When Jesus catches us by surprise.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 May

1 Thessalonians 5.1-5.

Since Paul, Silas, and Timothy just finished writing about the rapture at Jesus’s second coming in the previous paragraph, Christians read today’s paragraph (or paragraphs; the Tyndale House Greek New Testament is pretty sure this is two) as if they’re still talking about it. And they kinda are. Because the apostles didn’t know when Jesus is returning—none of us do!—and for all they knew, the next big disaster might end with the second coming. Which might still be true. You don’t know. Neither do I. All we know is Jesus can return at any time.

Which the Thessalonians shoulda learned fairly quickly after they first followed Jesus. The apostles even write they’ve known it perfectly well. 1Th 5.2 When he returns, it won’t be predictable—no matter how often “prophecy scholars” try to predict it. It won’t be at a time we expect—no matter how often “prophecy scholars” say we should definitely expect it. It comes like a thief at night, and as Jesus said, if you know when a thief is coming, you wait up and catch him. Mt 24.43 You won’t catch Jesus. He catches us.

But, like a thief in the daytime, when he catches us by surprise, we can rally quickly.

1 Thessalonians 5.1-5 KWL
1 About times and moments, fellow Christians,
you’ve no need for us to write you:
2 You’ve known perfectly well the Lord’s Day comes like a thief at night—
3 when people might say, “Safe and secure,” and suddenly ruin comes upon them,
like contractions upon someone with a baby in the womb,
and they might not flee in time.
4 You, fellow Christians, aren’t in the dark,
so the day to you is like when a thief reaches in:
5 All of you are “children of light” and “children of daytime.”
Don’t be night, nor dark.

Now yes, we Christians have been waiting for the past 20 centuries for Jesus to return, ever since the angels first told his gawking students he was returning. Ac 1.10-11 He’s got his reasons for taking so long, but the students back then expected he’d return in their lifetimes. (And he did—but for them individually, when they died.) Christians have been waiting for him ever since.

Despite Jesus saying even he doesn’t know when he’ll return, Mk 13.32 and that the timing is none of our business anyway, Ac 1.7 many a Christian has definitely become fixated on when it’ll be. Some prophecy scholars, whom we call date-setters, have even picked specific dates and times: Jesus will return next Monday, or in two months, or on the eve of the next election, or whenever. They’re so fixated on their obsession, they’ve abandoned bible, as well as sense.

Even so, it’s not wrong to wonder when Jesus is coming back. The Thessalonians were. They were under persecution, and wanted to see some light at the end of the tunnel. So… could he come back this week? The next? Next month? Next year?

For that matter, how prepared ought we be for his return? Should I sell my house? Quit my job? Cash in my 401(k) and give it to the needy? Ditch any future travel plans? Move to the desert, wear nothing but white robes, and wait atop a mesa? Or should I just give up hope he’s ever returning in my lifetime. What’s the deal?

Family members and loved ones may turn on you.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 May

Mark 13.12-13, Matthew 10.21-22, Luke 21.16-18, John 16.2-3.

In Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, he warned his students of the tribulation they’d undergo. Not just the Romans destroying the temple, but how Christians would be persecuted.

It’s something the students needed to hear. Something all Christians need to hear. ’Cause the assumption most people would come to is when God’s on our side, we should never, ever suffer. Suffering’s for losers; for people who lack God. Our God’s a winner, so his followers oughta be winners—people who call down fire on their oppressors 1Ki 1.9-12 or when people just try to put ’em to death, God always supernaturally rescues ’em. Da 3.24-25, 6.19-22 It’s an assumption Christians still make: “I’m working for God, so he’ll keep me safe.”

God guarantees no such thing. The only thing he does guarantee is in this life, we have tribulation. Jn 16.33 Suffering happens. Happened to Jesus too. Imagining that the righteous, the obedient, “good people” don’t suffer: That’s karmic thinking, not reality. In real life, good people die all the time. The universe doesn’t sort everything out; the universe is meaningless, and bad people will sometimes prevail.

So Jesus wasn’t gonna fill his students’ heads with ridiculous happy thoughts. He leveled with them: Bad stuff’s gonna happen to Jerusalem. Bad stuff’s gonna happen to you. They can’t handle who I am, and that you follow me. At some point they’ll come for you. And your family and friends might side with them, not you.

Or as Jesus puts it:

Mark 13.12-13 KWL
12 “And a brother will hand over a brother to death;
and a father his child,
and children will turn against parents and have them put to death.
13 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
One who lasts till the end: This person will be saved.”
 
Matthew 10.21-22 KWL
21 “And a brother will hand over a brother to death;
and a father his child,
and children will turn against parents and have them put to death.
22 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
One who lasts till the end: This person will be saved.”
 
Luke 21.16-18 KWL
16 “And you’ll also be handed over by parents, siblings, relatives, and friends.
They’ll put some of you to death.
17 You’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.
18 Or they might not destroy a hair of your head.
19 Gain your lives by your endurance.”
 
John 16.2-3 KWL
“They’ll make you excommunicants from their synagogues.
But the hour comes when everyone who kills you
might think it’s to offer service to God.
3 They’ll do these things because they don’t know the Father, nor me.”

There’s a rapture, and it’s no secret.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 April

From the first chapter of Left Behind, the 1995 End Times novel by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

“People are missing,” she managed in a whisper, burying her head in his chest.

He took her shoulders and tried to push her back, but she fought to stay close. “What do you m—?”

She was sobbing now, her body out of control. “A whole bunch of people, just gone!”

“Hattie, this is a big plane. They’ve wandered to the lavs or—”

She pulled his head down so she could speak directly into his ear. Despite her weeping, she was plainly fighting to make herself understood. “I’ve been everywhere. I’m telling you, dozens of people are missing.”

“Hattie, it’s still dark. We’ll find—”

“I’m not crazy! See for yourself! All over the plane, people have disappeared.”

“It’s a joke. They’re hiding, trying to—”

“Ray! Their shoes, their socks, their clothes, everything was left behind. These people are gone!”

They’ve already made two silly movies based on this book. Both depict this chapter: In the middle of a cross-country flight, where it’d be impossible for 100 people to simply disappear, they do. With no warning. No fanfare. No nothing. One moment they’re in their seats; the next they’re gone, with clothes, jewelry, pacemakers, and artificial knees left behind.

The same thing happens in various Christian-produced End Times movies as well. Though not always with the clothes and bric-a-brac left where they last stood. It’s pretty much only LaHaye and Jenkins who had the idea everybody was gonna appear in heaven butt naked.

(But the idea of leaving behind all the inorganic material? I’m not sure they entirely thought out how far this oughta go. If they left behind pins and stents, why not tattoo ink? The meds they last took? The alcohol they last drank? The food additives in their stomachs? The urine in their bladders?)

Well, a mysterious unexplained vanishing is certainly dramatic. But it’s not consistent with the scriptures. At all. Do I have to repeat this? Fine: At all.

Remember when Jesus got raptured?

Acts 1.9-11 KJV
9 And when [Jesus] had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10 And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11 which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.

Our rapture is gonna resemble Jesus’s rapture. And he didn’t get naked on the way up.

Nor was it invisible; they watched him go. Nor all that secret; he told ’em he was gonna go.

But y’know, the secret rapture idea is far more dramatic. And frightening. Deliberately meant to be frightening.

Imagine you’re a little kid who grew up hearing these scenarios of a secret rapture, and you firmly believe that’s what happens next: All the Christians disappear, followed by a worldwide tribulation. So one day you’re at home, and you notice you’re all alone. Nobody’s around when you thought they’d be. And for just a moment—in brief but great terror—you wonder whether Jesus raptured the rest of the family… but not you. He left you behind.

More times than I can count, I’ve heard Christians share this very story. They panicked and thought, Did the rapture happen without me? Oh CRAP!

“Don’t you be left behind,” preachers warn ’em ominously. But is this actually how the rapture’s gonna work? Surprise, Jesus took away everybody you love, and it’s the great tribulation for you?

No.

The rapture. Yes, there is one.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 April

1 Thessalonians 4.15-18.

RAPTURE 'ræp.tʃər noun. Feeling of intense pleasure or joy.
2. Capture: The act of seizing and carrying off.
3. The transporting of Christian believers to meet with Christ Jesus [or, to heaven] at his second coming.
4. [verb.] Seizing and carrying off.
5. [verb.] To be taken up [to heaven] to meet with Christ.

A number of Christians don’t believe in the rapture—when the Son of Man appears in the clouds, and his followers meet him in midair. As is taught in today’s passage of scripture, in 1 Thessalonians 4. Yeah, it’s in the bible, but they still don’t believe in it; they don’t take this passage literally. Nor do they interpret it in any way where it loosely represents what’s gonna happen in future. They simply don’t believe in it.

Largely because their churches don’t teach it. Their favorite preachers proclaim an End Times scenario which doesn’t include any rapture. The End of Days theory, fr’instance: The world ends, or we otherwise die, and we go straight to heaven. (Or not.) There’s no rapture in that storyline. Maybe the near-death experience stories of “going towards the light” represents some kind of rapture… but they won’t say “rapture”; they don’t wanna give people the wrong idea.

Then there are the Christians who do believe in the rapture. I’m one of ’em.

Nope, we don’t all agree about what it’ll look like. Most of us take our cues from the bible… but a number of us tweak that image after we pull it from the bible. Tweak it a lot.

Darbyists, fr’instance. Their “prophecy scholars” claim it’ll be secret. We won’t meet Jesus when “the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven,” Mt 24.30, Lk 21.27, Da 7.13 because his second coming happens at the very end of their timeline. But the rapture happens before the very end, at either the beginning or the middle of their timelines. At that point, years before Jesus returns, we Christians will quietly, immediately, mysteriously, vanish. That’s how they claim the rapture will work: It’s a secret rapture.

In the “Left Behind” novels, their depiction of this secret rapture gets downright stupid. All the Christians vanish… and leave behind their clothes, jewelry, and implants like pacemakers and saline breasts; apparently Jesus only wants us buck naked. (’Cause he’ll clothe us, Rv 6.11 but it still comes across as super creepy… and a little pervy.) Oh, and not just Christians: Every child below the age of accountability gets raptured too, ’cause Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Oh, and that includes unborn babies: He raptures ’em straight out of their mothers’ wombs—horrifying every pregnant pagan.

Most Christians consider this the looney-bin version of the End, and wanna distance ourselves from it. But some of us go too far in the other direction: Yeah, the Darbyist secret rapture idea is unbiblical, but they’ll claim the rapture itself is unbiblical too. But like I said, today’s passage teaches it, so that’s not so.

And finally there’s the ignorant category. About a decade ago I ran into some guy who claimed because the word “rapture” isn’t in the bible, there’s no rapture. Following his reasoning, God’s not a trinity either, ’cause the word “trinity” likewise isn’t in the scriptures. But whether “rapture” is in the bible, entirely depends on how you translate the Greek word ἁρπαγησόμεθα/arpagisómetha. The KJV went with “shall be caught up,” and I went with “will be raptured.” ’Cause that’s what rapture means: Seized (by the Holy Spirit) and carried off. Or, in this case, up.

1 Thessalonians 4.15-18 KWL
15 We told you this in the Master’s teaching:
We who remain alive at the Master’s second coming should not precede the “sleepers.”
16 The Master himself, with a shout, with the head angel’s voice, with God’s trumpet,
will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will be resurrected first.
17 Then we who remain alive, at the same time as they, will be raptured into the clouds,
to meet the Master in the air: Thus we will always be with the Master.
18 So assist others with these teachings!

Rapture has the sense of a thief swiping a purse: We’ll be ripped from the earth like a waxer rips the hair off a pair of furry legs. From there we join our King’s invading army before he even touches down. We’re part of his procession, as he takes possession of the world he conquered centuries ago.

That’s the general idea. Of course different Christians believe different specifics.

You’ll be persecuted. Get ready to not defend yourself.

by K.W. Leslie, 25 April

Mark 13.9-11, Matthew 10.17-20, Luke 12.11-12, John 14.26.

After Jesus said the temple’d come down, his students wanted to know what that looked like, so Jesus gave the Olivet Discourse. How the Romans would destroy the temple in the great tribulation. And while he was at it, how Christians would be persecuted too—advice we’ve used throughout the Christian era, because we’ve been persecuted since the beginning. In many parts of the world, still are.

As a result a number of Christians are steeling ourselves for it. “When they come for me, here’s what I’m gonna do.” And many Americans are planning to do some pretty violent things. Simon Peter with a machete type things. They got their gun stockpiles. They got their armor-piercing bullets and 50mm rounds. Peter only cut off an ear; they’re planning to mow down as many cops and soldiers as they can. Even though many of ’em claim they “love” our police, “love” our troops. Sure, when politically convenient. But those sentiments will turn on a dime.

As for those Christians who don’t have a murdery side, a number of us are already planning our ἀπολογία/apología, our defense. It’s the root-word of apologetics, the study and practice of “defending the faith,” by which they really mean arguing with antichrists. I spent a lot of time studying Christian apologetics because I likewise wanted to verbally spar with people who reject Jesus; I ignored Jesus’s instructions to shake the dust off my feet over them, Mt 10.14 because being argumentative is way more fun. And fleshly, but let’s just pretend it’s not; that it’s spiritual warfare instead.

What did Jesus actually teach about defending ourselves? When, after religious hypocrites take over our states and get ’em to turn against compassionate followers of Jesus, they haul us before the person or people in charge, to condemn us for promoting Jesus’s kingdom instead of their “Christian nation”now what do we do?

Well, some of us have speeches prepared. Something like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” although not as eloquent. Some kind of personal testimony, or defense of our rights, or defense of Christianity. Something where we stand up for Jesus on just such an occasion. Not quite the same as when we share Jesus with strangers, because this is a hostile audience, so we’re prepared to be just a little hostile right back. Although depending on the Christian, we’re either trying really hard not to… or we’ve ditched the passive aggression and we’re gonna be full-on aggressive.

But if we’re legitimately trying to follow Jesus instead of venting our own spleen, perhaps we oughta read what Jesus teaches his students to do.

Spiritual morons: Christians who won’t grow up.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 April
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

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

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

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.

Why skipping church messes us up.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 April

Whenever I share Jesus with people, most of the time I discover they’re Christian. Or at least they imagine they’re Christian.

In the United States, most folks have had some exposure to Christianity. Some of us grew up churchgoers. Others said some version of a sinner’s prayer at one point in our lives. Others had Christian parents, or were baptized, or attend Easter and Christmas services and figure that’ll do. People figure they believe in Jesus and that’s all it takes to make ’em Christian. Confess, believe, and we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Right?

So by this metric they figure they’re Christian. They believe in Jesus. Following him is a whole other deal. They’re not religious. They’re “spiritual,” as they define spiritual, which usually means imaginary—’cause like I said, they imagine they’re Christian. Their Christianity wholly exists in their heads. You’d be hard-pressed to find it elsewhere in their lives, but it’s in their heads at least—and somebody’s assured them it counts if it only exists in their heads. Or “in your heart,” which they figure means their feelings—which are still only in their heads.

So to them, Christianity’s how they feel about Jesus. Not what they do for him. Not following him. They don’t. Or they’ll do the bare minimum to feel Christian: They pray every so often, and it won’t entirely be prayer requests, but some actual sucking up praise. They drop a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle.

As for going to church… well they don’t. Maybe on the holidays. ’Cause Sundays are their time. Their one day off; the one day of the week they get to sleep in, or have no obligations, or can get drunk during brunch. It’s “Sunday funday,” their weekly holiday.

Nobody’s ever explained to them that if “Christians” don’t go to church, it makes us heretic.

Seriously. Heretic. No, heretic doesn’t mean they’re going to hell; it only means they get God so wrong, it can be argued they’re not properly Christian. Contrary to what a lot of go-it-alone “Christians” imagine, there are valid standards for what makes us Christian; it’s called orthodoxy. Among these standards is “the communion of saints,” or the church. It’s in our creeds. True Christians deliberately interact with fellow Christians. And not just to have coffee or watch a game: For the purpose of encouraging one another to follow Jesus better, and to worship him together.

If we avoid the communion of saints—and it might sound like we have perfectly legitimate reasons—the cold hard fact is we’re heretic. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to go it alone. He ordered us to love one another. He made it a full-on command. It identifies us as his followers. Jn 13.34-35 When we won’t obey Jesus, we’re not followers. When we figure we can love one another just fine without ever intentionally coming together to do so… we can call ourselves Christian, but I seriously doubt Jesus recognizes us as such. Lk 6.46 And if he doesn’t identify us as his, Mt 7.21-23 we’re not.

Hey, somebody had to warn you. Better you hear this now, than when you stand before Jesus.