Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Perils of Older Faith

I was listening to a message the other day about some of the men in the Old Testament who started well but didn't always finish well. Solomon began strong, but turned away from the Lord because of his many foreign wives.  At the end of his life, David performed a census in direct disobedience and was punished.

Some men made bad decisions, like Hezekiah who showed all the treasure of Jerusalem to the representatives of Babylon. When he was told by the prophet Isaiah that Jerusalem would fall into ruin, his reaction is "as long as there is peace in my lifetime." Men who began well who fell away later in life.

This phenomenon is not just found in the scripture, but in history. We hear for evangelist, missionaries and pastors who begin well, but later in life turn from God and fall away. Some fall into temptation or sin, some have a crisis and some just walk away. I struggled to understand how men can experience God in amazing ways and then turn and walk away. How Israel can see God at work and then doubt and grumble and complain.

I started in ministry while I was in High School. I was excited and gung-ho. I went to college, I went to Seminary and I served in church. Time and the realities of life can be hard on a calling. It can be hard on a faith. It can cause lots of damage. I'm not in church work right now, even though I would love to be. I don't see it happening again anytime soon, probably never again in a local church setting. There are some things that happen in older faith, things I think we should all watch out for.

We say things like "if people make you lose faith in God, then your faith is in people" and that is true. Never the less, the church is the Body of Christ, it's the incarnational representation of Jesus on the earth. The Body of Christ in America needs a doctor, because it doesn't often listen to the head. Most churches run more like a business than a ministry. In church work, I was judged by my "business attire" and I was treated like an employee. Jesus told his disciples not to lord their authority of people, but people with authority in the church today act more like business leaders than disciples. Dealing with leaders who take the name of Christ but act like Donald Trump in the board room can hurt your faith. (Aside, I have some personal experience, but much of this critique is not from my experience alone, but many, many individuals I know who are no longer serving at the local church level because of these exact situations).

As we get older, we find more and more and more things that don't seem to make sense. I know that God is eternal and has understanding far beyond that I'll ever have. As I get older there is a statement I can intellectually combat but emotionally struggle with. "If God is all powerful, He cannot be all good, if He is all good, He cannot be all powerful". Of course this is referring to injustice and suffering in the world. On an intellectual level, I know this statement is crap. Suffering is essential, we must suffer. Job didn't fully understand God and therefore his relationship and worship was incomplete until he suffered. Without hurt and suffering, we would never mature. We would be selfish, prideful and lost. Suffering has a job, a purpose and a function and if God took away all suffering, he would be crippling mankind in so many ways.  That being said, I don't like it. I don't like pain, loss, hurting and things I don't understand. I don't like trying to explain to someone how illness, death and tragedy plays into a greater plan in life. It takes a toll.

The reality of constant criticism and judgement is hard to handle. We live in a world that will throw every stone at faith it can. People will tell you that Christians are judgmental, hypocritical, naive fairy-tale believers. The atheist will tell you how much of a joke your faith is, but if you mess up, screw up or do something wrong, you are going to get martyred. Satan will use every non-believer to mock you, tempt you, judge you and condemn you and it takes a toll on your faith. You can overcome, but it takes a toll.

What do we do about this issue? How do we overcome? First, it's important to not be arrogant and prideful. Saying ridiculous things like "I'm not going to lose my faith" or "i'm stronger than that" is just silly pride. I can promise that individuals who are strong, smarter and more faithful than you have stumbled. Don't believe me? Solomon was wiser, he built the temple, he was blessed by God and anointed king. He blew it. Are you better than Solomon? Oh, but you have the Holy Spirit? It doesn't take long to find a long list of men who started strong in ministry and fell away. Temptations, pain and doubt, suffering took it's toll.

Once we have some humility and realize that we have the ability to fall and walk away, we have to find a way to deal with it. The best way is to have some real friends. Most of us have church friends who are friends as long as we attend the same church. If you change churches, you end up changing friends. It's horrible and disgusting to realize that our relationships that are suppose to be the closest are so superficial. When I moved out of my parents home, I was still their son. If you leave a church, however, you are no longer part of the family. Toss those relationships to the back burner and find some real connections. People who will be there for you even if you move 1,000 miles away. That's not a made up number either, I lost relationships with people who live 5 miles from me when I changed churches, but guys 1,000 miles away from me still keep in contact, still invest in me and still care. Find friends like that.

Stay in the Word even with it's hard. When you are questioning God, questioning your faith and the promises its' easy to drop the Bible in the corner. Don't, keep in it. The Word is powerful and you need the power in your life. Do NOT substitute the Bible for Christian music and sermons and podcasts. They can talk about the Bible, but you need the Bible. I have found I have had to cut out a lot of Christian music and sit in silence in the car, because the lyrics at best are bad theology. Many are heretical garbage. Too much TBN influence. I don't care if you like Joel Olsteen, Joyce Meyer or Pat Robertson, it's bad teaching mixed with heresy.

Good friends, God's word, add to that lots of prayer. It's going to be hard, and you have to be honest on those days you don't want to pray. Those days I tell God that I'm mad and hurt. I hear all the little saying like "give it to God, turn over your anger and bitterness." Ya, that's a nice saying, but my anger and bitterness is stuck in my like a barbed fish hook. I can't just hand it over, I have to work it out. Ignore all the stupid, non Biblical platitudes that people make up, like "God won't give you more than you can handle" because they are not helpful. In the end, it will damage your faith more than help.

I'm knocking at the door to 40, meaning i've been saved for more than 30 years. I've had victory and tragedy, I've done great things and I have blown it, badly. I struggle with my faith more now than ever before. I have about 40 years left, give or take. I'm going to hold to my faith like a little kid holding to his mom's leg on the first day of preschool. I'm going to fight by admitting i'm weak, seeking help and being honest. I'm going to write things like this, risking the anonymous commenter is going to come on, pick out something I said and rebuke me, ignoring the bulk of the article. (When you find people like that, they are more in love with being right than with other believers. They are clanging cymbals). I'm a 40 year old ex-pastor who is struggling every day to keep with faith above water. I'm really out of things to lose, so maybe being honest and real and trying to help encourage you will be a blessing. Maybe God is letting me struggle a little more so I can help you struggle a little less.

Like Red Green says "I'm pulling for you, we're all in this together".

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