More Than An Ocean

There is something I learned when navigating through the vast wasteland of car-sized boulders at 12,750 feet while making my way up the final ascent to Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.

People are less than microscopic.

As we climbed upward toward The Keyhole and then turned back to survey the boulder field, now just 1000-feet below us, our tents had become colored dots in a broken sea of browns.

And the people below, were lost in that sea.

Only moments later, after hitting the summit, we looked down again to take in the magnitude of the boulder field. Our tents were now submerged. And the people had drown in its vastness. The car-sized boulders had become bits of sand washed by the enormity of the figurative waves.

From less than a few miles away, boulders had become granules of sand, tents were visibly imperceptible, and people were nonexistent. One could never tell that there were a couple hundred people walking through the boulder field as we stood there taking it in from above.

That’s about as descriptive as I can get in conveying how relatively miniscule and microscopic a person is on a scale that we can even somewhat understand. Because if you can somewhat begin to understand how insignificantly tiny we are from such a short distance on Earth, then you can really begin to appreciate our relative nothingness on a cosmic scale.

Think about this for a second.

If a human being is basically imperceptible from a few miles away, what about our size from the moon, which is about 250,000 miles away? I know that is a huge leap, but seriously contemplate that for a second. If you are microscopic from a few miles, what are you from moon?

Virtually nonexistent. And that is just from the moon.

But let’s take another step.

What about our size from Mars, which is 34 million miles away? Or, our size from Saturn, which is 750 million miles away? Or, our size from the edge of our solar system, which is nine billion miles away?

To put this distance in perspective, the Earth is theoretically no longer visible to the naked eye from the edge of the solar system. The Earth, itself, has become virtually nonexistent.

So what about the size of a human being from the closest star to our solar system, Proxima Centauri, which is 25 trillion miles away? To put that distance in perspective, it would take 81,000 years traveling at 35,000 miles per hour from Earth to get there. And lastly, what about the size of a human being from the edge of our expanding universe, which is estimated to be 46 billion times 5.8 trillion miles away?

Can you even put your humanity into that kind of perspective? If you are microscopic from less than a few of miles away and next to nothing from the moon, what are you in the universe that is 46 billion times 5.8 trillion miles to its outer edge?

I hate to say it this way, but from a size perspective, we are nothing.

But think about this.

If God created this universe, then is God not larger and even more pervasive than the entire universe? And if God’s very essence, God’s very composition, God’s very DNA is love, then is this love not even more immense and more unbounded than the utter vastness and expansiveness of this universe? Even more, if God’s love is that immeasurable, that unfathomable, that exhaustively immersive, then how do you, as a nearly nonexistent human being, measure up within that love?

If we are nearly nothing in relation to a love that is more expansive, more immeasurable, more unfathomable, more exhaustingly immersive than the universe that it created, then how can we really be that big of an offense to God? How can we really be such vile offenders? Such horrible wretches? Such loathsome reprobates? Such horrible sinners? How can we really be that despised and worthy of scorn? How can we really be that wayward and shameful? How can we really be that deserving of an eternity burning in hell?

To this love, we are none of those things.

We are beloved.
We are worthy.
We are valuable.

And this love continues to pursue every one of us.

The truth is that there is no distance we can travel, no depth to which we can sink, no barrier behind which we can hide where that love is not still with us, is not still holding us, is still not inviting us into its full embrace.

If you think I have gone too far in describing where we stand in relation to this unbounded, immersive, and universal love of God, all you have to do is look at that this love embodied. Because once you see the full weight and measure of this cosmically-sized love poured into a human body, you will finally begin to understand what true love looks like, and how radically different it is from our limited, conditional love.

This is the love of God in Jesus.

And the love we see in Jesus was never repulsed, shocked, or offended by another human being. It is a love that was never fearful of eating a meal with the so-called wicked. It is a love that was never afraid of hanging with prostitutes and whores. It is a love that was never fearful of elevating people who were deemed by the religious as “unclean” or “dogs.” It is a love that was always willing to see great faith in people of different religious persuasions or no religious persuasion at all. It is a love that never took a stand, or needed a platform, or needed to be acknowledged or recognized. It is a defiant love that always did the complete opposite of the religiously-minded when they said, “Don’t embrace them! Don’t befriend them! Don’t serve them! Don’t eat with them! Don’t invite them!”

God’s love is always with those whom the religious believe are undeserving of being embraced, befriended, served, eaten with, or invited in. It is not limited by human barriers or rules of engagement. It is with every person of every race, every ethnicity, every culture, every religion, every lifestyle, every gender, and every “sin group.”

And if this kind of love makes you angry or indignant, then you are more like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day than Jesus himself.

If this kind of love terrifies you for what others will think of you when hanging out with “terrible sinners,” then you have become more religious than a follower of Jesus.

If this kind of love worries you that you are condoning “sinful lives” when you hang out with and serve others, then you do not know the love of God in Christ.

The love of God is radically offensive to those who do not understand it.

The unbounded, immersive, universal love of God is for all people, for all-time and will never be constrained or limited by small-minded, hard-hearted, Spirit-less, microscopic religion that tries to divide it and apportion it by whom they believe deserve it.

God’s love is so much more than a tiny, little ocean washing over us and submerging our limited, finite, and feeble attempts at understanding it. It is beyond universal and we are nothing but lost in it. And when you experience a love like that, you can do nothing but let it consume you. You can do nothing but become that love and share it with everyone without discrimination.

Forever in that love…

Brandon

Woe to You, Christians!

Let me tell you a story I recently heard.

A preacher was recounting a time several years ago when, during the “invitation hymn” after the sermon, a lady came forward to be baptized. Now the preacher had previously heard about this lady, as he had been told that she was currently living with her boyfriend, who was a member of the church. As they stood together in front of the congregation, the pastor reflected that he knew he “needed to confront her about her sinful relationship.”

And that is exactly what he did.

As they exited to change clothes and prepare for the baptism the preacher cornered her and said, “There is no way I can baptize you unless you quit living in sin.”

The couple gave him their assurances that they wouldn’t live together. The lady was baptized. And they never went back to his church again.

I wish I could tell you that a story like this is an anomaly, an aberration.

But it’s not.

I remember a time, when as a young man, I overheard chatter among people in my church about a lady who was wearing a mini-skirt and how she needed to be told to dress modestly in the “House of the Lord.”

As soon as the service ended, an elder of the church approached the young woman, who by the way had never been to our church before, and told her that if she was going to come back she needed to dress appropriately.

She never came back.

How have so many churches ended up comprised of “righteous gatekeepers” who believe it is their responsibility to manage and control who enters through the gates?

It is eerily reminiscent of Jesus’ strong words to the Pharisees when he said, “You shut the door of the kingdom of God in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

The absolutely fascinating thing about the words of Jesus, which ought to serve as a lesson to many, is that the very people who believed they were righteous insiders, were actually not even on the inside at all.

In fact, they were on the outside and preventing others from entering.

What do you think about that?

The Kingdom of God, of which Jesus spoke, is all around us, but it is a reality into which we enter, changing our hearts and giving us new eyes to see the world.  The Kingdom of God is the present, in-breaking reality of God’s presence in our lives. A reality, that once embodied, looks like the life of Jesus, a life ruled, not by heavy-handed laws and rules or by “who’s in and who’s out,” but by grace, love, and invitation.

And the door to the Kingdom of God is always open and there is not one religious person or leader who can stand in the way of you entering. There is not one religious leader who can decide whether you are in or out. There is not one religious leader who can keep you from a seat at the table.

The religious may stand on the outside and try to close the door, and prevent others from entering, but Jesus opens wide the door of God’s Kingdom and invites us all to a seat at the table with him, without judgment or condemnation.

No matter your background, your present life situation, your socioeconomic status, your level of education, your appearance, your diseases, your addictions,  your afflictions, your offenses, your burdens, your heartache, your despair, or even your past or present sins, there is no single person, not one religious person, not one holier-than-thou person, not even the most theologically-minded, well-respected, or studied preacher who can keep you from the love of God, who can keep you from God’s forgiveness, who can block you from entering into the kingdom of God, or who can take away your seat at the table of invitation.

You are an honored guest. You have been invited.

In another instance, I heard the same preacher recall a funeral he was to give to a 19-year old young man he did not personally know, but whom he soon found out was a biker.  As the preacher was on his way to the funeral, he detailed his approach to the funeral home, seeing a parking lot full of “stereotypical [bikers] with long hair and tattoos all over the place, right there in public smoking their joints and drinking a [beer] with several of them having their girls along with them dressed immodestly on the back of their bikes.”

And as I listened to these heartbreaking words and the tone in which they were spoken, all I could think was- Would Jesus be riding passed these bikers and their “immodestly dressed girls” in judgment based upon how they look and then thinking how he needs to preach the Gospel to them when they come into the funeral home- or- would he have gone out to them, embraced them, listened to their stories of how they knew the young man, and then told them about the beautiful invitation and present reality of God’s kingdom and how they may enter in.

To me, the answer is clear and evident throughout the Gospels. Jesus was always at the table of invitation with various sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes.

As followers of Jesus, we have not been given the task of shutting the door or preventing “sinners” from entering into the Kingdom of God.

Rather, we have been given the task of entering presently through the open doors ourselves and accompanying every single person of the world to the table so that they, too, can taste and see just how good the Lord is.

The Kingdom of God is not a place that needs guarded or protected. It’s not a place entered into by the self-described righteous or religious. And it is certainly not a place where the untouchables, outcasts, or unholy sinners are banned or restricted.

The doors to the Kingdom of God are always open wide. There is always an invitation and a seat at the table. And Jesus is always standing there, at the head of the table, with his arms open wide for every untouchable, every outcast, every unholy sinner, every person ever pushed aside or crushed by the religious apparatus, and every single person who has ever been told that God doesn’t love them or that they are anything less than precious, worthy, and valuable.

The invitation into the Kingdom of God and a seat at the table is always there.

You are always, always, always invited.

Peace and love…

Brandon

A Prayer of Reconciliation to the World

Somehow I forgot to post this when it was written in 2010. Of course it seems as relevant now as it did then. This piece is an excerpt from my 2010 book Unearthed: How Discovering the Kingdom of God Will Transform the Church and Change the World.

Father God,

Too many times we as Christians have been the loudest and most vocal voices and many times we have not represented or embodied the way, life, and teachings of your Son Jesus.

Our judgmental and condemning voices have become a poor representation of Jesus in the community and the larger world and have left many who do not know anything about Jesus with a bad taste in their mouths and a deep contempt for your Church.

Too many times we are quick to say that we are the “defenders of the faith,” or the “protectors of our Christians heritage.” Yet in our zealousness to defend, we have compromised the way of your son, Jesus, and have many times done it in his name.

Father we repent and ask for forgiveness, for we know that Jesus did not spend his time isolating and targeting special “sin groups” or trying to defend his positions through arguing and debating.

Father we ask humbly that you replace our ways with your ways.

For we know that the way of Jesus does not have to be defended; it must be demonstrated.

It never moves out in judgment; it moves out in love.

It never extends in condemnation to the world; it extends in grace and mercy.

The ways of arguing, defending, judging, and condemning always build up walls and embitters those in the world who are on the receiving end.

For every way that we as the Church have fallen short of representing you to the world, we ask for forgiveness.

Father, we are so eager to accept your grace, but are so unwilling to extend it. We are so eager to accept your love, but are so unwilling to demonstrate it. We are so eager to accept your mercy, but so unwilling to give it.

While we have known that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it, we have believed that it is our responsibility to condemn it.

While we have known that Jesus said he did not come into the world to judge it, we have believed it is our responsibility to judge it.

While we have known that Jesus told his followers to “judge not,” we have instead decided to judge anyway.

And while we have known that Paul asked the Church, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the Church?” we have instead decided that we should be the judges of the world?

God forgive us for not being like Jesus to the world.

Father, we need the strength to sacrifice our own wants, needs, desires, and pursuits.

Forgive us for the ways we have put idols within the Church ahead of you and your Kingdom.

Forgive us for the way we have worshipped facility and program over you.

Forgive us for the way we have followed human convention rather than your Spirit.

Father, we desperately need the fresh breath of your Holy Spirit to mold us and shape us into something useable and to open our eyes to the things that are not important to you.

We know that while we have been ignorant and negligent in understanding and extending your Kingdom, our calling and pursuit should be to model Christ by living and extending your Kingdom, giving ourselves self-sacrificially in love and service to the world, embodying a life of peace, justice, and mercy that becomes the yearning of all humanity.

Father, it is in this calling and pursuit that we have fallen woefully and painfully short. And it is because of our shortcomings with the world that we desperately need forgiveness.

Father, we need your power and strength to apologize to,and seek forgiveness from, any and all of those who have been on the receiving end of judgment, condemnation, or abuse from those of us who have labeled ourselves as Christians.

We deeply and prayerfully apologize and repent. We have not represented the love, grace, mercy, and heart of Jesus very well…and we desperately need your forgiveness and the forgiveness of the world.

To the atheist, agnostic, Jew, and Muslim, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness.

To the homosexual, African-American, or any other minority that we have judged and oppressed in the past, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness.

To the poor, enslaved, or victim of injustice, abuse, and neglect, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness for judging you and turning a blind eye.

To every single expecting mother who sought an abortion, we ask for forgiveness for judging you and turning you into an issue and not demonstrating the lengths to which we would go to show you love, guidance, help, and assistance

And to every single person who has experienced anything less than the unconditional love of Christ from the Christian, we prayerfully ask for your forgiveness.

In Jesus name we as the Church in unity pray, Amen and Amen.