The Delusionals Are Ruining the Fun

We’ve all met the delusionals and the crazies in religion, or at least seen them on TV or YouTube. The way that they affect Christianity reminds me of what happens in work environments: One person does something stupid or abuses the system, and suddenly there is an additional code or protocol that everyone else has to follow. One person’s folly becomes everyone’s regret. Among Christians, it seems that our reaction to the loonies has made us all act a little crazy. Rather than seeking to distinguish between the spirits of good and evil, and sane and insane, we’ve generally abolished anything that seems a little odd or difficult to rationalize.

But there is comfort to be found in what Paul tells us about how spiritual gifts come into play, and how they should be used. He addresses the problems we’re dealing with head on.

“Satan Made Me Do It” and No One Saw It

“Satan made me do it,” and no one recognized it. Is it just me, or does this seem to be an accurate adage for how the Christian faith often functions today? As much as we may mention evil, and its ramifications upon our lives, how often are we really combatting it? Resisting temptations is one manifestation of opposing the dark powers that may be, but it is only one among many.

The evil things that creep into our lives and communities are often the kind that we don’t recognize—“a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Most people can recognize a temptation when they see it, but there are also many subtle, evil things that slowly dwindle away at our dedication to following God’s will. These subtle, evil things manifest themselves in simple ways, like “reason” overpowering faith, and demonic possession being excused as merely mental illness.

Faith as a Gift

I don’t know anyone that authentically follows Jesus that hasn’t struggled with faith at some point. Some people struggle intellectually: they learn something new and don’t know how to compute it with their faith. Others are troubled because of crisis: Something horrible happens and they don’t know if they believe anymore, because they can’t imagine God letting the pain or evil they’ve experienced go unchecked.

A little observed fact about Christianity is that struggle is a good thing. Few good things happen without scars. (And everyone needs to grow up, out of the ignorance of youth.) No one ever lived a great life without some sort of turmoil. The greatest leaders in Christianity have suffered for their beliefs, and nearly all of Jesus’ earliest followers died for their beliefs.

Faith over Intellect? Intellect over Faith?

Mind over matter. Faith over intellect. Wisdom over knowledge. We’re convinced that the alternative is better: that one of these is better than the other. But Paul says that knowledge is a gift. It’s not something to be set aside when you start believing, but incorporated.

Intellect itself convinces us that some people are more gifted with knowledge than others. We’ve been in classes with these people, and we all know the stories of the most gifted among them (e.g., Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison). But Paul is talking about a different kind of knowledge. It’s not just one about facts and numbers. (Although the type of people gifted with the type of knowledge Paul is referring to would likely be good with that as well.)

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Where's God Today?

“Where’s God today?” is one of the most common questions I’m asked after I tell someone that I’m a Christian. The question implies that in a suffering world it’s hard to believe a good God exists. We struggle with this question, but I’m beginning to think that we do so for all the wrong reasons.

The rhetorical question of “Where’s God today?” makes me ask the question “Why isn’t the Church making this clear?” If it’s our duty as Christians to show others who God is by living like Jesus—in love, kindness, and generosity—then the fact that this question is being asked reflects poorly on us, not God. We struggle with answering it because we, as Christian communities, are struggling with our faith.

An example: There is enough wealth in the world to solve world hunger and the water crisis, even in the midst of famines in places like the Horn of Africa.

Onward Towards a Better Way

Worry and anxiety is a driving force in our thought patterns and consequently our spirituality. We’re so concerned with deciphering right from wrong that fear becomes our ally rather than the Spirit, and fear is really the enemy.

I think it’s for these reasons that God’s very mysterious work is often sidelined. Take any round of prayers at a church and you can see this. We all want others to pray about medical conditions, but few stand up and say, “Let me pray over you and ask God to take this away.” I say this as one who is guilty of not responding correctly. Likewise, we present medical problems as something to be prayed about, but rarely have the kind of honesty that even an Alcoholic’s Anonymous group would have: “I’m John and I’m a sinner.

Spiritual Gifts: A Definition

It’s virtually impossible to distinguish between something a believer in Jesus is good at and a spiritual gift. At first this is frustrating, but doesn’t it make sense? If God is one—and we are one with Him through accepting Jesus and His Spirit—why would He not use our “talents” as “gifts”? When you frame the situation as God being the source of all, this pragmatic approach becomes holistic, and the search for gifts in our communities suddenly becomes simple.

Gifts don’t always entail the shockingly miraculous, although that’s certainly part of the picture. The talent you may take for granted is every bit as essential to your church community as the miracle working power of someone else. There is a hierarchy of church offices, for the sake of order, but this doesn’t make anyone more valuable to God’s work than someone else.

I Don’t Want You to Be Uninformed

We provide for the media empire: Most of us are obsessed with information. In a way, the love of media represents our endless search to find meaning. The news gives us something to obsess over, talk about, and pretend that we can do something about. We look to fill the gap in our beings with information, when only God can fulfill it. In our search to be informed, we’re uninformed. This disconnect is rooted in not just our lack of understanding of self, but also the Spirit. Paul makes a similar point when discussing spiritual gifts.

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1–3 ESV).

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Growing Pains: Don't Be Like Mike

It seems that in small churches we devote an extraordinary amount of energy to church growth—to the point that a few weeks of attendance being down can cause the next leadership meeting to be almost entirely about that. Although we know it’s fundamentally wrong, the media publicity of large communities makes us feel like they’ve somehow won, and prompts us small communities to try to be like them. Capitalism doesn’t help since it measures success by numbers. In focusing so much of our energy on numbers we small communities (albeit unintentionally) turn away from spiritual growth. Yet, most megachurch pastors I know are trying to move their churches towards spiritual growth. The irony is astounding: The small church is trying to be big, while the big church is trying to disciple like its small. Maybe we in the small churches should pick up on the lesson.

This problem, like so many others, is also rooted in the lack of spiritual offices and the lack of focus on spiritual gifts in our communities.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11–16 ESV). 
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"Be a Man"

“I’ll be leading the children’s ministry this evening.” These magic words brought on all ancient motherly instincts in our church: must rescue the children from the young man with no kids. (Add pauses in between words for drama.) Somehow all the mothers in our small church, for the first time, joined their children rather than stayed for the sermon. This is understandable: I know little to nothing about children. (I wouldn’t want me looking after my own kids, if I had them.) The kids would have had fun, but I’m sure it would come at the high cost of them being full of sugar and gold fish crackers, becoming slightly less respectful, and learning absolutely nothing at all in the process. So I intentionally refrain from children’s ministry, focusing on my primary gifts. I consider it one of the ways I bless the parents of our church.
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