—but I am not even sure what that really means, or if it’s really true. I’m thinking it might be as simple as God just loves me, period—which leaves me wondering, why doesn’t it feel like you do too?

To be sure, conservative Christianity can taste so wonderful when you fit snug into the mold, but it can also feel like a sure kind of hell when you don’t—smiles to greet you at your face, surface pleasantries all around, but twitch with a wrong move—knives ready to stab you in your back, pushed to the outside, and even left to drown. The requirements to keeping-good-going in a relationship with you feels like a tireless game of making sure one plays by all the rules, completes all the steps, and meets your every expectation—otherwise, a clear message is surely in the mail, “we love you but, you’re falling short, repent or be removed.”

Oh I understand the idea of divine-authored, corrective conviction and the displeasure that can entail. It’s an integral part of your faith system and how the Jesus of your understanding impacts and transforms the world. But this is not about objecting to a dose of divine discipline, but rather the hurt, shame, and harm that’s caused by your faith prescriptions and interventions. For divine correction carries with it a kind of pleasurable discomfort as it begins and ends with Grace, kindness, humility, and unconditional acceptance—and thus, what hurts in the process is not the correction, but the regret of not seeing and embracing all the love, forgiveness, acceptance, kindness, and Grace that is already ours in Christ, so much sooner—the very things, the only things ironically, that bring about genuine change and transformation. That’s why sadly, so much of your discipling and speaking your “truth in love” only feels like pain and punishment as it’s completely devoid of the very Grace and truth that saves and makes the broken, whole—for punishment never made anyone holy.

I wonder, do you know what it feels like to be shunned—the facial displeasures, the flippant remarks, the disapproving stares, the disassociations and marginalizations? Do you know what it feels like to be labeled as lessor, inferior, and even evil, particular by you who declare to be so spiritual and echo the voice of the Creator? Do you understand how your “hating my sin,” but loving me as a “sinner” sucks the life out of my soul, condemned by your words as a second-class citizen?

Rejection, shame, disgust—do you know what they feel like when wielded from the visceral of another human?

Where is the discrimination in your life? Where are the toilets from which you have been banned their use? Where are the cakes that you have been refused? Where are the church fellowships and leadership positions from which you have been deemed disqualified? Where are the parents that sent you to the curb as illegitimate and no longer their true child? Where have we seen you dehumanized to the point of suicide, all in the name of Jesus and biblical faithfulness? Where are the gallows from which you have been hung for simply having a different color of skin? Where do we see you doing more listening than lecturing—more serving than judging?

To be loved by you feels like becoming a carny in a circus of constantly created wars against enemies you desperately need to exist and the formation of dire solutions for which there are no real problems. It feels like you believe yours is a privileged faith that entitles you special treatment—that you have deemed yourself as being better than the rest and possessors of the inside scoop to all that is Jesus, God, the Bible, and truth.

Oh, how I wish things were different as it feels like you have little to no sense of how much your words impale and your displeasure tortures and kills from the innards on out—your faith brand imprisoning me in a spiritual maze from which I will never find my way, upon a scale I will never measure up, and within a race I can never cross the finish. If there was ever a move by the Spirit to improve me, all your conditions, religious prescriptions, and condemnations would surely eclipse it.

I wonder, why do you have to interpret the Bible in all the most legalistic, negative, barbaric ways?

You don’t have to believe in a skin-melting, eternal-tormenting hell, an angry schizophrenic God, homosexual abomination, and the conquering of the world through militant, empire Christianity in order to be biblically faithful. Yet for some reason, you still do.

Why is it that when it’s shared with you, the words translated as “homosexual” in the New Testament were not translated as such until 1945, all the sudden you frantically determine that Greek translations are no longer important—but then, when it’s suggested that God loves everyone and desires all to be saved (and gets what He desires), all the sudden Greek translations used to limit God’s love become, to you, ever so critical?  I can’t help but feel like you are intentionally spinning the Bible towards restricting, restraining, and putting conditions on God, love, and the true freedom and life Jesus brings. It feels like any blanks left in scripture are always filled in with the most negative, condemning, legalistic, and conditional conclusions possible—not to mention, the convenient love it feels like you give, allowing a pass on your own biblical sins while judging harshly those who sin differently than you.

To be loved by you feels like, even though when met with faithful alternative, biblical understandings—you would still choose the ones that are the most hurtful, shaming, condemning and conditional.

It feels like you want to hate so much more than Jesus and the Bible are telling you to do so.

It feels like you are much more in love with your stances on the Bible, than in love with standing with people.

It feels like your love of justice is much more like a love of “just us.”

I long so desperately for the day when you will love me “as is” and all the same if I never change to your liking, but I am grieving the loss that from this, your conservative creed construct, that day will never come.

Maybe, just maybe, the Bible isn’t a strict dictation from God of His nature and ways, nor a detailed, infallible diary of His human interactions, but rather an organic catalog of important human journeys towards the understanding of life and God’s intersection and interactions therein—human understandings that are often imperfect and at times even drastically off the mark, painting colors and storylines into a picture of God that are in reality, far from who or how He truly is. Yet, nonetheless, each giving us a window into the highs and lows, the clarities and the misunderstandings we all experience along the way—each step, right or wrong, filled with the capacity to know Him more fully and live Him more accurately than at first.

Maybe, just maybe, the Bible is intentionally imperfect and incomplete so as to launch us into this same ever-flowing river of encounters with the perfect One—encounters not purposed on gaining complete understanding, but on finding complete rest in the One who is Understanding—writing along side of us our own personal Bible of faith journeys with Him where theology is best learned at the feet of Jesus not in the pages of someone else’s experiences and interpretations.

Maybe just maybe, this is the essence of what is truly authoritative and divinely inspired about the collection of faith experiences we call the Bible—all leading us to encounter for ourselves the Author and Finisher of our faith, Jesus the Christ. In so doing, we embark not upon a slippery slope that steers our theologies into the ditch, but a trail of faith that allows God to reveal Himself more clearly and deeply as we discover there is always more to know and more that He reveals of the expanse of God who is Love.

For this I surely know, until our theology is Love, we will always be leaning on our own understanding to the detriment, and even destruction, of other people.

My friend, may I suggest, a new absolute is coming and has already long been here—Grace.

For the non-judgement day is upon us, because all is finished, forgiven, and made whole by the Father through the Son.

But yet it feels like, to you, this is bad news, as much as Jesus died to make it good.

It feels like you want hell, judgement, condemnation, discrimination, lines, labels, battles, distance, and differences more than Jesus or the Bible could ever desire or deem so.

I mean no disrespect, nor look away from my own imperfections and failures, I just thought there could be a chance you might want to know…

this is what it truly feels like to be loved by you—

which, for so many of us, we are truly questioning if it’s really love at all.

The Self-Talk That Is Killing You

There is no drama playing out in all the world that is more significant than the one being continually staged in the auditorium of our heads. Ours is an inner life filled with an ever developing script of characters dressed with the personas we give them, the sentences we write, the blanks we fill in—friend or foe, villain or hero, threatening or benign, hope or despair, regret or satisfaction, all a constant inner conversation striving to interpret and navigate our human experiences and direct them into a positive plot that circumvents pain and resolves dissonance into harmony.

Of all the scenes that are set under spotlight, the exclusive conversations we have with ourselves form the dialogues that leverage the strongest pull on the strings of our story. Nothing directs the chapters of our lives more than our self-talk—so much that our future is rarely the sole product of what manifests on stage, but rather the narration we pen of it in our inner conversations. Within seconds of every life interaction, we translate our experiences into internal, emotional and cognitive storylines and conclusions that forever shape our steps.

Above all that unfolds in front or behind the curtains of our psyche, we are the director of the drama in our inner life, and our directing, a sure product of the perceptions we embrace of the Author. If God exists, does He write scripts of hardship, adversity, or even pain into our lives for some kind of divine purpose? Is His affections for us filled with limits, conditions, inconsistencies, or even existent at all? Are the characters that fill the world’s stage fundamentally good, bad, or something in between? Is He mad, disappointed, or undecided about me? Is God truly love, or is He some kind of bipolar mixture with moments here and there of convenient amnesia? Should I place complete hope and faith in Him, or is it best that I live with one eye open? Are the plot lines in my life, negative or positive, written directly from the pen in His hand, or is something or someone else at play? So many factors and influences take the stage—parents, upbringing, faith, circumstances, and life experiences, all auditioning to write a verse or even commandeer the entire script as the Author in our heads.

That’s the reason why, for many of us, the person we are to ourselves isn’t so much in concert with the true Author of life, but far more in step with the Accuser of it—a constant voice of condemnation interpreting all of our existence towards the verdict of personal guilt and shame. Somehow, it’s always our fault. We are wrong even when we are right. Every moment of every day, drinking in and regurgitating out volumes of evil, twisted verses to our souls—I’ll never measure up, I’m a square peg in a round world, always a step below, a length behind, a stumble too far gone. Things will never get better, this is as good as it’s going to get. God hates me, I’m an abomination—the reason this is all happening. My life is a bitch in the ditch, a mess far beyond repair. I’m a misfit, a misprint, a miscue, and fundamentally, a grandiose mistake.

The truth is, the Accuser cannot speak to you what you aren’t first willing to say to yourself. Often, the lens through which we see our lives is so skewed by inner condemnation, shame, and inadequacy that the person gazing back at us in the mirror reveals the image of one who has been repeatedly and brutally raped by our self-talk to the point that our true beauty, strength, wholeness, and divinity is nowhere to be seen—buried under the bed of our self-inflicted adultery. Tainted by a diabolical world that’s been allowed penetration onto our cerebral stage, our self-talk is killing us—and not just killing us, but unceasingly thrusting Jesus back upon the cross in full declaration and conclusion that when all is said and done, His Grace is not sufficient—at least not for us. The words we speak, the evils we echo to our soul are the nails that crucify us and Him, over and over again—our self-talk, locking the shackles that are imprisoning our every step.

The verbal selfie you take in your mind is the most influential image in your life. Like a resurrected Lazarus who was nothing more than a card-carrying member of the walking dead until his burial wraps were removed, we will never be fully alive until the death we speak to ourselves is shown for its utter uselessness and imprisonment, and thus unraveled and replaced with words of life—because we have finally become convinced by the Convincer, we are not dead, but teeming with divine Light.

For you are the loveliness of Jesus, the prize for which He became a person. You are whole, complete, forever without blemish—never discarded or labeled as damaged goods. Nothing less than pure delight and affection has come from God’s heart to yours. On the cross, Jesus did far more than ankle-yank you out of hell into heaven, He remade you, and all that is Him is all that is now you. Nothing can revoke or remove God’s perfect, unconditionally unconditional love for you. You are fully qualified for every good thing. No sin, past, present, or future shall ever define you nor cast a shadow upon your image. As far as the east is from the west, inadequacy and shame are forever removed from your path.

My child, there is nothing wrong with you, no doubts to haunt your potential nor twitches to sabotage good things. Your capacity to face life is nothing less than Jesus’ capacity to face death—resurrection and redemption are who you are. To God, you are not merely a person to love, you are the reason God is love. Above all else, you are an experience to Him, the candy in the store that fills the heavens with joy, satisfaction, and pride. The mere thought of you tickles His sides with laughter and sends Him blazing through streets of gold with a gleam in His eyes brighter than a thousand suns.

There has never been, nor will there ever be, a time where the God who is perfect love does not perfectly and completely love you—all of you, everything about you. Every feeling, decision, and conclusion in your regard has already been formed and sealed in ecstatic, irrevocable and unremovable love. There is nothing you can do or become that can undo or improve upon what God has already put to rest—the internal, tormenting conversation you constantly wage with yourself wrestling with the value, worth, essence and summation of your life. There is nothing left to talk about or debate—there is nothing unsettled that hasn’t been settled. You are divine beauty, God’s best idea—no matter what others, and more importantly, no matter what you might say.

When we are the person weighted with depression—engulfed in the quicksands of discouragement. When we are the person held captive by self directed unforgiveness—hopelessly circling on sin’s merry-go-round, spinning our lives out of control. When we are the person eclipsing ourselves, standing in the way of shiny new things—striving, trying, and performing our way to somehow redeem our storyline and make a name and a significance of ourselves. Before all, and in all, we are first the person whose self-talk is diseased with words of condemnation and condition that ooze out a soul-hemorrhaging puss dripping from our mouths as we sing from the Accuser’s songbook.

Seeking to change our circumstances often proves futile, seeking to change our self-talk is the good fight of faith—the work of God that is to fully rest our souls and our self assessments on how deep, wide, scandalous, and expansive is the love of Jesus upon our every atom.

The greatest battle in your life is to be convinced of the Author’s conclusions when the Accuser blows his hallucinogenic smoke into your eyes hoping you’ll believe something less. There is nothing to work on in your life, there is only everything to believe on about your life. Jesus did not die to save you from an angry God, but to save you from believing He is. For guilt is anger turned inward, the death cocktail of the Accuser served for the consumption of your self-talk to rid you from seeing all that His hands have made—the perfection that is you.

God is good, He is love. He has nothing but grace, joy, hope, acceptance, affirmation, and freedom to speak into you.

Never let a thought be in your head of self evaluation or conclusion that is not first a thought in His, nor a conversation ensue within you that is not first wrought from the Father, Son, and the Spirit as they brag about you.

Then, the self-talk that is killing you soon becomes the Jesus-talk that frees you to fully be who you fully already are… Jesus anew.

5 Ways To Love The Anti-LGBT People In Your Life

Loving people is a deep ocean, as treacherous as it is beautiful. Navigating through the peril of those who stand against us, a daunting task of great proportions.  Between sunset skies, there are those who would drown us, silence our voices, and abandon our cry. The people who should care the most, are at times the ones who care the least.  It’s everything we can do, keeping our head above water, to not lose ourselves in the wake of hate. Love is as dangerous as the seas are blue.

It’s ok to want to give up, as long as you don’t do it. The love that is supposed to win, often feels like it’s losing—people determined to misunderstand, as much as they refuse to listen. The riptides of rejection, pulling us from everything that feels secure, something inside of us is slowing dying, we sense it—hope, faith, love, a struggle to remain human. Walls going up, the shades closing, curling up in the fetal position as we pray for the world to go away.

The day we give up on loving, the purpose of our living, that will be the day they win. It’s a fight, it truly is, but I still believe, with the anti-LGBT people in our lives, love still wins.

I’m not perfect, I have a long way to go, but here’s what I am learning. Five ways to win at loving the anti-LGBT people in our life.

Choose Relationship over Debate.  As an affirming, advocating pastor, people want to debate me. Having spent exhausting hours on this endless treadmill, I’ve learned to press the pause button and point to relationship—pushing out a chair, inviting them to the table. Not for a circular argument-fest, but for what could be a transforming conversation. Each of us growing, if in nothing less than our understanding. I can tell you, nobody has a heart-change through debating, it’s only through relating.

Find me a person who is anti-LGBT, and I will have found you a person who likely lacks true, humble, authentic connection with this community. Freedom from bigotry doesn’t comes from knowing a new idea, but from knowing a person, newly. Information, creeds, and beliefs find their heart changing power, only in relationship. It’s the face to face, soul to soul interaction that causes one to truly ask the question and seek an honest answer, “did I get this wrong?” It’s a daunting task to influence a heart to which you aren’t connected. Know your stuff, but where you can, choose relationship over debate.

Love from a Distance.  Caring for ourselves, protecting the well-spring of life within us, all deeply critical to our capacity to give loveIn the face of those who are against us, sometimes, the best we can do is to survive another day in order to love again on another. Nothing can be more toxic, more skin melting than the fallout from those in our lives who are anti-LGBT. Pulling the pin of “coming out” as a person, pastor, advocate, or a parent can be met with huge explosions. In all things, give yourself the permission to love as you can—a little, or even in moments, not at all. At times, giving grace isn’t measured in the love we give, but in our stopping short of expressing the opposite. If that means creating space, create it. Turning off the phone, a vacation from social media—there is a difference between freedom from love, and freedom for it. Don’t stop loving, rather find sanctuary in loving from a distance. Doing so, is completely acceptable and honoring, even if it doesn’t feel right, and leaves others disappointed. We can only do the best we can. What measure of goodness or sharing of self we have to bring at any given moment, should sit in our hearts as being sufficient.

Grieve the Loss of Expectations.  You thought they would “get it” but they didn’t—thought they would listen, but they aren’t. You thought they would love you anyways, but they won’t—thought they would come for the wedding, but they aren’t. You thought your ministry would survive, but it couldn’t—thought they would still value your friendship, but they don’t. You thought you could still go to church, still serve in ministry, but you can’t. Family visits, dinners at the table—so much will never be the same—never ever, again. These are the dreams, the hopes, the inner expectations we hug that are so hard to release. If only things were different, if only they would reconsider, if only they could see.

Letting go is different than giving up. It’s emotionally freeing yourself from the pain of expecting from someone what is fairly owed to you that they cannot or refuse to give—going to the well, over and over, only to come up dry. The decency that humans should be, is the decency we often don’t receive. It’s a process, a tiresome journey that doesn’t find resolve overnight. Accepting their rejection is the hardest—surrendering the impossible quest to change their mind, perhaps even more difficult. Yet, love finds its apex of fruition, its most challenging expression, when we love people where they are at, not where we wish they would be. Don’t give up hope, but let love emancipate your heart from being ruled by expectation.

Eat First.  The psalmist discovered that the power to love our enemies comes from first sitting at God’s table and eating—feeding off His delight, affirmation, and pure love for our lives. It’s only there that we find enough soul supply to never hunger or thirst again—to have a sure sense of self that our enemies can’t suck dry. Accepting His acceptance is the bullet proofing of our hearts from all rejection. Don’t you dare pull up a chair to anyone’s opinion in an effort to feed your identity, value, worth, or affirmation. Taste and see that God is good, and His goodness is in all that His hands have made, you included.

We help people to win in response to our lives when we remove from them the burden to be the source of our self-love and worth. To be connected to the tubes that feed our self-talk is a sure foothold all our enemies desire. The truth is, you don’t owe anyone an explanation, a plan, or a scripture to justify. We are who we are, by God’s exclusive design, and the haters can simply take it or leave it—what we believe or how we choose to live it. It would be great, it’s what we deserve, but their lack of approval, respect, and fairness doesn’t define us, nor should it leave our souls in a state of starving. We are whole and complete, apart from those who say we aren’t. This is the power of the table, from which we sit to face our enemies—full, quenched, sufficient, worthy, fully loved and fully alive, and therefore capable of even loving those who stand against us—not looking to be fed, or vulnerable to their leeching, but to contribute love where we can.

Keep the Light On.  We live in a dark world, blanketed by darkness. Ignorance abounds. Hate, the breakfast of many Christians and the religious. Even still, never give up.  Remove that card from the deck of possibilities. Keep the light on. “Motel-6” people, even if it hurts.

If God can change my mind and heart about all that is LGBTQ, anything is possible. Maybe, just one day, they will reconsider.

It’s not easy. Refuse to write people off, be brave enough to hope—to spend time in the land of the waiting. You will surely become a better person in the process, even if they never do.

Homophobic people who say stupid, horrific things… love them anyways.

Anti-LGBT people who are determined to misunderstand… love them anyways.

Bigoted people who want their cake and eat it too, keeping you from enjoying any… love them anyways.

Rejectors who kill with their eyes and destroy with their head turns… love them anyways.

People who should listen, but refuse to even hear… love them anyways.

Christians who completely malign the heart of Jesus and fail to manifest Him… love them anyways.

Family whose job it is to love you the most, but resign to caring the least… love them anyways.

Friends who once declared to forever walk by your side, but now have left the building… love them anyways.

For if the world is going to change, love will have been the reason—not just love, but your love and my love, specifically.

Be brave, love bravely.

The Light is still on, love still wins.

Today, I Heard My Father Speak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

just talking.

Today, I heard my father speak.

He’s not dead, in fact, he’s finally…

truly alive.

And, in some new way…

so am I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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