Why I Must Confess

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Confession is good for the soul. Some people live their lives with a hidden secret that will go to the grave with them. Not only will they live with that secret, but they will also live with shame, regret, and fear.

I love that the Roman Catholic Church has confessionals. It provides an opportunity to confess what is hidden in that darkness. This not only acts as an opportunity to confess that which is hidden, but also the day to day sins of which so many are guilty.

If you are anything like me, you walk through life without paying much attention to sins. Because we live in an age of grace, sometimes we forget to go through the discipline of asking God for forgiveness for things we have done and for things we have left undone. There is something healing in confessing. Sin begins to lose its power in our life when we give words to it.

Grace is a beautiful thing. Without it, we would all be lost. I fear, however, that even with it, we are still somewhat lost. We assume grace. We assume that God will forgive. We assume that our sin will no longer be counted against us.

There is a stark difference between having assurance and assuming. Having assurance is trust. Assuming is not giving much thought to something.

We can have assurance in God’s forgiveness and grace but we cannot assume God’s forgiveness and grace.

One of the things the Book of Common Prayer has in its service is a time of confession. This is not a time for each person to go around saying their sins of the week. It is a time of silent confession before God. Then, they end with this prayer said together:

“Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.”

This is one of my favorite prayers to pray. I pray it often. Each time I come back to it, the words become more powerful.

Christ taught us to pray each time for God to forgive us our trespasses. Have we forgotten to keep doing that? Some of us will ask for forgiveness for what we consider to be “bigger” sins…but we don’t confess sins of omission, being greedy with our money, lying, or other things that are considered culturally normal. When we remind ourselves of daily sins, we remind ourselves how much grace we actually need. Then we become all the more grateful for the grace of God.

Knowing that God’s grace covers each and every inch of our lives can easily become an assumption.

Confession makes me all the more grateful for God’s forgiveness and grace. It reminds me just how much I need it. And it helps me not to take it for granted. It helps me not to cheapen it.

Sometimes I wish that the American Evangelical Church had a place in the service for confession. How powerful would it be for us to weekly pray a prayer of forgiveness and corporately remembering how much we need God’s grace? It’s amazing to me that so many things in culture point to people desiring confession. There are numerous websites that people can confess on. There are multiple opportunities to anonymously confess your darkest secrets. People want to speak. People want to say what is weighing them down. Shouldn’t we be providing them with that opportunity?

Confession might scare us. Confession might make us uncomfortable. Confession might frustrate us. But confession also reminds us. And we need to be reminded. Daily. Just how much we need God’s grace. We need to be reminded how much we have cheapened it. We need to be reminded how thankful we should be for it. Confession paves the way for that. It’s a discipline that we neglect…but it’s a discipline that should be a daily practice.

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My Issue With Caitlyn…Is Not Really About Her

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VF_JULY_COVER1433178010If you live under a rock, you most likely haven’t heard of Caitlyn Jenner. She has taken the media by storm following her 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer. I have read quite a few blog posts regarding her transition from Bruce to Caitlyn. Obviously, people want to be first with their response. Even posting this a week out, I feel like this may still be a bit too reactionary for me. So please, read the following with a grain of salt (I’ve never quite understood this saying…).

There have been some really thought-provoking posts about how she should be treated and why Christians should be setting down their stones. However, there are many who still seem eager to pick up their stones.

My issue with Caitlyn is not entirely with her…it’s more with us.

I will be the first to admit that when it comes to the transgender conversation, I am at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say…and so oftentimes, I’m silent. Yes, I agree that we should love her where she is (which, in my opinion means respecting her desire to be considered a female). And that is messy. But Jesus taught us that love was never going to be clean.

Sometimes I wonder what Jesus’s conversations with “the worst of sinners” would’ve been like. Would He have tried to persuade them to follow Him? Would He have asked them to leave their profession? Would He have asked them poignant questions about their choices in life?

The honest answer is, I don’t know.

It’s always been amusing to me that sexuality has always been the issue that Christians seem to wag their fingers at the most. We say things like, “do you not know that the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” Obviously, that would make them stop in their tracks and turn toward Jesus. We forget the context of what Paul was saying and just say those words to whomever we view as sexually immoral.

It wasn’t too long ago, however, that married people who had sex for other purposes than reproduction were considered sexually immoral.

Paul spoke quite heavily about sexual immorality in his first letter to the Corinthians. Obviously, Christians are quick to turn their when confronting those we deem sexually immoral. But what amuses me about that verse is that we often neglect the other things mentioned.

“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6.9-10 NLT)

What do we say to the businessman who tithes regularly to the church but has practices that cheat others?

What do we say to those who continuously consume without giving to others?

What do we say about those who work for companies that steal from many?

What do we say about those verbally abusive preachers who go for the shock value each and every Sunday to get their point across?

We are silent.

Those who use the argument that Caitlyn is sexually immoral and deserves our judgment neglect to point out that the person who gives the most to the church might be running a company that takes the most from those less fortunate.

I am only saying that if we draw a line…then let’s draw a clear line and not one so ambiguous.

This much I know: we live in a world where things are not as they should be. For many of those who identify as transgender, they feel like their gender is not as it should be. Christians should be eager to converse with this. There is a common theme that things are not right. Yet we pick up those stones and take a few throws.

Gender is a deeper issue than sex. The unfortunate thing is that most will not see this. I have no idea what it feels like to go your whole life feeling like this body is not right. That something is terribly wrong. I empathize even though I don’t fully understand.

It is so easy for us to simply say, “be a man! You have a penis, now be a man!” But genitals do not determine gender (for more info on this, see Debra Hirsch’s book Redeeming Sex). This is a truth I am learning more and more.

There have been a lot of blogs about all of this. Part of me is saddened by how much we are analyzing her life…but she also is in the unfortunate position of being in the spotlight, and we idolize those in that spotlight (wait, didn’t Paul say something about those who worship idols not inheriting the Kingdom as well???). Sometimes I get tired of hearing how we need to treat things with more grace. I feel like it is just an excuse for not standing up for what you believe in. But I believe in grace…and not cheap grace. I want to stand up for grace.

I pray that God grants the same grace to Caitlyn that He grants to me. Whatever is going through her mind, whatever battles she is fighting, whatever issues she might have — I pray God grants her the same grace He grants me. Many times in my life, I could say that I was a sexually immoral, idol-worshipping, greedy, cheating, thief. God granted me so much grace in those moments…and He still does.

So before we shake our heads at what is going on, can we all just agree that this is more complicated than what it appears? And that life and love is messy? And that grace flows freely? And that we are in need of that same grace…even from our pedestal that we use to look down on our transgender brothers and sisters?

Church should never be the place where someone who is transgender feels even more out of place than he/she does in his/her body. Church should be the place where he/she feels like he/she is part of the body…and then moves toward redemption and restoration…whatever that looks like. God is pretty good at working those things out. So let’s leave it to Him.

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.

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.

Dallas Buyers Club & Our Sin

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With the Oscars quickly approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to talk more about some of the films that have been nominated. Dallas Buyers Club was one of the few films this year that completely exceeded any expectations I had. I am not too familiar with the story behind the film but I was saddened to see some of the truths that were discussed in the film. One of those truths, I want to talk about briefly.

Sin.

The film deals with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80s. I remember studying about it in school and just how much it took us off guard. Evangelical Christians, for the most part, separated themselves from those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. What we knew about the disease was that it was spread amongst homosexuals and drug addicts. Some evangelical Christians went so far as to say that it was punishment from God for the actions of the immoral. I won’t enter into that conversation.

But as I walked out of the film, tears were streaming down my face. Why? Not because it ended sadly. But because I realized, for the most part, not all sin carries the same consequences.

Think of it like this: What if a person tried drugs once? He/she uses a used needle and ends up contracting HIV/AIDS. One mistake leads to a shortened life. One mistake leads to a death sentence. It brought tears to my eyes. One person + one mistake = a death sentence. Compare that to a person who is addicted to drugs and never contract HIV/AIDS and you realize just how unfair life is.

Our sin doesn’t always carry such egregious consequences. A lie here and a lie there doesn’t necessarily mean we will die at a young age. A man can cheat on his wife for years and the affair can remain hidden until his deathbed. Guys can sleep around with as many girls as they want and never contract an STI. It’s just not fair.

The evangelical church has been notoriously known for stamping a red A on those guilty of certain sins. We ostracize and alienate them. We see the curve on their stomach and we talk behind their back. We hear of a medical condition and we keep our distance. We hear of an addiction and we “pray for them” in our small groups.

And then we wonder why women get abortions.

And then we wonder why people continue to sleep around with various partners.

And then we wonder why people continue to fall back into old addictions.

Could it be that we have responded in the exact opposite way as Christ would have? Is God’s heart breaking while our hearts are being hardened? Is God trying to speak life into their lives while we are speaking condemnation? Are we robbing them of the grace that God is giving?

Every day, I see countless sins in my life. Pride, lust, envy, worry, laziness, anger, jealousy, lies, and more. None of those sins have caused me to go to jail. None of those sins have caused me to be considered an outcast of the church. In fact, those sins are pathways for me to show others Jesus. I talk constantly about how God uses brokenness to show His Kingdom.

But for someone who has HIV/AIDS, it’s quite different. For a woman who got pregnant and had an abortion, it’s quite different. For someone who has track marks on his/her arms, it’s quite different. They are not worthy to receive the grace of God.

I ask forgiveness from those who have been alienated from the church for how we have ridiculed you. In reality, our sins are just as egregious as yours. We may deny leading a broken life, but we are liars.

How can we reconcile with those who we have outcast? How can we look at someone with HIV/AIDS because of a mistake with the same eyes as someone who lies to us constantly? How can we remove the log from our eyes before we remove the speck from someone else’s eyes?

The easy way would be for us to all have the same consequence for sin…which we do…it’s called death. Perhaps we can begin seeing how our “little white lie” is just as deadly as shooting up. Perhaps we can begin seeing how our arrogance is just as deadly as sleeping around with as many people as possible.

Where are you in this? Have you lived life thinking you were better because your sin didn’t carry with it the consequences as someone else? Have you thought that God loves you more because you never contracted HIV/AIDS?

We are all in need of the same grace from God. No matter what. Perhaps it’s time that we step down from the pedestal that we built and realize that truth. Perhaps it’s time that we stopped ostracizing people based upon consequences of their actions. Perhaps it’s time that we swallow the hard truth that our sin is just as egregious as someone else’s.

Perhaps it’s time that we see things as God sees them.

That’s what I got from Dallas Buyers Club. It was humbling. It was upsetting. It was revealing. And ultimately, it was used by God to show me the honest state of my life.