Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hell; NO!

I love my son, Jonathan. Like too many fathers and sons, we have not always gotten along as well as we would like, but we have both grown through the pains of the past. Our love and mutual respect for each other these days is one of the greatest pleasures of my life. He now lives a few hours away, so whenever he has the chance to spend some time at home, it brightens my calendar. Last weekend was one of those bright pleasures.

He reads this blog (hi son!) and stays in touch with as much of my preaching as he can, so he generally knows where I have my spiritual sights aimed. Saturday, he said he saw a t-shirt advertised in a catalog that made him think of my current, "No Name Sermon Series". The shirt says something like this; Religion is for people who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there." Amen.

I have often said that too many people already live in hell on earth. For any thoughtful Christian to use that afterlife threat as a means to witness is just ludicrous to me. In fact, I have encountered quite a few people down through the years who have told me that they would prefer hell over heaven if going to heaven meant that they would have to hang out (forever!)with some of the Christians they know. But, more seriously, too many lives are already suffering hellish torture, right here, right now. Trying to scare people with more punishment is like offering a drowning man a glass of water.

Another side of this whole matter is that the most rich and real Christians I know are people who have been delivered out of their personal hell and into the Kingdom of Heaven, right here, right now. Hell? Been there, done that. Authentic Christian Spirituality? Ahhhhhh.....abundant dynamic, animated and thoroughly living!

Unfortunately, there are church people who still think that we have to get the word out about hell! "Turn or Burn!" Truly, it is the ultimate blackmail message for some folks. And when you look closely at them, you will see the worst that "religion" has to offer: judgementalism, bigotry and hatred for a world that "God so loved". The truth is, most of these sad-sacks are just plain scared to death, not just of hell, but of life and living.

Jesus had an altogether different message. He came proclaiming a Kingdom of Life full of Spiritual reality for those who were hungry and thirsty. In fact, He joyously made this offer to the poor, the broken hearted, the prisoner and the outcast as a right here, right now Life, that, as a bonus, would stretch out for eternity. The only thing that sounded like a "turn or burn" message that came from Jesus was for the pompous religious brood of His day. The same is true today.

Those of you who know me, know this quote; "RUN FROM RELIGION AND FALL IN LOVE WITH JESUS!" Yet another t-shirt waiting to be sold....

Thank you Jonathan.....I love you, son.

Monday, December 12, 2005

I'm Dreaming....

With just a pinch of imagination, I can hear Bing crooning "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, on my biological iPod. The timeless popularity of this song is testament of the season's brimming capacity to inspire us to dream and I absolutely love it. But this season finds me already dreaming. Come take a short written walk with me and let me share some of my dreams.

I'm dreaming of families genuinely loving each other. Tenderly, forgiving each other day by day with little or no memory of past wrongs. Homes warm and alive with time for each other. I'm dreaming...

I'm dreaming of uncommon courtesies given and taken from stranger to stranger on highways, sidewalks, parking lots, stores, schools and businesses. People saying, "excuse me", "after you", I'm sorry; please forgive me", with all the authenticity imaginable. I'm dreaming...

I'm dreaming of hearing and saying, "Merry Christmas" without thinking of law suits, political correctness and the "war" on Christmas. I'm dreaming of "peace on earth, good will to all" and "joy to the world". Call me crazy, but aren't we ALL missing the point if we focus on our differences and sensitivities? I'm dreaming of fair play, thick skins, kind hearts, deference to those of difference, tolerance for minorities and longsuffering for the majority. I'm dreaming...

I'm dreaming of a church. Not my church or your church but the wider scope of the Body of Christ. I'm dreaming of that church loving each other profoundly and without without political persuasion or competition. I'm dreaming of that church loving the world the same way God loved the world and gave His only Son. I'm dreaming of that church, nationwide, celebrating Christmas so majestically, so purely, so thoroughly, so expansively that we hardly notice where we cannot celebrate Christmas.

I'm dreaming that some of you reading this are dreaming the same thing.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Who is Scrooging Who Now?

Sometimes I wonder about me. Read on and maybe you too, will wonder about me.

Over the past several years we have all witnessed the battle lines drawn over the religious meaning of Christmas. I have been very bold in my own little way of celebrating Christmas in the face of the secular "Scrooges" who fight manger scenes on public property, Christmas Carols in public schools and merchants who establish inane policies about saying, "happy holidays" on one hand while they love lapping up the profits they make from "Christmas" sales. But this year something new has arrived on the battleground. And as disturbing as these other issues are, this new "Scrooge" is much more bothersome to me. Remember now, I wonder about me in all of this, too.

The new "Scrooge" is us. Yep, that's right, I believe we have become what we hate. In our effort to hold on to the meaning of Christmas, we have squeezed it so tight, I fear we are killing it. The most recent battle being fought for this season of "peace on earth" (oxymoron alert!), some of the "brethren" have taken the fight to court. Now, either I am having a mental breakdown of some kind, or this is just all wrong. "We" have decided to fight fire with fire, to live by the sword, "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead"; this is America, by golly, and "we" have a stinking legal right to "celebrate" Christmas!

Bear with me...I'm in pain here. When did our butter slip right off the bisquit?

An old newspaper cartoon entitled, "Pogo" had a famous one liner that I love to quote in moments like this; "We have met the enemy and he is us." Jesus made it abundantly clear that His Kingdom was not made of the political material of the kingdoms of human making. He said that if His Kingdom was made of that material, "...My servants would fight..." to prevent His arrest (John 18:36). Once "we" take up the sword of the legal fight on this front, "we" stand to be sliced to death by the sword.

Please don't miss the fact that I am truly disgusted by the political correctness police of our day. As I stated earlier, merchants who love the bottom line of Christmas sale's receipts are completely hypocritical to forbid their employees from saying, "Merry Christmas". My point is that if we take to the courts to win this cultural war (oxymoron warning) over "good will to all people", we are actually admitting defeat!

That's right, when we have to hold on to our cherished Christmas expressions in this manner, we have admitted that our faith is won and lost on the same basis as we win or lose a dispute over a parking ticket. I, for one, refuse to stand in that quicksand. Maybe I'm the crazy one, and if so, just leave me with the drool on my face.

One last thought. I saw Rev. Jerry Falwell on the news the other day defending Christmas celebrations and vowing to take this fight to every court in the land. He told the newscaster that "we" Christians of America were the majority and "we" intend to stand for our "rights". A still small Voice came up in my heart urging me to read Matthew 5:38-45. I won't quote it here, but I strongly suggest that you get a Bible out right now and read these words of the Christ of Christmas. His Kingdom prevails only when "we" members of that Kingdom live by and "fight" by the principles of that Kingdom. Not when we become like the very world we say is persecuting us. Brother Falwell does not represent me, or the drool on my face, thank you very much.

Please, have a Merry Christmas.