I Can’t Do Anything About Racial Inequality

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This weekend, Saturday Night Live had a pretty provocative cold open. You can take a look at it here:

There are some pretty pointed statements that are made regarding racial equality and America’s struggle to achieve that. Of course, with the snub of the critically-acclaimed¬†Selma, this sketch came at a perfect time. Personally, I was a little shocked because of the trend I have been seeing with the Academy. My expectations were that they were going to continue to move forward.

As a white guy from rural Illinois, it’s incredibly difficult to talk about racial equality. I went to school at Johnson University (formerly Johnson Bible College) in Knoxville, TN and didn’t really experience racial diversity there either. It wasn’t until I was doing my internship at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas that I began to see what racial diversity could look like. When I began working at Westbrook Christian Church in Bolingbrook, IL, I experienced my¬†first multi-ethnic/racially diverse community — and one that was proud to talk about it.

Oftentimes, because of my skin color, I feel like I should be the last one talking about racial equality. Really, I feel like I can’t do anything about it. I haven’t lived the life that others have lived. I haven’t experienced the things that many others have experienced. I don’t notice things that others notice. So why should I lend my voice to it?

But do I keep quiet out of lack of experience (perhaps ignorance) or out of fear? I know I tell myself that because of my lack of experience in this area, I should remain quiet and let those who have experience fight. The truth is that I am motivated by fear. Fear of saying something wrong. Fear of not being able to do enough. Fear of not knowing what to do or say.

However, if there is a struggle of humanity, then we are all called to speak. Each of us must learn to take our own separate life experiences and combine them to speak against the inequality that exists. Just because I am not an African-American doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t speak out against racial inequality. Because as long as it still exists, everyone is called to speak up.

The church is at a pivotal moment to fight for the oppression that occurs each and every day. Unfortunately, I think a majority of churches feel the way I do — what can we do? We become too obsessed with making the wrong decision…so we decide not to act instead.

I recently watched the movie Pride which deals with a group of gays and lesbians that help raise funds for British miners during the strike of 1984. Many asked what the LGBT community knew about miners? It was an unlikely friendship. But the beauty is that one oppressed group came together to help another oppressed group. It showed that someone did not have to live the same life to help.

In the same way, it’s not necessarily about us knowing the exact oppression that is occurring, but being willing to see the oppression and speak out. The hardest thing is seeing that oppression, though. Most of the time, we refuse to see it because it doesn’t happen to us. And it is hard for us to imagine it because we like to think that America has progressed past that point and anything that occurs today is purely the fault of the African-American community. We are so dismissive because we might have not intentionally done anything racially insensitive.¬†We want to remain blind because that is far easier than seeing the confusing truth.

I don’t know where to begin with the conversation toward racial equality. But I know that a conversation needs to occur. And that might not seem like a lot, but at least it’s a step forward. The church needs to be having these conversations even though they might not see what is happening around them. They might even be dismissive at first. But at least start with a conversation and see where it goes from there. It might be a group of old white guys sitting in the church basement, but a step forward is a step forward. The only time we can’t do something about racial inequality is when we don’t talk about it at all. And we’ve been doing a pretty good job at that for some time now and it’s time to stop. Let us stop and listen. We may not be able to completely relate with the struggle, but we are still called to do something. As Christ-followers, we must.

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The Art of Selling Out

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In the past few months, many online articles have crowded my Facebook newsfeed. Perhaps you have had the same articles. Mine are predominately Christian articles; but there are quite a few that are outside of the Christian circle as well. I am certain that you have seen at least a few of these topics:

4 Things to Do When You’re Single and In Your Twenties…
4 Things to Do When You’re Single and In Your Thirties…
7 Money Decisions to Make Right Now…
How to be Happy Where You Are…
What to Do Before You Get Married…
27 Ways to Be a Better Spouse…

I can go on and on but I assume you get the picture. I will be the first to admit that I have clicked on that BuzzFeed article for some cheap entertainment. But I have come to expect that level of article from them. I know that I don’t write about the deepest of topics. I don’t spend time breaking apart Greek or Hebrew. I usually just spend time trying to get people to converse about¬†something. It usually isn’t profound. It’s usually¬†a reminder or an observation.

It didn’t really bother me until I began seeing more and more Christian sources publish the same material. Online sources that once published thought-provoking articles submitted to the god of “click and share.” Instead of asking, “what will make people think?” we began asking, “what will make people click and share and in the process hopefully cause people to think, as well?” There are levels to the online world that I will never understand; but the thing I will always understand the least is: at what point¬†do you sell out?

I believe that people will rise to the level to which we challenge ourselves. It seems like right now we are challenging ourselves to count anywhere from 1-30. We are also challenging ourselves to learn how to live while we are 20…or 30…or 40…or married…or single…

It seems the bar has been lowered and we are okay with that.

NEWSROOMOne of my recent favorite shows was,¬†The Newsroom.¬†I always find Aaron Sorkin to be a genius, but this show seemed to hit it out of the park after each episode. One of the things that struck me was how Sorkin pleaded for decency and for news to actually be¬†news.¬†He argued that the news shouldn’t be about what a celebrity wore to the Oscars, what recent cause a band took up, or how a dog rescued a cat from a burning car. These things are not news. They’re a form of entertainment at best (and I watch the same YouTube videos as you).

This brings me back to the idea that we (and when I say we, I am referring to the American evangelical church) have somewhat sold out. Instead of challenging people to think outside of the box, we urge them to continue thinking inside an even smaller box. We water down instead of explaining. And we would much rather do a series over how to get a spouse before you’re 30 than a series over challenging biblical issues. The evidence for this is found all over the shared stories online. We have succumbed to the idea that if we speak to the general masses, they will listen. Instead, I believe that if we specific groups, the general masses will listen. Instead of thinking about what people will want to hear, we need to think about what they need to hear. This isn’t saying to become arrogant in our language or thoughts. There is a clear line between that and challenging the art of selling out.

We in the evangelical church have been practicing the art of selling out for far too long. I think it is time we reclaimed the higher conversation and began challenging others to rise up to that. Talk about real painful issues. Explore biblical fears. Brainstorm how to move culture forward. Converse with opposing sides. Let us no longer sell out to the god of “click and share” but may we rise up to become something more. And in the process of doing so, may we challenge others in the same way.

Kim Kardashian’s Butt

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1400710375_131204463_kim-kardashian-467You would have to be living under a rock to not have heard about the story (which we consider news) of Kim Kardashian posing naked for¬†Paper¬†magazine. Reports say that the cover photo has been viewed over 16 million times and Christians have taken to the internet to express their concern. I’ve read a few blog posts about how upset parents are about Kardashian’s recent photo. No longer can they protect their children from the internet.

This interests me because now parents are concerned with protecting their kids from images on the internet.

Kardashian is certainly not the first celebrity to pose nude for the cover of a magazine and she will certainly not be the last. Most technological innovations have been powered by pornography or have been used for the distribution of pornographic material. What Kardashian did is nothing new. And we shouldn’t consider what she has done as innovative. Far from it. She is simply following in the footsteps of several celebrities before her.

The humorous part is still how parents are now concerned. In an age where it is estimated that about 20% of students have sent or received a sext, people¬†are concerned about Kim Kardashian’s butt. Or in an age where hook-up apps like Tindr allow for discreet and consensual sex, people¬†are concerned about Kim Kardashian appearing full frontal.

I have a lot of thoughts about this. Personally, I wasn’t phased by what Kardashian did. Since culture is a reflection of its people, no one should have been surprised. Writing shaming articles to her reminding her of daughter won’t create change. I would think the church would’ve learned from previous mistakes that one cannot shame someone into change. Instead of trying to launch a campaign to protest the Kardashians (or would it be Wests?), here are some things we can reflect on as we see culture continue moving in this direction:

1.) Innocence cannot be protected.

As much as it saddens me to say this, it is highly unlikely that the younger generations will grow up without being exposed to porn. We could force the government to make a ban, but that will only last for so long. Morals cannot be made laws. And I think this is a good thing. If morals become laws, then are they morals? People will not change because of force. People are only changed through the Holy Spirit.

Innocence simply cannot be protected. Look at the Garden of Eden. Instead of trying to protect innocence, try to instill a good moral compass. These are commonly mistaken as the same thing. However, as we have seen from “good Christian children” heading off to college only to behave in “hedonism” and other atrocities that make parents shudder at night, we should see¬†that protecting innocence and instilling good morals are not the same thing. Build up morals instead of building up walls.

2.) Don’t be surprised.

It always amazes me how surprised Christians are at people. Every time I look at Christ, I never see Him surprised. How would it look if Christ responded in the same way we respond? Let’s take a look at the woman caught in adultery:

Then the people brought forth a woman caught in the act of adultery. They told Christ what she had done.¬†“Oh my goodness!” exclaimed Christ. “How dare you do these sort of things. Did you not¬†think about your children? Your parents? Your friends? Your relatives? Do you know the¬†irreparable damage that you have done? You don’t even have the common decency to clothe yourself in front of me? We won’t completely stone her, but we will protest everything her family does until she stops sleeping around.”

It’s quite a dramatically different response than what we read in John. Every time someone “misbehaves” by our standards, we tend to respond in shock. Jesus was never shocked and that left a mark on people. They could be close with Him because He was never shocked. Perhaps part of the reason people are so alienated from Christians is that Christ-followers respond with the exact opposite reaction that Christ would have responded with.

3.) We are sexual.

Deb Hirsch spoke about this at a conference I was at and it all made sense. We are all sexual beings. But, like she said, sexuality is not confined to genitalia. Kardashian may have shown herself naked, but that was not the whole of her sexuality.

We have a tendency in the evangelical church to respond negatively to sex. But people will continue to express themselves¬†sexually. As Christ-followers, we need to teach people that what we do with our genitalia is not the whole of our sexuality. Instead of saying, “STOP IT,” we need to be saying, “there is so much more than what you think.”

I think Kim Kardashian’s butt serves as a good reminder for Christians to reevaluate what we are saying about sexuality and innocence (that’s a sentence I never thought I would write). And instead of responding with our mouths wide open, we need to respond with our arms wide open.

How to Have it All and Still Follow Christ

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41AxZWXdzuLRecently, I finished NT Wright’s book, “Surprised by Scripture.” Although I wasn’t too “surprised” by some of the things he said (anyone who has read anything by him will not be too surprised by his points), I was encouraged and challenged to see things a bit differently. Something Wright said at the beginning of the book stuck with me throughout the rest of the book and it spurred me on to think through exactly what the evangelical church in America is teaching.

“Christianity thrived precisely among those for whom the major existing philosophies had little to offer.”

Wright was speaking primarily toward Epicureanism and how Christianity thrived during that time because Epicureanism spoke predominately to wealthy people. “If you were an ordinary lower-class person – that is, among the 95 percent of the free population – or a slave, the exhortation to relax and enjoy your life might have rung somewhat hollow.”

Does the message that we preach through our lives echo the Gospel? Or does it simply reiterate what current philosophies of the day have to say? Sometimes I believe that we simply take the current philosophies and add a Christian-themed twist to them. Perhaps this is why Christianity isn’t thriving like it should.

Let’s look, for example, at the American Dream. Our current philosophies say to pursue that dream. Buy a house. Climb up the ladder as quickly as possible. Get a family. Have the new and best of everything. Build your retirement fund. Go into debt to appear successful. Currently, I believe that sometimes the message of the evangelical American church tends to look something like, “how to have it all and still follow Christ.” Even some churches look like this. They buy the best technology, build the biggest buildings, go into debt to appear successful, etc. All of this is in hopes that they might attract people to see Christ. I believe this is admirable, but I can’t quite buy into it completely.

In church jargon, attractional is this idea that you bring people to church to encounter Christ. Perhaps, taking Wright’s statement into play, this isn’t a terrible idea.¬†Jesus’s message always struck a chord with the tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, and others whom society and religion had deemed a minority. It struck a chord with anyone who questioned the leading philosophies of the day. It still can.

Christianity should thrive among the poor.

We hear this all the time, but it is still true. In a culture obsessed with money, our message simply cannot be one of how to give to God and get a great tax write-off. It should thrive among those who have nothing to give because God isn’t looking for money. He is desiring people. Christianity should thrive among those who may never own a home or a new car or have a nice 401K.

Christianity should thrive among the child molesters, rapists, and other sexual outcasts.

When society gives out a scarlet letter, Christianity should be showing a redeeming story. I have read story after story of individuals who have no life anymore because of a mistake. This should never satisfy a Christ follower. They are outcasts of society. We shouldn’t celebrate that. We should redeem that. Christianity should thrive among that.

Christianity should thrive among those who are dying of communicable diseases.

With the recent Ebola fear that is plaguing Americans (for some reason), we cannot simply run and hide like the rest. Our response can’t be to cast them out of society. Our response has to be one of love and empathy. Of no fear.

Simply put, Christianity has always thrived among those who realize that they have nothing. It’s harder to realize that you have nothing when you are constantly surrounded by everything. This past summer, I went to Baltimore on a mission trip with some of my students. While there, we worked with an inner city organization that gave to those whom politicians and the rest of society had forgotten. To be remembered by someone was the Gospel to them. I remember having a conversation with the head of the organization asking him how to translate something like this to the suburbs. He looked at me and said, “I have no answer for that.” I then proceeded to ask, “Will it take a complete wrecking of dreams, possessions, and careers, for the Gospel to penetrate lives? And if so, what message should we speak until then?” Once again, he had no answer. Maybe because the answer was too difficult to speak.

Christianity thrives among those who have nothing, but for a long time it has seemed that our target audience has been one of successful appearances. Now this isn’t true for all. I can only speak for the American evangelical church. Perhaps it is time for us to change our message from “How to Have it All and Still Follow Christ,” to “How to Lose it All and Begin Following Christ.”

The Judging of the Pitter-Patter of Little Feet

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2589Home is a sacred place to me. When I get home I like to sit down, read or watch television, and ignore everything outside of my door. So I guess one could suppose that I’m not the most friendly¬†neighbor. I’ll say “hello” to someone if I see them. But I don’t go out of my way to get to know my neighbors. I’m not that much like Jesus.

Lately, I’ve been challenged to get to know my neighbors more. It could be because a few weeks back, one of my neighbors invited me to her church and I had to sheepishly look at her and reply, “Thank you so much! But I’m a pastor at another church so I don’t get many weekends off.” She looked a little astonished. I realized at that moment that either A.) I didn’t look like Jesus in the slightest bit or B.) I didn’t talk to anyone that lived around me. In fact, that was the first time I learned her name…and I had been living here for a little over a year.

One of my neighbors invited me to her church and I had to sheepishly look at her and reply, “Thank you so much! But I’m a pastor at another church so I don’t get many weekends off.” She looked a little astonished.

Every morning, I am awakened by the sound of the pitter-patter of little feet in the apartment next to me. Only it doesn’t sound like pitter-patter. It sounds like a stampede of elephants have been frightened by several gunshots. This usually happens around 5:45 in the morning and then it will happen around 6-7 at night. I am less than thrilled. I would think to myself, “Goodness…get your kids under control. Teach them the proper way to live in an apartment. I don’t have kids so I shouldn’t have to suffer the early mornings of parenting.” Throughout the rest of the day, I’ll hear them scream or cry and sometimes I’ll even loudly say, “Shut up!” in my own apartment…loud enough that they might hear…but not loud enough that I know that they hear.

This has gone on for over a year. It’s a single mother with three kids. I judged her situation. I figured it was another statistic of a single, African-American woman raising three kids because the dad was out of the picture. It hurts me to write that because I don’t consider myself a racist. But looking at that statement, I see the lens with which I viewed the world was tinted with something other than Christ.

I justified my thought because every morning they scream and run. There’s not enough coffee in the world to get me in a good enough mood to deal with that.

Something happened today, however. I was outside trying to clear away my potted plants because I knew the unforgiving winter was upon us. I hear a quiet, “Hello?” I turn around and I see my neighbor standing there. I put on my smile that says, “Oh gosh…please don’t ask me to do anything difficult.” She says, “My mother-in-law saw a dresser on the side of the dumpster that she was wanting. Would you be willing to help her move it? She told me to ask you and I didn’t really want to, but would you be willing to help?” At this moment a thousand thoughts race through my mind:

“I just had an epidural a few weeks ago to help my back because of issues I’ve been having.”

“This probably isn’t the best thing for me to do today.”

“How long is this going to take?”

“You’re going to owe me a pound or two of coffee if I do this…”

But I pushed those thoughts aside and said, “Sure, no problem.” As I go inside to put on my shoes, I begin wondering, “Mother-in-law? Where’s the husband then? Divorce?” I walk around to the dumpster and look at the dresser. It looks heavy. “Great,” I thought. “Guess I’ll be back to the doctor soon.”

We load up the dresser and the mother-in-law is telling me how excited she is because she has 6 grandchildren and this will provide the perfect piece to store all of their toys for when they come over. I smile and agree. I ask her if she has someone to help her unload it and she says she does and that if that person won’t, she’ll just call her son to come help. “The son who is the father of those three children?” I wonder. Through a longer conversation she then says something that catches me off-guard, “Since my other son, her husband, died a while back…” I immediately stopped listening because all of a sudden I realized what a horrible person I had been…which not listening made me an even more horrible person but this was a baby step for me…one thing at a time. I had judged the pitter-patter of little feet.

The lens with which I had viewed the world was tinted with something other than Christ.

I had to fight off tears from the realization that I had been terrible in my judgment. The sound of the pitter-patter of feet isn’t the sound of children running wild. It is the sound of children trying to find their father. The screaming isn’t spoiled children whining because they’re not getting their way. It is the sound of questioning and sorrow. The sound of their crying when their mother leaves for work isn’t the sound of children missing their mom. It’s the sound of children worrying that she, like their father, might not come back.

People need more grace than we are willing to give. Judgment is much easier for us than giving the grace of God. We probably don’t give grace because we don’t know the person and their story. That, at least, was true for me. Or maybe we don’t give grace because we have a hard time accepting grace for our own lives. Whatever the case, less judging and more grace is a good prescription for how we should live.

I guess I’ve misjudged many a person. I guess that puts me one step further away from being like Christ. I should extend more grace. Lord knows I need more grace. But I’ll probably judge people again. I’ll try not to, but I know I will. But here is what I also know: I will never again judge the sound of the pitter-patter of little feet.

Homosexuality

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I’ve neglected writing a blog on this subject matter because of how overwhelmingly divisive it is, as a topic, among Christians. In the midst of our battles back and forth with one another, we have piled up many casualties who never saw the love of God because they only saw our wrath. In our pursuit of “being right,” we have forgotten to “be Christ.” We spend our resources on trying to make sure that homosexual marriage never occurs because we believe it will ruin marriage — all the while, we oftentimes neglect to mention the amount of divorces that occur each year, the shotgun weddings that take place, or the abusive relationships that turn into abusive marriages.¬†

Recently, I read the book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gay vs. Christian Debate by Justin Lee. Lee is the founder of the Gay Christian Network (GCN) and works to bridge the gap between the LGBT community and Christians. He works to unite both Christians who believe in gay marriage and those who believe that gay people must remain celibate.

As I was reading through the book, several thoughts came to my mind that I want to highlight as we continue navigating this road:

1.) We need to stop considering those in the LGBT community as obsessed with sex.  

We need to stop painting those in the LGBT community as people who only want sex all the time and only hang out to have sex. This is just not true. I know people in the LGBT community who want serious long-term relationships and don’t want to go out every single night to different clubs to hook up. Just like I know many straight people who don’t want serious long-term relationships and go out every single night to different clubs to hook up.¬†

2.) If we believe celibacy is the route, then we must change the way the Church views singles.

This one hits home for me because I am 26 years old, single, and work in a church. By staffing standards, I should be married with 2 kids and 1 in the works (just kidding — sorry for being stereotypical). When it comes to singles, the evangelical church really doesn’t know what to do. Many times, we don’t even really know the damage we are doing in our language. For instance, in church functions, oftentimes we will say “have your family…” or “have your kids…” or “you and your loved one…” We don’t realize that these phrases completely disenfranchise¬†44.1% of Americans. If you’re a pastor, that number should terrify you a bit. Is your church reflecting this number? Most likely not. Most of our churches probably don’t reflect this. We have spent a majority of our time reaching out to families that we have completely forgotten about 44.1% of the population. And in doing this, we leave out some tremendous people in the Bible who were single (Paul…and well…Jesus). We need to stop asking singles, “so when are you going to settle down and find the right person?” In asking questions like this, we essentially say “when are you going to have a family like the rest of the church?” I know, that’s a pretty sweeping generalization and you probably will disagree with me on it — but that’s okay. As a single person, that’s what I hear whenever I have someone ask me when I plan on getting married.¬†

Right now, the evangelical church is telling homosexuals that they must remain abstinent and take a vow of celibacy. If we believe that is the correct route to take, then we must begin changing the way the church looks. Because right now, it is appealing to families, and if you aren’t a part of a family, we have a secret society that meets for you. Let me say it this way: when we tell someone who is gay that they must remain single, we essentially tell them that they won’t look normal in the eyes of the church. They will always be that crazy uncle at family gatherings who could just never find the right woman.¬†

If you work in a church, take a look at your verbiage that you use. Look at budgeting that goes toward families versus singles. Think about sermon topics that you’ve preached. Think about illustrations (side note: I’ve noticed this one quite a bit after going to several different youth retreats — almost every single speaker gave a sermon illustration about his/her child — darn it, I’ll never win the best youth pastor award without a child). Then think to yourself: if I was single (supposing you are not) and planned on being single the rest of my life, would I feel supported and loved? Try to answer that as unbiasedly as possible.

Lee writes this:

I’ve talked to many single Christians who find the church a challenging place to be at times. But for single¬†gay¬†Christians, there are even bigger hurdles. A forty-five-year-old single straight woman may feel overlooked or misunderstood at her church, but she doesn’t have to worry about being condemned for being¬†straight. Single gay Christians face the difficulties of singleness alongside potential condemnation for their orientation. And while all single people face challenges in our culture, the challenges faced by people who are single by choice or because they haven’t found the right person are different from the challenges faced by those who eagerly desire companionship but believe God requires celibacy¬†even if they should fall in love in the future.

If we believe that gay people should remain celibate, then stop alienating that demographic from the church. Because maybe they have always wanted a family but believe that God has called them to be celibate (which is a high calling — and is spoken of with the highest regard — unlike marriage, which is a failure to control carnal desires) and therefore cannot have those things. We need to stop making those things the idyllic picture of Christianity. And I don’t believe we have necessarily done those things intentionally (or at least I hope not), but we have. And we need to reverse that.

3.) Remove the “Us Vs. Them” mentality.¬†

This is oftentimes the result of not having any friends who are gay (they will say they do, but most likely their friend is an alienated family member or someone they have as a friend on Facebook but don’t talk to them). Just like you wouldn’t say something like, “The drunkards are trying to brainwash our children into believing that getting drunk all the time is alright,” we shouldn’t believe that “homosexuals are trying to make all the straight kids gay.” This whole “gay agenda” thing is ridiculous. Maybe there is a gay agenda…I don’t know. I sure haven’t seen one. But if there is, Christians also have “an agenda.” We would say we don’t, but oftentimes we do. In fact, most people who are passionate about¬†something have some form of an agenda: we want everyone to be about what we are about.

4.) We need to get rid of ex-gay or reparative therapy.

This is where I will probably lose many of you. But I’ll be honest — I don’t agree with this therapy. Reading through studies and testimonials are disheartening at best. From the founders of Exodus going back to their “gay lifestyle” to reading countless stories of kids who commit suicide because they “can’t fix themselves,” I think we can agree that this needs to stop. Oftentimes this therapy tries to pinpoint family issues and says that people are gay because of overbearing mothers or distant fathers. I love what Lee writes in his book:

If distant fathers and overbearing mothers made people gay, there should be far more gay people in American society than there are. Meanwhile, I should have been the straightest guy in the world.

5.) Lead with embrace not theology.

That is the most helpful thing I have learned and it was from Deb Hirsch. While reading Justin Lee’s book, oftentimes I would think, “he really just needs someone in the church to embrace him and show him he is still loved.” Oftentimes in our crusades against theological differences, we neglect embracing those who disagree with us. Some churches even have written out homosexual policies. I love what Deb Hirsch says: “Why do we have policies on homosexuality and nothing else in the church?” Christ embodied this idea of leading with embrace. And that’s what we must remember to do at all times.


My prayer is that we stop choosing sides on this issue — because people should never be reduced to a side. My prayer is that we take a step back and analyze how we might have hurt someone because we wanted to “fix” them when people aren’t puzzles to be solved by us. My prayer is that as we move forward, we seek conversations rather than sermons because most of us can’t hear over our own bullhorn (myself included). Ultimately, my prayer is that God continues to grant us the same forgiveness and grace that He has given us throughout history for neglecting the forgotten, saying the wrong things, bad theological practices, and countless other things.¬†

I hope that this post isn’t divisive. I want to unite as many people as possible. That is my prayer. Perhaps some will see me as wishy-washy because I don’t make a clear statement about where I stand. Or some will see me as too conservative because I don’t push for their reading of Scripture. Some will view me as too liberal because I propose and question some different things. Others will view this as a waste of their time and will stop reading things their friends send to them. But I hope that none of this is true. I hope that we can begin to unite together and converse about serious issues like this. I hope we can begin to understand that many of us don’t have it all figured out and that sexuality is a huge topic that encompasses so much more than to whom you are attracted. Let’s put down our stones and work together to lead with embrace.

Heaven is Painful

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city-heaven-new-jerusalem-heaven-duplantisFor many of us, we think of heaven in a way that makes it about us. “Everything you love will be there…” “No more tears, no more pain…” “Whatever you love doing, it will be in heaven…” We have turned heaven into some ethereal place where it’s all about us receiving our reward. It is the end that justifies our means of living. This picture perfectly illustrates that.

But looking through the prophets, or the martyrs, or the early disciples, or even Christ, one cannot help but see the painful reality of heaven.¬†The picture we have painted about heaven has led to many jokes (just take a look at¬†The Invention of Lying). We have responded to the nature of evil with “one day, we will be free from it all.”

Heaven is a work in which many of us do not want to participate.

For instance, this past week at CIY:MOVE (a youth conference), we spoke about reconciliation. I hate reconciliation. And most of us do. Jesus talked about disagreements in Matthew 18 and then after talking about it, he told the parable of the unforgiving debtor. Coincidence? Most likely not. It may be easy for us to mutter the words, “I forgive you,” but it is a lot harder for us to live out forgiveness on a day-to-day basis. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 not to let the sun go down on our anger because anger is a foothold for evil. But many of us have slept while we are angry at someone else.

Heaven is painful.

Some of us have a lot of religious head knowledge. We could talk for days on end about the nature of atonement or how transubstantiation is the correct view of communion. We know all the different church movements and can debate with the best of them. We can talk about “the gospel” all day long and walk away feeling like we solved all the problems in the world. But to live out Christ is a completely different task. We are like doctors who have studied but have never cut open a body. We have convinced ourselves that giving money to the church and/or a non-profit is our “spiritual act of worship.” This is us being Christ. But it isn’t.

Heaven is painful.

Mission trips are fun for us because we feel a sense of accomplishment. We built a house for someone, or we put on a fantastic week of VBS for a group of kids, or we fed the homeless. We met a need and it made us feel accomplished. Trips like that are fun and good for the soul. But it is much harder for us to be Christ in our everyday lives. Our friends will make fun of us. People will curse and spit at us. We will be rejected. It’s harder for us to live out mission every day because that requires a daily commitment rather than just a week or a couple of weeks.

Heaven is painful.

We grant grace and forgiveness to the sins around us that meet our criteria. You lied? Here’s grace. You stole? Here’s forgiveness. You slept with someone before marriage? Here’s grace. But it is harder for us to grant grace and forgiveness to the sins that make us uncomfortable. You hit a woman? You molested a child? You raped someone? You’re a terrorist who’s responsible for killing thousands of people?

Heaven is painful.

NT Wright talks about how praying “may your will be done on earth as it is being done in heaven” is one of the most important prayers we could pray. For in that prayer, we are reminding ourselves that we are to usher God’s Kingdom to earth. The evil nature of earth is colliding with good nature of God. It is in birthing pains — and that is painful and dirty and ugly, but something beautiful is coming if we only endure. Heaven might be painful for a little while, but new life will occur.

Unfortunately, the work of heaven will be painful. It is counter-cultural to what we live in today and it will be met with great resistance. But, giving up is never a choice. Refusing to fight is never an option. Accepting that the “world is full of evil” is never a proper worldview. God says that He is reconciling the entire world to Himself. And that has to be painful.

Sometimes I wonder how painful heaven actually will be for some of us. We will see the homeless guy we ignored every day. We will see that person who used to do those things. We will see people we spent our entire lives ignoring because of how they hurt us.

Here’s the point to this: if we truly live out what Christ told us to live out, we will experience pain. It happens. Making heaven (and not the ethereal place) a reality is full of pain. We have to reconcile with the murderer. We have to forgive the child molester. We have to take in those without shelter. We have to give our last piece of bread to the hungry. We have to stand up and get hit for those who can’t take another beating. We have to fight for justice.

I’m not great at this. But the more I think about God’s Kingdom, the more I realize how painful it will be for me because I’m not even doing it right now. I’m not being it right now.

The process of bringing heaven to earth is going to be painful. It’s time we all jump in and get a little bruised up.