Showing posts with label #Maturity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Maturity. Show all posts

Resolutions: Our little stabs at self-control.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 December 2023

Speaking for myself, I’m not into new year’s resolutions.

Because I make resolutions the year round. Whenever I recognize changes I need to make in my life, I get to work on ’em right away. I don’t procrastinate till 1 January. (Though I admit I may procrastinate just the same. But not ’cause I’m saving up these changes for the new year.)

Here’s the problem with stockpiling all our lifestyle changes till the new year: Come 1 January, we wind up with a vast pile of changes to make. It’s hard enough to make one change; now you have five. Or 50, depending on how great of a trainwreck you are. Multiplying your resolutions, multiplies your difficulty level.

But hey, it’s an American custom. So at the year’s end a lot of folks, Christians included, begin to think about what we’d like to change about our lives.

Not that we want to change. Some of us don’t! But it’s New Year’s resolution time, and everyone’s asking what our resolutions are, and some of us might grudgingly try to come up with something. What should we change? Too many carbohydrates? Not enough exercise? Sloppy finances? Non-productive hobbies? Too many bucket list items not checked off?

Since our culture doesn’t really do self-control, you might notice a lot of Americans’ resolutions aren’t really about breaking bad habits, but adding new habits—good or bad. We’re not gonna eat less, but we are gonna work out more often. We’re not gonna cut back on video games at all, yet somehow we’re gonna find the time to pray more often. You know—unrealistic expectations.

True, a lot of us vow to diet and exercise. Just as many of us will choose to learn gourmet cooking, or resolve to eat at fancier restaurants more often. (Well, so long that the fancier restaurants provide American-size portions. If I only wanted a six-ounce piece of meat I’d go to In-N-Out Burger.)

True, a lot of us will vow to cut back on our screen time—whether on computers, tablets, phones, or televisions. Just as many will decide time isn’t the issue; quality is. They’ll vow to watch better movies and TV shows. Time to binge-watch the shows the critics rave about. Time to watch classic movies instead of whatever Adam Sandler’s production company farts out. (I used to say “poops out,” but that implies they’re making an effort.) Sometimes it’s a clever attempt to avoid cutting back on screen time—’cause they already know they won’t. And sometimes they honestly never think about it; screens are a fact of life.

As Christians, a lot of us will resolve to be better Christians. We’ll pray more. Meditate more. Go to church more consistently; maybe join one of the small groups. Perhaps read more bible—even all the way through. Put more into the collection plate. Share Jesus more often with strangers and acquaintances. Maybe do some missions work.

All good intentions. Yet here’s the problem: It takes self-control to make any resolution stick. It’s why, by mid-March, all these resolutions are likely abandoned. So if we’re ever gonna stick to them, we gotta begin by developing everybody’s least-favorite fruit of the Spirit: Self-control.

How elders must encourage fellow Christians to behave.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 June 2023

Titus 2.1-10.

Throughout ancient literature, sages would put together a list of rules for how every person’s meant to fulfill their role in a family. Husbands act like this, wives act like that. Sons do this, daughters do that. Male slaves do this, female slaves do that. Scholars call them household codes. We find a few of them in the bible too. Like today’s passage.

The list in Titus likewise includes slaves, because slavery was legal in the Roman Empire. But God forbade people from treating slaves like animals instead of people, and Greco-Romans generally shared that attitude about their slaves: They’d become slaves because they lost a war, or were dirt poor and sold themselves (or were sold by family members) into it, or they were criminals and slavery was the punishment. American slavery was entirely different, regularly ignored scripture (as Americans do, ’cause we love to imagine we’re exceptions to the rules), and was rightly abolished. But if we were to port these household codes into the present day, the instructions to slaves would sorta apply to household employees—housekeepers, groundskeepers, nannies, maids, butlers, contractors. With the obvious caveat that employees can quit or be fired. Slaves didn’t have those freedoms.

Popular American culture has their own household codes. Most of ’em have to do with authoritarian men trying to establish their own little despotic patriarchies—they want their wives and children to submit to them, instead of mutually loving one another as is taught in the scriptures. A lot of toxic masculinity is mixed into today’s household codes, as men try to insist “only real men” behave certain ways. (And men who reject these ideas somehow aren’t real men. Yet this doesn’t mean they get to identify as women!) There’s a lot of sexism, vulgarity, and inconsistency in the way they teach it. It’s all very fleshly and graceless. Denounce it wherever you see it, and stick with the bible.

Titus 2.1-10 KWL
1 Speak out, Titus, about whatever comes up,
with healthy teaching.
2 Elders ought to be in their right minds.
Well respected. Self-controlled.
They should have healthy faith,
healthy love, healthy consistency.
3 Women elders likewise with devout behavior.
Not backstabbing.
Not enslaved to heavy drinking.
Teachers of good things,
4 so they might train the new Christians
to love their men, to love their children.
5 Self-disciplined. Clean.
Good at running a household.
Submitting to their own men,
so God’s word won’t be slandered.
6 Teenagers likewise:
Help them in self-discipline.
7 In everything present yourself,
as an example of good works.
In teaching, integrity and honesty,
8 a healthy, irrefutable word,
so those from the opposition might respect it,
having nothing evil to say about us.
9 Slaves are to obey their own wardens
in every acceptable way.
Not to argue.
10 Not to embezzle.
Instead demonstrate all good faith
so God our Savior’s teaching will decorate everything.

Now y’notice Paul’s list began with instructions to Titus about the sort of traits we oughta see in as church elders. The men are to behave thisaway; the women are to behave thataway. But then, in 2.4, as Paul’s explaining what the women elders oughta be teaching the newbies… it mutates into a household code. Verse 5 arguably applies to either the elders or the newbies; I would say both. Verses 6-8 are obviously about Christian teenagers; verses 9-10 are obviously about Christian slaves.

So yeah, this passage didn’t begin as a household code. But it became one. Because every Christian oughta become an elder. All of us should aspire to Christian maturity. Therefore every man and woman should become an elder in our churches, and contribute to its leadership and upkeep.

How the “elders” of Crete 𝘥𝘪𝘥 behave.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 June 2023

Titus 1.10-16.

Epimenides of Cnossos was a shepherd, living on Crete. He claimed one day he took a nap in a cave that’d been dedicated to Zeus, and woke up 57 years later with the gift of prophecy. Meh; I figure he was just an old guy who decided to finally publish his youthful poetry. Next to none of it has survived to our present day, but in Paul and Titus’s time it was still pretty famous. Paul even quotes a line from his ode to Zeus, called the Cretica:

…having built you [Zeus] a tomb, holy one, great one.
Cretans always lie, the evil beasts. Lazy stomachs.
But you aren’t dead! For you live, and live forever!
For in you we live, move, and have our being.

Yep, Paul also quoted it in Acts 17.28. Epimenides meant Zeus, but Paul repurposed it to mean the LORD. It more accurately describes the LORD anyway.

I don’t know whether the Cretica prejudiced Paul against the people of Crete when he finally met them in person. Acts doesn’t tell of him spending a lot of time there; at most a week, ’cause his ship was anchored there due to foul weather. Ac 27.7-13 Likely he visited again at another time. In any case he encountered many people among the Christians who were just awful, and the very last thing he wanted Titus to do was put such people in positions of authority. It’d ruin the church.

Titus 1.10-16 KWL
10 For many people do refuse to submit to others.
They’re all talk, and misleading.
Particularly those of the circumcision faction.
11 It’s necessary to muzzle them—
whatever teachings knock down whole houses,
which they ought not teach,
but do to gain an immoral advantage.
12 A certain one of their own—a prophet!—says,
“Cretans always lie, the evil beasts. Lazy stomachs.”
13 This witness is true.
For this reason rebuke them quickly,
so they might have a healthy faith,
14 paying no attention to Jewish myths,
and human commands which turn away from truth.
15 Everything is ritually clean to clean people.
To contaminated people, and unbelievers,
nothing is clean—
instead it contaminated them, the mind, and the conscience.
16 They claim they know God,
and their works deny it—
being disgusting and disobedient,
and worthless in every good work.

Don’t mince words Paul; how d’you really feel about Cretans?

Elders: The grownups in the church.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 July 2022
ELDER 'ɛld.ər adjective. Of a greater or advanced age.
2. [noun] A person of greater or advanced age.
3. [noun] A spiritually mature Christian, usually consulted as part of a church’s leadership, often entrusted with ministerial or priestly responsibility.
[Eldership 'ɛl.dər.ʃɪp noun.]

After Jesus was raptured, his church had to continue without him physically here. Which is fine! He’d already trained apprentices, and designated 12 of them as apostles. One was dead, so the other 11 picked a replacement Ac 1.26 and went back to 12. (It’s God’s favorite number, y’see.)

Running the church with only 12 leaders quickly became unsustainable, because the church immediately surged by 3,000 people, Ac 2.41 and soon after another 2,000 or 5,000; it’s debatable. Ac 4.4 In any event that’s a lot of people to train to follow Jesus. The food ministry alone was chaos, with accusations of prejudice against Greek-speakers. Ac 6.1 The apostles recognized they needed more leaders, and told the people to select their ministers based on their honesty, wisdom, and spirituality. Ac 6.3 In other words their spiritual maturity.

When Paul of Tarsus wrote to Timothy of Lystra about 20 years later, the apostle reminded the youngish bishop that spiritual maturity is still a requirement for leadership. Y’don’t pick leaders because they’re friendly, popular, magnetic, and entertaining. (Or even because they’re family!) You pick them because they’re fruity. Because they’ve been letting the Holy Spirit develop them into people of good character: He’s making them resemble Jesus, and only christlike people should lead and run Christ Jesus’s churches. Nobody else is appropriate.

And arguably only christlike people should run anything. No, I’m not at all talking about Christian nationalism; I’m not saying the only people who should ever run things in this country must be Christian. I’m saying they oughta have good character. “Christian,” sad to say, does not automatically mean good character, spiritual maturity, or even any kind of maturity; some Christians are the whiniest snowflakes you ever did see, throwing tantrums and claiming “persecution!” about the smallest of hurdles—especially the ones generated by their own dickishness. Nope; I’m saying non-Christians can often be as patient, thoughtful, gracious, kind, and self-controlled as any Christian, and any pagan who has these traits is much preferred to any Christian or pagan who doesn’t.

My point is the grownups need to be in charge. That’s especially true in Christ’s churches, but oughta be true everywhere.

The Christianese term for grownup is elder, which comes from the New Testament’s word πρεσβύτερος/presvýteros, “elder.” It’s also where we also get our Christianese word presbyterian, “elder-run,” meaning a church run by elders, instead of by voting members or solely by the head pastor. Yeah, “elder” makes it sound like the church is being run by its old people (and yeah, such churches totally exist). But whenever the apostles who wrote the New Testament discussed a presvýteros, they meant the longtime, devout, spiritually senior Christians. These are the folks they could legitimately trust to give sound advice about following Jesus. The folks we oughta be able to trust.

Spiritual morons: Christians who won’t grow up.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 April 2021
MORON 'mɔr.ɑn noun. A stupid person.
[Moronic mə'rɑn.ɪk adjective.]

The word moron comes from an ancient Greek word we actually have in our bibles, μωρόν/morón, which means the same thing. Scientists began to use it to describe “an adult with the mental age of about 8 to 12 years old”—someone of limited intelligence. Problem is, people love to use such words to insult one another, and now many people consider “moron” a bad word. So they’re gonna take offense at my using the word “moron.” Doesn’t matter that Jesus used it. Mt 5.22, 7.26, 23.17, 25.2, 25.8 And the apostles. 1Co 1.25, 1.27, 3.18, 4.10, 2Ti 2.23, Tt 3.9

Thing is, whenever the authors of scripture write of morons, they don’t mean people who can’t help it; who are of limited intelligence or are incapable of wisdom. They always mean people who are wholly capable of growth—and choose not to grow.

(I mean, if they did mean people who can’t help their condition, it’d be mighty cruel of them to condemn foolishness so often. And kinda psycho to suggest caning them for it. Pr 26.3 But cruel and thoughtless people regularly take such verses out of their grammatical context.)

So whenever I write about spiritual morons, I don’t mean people who can’t grow in spiritual maturity. Because maturity is tied to the Spirit’s fruit, and everybody can grow the Spirit’s fruit. Absolutely everybody. No exceptions; the Spirit can work on anyone. Even humans with profound mental limitations can grow in love, peace, joy, and grace; in fact many such people clearly exhibit more such fruit than “smart people.” Whether it’s because these smarty-pants folks are overthinking things (or, more likely, looking for loopholes), I leave it to you to determine. There are plenty of reasons why Christians don’t grow as fast as we should.

But again: When I write about spiritual morons, I never mean people who can’t grow. For that matter I don’t even mean people who are growing slowly. I only mean people who won’t grow. Who refuse to grow. ’Cause they figure they’re good as-is. Or they presume they have grown… and have all sorts of excuses why all the “fruit” they supposedly have, can’t be seen, never affects anyone in positive ways, doesn’t grow God’s kingdom any, and continues to make ’em indistinguishable from nice pagans.

Spiritual disciplines: Gotta develop the Christian lifestyle.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 April 2021

If we’re gonna become better Christians, we have to get religious.

I know; it’s popular among conservative Evangelicals circles to insist, “It’s a relationship, not a religion.” For much the same reason pagans insist they’re spiritual, not religious: They have no interest in getting methodical, disciplined, or systematic about God. They want their heavenly Father to be a Disneyland dad, with all the fun and none of the obedience. They wanna do as they please, take advantage of God’s grace, and get into God’s kingdom despite being wholly unfit for it.

True Christians can’t sit back on our salvation: We follow Jesus. We do stuff. We act saved. We stop behaving like we can’t help our sinful behavior; we know the Holy Spirit’s empowered us so we totally can. We stop acting like pagans do, as if we’re not a holy people, and behave as if we really are filled with the Holy Spirit. We stop being jerks and start producing fruit.

I know; it’s way easier said than done. But acting Christian doesn’t happen overnight; doesn’t happen as if by magic. Wouldn’t that be nice.

I realize certain Christians’ testimonies make it sound like that’s precisely what happened to them: They didn’t wanna sin anymore, so they just didn’t. Bluntly, they’re exaggerating, if not straight-up lying. If they made a quick break of sin, it’s because they weren’t all that into those particular sins anyway. Real easy to quit drinking when you’re only doing it to fit in. But real alcoholics are tempted the rest of their lives—and learn to resist. And they really did have to learn to resist. It took time and effort.

Most habits take a while to break, and happen as the result of practice. Effort. Disciplined behavior. Patient consistency. Sticking to it religiously—yep, there’s that word again.

Some Christians insist there are no shortcuts to self-control: You just gotta give it time, and slowly you’ll bear fruit. Well, I beg to differ, and I’m pretty sure the scriptures back me up. There are many shortcuts. Christians discovered ’em throughout the centuries. They’re called spiritual disciplines. They’re techniques we use to become like Jesus—faster.

But of course, irreligious Christians look at these disciplines and balk. They don’t wanna do any of that. They’re still hoping growth will happen by magic. Or wanna know if there are any shortcuts to the shortcuts! You know how our culture is with instant gratification. Spiritual disciplines take a bit of work, and people would prefer no work at all.

Or they falsely believe since God does the entire work of saving us, he’ll also do the entire work of making us become like Jesus. So what’s the point of self-discipline? All they gotta do is wish really hard, and God’ll transform them. And after this doesn’t happen, they’ll pretend it did happen, so as not to look like fools. They’ll reinterpret all their bad behavior as if they’re redeemed behaviors, and claim their actions are fruitful when they’re totally not. They’ll turn into hypocrites.

Let’s not follow them. Let’s follow Jesus.

Spiritual maturity: It’s based on fruit, not knowledge.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 April 2021

Years ago I had a boss who was seriously immature. Same age as me; we were both in our thirties. But he was completely unreliable. Couldn’t be trusted with private matters. Lied to cover up even minor mistakes. Had serious lapses in judgment. Regularly did inappropriate things, or told inappropriate jokes, so he could impress the teenagers we worked with.

How’d this guy get put into any position of authority? He was a pastor’s kid.

A whole lot of nepotism takes place in churches. Our word nepotism even comes from the practice: Various popes regularly gave important jobs to their “nephews” (really, their illegitimate kids), and the Italian for “nephew” is nipote. But lemme first say I’m not saying we should never hire family members. Most of the time they’re just as talented, gifted, and qualified as their relatives, if not more so. Being a pastor’s kid is a plus, not a minus.

Of course sometimes the apple didn’t fall near the tree. Sometimes it fell into a whole other yard, rolled down a hill, fell off a cliff, landed in the pigpen, and is working its way through a pig’s large intestine. Some pastor’s kids are not at all qualified to take any position of leadership whatsoever. But they got the job anyway, ’cause Dad or Mom gave it to them, or pulled strings. That’d be my boss. He got his job because Dad knew some people. He had connections… so he didn’t need to be a person of good character.

And character is Paul’s one requirement for leadership: You only put mature Christians in charge. Do otherwise and you get disaster. Which is exactly what happened to this boss. I don’t know the details (and they’re none of my business anyway) but he pooched something so huge his dad couldn’t bail him out. So the board fired him, and I wound up with a much better boss. Happy ending.

But during that time I worked for that immature man, my coworkers and I had more than one discussion about maturity and leadership, ’cause our boss was such a poor example of Christian maturity. One of those talks went kinda like this.

SHE. “I mean he’s qualified and all that; the board wouldn’t’ve hired him if he weren’t qualified. But he’s so immature.”
ME. “Sure. And the spiritual immaturity is undermining the job…”
SHE. “Hold up. I didn’t say he was spiritually immature. He’s just immature.”
ME. “They’re the same thing.”
SHE. “No they’re not.”
ME. “Mature people exhibit self-control, emotional control, patience, kindness, gentleness, and peace, right? Those are all spiritual things.”
SHE. “Mature people know stuff.”
ME. “When the smartest person in the world sticks her tongue out at you, would you say she’s being mature?”
SHE. “No.”
ME. “Smartest person gets bad customer service, so she throws a massive hissy fit in the middle of the supermarket. Still being mature?”
SHE. “No.”
ME. “Because it’s not about knowledge or ability. Betcha the oldest, wisest people in your church don’t know squat about computers.”

(Like I said, this happened years ago. I’m old now. We old people grew up with computers. But our parents, not so much.)

ME. [continuing] “But here’s the thing. When an old person’s spiritually mature, and you tell them, ‘You need to go on the internet for that,’ they’re not gonna freak out—‘Oh I don’t know anything about computers, and I’m too old to learn. What do you need a computer for? You young people and your computers. In my day we didn’t use computers for anything.’ They’re not gonna have a mini-meltdown; they’re gonna be patient. ‘I don’t know how to do that. Can you show me?’ Because maturity isn’t about knowledge or ability. It’s all behavior.”

Faith crisis: When our core beliefs get shaken. (And yours is coming.)

by K.W. Leslie, 19 April 2021

Hopefully the main reason, or at least one of the reasons, you’re reading this blog is you’re interested in growing your relationship with Christ Jesus.

Sad to say, a lot of Christians aren’t interested in any such thing. Not that they aren’t interested in Jesus! It’s because they assume they’re doing just fine. Life is good, so God is good all the time, and all the time God is good. Heck, some of you might think this, and you’re just reading this blog ’cause I amuse you, or you generally agree with me… or you’re looking for evidence I’m some heretic. Whatever.

Such people will continue to believe they’re doing just fine. That is, till they slam into a faith crisis. Or as Christians prefer to call it, a “crisis of faith.” It’s when we discover we’re wrong about God. Hopefully we already knew this—we get that nobody understands him 100 percent except Jesus; we’re certainly not claiming we have Jesus-level knowledge. (Well I’m certainly not. I don’t know about some preachers.) What turns our error into a full-on crisis, is intentionally or not, we turned these wrong ideas into our core beliefs. We made ’em vital to our entire understanding of God. And once we found out we’re wrong, of course we’re rocked to our core. Now we gotta reexamine everything.

Unless your life is short (which’ll no doubt trigger someone else’s crisis of faith), faith crises are inevitable. Everybody has one. Everybody. You’re gonna have one someday. Brace yourself.

The only exception is of course Jesus. ’Cause like I said, a faith crisis is when we discover we’re wrong—and Jesus isn’t wrong. He fully, absolutely does know God. Jn 1.18 The rest of us aren’t quite so omniscient, much as we’d like to imagine we’re God-experts by now. Even longtime Christians have faith crises. Sometimes big huge ones, if we’ve invested a lot of effort, time, and our own reputation, into promoting beliefs which turn out to be wrong. If you spent all your life promoting cessationism, but Jesus appears to you one night and tells you to cut that out, you’ve gotta humble yourself so much. If you’re not used to humility, it’s gonna be rough.

So when the crisis comes, Christians either

  1. Grab Jesus’s hand tight, and let him lead us through it.
  2. Quit Jesus altogether.
  3. Go into serious denial, shut off our doubts, shut down our faith, and only pretend to be growing Christians from then on.
  4. Yep. It’s either follow Jesus, quit Jesus, or lobotomize your Christianity. Like those cessationists whom Jesus ordered to repent… who haven’t. If you don’t wanna go their route, work on that humility! This way when the Spirit shows us we’re wrong, no matter how much it shakes us up, we’ll know better than to insist, “No I’m not wrong,” and stop following Jesus—one way or another

    The crisis of faith?

    Often a faith crisis is called “the crisis of faith,” because people assume there’s only one type of faith crisis.

    It’s this one: Bad stuff happened in a good God’s universe. As it does. But immature Christians assume bad stuff will never ever happen to us, because we’ve been taught all our Christian lives that all things work together for our good. Right? We sing it in our worship songs, and wear it on our T-shirts.

    Then bad stuff does happen. As it happens to absolutely everyone. Everybody dies, which means everybody’s gonna have a loved one who dies, including people whom we really, really don’t want to die. Parents will die. Children might die. Best friends might die unexpectedly, even violently, sometimes painfully. Turns out God doesn’t magically rescue us from all our woes. Not that he ever promised to. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” Jesus stated. Jn 16.33 KJV He didn’t make exceptions for his favorites.

    But naïve Christians don’t believe this, so they freak out. They believed God promises to keep us safe. He didn’t. So now they’re not sure they even believe in him anymore.

    Okay. Yes this particular form of faith crisis happens. All the time. So often, you can see why people think it’s “the crisis of faith,” because it’s the most familiar form it takes: People find out they’re dead wrong about God—pun totally intended—and it shakes ’em to their core.

    I blame it on bad pastoring. Pastors have a duty to tell Christians this isn’t how God works. They know—or should know, from personal experience—it’s false. They should say so. They don’t.

    And too often it’s because these pastors don’t believe it either. They think, and preach, God does make all things work together for our good. Turns out they’ve somehow never been through this particular faith crisis themselves. Or they have, but they’re in massive denial about it: A loved one died, and it was hard, but God caused such wonderful things to happen as a result of that death, that instead of grief they now have warm fuzzy feelings. God truly does make all things work together for our good.

    Yeah, no. This is a bright red waving flag meaning these pastors are spiritually immature. And therefore not qualified to be in church leadership.

    Yes, I’m entirely serious: If you went through a faith crisis, and came out the other end not recognizing and confessing you were wrong, you’re still wrong, and you’ve resisted the Holy Spirit’s attempt to correct you. Are you sure you want people who ignore the Holy Spirit, to be in charge of your church? I don’t. Pretty sure Jesus doesn’t either.

    Some crises are harder than others.

    When a pagan comes to Jesus, she figures now she’s gotta give up certain activities Christians frown upon. Like porn: She’s heard good Christians don’t get mixed up in porn, so she shouldn’t either.

    But of course she discovers all her Christian friends are super into porn. So she’s so relieved—hey, it’s no problem!—and that’s what she’ll believe from now on. If her pastor rails against porn, won’t matter; she’ll keep her own opinion. And keep it to herself, same as all the other inconsistent Christians.

    Thing is, porn is a problem. As the Holy Spirit within us is gonna show us as he’s working on us, pulling us towards truth. But sometimes it’s gonna take time. The Spirit has lots of things to teach us, and he might consider these other things, for now, more important than quitting porn. And once he gets to it, sometimes we’ll be resistant. (Or we’re too busy with all the porn.)

    But once the Spirit finally does make an issue of it, we’re not gonna grow any further as Christians till we heed him. Because these things are just that important.

    The crisis is when this new information or revelation is just too much for us.

    It’s actually not. The Spirit knows what he’s doing, and knows precisely how far to push or stretch us. But we haven’t always learned to trust him. We lack faith. So to us, it feels like a crisis. Either we accept what the Spirit’s teaching us and keep moving forward, or we have to stop. And by stop, I really do mean stop.

    For some this isn’t that huge a crisis. It’s not traumatic at all: “I have to stop doing that? Okay, I’ll stop doing that.” Or “That’s so obvious! Of course I believe that; how could I have missed it?” It shook a core belief, but we’re still kinda flexible on those core beliefs, because we know Jesus is more important than our fundamentals.

    For others it’s traumatic. If you think fundamentals are as important as Jesus, you’re gonna fight for those fundamentals as hard as you would Jesus—and if you think they’re more important, you’ll fight Jesus all the harder. If these are fond, beloved beliefs, we’re gonna be horrified by the idea they’re wrong—or worse, lies—or embarrassed to discover we adopted a worldview which is in any way contrary to God. We might refuse to accept our churches are cults, or our leaders and friends are terribly misguided—or worse, hypocrites.

    And sometimes yes it’s traumatic… but we’ve learned to trust the Spirit absolutely. We trust him so much, we don’t care which of our dearly-held habits and beliefs he overthrows. We’ll change everything for him. Seriously, everything. It won’t be easy, but it’ll never shake us away from God: Following God is the entire reason for the shakeup.

    But not every Christian believes the Spirit’s the person behind the shakeup. They believe, and preach, all doubt comes from the devil. God’s all about faith, right? Never doubt.

    Especially when these are deeply held, deeply cherished beliefs. Or when we’ve been taught Christians have to believe ’em, otherwise we’re not truly Christians. In the church I grew up in, we were taught not only does the bible have no errors, if if did have an error in it, we’d have to throw it out. And for that matter, we’d have to throw out our religion, ’cause everything we know about God comes from bible. (Y’see, they don’t believe God talks to people anymore. So prayer is one-way, all prophets are frauds, and personal appearances by Jesus don’t happen and don’t matter.) When you raise the stakes so outrageously high, it’s no surprise people will fight their doubts tooth and nail.

    Yep, even fight the Spirit over them. Hopefully we’ll lose. But you know how stubborn people can be. Defeat them in an argument, and they’ll never concede; they’ll just bide their time, look for better evidence, come back later, and restart the argument. And some of us are the very same way with the Spirit. He tells us to put something down; we go looking in the bible, or among fellow Christians, for proof that we can take it back up. Just like the hypothetical new believer and her porn. We don’t accept the Spirit has the last word and final say; we want the final say.

    So it becomes a struggle—a crisis of faith. We fight it out. And since we can’t possibly win (the Holy Spirit is God Almighty, after all) the only thing we can do is retreat—and live our lives in dead faith, or no faith.

    Divorce is not an option.

    This passage bears reading.

    John 6.59-60, 66-69 KWL
    59 Jesus said this while teaching in the Kfar Nahum synagogue.
    60 So, many of his students who heard him said, “This word is hard. Who can listen to it?”
    66 As a result of this lesson, many of his students went home and no longer followed him.
    67 So Jesus told the Twelve, “Don’t you also want to go?”
    68 Simon Peter answered Jesus, “Master, to whom will we go?
    You have lessons of life in the next age, 69 and we believed, and came to know you’re God’s saint.”

    Simon Peter wasn’t Jesus’s best student for nothing. He knew even though the Master might teach something hard to understand, or even impossible to believe, he has the words of eternal life. There was no other option for Peter. There’s Jesus. That’s it.

    Not everybody thinks this way. Lots of folks are really just dabbling in Christianity: They were raised Christian, or their version of Christianism works for them. Present them a convenient option, and they’re outa here. I knew a man who quit Christianity for Buddhism. Growing up, he grew tired of always asking God’s forgiveness for sins which he never intended to stop committing. He heard the Buddhists didn’t consider such behavior a sin. (He heard wrongly, but the “Buddhists” he knew were, like Christianists, just adopting a form of Buddhism instead of the Buddha’s actual teachings.) So he decided that was the religion for him, and switched easily. People can adapt to any religion when it lets us worship our real gods.

    In the case of Jesus’s students who bailed on him, they couldn’t handle his teaching about the bread of life. Jn 6.32-59 They were too materialistic. They only thought of what Jesus could give them, and Jesus’s metaphors made ’em realize he was talking some serious commitment. Didn’t take much to trigger their crisis of faith, for they had very little faith to begin with, and weren’t willing to push through it with Jesus. They just left.

    We can’t think like that. We have to determine now, once and for all: No matter what the Spirit puts us through, we’re with him. We’re committed. Our relationship with God is for better or worse, not just better. For richer or poorer, not just richer. In sickness and in health, not just health. Yeah, it’s exactly like marriage. The church is the bride of Christ, remember? We have to be just as committed. More, considering how easy our culture finds it to divorce.

    What shakes, and what doesn’t.

    I live in California, and we get earthquakes. (So does Israel.) So I know a little something about earthquake-proofing your buildings. You don’t achieve this by building on a firm foundation. When the ground shakes, so does the foundation; doesn’t matter how firm it is. Only those who live outside earthquake country would write worship songs about “how firm a foundation… is laid for your faith.”

    Certain parts of the building are designed to stay standing. They may shake. That’s okay, so long that when the shaking’s over, the building stays up. The ancients knew this, and based their buildings’ stability not on foundations, but on various solid, stable stones. We call ’em cornerstones.

    Nowadays our buildings are made with a wood and steel framework. (One which shakes, but stays up, in an earthquake.) So cornerstones tend to be ceremonial. But not so in Jesus’s day. And it’s why cornerstones were so important. When Paul wrote this:

    Ephesians 2.19-22 KWL
    19 So then you’re no longer foreigners and strangers.
    Instead you’re fellow citizens of saints. Family members of God.
    20 Constructions on the foundation of the apostles and prophets—
    Christ Jesus being the foundation wall himself.
    21 In Christ the whole building fits together, growing into a holy temple, by the Master.
    22 In Christ you’re also built together into a dwelling-place for God, by the Spirit.

    notice who’s in the most stable position. It‘s not the apostles and prophets—the folks who wrote the bible, so most folks tend to skip over any apostles and prophets currently leading our churches, and point to the bible. Fine; point to the bible. It is the foundation of our faith; they’re not wrong. But useful as the bible is, it’s not bible. It’s Christ. I live in earthquake country. The foundation won’t keep a shaking building up. The framework, the foundation walls, the cornerstone, does. Christ does.

    I point this out ’cause when we Christians have our crises of faith, fellow Christians tell us to turn to the scriptures: The bible has all the answers. But we discover, to our horror, it actually doesn’t. It tells us what God is like, and how he saved us. But the details we seek for our various crises: Often not in there. Don’t need to be. We’re supposed to trust God.

    We’re supposed to trust God despite our not having all the answers, despite his not always giving us answers. We’re meant to turn to him. But that’s not what we do. We’re told the bible has answers. So we scour the bible for ’em. And when we don’t find them, we get very, very frustrated—the bible won’t give us what we were promised!—and we despair, and quit.

    Or we try other routes. Find some Christian guru who knows all. We’ll try friends, or popular Christian books, or TV preachers—anyone who claims to have a solution. And y’know, they might. And might not. Maybe they went through a similar crisis, and the Spirit led ’em through it, so they have good advice. But maybe they turned to someone other than the Spirit, so they have rotten advice. Or maybe they’ve never been through your crisis—or any crisis, ’cause they turned Christianist long ago, so their only advice is, “Stop doubting. Just believe really hard.” You quench that Spirit. How dare he lead you into truth and stress you out like that.

    No, I’m not saying ditch our fellow Christians and try the go-it-alone route. Absolutely not. But we need to figure out who the trustworthy Christians are before our crises hit. Otherwise we’ll turn to anyone who tells us what we want to hear, rather than people whom we already know hear God.

    Refuse to accept simplistic, useless answers from Christians who deny their doubts, insist we should never doubt, and pretend they never doubt. Challenge the leaders of the church to deal with your serious questions—to stop watering down Christianity in the mistaken belief that just because the gospel is a simple idea, everything in Christendom is simple. Get real. That, too, is what the Spirit wants.

    Many Christians claim the faith crisis is a private, internal struggle, just between us and the Lord; just head to the prayer closet and pray it out. Bad idea. Go ahead and share your struggle with trusted Christians. Let ’em pray for you and with you. Let ’em encourage you; share some of their testimonies about how God got them through their faith crisis. ’Cause we all go through this, and if you hide your crisis you’ll never learn from their experiences.

    You’ll have fears. That’s normal. You’ll have doubts. Also normal. You’ll be tempted to pretend everything is just fine. Don’t do that. Don’t turn to hypocrisy. Don’t embrace sin instead of growth.

    Our cornerstone is Jesus. So when the bible and fellow Christians are of little help, the Spirit of Christ has every answer. Regardless of whether he shares those answers, we gotta trust him. Yes it’s hard. Particularly for those of us who like to have answers. But this is how we do it. Cling to Jesus and ride out the earthquake. Let him shake everything off you which needs to come off.