April 1, 2020

Looking For An Exit From The Journey With Jesus

John 6:60 Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”

61 Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again? 63 The Spirit alone egives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) 65 Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.”

66 At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. 67 Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” 68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

Have you ever come to a place where you wanted to say, “Let me off. I’m done?”

Maybe you were in a car with an 88 year old driver who shouldn’t have been driving anywhere, much less down an interstate.

Maybe you were about to get on an amusement park ride that you really didn’t want to ride.

Maybe you were going back for week two of a job that was not at all what you thought it would be.

You said to yourself- or to anyone else who would listen- “I think it’s time for me to quit.”

After listening to Jesus give what may have been his most intense, challenging and disturbing talk, it seems that some of Jesus’ disciples were ready to quit. “Eat my flesh and drink my blood” was their place to get off the bus.

We tend to think of the people who followed Jesus as an “easy sell.” They were sitting around, doing nothing, just waiting for a prophet or rabbi to show up so they could spend years following him. Like eager customers at a car dealership, they were ready to buy from minute one and never doubted.

I doubt that such a scenario is true. It’s more likely that many days ended with some of the disciples saying “I’ve had enough. I’m going home.” I imagine many late nights around the campfire were punctuated with one disciple talking another out of leaving, or arguments that ended in departures the next morning.

Why? The scriptures suggest to me at least three issues that may have caused some of Jesus’ followers to look for the next exit.

Some were frightened because of what they saw Jesus do. When Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples were terrified. We may think it was wonderful, but if you and I had been there, it’s likely we would have said, “If this is God, I don’t want to be around him.”

Some may have just heard enough of what they couldn’t believe. Jesus didn’t hesitate to put the choice to be a disciple in less than “attractional” language. He seemed to purposely offend with hard words to force a choice. We would be a bit silly to think that every disciple heard Jesus make statements about the decisive choice to suffer, go against family or embrace the cross and easily said “Yes. I choose that way.” Some certainly heard Jesus say “If anyone would come after me….” and said “I’m not coming after you any more.”

I especially think about the traumatic experience of having all your certainties about God, life, the Kingdom, the Messiah, scripture and the future exploded every day. Jesus relentlessly took on the certainties of religion and politics, redefining and reanimating them all with whole new meanings. This couldn’t have been easy. At times it must have sometimes been infuriating and depressing. Some would have said, “I don’t want my whole world turned upside down. I’m quitting.”

As evangelicals, we’re often blind to this segment of the people we relate to and communicate with. We are oriented to think that our witness is to people who are open to be convinced or are moving toward the truth. In fact, Jesus had many people move the other way as the truth about himself himself came clearer.

There are many in evangelicalism who are close to that same place. They are looking for the best time and place to quit. They are moving away from Jesus and away from those who believe in and say they follow Jesus. We often write these people off as “quitters” or we simply don’t admit their existence. But they are there. Sometimes they are a son, daughter or close friend. Sometimes, it’s been some of us.

Why are they thinking that it’s time for them to “get off” the evangelical/Christian journey?

1. They can’t believe in the God we’ve told them about any more.

2. They can’t live the Christian life as it’s been presented to them.

3. They don’t want to be like the Christians they see and many they know.

4. They tried “it” and “it” didn’t work.

5. They’ve thought about it, and something other than Christianity makes more sense for the moment.

Many Christians would immediately present arguments, apologetics and a pile of reasons to these people.

Jesus gives an interesting response.

In John 6:61-62, Jesus says, “If you are offended now, you haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until you get the big picture of who I am.”

His offensive words about flesh and blood would soon be overtaken by the resurrection and the ascension. A puzzling and mysterious Jesus would be replaced by a world overcoming/world transcending Jesus.

Jesus says all our objections are ultimately dwarfed by the truth of who he really is. It’s not that our objections and reasons to quit are irrational. They simply can’t compare to the truth that is so much greater than any of our questions, objections and even rejections.

Peter says, “Yes, it’s difficult sometimes, but where else and to whom else can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Where else can we go is a great response. It’s honest and authentic. It doesn’t make Christianity a game of “How many questions can be answered?” No, it’s a matter of WHO Jesus is, and despite the mystery, the challenge, the intimidation and the difficulty, who else comes to us as God on earth, with the words of eternal life?

In the story of the prodigal son, both boys learn that the Father’s love and grace are greater than what stands in the way of understanding him. The Father’s love and grace to the wasteful son overwhelms his sin and his religious plan to get back in the family. The Father’s love and grace is greater than the moralistic, legalistic system of reward that the older son thought guaranteed him his place in the family.

The Father was greater than all that they brought to the table. In the end, they were left not with answers to their questions, but a Father whose love and purpose to save couldn’t and wouldn’t fail.

For all those who are looking for the next place to “get off” the path of following Jesus and/or being a Christian, their is no list of answers. There is only one who overwhelms all questions and answers; one to whom we ultimately say “Even with all my objections and reservations, where else could I go, Jesus, except to you.”

I realize it seems a bit devotional to say that Jesus is the answer to all those reasons to “quit.” I’m not naive. I’m expounding scripture, and that may have already hit the trash bin. I’m giving my own testimony- Jesus is all that keeps me on board these days- and that isn’t everyone’s story. I realize all of this.

But I do think that sometimes it’s not at all the court case we make a spiritual divorce out to be. Sometimes the answer is simply coming to know that there is One who, as love himself, makes all the questions move back a few rows so our faith can have a place to sit.

I pray that many will stay with the journey a while longer, and learn that a Jesus shaped faith contains one whose great grace overturns our hurts and fears.

Comments

  1. Beautiful, Michael. Evangelicalism has become, “Jesus and . . .” Unfortunately, the “And” has quickly overwhelmed Jesus in our faith and we begin to wonder what we are doing all of this for. It has become unsophisticated to say that Jesus is the one we are looking for, but He really is. Christ alone. The flesh does not want to hear that. It seems like foolishness, or a stumbling block. But, it is true. “He is before all things and in him all things hold together.”

    Thanks for the encouragement, Michael. Jesus is the essence and ground of our faith.

  2. Jesus told the parable of the man who found a great treasure buried in a field and went and sold all that he had in order to buy that field, and when He had bought it he rejoiced.

    Monk,
    I really appreciate how you question and attack glibness, broad across-the-board statements and ideas that we Evangelicals often hold.

    I appreciate how you prod and encourage us to think in more nuanced and subtle ways about these issues. Quite simply, you prod us to think Biblically.

    You are so right, though, that often times we think that one solution or explanation fits every situation of “spiritual divorce”.

    This is was a great article, but sobering.
    Thanks

  3. Pointing out Jesus’ response to that list was something I appreciated. I would be tempted to be one of those people presenting piles of arguments. Thanks.

  4. Couldn’t sleep so here I am, marveling that you find the time to keep pouring yourself into this. You really must explain how you do it; I frankly am in awe.

    A few months ago, the light came on and I gave up theology for Jesus. I’ve never been happier or more afraid.

    Peace

  5. Christopher Lake says

    Parsifal,

    I’m wondering what you mean when you say “I gave up theology for Jesus.” How is theology at odds with Jesus? The most basic, defining statement about Jesus (such as “Jesus is the divine Son of God”) is a statement *filled* with theological content.

  6. Amazing timing. I just finished reading Mark 8:34 and a commentry on it only 2 hrs ago. I squirmed in my chair like you wouldnt believe, prayed for mercy and forgiveness and a changed heart. I’m a terrible follower, but like Peter: Where else do I go? Thanks for the encouragement.

  7. for some who work full-time on church staff ministry and want to quit – is it really “quitting” to leave a chuch position? each has a spiritual gift and can do ministry In or not in a “ministry” job.

    this is what i’ve been considering lately.

    any thoughts?

  8. Well it’s certainly not quitting Jesus!

    Church staff is hard. I always encourage folks to persevere, but don’t let any church experience destroy your faith.

    peace

    ms

  9. Mark Borzillo says

    I get a little put off by the continued use of the word ‘evangelical(ism)’. I know that true Christians are supposed to be evangelical. But I’d like to avoid the tag as if we’re some sort of variant of Christianity. We’re simply true followers of Christ. I cringe every time I hear the pope referred to as the ‘head of the Christian church’ just like I cringe when I hear true followers referred to as evangelicals. That immediately conjures up a negative image of Christianity. But then again so does Jesus’ name. I can be having an innocent conversation about ‘God’ but when I mention Jesus, look out, people run! Let us hold each other up in prayer. It’s so sad to see brothers/sisters drift from fellowship.
    Mark

  10. @Mark: I know that true Christians are supposed to be evangelical.

    If you’re going to take exception to the use of the word “evangelicalism” then I think it’s a little unfair to use the term “true Christian”, in that it’s just as much a shallow label (in my humble opinion) than “evangelicalism”. The term itself, is, from my understanding, a sort of way of defining the various issues Michael talks about on this blog (the Culture War, Prosperity Gospel, the Entertainment-Driven Church, Christian Consumerism, etc.) that are arguably problematic in Christendom today. Of course there’s some good to be found in what’s going on in that tumult. It’s important to have a good perspective in all of it.

    Which is why it really turns me off when I see things like “true Christians should believe in/do/subscribe to/read/listen to X”. There are a core set of things all Christians believe in and try to follow and apply. I don’t see why we as human beings feel the need to add on top of that. The ultimate example of this are the “Real True Christians (RTC)” that Fred Clark talks about on Slacktivist: in their eye, you’re not a “true Christian” unless you believe zealously in Premillenial Dispensationalism.

    Sorry if I’m sounding confrontational, I really didn’t mean to be; it just got me going on something I was thinking about this morning.

  11. Peter’s response has been ringing very true to me lately. I have considered “jumping ship” but Jesus is just to compelling to me. “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

    Thanks iMonk for sharing what God put on your heart…

    Peace

  12. “True Christians” yeah. I don’t like looking at humanity as either saved or unsaved, Christian or nonChristian,even if the distinction is a real one. The subdivisions never seem to end.

    Once you’ve divided humanity into Christian or non, then you have to keep subdividing it into true Christian or fake, and then Christi-like or un Christlike, and I don’t want the burden of having to do that. it is hard to avoid though, since it always crops up in any Christian discussion.

    I used to think John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ was a corny song but now I think it reflects what I wish as well, an end to always having to draw lines in the sand.

  13. Prodigal Daughter says

    There is only one who overwhelms all questions and answers; one to whom we ultimately say “Even with all my objections and reservations, where else could I go, Jesus, except to you.”

    Thanks for posting this, iMonk. This is EXACTY how I feel and almost verbatim the thought that crossed my mind as I drifted to sleep a few nights ago…Glad to know I’m not the only one.

  14. Is not this at least part of the fruit of watering down the gospel to a transaction of saying a prayer and being told that you will go to heaven when you die and preaching on “6 Easy Steps to whatever?” It is hard to follow Jesus in life, very hard, but as Peter and countless others have asked, “Lord, to whom would we go?”

  15. There is only one who overwhelms all questions and answers; one to whom we ultimately say “Even with all my objections and reservations, where else could I go, Jesus, except to you.”

    much the same way that if I want my car registered, I have no where else to go but to the DMV, because that is the only option. my only other option is to refuse to get my car registered and then suffer the consequences when I’m pulled over. Or, choose to believe that the DMV is merciful and loving and will forgive me for not getting my car registered.

    Sorry if this comes across as sarcastic, but I’m trying to dig deeper into what you wrote; i.e., Jesus is the only option.

    How does a person feel or react when there is only one real option?

    For me, it is a grudging acceptance and resignation. So for me, I feel like God exists – but I’m not happy about it, anymore than I’d be happy that the DMV exists. He is something I just have to deal with, because if I don’t, then the consequences would be worse. To me, he is like the lesser of two evils. he is fire insurance. no one LOVES their insurance comapny, they are just something we have to have.

  16. “Following Jesus is hard”

    a lot of Christians say this with the pride of some kind of elite member of the marines or something.

    I’m no masochist so I’m not attracted to this kind of thinking.

    The converse is also true – “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

    Some people like a challenge, for them, the hard road of Christianity appeals to them.

    others are stressed and burdened. For them, the easy and light yoke is what they find appealing.

    I think in the end, we are all weak and the promise of ease and peace will be the appeal that wins out over the appeals to being one of the few who can travel the hard road, I think those believers who pride themselves on being one of the proud, the few, the true Christians are actually displaying a false bravado.

  17. A couple of quotes come to mind:

    Romans 3:4: “Let God be true though every man be false.”

    John Stott: “Hostile to the church, friendly to Jesus Christ.” (Opening line in the preface to Basic Christianity, in which Stott describes much of the same feeling that iMonk does.)

    To iMonk: I have been reading your blog since the Christian Science Monitor article about your theory of the coming collapse of evangelicalism. Assuming you are correct (and that this isn’t merely your 15 minutes of fame), what form of Christianity, if any, will replace it? Should we fear the demise of evangelicalism and move to protect it? Or, should we fall back on Romans 3:4 and let God be true, and we to him, regardless of the form of religion around us?

    I don’t fear the demise of evangelicalism–if it’s really coming–as long as Christ remains central. I think John Stott understood, as we should, that God allows us to be hostile to the church (for a time) and at the same time friendly to Jesus Christ. Let’s remember, however, that we are the church, so let’s not let the sun go down very many times on our hostility (ouch. Did I just mix this with a previous iMonk post?).

  18. Christopher Lake: Giving up theology means giving up the intraChristian debates that lead nowhere. Just felt like all the sturm and drang about inerrancy, abortion, gay marriage, premill/postmill did nothing to help others, or me, repent and believe the gospel.

    Jesus, being resurrected, being alive, commanding that I obey and follow him, is enough. But Chrisitans (especially Calvinists like me) seem to have an insatiable appetite for theological debate. Not that theology is intrinsically bad. In one sense, how can one not love to think about God and his Word?

    But I didn’t become a Christian because I knew the bible was a perfect text in the original autographs or that Revelation 20 means this rather than that. It was the Holy Spirit, first and last. Having begun with the Spirit, my use of theology had me moving back to the flesh. So I’m trying to keep theology in perspective and let nothing get in the way of loving God and loving my neighbor through God’s grace. It’s Jesus that makes that possible.

  19. @ Tim:

    Thanks so much for your comments. Its so nice to see your perspective.

    The problem with the “easy and light” Jesus is that verse is not in context. And I can tell you for sure that the only road in truly following Christ is one of great inner struggle and difficulty. **John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble…”

    So… why make that choice? Paul describes the journey with Christ as one of “dying to self” so that Christ might live. From what I’ve heard, dying in any way is no fun… especially a death that is slow and painful. The theologian Bonhoeffer said it like this, “Jesus bids you come and die”, and we are challenged to pick up our cross. If I KNOW that following him is going to (from a secular perspective…) suck, then why would I make that choice?

    My only answer… Because I have come to believe (mostly through my experience…) that Jesus is who he says he is, and that he is ALIVE. We can argue theology all day long, but when it comes down to it, faith is a matter of the heart not the head.

    I think our culture, in its affluence, has to present a safe, “easy to follow” Jesus because, like you said, who wants to choose difficulty? Why do you think Jesus said that it is difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven?

    People who aren’t sick do not need a doctor… And from our perspective, WE’RE NOT SICK. We meet all of our own needs, so why do we need Him? We are so self-reliant…

    Belief is not stated with words; it is lived in actions.

    The only thing I can say is that once you KNOW Him, and have experienced His love and grace, all you can do is echo the sentiment of the disciples in saying, “Where else can we go, Jesus?”

    In His kindness God presses us into the mold of Christ (Romans 8), and leads us into a like mind with Him. When you know his heart, you can trust his hand… You can trust Him even when you know you are choosing difficulty.

    Honestly, I don’t see how anyone could say that choosing Christ is choosing a life of ease. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that choosing Him makes me some kind of hero.

    It simply means, like the disciples, that I have come to a point that I can’t deny who He says that He is! I want to follow Him because of his great love for me; because of his kindness and mercy… because HE IS GOD!

    I don’t think we are trying to be brave at all…

    Do you think that the Christians that were fed to the lions under Nero were trying to display their bravery?

    They weren’t brave; they were convinced.

    Bless You!

    Joe

  20. I am one of those who left Christianity. I was a fairly active Catholic for years. I was knowledgeable about the faith, even have a minor in Theology from Loyola University.

    I left around 2004 when the rhetoric became quite intense about how you couldn’t be a Catholic and vote for certain candidates became pronounced. I found that highly offensive to my beliefs in free elections, consent of the governed, etc.

    So I left the Catholics, and found the Episcopalians. There I found the issue of being in a communion of saints with those who not only oppose homosexuality but wanted to see gay folk imprisoned to be intolerable. Plus at that time, I became aware that there were parts of the Epistles of Paul that were really played down in my particular TEC church. No blame to them, I’d play them down too. It occurred to me that if I wouldn’t listen to a modern preacher talk about women and wives in that manner, why let Paul get a pass? Just because something’s old doesn’t make it right. And it seemed hypocritical to accept something as Scripture, but not only not believe it but actively oppose it.

    So I went searching for a Christian gathering that rejected the letters of Paul. Didn’t find one.

    So I left Christianity all together and went searching for something else. I found it in … Judaism! Specifically the Reform branch of Judaism. Now, I’ll admit it’s not a usual conversion story. And I was helped by that minor in Theology which included a year of Hebrew. Also my father is Jewish so there is family support as well. I struggle, I’ll admit, with halakha, especially with the dietary laws (I do like a cheeseburger now and again), but I’m certainly more at peace.

    Why Reform Judaism works better for me probably has to do with the fact that this stream of Judaism arose out of the Enlightenment, which also caused those same underlying philosophies I mentioned earlier (consent of the governed, universal rights of man…) to arise. So there is no internal conflict between my religion and my underlying beliefs.

  21. Jesus basically says … if you cannot handle being on my team, I really do not want you to join at all

  22. This was a powerful post for me. Thank you. =)

    Matt Dowling

  23. cermak_rd, I agree that the rhetoric about “You can’t say you’re really a Catholic if you vote for…” got blown way out of proportion in certain quarters.

    However, what puzzles me is that you would have been quite happy to join somewhere that dumped *all* the Pauline Epistles for the sake of the parts you didn’t like, yet you say that you’re content to follow the dietary laws when you’d prefer a cheeseburger (yes, I realise you meant that part in a light-hearted way).

    Why not have a cheeseburger if you want one? The notion of the Messiah having come is too binding for your free conscience, but adhering to the laws of fasting is not?

    Mind-boggled, here.

  24. Not to be forgotten is the context of this passage. The “hard saying” is this:

    “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”

    It is precisely at the Lord’s Supper that we learn to cling to Jesus’ words as the “words of eternal life,” as hard as eating His flesh and drinking His blood are to our reason and sensibilities.

  25. It’s not a law of fasting. It’s a law of kashrut, or keeping kosher. There are many dietary laws. Most I don’t have a problem with, for instance, I am NOT a blood pudding fan, so not eating blood…not a problem for me. However, others such as no shellfish (I like crab legs) and no mixing of meat and dairy (like my beloved cheeseburger), I struggle with. I try to follow them, but I do occasionally fall off the wagon.

    The difference is, that keeping a certain diet is just a discipline. It’s something I can do. I don’t think it’s tenable for me to claim a religion that clashes with some of my other underlying beliefs.

  26. ProdigalSarah says

    68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

    Peter could say this because he had become rooted in Christ.

    If a plant is rooted in the ground, what can it do but stretch its leaves up toward the sun and rain. This is its only choice even when there is drought or hard winds.

    I think many who grow up in church aren’t really rooted in Christ. We may become rooted in doubt or fear, alienation or resentment. Sometimes even hostility. Somehow we must get ourselves unrooted from those things before we can become firmly rooted in Christ. Sometimes this may mean leaving a particular church. Unfortunately, it sometimes means going away completely and squandering ones energy and creativity on things that have no real meaning. (A story I know too well)

    Being rooted in things like fear or resentment is like being rooted in dry desert sand that cannot nourish spiritual roots. Over time the roots shrivel.

    Being rooted in Christ means being rooted in spiritual nourishment, a living nutrient-rich water. The roots grow deeper and stronger, even though the leaves are pruned and we are never entirely sure where this is all headed.

    Roots do not sprout and grow spontaneously. The first root to touch the living water may be thinner than a hair. But so long as it stays in contact with the living water, it will grow.

    We need churches that are like gardeners, not only sowing seed but helping to guide the roots toward spiritual nourishment. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” If you lift a small plant out of the ground and turn it upside down, the taproot could be seen as the vine, all the other roots branching off. They must have the taproot to survive.

    I fear that many churches believe they ARE the spiritual nourishment, themselves. Then people become rooted in the church, not in Christ. That is the time to leave the church and become re-rooted. IMO.

  27. Theophilus says

    @Parsifal

    Good for you. I pray that God give you the grace to stay relevant to this lost and dying world, and that He make you an example for others in the maze of “Theology.” The person of Jesus Christ is the only ligitimate draw of a church.

    I put Theology in quotation marks because real Theology should produce the same reaction as the 24 elders succum to when they repeatedly kneel before the throne overwhelmed by God.

  28. Parsifal, “Jesus, being resurrected, being alive, commanding that I obey and follow him, is enough.”

    Having begun with the Spirit, my use of theology had me moving back to the flesh. So I’m trying to keep theology in perspective and let nothing get in the way of loving God and loving my neighbor through God’s grace.”

    Congratulations! I think you won Calvinism.

    You’re one of a handful of people I’ve ever heard of to say, as a Calvinist, that believing is more important than Calvinism’s theological insistences. Way to move on with your life.

  29. Good stuff, Michael. Keep at it.

    Brad

  30. Gertrude, there is not a one of us who has been in ministry for years who has not thought of leaving it all behind, including myself. Sometimes, ministry is hard enough that we get like Jonah, “OK, Lord, kill me now and be done with it [loose paraphrase].” Or we end up like Elijah, just wanting a sign that God is still around and is listening to us. We would be happy if we had an experience similar to Elijah on the mountain, where in the deep silence the Lord comes and gives us a renewed sense of purpose.

    At the same time we are often like St. Paul, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” On the one hand, we must preach (or be involved in the ministry to which the Lord has called us) on the other hand we simply cannot continue as we are. We can feel the rope fraying that we are hanging on to and we know something is going to break inside of us soon.

    I do not know your situation, but like iMonk I can tell you that it is not necessarily wrong to leave it. Because we are human, there are ministry situations that have damaging dynamics. Moreover, there is a significant difference between your personal calling and a ministry situation. They are not the same thing at all.

    And, so, if I might give some advice:

    1. Take a two or three day private retreat. Go off somewhere, be by yourself, do not take friends or family. Take some time to think about who you are and what you want. Take time for prayer and reflection. Ask the Lord Jesus for answers.

    2. Go talk to a friend who is NOT involved in the situation. Choose one who is known for their wisdom and who would also be willling to speak honestly and truthfully to you. Seek their advice. See what insights they have. In my circles, that is called spiritual direction.

    3. If the inner conflict is strong enough, go talk to a professional Christian counselor who is NOT involved in the situation. I consider a good counselor to be one of the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given to us. There are times when we need to be willing to use one.

    iMonk, this was a very good post. The only thing I would have added is what I just did. Even the apostles wondered about leaving. St. Peter denied Jesus three times. St. Thomas doubted. Priests and pastors also will find themselves looking for an exit from the journey with Jesus.

  31. Sometimes I think there are special devils that take up residence in churches, or anywhere people want to find Christ (Mark 1.39, Luke 4.33). How could it be otherwise?

    I got to the place where I didn’t want to talk to anyone about Christ for fear that they’d accept His Lordship, come to church, and end up as miserable as I was.

    But the Church is the only game in town. “Christians” who think the Church is optional are very very scary. No matter how slice’n’diced the Church gets, or how many barking lunatics you meet within her gates, or how many wannabe popes try to use her for their own ends, she remains “the city of the Great King” and “as beautiful as the morning, terrible as an army with banners”

    Chalcedon applies as much to the Body as to the Head.

  32. “The difference is, that keeping a certain diet is just a discipline. It’s something I can do. I don’t think it’s tenable for me to claim a religion that clashes with some of my other underlying beliefs.”

    This is the most revealing answer I’ve ever heard anyone reply with about why they didn’t want to follow Jesus anymore.

  33. Great post, Michael. I, too, found myself in that place of “I just want to get off.” And I, too, had to finally say, “Where else would I go?” Nothing else was right. And so I stayed, came back, however you want to look at it.

    I did get off the evangelical bus eventually and became Orthodox. And it’s not like things have been all rosebuds and butterflies since then, either. But the stories of people like Peter and Thomas and Paul, along with many saints through the ages, give me hope God will not count my many failures against me, but will count my “sticking around” as faithfulness. Tenacity I have. And I have the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And I know that I am loved by Him. Why would I want to go anywhere else?

  34. Michael,

    Absolutely beautiful. Despite the hype I was sold when I became a new believer and (to my shame) that I sold to others back when I wore the evangelical label, I’ve found on my own the truths that you present here. Jesus doesn’t try to sell us anything; if anything, a lot of what he does is to play a game of spiritual chicken.

    It’s a dreadful game, one where he comes roaring at us louder and larger all the time, in an effort to get us off the path. A lot of the time, we jump out of harm’s way, and he waits patiently for the game to start again. But every now and then, there’s someone who won’t veer out of the way, and the game goes the way chicken always must. There’s an accident as we collide with him in a soul-crashing tangle of faith and pain, unanswerable questions and a refusal to let go. It’s at that point that he knows that we really do belong to him, and the real journey of faith begins.

  35. Michael, this is the kind of post that I love from you. We get down to the very basics: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.”

    I was reading from Peter Kreeft’s website yesterday and at http://www.peterkreeft.com:80/topics/hauled-aboard.htm he talks about the Church being like Noah’s Ark, but he says the Ark of the Church is still afloat and anyone who wants on can jump on. I like that.

    WARNING: Kreeft is writing about how he went from Protestant to Catholic so anyone not wanting to read about that will do well to not go to that site. You have been warned! 😉

  36. Christi R says

    Michael – this was a great post. I often enjoy reading your posts, but this one hit particularly close for me today. I’m not an evangelical and the context for me is a little bit different than what you are talking about, but it comes down to the same thing. I’ve been struggling with my faith lately and with finding the right “place” for me to worship and get closer to God and strengthen my faith and it’s been a hard process. Harder than I would have imagined and I’ve thought several times that things were much easier for me when I was just trodding along not thinking about God a whole lot one way or the other. I’ve been tempted a lot lately to “exit my journey” to Jesus and go back to the way things used to be. In the end that isn’t what I really want and it won’t make me happy. Sometimes easy isn’t the best option. Anyway, thank you so much for this post. It helped out just when I needed it.

  37. iMonk,

    Lots of comments so far. Just know that this post was heaven sent, at least for me.

    God has used you in a mighty way to deliver a message I so needed to hear.

    I’m going to “link love” this next Friday.

    Thank you, Michael. God bless.

  38. cermak_rd, I think I should apologise for my tone. I came off harsher than I meant.

    I would greatly prefer that you be a Jew than an atheist; what I am curious about is how you left Christianity over Paul (as part of it). If your trajectory was along the lines of “I find these associated demands unScriptural; moreover, I find these attitudes repugnant and contradictory to the very beliefs they are supposed to be supporting, and in short, I cannot accept these claims” which then led you on to rejecting all the claims of Christianity – how did you come to keep some belief in the Creator?

    If “it seemed hypocritical to accept something as Scripture, but not only not believe it but actively oppose it”, in regards to how homosexuality or women’s rights were treated, how does that work in Judaism, where (I presume) the same Scriptural injunctions are accepted as part of Scripture? And if Reform Judaism can get around these prohibitions by softening the stance in a ‘that was then but this is now’ manner, why wasn’t the same attitude of “downplaying” in Episcopalianism acceptable?

    Please forgive me if I sound accusatory or dismissive; I’m just puzzled. I can understand coming to the conclusion that ‘it’s all a heap of nonsense, New and Old Testament together!’ and becoming an atheist; I can understand switching to something like Buddhism; but to move one step back – that’s odd to me.

  39. cermak_rd says

    Martha,

    No need to apologize, I didn’t read your posts as accusatory at all. I read them as the puzzlement you indicate. Like I said, I’m not your usual conversion story.

    Reform Judaism gets around much of the literalism of the Scriptures by not believing in them literally. It is recognized, as I learned in my Old and New Testament classes at Loyola, that the books were written by different people, in different times for different reasons and different audiences. So I needn’t, for instance, support some of the outright genocide mentioned in the Tanahk as coming from the Almighty. So far so good, I think TEC would agree with me here.

    A big difference is that Judaism has no concept of the Communion of Saints. Rabbinic Boards, yes, communion of saints, no, not really. A Jew is someone who believes in the Almighty and believes that Almighty is the deity of the Torah. Really, that’s about the only creed. Each Jew has the autonomy to live out the Law in his own life as that Jew sees fit as long as that individual doesn’t try to force a degree of observation onto others. So I am not in a Communion with those who do take Scripture literally.

    As to why I chose Judaism over say Atheism? Well, I believe in the concept of religion. I believe it helps us live out our lives, marks the signposts of our lives, gives us a heritage, and a community. I further, believe in the Almighty. I believe that following the Law allows me to live an ethical life.

  40. Christopher Lake says

    cermak_rd,

    Your comments puzzle me, in that you write about being an active Catholic, knowledgeable about the faith, who became alienated over non-essential matters (such as who to vote for)– and then joined a religious tradition which teaches that Jesus is not the Son of God. Did you ever believe what Catholicism teaches on Jesus’s divinity? It’s just surprising to me that one would leave a Church over extra-Biblical matters and end up denying that Jesus is God’s Son.

  41. cermak_rd says

    Yes, I did believe in the divinity of Jesus at the time. One of the reasons I went to the Episcopalians when I left Catholicism is that they believed in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and that, at the time, was very important to me.

    On the other hand, I remember being impressed with Spong’s theology, that he could make Christianity attractive to those who couldn’t accept miracles, so maybe I always had some doubts.

    When I rejected Paul, and couldn’t find a Paul-less Christian community, I started to really consider whether the Christian part was necessary. And, while all this spiritual reorganization was going on, I found that, no it didn’t matter as much to me. In fact, I found a relief in not having to believe in miracles such as a Resurrection, a Virgin Birth, an Ascension, an Assumption …

    To me now, the miracles of the Tanakh are not literal, it is more about what was meant to be conveyed by the presentation of the miracle.

    Many of the teachings of the Gospels, I find to be a brilliant exegesis of Leviticus 19.

  42. >I remember being impressed with Spong’s theology

    In other words, you experienced a miracle. 🙂

  43. Bob Sacamento says

    Michael,

    I try not to get too personal but this post just hits too close to home. I am desperate to find the exit, to get off the bus. I have been for years. The question, “Where else shall we go?” is the only thing that keeps me hanging in there, and it is becoming a very thin thread. I am glad for you that you can say, “Sometimes the answer is simply coming to know that there is One who, as love himself, makes all the questions move back a few rows so our faith can have a place to sit,” and I know it is true. But I have lost that place where I used to really know it was true. If you have any more wisdom on this, I will certainly like to hear it. Thanks for the post.

  44. I really needed to read this post tonight – I have been really struggling to cling to faith lately for all 5 of the reasons mentioned. But I desperately, desperately want to stay faithful inspite of all those. It’s a difficult position to be in, and I long for the certainty that I used to feel. This post gave some helpful advice for how to keep holding on.

  45. He’s the treasure in the field, as someone said. There was one treasure in that field. One. And the one who found it then sold everything to buy it.

    That had to be hard. He at least got a good look at the treasure.

    Prayed for you folks. We’re all there, most of the time. We just don’t admit it.

    peace

    ms

  46. I like what you say. . .

    It reminds me of this quote from Jean Vanier (a Catholic):

    “Maybe fundamentally you don’t want to pray. And maybe we can go into that. Maybe you don’t want
    to get too close to Jesus. You see, I’m beginning to see in myself and in many people a sort of
    feeling that if I get too close to Jesus, well maybe then he’s going to ask of me something I don’t want to give. Of course that’s a very distorted view of our God and of Jesus: the closer we get to him he’s going to hurt us. If we get close to God, well then it’s going to be painful, whereas it’s totally the opposite, it’s Jesus calling us into a friendship of love. But we see him sort of calling us and then giving us a smack. Maybe in a way this is what the young man felt, the one we call the rich young man. It says that Jesus looked at him and loved him, and said: If you wish to attain maturity, come and follow me. But of course if you follow me you have to sell all your baggage, because you don’t come with too many suitcases if you’re following Jesus. So Jesus will say: Sell all you have and give it to the poor, and then come and be with me. It’s an invitation. It’s an invitation to friendship. So in a strange way for many of us the good news can appear as a bad news. The presence of God can appear as something bad, as something painful. We quickly associate God with pain, with loss, with death, with something that I don’t want. . . .”

  47. Thank you, iMonk, for your thoughts on this.

    If it was just a matter of the church I’d be gone tomorrow – as it is my current Christian walk is supported more by fellowship with friends than by any “church” gathering on Sunday morning, or the “fellowship” found in our men’s prayer breakfast. I’m finding the church to be increasingly shallow, with little to offer one who has walked with the Lord in excess of 30 years.

    But ultimately it isn’t about the congregation that meets at the NE corner of ABC St & XYZ Ave, but rather, it is about Jesus. And that’s the only reason I haven’t walked.

  48. Thank you for the post Michael.

    I have a long commute to work and often listen to a couple of sermon podcasts each day. It is a strange thing to listen to so many pastors in such a short amount of time. At points it almost feels pointless. Each pastor has what seems like their own ideas and their own understandings of God’s will to communicate with their congregations. Their emotional pleading gets to me alot.

    I don’t think I can take another sermon of “If we just get more committed to Christ then we wouldn’t have to await a sorely disappointed Jesus on the day when we meet him face to face” or “If you just make sure to want only Jesus and put him first then you will be able to start fantasizing about dying and suffering for your faith”. Perhaps I am too weak in my faith to understand. I am all acutely aware of my own weaknesses and tendency to fall short and don’t get worked up anymore by these messages.

    I want to be better. I want to try harder. But I consistently fall short (I am likely the worst evangelist on earth). Thank God that Jesus never turned away those who needed forgiveness and came to him for help.

  49. Have you ever come to a place where you wanted to say, “Let me off. I’m done?”

    Yes, and it happens more frequently as time goes on.

    We often write these people off as “quitters”

    Jesus said he would not despise a smoldering wick. Sometimes church folk come at these people with fire hoses blasting. Can’t have smoldering wicks around. A fire may start, you know.

  50. Gertrude wrote: …is it really “quitting” to leave a chuch position?

    I once left many church ministries behind for what I considered a higher calling…my growing family. No, quitting church ministry is not the same as quitting the faith. I particularly endorse Fr. Ernesto’s tip #3, seeking advice from people NOT involved in your situation. This may mean somebody not at your church.