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What Saved Your Faith? Highlights from the Synchroblog

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Last week I asked “What Saved Your Faith?” as part of the release celebration for A Christian Survival Guide. I was overwhelmed with the honest, beautiful stories of faith that felt on the brink and was saved. There are so many different ways that your faith can be saved, and I’m grateful that so many participated and shared with the Twitter hashtag #savedmyfaith.

I’m going to take the next week off from blogging in order to catch up on some things I had to put on the back burner, but I first wanted to share a round up of the posts along with some of my favorite quotes:

 

Alise D. Chaffins

“In the middle of the night, our church was that stairwell; our hymns, an improvised jumble of notes and rhythms that spoke of longing, of peace, of joy. We shared our hearts with one another in a way that was sacred. In the midst of the questions surrounding my faith during my college years, I found holiness in the music of a dirty hallway.”

 

Lisa Burgess

“When freedom is as evident as it’s ever been and God’s presence breaks through the thin places again and again, yet I still struggle with occasional (though less frequent, praise God!) worries about my kids or fears about new adventures, God reminds me through songs to keep focusing on him, keep showing up to love, and keeping praising through everything.”

 

Andi Cumbo-Floyd

“Grief and loss and the iffy decisions that I made in that dark hour led me far, led me to push hard against the edges of my faith to see what would break away and what would stand.  And all that while, when I battered away at the false promises of ease and lifelong marriage, as the accusations about divorce and celibacy lobbed from without and within, that love held my core tight and firm, reminding me in groans I could neither utter or hear that I was profoundly and deeply loved by One who is love.”

 

Jennifer Luitweiler

“As the new and clueless mother of infants who cried and demanded things in a language I didn’t know, my faith was stretched like a breaking rubber band. I remember stretching out on the carpet of my bedroom while one or two wailed, praying for peace, and knowledge and creativity, and energy. I remember rising from that carpet, tears on my face and carpet impressions, too, walking with a supernatural calm to ease their discomfort, to fulfill their needs, to be the mom I had to be, wanted to be.”

 

Kelly J. Youngblood

“While the timing of past events has become very fuzzy to me, there is one moment I do remember, although I do not remember when or where it occurred.  I was at a point where I thought I would have to make a decision to give it all up.  Faith, church, Jesus.  And as I contemplated what to do, I realized it could go either way.  I didn’t know anymore who Jesus was or what he was supposed to mean to me.  It was as if I was facing two paths to walk down, and I had to choose one.”

 

Sequoia Ways

“Ultimately I don’t believe it is my faith in God that keeps me going, it is his commitment to love me and be at work within me that endures in good times and in bad. He saves the faith he planted in me whenever it is threatened by times of darkness, disaster or drought. ”

 

Jason Whittington

“I’ve been on the edge of giving up. Weary of rituals. Weary of people equating my questions with a lack of faith. Weary of people using the first chapter of 1 Corinthians to persuade me to stop digging deeper. Weary of people telling me to “just believe.” Weary of people in general.

Then there are people that God uses in tremendous ways.

Every person that listens to my story and my struggles and says, “me too.”

Every person that listens to me recount the ups and downs of my day to day existence with even a hint of love and empathy in their eyes.”

 

Christian on the Frontline“These “heretics” have quite literally saved my faith and my relationship with Christ. They blew wide open the questions and dared to go down roads many deemed too dangerous. Anytime I find someone branded a heretic by a Christian, it encourages me to go read their work. ”

 

Cara Meredith

Because when The Gray emerges, when it overwhelms and frightens and clouds our stories, it also sometimes forces us to huddle under cozy blankets and stare out cloudy windows and just be. We become lost in a tangle of unknowing and we question God, hurling insults at him and raising questions towards him, one after another after another, like the ball pitching machine in the batting cages. Whoosh! Whoosh! Whoosh! Our hands lob and they sling and they fire fastballs towards the Great One, wondering if this’ll be the last time he’ll lend ear to our third-degree queries. For somehow, in this insult-throwing, not-knowing, time-of-questioning period of gray, I’ve felt the most certitude.”

 

Traces of Faith

“Sometimes I was the only one at the altar, but it made no difference. Through my tears, God taught me deeper lessons about faith. And sharing our story with loved ones. I walked away from this time knowing one’s salvation truly rests in Christ alone.”

 

Melinda Inman

“It took me a full decade to grasp what God was doing. He was stripping me of my legalism, arrogance, and self-reliance. He was transforming me to rely on him, so he could show me that his promises are really true and I could learn to love him. It wasn’t about me and my capabilities, but about Christ and his cross.”

 

Cindy Brandt

“You see, I want all of the beauty. I want the irreverent, gritty honesty out there AND the deeply mystical prayers in here. I want the pragmatic, scientific solutions for the world’s problems out there AND the earnest faith for the impossible in here. I want the big, huge tent that welcomes everyone out there AND the narrow road of life giving sacrifice in here. I want to glean the wisdom of the world AND own Jesus’ beautiful vision. I want to be a Christian, but not THAT kind of Christian.”

 

Leigh Kramer

“I’ve long turned to books for answers and solidarity. In spite of this new section, I wasn’t hoping for much when I asked Andy for recommendations. He didn’t hesitate before placing A New Kind of Christian in my hands. It had been published almost a year earlier and when he described its impact on him, I immediately sensed it would have the same effect on me.”

 

Charity Singleton

“Not only is God not made of dust, He is capable of making me from dust, and you. He creates something—everything—from practically nothing. He takes ruined things and makes them whole and valuable again. But he remembers, always, that I am not more. I am just dust.”

 

Kris Camealy

“Learning to pray prayers formed from my own words, out of the contents of my own heart transformed my faith. Listening to the honest prayers of my fellow congregants served as an invitation into something richer than I ever imagined–real conversational prayer with Jesus.”

 

Jennifer Tinker Clark

“When I am struggling in my faith I am particularly glad for corporate worship and liturgy in particular. Even if I can’t pray, the community of faith carries me through their prayers. Churches who do liturgical worship are accused sometimes of “just going through the motions.” I have to tell you though, when infertility plunged me to my lowest point, those “motions” were all I had. Reciting liturgy that I have memorized, that I know by heart allowed me to pray when I would not have otherwise been able to pray.”

 

Interviews

Jennifer Clark Tinker at Life & Liberty

“The book had me laughing out loud and reading passages to bystanders, while also giving me wisdom to continue to ponder in my heart.”

Listen to the Interview

 

Trip Kimball

Read the Interview here.

 

A Few Reviews…

Joan Nienhuis

“If you are being challenged in an area of Christian belief, take a look at this book. There just may be a biblical perspective you have not considered that will help you survive with your faith intact. Above all, rely on the Holy Spirit to sustain you and keep you focused on Jesus.”

 

Jason Freyer

“Every year, almost like clockwork, our students who are in 11th grade suffer some sort of crisis of faith. It’s something that we’re looking at pretty hard, trying to research and discover where this phenomenon comes from. But in the meantime, as I was reading Ed’s Christian Survival Guide, I knew that I would be purchasing several more copies, and handing them out to students when these crises of faith arise. I would highly recommend youth pastors of all walks of life buy a batch of these books to have on hand to give to your students. You’ll be glad you did.”

 

Anna Joy Tucker

A Christian Survival Guide lays things out in a methodical and logical way, but it also leaves some wiggle room.  Rather than having an air of authority and arrival or one of pure confusion and questioning, Ed’s tone is one of the best I’ve seen in terms of opening a conversation.  He shares his own experiences and thoughts, he provides Biblical backing when he can, he offers perspectives from lots of different Christian traditions, and he is soft and gentle on things that could get confusing.  In short, he makes me think.”

 

* * *

I appreciate everyone who posted a review, picked up a copy of the book, shared about it on social media, and helped spread the word. This has been a labor of love for me over the past four years, so it means the world to me that you’ve helped tell others about it.

I’ll be back to the blog in a week or so.

Gratefully,

Ed

Revelation and God’s Place in an Unjust World

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I have the honor of writing for Red Letter Christians today, which is one of my favorite blogs, about the role that the book of Revelation should be playing as we try to figure out God’s place in a violent, unjust world. Hint: It’s not here to help us spot a future “Anti-Christ” figure…

 

Injustice appears to be the main thread running through the news these days.

Systemic racism has been exposed when a police officer, according to all eyewitness accounts, murdered an unarmed African American teenager.

Islamic State militants have killed religious minorities in Iraq and continue to threaten thousands upon thousands of Christians.

Violence could erupt again at any moment in Gaza.

These national and international events are but a cross section of disturbing news in our world that range from persecuted Christians in China to the staggering number of African Americans who are locked up for longer prison sentences than whites.

Who could fault anyone for asking, Where is God in the midst of injustice and persecution?

The writers of scripture give us a compelling answer to this question, but many Christians today–especially Christians in the West–have missed it. That is because the Bible, in part, deals with our questions about God’s place in an unjust world through the book of Revelation—a book that many have tragically (and, at times, comically) misunderstood.

Read the rest at Red Letter Christians.

When Prayer Is a Still Small Voice for Big Loud Problems: A Post for Preston Yancey

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A few weeks ago the upcoming memoir Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey arrived on my doorstep. I started to casually read it. He’s a twenty-something writer who likes to cook and hang out with icons. I didn’t quite know what to expect. While I haven’t finished it yet, I’ve been completely delighted by his story and his masterful writing, and I highly recommend preordering it today.

Preston is also a passionate blogger who has kindly shared his blog, hosting me for a guest post adapting A Christian Survival Guide’s chapter about prayer.

 

Did you know that Jesus spent significant amounts of time praying? He regularly took trips into the wilderness and up mountains to pray for extended periods of time. It’s not exactly a hidden aspect of his ministry. It’s just one that I didn’t think about too much until recently.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus prayed so often?

Wasn’t Jesus already pretty tight with God since he was a member of the Trinity? The fact that he took time to pray is a Trinitarian brain bender. Wasn’t he still God?

If Jesus made prayer an integral part of his life, what makes us think we can do any better without it? If anything, Jesus sent us a very important message about the practice and importance of prayer. Our survival as followers of Jesus depends on it. If our Lord modeled prayer for us, then we’d better figure out a place for it in our lives.

Many Christians I know today, myself included, struggle with a condition I call “prayer guilt.” We all like to pray. We all see the value of prayer. We even pray most days. However, we always feel like we never pray enough. If we have prayed, we didn’t pray long enough or failed to stay focused while praying. I’ll even tell myself, “Sure I prayed, but the prayers weren’t very good.” It would be nice to at least have a vision or speak in a tongue or two before checking prayer off my “to do” list.

I’ve spent far too many days living with an underlying sense that I should be praying more or doing more for God. I can always think of someone who must be meditating longer, reciting prayers that are more ancient, or lighting taller, brighter candles. Whether or not I’m correct, that guilt leaves me feeling inadequate and unable to approach God with the kind of confidence that Jesus talks about.

Read the rest at Preston’s blog.

When I Was Ashamed of the Gospel: A Guest Post for Micah J. Murray

A Christian Survival Guide

Micah J. Murray is one of the most talented young writers I know. His blog Redemption Pictures is a must read each week. However, he does a lot more than blogging. He produces videos, designs websites, and, in his latest venture, designs t-shirts based on his most popular posts. I’m especially fond of this one:

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Micah was kind enough to share his blog with me so that I can post an adapted version of the Survival Guide’s chapter on sharing the Gospel: “Death of a Sales Pitch?” Maybe you can relate to feeling like you’re ashamed of the gospel if you aren’t out there sharing it all of the time…

 

When I realized I was ashamed of the gospel, I feared losing my salvation.

I’ve been told that REAL Christians share their faith and aren’t ashamed of the gospel. In fact, I’ve been told that if I didn’t share my faith at EVERY opportunity, I’m actually ashamed of the Gospel and Jesus would deny me (Matthew 10:33).

Talking to strangers is pretty much the last thing an introvert like me wants to do, but when an evangelism class in seminary required that I share my faith ten times every week, I finally had a crisis of faith and sanity.

I had constant anxiety attacks about evangelism . . . even while shopping . . . at Wal-Mart.

We could make ourselves insane with evangelism.

If every person is an eternal soul who could end up in hell suffering for the rest of eternity, shouldn’t we walk from person to person every minute of every day asking them if they know Jesus?

 

 

Read the Rest at Micah’s blog: Redemption Pictures.

A Guest Post for Rachel Held Evans: How God Handles Our Doubts

A Christian Survival Guide

I’m guest posting today for Rachel Held Evans today, which is both an honor and quite intimidating. Rachel wrote one of the best books about facing our doubts when she shared her personal faith journey in Faith Unraveled. It’s one of the books I recommend in A Christian Survival Guide because of its bracing honesty and commitment to exploring the scriptures. It’s also really well written–which is why it’s intimidating to guest post for Rachel. Thankfully, Rachel has been one of the most generous authors I know, sharing her place with anyone who may have something helpful to share with her readers.

In today’s guest post is adapted from A Christian Survival Guide and addresses the way God deals with Christians who doubt… which is the exact opposite of what I expected for most of my Christian life…

 

A few years ago I felt like prayer had stopped working. In fact, I began to doubt whether it had ever worked at all.

I was just talking to myself in an empty room. Quieting myself to “hear” God really didn’t work either. In fact, that just made things worse. The longer I waited with nothing happening, the more my anxiety kicked into gear, worrying that God really wasn’t going to respond.

I know that some Christians go through a season of doubt like this and can’t survive. They can’t find God and have to give up. In my own case, I held on. I can’t make it sound like I did something better. I just ended up in a different place after seeking prayer and counsel from trusted friends and family who walked with me through that season.

However, I know that many Christians and former Christians haven’t found the same resolution for their doubts. In fact, admitting your doubt feels like admitting failure, if not giving fellow Christians a reason to condemn and judge us for unbelief.

I’ve been on both sides of doubt, playing the part of judge at one point and doubter at another.

It’s easy to be dismissive toward those who have doubts because we really, really don’t want to have the same problems. It’s disturbing to hear that someone who grew up in the same church as you and attended all of the same Bible studies and prayed all of the same prayers is either doubting God or thinking of leaving the faith altogether. Let’s be honest about the problem here: If this person is about to leave the faith or has already left the faith, why can’t the same thing happen to you as well?

What should we do about doubts?

We don’t want doubts to linger, but we need to address them patiently and honestly. Where do we begin?

Read the rest of today’s post at Rachel’s blog.

What Is God’s Role in a Violent World? My Guest Post for Nate Pyle

I’ve known Nate Pyle through social media and blogging for about a year now I suppose, but we finally met in person at the Festival of Faith and Writing last Spring. We had a great chat during a writers happy hour, and I got to learn a bit more about his upcoming book and some of his writing projects, which are all fantastic. I’m really honored to contribute a guest post to his blog during the release of A Christian Survival Guide (which is $2.99 this week!), sharing an excerpt from the book about God and violence: “Deliver Us from God?”. When you’re done reading my post, make sure you subscribe to Nate’s blog and follow him on Twitter.

 

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“The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.”

Exodus 15:3

 

We don’t have to look further than the rubble-filled streets of Gaza to recognize our world’s problem with violence. From military conflict to mass shootings, violence is a common tool for solving “problems.”

A quick breeze through the pages of the Bible reminds us that nothing much has changed. In fact, it appears that even God resorted to acts of violence in order to solve “problems.”

There’s no getting around the words of scripture. God is described as a warrior in the book of Exodus. So, is it accurate to say that God is violent? Do we misrepresent God? And if God is violent, would we want to worship such a God?

Read the rest at Nate’s blog.

Buy A Christian Survival Guide and 3 Other Books for the Price of One

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Starting Monday, August 18th and ending Friday, August 22nd, three of my most recent books will be $2.99, and one will be $4.99. Best yet, my latest book A Christian Survival Guide is available as a free eBook on Monday the 18th only. Here are all of the details:

 

A Christian Survival Guide is also being offered at a steep discount this week.

On Monday, August 18th, it will be offered as a free eBook at select sites:

Amazon and B&N

Tuesday-Friday, August 19-22, it will be offered for $2.99. (See also the Publisher)

Print Copies: Get $3 off on Amazon this week.

Survival Guide Order Button

 

 

DISCOUNTED EBOOKS: The Good News of Revelation and Hazardous (a book about making the risky decisions that result from following Jesus), are both $2.99 at Amazon. Unfollowers is $4.99 at my publisher’s website. Scroll down for the links. All offers end August 22nd!

 

Publisher’s Weekly shared about A Christian Survival Guide:

“Cyzewski approaches each topic with candor, sharing stories that make it easy to relate to the topic at hand. While many of the topics are complex, he provides a point of entry into each and raises thoughtful questions about how much importance Christians can assign to aspects of the discussion.”

After you’re done reading A Christian Survival Guide, I’d love for you to share what you think in a brief review.

Thanks so much for reading!

CASCADE_Template
The Good News of Revelation
$2.99 on Amazon

Purchase from the publisher.

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Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus
$2.99 on Amazon

Purchase from the publisher.

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Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from the Doubters of Jesus

Purchase from the publisher for $4.99.


A Christian Survival Guide
FREE (Monday) or $2.99 (T-F)
Learn More Here…

Purchase from the publisher.

Note: All Amazon links are affiliate links. 

Thanks so much for reading my books. If you have a moment today to share this post using the social media links below, I’d be grateful.

Happy reading!

What Saved My Faith: A Synchroblog about Christian Survival and a Big Book Discount

 

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I wrote last week about my doubts that arose when I didn’t receive any obvious manifestations of the Holy Spirit and God felt distant whenever I tried to pray. Much to my dismay, there wasn’t a quick fix to my faltering faith. I’m writing a follow up post as part of a synchroblog this week: What Saved My Faith? Synchroblog details are at the end of today’s post: 

 

When God felt distant throughout my early 20’s, I felt like my faith was completely breaking down. The only way to save my faith was to ask the question that I thought would mean losing it:

“Why has God abandoned me?”

What did my lack of charismatic experiences mean about my faith or about God?

 

I couldn’t figure out a way to make prayer work until I acknowledged that I’d hit a dead end. I had to admit that I was struggling to connect with God. In fact, one word sums my experience up:

SILENCE.

 

 

While I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly charismatic at the time,  I was used to spiritual experiences. I’d had many moments where the words of scripture seemed to jump off the page, and I sensed either an intense joy or sorrow. I’d felt conviction to make major life changes. I’d felt God’s presence while praying int he past.

However, one day it all just fell apart. I can’t say what exactly happened. It’s not like you plan for prayer to stop working or for insecurity to become the norm. Prayer, which had just flowed before, was riddled with uncertainty, doubt, and fear.

The Bible describes a present God who is able to meet people when they pray. That was not my experience.

I quickly became an anxious Christian. I wanted my spirituality to work, and if it didn’t work the way I expected it to work, then I feared that I’d been abandoned by God.

It’s not that I didn’t believe in God. I’d experienced too much. Rather, I just feared abandonment. All of the promises of scripture couldn’t squelch the burning anxiety that God had abandoned me.

“Where are you God? Why won’t you come near?” I asked each day.

I knew so many people who heard God speak, who experienced God, and who sensed God’s direction in their lives.

Why not me?

 

I had to start believing something without personal proof: What if God was near even if I couldn’t sense God’s presence? What if I had to remain faithful without any assurance that God saw me?

I had to learn how to wait on God.

I’ve been surrounded by Christians who talked about victory and breakthroughs, but I didn’t have any concept of a dark night of the soul. One thing pulled me out of my downward spiral into darkness: I relied on the prayers of others. 

First, I asked for prayer.

I asked for a lot of prayer, in fact. Each time I received assurances. I gave God every opportunity to tell me what I was doing wrong through the people praying for me. It turned out that I wasn’t living in sin or on the brink of being cast into the flames of hell or anything else.

In fact, my father-in-law sensed that God had imparted the Holy Spirit to me. If God wasn’t angry with me, I decided to take a different approach to prayer.

I prayed the prayers of others.

When you can’t find your own words to pray, the words of the Psalms and the historic church can serve as a real life saver. In fact, as I struggled with doubts and uncertainty during my dark night of the soul (or whatever one calls these things, I’m a Protestant, remember), I relied heavily on the daily prayers from the Divine Hours (buy the books or pray online).

The Divine Hours exposed me to all kinds of prayers: petitions, laments, praise, etc. I saw that doubt, dark nights of the soul, fear, and uncertainty came up quite a bit while praying. The majority of the readings were short passages of scripture, and I saw that waiting on the Lord comes up quite a bit in the Bible and especially in collected prayers in the Hours.

Psalm 5:3
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.

Psalm 27:14
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 130:5-6
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

The Psalms are full of waiting, in fact.

So I started to wait. I started to rely on the prayers of others. Slowly, gradually, I learned to wait and trust God on my own.

The more I relied on the prayers of others, the more I say that my prayers were full of pushy petitions and demanding deadlines. I was asking God to show up in the time, place, and manner I specified. Perhaps my season of silence was God’s way of shutting down the ways I’d been trying to exert my control over prayer. Who knows.

I started waiting and praying the prayers of others, and I eventually began to sense God’s presence and voice again. In silence and in the recitation of scripture, I found a new path to God that didn’t rely on crafting clever prayers. In fact, prayer became peaceful and restful, inviting God to come and simply paying attention to however the Spirit would move.

I don’t think I could have figured out how to pray on my own. I had to experience the prayers of others and copy the prayers of scripture and fellow Christians. That felt like cheating. It made me feel like a failure, as if I wasn’t smart enough to sort this out on my own.

Rather than failing, I was actually learning what faith looks like. I was learning to stop relying on my won wisdom and to seek the wisdom that can only come from God alone.  By relying on the prayers of others, I finally learned what it means to pray in faith, waiting and trusting in the presence and direction of God.

The things that feel like threats to our faith are often just the necessary failure of flawed faith that must break down and shatter before real faith can take their place. 

 

This post is part of a synchroblog for the release of A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth  that’s answering the following question:

What saved your faith? 

Write a post this week answering that question and then scroll down to learn how to join the synchroblog.

 

A Christian Survival Guide is also being offered at a steep discount this week.

On Monday, August 18th, it will be offered as a free eBook at select sites:

Amazon and B&N

Tuesday-Friday, August 19-22, it will be offered for $2.99. (See also the Publisher)

Print Copies: Get $3 off on Amazon this week.

Survival Guide Order Button

 

How to Join the Synchroblog:

1. Write a post for your blog during the week of August 18-23.

2. Begin or end your post with something like, “I’m joining the synchroblog for the release of A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth by answering the prompt: ‘What saved my faith?'”

3. End with a link to today’s post.  (This is the short link: “http://wp.me/p36rtR-k5″). Add the link up information to your post, the synchroblog image, and end your post with a prompt like this: “What saved your faith? Write your own post answering that question and then visit www.edcyzewski.com to learn how you can join the synchroblog or to read additional posts to celebrate the release of Ed’s book A Christian Survival Guide, which is discounted on Amazon this week. “

4. Link to your post in the comment section on Ed’s blog post and tweet with the hashtag “#SavedMyFaith”. 

5. Read other posts by checking the comments or the #SavedMyFaith hashtag on Twitter. Then comment, tweet, or share the best posts you find!

3 Reasons Why You’ll Hate My New Book

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I try to avoid reading reviews of my books.

OK, I admit, if it’s 5 stars or a glowing review in Publisher’s Weekly, I’ll probably read the review. Possibly even 10-15-80 times.

But the other day I saw the first one star review show up for A Christian Survival Guide. I didn’t read it. I was just passing along the link to the book’s page and didn’t scroll down to see anything else. However, I can pretty easily imagine why quite a few Christians will really hate this book.

 

1. Our Christian culture has confused certainty with stability.

There’s nothing wrong with being certain about what you believe. However, there’s a big problem when we expect everyone to follow our own templates for faith. We all pass through seasons of doubt, uncertainty, or personal struggle, and the results of those seasons will differ from person to person.

There’s no single template for followers of Jesus. And actually, if there was, the template for following Jesus would be doubt and confusion. Jesus’ followers had three years to get things straight about Jesus and what kind of Messiah he was, and they still weren’t fully clear about Jesus until the very end of his ministry.

My pastor has a saying that goes like this, “In Christianity, you either become a mystic or you become an atheist.” That’s an intentional overstatement, but he gets to the heart of things: Bible study and theological systems can’t handle everything life throws at us. We all have to sort through things in our own way, and oftentimes that means prioritizing the presence of God over theological certainty.

 

2. This Book Is Too Liberal and Too Conservative

When someone asks if I’m conservative or liberal in my theology, I usually say, “It depends who you ask.” I’m probably too conservative for the liberals and  too liberal for the conservatives. It’s not that I’m trying to land in the theological middle on every issue. Rather, I try to keep various perspectives in conversation with each other without always taking a side in each instance.

That will probably drive some people crazy. Remember, this is a book for people who are processing their faith and trying to sort out answers. If there’s a majority position that causes a lot of problems for Christians, I take some pretty major swings at it. If you love the idea of an end times rapture and hell being a place of eternal conscious torment, you’re going to really hate this book, because I present the biblical arguments against both of these positions.

That isn’t to say that one can’t believe in the rapture or hell as ECT in order to survive as a Christian. Rather, I’m helping people ask hard questions about these kinds of issues.

 

3. I Will Tip Some Sacred Cows

While I can’t cover every topic that may cause someone’s faith to falter, I’m also pretty frank in pointing out the kinds of issues that have become distractions from the core issues of Christian living. I write in the Introduction to the Survival Guide:

“When I speak of Christian survival, I’m talking about the real problems and doubts that can hinder your relationship with Jesus and your fellowship with others. In America we are bombarded with all kinds of campaigns, organizations, and agendas that are supposed to be important to us as Christians.

We’re told by politicians on both sides that we need to support legislation that will preserve the “moral character” of America. We learn that our country is either in danger of being taken over by maniacal socialists/fascists (which is an impossible mix by the way) who will turn America into Canada or that fundamentalists will turn our open-minded republic into the Holy Land Experience. Others warn us that men need to watch ultimate fighting or they’ll start baking cupcakes and give up their careers to stay home with the kids, and that women need to raise kids and bake cupcakes lest they spend their free time watching ultimate fighting.

We are bombarded by campaigns to build museums that tout certain agendas or prove certain views of the Bible. Some lament that America is on the brink of becoming a land crawling with atheists and therefore we need to buy a certain book, attend another conference, or believe some checklist of absolutes. Others fear that America is on the brink of being overrun with religious zealots who want to take control of the minute details of our lives.

I trust that the people behind such campaigns mean well and that they love Jesus, but these “important” issues are not essential for our faith as Christians. I’m far more concerned about getting the basics of Christianity right: learning how to pray regularly, how to commune with the Holy Spirit, how to love our neighbors, and how to read the Bible so that we can live in relationship with Christ and do God’s will on earth. If the basics are following Jesus, loving God, and loving others, shouldn’t we make our top priority the removal all of potential obstacles that could keep us from God?”

 

So you may hate this book. It’s a distinct possibility. Some people have already confirmed how much they disliked this book. However, I suspect that as annoying as this book will be for one group, it will be a lifeline for others. In fact, I’ve heard just that thing from many early readers who felt like I’d been spying on them and addressing the very questions that have been troubling them. It’s really impossible to answer everyone’s questions in one book.

That’s how faith works: it’s always shifting and moving. At least, that’s how it works for me. I’ve passed through different seasons. I’ve watched my faith change and grow and struggle and then shift. This is a book for a season of questions, seeking, and exploring. It’s my hope and prayer that you’ll find my book a helpful guide if you’re in that kind of season right now.

 

Check out A Christian Survival Guide today! You’ll… um… love it? 

A Christian Survival Guide

 

When Pastors Become Experts in the Wrong Things

Pastors experts in church

There were two precise moments in my life that drilled home the message: You, Ed Cyzewski, are not a pastor. At least, I’m not a pastor in the traditional North American Evangelical pastor sense of the word.

Here’s One Moment:

Standing at a bulletin board littered with pastoral job descriptions in my seminary cafeteria, I saw the lists of requirements for pastoral positions. I remember thinking, “No human being can do all of this. They want to hire Jesus.”

The lists were something like this:

  • Strong spiritual life with commitment to daily Bible study and prayer.
  • Supports our doctrinal statement which is based on biblical Christianity.
  • Will preach at least 40 Sundays each year.
  • Available in the evenings for committee and ministry meetings.
  • Plans Sunday services.
  • Manages staff hiring.
  • Leads church meetings.
  • Participates in elder meetings.
  • Set up and coordinate small group ministries.
  • Oversee office staff who develop website, bulletin, and other communication.
  • Available to counsel individuals.
  • Recruit, train, and lead volunteers.
  • Responsible to lead evangelistic outreach to community.
  • Ensure church has thriving ministries for children, youth, and college students.
  • Provide ministries to every possible niche in a white suburban setting, including but not limited to seniors, singles, parents, athletes, gamers, introverts, and rabbit owners.
  • Must repair or at least kick all broken office equipment, including the copier, fax machine, and wireless router.

You get the idea. The level of commitment and expertise is staggering. There are MANY areas of expertise that pastors are called to embody.

They have to be expert managers, spiritual directors, Bible scholars, communicators, evangelists, volunteer coordinators, and technical experts. Oh, and pastors are also expected to be counselors—as in, helping people with major, major life problems.

The problems pastors are called to address in a counseling setting could include teenage rebellion, childhood trauma, marital difficulties, depression, and plenty or other severe issues that they may not even realize they’re dealing with. Sometimes people walk into a pastor’s office presenting one issue, when there’s really something else simmering under the surface. Are most pastors even qualified to handle these types of counseling situations?

I attended a really great seminary for my Master of Divinity where I could have added a few counseling electives to my requirements, but let’s just say that I coasted through my one required counseling class with a B and called it a day. I was completely out of my depth in counseling situations. When I had to counsel a friend for part of my coursework, I had no idea what to tell him about his problem.

“Pray?” (I know! Right?)

The session was supposed to last twenty minutes. I made it to fifteen by ending our session with a REALLY long prayer.

The vast majority of the pastoral positions out there came with the expectation that I would teach the Bible, counsel, manage, and micro-manage at the very least. There weren’t too many places where my gifts as a creative introvert could help churches that were calling for extroverted jacks-of-all-trades.

I may have noticed this discrepancy because I grew up in a church that had a “counseling pastor” on staff. That’s literally all he did—except for the occasional Sunday when he was dragged kicking and screaming up front to preach a sermon. Another pastor was hired to handle all of the meetings and volunteer stuff. Another pastor handled all of the community networking. While every church has their issues, I really appreciated the focused nature of each pastor’s role.

The pastor who provided counseling actually had significant training and experience when it came to recognizing abusive situations, walking with people through seasons of depression, and guiding couples through difficult seasons of their marriages.

There’s a burden on pastors to do many different things well. They’re expected to be theological experts, master communicators, well-grounded counselors, and so on. This mindset is only encouraged because pastors with no formal counseling experience write books on topics like having a healthy marriage. It’s like we’ve said, “Hey, if you have enough people attending your church, take a swing at any topic you like!”

Most of us struggle to do one thing well. The exceptional can do two things well. Pastors have to do 10 things well.

And if a pastor passes someone off to another person with more expertise, people sometimes feel shortchanged. Many want the pastor to handle it.

“What are we paying this person to do, anyway?”

I’ve seen this over and over again while working and volunteering at different churches. People want the pastor to handle things—even in the areas where they don’t have experience or knowledge.

I know that pastors feel this burden. Some pastors want to be needed. They want to be essential, so they take on more things than they can handle. Others feel duty bound to take on as much as possible, lest someone send an angry email.

There’s no shame for a pastor to pass responsibilities to someone with more expertise.

There’s also a significant need for churches to scale back their expectations for pastors. A seminary can only teach so much, and much of what pastors learn in seminary is how to teach the Bible, not how to herd cats/lead a congregation.

My friend David Henson, an Episcopal minister, tweeted:

“Pastors need to remember sometimes their job is to lovingly steer folks to professional help. We walk with, not fix & solve.”

May we recognize the fits of each individual pastor and surround them with people who can help them minister effectively without burning out or having to become experts in things they know nothing about.