Shallow and Stuck Christianity
This blog post was originally in a book that I am writing… After reading it over, it felt too personal, too “me” focused for a book. Thus I’ve removed and am sharing it here. If you would like to be a ‘reader’ of my book as I write and re-writing new drafts, please email me at: mail @ akcraig.com. Thanks!
I first became serious about my relationship with God when I was eighteen years old. In my first semester of college, exercising my freedom to act a fool, I quickly hit a personal crisis. Prompted by guilt, fear and the consequences of my behavior, I turned to God for rescue. Technically, I was convinced I needed salvation two years prior, but I hadn’t felt the need to make any lifestyle changes. But now I was recognizing I needed God for more than heaven, but for help on earth as well.
And God was merciful. He used the opportunity of my personal crisis to help me know him. Then God sealed the deal through a sovereign change of my social surroundings. My roommate moved out, I joined a gospel choir on campus and in a church. Within a few short months, my closest friends were now also spiritual guides.
They all seemed to have been Christians longer, knew the Bible better and I hung to their words for life and direction.
This began my foundational season of spiritual growth and development. I recall reflecting on how easy it was to commit to this change because most of my free time was spent with the same friends on nights and weekends. Eventually I became roommates with a guy who mentored me in both music and the Bible.
For the next 4 years, things continued in this direction. Spending time with a core group of friends with shared values spiritually and socially. Though, I still had issues, I could suppress most of them pretty well. But things would not remain so simple. The protective bubble I lived in would end as my professional pursuits grew and I began spending more time with another group of students.
My environment was changing and I struggled between fitting in or being set apart. After months of traversing the line of compromise and conviction, my sense of conscience became very blurry. When I had no one observing me or expecting me to live as a Holy Ghost filled, fire-baptized believer, I didn’t know what to do.
The simplicity of right and wrong were no longer as easy to stick to. In my journal from back in 2001, I composed these lyrics from a song:
How did I get here? How did I fall off?
I was on that narrow road.
Going my way, I’d —-
Always read and fast and pray, but now I’m standing on the line.
Wasting precious time.
Trying to keep my mind holy.
When all around is worldly.
And I’m trying to make it.
Sometimes I feel, so all alone.
And I’m trying to take it.
The battle is on.
But I’m pressing on.
Looking back over my lyrics I see a shallow understanding of my position in Christ. Yes, I had issues. Yes, I struggled with compromise and sin. However, the summation or foundation of my theology or reality was rules and hard effort; joy when successful or guilt and shame after failure. I was controlled by the weakness of my nature, but not the strength of my renewed position.
I was stuck in a Romans 7 worldview. Namely the portion in the chapter where Paul expresses a reality of contrasting impulses on the inside. The desire to do good along with the craving to do evil. (see verses 15-25)
Luckily, I didn’t stay there for ever. I eventually learned more about God, myself and the world. And with the learning, came the ability to change. This cycle continues to today. I get better, get worse; get stuck, get frustrated, surrender, find grace, find hope, and move forward.
It’s funny how, when you are not ready to move forward, no amount of wisdom can help you. If you reject ideas that don’t fit your worldview you will remain where you are until the appointed time.
"To everything, there is a time and a season". King Solomon, Ecclesiastes.
"When the student is ready, the teacher will come." (fakebuddhaquotes.com)
I recall hearing from Mike Bickle, one of my favorite Bible teachers, that life will always have ups and downs and must not judge ourselves by these ups and downs. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and each day, taste and see, break and eat of the grace provisioned for us.
With all the logic in me, those words made sense, but when it came to how I felt and lived in high times or low times, I was far from being content like Paul.
So my prayer for you today, if you are stuck… stuck with problems or stuck with guilt, that you grab hold on the internal, eternal freedom that is available for free. There is learning and relearning process in life. You learn facts and try to live by them. You fail and find grace. And somewhere in the accepting of what you can’t do, you allow God to move through you, in spite of you.
You need to be ok with perpetuating your own bias
I’ve been thinking a lot about personal beliefs lately. Of course we all think and believe differently. And often times, as life evolves and experiences affect us we may change what we believe. This change in our beliefs can be called growth or maturity. But then again, some may call it being led astray, brainwashed or deceived when the change is prompted without our conscious knowing.
And so, I’m finding it amazing not only how diverse and unique we all think, but no matter how crazy or foreign our ideas, we can likely find a group of others who believe the same way. This speaks to the largeness of our world.
Our world is a lot larger than I used to think. And with instant access and connection created by the internet, we can find other people who think the same way we do. We can support our beliefs with other evidence no matter how strange or outlandish it is.
And so, if we can think almost anything. AND find supportive evidence to that belief AND connect with groups of people who share the same feelings, HOW can we know what is true?
As a Christian, traditionally our beliefs are confirmed and held together by support of three witnesses. (1) The historical, written and canonized holy scripture; ie. the Bible. (2) The church community we fellowship with. Mature friends, pastors, and leaders who provide counsel. (3) The inner witness and conviction of the Holy Spirit.
But just because one is a Christian, things are not any easier. Why? Because, one: There are over 200 denominations or flavors of Christianity. Thus, just as you can find a large diversity of people in general who believe certain things, you can, within the label of “Christian” also find hundreds of variations of beliefs. And with these various beliefs, you may find documentation, leadership and communities who believe the same things.
Number two: The way in which we ‘think’ the Holy Spirit is convicting our hearts is very often just the programming or teaching that we have already received. If you have been taught a certain way, and grown up in a community believing similarly, you will feel, in your gut or spirit, “convicted” that it is that way.
So again, the question that most likely comes to mind is, HOW can we know what is true, or what to believe?
But asking or answering that question isn’t most important…
When it comes to Christianity, (ie. the lifestyles, beliefs or religion of people who have surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ; believing and accepting his death as payment for our sins) our standing, strength and security is not based on our right believing but rather in our trusting. It’s not about the knowledge in our heads, but the person of the Holy Spirit who resides in our hearts, testifying that we are members of the family of God.
And so, my actual point here is that, it’s not about asking the question, “what” to believe or “how” should we believe. My concern or admonishment is that we PROTECT what we believe. We need to protect, reinforce and jealously guard that which we hold true.
Reasons to Perpetuate Your Own Bias
Just because you believe something is true now, doesn’t mean you will think the same thing in six months or six years. Life has a way of bombarding us with an array of messages, opinions and negative experiences — all of which can deeply affect us to the core.
In the Old Testament, there are strange passages that talk about plastering your home with God’s law. Speaking them over and over to yourself and to your children. There are verses that describe the most devout men walking around with a tiny box strapped to their forehead. Inside the box is a scripture passage of God’s promises or commands.
Imagine this as similar to how today’s self-help gurus who talk about tearing out magazine pictures of things you want on your walls. It’s a way to reinforce your vision or values and keep you focused.
And this is the point. What you believe needs to be reinforced. If you do not continue speaking to yourself, reading, listening, surrounding yourself with people who share your belief and values you will likely lose them. You will be persuaded to think something different or disregard them as central truth to you. They will become one of the many ideas out there.
If you hold all truth as equal you will end up having no truth.
Personally, I love to learn and grow. I love meeting people who think completely different than I. Christian or atheist, anarchist, republican or libertarian. It’s all good. People can be who they are and I can get along fine with them. However, when I spend weeks or months putting my core beliefs on the backburner… Getting passionate about, say, business or bio-hacking but passive about prayer or dying empty I get… watery….I get kinda “blah”. I lose time; I waste away being an “eclectic man of the world”, with my purpose and true identity on-hold.
To be a man or woman of purpose, you need to be ok with perpetuating your own bias. You need to be ok with having tunnel vision in reference to your passion. You need to make it a habit to constantly return to the basic and foundational elements. You don’t always to have jump on the latest ideas. That which you find worthy to be planted deep in your heart, should be kept fresh and remain as majority stakeholder.
Does this make sense?
I’m reminded of the classic book, Battlefield of the Mind, by Joyce Meyer. That is such an appropriate title. There is a battle for the heart and mind… Though 90% of us, are not actively engaged. But those who stay the course and fight to the end will have recognized this and not taken it lightly.
Ok. That’s all I have.
I hope this encourages you…
Create a great day.
The surface level, general principle only brings mediocrity
A surprising side benefit from my recent addiction to running has been my attention to my health. It was fun to see my weight drop and my body become more defined, but I never planned on changing my diet, practicing yoga or looking into things like heart rate variability. But all of these and more have been some of the side effects from marathon training.
I previous wrote and even designed a poster about my first, great realization. That being how the things that really matter merit daily attention. I realized after running four marathons over the past year, not only the benefits from consistency, but the stark contrast of that which is done daily, and early and without multitasking as compared to the things that are pushed to the afternoon or things that we do only a few times a week.
Never in my little life have a noticed such a dramatic and sustained positive change as that from running six days a week, every week for almost an entire year. That experience brought such illumination and personal conviction about how growth happens, that it affects every other goal or desire I now have.
The idea of doing something… say only weekly is ridiculous, that is, it’s a ridiculous if I actually want to see growth. Saying I’m going to do something in the afternoon or before I go to bed is like saying I’ll be on the intersection of 71st Street and Memorial Avenue precisely at 4:37pm in 4 years. There is no way to know for certain what will happen in four years, or at the end the day when you life is filled with responsibility and family and business needs. But to say I’ll do this as soon as a wake up, is 10x more likely to happen.
The Quick Fix
Anywho, let’s get back to the original idea. As my title eludes, I’m learning to develop the ability to seek out and recognize what brings sustained health or wellness vs what is only a quick pleasure. The fact that I’m becoming a fitness junkie, has heighten my awareness of my body’s needs and changes. I’m more sensitive to aches and subtle pains like never before. As I experiment with low-carb, vegan and paleo diets, I’m even noticing how food affects my body and mood…
Certain things produce a quick jolt of pleasure to my mouth but then bring an energy crash in minutes or hours later. Some foods will cause my stomach to feel bloated immediate after or in the morning. This growing sensitivity with aspirations of improving my physical and mental performance is helping me to develop the discipline of eating better.
So the initial idea here is… To reach my physical and energy goals, I need to increase my attention to my body and what it needs and what it reacts to while minimizing addiction to the temporal pleasures that may come and go… But looking a little deeper, I am seeing an additional application.
The same way I learned about consistency and change from reflecting on marathon training. I am seeing a similar connection in quick pleasures vs sustained wellness. There are some things that are easy to access and bring quick pleasures all while sabotaging another area which is the most important.
As it turning out, the tongue or mouth is intimately connected to my emotions or surface level reality. When I eat something sweet either in response to stress, boredom or hunger there is an immediate and tangible boost. But this initial satisfaction can often be antithetical my long term needs.
My primary application or realization of this applies to information or knowledge gathering. The ultimate goal is living life with purpose and passion and according to my design. How did God make me, what was I built to do, how can I make an impact, etc. But when looking at where I am and where I want to be, there is a large gap. Therefore, the logical step has been to go learn, go study, download an audio book, subscribe to a podcast, fill my mind with experience and wisdom of someone who’s made it.
There is of course, nothing wrong or unhealthy with this approach. This is actually quite logical. However, when you have your eyes on the end result of what you want, and assess whether your approach is actually moving your forward, backwards or nowhere you may think differently.
It’s like when you are hungry and then eat, but 30 or 60 minutes later are once again hungry. What you ate may not have been junk, but the fact that it only satiated your for an hour should indicate that what you digested didn’t really give your body what it needed.
Here is the principle. There are two different aspects of yourself that can be fed or effected. One of them is quick and easy and immediate. The other responds slower, is not as vocal, but it is a better gauge. Only when are looking and questioning your actions and results will you see the difference.
In my experience, the mind is simple and easy to please. An intellectual itch, caused from a lack or question about my life can be scratched with few key strokes in Google. From there I am drowned with a plethora of ideas and can fall into a glutton of information. In one sense I’m am stuffed, but in another more important sense, I’m just a stuck and unsatisfied. No progress was made. Only an busyness and energy spent.
There is a verse in the Bible that says God’s wisdom is completely different than wisdom of the world. When we are dealing the issues of the heart and trying to bring fulfillment to our souls, we need a God perspective. Not a general principle of seeking first the kingdom or loving God, but a specific, individual idea like, “Peter, feed my sheep… if I want John to remain alive until I return what is that to you? You must follow me.” ( John 21: 17,22 paraphrased)
We can go through the motions of general principles or following the footsteps of others but never step closer to our purpose. We need to know ourselves better and distinguish what is acceptable and immediate to what is ultimately satisfying. Some people will avoid pork to eat a whole-wheat and turkey, but never grow to be aware of their issue to dairy or glutton. They are fixed on a general idea and numb to their unique needs.
I believe there are simple, specific and individual ideas that God has shown each of us. Little discrepancies and differences of how we are to live. Some of us are not watch certain TV shows other types of visual or imaginative stimulants. Some of us need to be aggressively jealous about guarding certain time slots of our day, dedicating time to writing or being around a mentor or participating in our children’s or parents lives.
But following after other people, looking for quick fixes or a simple check lists will only build a habit of surface level change and mediocrity.
There is no universal formula, Biblical or business that can blindly applied and proved beneficial on an individual level. Look beyond the surface, persevere and reflect longer-term. Realize that if you really want to see growth and change, you need to be aware of the subtle effects of your efforts. Find the personal formula or God idea that works for you.
The Opposite of Faith
The opposite of faith is not doubt. It’s not fear and it’s not unbelief.
To the person who is out on a limb, trusting and hoping that God will come through and meet their needs, all of these feelings of uncertainty can be present.
Faith is active in the blind, unseen space between holding on and arriving.
And so, the one thing that can’t be present along with faith is control. Only when you release your grip in something can you claim you have faith in that area. You have to let go in order to give in to the one you’re trusting.
Fear Wrapped Up in “Wisdom”
Lately, I have been feeling constantly busy. And thus, my number one goal is the removal of the busyness, ie. getting stuff knocked out. But getting “unbusy” is only short-term immediate relief, not necessary moving me closer to my design or purpose.
I thought it was wisdom to build the habit of saying “no” in order to stay productive. But the problem is, what I called “productive” wasn’t related to my ideal future but only my nagging present.
What we call “wisdom” can often be fear in disguise. It appears to wise because it is safe. It is the action, least likely to disturb others or bring harm. But living simply for the avoidance of failure or difficulty isn’t living at all.
This is the orphan in perpetual survival; who lives only for themselves, being their own savior, protector and sustainer. This is a scarcity mindset whereby we live not for the potential of greatness but for the absence of pain.
I have to constantly remind myself of my values and what I want. I want peace and I want to live in the center of my design. Peace comes from trust and trust come from communion. Living in my design is a choice that requires faith and faith (which is really trust) comes also from communion.
Earthly wisdom is the ability to predict and work around the winds and the waves… But Christian wisdom is keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus, ignoring or calming the storm and then walking on the water.
Choosing Peace over Freedom
For years my highest value was freedom. Not that I knew it at the time, but as I look back over the years and the choices I’ve made in business…
Working out of coffee shops, refusing to be ‘hired’ choosing to be my own boss and boasting the fact.
Freedom has been the highest priority.
Not money. Not contribution, purpose or adventure. But freedom. Personal freedom and independent control.
Freedom is nice, but it isn’t everything.
I think I first realized this after listening to, “Think and Grow Rich” last year.
What struck me was one of his first principles about the necessity of desiring to be rich. Making it a high priority. And of course with the priority, there comes the assessment and measurement of where you are and where you want to be.
It hit me that the main measurement I used on a daily basis has been my freedom and control. “Can I do what I want to do today?” Not, “am I making the amount of money I want or need to.” “Can I turn my phone off, take the day off, or tend to the emergencies of family at a moments notice?”
When making management decisions, it was all about my freedom and control, not what could yield the highest ROI. Any ROI decisions were first filtered though my freedom gauge.
And so, recently I’ve started to shift into prioritizing peace.
To be honest, I think I thought that more freedom could bring more peace. I thought I needed to be free from other people and self-secure. But that never brought what I was wanting. Even when I made large sums of money, the fact that it was all based on my efforts and my sustaining it just brought anxiety.
Peace doesn’t from control, but from trust. Peace isn’t centered on self. Something or someone outside yourself is needed.
God’s peace is described as transcending understanding. It goes beyond knowledge and intellect. It surpasses one’s ability to preplan every scenario. It may work through other people or institutions, but it’s core is in the person and character of God.
One last point.
A few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast from the Bulletproofexec.com with a guy named Peter Sage. One super idea I gleamed from it was the idea that inner health and stability was needed to precede financial health and wealth.
He said (in my own summarized recollection ) that when the presence of money is the rudder or governor of our soul; ie, if we are happy when we it’s high, and sad when it’s low — we will never see consistent growth.
But instead, he mentioned that if would could become strong and consistently healthy on the inside, that the volatility money would eventually become stable, stay with us and grow.
I have no idea of the validity of this idea, but it sounds good to me! I know from experience that I generally fall in the category of being moved by money. And so, with my new priority of seeking peace and trusting God over self, I’m hoping that I’ll see the financial growth as well.
Create a great day!
Silencing My Inner Critic
I know I’ve heard people talk about this before. But only recently has the reality and necessity of dealing with this issue ever been so apparent.
The numerous thoughts that come to mind which question, challenge and try to improve my initial idea or direction is a serious problem.
I use to think I was a perfectionist.
But this can’t be pefectionistic because things are never perfect. They don’t get perfected, but rather refined and refined until there isn’t anything left. My energy is drained and yes, I may have made a little progress, but I’ve been tremendously inefficient. Disillusioned to believe that sweat equals success. I’ve allowed facets of my mind to keep me spinning in circles. Critical for the sake of being critical and distant from realizing what’s really important.
I use to think I just needed a better tool or system, a strategy for time management or the perfect app to log all my ideas.
I thought I needed a VA, EA or PM who could complement my inadequacies and fill in the gaps where I lack.
But no external person or system can fix what’s broken on the inside.
You see… I’ve got this critic that never quits. Never sleeps. Never stays quiet for long. My inner critic always gets the last word. Always has one alternative perspective. Always has a backup plan and parallel method.
And as long as I’m multitasking or changing directions, I’m not focused. I don’t really commit. I always leave the options open. There’s no faith, no trust, just a number of ideas.
Spirit led ideas and proven business ideas. Practical wisdom and personal preferences. Efforts that reinforce my DESIGN, directions that play to my strengths.
Not sure if you’re catching the pattern. It’s not about what’s right or wrong. The issue for me has been no matter what I choose, there’s always a thought that it may not be right or best way and so I begin coming up with alternatives.
I call this voice, this cause my inner critic.
Last week, after listening to two podcasts and a book that ranged from the subjects of intuition, flow and men/women sexual health. There was a commonality across them about a state when the mind becomes quiet, the thinking brain and the lizard brain are both on back burner and what comes forth is something else…
It’s a place where focus happens; and flow that follows focus. You get into a groove, live in the moment and experience growth and connection.
When I heard about this I quickly recognized it. Like an old distant friend. Familiar but not frequent enough.
And so, if nothing else is clear, I am now seeing the enemy and I recognize it’s activity. The criticism on myself or others. The judgement. The constant change and multi-streams of effort are the evidence of misguided distracted thinking.
Have you ever experienced this or overcome this?
Have you read something about it? Overheard a podcast, read an article about overcoming it?
If so, I’d love to hear about it. Please share.
(Unfortunately I haven’t figured out how to add comments on this template so, pls tweet me @ArvellCraig your comments. )
Sometimes I need to remind myself of things I’ve thought or said before…
Tomorrow has no stench, but it does carry weight.
Unduly anxiety can vex the strongest man who assumes the hypothetical.
Assumes and presumes to be one step ahead of a dubious future…
We call it being proactive and planning.
But we’re really just spamming.
Muddling our mind with undealt with…
The Two Kinds of Passion
The first kind of passion is your values and interests. You may be passionate about God, music or art. Some are consumed with the NBA, NRA or politics.
What you actually do regarding these passions is irrelevant. You just want to give into them, study and know what’s happening with them.
For example, you may have no musical talent at all, but that doesn’t stop your consumption with buying, listening and sharing the music you love.
The second kind of passion relates to what you do. You long to use a given ability or talent. Perhaps for you it’s writing, dancing, strategizing or connecting to people. Or maybe working with numbers, money, organizing events, etc.
Though you also have values, it often doesn’t matter what the purpose is surrounding these activities, you will be fulfilled anytime you do them.
Of course, we’d all like to be doing both of these all time. We don’t want to choose, we want it all and we want it now! However, that isn’t always the case.
If you’ve ever felt a little conflict or guilt behind not bringing all of what you are together, here are two simple ideas that have helped me.
The first is realizing that they are both God given and both are equally important. What you want to do and are able to do is built into you just like the things you care about.
Next, the doing passions are the vehicles that bring value to both yourself and others. You don’t always get to serve your own causes and interests. Oftentimes, you need to humble yourself and serve another’s.
But if you can allow this to happen, and faithfully strengthen your talents by constant use; opportunities that align with you values will cross paths. And when this happens you will be ready for it and be truly impactful.
For years, I have been involved in a (FREE) program that helped me recognize these ideas as well as some additional related things. To learn more about both discovering purpose and making an impact visit: www.YourOneDegree.com. You can also, just contact me if you want an introduction and/or coaching.
How about “Church Study” instead of Bible Study?
Perhaps Christians need to break from studying the Bible and study church. Many know so much about scripture that the fail to know, love or care for their spiritual family and friends.
"…you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters.” (Matt. 23:23)
"Church" just like the word "religion" is not inherently a bad word, but in todays vernacular, it’s become the scapegoat for the cool kids to label structure, order or dead traditions.
Studying Church, ie. the people and body of Christ, might be more effective for actually living the Bible.
Learning church might lead people to loving one another and accepting on another.