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.

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The Sin of the Church

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ImageOne of my favorite films of the year has been Philomena. It is a beautiful story about a journalist who tries to find Philomena’s son. Philomena was sent to a convent by her father after becoming pregnant. While in the convent, she gave birth to a son who was then forced illegally into adoption and Philomena was never able to say goodbye to him. 50 years later, Philomena tells this painful secret that she has kept for so many years.

The film is difficult to watch at times. As a person who deeply loves the Bride of Christ, it is painful to see the wrongdoings of the Church. There are an approximate 60,000 women in Ireland that were forced to give up children because they were unwed mothers. Not only that, the Irish government has refused to release the records of these children and the adoptive parents. But Philomena is fighting within the church to see change. She even recently had an audience with Pope Francis.

Philomena Lee has said, “You can’t go through life being so unyielding …so you’ve got to forgive. You’ve got to. You just have to forgive.” This is a seemingly easy concept to live by when the pain the Church causes you is “mild.” Forgiveness is a little more difficult when the Church forces you to give up a child.

But no matter what the pain, “we can’t go through life being so unyielding.” Why? Because we are really being unyielding against ourselves. The Church is a community of people. And each of us make up that community. So when you are angry at the Church, you are, in a way, angry at yourself.

So the church said something with which you disagree? I’m sure no one has ever disagreed with you…

So the church hurt you? I’m sure you have never hurt anyone else…

So the church lied to you? I’m sure you have never lied to anyone…

The sin of the Church is the sin of its people. Our greed, corruption, manipulation, and selfishness is the sin. The Church is not some unknown group of people. It is you. It is me. And we have all made countless mistakes.

This reminds me of the story in John of the woman caught in the act of adultery. As she is brought to receive judgment, Christ makes the simple, yet profound statement, of “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone” (John 8.1-11). I feel like for many of us, we have tied up the Church and are throwing the biggest rocks we can find at it. We are relentless in our pursuit of destroying it for the pain it caused us. And yet Christ is saying, “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.” But we can’t hear Him over the sound of stones smashing through the Bride of Christ.

Many of us inside of the Church seem to think that there is some extravagant evil force that is trying to destroy it. This may have some validity but I think it gives far too much credit to that which Christ said, “the gates of hell will not be able to overcome it.” I think we are doing a pretty outstanding job on our own of destroying the church. I’m guilty of this. Sometimes in the pursuit of trying to create something that resembles the Bride of Christ, I find myself trying to destroy the Bride of Christ to create something that resembles Caleb Trimble. I need to learn that balance.

When we throw stones at the Church, we really just hurt ourselves. We cannot go through life being so unyielding. We just need to learn how to forgive. How do you learn to forgive? Remind yourself of what it was like to be on the other end and needing forgiveness. Remember the relief you felt when someone said those three incredible words, “I forgive you.” Remind yourself that you are a part of the thing that you are destroying.

I think we can learn something from Philomena. She was deeply hurt by the Church and yet she kept her faith in God and in the Church. She chose to forgive rather than walk through life being bitter toward it. Perhaps it is because she realized that she would really just be mad at herself. How beautiful would it be if we were quicker to forgive than we were to cast stones from our tower of righteousness? Or see how we have wronged people instead of seeing how the Church has wronged us?

The sin of the Church is me. The sin of the Church is you. But praise God for His grace to each of us. May we exhibit that same grace to the Bride of Christ.

Hurting People Hurt….God

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I’ve always been fascinated by the phrase, “hurting people hurt people.” Perhaps because it is true. Perhaps because I have been affected by it. Perhaps because I have hurt people while I was hurting. But nonetheless, it has always fascinated me.

This phrase has been crossing my mind quite frequently lately. I think the phrase causes us to feel some sense of sorrow for the one who is hurting. And I do feel sorry for those who are hurting. We all hurt. So we know the pain.

But what saddens me the most about hurting people…is that they hurt God. Seems kind of harsh, right? It seems like I am saying that we are bullying God. But that isn’t what I’m saying.

God seeks reconciliation. In II Corinthians, Paul states that God is in the business of reconciliation. God seeks redemption. The psalmist speaks of that in Psalm 130. This list could go on and on of all the things that God desires. One thing, however, that does not make that list, is pain. God does not seek pain. He does not seek suffering. He does not want that. He doesn’t want us to hurt. He doesn’t want us to experience pain. He doesn’t want us to suffer.

But because we are hurting people, we hurt God.

An organization that constantly blows me away is People of the Second Chance. It is an organization that is simply centered on grace. It speaks grace into the darkest of places. It speaks love where there is hatred. It speaks hope where there is hopelessness. And it speaks forgiveness where there is hurt. Story after story tells of a person who was hurt, who then hurt others, and then found grace…and was set free from the cycle.

That’s the way it should be. You might be thinking, “yeah, that’s they way it should be for my friend who was hurt by ____________.” Fill in the blank with whatever you like. Most of us will think of something “huge.” But it doesn’t have to be some life-altering action.

Maybe it was a friend lying to you.

Maybe it was a parent not following through with a promise.

Maybe it was a mentor disappointing you.

Maybe it was a teacher not telling the truth.

A minister not helping you.

A Christian not being Christ.

Whatever it may have been, it doesn’t have to be big to cause pain. It doesn’t have to be some life-altering action to cause you to hurt. And then the cycle continues.

You begin to lie to friends…

You begin to not follow through with promises…

You begin to disappoint…

You begin to speak falsely to those who look up to you…

You begin to ignore others…

You begin to not be Christ.

You hurt people because you hurt.

So here is what I mean by the phrase “hurting people hurt…God.” It’s not that you bully God. It’s not that you wrong Him. It’s that you hurt Him because He does not desire to see you hurt. Is there pain in this world? Of course. Is there an explanation? Nothing that will help. How then shall we live? By continuing the cycle of hurting others?

I hope not…

Because then we end up hurting God.

We hurt Him because He does not desire to see us hurt. It pains Him to see us suffer. So is this post about us realizing that we should stop hurting because we make God sad? No. It is a post reminding us that God is a god of reconciliation, redemption, hope, grace, forgiveness, and mercy. Not a god of pain, hurt, and suffering. Is this a post to make you feel guilty about going through pain right now? No. But it is a post to remind you that it is no desire of God’s for you to have to go through pain.

Hurting people hurt God…because God does not desire to see hurt. And one day, He will reconcile. It’s not comforting thinking that the reconciliation is not happening right now. But perhaps you can be that reconciliation for someone. Perhaps you can be the redemption that someone needs. Perhaps you can begin to break the cycle. Perhaps you can realize that there is grace in your story.

Getting Rid of Your Baggage

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ImageOn my desk are cards. Perhaps I should rephrase that: on my desk are comment cards. I’ve thought about throwing them away. Some of them are really kind…but others are vicious. Part of me wants to hold on to them so bad. They keep me humble. But most of the time they just bring up anger and bitterness.

We all have “comment cards” of some form.

Perhaps it is a note from an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend.

Or maybe it is a picture of a friend who betrayed you.

Maybe it is a church bulletin from a church that ran you out.

A book that reminds you of bad days from high school.

A shirt from a parent who hurt you.

We all have those “comment cards” and we are all scared to part with them. I have no idea why this is. Are we gluttons for punishment? Do we really like to be reminded over and over again of past pain? We must. That would be the only logical explanation for why we keep these things. And when we keep them, it is like we are pouring salt on an open wound.

You’ve seen the cycle – you might have even been through the cycle yourself. You see these items and immediately are angered. As time progresses you turn bitter. As time progresses further, you become callous. Callousness is what scares me the most. Because when we become callous…

we stop loving

we stop yearning for more

we stop trying to achieve our dreams

we stop maintaining relationships

we stop.

Callousness is the final nail in our coffin. It causes us to remove the joy from everything in life. So before you hit that level, have you identified your “comment cards?” Get rid of them. Get rid of them so that you can live. Don’t try to convince yourself that you’re keeping them to keep you humble or to remind you of him/her or in hopes of regaining their friendship. Stop coming up with excuses and start living your life without the baggage of past pain.