It’s inevitable. It’s going to happen sooner or later. Most likely, it will happen sooner rather than later. At some point in your lifetime, Christians will make you mad. I say this as a Christian, knowing that I will make you mad sooner or later (again, most likely sooner).
Unfortunately, we Christians will make you mad…we will make each other mad…not because we are too loving, too giving, too accepting, too merciful, too peaceful, too compassionate, or too forgiving. I’ve yet to meet someone who believes differently than I do who says that Christians are just too kind!
No, instead we Christians will make you mad because we are too judgmental, too closed, too selfish, too arrogant. I know that I am guilty of these things. Even now, as I type this, I am probably being too judgmental and arrogant.
This weekend, while driving the extremely boring stretch of 1-70 between Columbus, OH and Indianapolis, I was reminded of the ability of Christians to easily drive others towards anger and bitterness.
The first offense that made me mad dealt with billboards. First, I saw a billboard that simple read, “Hell is Real”. My first reaction was, “Well, that’s debatable.” Let’s be honest, we Christians do not agree on hell. Some of us are all too happy to send others to burn in a lake of fire while others of us don’t believe in a literal hell at all. Generally, my idea of hell is having to spend time with people who spend money on billboards that read, “Hell is Real”.
As I continued to drive, I witnessed another billboard. This one read, “Avoid Hell. Repent. Trust Jesus Today.”
Some of you are probably wondering why this billboard made me mad. Well, as a Christian and as a pastor, I do want people to trust Jesus. I believe that the Way of Jesus is the better way to live out our lives on this earth. And, I desire that we all might love God and love one another. So, the idea of trusting Jesus…I’m okay with that.
However, I get so mad when I see hell used as the motivator to “trust Jesus”. As soon as I read the first two words, “avoid hell”, I could feel myself tensing up. I had just spent the weekend talking about how our concept of God is often too closed and that God is bigger than our narrow definitions. So, reading “avoid hell” just got under my skin.
It’s the old “fire insurance” method of evangelism. “Do you know where you’d spend eternity if you die tonight?” Well, in my case, my family is well aware of my desire to be cremated and my ashes spread around the Heorot Pub & Draught House in Muncie, IN. So, I guess that’s where I’ll go. Rather than offering hope, offering life and love, we are offering up an “out”.
Okay, back to the issue at hand…I have never been a fan of avoiding hell as a motivator for a relationship with Jesus. The ministry of Jesus seems to focus more on bringing a bit of heaven to earth than where we’ll spend eternity. Jesus was concerned about the least, the last, and the lost among him at that very moment. Jesus seems more concerned about whether or not we are feeding the hungry, providing for those in need, caring for the poor, the orphaned, and the widowed today. Jesus appeared to be more concerned with whether or not his followers were choosing to bring heaven or hell to earth today. In fact, I believe he even mentioned that the way we respond to those in need is closely related to our eternal destination (read Matthew 25:31-46 for more on that).
So, I got mad because this billboard totally ignores the heart of Jesus’ ministry…that we might live today in a way that honors God and all of creation. There should be so much more to trusting Jesus than simply avoiding hell. However, billboards like this simply reduce the beauty of the way down to a choice about eternity…heaven or hell.
I stopped to fill up the car and grab a quick bite to eat before continuing my journey. After filling my belly with some ridiculously unhealthy junk food, I decided to listen to the radio. As I scanned through the stations, I landed on a news report that was talking about Ellen Degeneres.
I stopped because I really like Ellen (I write that as if she’s a great friend, maybe I should just say that I really respect Ellen). She is simply a very good person. Her heart and concern for others is simply amazing. Not only that, she seems like a lot of fun! I mean, she’s married to a cast member of “Arrested Development”!
I figured I was listening to an NPR station. However, as the details of the story concerning Ellen continued, I quicklly realized I was listening to a conservative Christian radio station (I’m pretty sure there are only conservative Christian stations…I’ve yet to hear a moderate to liberal Christian station). The report featured “information” from the Family Research Council indicating that recent slips in sales at JC Penny’s is most likely related to their relationship with spokesperson Ellen Degeneres. At this point in my life, I shouldn’t be surprised to hear garbage like this spewed by certain Christian groups. Yet, my jaw still dropped. The report went on to say that they believe that JC Penny’s endorsement of the “gay lifestyle” be hiring Degeneres and using same sex couples in advertisements. The report claimed that sales had lowered because “families were rejecting JC Penny’s because JC Penny’s had rejected families.” All I could say was, “Seriously?”
I was mad.
I was mad because I get lumped in with Christians who are too preoccupied with hell. Seriously, I think some get a strange “high” from letting others know they will “burn for eternity”.
I was mad because I get lumped in with Christians who go out of their way to point the finger of “blame” at people like Ellen…a woman who embodies that message of “love one another” so well. At this point, have we not figured out that there are bigger, more pressing issues than our views on sexuality? Have we not figured out that some of the ways we have dealt with issues of sexuality actually create more distance between the Church and the people God loves (which is everyone, by the way)?
Now, some will justify the billboards, saying that one is “loving others” by trying to steer them clear of hell.
Some will justify the attack on Ellen, saying that she is “living a sinful lifestyle”…well, aren’t we all???
As a Christian, my call is to love God and to love others. I fail everyday…To be honest, it’s generally hardest for me to love other Christians…the ones I feel misrepresent the Way I so love (of course, I’ll be the first to admit, I know many on the “other side” feel I am misrepresenting the faith too).
As a Christian, my call is to lead a life of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness, and self-control.” I fail everyday…I fail to do all of these things.
As a Christian, my call is to feed the hungry, offer a drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, care for the orphan and the widow, love and care for the least among us. I fail everyday…my belly is overly full while others starve. I will consume a $4 beverage today, while someone goes without clean water.
Yet, I find hope in the Way of Christ. It’s not a hope that I might slip through the cracks and avoid hell. It’s not a hope that God will cut me some slack because I’m not gay.
It’s a hope that says there is a better way than this. It’s a hope that says “all people are of sacred worth.” It’s a hope in a God that calls us into so much more than avoiding hell. It’s a hope that a God of love truly loves all. It’s a hope in a God that calls us all to love one another…regardless of race, political party, denomination, sexual preferences, socio-economic position…It’s a hope in a God love that calls us to lead lives of love.