Tag: love (page 1 of 5)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if hell is nothing like you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace is brave. Be brave

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

Why don’t people go to Church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this truly the heart and way of Jesus?

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

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

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

Why. Can’t. Love. Be. Enough?

Grace is brave. Be brave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace is brave. Be brave.

8 Things I Wish We Christians Would Admit

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

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

I wish we would admit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace is brave. Be brave.

The Conservative Christianity That Is Killing You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds a lot more like hell to me.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

Christians, This Is Why People Think We Suck

Maybe you’re tired of hearing it, maybe you don’t care, or maybe you just don’t want to see it, but the truth is, whether we like it or not, most of the world doesn’t view Christians nor Christianity in a positive light—especially the conservative brand of our faith. For all our efforts to “win people for Christ” with even the best of intentions, at the end of the day, many see Christians as hypocritical pretentious jerks, “church” as a ridiculous waste of time, and our faith as a hopeless, ignorant, hateful, and useless relic of the past that refuses to evolve.

Sure, we could spiritualize it all away with leather-bound excuses as we declare that “in these the end of days, people will turn away.” Yet sadly, blinded to our own rebellion, it is in fact we, not them, who have increasingly rejected the true and pure Gospel—falling away from God who is Love, Jesus who is Grace, and His message that is peace. Once again, the irony is deafening as the religious who point fingers at the world in disgust and blame are the ones found to be most entrenched in its evils—lacking real compassion, humility, love, and true faith.

Believe what you want to believe, draw the lines where you want to draw, retreat to your camps, wrap yourself in the faith flag that seems to best suit your spiritual comforts—the world doesn’t care. We have largely lost our voice, surrendered much of our influence, and bear the image of spiritual buffoons in the eyes of many who look upon us. Fair or unfair, that’s the mirror of truth—whether we are willing to stand in front of it or not.

Sure, a few megachurches and contemporary ministries are increasing in numbers as sheep shift from pasture to pasture seeking out the best show. Yet still, American Christianity in all its expressions is largely dying and we, like drunks, are apparently so addicted to our religiosity that we would just as soon die with it in a pool of our own spiritual vomit than embrace the sobering cure.

But no, you won’t hear it, you won’t listen to it, you won’t take seriously the countless voices of those who’ve been left to drown in our wake. Deflecting truth, with your head buried in the echo chamber of your own understanding, has become to you a prized spiritual gift. For it is our deafness to the Christ crying out all around us that has drained the marrow out of our souls, rendered us nearly useless, and made us a sure enemy of God’s heart.

A voice cries out in the wilderness, “Christians, when will we lift our heads out of the sand and finally realize just who we have become?”

To those who have ears, let them hear.

We’ve become nose-blind to our own stench. The pungent, nose hair singeing aroma that exudes from our pores is the very reality we refuse to admit—our spiritual attitudes stink. Maybe we don’t put it into exact words, but we say it exactly in every other way. “We have the exclusive truth, and everyone else is the exclusive problem.” “We are right, and everyone else is wrong.” “We have all the answers and a Bible that clearly tells us so, who are you to question or differ in opinion?”

“You need to come and join us—think like us, believe like us, look like us, live like us, for we have the cure to you who are the cancer.” “God is working towards our success because of our faith-living while working towards your failure because of your rebellious sinning.” “We will always be just a bit better than you until that day you become one of us—in the meanwhile, we’ll be praying for you.”

With vomit dripping off their lips as countless fight the urge to gag, the world joins together in upchucking an honest chorus of reply, “thanks, but no thanks.” “We’d rather spend an eternity with our noses shackled to the excretion holes of a thousand skunks than to spend one moment becoming anything like you.”

Reeking with religious pretentiousness, to the spiritual nostrils of good people everywhere, we have become an all new fragrance for an all new world, “Stank” by Evangelical No. 5.

To those who have ears, let them hear.

We’ve spiritualized and justified hate. Countless mindful, thinking, good people observe the behavioral liturgies of our faith and truly wonder, how can anyone encounter Jesus personally and read the love-driven talks He gave, and yet somehow translate that into a faith ladened with racism, sexism, discrimination, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, nationalism, imperialism, judgement, and condemnation? This is incomprehensible to the world, and rightly so.

If there is any hate that should be adopted by our faith it should be directed at evil, which is defined by its root word in biblical Greek as being “the pursuit of making a name for oneself.” Interestingly enough, the essence of evil in God’s mind is not sin nor disbelief, but rather using Jesus for the pursuit of power for one’s own benefit.

It is the condemnation of others in order to secure our own sense of righteousness. It is the assertion of one’s rights to the minimizing, reducing, or removal of another’s. It is the privileged gripping onto their own privilege to the detriment of true equality. It is the building of walls where God desires tables. It is the exclusion of any of the “all” that Jesus always and forever includes. It is arrogantly insisting that one is “pro-life” while being equally determined to twist the scriptures in every possible way that brings condemnation’s death to those with whom we disagree or deem to be sinning.

To the level that the world despises us and the “Christian” label we wear, it is because we have given them every good and biblical reason to do so. For we have become evil’s highest manifestation—spiritualized hate.

To those who have ears, let them hear.

We’ve reduced Love into an accessory. As much as we might claim to be a people of love, the world knows us best by the love we fear. With us, every good thing has a condition, expiration date, and imposed limits. Don’t love people too much. Don’t give people too much grace. Don’t have too much fun. Don’t enjoy life too much. Don’t be around those people, go to that movie, listen to that song, or buy a cake from that baker—danger, danger, danger. Shackled by a fear-driven faith, we’ve turned love into a defensive, fragile posture.

In fact, nothing brings us more anxiety than God’s own declaration that He is Love—without conditions, restrictions, or expiration. Everything within our religious being fights and claws at this table-turning revelation and conclusion.

Why? Because, for God to be wholly and purely Love would render so much of what we are, do, and believe as ridiculously absurd, contrived, selfish, useless, and anti Christ. The house of religious cards that has become much of our Christian faith falls tumbling to the ground the moment God is embraced as solely Love as He himself declares. The litany of additional attributes we project onto God that conveniently justify our loveless behavior, all become impotent—anger, judgement, wrath, punishment, revenge, and condemnation alike. That’s why we are so insistent on confusing Love, and making it an accessory.

The fact that people can experience God and live Him with one single Word—LOVE—sends our entire faith construct into a tailspin plummeting to earth in a ball of flaming fire.

All evil begins where Love has been made an accessory.

To those who have ears, let them hear.

We’ve turned a book into a bulldozer. The Bible is only black and white to people seeking the control of another and the spiritual justification of self. For nothing levels people we don’t like and creates mountains upon which to judge others like the perfected craft of Christians turning the Bible into a bulldozer. What God meant to be a human springboard to a life-long encounter with Jesus, Christians have turned into a people prod, hoping to corral the world into their religious misery.

The “clear teachings” of the Bible aren’t clear to anyone, and everyone knows it, except we who arrogantly claim to know it best. The heights of authority we insist on attributing to the Bible are often sadly equal to the depth of our desires to exert authority over others. “This is what the Bible says” is ultimately our clever way of declaring, “This is what we believe the Bible says, and you need to believe it too, or else.”

Yet, for all our proof-texting and bulldozing with Bibles, the world isn’t fooled, every verse loses its ability to condemn, judge, and breed self-righteousness the moment it is rightly placed under the feet of Jesus who is Grace, the only perfect Word of God.

The truth is, we don’t have to interpret the scriptures towards inerrancy, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, bigotry, a life of sin-management, God-appeasement, or a tormenting hell for people who miss the mark in loving God in return—we choose to. The flames of our hate, condemnation, and pride were in our hearts already, we just use the Bible to fuel them and give it all a spiritual glow.

People don’t dismiss the Bible because of Jesus, they dismiss the Bible because of us.

To those who have ears, let them hear.

We’ve become all talk, and our talk sucks. We sing the songs, say the prayers, attend the services, read our Bibles, make our promises, pledge our allegiance, and hope the world doesn’t look under the hood. The truth is, we’re faking-it-to-make-it along with everyone else who signs up for religion. If American Christianity was calibrated to the heart of Jesus, we wouldn’t have to do so much pretending.

We’d be singing far less songs to the Jesus on the worship screen and crying more tears with the Jesus on the streets. We’d be praying far less to God for His will, favor, and blessings, and doing much more for the hurting, marginalized, and oppressed. We’d be worshiping far less in elaborate buildings and serving more passionately without them. We’d be spending far less time idolizing the Bible and loading it for debate, and more time listening to people’s stories and seeking to truly understand them. We’d be spending far less time making promises to God we can’t keep and more time loving people in ways they would never be able to forget.

If only, we would simply take the advice of the Christ calling out from amidst the world, “stop talking, stop pretending, stop playing church, and learn to shut up and listen.”

See, people aren’t stupid, God has put His light into all humanity—they can do the spiritual math.

Love plus conditions equals no love at all. Gospel plus Law equals no gospel at all. A God who is Love but also hates, condemns, and forever imprisons is no god at all. Striving to please, appease, and satisfy an angry god is no life at all. Sin-managing, pretending, and looking the part equals no hope it all. Equality for some equals inequality for all. Inclusions for the privileged alone equals no inclusion at all. Being human without being humane is not being human nor divine at all. Hating the sin but loving the sinner equals hating it all. Thirty thousand different Christian denominations that believe entirely different things about the same Bible equals the sure and glaring reality that no Christian group or individual can accurately claim to truly know, understand, and rightly interpret it all.

As good as we are at building buildings, mission statements, ministry branding, smoke machines, video venues, robed choirs, ministry conferences, and clean carpets, the truth is, we suck at loving, we suck at being human, we suck at listening, we suck at serving, we suck at sacrificing, we suck at including, we suck at humility, we suck at unselfishness—basically all the things Jesus would have us to be and do.

The world sees it, yet we refuse. Perhaps because, to our surprise and ensuing rage, they have the Spirit and we have lost it.

Hear this and hear it clearly, God is awakening a people to His true self (who is Love) and His true Gospel (which is Grace), but sadly, most Christians and much of Christianity will have no part of it and therefore no part in it. My sense is, God is not only completely o.k. with that, He might just be behind it.

Where is the Grace in all of this?

It’s in the courage of trembling voices such as this, that speak, tell, and confront the religious hell on earth we have created and surely have become, believing there is still hope for us all—never giving up.

To those who have ears, let them hear.

Christians, this is why people think we suck.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

The Real Reason I Don’t Go To Your Church

No, it’s not the music style, the lighting, or the programs.

No, it’s not that I’m lazy, disinterested, or bent towards worldliness.

In fact, I care deeply about spiritual things, long for community, and have a generous heart for serving people.

With your professional branding, elaborate worship staging, cultural savviness, and groups for nearly every interest known to humanity, I can tell you are feverishly trying to crack the code and leverage me into your church gatherings. Even your ministry conferences, flowcharts, and mission statements are centered around somehow influencing me into your kingdom. Like Captain Ahab tempestuously traversing the oceans for the prized moment his harpoon punctures the elusive whale, it’s obvious you long for your efforts to be those that heroically pierce my heart with salvation, lure me into your faith community, and set me on a course to belief and act as you do, all to the praise and admiration of those that align with you spiritually. I see your noble intentions, I really do—all are efforts I truly appreciate.

Yet sadly, the real reason I don’t go to your church still eludes you—perhaps because the answer can’t be bought, programed, built, diagramed, staged, earned, envisioned, emotionalized, focus-grouped, or even prayed into existence. For all the chumming of my life with every strategy, program, and event that could possibly ever be imagined, you’re still yet drastically missing the one ingredient for which my heart and soul hungers the deepest, and could even render it captured. In fact, the one and only thing that truly matters is the very thing rarely ever heard amidst all your ministry chatter—love.

See, the real reason I don’t go to your church, subscribe to your faith understanding, or connect with your spiritual community is actually because of you—you don’t truly love me.

The one thing you so desperately want me to see and believe about your god and your faith establishment is the very thing I don’t see established in you—it’s love—and it’s oh so very clear, you don’t truly love me. With all that your faith, church, and Christian life has become to you, the one thing that hasn’t become of you is the one thing that is so glaringly missing—a simple, true, and genuine love of me.

The real reason—no matter what you might be tempted to conclude. It’s not about your god, your buildings, your beliefs, or your community. It’s actually all about you— that you don’t truly love me.

For if you did…

You wouldn’t even think of putting your rights, comforts, and privileges above mine. Rather, you’d be laying them down for me.

You wouldn’t care so much about bathrooms, wedding cakes, and movie scenes. Rather, you’d be pushing aside every obstacle and looking for every opportunity to simply serve me.

You wouldn’t shame, discard, and condemn the people I love no matter who they be. Rather, you’d love them thoroughly and completely no less, simply because you love me—you know, like Jesus.

You wouldn’t see me as a spiritual project to stuff upon your mantel for all your friends to see, but rather as a wholly divine person already redeemed, simply longing for an awakening—you know, like to the Jesus already in me.

You wouldn’t say selfish things like, “I’m praying for you” as you pretentiously look down your pointed nose and flaring nostrils and determine that if I’m not all that I should be. Rather, you’d vehemently commit your heart to truly understanding, knowing, and loving me—and that, unconditionally.

You wouldn’t want to “reach” me, “win” me, or “grow” me into becoming some robotic, spiritual zombie who believes, looks, and acts mostly like you. Rather, you’d want to love me into the God-adorned person who believes, looks, and acts exactly like the true me, living life as “I” should—in freedom, with only the Spirit guiding me, not you. For don’t you have enough navigating to do in your own life to necessitate in you the trusting of God with mine?

Your theology and Bible understanding wouldn’t be the idolatrous, unmovable, and inerrant foundation upon which you lean, pompously standing as one who holds all the “clear teachings.” Rather, your humility would give way to a love of me that would prevail above all things and become the one and only thing. It would be your vision, denominational mantra, and your ultimate dream—convinced that in all you do for me, you are in fact doing so as your highest and most important way of loving and honoring Thee—you know, Jesus.

You’d be listening, learning, and looking for any reason, excuse, or loophole to affirm me—no, not that there needs to be. That God loves, accepts, and delights in me simply because I breathe, would be more than enough—because that’s the heart of Jesus.

Your default bent, beliefs, and creed would all center on Grace, love, and human equality, not jamming down my throat something you have in your privilege that you believe I need as a remedy to what you see as my depravity. For who do you think you are, anyways? You don’t even know me.

You’d trust the goodness of God so much that potentially erring on the side of unconditionally loving me would not only be deemed as non-threatening, in your heart and mind, it would be concluded to be an impossibility. For with a God of more than enough, who could ever love too much?

Perhaps, most of all, you wouldn’t say ridiculous, stupid things like, “The reason I point out your sin is because I love you” and then expect me to actually believe it—if only I could keep the vomit from dripping out of my mouth. Rather, you’d be begging me to hear one thing, and one thing above all things, “I love you, is the reason I love you.” “Pointing out sin is the job of the Spirit, it’s not for me.” “For who I am, but one who is just like you—no better, only different.”

Yet sadly, you don’t trust Grace to guide, teach, correct, empower, and be all-sufficient, which is perhaps the sole reason why yours is a love that is so alarmingly love-deficient.

You want to change me, I just need you to love me. You want to convert me, I just need you to love me. You want to confront, castigate, correct and conform me, I just need you to love me. There is nothing in all my heart and soul that couldn’t be overcome, if you’d just truly and simply love me. But sadly, you don’t—and even more tragically, because of your faith understanding—you won’t.

Truth is, I don’t need to know anything more about your god or your faith community, because I see everything I need to see—in you, already.

With all due respect and appreciation, you can have all your services, traditions, events, conferences, retreats, revivals, groups, clubs, books, movies, schools, buildings, programs, prayers, and music, because I know true love when I see it—and tragically, I just don’t see it—in you. Don’t ever think you could possibly convince me that the god atop your steeple truly and deeply loves me, when it’s all so crystal clear, from the tippy top to the shallow depths of your own being, a love cannot be found that truly loves me.

Which is all the reason I need to know or ever show as to why I’ll never want to be a part of your church, your faith understanding, or your community.

The real reason?

You.

You don’t truly love me.

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  -1 John 4:8

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” -1 Corinthians 13

Grace is brave. Be brave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which leaves me with a question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace is brave. Be brave.

5 Things The Church Must Become Before It’s Too Late

As a pastor, I believe in church and love her deeply, especially when the centerpiece of all she is and does is the Gospel of God’s pure Grace and the all-inclusiveness of Jesus and His unconditionally unconditional love. Yet sadly, these values are increasingly far from what is being manifested in most segments of American Christianity. Instead, as difficult it is to say, church has largely become a self-righteous, spiritually arrogant, sin-focused, Bible-weaponizing, and people-condemning kind of monster that has lost much of her credibility among thinking, human-loving people. In fact, the emotional, spiritual, and even physical carnage created by significant segments of American, conservative church-world ironically makes it perhaps the most prominent, antichrist force on the planet today.

Don’t believe me? To those willing to hear, countless are the gut-wrenching stories of people who have experienced great suffering, tragedy, abuse, and condemnation exclusively at the hands of Christianity and its church. The hand-washing claim that “no church is perfect” doesn’t even come close to fitting nor justifying the spiritually militant, aggressive, and narcissistic tribe we have become, nor gains any appeasement among those whom we have broken. The truth is, if we don’t make significant steps towards returning to the heart of God who is Love and His Gospel of peace, we will further become the very evil we claim to be against, and surrender our voice and influence in furthering all that is good and of God for generations to come.

Yet, amidst these daunting realities there is still great hope that we might awaken to the heights from which we have fallen and chart a new path. With that desire for renewal, here are five things I suggest every church must become before it’s too late.

We Must Become Grace Driven– Despite what is believed and taught within most segments of the church, there is no other Gospel nor message from God for humanity other than Grace—period. Grace boldly and accurately declares that all are in Christ, deeply and unconditionally loved and affirmed by the Father. Every person is a finished work of the cross—holy, justified, sanctified, righteous, and whole apart from and despite their performance in life. Faith is not a decision, heart invitation, or commitment to good behavior. Instead, to truly “believe” is to simply rest in the goodness and Grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Therefore, contrary to what is widely understood, the Christian life is not to be one of sin-management, “to do” steps, rule-keeping, or spiritual striving, but rather the journey of completely awakening to the incredible and unfathomable goodness of God and the wholly complete person one is already and will always be in Christ. In short, it’s our actions catching up with our true identities.

In fact, in a very real sense, under Grace, there is nothing “to do,” self-improve, or become, but everything to believe—and as one increasingly believes in the purity and goodness of who they truly are in Him, they will live it increasingly in and through their actions, and that—effortlessly. For there is no power in all the universe other than Grace that changes people and influences them towards living the ways of Jesus—hallelujah!

In fact, it is the Law in command or spirit, in whole or in any mixture, that actually entices and imprisons people to sin and embody all that is bad. Its diabolical rule-keeping mantra focuses our attention on sin, entices our religious pride to believe we can master it, and places trust in ourselves and our capacity to spiritually out perform it. This is a futile pursuit destined for failure, straight out of the hands and heart of the devil. For where you have any call or sense of need to please and appease God to gain, keep, or grow ones relationship with Jesus, there you will find every form of self-righteousness, judgmentalism, spiritual pride, hypocrisy, sin-stronghold, religious spirit, and evil.

That’s why the sure and true reason why America is in such moral decline and countless people are walking away from “church” (and rightly so) is actually because of  us and our love affair with a mixed-messaged gospel of Law and Grace—a message that, in truth, is the rampant cancer, not the cure. For any other message than the pure and thoroughly sufficient Grace of God in Christ Jesus is a sure death sentence of humanity to a hellish life of self-righteous imprisonment.

We must become Grace-driven—countless lives are in the balance.

We Must Become Unified By Diversity- For far too long, the church has based its sense of unity upon that which people must agree. Denominations and individual churches align their membership qualifications to certain sets of beliefs and behaviors people are required to adopt for inclusion. In the process, the concept of “making disciples” has been reduced to a church’s pursuit of assimilating people into thinking, looking, and behaving just like them. People become projects of conformity, diverging beliefs become threatening and inferior, and churches become clubs of like-minded people huddled around their “this is what the Bible says” ideologies.

Tragically, this has morphed many a church into a spiritual black hole where doubts are quickly buried, free thinking is demonized, spiritual growth is restricted, people have to pretend they truly agree, and churches live in denial of the real disunity that exists under the surface conformity of their congregants.

In increasing measure, people are justifiably turning away from spiritual communities where one is either deemed to be “in” or “out.” They are resisting the applications of labels upon themselves and hunger for the God-given freedom and liberty that comes in being personally guided in all truth by the ever revealing Spirit—not a cut and pasted creed nor a patriarchy of so-called biblical leadership. Good people are opening their eyes to the selfish agenda of churches that see people as prospective notches on their belt with the goal of assimilating them into their spiritual Borg that they might increase in their capacity to spread their pre-packaged religious ideologies among the masses of people they deem to be “lost.”

Churches must become more like tables where every person and every belief-set has a seat in the discussion, where doubts, differences, and disbelief are valued, and where unity is based upon a church’s willingness to embrace disagreement and harbor diversity much more so than what is necessary to be agreed upon. Spiritual growth must be allowed to truly flourish through the considering and potential adopting of views, perspectives, and beliefs that are even contrary to what is widely held.

Churches must become belief fluid, where a confidence in the person of Jesus and His Truth ringing true in the hearts of all humanity creates the secure foundation from which all beliefs can be considered, explored, and find community instead of exclusion—all without fear.

Then, and only then, can true unity flourish, true spiritual growth emerge, and true freedom in Christ be realized—all centered on God who is Love and Jesus who is Grace.

We Must Become Fierce Defenders of the Oppressed and Condemned- People are not projects, attendance charts, giving units, baptismal stats, or even our conversion mission—though nearly everything about our attitudes and behaviors as the church would indicate so. Rather, our highest mandate from God is to stand with, defend, empower, and become a voice for the oppressed, especially those religiously condemned and marginalized—all of us on equal footing. It’s not enough to merely extend our sympathies, minister to a need here and there, or put people and issues on a prayer list. Solidarity in thought, word, attitude, and deed with the marginalized and condemned is the way of Jesus and our Christian calling in every arena of life—even political.

Grace is not weakness nor passivity in the presence of evil. It’s not turning a blind eye nor restraining ones voice as an effort to take some kind of highfalutin, spiritual highroad concealing what is ultimately a self-serving “grace” copout. Rather, Grace is brave and confronting in the face of religious and cultural oppression, injustice, condemnation, and discrimination.

Those who would portray God as less than all-loving, His message as bringing any measure of condemnation, and His ways as embodying any level of religiosity, self-righteousness, or conditionality will always meet the fierce correction of Jesus. Those who would shrink back from the unrestrained defense, solidarity with, and mutual humanity of the “least of these” will always be met with the buzzsaw of Jesus’ pure oneness with those who are cast aside or cast out.

The nonviolent way of Jesus is not passive, impotent, nor powerless, but rather the sure model that makes our solidarity, defense, empowering, and voice with and for the oppressed and condemned our greatest responsibility, honor, and calling. For there is no greater litmus test of a church’s alignment with the heart of Jesus than how it stands with, defends, empowers, equally includes, and gives voice to the “least of these.” Until that day comes, growing numbers of people will rightly discern the fallacy and religious scam that sadly has become much of American church.

We Must Become Equality Minded– Grace is the great equalizer—none are better only different. This is the message of the Gospel that infuriates and frustrates the self-righteous, white, male-driven, patriarchal churches of America. There should be no sense of privilege of any form in any church, only people—all equally loved, valued, affirmed, and imaged by the Creator.

The sexist churches of America continue to grieve the heart and message of Jesus and send countless women (and men) searching elsewhere for safe contexts where true God-given equality is embraced, and the utilization of the equal calling and gifts bestowed by God upon all genders is empowered.

It is spiritually criminal that the church, who should be leading the way at embodying the culture of heaven upon earth, is in actuality largely standing against it—women are not seen as equally gifted and called, skin colors matter, economic status is evaluated, sexual orientation is discriminated, and sin is rationalized in favor of the privileged.

This is deplorable, evil, and antithetical to Kingdom of God.

The church will never truly manifest nor follow the ways, message, and heart of Jesus until our every step leaves a sure and undeniable footprint of true equality for all.

We Must Become A Contribution Centered Community- One need look no further than the me-centered worship services and programs that dominate much of American church for evidence that we have become selfish, consumer-centered Christians and churches. In fact, most of modern church planting is strategized around starting a state-of-the-art worship service with hopes that a church will somehow grow out of it. The thrust of most churches new or old is to attract people to “visit us, join us, and serve among us” with emphasis on the “us.” With facilities, budgets, programming, and marketing endeavors taking center stage, competitive-minded ministry thrives and the incubator for pastoral celebrity and church franchising becomes full born.

Sadly, when it’s all said and done, as much as we spiritualize our endeavors, much of church has become largely about “us”— our spiritual growth, our style preferences, our convenience, our inspiration, our agendas, our power, our importance, our rights, and the preservation and furthering of our privilege.

In times past, many have been mesmerized and seduced by the contemporary lipsticks we have used on the pig of our self-centeredness—but not any more. Growing numbers of good people are seeing through the clever lighting and carefully positioned fog. Either they have lost at playing the church game, or witnessed the pain and brutal carnage of someone else having done so. Regardless, people not only want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, they want to be a part of something that is clearly and concretely not about themselves or an agenda other than pure Love.

The truth is, much of the church in America is losing influence and credibility, and rightly so. The awakening of Grace and its full application in the life of the church is among us, challenging and haunting the religious as it spawns.

Before it’s too late, may we become Grace-driven, equality-minded, contribution-centered communities that are unified by diversity as we fiercely defend the oppressed and condemned among us as Jesus modeled and purposed for us all along.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

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.

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