Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Infant Christians

I see four types of people in Church: the non-believer, the Adult Christian, the Teenager Christian, and the Infant Christian. These designations have nothing to do whatsoever with the person's actual age.

The non-believer. Every congregation has a population of people who think they are Christian, but are not. Deep down, even if they wouldn’t articulate it this way, they believe that being a Christian means “acting like my Ideal Self around other people who also act like their Ideal Selves and we all learn to do Church.” This is what old Christians call, “good churchmen.” They are institutionalized “Christians.” They know how to behave while at Church, but have never experienced a true, real, confession and repentance to God. Why? Because they believe their Ideal Self isn’t that bad, really. Not really. They’re not nearly as bad as those prostitutes or drug dealers or murderers or homosexuals or . . . whatever. But, for the part of them that admits some wrong, they are grateful that Jesus did something for “sinners.”

This is a far cry from being “born from above” (Jn 3). They've never "picked up their crosses" to follow Jesus. Instead, they've learned the routines of the local church and confused that with salvation and maturity.

There is a small--very small--section of the church of Adult Christians. And they’re not all old. These are Real, confessing, growing, mercy-drenched, forgiving, serving, loving, devotional people. They love anyone who walks in the door, regardless of how they’re dressed. They immediately give up their seat in the sanctuary for anyone. They are probably leading a small group. They are active in missions and prayer meetings. They regularly pray, regularly attend Church gatherings, and regularly study their Bible. They're always reading some theological book. They're more interested in the Whole than the parts. They want the Church to succeed more than their own particular ministry to succeed. They're more interested in how they can help you than how they can be served. They are the backbone of lay leadership. These are the dream people for church leadership.

There's also a section of Teenager Christians. These are those who have passed beyond the infancy of Christianity. They no longer have to be begged to read their Bibles or pray. They’ve recently gotten involved in a small group. They listen to sermons and read theological books just because they want to learn more. They’re hungry for more and they’re doing something about that hunger. They’re taking responsibility for their growth so they look for Adult Christians for wisdom. They've gone on a couple mission trips and are beginning to take various forms of leadership in Church.

Then, we have the largest group of Christians in any church: the Infant. This is where we get hoodwinked, because Infant Christians can be any age. I have known, and still know, many, many, many older people who are Infant Christians. Here are some features of Infant Christians (and they might have variations of some of these):
  • They believe the absolute basic, simple truths of Christianity, and only know that. They really appreciate rehearing those simple basics as many times as they can: in sermons, books, and songs. Like little children, they love reading those simple books over and over again through the years because it’s safe and they already know it.
  • They get angry when people use “big words” about God. They’ll tell you as quickly as possible that God is simple. Jesus is simple. The Church is simple. And anyone who says anything otherwise is trying to confuse you and get you to lose your faith. They get frustrated when anyone tells them that the Christian tradition is overwhelmingly rich and full, and that there have been tens of thousands of brilliant preacher scholars.
  • They have little to no devotional habits. Most of the time, they need to be begged and begged to read their Bibles, pray, come to church regularly, or go on mission. They think that being active in a church community is “for other people.”
  • Are just “so busy.” Church attendance is usually at the bottom of their list. Anything whatsoever can be placed above church attendance on their Things-To-Do-On-Sundays List. Runny nose? Stay home. Tired? Stay home. Kids have homework? Stay home. Don’t feel like it? Stay home. Having friends over for lunch? Stay home. Big game on at noon? Stay home. Need to clean the house? Stay home. I could list a hundred more reasons I’ve heard over the years.
In addition to these things, here are some really good signs that a person is an Infant Christian. Now, I’m not a legalist. I’m under no illusion that people can't mess up occasionally (including myself!) or that people have some “strongholds” still left to be killed. Yeah, I get it. Nevertheless, if you or someone you know holds one or all of these habits (with no real sign of contrition or change), then you’re probably an Infant Christian or have just met one.
  • Routinely Cusses. This is a no-brainer. How many mature Christians have you met that still use cuss words? Come on! I think the average Church-goer would be shocked at how often Church leaders and supposed-mature Christians talk like any-ole’ pagan. This is such a stupid habit. If you don’t talk that way in front of someone you respect, then why talk that way at all? Would you cuss with Jesus? If not, then why now? Even Paul had to tell his congregations: "Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths . . ." (Eph 4:29).
  • Watches awful shows/movies. This is also a no-brainer. How many mature Christians have you met whose favorite show is “The Real Housewives of Wherever?” This is another clear sign of Infancy. Infants make every excuse to watch shows and movies that they know they wouldn’t watch with someone they respect: “It’s just funny.” “It’s just entertaining.” “I don’t watch it that often.” Infants stay in denial that the kinds of values represented in nearly every show on TV is absolutely counter to the teachings of Jesus. How in the world can we celebrate shows that advocate marital affairs, gossip, betrayals, bad language, unnecessary drama, and on and on? If you wouldn’t watch that show with Jesus in the room, then why watch it now? News flash – He’s in the room already. :)
  • Listens to awful music. Everything I just said applies here too. Would you share your Playlist with Jesus? If not, they why in the world deliberately put that poison in your mind?
  • Has no deliberate devotional life. Reading the Bible during the week rarely if ever occurs with Infants. They feel good about having their unused Bible near them, like on their night stand. But right on top of it is a devotional book that also is never read. It sits there until Sunday morning, if they go.
  • Feels entitled. Infants deep down really think they’ve done God a favor by dressing up and going to a church building at all. Nonsense. God doesn’t owe us a daggum thing. We could spend our entire lives scrubbing the floors of a homeless shelter and we’d still be an infinity apart from what Jesus has done for us. Infants think that other people should serve them. That other people should give money and time and resources. That the preacher should be perfectly entertaining and relevant and penetrating and handsome/pretty and articulate, but still “just like me” so that I can relate. That the music minister should only choose songs that I like or make me feel better. That everyone else should realize that these are my seats and should be reserved, no matter what they occasion or time I appear. Ask an Infant if she liked the service and she’ll likely say, “Umm. It was OK. I was kinda’ bored.” – They still think the Christian life is about being entertained.
  • Easily roused. Infants love gossip. They love to talk about what they don’t like: the carpet, the speaker, the music, the smells, the air temperature, the lighting, and on and on. This goes back to being entitled. Deep down, they really do think that other people are an extension of themselves, which means other people are responsible for making them feel happy, welcomed, and entertained.
Peter encouraged his congregation in the first century to long or yearn for “pure, spiritual milk” so that they would grow up in their faith (1 Peter 2:1-3). The emphasis is upon their yearning for spiritual maturity.

Paul and the author of Hebrews were greatly frustrated at how utterly immature their people were. Read how the author of Hebrews fusses at them because they were so immature:

For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God's utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil.” (Heb 5:12-14, NET)

Paul also shares in the same frustration with the Christians at Corinth. Listen to what he says:

“So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people?”
(1Co 3:1-3, NET)

In the Greek, “infant” is pejorative. Paul is ticked off and disappointed. I can see him shaking his head as he spoke this to the scribe.

How does this blog make you feel? A little angry? “Who does he think he is?”

If so, you’re probably an Infant.

And it's time to grow up.


Monday, November 12, 2012

A Problem-Based Relationship

There’s a ubiquitous problem that occurs in relationships. It’s most obvious in marriages, but if one looks closely, you can see it in so many other kinds of relationships.

It’s a subtle problem; it creeps up on you before you realize it.

The problem is manifested in our communication. For many of us, our relationships are based on problem-solving. Think about what you talk about among your co-workers the most: solving problems. Most of us spend most of the day at work solving problems. Be productive! That’s our goal. (I even often hear people ask for God to "help them be productive.") And to be productive, most of our conversations are about solving problems.

This habit at work surreptitiously spills over into other relationships. Before we know it, spouses spend an enormous amount of their communication problem-solving. “What’s for dinner?” “Did you fix that leak?” “Have you called your parents lately?” “Who will pick up our kids from school?” “Can you take her to the Doctor’s appointment?” “How am I supposed to deal with that awful boss or co-worker?” “Why don’t you ever take me out anymore?” And on and on . . .

Before we know it, we've spent most of our emotional energy discussing problems to be solved. Of course, having a helper in a spouse or family member is special and sweet.

The problem is, if we talk about problems even 51% of the time, then we have a relationship built on problems. And there is no way that intimacy can be built when we’re in problem-solving mode. This is especially true if your spouse is the problem in your mind!

For those of you who know Transactional Analysis, the Adult Ego state deals with problem solving. Well, good for you. But, the Adult Ego state can’t have intimacy. That’s for the Child Ego state. The Child enjoys passion, feels delight, and shrinks in terror. The Child experiences true vulnerability.

You will never be intimate with a person if you stay in your Adult Ego state all the time or even most of the time. It can’t happen. It won’t happen.

You might stay in the Adult Ego state because you’re scared to be in the Child Ego state. You’re afraid of feeling a suppressed pain or anger. If you can just keep it about the facts or the problems, then you won’t have to be vulnerable. It’s safe. It’s predictable.

And it’s miserable.

True intimacy means that you open yourself up to the potential of being hurt. It also means that you open yourself up to being completely loved and cherished just as you are.

For many couples, if you take away the problems, then you have nothing left in the relationship. This happens every single Fall when parents say goodbye to their college freshman. So many parents base their relationship with the spouse on their children’s lives. They go back into a quiet, “empty” house and it’s terrifying. “Now I have to face that spouse with just myself. What in the world will we talk about? I sure hope we don’t have to talk about my grief and pain; it’s just too much to deal with right now. I know . . . I’ll just keep talking about activities. I’ll keep calling my son or daughter at school and keep that the chief topic of conversation. Yeah, that’s safe.” Many couples get divorced around high school graduation because of this common problem.

For other couples, taking away the problems in their relationship is too scary because if they were to be healed, they wouldn't know if the relationship would last. “At least he’s yelling at me. If the fighting stops, I don’t think he’d even acknowledge I’m here. It’s all I've known for so long.”

Relationships were designed to be so much more than problem-solving.

Of course, and perhaps you knew this was coming, we do the same thing with God.  If you were to write down your prayers or internal dialogue toward God, how much of it would be about problems?

If you find that you are fervent in prayer and devout in reading Scripture when things are bad, but trail off when things are going fine, then you have a “problem relationship” with God. If God only, or chiefly, hears from you when you need some problem solved, then you only need God when He can do something for you. You are one of those persons who seeks God’s hands and not His face. You are much more interested in what He can do for you or give you, rather than interested in having a loving relationship with Him just because He’s God and you are His creature. And that’s what creatures do with their Creator: have loving relationship.

How many of your relationships on earth are problem-based? Why?

Is your relationship with God problem-based? Why?

The answers to these questions will reveal a whole lot about the kind of person you are.

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