This video has received over 6.2 MILLION views in 2 days. Apparently we are not the only ones tired with business as usual.
Since a snowstorm is raging, I thought it would be a nice time to reflect on a hotter target, say...hell.
Hell is a polarizing and often overly simplified aspect of Biblical Christianity.
First it is referred to in sketchy contexts Biblically. Certainly it has been fictionalized and expounded upon much more drammatically than its Biblical existence & description supports. Second, it feeds into the unfortunate reality that we Christians do like tidy and devastating judgement to fall on others, don't we? And how better to make our enemies pay than to imagine them floundering in constant fire? (We'll get into the Bible of hell another time. It will suprise some of you.)
The reality of hell is, like most eternal matters, uncertain and unknowable...until we are dead and it is too late to be pursuaded. But it can be better understood by reflecting on God, Who God is, and therefor what God is not.
God is love, life, light, resurrection (fresh starts/ forgiveness) and truth...an ever-present counselor. In all areas of living (and post-living) that we pursue those attributes of God, we are living in God's goodness and are likely experiencing characteristics similar to that of heaven.
Conversely, despair, lonliness, the absence of relationship, darkness, absolute shame, death, and lies are not God and are therefor hellish whether it happens before or after death. As I type that list I wonder if the much-touted fire was ever even a useful exaggeration as that all sounds completely miserable.
Well, one way to confirm it is Christmastime is that the ol' pants are begging to be released from the confines of remaining buttoned as we drive across the not-so-picturesque landscape of late-fall pre-snow Illinois.
Which has led me to finally commit to getting back into the gym.
It has also led me to reflect on the rigor of getting results from the gym. It sort of requires regular attendance, constant attention to collateral damage (like delicious foods), and a good deal of pain and the occasional inability to walk from muscle soreness.
All of this becomes fantastically worth it as the body transforms to its lean, lithe, athletic alter-ego.
But in the weeks and months of meantime, it can be hard to convince oneself the whole bit is better than sitting on the sofa eating chips.
Kinda reminds me of the keystone characteristics of Christianity: servanthood, kindness, generosity, love, non-judgement...etc, etc. They don't exactly just happen.
So for the love of the world's health & wellness, and, well, because it is Christmastime, choose to practice joy.
It won't hurt for long, I promise.
I get a lot of well-intended messages from Christians about the excess commercialism of Christmas. I don't disagree entirely...except this:
Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jarb of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance. But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” John 12:3-5
Is blessing someone through a gift so different? As Judas points out, there have always been many 'noble' ways to pass on what we own. Yet, if we are called to be Christlike, and to view others as incarnations of Christ on earth, then both giving and receiving is, in fact, quite holy, quite beautiful, and quite loving.
Stinginess has no such positive attributes. Nor does judgement.
In faith we talk about 'the fruits of the Spirit', which is a real religiousy way of describing that when Christians are really living faith, they will display certain characteristics: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. So that is how we should see Christians behaving. If we described our lives, those words should be present if we are living our faith.
Now here is the rub: John 10:10 (looked at in the last post) "The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. But I (Jesus) come to give you life, and to give it abundantly." I don't think it is much of a leap to say that an abundant life would be characterized by plenty of joy, peace, faithfulness, patience, gentleness...etc.
Let's jump to the obvious point, we Christians don't have an abundance of these markers. We are in fact known as the opposite, judgemental, isolationistic, unkind, etc...
Why? Wouldn't it be a fantastic witness if we lived these - shoot, wouldn't it be fantastic for us and our families, let alone the world as a whole?
So what is the thief up to that Christ's Church is living so inversely? What lies have we bought that erode love? What is the destroyer destroying to erode joy in the world through Christians? What essentials have been hikacked that prevent kindness?
Makes all those rousing sermons against so and so seem misguided, eh?
Probably one of my favorite statements from Jesus is this: "the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. But I come to give you life and to give it abundantly." (John 10:10)
This is one of the MANY (and worst) things the church of the last 2000 years has left to the wayside. Jesus' punchline, his proclamation is that he came to give us each extraordinary, cup-running over, unexpectedly good life.
Yet we operate as though the goal of Christianity is to live less fully, to chastise ourselves and others more, to become so pristine that judgement could not touch us.
But Jesus himself didn't live that way. He was a get around town and make life good kind of guy. He was joy-filled when a thief gave back more than he stole. Make no mistake, the guy didn't give away everything he owned to serve the third world poor, he just made right on his previous theft from people with a little sauce on top.
And then there was the time Jesus made sure there were 6 barrels of wine to keep a party going...no way to misconstrue it, they had already drunk ALL the wine at the party. And there was that thing about feeding droves of people until they were full just so they didn't have to go in search of food. They weren't starving or helpless...he just chose to bless them.
And there it is, just like he said. Jesus chooses to bless us. To give us life beyond our expectations. Why do we continually expect less? Why don't we, Christians, expect and then practice sharing that more?
Partake in abundance and bless somebody. Share Jesus.
One of the things I was asked to address in this blog was 'Christian hypocrisy'. No single thing probably drives away more faith-curious people than a good dose of holier-than-thou, judgemental, misbehaving Christians.
Now I love Christians. I happen to be one. I was not always. I understand the tension between trying to overcome sin and being human. I even understand the temptation associated with overcoming a little sin and becoming judgemental. We just have trouble remembering how lost we really were and recognizing how lost we still are. I remember reading something the Good Lord said about blindness being a better condition than asserting we could see... (more on that later.)
Unfortunately, when you get on a high horse, people are forced to look up to you. And when people are forced to look up to somebody, they tend to get out their magnifying glasses and look for flaws. It's true whether you are Abraham Lincoln, or Brittany Spears. And nobody stands up to intense scrutiny very well. We are all just too, well, human.
We could learn an important lesson from ants. They are pretty humble creatures, work well together, and more are less are always cooked to a crisp by magnifying glasses. Ants stay pretty lowly...pretty humble. And that is a good place for a Christian to be:
“You know that the worldly leaders lord their position over one another. It is not to be this way among you. Whoever wishes to become great among you shall become like a servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be last like a slave; just as the Son of Man (Jesus) did not come to be served, but to serve..." -Jesus, Matthew 20:25-26
The first will be last, the last first. What social position do you claim?
Create something. Be silly. Have fun.
Invite people to experience some goodness. Find something delightful to promote.
Goodness knows there is enough stress-filled, somber, joy-killing messages filling the world.
Be different. He was.
I was once 12. My son is now 12. 12 is one of those ages where people are working really hard to figure out who they are, who they want to be around, and how to simply not be the smelly kid. Nobody wants to be that. But everybody is sometimes
Not much changes in life, does it? Maturity is supposed to create a drammatically different human at 35 than existed at 12. But in my experience that isn't really happening. Just flip through your cable channels - Housewives of Whatever God-forsaken-region, Jersey shore, even an average cooking competition is ridiculously...juvenile. It's pretty sad.
People want to know who is in, and who is out. I guess I can chalk that up to some primal urge. People want to take a first impression and never look deeper. People create and stay charicatures - shells of who they could become.
Nowhere is this more obvious and unfortunate than faith. Consider Jesus. Thousands pushed to be taught and healed by him when he was in. Thousands rejected him to be killed when he was out. He was surrounded by perpetual 12 year olds. He was nice enough to just call them - US - sheep.
The good news is there is hope for us to all live differently. We can all have a guide - a shepherd who loves us more than we could ever imagine, who would lead us on a path towards depth, maturity, real beauty and meaning. We just have to agree to it.
But agreeing is scary isn't it? Christians are not exactly attractive as a group. Who wants to become 'one of them!?' So we have to be willing for someone else to tell us we are 'out', lame, a loser, in order to finally come into a real and full life. Maybe that is why faith in America is slipping away. Are we all just scared of being the smelly kid? Like when we were 12...
Ha. You know you're THIS GUY if prayer is weird and boring and way too one sided!