To Whom Shall We Go?

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life….”
—John 6:68 ESV

One of the oddities I’ve encountered in talking with Christians who have been walking with Jesus for decades is that many of them are asking the question Simon Peter asked of Jesus. There’s a sense that many are looking around, wondering if this Christian “thing” is it.

I find this odd because this renewed asking of Peter’s question is starkly opposite the intent of the original. Context should help:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

So Jesus said to them, “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. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on 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 whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”

But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
—John 6:48-69 ESV

boots, walking awayThe context here is that Jesus laid out such a Christ-centric statement that the challenge of it blew his followers’ theology to pieces, and they could not accept it, which led to only the core group of followers remaining with Him.

What strikes me is that mature Christians today are asking, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” not because what they are facing is too challenging because it is too Christ-centric, but the opposite: Christian faith in the 2010’s has become too facile and not nearly Christ-centric enough.

This reversal in what is stimulating the question amazes me.

What you have are mature believers frustrated to death with dog and pony show churchianity that talks about everything BUT Jesus, and they are going to Jesus and asking, “To whom shall we go?”

Of course, there is nowhere to go but to Jesus, but the problem for those older believers isn’t with Jesus; it’s with the dead religious show that is foisted on them in churches across our country.

Where do you go to get away from that and to the real thing?

A recent study showed that the apparent decline in church attendance isn’t what it appears to be. Yes, on any given Sunday, fewer Christians are in church. But the real reason is that more and more Christians don’t feel obligated to attend church every week. They may skip a dozen Sundays or more in a year, where once that kind of “mostly there” attendance was unthinkable. In short, the number on the church rolls hasn’t changed, just how many of them attend on any given Sunday.

I wonder how many of those folks are struggling because they feel that need to be in church, but they can’t take week after week the inautheticness of the packaged religious experience that passes for church in America 2014. So, they skip now and then.

Perhaps it should be: “Lord, to where should we go?”

If anyone can answer that question, please let the rest of the country know.

by Dan EdelenComments (1)

5 Reasons Christians Need to “Stifle It” (and #6 Will Change Your Life)

I’ve come to the point that I no longer care about what happens in cultural evangelicalism. I walked away from evangelicalism years ago, frustrated with the direction of the movement. I guess this is the natural end point of that walking away.

My leaving, however, is not even a blip on the radar. No one cares. And why should they?

Since I’m pushing rapidly toward geezerdom, I remember the ’70s-era TV show All in the Family. Opinionated loudmouth Archie Bunker would shoot down wife Edith’s insights by telling her to “stifle it.” And people would laugh.

Archie BunkerBut as I look around the Internet, I see plenty of indicators that evangelicals need to take Archie’s advice and stifle it lest they become Archie Bunkers themselves. The Internet has become a gossip-fest, where too many Christians feel compelled to blather on about the latest scandal in the Christian community, whether it’s a real scandal or not. We must let others know just how a mature Christian views such goings on. We must.

I’ve been casually noticing the neo-Calvs cannibalize each other this past summer, culminating in one of their most famous members torn to pieces recently by former friends and supporters. The talk and speculation are crazed. It’s a nonstop train wreck, all of it, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think it makes us stronger.

We’ve become obsessed with celebrity Christians on the national stage, especially pastors, and their rightness or wrongness. We jump into cultural and racial conversations to inject supposedly Christian ideals, only they’re not all that Christian, and their lack of winsomeness makes us look horrible. We comment without facts. We talk without sense. We go on and on spouting myths. half-truths, and outright stupidity. We spew words about situations we know absolutely nothing about, and yet we think we’re worthy of enshrining on a panel for Meet the Press, Christian Edition, because we are so “wise.”

It’s foolishness writ large and in public. And nearly all of it does nothing but dishonor the Lord.

More than at any time in recent memory, I think we American Christians need a real self-check about how opinionated we’ve become. I know that’s an opinion in itself, but nonetheless, I think we would all be better off if we pulled out of all the online discourse and took a couple months off from making sure everyone knows what we think about _______.

One of the reasons that Cerulean Sanctum has been quiet goes beyond just my change in work. A good chunk of it is because I’m disgusted by online discourse. Everyone talks past everyone else, and there is little reasoned discussion. Worse, we seem to be investing huge amounts of emotional energy into conversations that have no Kingdom benefit—none. It’s just windbagdom, and it’s cruel, without love, and pompous to the nth degree.

Did you catch the title of this post? It’s SEO gold—at least the theory of it is. We’re sucked into this kind of thing on the Web, and it doesn’t help the situation. We feel we must comment. If a celebrity Christian’s name is attached, all the better.

Can we stifle it? Please? Does anyone else see how pathetic our discourse has become? Is my expressing my golden words the reason Jesus died? Is it critical to for everyone to know what you or I think about Pastor ________? Or about our government? Or about race relations in some town we’ve never visited? Or who is liberal and who is not? Or our thoughts on the sex lives of celebrities? Or why some actor killed himself? Or? Or? Or…?

Really?

Honestly, I’m at a point where I’ve stopped caring. We’re becoming blowhards talking our own smack. Time for all of us to wake up and get a life.

by Dan EdelenComments (10)

Fate & Faith

A true story, with some parts tweaked to protect others…

When the economy cratered a few years back, resulting in an unforeseen layoff, Barry spent day after day looking for work. Turned it into a job like everyone said he should. But if Barry’s new job of looking for a job was any indication, he would have enjoyed a more lucrative career selling water on the moon.

Barry was a Christian, as was his wife, Karen, and their daughter, Krysta. None of them understood why God would make it so hard for a humble, talented man like Barry to support his family.

In time, the job hunt was supplemented with plenty of book-reading and music-listening. Barry fell in love with the bravura passages of little-known author Guy Ames. In fact, that admiration for Ames convinced Barry to try his own hand at writing a novel. He entitled it Unfinished Business.

After five years of unemployment, in which Barry did anything he could find to bring in money, he hit the motherload. A high school buddy he had not talked with in over 20 years called him out of the blue after Googling him. Jim, who owned a growing company, had just become a Christian, and after praying one night, felt compelled to ask what had happened to Barry. The Internet told Jim what he wanted to know, and he wanted the esoteric skills Barry had. In fact, he offered his old friend twice as much money as Barry had ever made.

But the job wouldn’t start for six weeks. Having been miserly for years, Barry decided to do something to celebrate. Guy Ames was speaking at a small writing conference in San Diego. Barry thought he’d kill a bunch of birds with one small stone, so he called the conference leaders and found that a few spaces still existed. Barry snapped up one, bought a plane ticket, reserved a hotel room, and worked up an elevator pitch for Unfinished Business.

When he announced that he was making this small personal pilgrimage, his wife was happy for him. She had a fear of flying, so she wasn’t interested in going, but Krysta read a brochure on the conference and saw one of her favorite authors was attending too. Soon, the trip was a dad and daughter thing. Given that Krysta was getting married in a few months, both she and her dad considered it one last dad-daughter event before another man became more important in her life.

The night before their departure, Krysta heard a voice. Over the past six months, she had increasingly heard what sounded like a voice, but this time the voice said something that sounded like real words: Don’t go on that trip. Krysta was terrified. The feeling of dread was so strong, she barely slept a wink all night in her apartment–except when she finally dropped off an hour before she was supposed to get up for her flight.

Barry forgot to call over to Krysta’s place just before he left, and when he arrived at the airport, he found he had also forgotten to charge his cell phone AND he left the charger back on the counter in the kitchen. Still, Krysta’s roommates, some of her old sorority sisters from college, were ultradependable, so Barry knew Krysta wouldn’t be too late because the girls wouldn’t allow it.

But when an elderly lady on standby looked like she was going to be bumped, Barry thought he’d be a gentleman and let her take his place. Krysta was obviously delayed, and catching the later flight made sense. Barry surrendered his seat. The airlines promised they’d move him up to first class, Krysta too.

Krysta never made it to the airport, though. She missed an exit, and ended up stuck in the aftermath gridlock caused by a semi rollover on the highway.

Barry wasn’t sure what was happening with Krysta, but hearing one of his favorite bands blaring from the headphones of the young man sitting next to him told he should get on that plane and let Krysta figure it out. She was a big girl and could fix her own problems.

Fly like an eagle, to the sea.

Fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me.

Barry was going to see that band when he got back. He already had the tickets; a second gift, but this time one Karen would like too.

Just 12 minutes before it was to land, Barry’s plane took a lightning strike to an engine. Normally, the lightning arrestor worked fine, but it had been replaced and reattached incorrectly by a mechanic. At the inquest, it came out that the mechanic had been up late partying after attending a rock concert, one given by the band Barry would never live to hear. The engine caught fire, and the wing of the plane lost integrity. The plane went down just off the coast of California, all 113 aboard perishing.

In the aftermath, Krysta told her mother about the voice, and they both held each other for a long time, stunned. Krysta’s fiancé called it a miracle. Karen and Kyrsta didn’t feel that was the best choice of words. Still, when she spoke at her father’s memorial service, Krysta found herself using that word too.

Guy Ames had to cancel his appearance at the workshop due to a ruptured appendix. He later felt that brush with death was a wake-up call. Four months of healing later, he  took his meager book earnings and launched a small software firm that Google bought, ensuring he never had to worry about money again. He never wrote anything else.

Just 11 days before her wedding, Krysta came down with what felt like the flu. At least that’s what the doctor told her. She stayed in bed to try to rest up, and that was where her roommates found her, dead. The autopsy showed a large, fast-growing brain tumor. She was 23.

One of Krysta’s roommates was so touched by what happened, the only way she could deal with it was through song. She and the other roommates formed a band and recorded the song. “Then She Was Gone” was a minor hit online, and the band Scarlet Queens, enjoyed the peculiarity of being an all-female death metal band, though they never made it big and folded a couple years later.

Life wasn’t good for the survivor. Like her daughter, Karen crawled into bed and stayed there. During her self-imposed beddedness, she could not keep her eyes off a pile of paper on Barry’s dresser. It was the manuscript for Unfinished Business–unfinished. Karen had never read one word of it.

On the 29th day of her exile, she took the manuscript down and spent the rest of the day lost in it. She admitted that this was a side of Barry she had never seen. The novel was actually superb, with deft characterizations and a killer story about an author who burns his writing career to the ground to start a software company that eventually grosses him a fortune. The novel had all the trappings of one of those mystical crossovers into the business book genre, filled with down-homey aphorisms about life, the corporate world, and spirituality. And Karen smelled money. Heaven knows Barry didn’t leave her anything.

Karen, who had not even an iota of creative authoring skill, was nonetheless a sharp-eyed editor. She tightened the narrative and found a publisher on just her fourth query letter.

Unfinished Business became a publishing phenomenon, with some claiming it changed their lives, and Karen became a wealthy woman.

She also became the target of every guy who could get her number. After one lothario took her for a couple million, she withdrew from public life. Money didn’t buy happiness, and loneliness ate at her soul. She missed her daughter and husband dreadfully. That weight turned to bitterness, and somewhere along the way, Karen and God parted ways. So much so, that when she died of lupus a few years later, she left the estate to American Atheists for a Better Tomorrow.

Now, what does that story say about God? About his sovereignty? About the work of the Enemy? About the mysteries of life?

How is it that the good fortune Barry received set in motion events that led to his death? Did God cause the lightning strike? Or the Enemy? Or dumb luck? Why did Barry’s act of kindness end in his death? And wouldn’t it have been more “fair” for the elderly woman to die instead? And what about the pointlessness of it all, with the writer Barry flew to see canceling? How is it that Barry wrote a book that mirrored that writer’s future life? What is the point of Krysta avoiding the plane crash only to die a few weeks later? And how can God allow all this to end in a huge wad of cash going to an atheist organization?

If you’re a Christian reading that story, no doubt you started to make connections. You tried to find some redemptive thread in it all, because that’s what we seem obsessed with: Making sense of life.

But what if there is no sense to be had in that story?

In the American Church today, we fall prey to a compulsion to find meaning in everything. If something doesn’t make sense on the surface, we have to make it make sense.

I think this is dangerous; it borders on divination.

That divination danger does scare some Christians, so much so that they flee in the opposite direction. To avoid being seen as crystal-ball gazers, even remotely, they chicken out of showing any faith.

Over at the normally reliable Parchment & Pen blog, C. Michael Patton shows us what happens when Christians blanch in the face of dealing with the vicissitudes of life and how we view God. In “Will God Protect My Children?” Patton has patiently nursed a redemptive relationship with a lost soul, but when that man asks the eponymous question, Patton rolls over and plays dead.

We have a case here of conflating the mistake of trying to scry sense out of life’s odd twists and turns with giving into the fear that we might be forced to explain God’s seeming lack of love for us when something goes wrong.

Can we make sense of everything in life? No. But can we trust God to make sense in Himself? We must. Anything else is not faith. At some point we must be able to say to that lost man that God does in fact protect our children and we must trust Him for that. Patton says the Scriptures don’t promise anything, but is that true?

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

–Psalm 91 NIV

That’s either true or it isn’t. If you’re a Christian, you know which it must be.

Jesus blessing the childrenThe story of Barry, his family, and the others who swirl around them told above is true–in a way. It contains bits and pieces of stories cobbled together. Regardless of its truth as a whole, the fact remains that it could be anyone’s story. We all have stories of strange coincidences and odd events that happen in life, sometimes lengthy ones. Our issue is when we attempt to draw any conclusions from those events and to create a supernatural narrative from them. The fact is, we just can’t. Unless we have some direct revelation from God that explains everything, 99.99% of the time we’re going to get the explanation wrong. We’re not God, and we are too limited to know how every piece fits together and for what reason.

However, what we must never do in the face of reality is to abdicate saying anything positive about how God operates. We know what His promises are. We have to be able to cling to those or else all of life goes off the rails. We can’t try to explain everything that happens in life, but neither should we deny that He is faithful just because we can’t guarantee understanding the fallout of a situation that may go horribly wrong. If we do, we might as well chuck the whole thing. Patton might as well just tell his lost friend, “You know what? Like you, I got nothin’.”

God help us if that’s where we’re heading in the American Church today.

by Dan EdelenComments (6)

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