Kill The Church

Head Shot: Miraculous Agony by Michael Nichols

"God will never give you more that you can handle." I've heard it a thousand times, but it's a lie from hell. It's a false hope against trouble in your life. Jesus promised there'd be trouble, but He said to take heart because He has overcome the world. There's a passage of Scripture that says that God chooses the weak things of this world to show His strength and upset the wisdom of those who think they're wise.

It's really funny. Isn't that what He did with Christ? He chose a weak form to show His strength in living sinless, paying the punishment for sin, and overcoming the grave. It was by becoming weakness Himself that He carried out the greatest miracle to this day.

But no miracle is possible unless He gives us more than we can handle. We have no reason to trust anyone else unless we're allowed to see that, no, we don't "got this." God doesn't tempt us, but He does give us opportunities to build our faith in Him. That can only be achieved by extraordinary circumstances and an extraordinary God.

Someone's Blood, Everyone's Hands by Michael Nichols

Refugees and terrorists. Three words in, and you're probably already polarized, if you've already formed an opinion.

A lot of us are self-professed realists, but no realist is really a realist (and that sentence melted half my brain). We just apply our worldview to whatever "-ist" we are, and call it truth, whether or not it's true. Man does what's right in his own eyes, so every idealist, optimist, pessimist, probably thinks he's a realist, at least on some level.

But, let's be really real for a minute, and look at what has happened in the world recently.


The Mirror reports a death toll of 129 from Friday night's (local time) bombings, now known to have been planned by a Belgian ISIL activist. Hundreds more were injured.

Beirut, Lebanon.

A double suicide bombing kills 43, reports The New York Times.




My God, help us.

It seems that humanity becomes bloodier and bloodier with age, and it hurts. My God, it hurts.

I've had my opinions, mixed or otherwise, about the world since I was first given a glimpse of how savage we can be. In the fourteen years since 9/11, I'm honestly surprised that we haven't been attacked again. I don't know why. Yet, for all the times we could have been attacked from the outside, it seems like we're doing a disturbingly efficient job of it from the inside. The past few days of watching my mostly American friends segregate according to their perceived appropriate reaction to the tragedies that have befallen and continue to befall the world, has made that quite clear.

Let me be clear. I hate that.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

--Jesus Christ, son of the living God

I hate that we are so at war with ourselves, yet so blind to it that we think that we have room to speak to the problems of the world.

But we do have some advantages. The freedoms we've been allowed in the United States have given us space for heartbreak and conscience in the wake of tragedy.

That being said, we're also terrified as is evidenced by the accumulating number of state governors refusing to accept refugees. That fact in and of itself is polarizing.

I couldn't have put it better or more straightforwardly than one of my favorite musicians, Audrey Assad...

Now, I'm not entirely sure whether that was referring to U.S. nationalism that I <sarcasm> love </sarcasm> so much or a militant form of nationalism that has unfortunately resulted in ISIL. Either case is valid. I read it the first way, though. Much as I love America, we get stupid when faced with both the possibility of war (with ISIL) and the necessity of servanthood to those in need (Syrian refugees).

I also couldn't have put this better...

...because, well, you know, not everyone can do everything about every piece of the world. I'd love nothing more than to drop what I'm doing and go where people need help. But I can't. I don't know what I would do when I got there. I don't have the funding to do it. I have responsibilities here. And that's okay because there are people who know what they're doing, and who can afford to do so. Thank God for them.

Unfortunately, Audrey's is one of the few positive voices I've heard during this crisis. The following redacted images are from sources on Facebook. I in no way endorse or condone the messages conveyed by these items.

redacted 002

So let me get this straight. Muslims reside in every country, so we should nuke every country? Or just the ones known to harbor terrorist cells. For one thing, we might as well walk up to the doors of the surrounding nuclear powers and ask them to nuke us for contaminating their nations. Not to mention what would happen to the ecosystem worldwide, because we have even bigger nukes than we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Not to mention that we were the only reasonably viable nuclear power. Not to mention that would be all the excuse ISIL, North Korea, Iran would need to retaliate.

And it get's even <sarcasm> better </sarcasm>...

redacted 001

So, Saudis are to blame for a Belgian terrorist slaughtering Parisian citizens? Have you even met someone from Saudi Arabia? Or Iran? Or Iraq? Or any of the surrounding nations? I may not be of that culture, but anyone I have met, has been fantastic company. Including any that may happen to have been Muslim. Doesn't mean we see eye to eye on a lot of things, but on a lot of things we do. And I've never once been mistreated or condescended to by any of them.

This is not to deny that there are people out there who would murder for their faith. But there are also those who would murder for nothing. It say more about what is inside a person than what religion they follow, and although I think both factors are important, they work in tandem. One person full of rage can pursue Islam as a means to destroy the world, and a peaceful person can pursue Islam as a way of peace. That doesn't mean I accept every tenet of Islam as truth, so don't mistake love or compassion for agreeance, but both things have happened with Islam as much as they have happened with Christianity during and immediately following the Crusades, at the beginning of the reformation, and in Salem, not to mention the many cults that have cropped up over the millennia. Bear in mind that "the untaught and unstable distort [...] the Scriptures, to their own destruction." The same is true with Christianity, even though I do believe it to be complete truth.

It's this kind of blatant rashness and racism that infuriates me on behalf of the Gospel that is for the reconciliation of all men to Christ. (Understand that I'm not one of those people who cries "racism" every chance he gets.) Do the same lips that breathe forth the gospel to civilized culture withhold it from ISIL, or other world adversaries? Is there some difference between my need for Christ and theirs? Or Mussolini's, Hitler's, Ted Bundy's, O.J. Simpson's, anybody's? Whether or not the sins of a person pile up, they were all nailed to the cross of Christ, and we cannot in good conscience deny that to anyone, no matter what they have done. We also cannot in good conscience refrain from protecting the world from such people.

My point is this. Make no mistake. Raw war, annihilating an entire people, is not the answer. It never has been. It has never worked before. It never will. Certainly, only for the sake of the safety of the world, we may have to go to war. I don't like to say so, but it may be necessary.

But let's get one thing straight: someone is going to die should the Lord delay His coming. Someone innocent (and for the love of sanity, don't start the argument about man not being innocent, because I know and I'm sure you get my point) will die.

And that's not just in a wartime scenario.

The potential is there due to the simple fact of what we're dealing with.

Another thing Audrey said--and I admire her humility for this--will call to memory the Boston Marathon tragedy...

The simple fact is that in the wake of the movement of Syrian refugees, ISIL follows. But it's not just refugees. ISIL would be moving regardless of whether or not refugees were in the mix. Terrorists terrorize, and they find a way to do it wherever they can, and taking down refugees with them, causing them more grief in their perpetual displacement, simply adds to their self-defined victory. Make no mistake: before the Western "Christian" world was ever attacked, they turned first toward their own countrymen. It is the war within Syria that has led the the displacement of so many battered souls. Don't in overzealous American nationalism forget the common struggles all of our kind has endured, nor neglect what you can do about it.

As for the whole "put veterans first" thing, yes, ideally, that would have been taken care of long ago. But it hasn't. And now we have a brand new problem. The unfortunate truth is that both problems exist irrespective of "who got there first." The world is full of evil, and evil does not care who you are or where you came from or what you might have contributed to the world. Evil will continue to chase humankind until the day of the Lord. Both groups of people need help, even if we have failed miserably up to this point.

So, all being said, let's say we accept the refugees into our country. Probably some terrorists are going to find their way in.

But, let's say we reject the refugees. Refugees suffer more, and the terrorists are still with them.

No matter which path is chosen, the refugees suffer.

What if you could do something about the suffering, but do nothing?

Then blood is on your hands.

But what if, because of our mercy for the refugees, America is terrorized?

Then American blood is on your hands.

What if we go to war against ISIL and fight them wherever they are? Hopefully, we will keep the world safe, but undoubtedly innocent lives will be lost along the way.

Then blood is on your hands.

What if we bomb the tar out of suspected ISIL hideouts, completely ravaging the Middle East? Don't forget about collateral damage. It still exists.

Blood is on your hands.

What if we nuke the Middle East? Even more collateral damage, to the whole world, not to mention nuclear retaliation from the surrounding nuclear powers.

Blood is on your hands.

In every scenario, my Lord and my God, is there not blood on our hands? Was it not for this that You died for us before the foundations of the world?

The same word of God says these things:

Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.

--the Lord God Almighty through Isaiah the prophet

Yes. We must be on the defensive against injustice and ruthlessness, but justice and compassion are not mutually exclusive:

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

--Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God

Whether we stand by and do nothing, or we make the most foolish errors in war against the enemy or in mercy for the weak, you will have to live with it.

The question is simple. What can you live with? And what does that say about your heart?

I know I've ignored love too many times to count. What does that say about mine?

Why Christians Give Me a Sour Taste for Politics by Michael Nichols

A lot has happened in the United States these past weeks. Race and gender are probably the hottest topics that people either rage over or just won't talk about. But that's not why I'm bringing it up. Heck, I'm not really even going to talk about these things. Enough is already being said on both sides of these issues. No, I have something else to say. If I had to name myself politically, I wouldn't align myself with a party, but I would say that my worldview is conservative, in some ways more than others. I also follow Jesus Christ. Consider the ice broken. In two paragraphs I've mentioned race, gender, religion, and politics.

I hate discussing politics because despite it being important and an unfortunate extension of real issues, it is not the real issue. Someone has to do it, right? I run into a predicament, being a Christian and a conservative. I find myself caught between two sides of a war that completely misses the point. Don't misunderstand what I'm saying. Race and gender are two important issues that are getting a lot of both necessary and unnecessary attention.

What I'm saying is that my fellow Christian conservatives tend to get really obsessive about politics due to their passion for their worldview, their ideals, their morals, their faith. All of those things are great, but they have unfortunately led to something really ugly that we had better pay attention to before we dig a deeper grave for ourselves.

In case you haven't picked up on it yet, I'm very upset that I feel the need to write this.

In America, we're used to a certain way that things work and have worked for a long time. No country in the world is an exception. That's part of how stable government works, whether it's a monarchy or a democratic republic. That's a good thing. I also can't think of a single country that I've studied that hasn't undergone some form of radical transformation in the course of its history, be it for better or worse.

In America, the federal government and the states below it are governed by a constitution. With the brief exception of the Articles of Confederation that governed us in our nation's infancy, the Constitution is all we've known, besides individual state constitutions. I think people on both sides of the issues, with few exceptions, hold to this Constitution as the governing and protecting force of our country. As great of an ideal as it is, though, if you follow Christ, you know this is not true... hopefully, and this is the real reason why I'm upset. I believe we've forgotten what we signed up for.

1: We're a part of a kingdom, not a democracy.

"Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." --Jesus Christ, according to Matthew

For as many times we recite these words, we seem to have a distinct separation in our minds between how we live for America and how we live for the kingdom. Let me not be abstract about "the kingdom." Let me not hyper-spiritualize "the kingdom." It is a kingdom, and we have a king. He is the final authority on all things. He began our faith when we needed it to return to Him, and He will finish our faith when we are finally home in His presence forever.

Scripture does say numerous times that we need to respect human authority. That is important because we do live among humans. That being said, human authority is not the final authority. We will not answer to one of us when we die. We will answer to the Lord alone.

Considering the fact that we have chosen this kingdom, what profit could it be for us, then, to return to human authority as our obsession. Jesus did say, after all, that "the one whom the Son sets free is free indeed," so why exactly do we rely on human government to tell us we are not free? Let's say our man-made, constitutional right to freely speak and be free from laws impeding religion, is revoked one day. Has this never before happened in history? Is it new? Heh. Not even close.

What's more, would a change in law really threaten you? Do your beliefs mean so little to you that another human being telling you that you can't will make you forget that you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength?

2: We were promised persecution to the bitter end.

"When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also." --John, an apostle of Jesus Christ, in his revelation

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you." --Jesus Christ, according to His apostle John

Why should we be shocked if the world hates us? Jesus promised it! Every word from His lips is a promise! This is what we signed up for! Somewhere along the way, God revealed to you that this gospel was life-changing, and worth living and dying for, dying to self and giving our lives to those who hate His cause. It wasn't in fine print. It's everywhere, and it would take too much space to write them all. All you have to do is read the book.

3: America is not the "Christian nation it once was" because it never was. The church is.

"And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone,” and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation." --Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ

The fact that we continue to ignore is that we were never meant to invade the state and enforce religion. Remember what happened with that? Remember the Pharisees and Sadducees, who Jesus actively fought against (see Matthew 23)? What about the state of Europe during the dark ages? No. We were meant to meet people where they are (see John 8). We were meant to care for orphans and widows (see James 1). Our war isn't against people, but against forces in the spiritual realm (see Ephesians 6). Everything in the Bible tends to draw attention to an enemy that isn't mankind but spiritual, so why are we wasting our time trying to conquer a different realm?

Whether or not our nation was "founded on Christian principles" is way besides the point. It doesn't actually matter. It didn't matter for Rome or the British Empire, and it certainly doesn't matter for us. When we start attacking human governments and laying on them the responsibilities that were delegated to us upon our creation, the responsibility to respond to God of our own accord, without the aid of human governing forces (and this is not to say that they don't play an unfortunate role in that), we're attacking the wrong enemy. The enemy is ourselves, and we have to fight that regardless of the governmental situations we're in.

We have to "train our families in the way they should go" regardless of what human has temporary governing authority because the truth is simply that they have been allowed to reign. Whether or not they do it right isn't actually the issue because their collective butts sitting in on their collective thrones is only temporary. God's reign never ended, and it never will, regardless of the choices of society or our rulers. Yes, "blessed is the nation whose god is the Lord," but a nation is made up of far more citizens than politicians. And we are citizens of the Christian nation called "the church" regardless of our borders or human laws.

4: Democracy rarely lasts because everyone has an opinion.

"Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts." --Solomon, third king of Israel

"In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes." --the Judges

After spending a long time rebelling and divided, a human kingdom was established in Israel. It was mostly corrupt, but it was there.

Eventually, people get fed up with fighting each other, and begged for a king in the name of security. This has always been with us, and so it will forever be a struggle between the will of the the people and the will of one. But it was a human king that they craved, not a divine one.

The most amazing part about this is that our God is good. No other god humbled himself to the point of death and got back up. No other god defended an adulteress in the streets. No other god hung out with sinners. No other god gave real second chances. No other god has changed the world like Jesus. He is a good king to have. Are we itching so badly to run back to the wars in which we consume ourselves, or to offer ourselves as slaves to people and ideas that leave us dead and hungry in the end?

Everyone has always had an opinion. It was true in the days of Israel's infancy, as it was true when Paul visited Athens, as it is true today. Whether or not our opinions continue to matter to or please the government will never matter to those who really care about what they believe. Yes, of course it will affect us all, but it won't stop us. If the resurrection of Christ is true, how could it stop us?

5: We aren't entitled to anything, not even America.

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." --Job, a servant of the living God

Everything is awesome when you have the opportunity to decide for yourself what you believe and what you're willing to sacrifice for those beliefs. But that's not the world we live in. We have been lucky enough to have any decisions to make without governmental persecution--and let's get this straight: just because unimpeded religion has been legal for a couple of centuries doesn't make following Christ "cool" with anyone--but that doesn't mean that this good thing we've been given has resulted in a 100% good outcome.

As for this world, we do need some freedom, and if we must, we should be willing to fight to defend it and expand it in righteousness. That doesn't mean we deserve it. We are intrinsically valuable, not intrinsically worthy of any all liberties to do whatever we want, because we tend to make a mess of things.

Our perceived entitlement to freely practice religion has given Christians the time and the space to argue about things that don't matter, like genres of music, wearing the right style of clothes, denominations, whether an all-powerful God can create a universe with free will, the "order" of a church service, and countless other things that 9 times out of 10 will do more to trip up someone who is trying to figure their faith out than to help them stay in the faith.

This freedom we have can go just as easily as it came. God gave it to us for good reason, and when He takes it away, the reason will be equally as good. But bear in mind that we did nothing meriting freedom. That's the whole reason Christ came: to save us, not give us a pat on the back. That's what the Pharisees were hoping for, yet they were the ones He criticized the most for proclaiming a false gospel, one that said that you have to earn your way into heaven. But the true gospel is that Christ wants us to be with Him, and that the point of it all isn't heaven--which is a happy side-effect and the place we're heading--but the point of it is to be restored to a place where we are able to be in communion with Him forever, as was the intent even from before the fall.

If He has to take away our freedom to believe what we believe without backlash, so be it. Let's be grateful for what we have, yet not hold onto it with a death grip. This world isn't the endgame.

6: Our God gives peace.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. --Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the Philippians

I'm sure a lot of you know what distress is like. So do I. It's funny how God moves in us to bring us peace just by knowing what He has done for us. Christ planned to come for us before anything existed. Then He came for us, sinners, took the punishment we deserve (death), and defeated that punishment by rising from the dead. If that doesn't make you sleep a little better at night, I don't know what will.

I see a stark contrast, though, when I see Christians gather together to talk politics, because it's rarely ever just talk. Usually, it's more like rabid dogs foaming at the mouth, hungry for their place in society, which we were never promised--remember point 5? I'll admit, I've seen a few that don't. Trust me when I say I know what it's like to be in both situations. Before I really knew Christianity was more than a set of dogma, before I truly believed in the love that we've been given rather than just believing that the stories were factual, I was the same way.

I get it. Who shouldn't be passionate about justice, and seeing things that are wrong come to an end? It's not really a just thing that men persecute each other (regardless of what you believe)...

...Nor is human trafficking.

...Nor is the beheading of fellow men for believing in God.

...Nor is bullying people because they're nerdy.

...Nor is theft.

...Nor is corporate corruption.

...Nor is arrogance.

...Nor is hate.

...Nor is lust.

...Nor is cancer.

...Nor is self harm.

...Nor is depression.

...Nor is suicide.

...Nor is bullying homosexuals.

...Nor is racism.

...Nor is an overreaching federal government.

...Nor is excessive police force.

...Nor is the imposition of debt upon future generations without their consent (because they're not here yet).

...Nor is taxation without parliamentary representation.

...Nor is a layoff.

...Nor is a tsunami that takes lives.

...Nor is poverty.

...Nor is hunger.

...Nor is loneliness.

...Nor is passivity.

...Nor is knowingly ignoring any of these things when we could be doing good in Jesus' name.

There are a lot bigger problems in the world than whether or not conservatives, or liberals, or moderates, are offended by someone else's existence.

Be peacemakers, people. Even if you disagree on a fundamental level with someone's viewpoint, be peacemakers. As far as you have the choice, you can usher in real, deep, rich conversations, or you can act as harbingers of war. That's your decision. Considering the fact that Christ has offered us peace by giving His life in our stead, we should probably not be stingy in offering peace to others. Remember: Jesus befriended sinners, of whom we are, in order to save us from ourselves. Don't hesitate to give the same love to anyone else. And just to reiterate, our enemy isn't people. Our enemy is false ideas and he who is the father of them, whom we call Satan.

7: Remember how the story ends.

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire. --anonymous, to the Hebrews

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. --Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the Corinthians

I feel like adding anything to these passages would almost be pointless. If that doesn't excite you, you who profess to follow Jesus Christ, I doubt that anything will. In summation, we are going to experience a transformation that will allow us to enter into an unshakable kingdom.

From the beginning of the world, and still today, and to its end, man's kingdoms (democracies, republics, autocracies) have failed, are failing, and will fail. Why? Because we're corruptible. We can be shaken... unless we place our lives in God's hands.

The whole point of this is not to judge Christians. I know that I myself am just as worthy of judgment. I simply ask: do you really believe that this kingdom we've been given cannot be shaken? Or will it shake you too much to lose this temporary kingdom that we have been patiently allowed to manage? It goes against us to trust what we cannot see physically, especially when we have our own plans and ideas as to how things should work. But when we die, when we all die, what will those ideas be worth? What will some arbitrary form of freedom that will be no longer accessible, or even compare with the freedom that comes with being the presence of the Lord, mean? If they came from a temporary source, such as ourselves, they will die with us.

But if what we believe is really true, then when all is said and done, it is those elements that will keep the kingdom we've been given from being shaken. Why? Because their source is an unshakable God.

What Hope Looks Like by Michael Nichols

Okay. Let's hit the ground running. Forget metaphors and analogies for now. Let's talk about hope.

So, when was the last time you saw it?

When was the last time you talked about it?

When was the last time you gave it out?

When was the last time you took it away from someone who needed it?

Honestly, these questions are a lot harder to answer than they actually should be.

Honestly, I don't like the answers I've had to give to these questions at different times.

Honestly, there were times when hope was less than present in my world.

Honestly, something is wrong, and it needs to change.

Now, let's get ugly.

Let's talk about...

... suicide.

It's the second leading cause of death for young people 15-24 years old.

Let that sink it.

It's not some illness.

It's not natural causes.

It's not car accidents.

It's not drug abuse.

It's suicide.

Life ends. That's a given.

Life was not meant to end. That's why it hurts.

Life was not meant to hurt. That's why some want it to end.

...But we made a choice a very long time ago to choose independence rather than life Himself, a life that would have been much freer than the life we now live. That's why life must end and why it hurts until it does.

We blame God for so much, yet it was our choice that severed us from He who gives life. That is not to blame the suicidal for their thoughts, but to blame all of us for everything wrong with us, including when the world turns so sour that it is no longer bearable for some, because yes, every time we reject love of others for our own personal agenda, we are guilty, every one of us. But that is not the nature of the living God.

He never wanted harm to come to us. Not before the fall and not after. What good Father would? Yet what loving Father would restrict His children from free will, thereby preventing any kind of honest relationship with Him? Without the potential for failure, of what value is success? And without the possibility of reconciliation, of what value is free will to choose wrong?

Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” --Genesis 2:15-17

"Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?’" --Ezekiel 33:11

Isn't it amazing? In the beginning He warned us so we could make the right choice and not die, yet we failed to do even that. Now, even for those who are guilty (meaning all of us), He would prefer they repent and return to Him, give into love rather than self! He doesn't want us to destroy the world He gave us, but He's isn't responsible to make our choices for us. Yet even when we and our circumstances, even those by whom we are surrounded, fail, God is with us.

That's the ultimate hope, right? When we are at our worst, He is always--yes, always reaching out to us. Because He lives, we have a reason to live, too. He is the reason I live because I once felt I shouldn't. When I came to be shown that the God who is infinitely higher than us loves us so much that He came down to walk among us and die for us, I realized that if it He considered it right to die to save my life, then it was right to let Him save it, to live on and let Him carry me through and change my mind about the things I thought I knew. For some reason, the Most High God wanted me alive. Okay. Then I'll live. When the Most High God wants us around, that's kind of a big deal, and a glorious privilege, the most beautiful love, and the most persistent hope.

Honestly, though, when we go out into the world, when we talk amongst ourselves, how much of that hope are we conveying?

So what does it look like? This hope we claim. How does it show up when we talk? Does it show up? Really, does it? Is it a part of our conversations? Is it just an afterthought to what we consider the core of our lives? When we tell others about Christ, what do we actually say? What do people actually hear? When you live a life looking for hope, you start to take notes.

Who claims they have it?

How do they give it out?

Do they give it out?

I've come to the conviction at the low points of my life, when I expected those who claim to bear the same hope as I to help me through, that many followers of Christ, though we may be rightly passionate about what we believe, tend to run away with those passions in a way that is not conducive to the conveyance of the gospel and the enacting of the "ministry of reconciliation" to God. (Now, hardcore denominationalists and fundamentalists, understand this about what I just said before we go further. When I say we shouldn't "run away" with our passions for the gospel, I'm not saying we should "be lukewarm." Read on, and I'll explain.) When we become so blinded by our love for the gospel itself and the fact that we ourselves understand it that we cannot see and minister to the immediate needs of a person, treat them with kindness, hear them out... I don't know, be friends to them... what has happened in effect is the person attempting to convey the gospel nas nullified the message of the gospel in them. Though we were "reconciled to God," we have, through a pride in the understanding and reception of the gospel, shut our ears to the voice of the Holy Spirit and rendered ourselves unable to be agents of the reconciliation we have claimed.

When speaking Jesus to the world, are we trying to convince them to buy our brand of doctrine to join our brand of church? Are we trying to sell them a lifestyle change that will fix all of their lives? Are we minimizing their struggles? Are we giving them the floor to speak, to share how they feel without repercussion? And what if they just don't want to talk? Are our beliefs so valuable that we would jeopardize outreach by being so offended by someone not willing to share their feelings, or not willing to listen to ours, or in the end not willing to accept Jesus as the actual God of creation?

What if we were so concerned about convincing someone else that we were right about dogma that our back ended up turned from their pain, that we ignored their need for the practical hope of the message of the gospel, and that they took their life later on, and maybe the news never even rattled our eardrums before we crossed from this world into the one beyond death?

When people are more concerned about their opinions being offended (because face it, that's what they are, be they true and valid or not) or their person respected than truly engaging the world around them, what kind of picture does that paint for them about Jesus? Was Jesus concerned about being respected when He hung on the cross atop Golgotha? Because I'm pretty sure He wasn't debating dogma from His grim vantage point. Even from the cross, He dealt hope to people. He gave hope to someone else sentenced to death, whose heart was broken in guilt, except unlike Jesus, he actually committed a crime. Yet when it comes to giving hope to people with whom we brush shoulders daily, people whom we try not to offend yet are hypersensitive to their offenses, we seem to be at a loss. Receiving anyone's respect shouldn't be our goal. Our goal should always be to learn where their pain is (which may manifest in their ability to respect, amongst other reactions) and how we can minister to that.

We're too concerned with our corner of the world to pay any attention to whether or not they are okay in theirs. If you've read the gospels, you know that Jesus spent much more time ministering to people than creating dogmatic arguments. Sure, the world is harsh. True teaching is true teaching, and sin is sin, and that's a fact that must be spoken. But Jesus came bearing hope. We in turn have been charged with the safeguarding and conveyance of that hope, though He sometimes He has to circumvent our inability to do that. Have we lost that? He was concerned about the lives of the people to whom His Father sent Him, and though He did teach His followers the doctrines we still believe today, those things are simple surroundings to a core of three things that remain when all the dogma and the doctrine and the seminary degrees, the philosophy and lifestyles fall away.


Three simple things.

Trust, hope, love.

Trust that Jesus is who He said, that He died and rose again, and that He moves in us through the Holy Spirit.

Hope as a light during dark times, reminding us that His will works out in the end for those who love God.

Love that empties us of self and makes us fully alive toward God and toward others.

That's it.

Our entire belief system caves in on itself without these three being at the core.

If how we behave toward both the faithful and the missing does not lead back to these three things, we preach in vain, our faith is pointless, we are still in sin, and there is absolutely no reason we should be able to convince anyone that what Jesus came to do is anywhere close to true.

Jesus came bearing life. Why should we make a person want to die?

Two Steps Back by Michael Nichols

Pre-reading: Paul's letter to the Galatians (click to view)

Imagine that you're given $1M. Seriously. Out of nowhere, some stranger drops a massive case of cold, hard cash on your lawn. Intentionally. It wasn't a mistake. It wasn't an accident. Someone purposefully gave you a ton of money, and didn't dictate how you spent it, but I'm sure they probably hoped you'd do something decent with that money.

Imagine, you're in deep debt when this happens, but that this massive sum covers the cost and then some. All of the sudden, your debt is gone. You no longer have any reason to be downcast or under the gun because you can now pay off your debts and get on with life.

Imagine the feel of the roughness of the cotton and linen interwoven into a paperlike currency. Imagine testing the currency to be sure it isn't counterfeit. There's no denying it. Some complete stranger who probably had no reason to dump money on your lawn did exactly that. I'd be shocked. I'd be confused. Baffled. Excited. Uplifted. Optimistic. Overjoyed. Unable to keep myself from riverdancing because why the heck not.

Imagine chasing after the person who gave you this gift. Maybe he was long gone, but surely someone else saw the direction in which he was heading! Maybe you could catch up!

Imagine finding this person, being grateful, or even trying to return the money to no avail.

Imagine not doing these things.

Imagine that you were scared and hid the money in your mattress, never to be seen again until finally the mattress could no longer hold itself together with a lifetime of use.

Imagine you were so skeptical of the gift that you burned it up.

Imagine you were so reckless with the gift that you spent it on all sorts of things you couldn't take with you when you died. You impressed the neighbors. You fit into the crowd. You made yourself look grand. And why wouldn't you? Life from then on was grand! Imagine that you were so busy spending your newfound money on things that didn't matter that your debt was left unchecked. Imagine being so consumed with fame and fortune and "the good life" that everything you bought burned down your relationships, leaving you and your family with the same debt with which you began.

Imagine all these things.

Now, imagine the church in Galatia.

A gift was given to them. It's the same gift that was given to us. Eternal life. Forgiveness from sins. Freedom from sin. Freedom to worship the Lord. Understanding that the Lord is good. Faith in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Imagine the backstory. Imagine a nation, Israel, chosen by God to carry His message for generations leading up to Jesus' birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection, and the fulfillment of the promise: that the Holy Spirit would dwell with men who choose to follow Jesus in spirit and truth until the day he returns.

Imagine the same nation, rebellious, adulterous toward the flesh through the worship of themselves vicariously through the worship of other gods. Imagine being exiled to a foreign empire, then returned, then experiencing the unfolding of the prophecies through Jesus. Imagine living by the law for hundreds of years, needing to account for every deed for all of your life, understanding that this is just, and that God deserves everything we have.

Imagine being freed from the fear of screwing up so badly that one day you'd lose your life and never have the chance to repent, turn back to the Lord, because men took the law into their own hands in order to attempt to seize momentary power from the Lord. Imagine knowing that you deserved every bit of the law falling down on your head, but learning that Jesus, as His Father, loves mercy as He seeks justice, and that it's not sacrifice He craves but a broken heart willing to turn back to the Lord.

Actually, you don't have to imagine.

If you've decided to follow Jesus, you know what that's like. From the birth of the church two thousand years ago, we have been faced with many things. One thing stands out to me lately, though. We have always been faced with the prospect of returning to the law rather than moving forward into grace.

We often use the phrase "fallen from grace" to describe someone who has lost favor or credibility do to something they've done. The origins of the phrase, though, mean something different.

The Galatian church was faced with a faction that preached Judaic law as a parallel necessity to faith in Christ for salvation. Throughout the whole of his letter, Paul the apostle tackles this issue, explaining to the Galatians that the gospel of Jesus Christ was designed as a fulfillment of the law whereby human beings could be free to pursue the Lord and be reconciled to Him, despite mankind's tendency toward unfaithfulness. It is the breaking of the curse. It is a gift. Jesus' death was His free gift to us.

By repenting and turning to Him in faith, we forsake all the others we've run to in His place, all the things in this world we've broken, and all the things that have broken us. Through Jesus, we are put back together. From day one, we were never able to fulfill the law. We we're never able to be perfect, live our lives without doing evil to someone or being selfish in some way. He understood us, and gave us the law to guide us in His paths. Unfortunately, we took that, and we ran away with it, claiming that it was the way, and not the Lord Himself.

The law came thousands of years ago, and it has always been broken and abused by even those people He chose to bear His name. But that law, and the rituals surrounding it, was just a scaffolding. That was just the lead-up to the cross. The cross was always the point and the plan. From before creation, He planned that no matter how bad things became with us, in every possible scenario, through every possible fall, failure, ignorance, and arrogance, He would always have died for us, without exception. It's that love that makes the prophecies that were fulfilled in Christ possible to begin with.

Why then, now that the grace has been build by Christ and the scaffolding removed, do we put it back up? Why do we act as though things are still under construction? Jesus paid it all! We could never have paid our debts! We'd work ourselves into the grave to pay our debts, but guess what! Jesus dropped something better than a million bucks on our doorstep. He forgave us for every hurt we caused Him and each other.

By imposing on each other unrealistic expectations of perfection, we divide ourselves from each other and subsequently from Him. By assuming that anything we do, be it baptism, or opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit and the gifts He brings, or spending time with a particular subset of people in certain intervals, doing particular good deeds or acts of service, we say to the Lord that the cross was pointless and that we can do it ourselves. That is what was meant by "falling from grace." It means that rather than accepting the cross for what it is, we try to replace it with us.

If you think about it, really, this is similar to [if not the same] crime the fallen angel Lucifer, whom we now call Satan, is guilty of. His goal was to ascend to the throne of God, to take it from Him. Setting such a goal is impossible without deluding oneself enough to believe that we and all that we have to offer, righteousness or unrighteousness, creativity or destructivity, is equivalent to or higher than the Lord. Of course, we were created by Him, and not the other way around.

As He said to Job--I paraphrase--as he complained to God about the chaos that had come upon his life, "Who are you? Were you there when I created the heavens? What about the dinosaurs? What about humankind, whom I made from dust?" And of course, the Lord wasn't being arrogant, as some like to imagine, but He was trying to assure Job, with the simple message, "I've got you. I know what I'm doing." After all, even Lucifer recognized in Job a righteousness that he himself didn't have, one that he wanted to eradicate: righteousness not of his own doing but righteousness that came by faith in a righteous God.

This is just my take on it, but I think that Job was at the breaking point of that faith when he started to question God's allowance of bad things to happen to him. I think that's why God responded the way He did. He just reminded Job of who He actually is. Sometimes, we just need a reminder that the world isn't going to fall to pieces because we screw up once, and God isn't going to abandon us over it either.

It's just like David and the murder he committed to get away with sleeping with another man's wife (as if he didn't have enough already, right?) Sure, he still had to deal with the consequences, but despite that, God never stopped chasing him. Interesting that the shepherd boy who became king ended up being the one lost sheep spoken of in Jesus' parable, in which the shepherd left the ninety-nine sheep to find the one who strayed. It's not that God was going to validate the pain David inflicted on those involved. It's simply that God's love is unstoppable.

Once we're "in the fold" so to speak, He doesn't just abandon us when we stray. He'll allow us to feel the consequences, and He'll collect us with His shepherd's rod, but He doesn't just leave us to die all over again. That was kind of the point of the cross. We don't just have the power to revoke that. That's as deluded a thought as was Lucifer's place to replace the Lord.

All of that said, God did make us to follow in His footsteps. Good people make good people. He is good, so He made us good. We fell, so now, we can no longer make people good without Him. Actually, we never could, but I digress.

From day one, the calling out of Abraham to follow the Lord, to be the forefather of the nation of Israel, there was a promise, a covenant made deeper than that of marriage, that once again the Holy Spirit of the living God would pervade mankind as it did in the beginning, I believe. That promise was fulfilled through Jesus in every moment of His life, death, and reclamation of life. That was poured out on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit fell on the apostles, then spread life like an unquenchable, consuming fire.

By this Spirit that was poured out, and by this Spirit alone, we can return to the Lord, understand what it means to truly be righteous, by faith in Him. Why then, should we return to the law that was meant only as a conduit by which we understand the righteousness of the Lord Himself? If we have been given a free gift, pardon, and way to stay with the Lord, the Spirit in us, what else behind us could be so valuable that we would force ourselves to try to carry the world as Jesus did, then destroy each other in life and presume to damn each other to death when we don't get everything exactly right? Only God can be held to that standard, and He alone can define that standard. Newsflash: we can never fully comprehend on this side of death what righteousness is. We can only understand it better until the day of the Lord.

And you know what?

That's okay.

He never asked us to do His job.

He only asked us to follow Him.

The truth is simple.

In Jesus, you are free.

In Jesus, you can be who you were meant to be.

He is faithful to make you more like Him.

Until then, we don't need to be knocking each other down and condemning each other for not understanding every little bullet point of doctrine, or not knowing the right move to make, or having to deal with past sins springing up. We're all being guided home by Jesus, and we're all learning to walk a little more in a straight line as we go.

The most important thing we can do is be there for each other when we mess up--and we all do--teach each other when there is a lack of understanding, and look forward to the day when these struggles no longer exist.

Living this way might cost you. Believing in grace is frankly more insanerer than anything we've ever done. We can choose to live by our good deeds alone and pretend we're on an equal plane to God in terms of righteousness, which is arrogant, and people will understand that because people generally don't want to screw things up, nor do they want you to screw things up for them. Living by grace, though? Who does that? Well, there's Jesus. And frankly, without grace, I might not have lived long enough to see what life change really looks like. People might scoff at that because revenge seems better most times, but then who has ever profited from pain and death?

Grace returns us to the one who loves us more than anyone anywhere will ever understand. It reconciles us to God, and it reconciles us to each other. That is worth living and dying for. That is the message of the cross.

I don't normally say things like this at the end, but I have a request for you, followers of Christ.

Build a bridge.

Find someone of a different denomination, especially if they don't believe in grace, and find a way to offer it do them.

I'm not saying to evangelise or even be correcting.

Just let them talk about their life, and see where mercy can fall.

Find an excuse to be close to them.

By doing this, the Spirit is already working, and the Gospel is already unfolding.

Peace, and love, always.