December 18, 2017

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. Well, cermak_rd, thank you for your courtesy in replying so patiently to my impertinent queries.

    I don’t think I’m much farther forward in getting my head around where you are at; I am glad that you still accept the Lord as the Lord.

    But I don’t see St. Paul as the determinant; of all my spiritual crises (all one of them), it was nothing to do with belief in Paul. Belief in Jesus, yes. Belief in God, yes. Belief in Paul? No.

    Well, that’s no more than to say that you’re not a Christian any more because you don’t believe in what is claimed for and about Christ, which is as fair as anyone can say 🙂

  2. Like one of the other bloggers, this is a new site to me as well. I have a lot of catching up to do. One follow up to the “I am the Bread of Life” reaction in John 6 (which elicits the responses in the devotional above) is Christ’s words in John 7: 16-18 (addressed to the Jewish scribes and Pharisees):

    “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on my own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness in Him.”

    The statements that Christ made, which remember, are on the heels of two miracles (feeding of the 5K and the boat rescue), point the finger back to you and me – how we should/ must respond to Christ’s call to obey. In turn as 7:18 states, we must point back to Christ. Tough words.

    Thanks for the post. I’m using the CS article with a larger group tomorrow. Any opening questions would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Justin Fowler says:

    I really, really liked this part:

    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.”

    For me my objection has been, “I don’t want to sacrifice the affection I get from friends and family (especially those who are religious) because of how controversial it will be when I actually follow you as I know that I must.”

    But I guess his response is, “If it’s my will, then the affection that you lose from them was never real in the first place. My love is unconditional, and only it will truly fulfill you. Otherwise you will continually live in fear of losing love, the kind of conditional love you’ve grown used to.”

    I thank you for making this entry, because it’s really opened my eyes.

    God bless you, my friend. <33

  4. Jimmy P:

    No questions, but the original 3 posts- much expanded from the CSM version- can be found in the CEC category on the sidebar. I’d look at those, esp for sections 2 and 3.

  5. “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.”
    That is everyone’s story that is of His fold. He holds all things together, He is our portion. All the people who can’t stand your church, find two or three others and a bible, meet and praise Him and study His word. He will bless.

  6. IM – I re-read all three parts. I am not a theologian, barely a novice in Christian history, but, as a businessman, not unfamiliar with the strategic struggles aging businesses face.

    For the brief knowledge of Christian history that I do know, I am reminded of Charles Chauncey’s response to the firebrand and emotional George Whitefield when he says “I am sorry to see you return (to Boston).” Whitefield’s reply is stunning as he says “So is the devil!” We must guard our criticism to the message delivery but not its content (which you do so well, IM, in the discussion of the prosperity Gospel and several of your comments do in their assessments of parts of the Pentecostal movement).

    In business strategy, we talk about “aging faster” meaning that processes, products and services experience a steeper slope as we introduce new products and services. That way you get to a lower unit cost (and less fear of destroying long-term value) faster. Think the rapid movement from iPod to iPhone and beyond…

    If we agree that the risk of destruction is great, can we change the shape of the Christian Learning or Experience Curve? Should we try, and, if we should, how?

  7. The disciples did not have my hindsight so I understand how they could have felt the need to walk away when things got too wierd. I have walked away from churches and from the denomination that I grew up in, but the very thought of walking away from Jesus fills me with fear/sorrow/emptiness. Since I was a very little girl Jesus has been real to me. Now He is so much my identity that nothing else really matters.

  8. Christopher Lake says:

    I have doubted God many times (and still do, all too often). I used to try to answer my doubts with research into the various kinds of evidence for Christianity. This research helped, but it only helped so much.

    At one point, my struggles and doubts seemed to be on the verge of leading me to apostasy. By God’s grace though, I was brought to two questions: 1. Do I truly believe that I am a hopeless, helpless sinner, in and of myself? 2. If so, who or what provides the answer to that terminal problem?

    The answer was/is Jesus Christ. Sinfully, I was tempted to leave Him, but I knew there was no true hope and life elsewhere. I knew this reality, not because of my intelligence or insight, but because of God, who opened my eyes to see it.

    Honestly, I struggled with the temptation to apostasize *much* more when I believed in the “gentleman” God who “won’t interfere with our free will.” Now, I know that it is God who saved me and who keeps me. This understanding stirs me to greater love for, trust in, and awe of, God, and it also gives me a greater sense of peace in my struggles that *He* will bring me through those struggles. He is completely worthy of my trust (even as my trust is still weak at times). He won’t necessarily give me the life that I want *in my flesh* (or the life that some Christians tell me He will), but He *will* do what I truly need Him to do, for my highest good.

  9. @ JustJoe: “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’m really moved by this post of IM’s and several of the comments. Joe, your comment very eloquently stated things I feel but don’t have the right words for and sum up why I’ve recently become a Christian: because I have come to a point in my life where I cannot deny that He is who He says he is. Thanks for stating it that way!

  10. Praise, Jesus! He never meant for Christians to become the meddlesome “Let me save you” evangelicals we are stuck today. They bring shame to all Christians.

  11. Christopher Lake says:

    Chris,

    I’m curious about the evangelicals that you describe. What forms of meddling do you mean? I certainly have known meddling Christians (and have probably been one at times, sadly), but are you saying that Christians shouldn’t do evangelism? Ultimately, we can’t save anyone; only God can. We can be instruments in that process though, by sharing the Gospel and through other acts of love and kindness. I just want to be clear on what you mean by “meddling.”

  12. Christopher,

    (If I am wrong, I hope that Chris corrects me). He is probably talking about “Wretched Urgency” mode of witnessing.

    Not a sharing my life’s pilgrimage with you, nor answering questions about your faith’s beliefs, etc.

  13. gertrude says:

    thanks michael, father ernesto, and steve for your advice. will take to heart for sure.

  14. I have probably spent too much of my life looking for the exit ramp, but the truth, of which I’m not necessarily proud, is that I’m really looking for an exit to get away from other Christians, not Jesus. I have often lamented that I would do much better if Christianity could be lived in a mostly solitary way, but that is not the nature of the faith.

    I now attend a “house church” (as I’ve seen it referred to in other places on the site). It is far from perfect and I’m sure I make it even less so. The leadership, however, is focused on Christ and the Word of God. But sometimes the weirdness factor is just too much for me, and I come away thinking, “I just cannot deal with some of these strange people anymore”, but invariably end up being convicted of my commitment issues and my desire to just be left alone (literally).

    So I keep driving, by God’s grace alone.

  15. cermak_rd says:

    But wasn’t there a strong hermitic strain in Celtic Christianity? Also, I seem to remember, some of the monastics in Egypt were hermits. Men such as Paul of Thebes and Antony of Egypt spring to mind. Even to this day, one of the local Orthodox (Russian, I believe) Churches near me has a loosely attached poustinik which I gather is a type of hermit, though a surprisingly community oriented type of hermit.

  16. treebeard says:

    Boy do I hear you, Julie O.

    One of my favorite Christians from the past is Erasmus. He looks like he was able to have a relatively solitary, comfortable life, living and working in an ivory tower, free from too much involvement with people. He could plant a few seeds for the Reformation, but be detached from any actual conflicts. Just read, write, publish, relax, work, go home. How nice.

    But for me at least, the Lord has never allowed that. I’ve tried it, and eventually there’s always these weird people around me. And I’m sure to many of them I’m the weird and difficult one. But I suppose that’s where the real experience of Christ is manifested – finding grace to love the unlovable.