You've most likely had some tough struggles in your faith. If you have kids, they have most likely have had some tough struggles in their faith. If they haven't, it's because they are still young - they will. Challenges and struggles are an inevitable part of living a Christian life. James said to be joyful when (not if) you face trials (Jas 1:2). So, we shouldn't be terribly alarmed when tough times show up. We just have to be ready for them and help each other through them.
But lately, I have seen a lot of extended and deepened tough times. In other words, the valleys were deeper and wider than normal. They don't seem to be the ones that James was talking about. Why is that? It seems to be most common with teens and young(er) adults. But older folks are definitely not immune. I wonder why that is? I see people of all ages that are going through the motions of being a Christian; with their hearts hardened and flames long since extinguished. It saddens me to see people stop worshipping their Creator and fellowshipping with their Christian family. It concerns me to see Christians come to worship out of a false sense of obligation and duty; instead of desiring to come into the presence of the God that words can't describe. It frustrates me to see disrespectful attitudes and behaviors during our times together.
But let's stop there for a moment. I have got to be honest with myself. We have got to be honest with ourselves. And we must hold ourselves accountable for whatever circumstances and situation exists. See, it's easy to throw rocks at people who seem to be less holy than we are. But we have got to start asking honest tough questions - even though the answers that may come out are scary and hurtful. So let's be honest when we answer the question: WHY? Why are the valley's deeper and wider than they ought to be. For what it's worth, here's my answer: the people in the valley were never up on the mountain in the first place.
If we're all going to have our own personal valleys, isn't it possible that those people whose valley is deeper didn't actually fall further than anyone else, they just started off lower up the mountain (if they were ever on the mountain at all)? I'll get straight to my point. If the top of the mountain is a powerful, engaging Relationship with God through Jesus Christ, then many people were never up there. Here's why. For far too long (probably three generations) we have not been teaching people to passionately love God and desparately fight to follow Jesus Christ. Instead, in my estimation we have spent our time teaching the following three things:
1. Faithful religion means you come to every scheduled worship 'service' and bible study. If the Elders say that we're going to meet then you should be there.
2. Follow Church doctrine. Because if you don't then you'll be called names. Let's be honest with ourselves. Has the Church doctrine always been Bible doctrine? Before you say yes, can you name a scripture for everything you have been held accountable for or condmened others on?
3. Live a good, moral life.
When I think back to my childhood and teenage years, and when I look at titles of old sermons, I see that everything fits into one of these three categories. So when I look around now and see folks who have deserted their faith or are not living out Christ-like faith, I have to point a few fingers back at myself. Because here's the bottom line, people are doing what they have been taught to do. And they are doing it for as long as they can. But here's the problem with that bottom line: if those three teachings define your faith, then your faith is built on a weak foundation that will eventually crumble.
The only foundation that will never crumble is Jesus Christ. If we preach and teach Jesus Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2), then we'll give our kids, our community and ourselves a foundation that will stand up to the trials that James said will come.