Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Headline: Hell and Rapture Yesterday's News

  • Most devastating tornado in decades rips through U.S. city.
  • Dictators charged with crimes against humanity.
  • Air strikes pound ancient nations.
  • Nuclear disaster worse than previously assessed.
  • Local grandparents murdered during robbery.
  • Local teen gunned down in nightclub.
Murder, war, economic collapse, ecological turmoil...this is all in today's paper. Not an assessment of this year's, this month's, or even this week's news. Just today.

"Jesus is coming at 6 p.m. to take all the good people away from the bad people" and "Does hell really exist and, if so, who goes there?" That's what our culture thinks the church is about. In each of the above headlines, there are disciples of Jesus Christ working for peace, justice, reconciliation and healing.

But somehow we've allowed ourselves to get so caught up in conversations about hell and the rapture that we appear to be so heavenly (or hellishly) minded that we're no earthly good. This is NOT the case, but anyone on the street would be hard-pressed to come up with the name of a Christian working to end the modern slave trade or bringing potable water to a village, as opposed to, say, naming false prophets who put up irrelevant billboards.

Hell and the Rapture are not unimportant. Ask an addict or an AIDS orphan or those living in war-zones if they believe in hell. Ask a homeless family or a 13-year-old sex-slave or just any lonely, lost, marginalized, tormented soul if they're ready for Jesus to come back. It's not the subject...it's the framing.

Hell and the Rapture are not some trivial sci-fi fantasies that we speculate about over gourmet coffee. Hell is the life of death, the path away from the God who is Love toward destruction and loss. And hell is reflected in those headlines. The Rapture is the return of Christ--not to flee the earth that so desperately needs him, but to set right all that is so wrong and to bring his kingdom in all its fullness. The need for Christ's presence is also reflected in those headlines.

But in the meantime, the church must take her PR in hand. And this, not by more billboards and superficial marketing, but by framing the conversation around the true life of the church. Indeed, it is the very presence of Christ through the Spirit-filled life of his church that should be front and center in our conversation. There doesn't have to be speculation: the Son of God is here...really! The gospel cannot continue to be commandeered by attention mongers and false prophets. There are too many true Christians in the world doing the true work of Christ.

If it bleeds, it leads...I know. It's likely we'll never hear much about the real kingdom-building that humble Christians are doing every day. The media eats up sensationalism. But does the church have to feed the monster? It'll keep coming back around. There will be more scandalous tripe--a "lost" gospel or a Catholic conspiracy or a grilled Cheesus or Satan at a Starbucks. We already have the Rapture re-predicted for Autumn--I'm sad there won't be a World Series but at least we won't have to rake those leaves!

I urge all apprentices of Jesus to keep modeling the life of the Master. And when the opportunity arises--with and without words--turn sensationalized conversations toward this truth: God is Love. And may the headlines read: God's Kingdom Coming On Earth...Now!

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