I have been a believer for fifteen years and have been in ministry for eight. Over that time I have watched many people get excited about Jesus. I have also watched many turn away from the Lord that once followed Him, some of them being more on fire for God than myself prior to them turning away. Honestly, this has been incredibly devastating for me to watch. Many times I reach out and try to be a voice of encouragement and truth, but more often than not, the person continues down a path that I have decided to never traverse: no longer following Jesus.
I will always follow Jesus. This isn’t a duty thing…it is a matter of understanding what life is like with an all-knowing, unconditionally loving, omnipresent, Best Friend with all the power in the world in His fingertips, and life without. It seems pretty simple to me. Common sense. For me, following Jesus has ceased to be a choice. I don’t think about “losing my faith” or needing to somehow scrounge up enough faith to believe in an invisible God. God has ceased being someone I need to have faith to believe in. He is more real to me than me.
The people I come in contact with in ministry are not your average Christian churchgoer. They are a bold and courageous people that are not easily controlled. They love to live outside the box and think outside the box. I hear wild and crazy stuff all the time and most of the time I do not feel the need to bring correction as I recognize that they will naturally work through it on their own and end up at the feet of Jesus, right where they need to be. But there are some things that I can say are not just weird and out there, but lead people away from Jesus while having a guise of a “good idea.”
I can assure you that I am NOT the guy that goes around warning people about the newest teaching that concerns me and because of that, I think should concern everyone else. I have grace for a lot of stuff, but one thing I absolutely lack patience for is when someone talks about Jesus in a way that is anything other than exalting.
This takes many shapes, some subtle. There is the “Jesus didn’t claim to be God” card, or the “was just a great teacher” foolishness, or the “Jesus is a great bridge to even greater revelation” malarky. I don’t hate much, but hate those. Additionally, now I’m seeing people trying to say that Jesus didn’t intend for us to worship Him. Seriously? I know the scriptures you are quoting but honestly, who cares? What good does teaching like that do? What do you lose by acknowledging Someone else as greater than you? What do you lose by calling Someone beautiful? What good fruit is produced in people’s life by them not worshipping Jesus? That isn’t theologically authentic, its theologically autistic.
I am all for considering just about anything theologically, and I think that we need to do that a lot more as the Church. I love revelation, and it can take you into some crazy amazing, biblical, Christ-centered places. But when a person attempts to reduce Christ in order to elevate something else, that is where I withdraw. I will still be the person’s friend, but my relational aim shifts from heartfelt fellowship to something akin to what it is like when I care for a toddler. Act like a baby, get the milk, not the meat.
What is so disconcerting about witnessing a friend or family walk away from the Lord is that it is a surefire guarantee that our relationship will suffer significantly. This happens not because I, “turn them over to Satan” or decide that I no longer want to be their friend, or any other ridiculousness like that. No, I believe the reason the relationship suffers is because likely what we initially connected over was the Lord, and now that main aspect of our relationship is removed, leaving the relationship a proverbial field of landmines; I’m not sure what topics are safe to verbally traverse and what are not so I stop engaging my heart in order to preserve the mediocre connection we still have. Out of honor for the other person I withdraw my heart.
A person’s walking away from the Gospel raises questions for me. Some of these people I knew for decades, and their decision makes me question if I ever really knew them. That is because regardless of what bad things happen to me, I know I am incapable of walking away from the Lord. He has been too good to me.
Admittedly, with a hint of shame I also find myself wondering if they ever really knew the Lord to begin with because He has been too good to me for me to ever walk away. I arrive at a conviction of God’s goodness because I am immovably convinced that God isn’t responsible for the terrible, traumatic things we experience in this life. That seems to be the very area people that have walked away from the Lord surrendered in their battle for faith while in the midst of trying circumstances.
When my dad lay dead in my arms, I made a choice that I wasn’t going to blame God for what was happening. I choose to believe that God was for me despite my present situation. God didn’t let me down that day. I don’t know why my dad died and I was left without a father and I may never know, but I do know that God is good. I know that He isn’t responsible for the horror of that day. He is a good Father. I know that He loves me. And His love, when it is really received, silences the unanswerable questions.
I know that people walk away from the Lord for a plethora of reasons. A family tragedy where it is perceived that God was nonexistent or didn’t come through…the Church burns someone…expectations are not met and the person feels like God let them down…whacky teachings, etc. The reasons are potentially endless.
I get it. And while I would never do this, part of me almost wants to slap the person and say, “You think you are the only one that has lost something? We have all had tragedy swoop in on our life. I lost my dad, but you don’t see me sulking in the corner. Get up, love God, and help some people!” Grief is one thing, but pity is so self-destructive that it is astounding how many people allow it to pervade in their hearts and minds.
When I see someone walk away from the Lord, regardless of what happened to them to cause them to walk away, it is difficult not to assume that they were somewhat immature in their relationship with God to begin with. I do not want to judge other people's walk with the Lord, but in all honesty, their actions make it really difficult to withhold those thoughts. I'm not sure how anyone that has really tasted of God's love and care could strut away from Him. Call that perspective heartless and cold but remember, this is coming from a guy that watched his dad’s lip go from pink to purple, heard him girgle inaudible sounds as my friend and I did CPR on him, then witnessed his body go limp in my arms because death had set in. I was 19. And I still love Jesus. Others can too.
In summation, it is all about Jesus. I love praying for the sick and raising the dead and always will. I love studying, marinating in, and preaching from the Bible and always will. I love worshipping Jesus and always will. I love being with the Body of Christ and always will. I won’t “outgrow” these things and am not so “progressive”, “intelligent”, or “revelatory” to consequently bail on Jesus. My whole life I've been looking for the thing that is so important to me that it becomes the hill that I am willing to die on if need be. Well, that is my hill. The one thing that will not change in my life is my love for Jesus. How about you?
Christ isn’t a fashion or fad that we entertain for a time and then move on to greater realities. Jesus isn’t a pit stop on the way to something else. He isn’t the means to an end. Jesus is the journey, the One beside you on it, and the destination.