When Christians Make You Mad…

avoid hellIt’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.

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6 thoughts on “When Christians Make You Mad…

  1. Fortunately, John the Baptist was not a Christian so his preaching about repenting to avoid the wrath to come would not have angered you. Of course Wesley preached that too. In fact, the one criterion for joining his classes was was “a desire to avoid the wrath to come.” However, I have to agree with you. Judgmental Christians make me angry. Especially those who rarely miss an opportunity to judge other Christians. I guess I have to work on that. In addition, I have to confess that I have not paid for any billboards trying to encourage people to come to Christ. Indeed, i don’t witness as much as I know I should. And, sadly, I believe in hell. So I don’t have the skeptic’s excuse of regarding Christianity as “a life style instead of a life line.”

  2. John, Thanks for your comments. The bottomline is all Christians are judgmental Christians. That’s at the heart of what I’m writing about…as much as those billboards and radio programs make me mad, I know I’m supposed to respond in love, grace, and forgiveness. As much as Wesley spoke about wrath, the core of his message, much like Jesus’ was focused on “doing all the good” one can. That “good” speaks much more than a billboard urging one to “avoid hell”.

  3. Christianity is not a lifestyle.Christ is god,not seperate from the father.And he talked of hell alot.Maybe someone passed by that billboard that the holy spirit wanted to see that message.

  4. Rick, your theology falls a bit short. Sure, maybe the holy spirit wanted someone to see that message. However, your first comment is questionable. Christianity is indeed a lifestyle…following Christ impacts every area of ones life. If it is not a lifestyle, what is it? Also, Christianity and the life of faith is largely about relationship. A billboard is void of relationship. Christ talked about hell a lot, sure. He talked about money more. And, he probably would let those who paid for that billboard know that there money would have been better spent feeding hungry children.

  5. Jason,you are right the billboard is void of relationship. We all use the gifts that god gave us in different ways according to our abilities. I personally have a billboard that’s in front of the hustler strip club that says Trust Jesus Repent.I believe that if one person turns away from the club and starts to change there lifestyle for the better , it brings glory to god. I was lucky enough to see hell once. I am a repenting sinner,I have to trust in Jesus daily ,pray and always be on guard not to go back to my old life.There are many lukewarm Christian sinners out there. Charity is great.It is truly a blessing to give,I am just giving advice with my billboard.When I was in hell I was told to repent.But not everybody gets to come back.

  6. I saw that billboard today as I was driving from Indianapolis back to Muskegon, Michigan. I am a pastor in Muskegon, and tomorrow I am continuing our walk through the letter of Philippians, tomorrow we will be on chapter 2 verses 17-18. Paul says that if he is being poured out, then he will rejoice. I wondered what Paul would think of that billboard, being that he was chained, in prison, had experienced countless beatings and whippings. Some might say a bit of hell. Yet, if his announcing that Jesus is Lord will be his end, then he will rejoice. Paul is trusting Jesus with his today, and gathering from what he has said throughout the letter of Philippians, he’s not really concerned about his after death. I’d imagine that Paul would be a bit offended as well by that billboard. Avoid hell. But Paul’s saying yes to Jesus has experiencing what many of us would describe as hell. But he’ll do anything to get the word out about Jesus as Lord, and then he explains that it is the most dangerous message there is. He doesn’t invite anyone to avoid hell, he invites them to live today for Jesus, through Jesus. And that will pretty much number your days of living the easy life. Christians are way too fixed on after death, and we are too often missing out on living today, right now, with Christ Jesus. I’ve never, ever heard anyone say that they trusted Jesus because of a billboard. I’d gladly, very gladly be wrong on that one. Yet I have never heard of it in any way, shape or form. So there is a good chance it is poorly used money.

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