Sunday, October 24, 2010


"We want to be a good testimony."

This is something that has been emphasized to me for most of my life as a member of the Christian sub-culture. It is something that parents, preachers, teachers, mentors, family, and friends have said to me more times than I can count. It is something that I have said to myself more times than I can count. It is one of the standard tenets of my brand of American Christianity that is inculcated into our thinking with relentless zeal. As Christians, one of our main duties is to be a good testimony to unbelievers around us.

My purpose here is not to disagree with the preceding statement. In fact, I earnestly concur with it. There is no shortage of verses that clearly indicate that we are to shine as lights against the backdrop of darkness in the world around us. My purpose in these few paragraphs is instead to ask, "How are we to do this?" or more specifically, "What does a 'good testimony' really look like?" As always, what follows are simply my thoughts and opinions and are subject to disagreement and/or dialogue as you see fit. After all, I could be wrong.

Let me frame my comments around two primary theses:
1. To most Christians, a "good testimony" comprises two things--word-of-mouth Gospel sharing and Christian living.
2. Our traditional views of Christian living as the basis for a "good testimony" may need some refinement.

Concerning the first statement...
I believe these words to be true because that is how the concept of a "good testimony" has been presented to me for most of my 30 years. Beyond that, however, I think it is true because the Bible supports the idea. What tools do we have at our disposal to fulfill Christ's command to "make disciples of all nations"? We have our words and our actions, of course. We can verbally share the truths of the Gospel with the unsaved, and we can live our lives in such a way that unbelievers "see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven." (Matt 5:16) On this, I believe most Christians would agree.

How can we best put these two tools to our advantage in reaching the lost? Ah! That is where the Christian consensus is lost. Obviously, there are many prevailing theories out there about how to best present the gospel verbally to someone. For the time being, I am choosing to skirt those particular discussions. I want to focus on how we can present the Gospel non-verbally through our everyday lives. What is the best way to "be a good testimony?" That, my friend, is the question, and it leads us to the second of my opening propositions.

Concerning the second statement...
For starters, I should probably define what I mean by "traditional views of Christian living." I have to say, this is the point of discussion that was the catalyst for this post. Some recent conversations with fellow Christians prompted me to begin wondering. As I thought about it, it occurred to me that the traditional view of a "good testimony" revolves primarily around what we do or don't do as Christians. "We go to church 3 times a week." "We don't have wild parties at our house." "We wear (or don't wear) a certain style of clothing." In the minds of many, these things (and others like them) are a good testimony to the unsaved. That is what has been preached and practiced in many churches for many years.

I am not here to suggest that this preaching or the thinking behind it is wrong. I am not saying unequivocally that these things aren't a good testimony. I am simply wondering if the conventional wisdom is true that says unequivocally that they are a good testimony always and without exception . I wonder if some of our Christian badges of honor that we wear so proudly before an unbelieving world are really accomplishing the good that we think they are. Yes, the Bible refers to the world seeing our "good works" and glorifying God, but that verse seems to be predicated upon the unbelievers recognizing the works as "good." What if they don't see our "good works" as being particularly good? What happens to our good testimony then? We get frustrated because our unsaved friends and family don't accept Christ, and our unsaved friends and family get frustrated because we distance ourselves from them through all of our do's and don'ts. We appear to think and act as though we are better than them. Our "testi-mony" becomes more of a "testi-phony." I have had several opportunities in the last year or so to talk to unsaved friends and family, and that idea of "Christian elitism" appears to be a commonly-held opinion among them.

Let me mention two examples. Consistent church attendance is something that many Christians would include in their "Good Testimony Resume." This can, at times, be true. It may not always be true, however. Not every unbeliever looks at a Christian who attends services habitually and says, "Wow! I want what they have!" To them, it's just some religious thing that you do similar to the way Muslims pray or Catholics confess. It doesn't necessarily draw them to Christ. I am not suggesting that we stop attending church faithfully. I am suggesting that we open our eyes and realize that church attendance alone is not guaranteed to shine as a light to your unsaved neighbor. We need more than just that. I am also suggesting that you consider the possibility that there may be times when forgoing attendance at a service may actually provide you with a better opportunity to be a "good testimony" than stubbornly insisting that you have to be in your pew.

Here is a second example. Many Christians (including me) have refused to attend a family function, work party, or other social event because of the fact that certain "worldly" elements would be present (alcohol, rock music, dancing, smoking, etc...). Our refusal to attend demonstrates our devotion to our faith and shines brightly as a testimony to the lost--or so the traditional thinking goes. Now, I realize that this is a tricky example because there are any number of contingencies that create any number of possibilities as to what a Christian ought to do or not do. (Translation--there is no "cookie-cutter" answer.) I do think, however, that we might need to reevaluate the maxim that says, "Don't drink, smoke, or chew or run with those who do." The Pharisees in Jesus' day were very good at this, but the spiritual impact they had on their world was nothing we would want to emulate. I fear that many unbelievers view our lack of attendance (notice I did not say lack of participation) as nothing more than religious snobbery. Perhaps, instead of relying on not going at all to serve as a good testimony, we should consider the possibility of going for the purpose of being a good testimony. There are many ramifications of this, I know, but I don't think it hurts to at least consider it.

Those are just two examples of many that could be given. In conclusion, let me just say that I think it is a bit lazy and a bit naive to rely upon our separation from the world as our primary means of reaching it. We must use our words and our lives to preach the Gospel to every creature. Perhaps it is time we took stock of how we can best use our lives to shine as a glowing testimony for Christ. Remember, Jesus didn't pray that God would take us out of the world, but that God would keep and protect us while we are in it (John 17:15). Maybe all of us could stand to get a little more "in the world" and be a good testimony while we are there.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ashamed (Read the whole post before you comment)

Well, it happened again. It doesn't happen very often, but when it does I really, really don't like it. It is not an emotion I enjoy having--shame. That is, however, the only word to describe it. Let me explain.

I am not exactly what you would call a news junkie. I catch the local evening news every once and a while, and I try to read a few headlines on the Internet when I can, but I don't really keep up with all the goings on. In recent weeks, I remember hearing something about someone burning Korans somewhere, but I really didn't give it much attention--until this last Friday morning. I was watching the morning news shows and nearly all of them were highlighting the story of Reverend Terry Jones from Gainesville, Florida. As I crunched on my Wheat Chex, listened to the talking heads on the screen, and saw the images (including signs from Jones' church that said "Islam is of the Devil" and "Burn a Koran Day"), I felt it in the pit of my stomach. I have to say, at that moment, sitting in my living room, I was ashamed to be a Christian. I know that sounds extreme, but that is the truth. Let me clarify. I was not ashamed of Christ or my faith in Him as my savior. I was not ashamed of the Bible or even the fact that I attend church regularly. I was ashamed to be known as a Christian because of how I saw that word being represented on the screen before me. I sat there and wondered how any good for the cause of Christ could come from either Rev. Jones' demands that the mosque be moved or his threats to burn copies of the Islamic scriptures. As I walked to work that morning, I thought, "If that is what people will think of when they hear that I am a Christian, I am not so sure that I want to be known as a Christian." I was...ashamed.

This is not the only time I have felt this. In recent years, I have found myself wanting to be more and more disassociated with the American Christian sub-culture. When I hear about things like Rev. Jones and his Koran-burning, I feel ashamed. When I read on the Internet about a church in Kansas that protests the funerals of soldiers in the name of God, I feel ashamed. When I hear of churches whose greatest badge of honor is their fight against Contemporary Christian Music or women wearing pants or the use of certain English translations, I feel ashamed. When I see churches and the people in them investing such time, effort, and money into winning culture wars like the gay marriage issue or the teaching of evolution in public schools, I feel ashamed. (Not because I support gay marriage or the teaching of evolution, but because I think that approach misses the point.) When I hear of families where the father no longer attends church because of the way he has been treated by some autocratic pastor, I feel ashamed. When I hear the stories of young people who have rejected their godly heritage and upbringing because of a graceless, legalistic approach to the Christian walk, I feel ashamed. When I watch a film like Lord Save Us from Your Followers and see what most Americans think it means to be a Christian, I feel ashamed...and sometimes I even feel angry.

But then, I start thinking about myself and my life. That is when the tables begin to turn. When I think of all the times I have failed my Lord and my family, I feel ashamed. When I think of all the times I have been prejudiced, proud, or arrogant in my beliefs, I feel ashamed. When I think of every instance when I have allowed lust to rule my mind or my eyes, I feel ashamed. When I think of all the impatience, laziness, selfishness, anger, materialism, and every other vice that has worked its way into my heart, I feel...ashamed and discouraged.

Then I remember. All of us who claim the name of Christ as our banner (including the Rev. Joneses of the world) are just broken, frail, fallen, confused, and scared sinners who have been rescued by the grace and mercy of a loving and patient Father. All of us have shortcomings. All of us bring our own unique set of baggage to the cross, and carry it with us as we make our pilgrimage through this life. All of us have failed and will do so again in the future. All of us as Christians are mere humans and are subject to the frailties of being such.

So then...I pray. I look to God and ask for His help. "God, help me to be what you want me to be, so that I can show those around me what it truly means to be a follower of Christ. Mold my thinking and my conscience to conform to your way and your logic. Teach me what it means to know you and to walk with you in every moment of life. Produce in me and through me the fruit that you desire to see. Help me, God. I cannot live as a true Christian on my own. I know that one day I will see you face to face and give account for the life I have been given by you. Do in me today what you must so that, on that day, I won't have to feel...ashamed."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Spirituality or Personality?

I am just about finished reading Coffee Shop Conversations--a book that is designed to help Christians improve their skills in conversing with unbelievers about their faith--the Christian's and the unbeliever's. It is a very good book that has challenged my thinking in a number of areas. I hope to put many of its principles to use in my future interactions with unbelievers.

I was thinking about the book and its ideas yesterday and it occurred to me that those who read the book may not experience the same level of success with its principles as the author (or in this case, authors) did. In fact, it is likely that many readers will not. This is not in anyway meant to denigrate the authors or their ideas. I'm simply recognizing the fact that the authors have personalities that are well-suited to approach the issue of "spiritual small talk" according to the methods in their book--obviously. They are, after all, the ones who had the ideas in the first place! Not everyone who reads this book (and I think many Christians should) will have personalities that are as well-suited for the type of conversations described in its pages. In their defense, the authors do not in any way market their book as a fool-proof method for personal evangelism nor do they make any ridiculous guarantees of success for those who buy and read a copy. Their approach is very conversational and easy-going in tone. However, my reading of the book and the thought-process it sparked do raise a point that I feel needs to be made.

There is a very common and very costly mistake that we as Christians make within the Christian community we know as the church (both in its universal and local manifestations). I can best summarize this mistake by quoting from none other than...myself. Several months ago, I placed the following sentence as a status on my Facebook page, "Andrew Doan has been wondering lately--if a person in our cultural context (21st century America) lived the Christian life exactly the way God meant it to be lived, what would it look like?" The question sprang out of a frustration at trying to sort through all of the advice we as Christians are inundated with through preachers, podcasts, and Christian book distributors. Everyone seems to have the principle to make it all work or the standard of success to which we all should aspire. For some time now I have been attempting to sift through the pulp and get to the genuine heart of Christianity--as the tag line of this blog indicates. While there is nothing wrong with this search itself, I (along with many others) are making a mistake when we assume that two individuals (or 2,000 for that matter) living the Christian life "the way it was meant to be lived" will manifest this in exactly the same way. It is a mistake to assume that "spirituality" (although I don't really like that term) will look exactly the same for each Christian. In fact, I would submit that it will not look exactly the same in any two individuals because no two individuals are exactly the same. We know that we are all different, but I fear that we forget this basic fact when it comes to determining a person's level of spiritual dedication. (Which, by the way, is something that is very difficult to do without sinning.) To put it simply, many of us as believers confuse spirituality with personality. This often occurs when we listen to a pastor, speaker, author, or other "Christian celebrity." We take the specific manifestations of their walk with God as it exhibits itself through their personality, and we assume that we, if we are going to be truly spiritual, must look and act the same way. I just don't believe that is true. Furthermore, I think it can be frustrating and unhealthy to try living this brand of "Mockingbird Christianity." I think that because I have tried it and found it to be frustrating and unhealthy.

What does God list as the true marks of spirituality? I can think of no better answer than the fruit of the Spirit as it is listed in Galatians 5. These attributes, as I understand them, are the natural outgrowth of a Christian who is walking in the Spirit and abiding in Christ moment by moment. The fruit of the Spirit is true spirituality. However, even these 9 items will not necessarily look the same in each person who exhibits them. Not everyone expresses love, joy, peace, exactly the same way. This is a simple concept that we all can understand. Yet, when we are told (or believe) that "good Christians will do such and such or act in such and such a way or fit a certain mold," we are ignoring one of the basic characteristics of our humanity as God created it--diversity. To assume that all good Christians will look and act the same is just as foolish as assuming that all evil people will look and act the same. Look at the fruits of the flesh that are listed just prior to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Is it realistic to assume that every person who is angry or lustful or drunk or envious or a murderer will exhibit these vices in the same fashion? What if I were to preach that those who are "truly carnal" will look and act very much like an Adolf Hitler or a Ted Bundy? That is an outrageous and untrue statement, and that is why I typed it. I hope it causes you to think about the danger of confusing spirituality with personality.

My point is this--I think we need to allow people the freedom to express their individuality without questioning their spiritual dedication or commitment to Christ. As a teacher, I have been guilty of judging teenagers in this way many times, and it is wrong. To live a life that is in direct opposition to God's way and God's word is one thing. To walk with Christ according to the "beat of your own drum" is another. The first is sin. The second is...well, I guess I can say it's spirituality.

Just some thoughts for your consideration and comment if you feel so inclined.

As a brief appendix to this post, I would like to list several areas of our Christian walk where we tend to confuse spirituality with personality. Feel free to add more as you think of them...

1) Personal Evangelism/Witnessing - not everyone is the tract-passing, door-knocking, street-preaching type of person. Yet, to hear some talk, that is the only way truly spiritual Christians go about sharing their faith.

2) Corporate Worship - not everyone is the hand-raising, glory-shouting, amen-saying type of person. Someone (like myself) can be a bit a more reserved and private about their worship and still truly engage in this important activity.

3) Confession of Sin - not everyone is the chest-beating, tear-shedding, sackcloth-wearing type of person. Psalm 51:17 makes it clear that it is the condition of a person's heart attitude and not the external show of contrition that God is looking for.

One last thought--I am not saying that these personality-driven manifestations of spirituality are wrong. On the contrary, I think every Christian should live true to God and true to themselves at the same time. What I am saying is that a lack of similar manifestations should not be considered probable cause for a lack of sincerity or genuineness as a believer. I am done.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Reflections on Reaching My 30th Birthday

A quick glance at my last post tells me that it has been over a month since I have blogged. The reason for this is simple--I haven't really had much to blog about. Usually there is some line of thinking circling my brain about which I want to write, but this has not been the case over the last few weeks. So...I haven't.

Yesterday was my 30th birthday. It just seems to me that such an occasion warrants a few comments, they are.

1. At the risk of sounding trite, I have to echo the sentiments of many who've gone before me--time passes quickly...much too quickly. It is odd for me to think of myself as having completed 30 years of life. I really do feel like I am still a teenager. (One look in the mirror and a glance at my proceeding forehead reminds me that I am not.) One of the strongest feelings I have at this milestone is a profound sense of the need to redeem the time. By this I don't necessarily mean I want to get more done, be more productive, or work harder or longer. (Although I probably should do some of those things.) I mean I want to make the most of each moment. If I am working, I want to work hard. If I am playing, I want to play hard. I want to enjoy my wife, kids, and the world around me as much as I can. I want to develop my walk with God to the fullest. I want to live a completed life with few (if any) regrets.

2. Unlike others I've heard of, I never really had a very specific set of goals for where I wanted to be or what I wanted to be doing by the time I reached 30. That being the case, it is somewhat difficult for me to evaluate how "successful" I have been in life thus far. To be transparent, there are times when I do feel somewhat discouraged by the fact that I haven't really done anything "great" in life yet. (I guess I've always had this secret desire to be known for doing something outstanding. It's an issue of pride, I know.) Overall, however, I have to say that I am very happy with the life I have been given. My wife never ceases to thrill and amaze me with her joy, forgiveness, and companionship. My kids amuse, frustrate, and delight me day after day. I have family and friends who challenge and intrigue me with their various personalities and viewpoints. I have a job that I love (most of the time) and hobbies that enrich my journey. I am privileged to live a very comfortable life with much more "stuff" than I need or deserve. Although I have my difficulties and doubts, when I step back and look at the big picture, I have to say...the first 30 years have been a great ride!

3. As my friend and employer, Brian, likes to say, "The more you know the less you know." I agree wholeheartedly. In many ways, I feel as though I know less about life in general and the Christian life in specific at 30 than I did when I graduated from high school. Various experiences over the last decade have caused me to step back, rethink, and reevaluate many aspects of my life and beliefs. I don't view this as a bad thing, however. I really feel that I am at a point in my life where my searching and questioning are constructive rather than destructive. I don't mind at all that I seem to have more questions than answers in many areas. Maybe that's just what I need. I am confident that God will guide my thoughts and steps. As a song I heard recently says, "These things take time."

Other than those quick thoughts, I have tried not to think about turning 30 too much. After all, it's just a number.

In the meantime,

Still looking for genuine...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Unsaved Christians (Taking a Spiritual Mulligan)

This past Sunday morning, someone at church was talking with me about a situation in which a married couple had recently been saved after hearing a sermon (by whom, I know not). The couple's mother/mother-in-law was quite upset by their sudden conversion. The reason for her distress was the fact that both the husband and wife had grown up in church and had purported for some time to be saved. This mother was unsure of how to react to their surprising salvation decision. Although I don't know for sure, my guess is that she was asking herself questions like--Was this most recent decision the "real thing"? Had they really just been "playing the game" all these years? What was it about this particular sermon that made them "see the light"? Those are questions I would be asking if I were in her position.

The truth is--situations like the one described above are not that uncommon. In fact, my personal story follows a similar plot line. I expressed interest in salvation as a five-year old boy (even to the point of "making a decision") and operated under the assumption that I was saved until I was 14. It was at that point that I understood the Gospel truths (for the first time, really) and was saved. Doubtless, there are others who have grown up in church or have attended church for many years who could give similar testimony. I have even heard stories of visiting evangelists coming to a church, preaching rather forcefully, and seeing dozens of church members (including deacons and other leaders) saved as a result.

This concept of "Unsaved Christians" (that is--those who claim to be and even believe themselves to be saved but may or may not be) is an intriguing one to me. What are we to make of scenarios like the ones I have already mentioned? Obviously, if someone has been deceiving others and/or themselves about their spiritual condition, then I rejoice with them in the fact that they are now justified before God. If someone thought they were saved but were not because they did not truly understand the facts of salvation (as was the case in my life), their salvation decision is most assuredly a wonderful thing.

On the other hand, what if a person was not confused? What if they were not living a lie? What if they were truly, genuinely saved before they "got saved" (the most recent time)? What if, beforehand, they understood the Gospel, had already "made a decision", and believed themselves to be a child of God? What are we to make of a situation like that?

As you might have guessed, I have several thoughts on this subject.

The first question I would ask someone in this situation is this, "What was it that brought you to the conclusion that you weren't really saved all this time?" Their answer to this question is critical. If their answer indicates that they did not understand or believe the Gospel truths, then I say, "Praise God! You are now a Christian!" However, I believe there is cause for concern if they answer something along these lines--"Well, I thought I was saved, but when I heard that message tonight, I just knew I needed to 'really' get saved!" or "Well, I thought I was saved, but I haven't really been acting like it much in my life, so I realized I needed to 'really' become a Christian." In my opinion, conversion decisions for "Unsaved Christians" based upon fear-inducing preaching or a lack of "fruit" in one's life are built upon a shaky foundation, and I will explain why as quickly as I can.

Although the Gospel deals in part with fearful concepts (hell, death, eternity, punishment, etc...), I question the wisdom of using fear as our primary means of persuading people to be saved--especially when dealing with a group of people who already think they are saved. The truth is, this is the preferred M.O. of many a preacher and evangelist, and it does produce results, but...I am still uncomfortable with this philosophy. Is it really a healthy habit to scare Christians into "really" getting saved? "What if they aren't Christians?" someone might argue, "What if they really do need to be saved? Shouldn't a preacher present the Gospel as powerfully as possible in order to convince the lost to accept Christ?" My answer to that line of argument is this. If someone is not saved, the thing that needs to bring them to a point of conversion is the true drawing and conviction of the Holy Spirit of God not fear and intimidation. If someone is saved, the last thing I want to do is convince them that they are not. Many evangelistic sermons do that very thing, and cause a great deal of confusion and doubt in the process. There is a fine-line between powerful preaching and "fear-mongering", and it seems to me that the negative consequences of the latter should cause many preachers to adjust their approach. Don't forget, the Gospel is, at its core, "good news."

In the situation of someone getting saved because of a lack of evidence in their lives, I also have reservations. (Coincidentally, many of the fear-inducing sermons mentioned in the previous paragraph use this "lack of fruit" idea as the basis of their Gospel appeal.) I know that the conventional wisdom in many Christian circles stipulates that those who are "truly" saved will, inevitably, demonstrate this in their lives, but I don't buy it. The New Testament is replete with examples of individuals who were saved but did not act like it. (Have you read I Corinthians lately?) Many of the New Testament Epistles were written to convince those who were already saved to act accordingly (Ephesians 4:1). Does this not imply the possibility that a Christian can be a true Christian but act in a very un-Christian way? To resolve the problem of carnal Christianity by simply declaring one's salvation to be invalid and basically starting over is, in my mind, a lazy and faithless approach. It's the equivalent of a "mulligan" in a round of golf. This term refers to a golfer taking a "do-over" when they aren't doing particularly well on a hole. It's not officially a part of the rules, and true golfing purists aren't likely to advocate the use of "mulligans". Part of playing the game of golf is to play the ball where it lies, no matter how difficult it might be. The fact is, the Christian life is one of constant contradictions--victories and defeats, ups and downs, growth and backsliding, progression and regression. The solution for a defeated Christian is not to take a "mulligan" and start over, thinking that somehow it will be different this time. The solution is to "play it where it lies"--to come to God as a Christian, admit your weakness, and implore Him for His help. This is a request God is more than willing to grant.

The biggest problem with these scenarios that I have mentioned is that the individual's assurance of salvation is based on shaky ground--feelings and actions--when it should be based on the unchanging, unwavering truth of God's Word concerning salvation. That is why I am a bit wary when I hear of "Unsaved Christians" getting saved.

For what it's worth...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wet Cement

Last weekend was a busy one for our family as we celebrated my son Eldan's 4th birthday. I know it sounds cliche, but I really do find it hard to believe that 4 years have passed already. It seems like only yesterday that I was watching him....Okay, okay. I'll stop with the nostalgic reverie.

As his birthday approached, I was struck with a unique thought--Most likely, we have reached a point in Eldan's life where he will begin to remember things. I mean, really remember things. As in--remembering them 30 years from now. Think about it. What and when are your earliest memories? I can distinctly remember life before kindergarten, which would put my earliest remembrances around 4 years old. If my experience is at all typical (Based on my informal survey of my Sunday School class this morning--it is), then from this point on Eldan will be able to look back as an adult and grasp various scenes from our lives together.

This fact intrigues me on several levels. In a way, it's a bit sad to think that he will remember very little (if any) of what we have experienced as a family thus far in his life. On the other hand, it's a bit comforting to think that he will remember very little (if any) of what we have experienced as a family thus far in his life! (Think about the preceding statement for a minute if you need to.) On a totally different level, it is quite sobering to think that my wife and I are officially beginning the process of formulating and influencing our son's thinking, his personality, his very view of the world around him. His mind is like a slate of wet cement, and for the next 12-15 years we will be the primary source of impression on that slate. Wow! Happy Birthday to us!

To really grasp the significance of what I just wrote, think for a moment about your own upbringing. How much of who you are (whether positive aspects or negative aspects) is the result of the influence of parents, grandparents, teachers, and others in positions of influence? If we are honest, the answer is, "A great deal of it." It makes sense why God has instructed us in the Bible to teach our children in His way and His truth. He hasn't commanded us to teach or influence our children, for we will do that whether we want to or not. He has, however, commanded us to teach and influence our children in righteousness. The fact is, we will leave our mark on the cement of our children's lives. The question is, what kind of mark will we leave?

With that in mind, I would like to postulate four principles by which Danielle and I will try to abide as we carry out our parental mandate. I offer them here for your consideration and comment as you feel so inclined.

1. There are certain essential, non-negotiable, core elements of our faith that we must transmit to our children in order to be successful as parents. I believe that one of our main responsibilities as parents is to disciple our children. I believe that we should do this primarily by inculcating the heart of Christianity into their minds. This should be our focus. "What exactly is the heart of Christianity?" you might ask, "What are those essential core elements of our faith to be transmitted, and just how do you plan to transmit them?" Those, my friend, are excellent questions--ones on which Danielle and I have already been ruminating. My purpose here is not to give an answer (I don't know that I have one), but to simply establish the fact that, as parents, we must consider what is most important (the sine qua non) in the training of our children.

2. There are certain non-essential, negotiable elements of our faith that we should be willing to allow our children to decide for themselves. Modern Christianity is a big proverbial forest with a lot of proverbial trees in it. I think it is unrealistic and unwise to approach the parenting process with the insistence that our children end up in the same "neck of the woods" as we are. The fact is, our kids are not us. As much as they are like us--they aren't us. As they mature and begin to think through the myriad of choices that each Christian must make about their personal standards of living and personal beliefs, I believe we must allow them the freedom to do so for themselves. Our job as parents is not to clone ourselves in our children, but to bring them to a point of knowing, loving, and serving God for themselves. If they choose a different "campsite" than us in areas of personal preference, this is...okay. This is acceptable. I would even argue that it is preferable because our children will be living and believing purposefully as opposed to habitually.

3. In the transmission of our faith to our children, we as parents must find the delicate balance between requirement and encouragement. I believe it is foolhardy to simply force your children to "do Christian things" (i.e.-pray, read the Bible, witness, go to church, memorize scripture, etc...) and expect them to understand the point of such activities and truly put their heart into it. On the other hand, I believe it is just as foolhardy to place no requirements on your children in things relating to Christianity and simply encourage them to "find God for themselves." There is a balance to be found here--especially as they get into the teen years. (I say that, not because I have a teen but because I work with them as a teacher.) Where is that balance? How can it be achieved? I don't know exactly. What I do know is that every Christian parent ought to be asking themselves these questions and praying earnestly for the wisdom to find the answers to them.

4. I can only truly transmit my faith to my children to the extent that it is real and genuine in me. Jesus said, "The disciple is not above his teacher." (Luke 6:40) Although this should not be taken as an absolute statement, it is true that, to a large extent, my children will progress no further in their walk with God than I have progressed myself--at least while they are still in their formative years. Perhaps one of the greatest things I can ever do for my kids is to seek God with all of my heart and strive to find a true, genuine walk with Him. If they see the genuine in me, I believe they will want the genuine for themselves.

There you have it--just a few of the thoughts about parenting that have been buzzing my brain in recent weeks. This post is by no means an exhaustive authority on the subject, but it may serve to get us thinking about our parental strategy. That, in my opinion, is a good thing about which to be thinking.

Sorry for going so long...

So long!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ritualism or Realism?

Our church observed the Lord's Supper this evening, and I assisted our Pastor by passing the elements to the deacons who then passed them out to the congregants. (The reason I was assisting on this night is actually quite funny, but I will have to tell it later.)

As I was standing in front of the church, my primary concern was not dropping the gold-covered bread and juice trays. As Pastor recounted the details from I Corinthians 11, however, my mind drifted to the early 16th century--or what I have heard about it. I thought of a young priest named Martin Luther conducting his first Communion, and I pictured him endeavoring to steady his trembling hands as he administered what he believed to be the literal body and blood of Christ. I thought of the ritualism that is so common in many of the older denominations, or, at least, the ritualism that I have heard is so common. (Sadly, I've have had very little actual interaction with any church experience other than the independent Baptist variety.) As I left the service, I thought of the typical Baptist observance of the Lord's Supper, and I thought of some questions.

Why do we (as in independent Baptists) administer Communion the way we do? These services (no matter how often a church holds them) are about as close as most Baptists get to being "high-churchy" or liturgical. It's kind of funny if you think about it. In the churches I have attended throughout my life, the service follows this basic progression: 1) The pastor will read I Corinthians 11; 2) Everyone will take a few moments of spiritual self-examination; 3) The pastor will explain the symbolism of the bread and wine (I mean juice!); 4) Everyone will sit very quietly and meditatively as the elements are distributed; and 5) On the pastor's cue, everyone ingests the elements.

Now, I must say that I don't think there is anything wrong or unbiblical about the conducting the service this way. In fact, I can see good reasons for several of these items. I guess my question is--why does the overall tone of the service always seem to be so solemn and formal? Why does the Lord's Supper Service seem to pull even the most fiercely independent of Baptists into a Catholic-like ritualism?

I understand that Communion is designed to be held in remembrance of Christ's death on the cross, and maybe that is why we tend to grow so somber on these occasions. I also understand that I Corinthians makes it clear that the Lord's Supper is not to be taken lightly. However, do these facts require us to remain so rigid and meditative? To be transparent, I often struggle during the "distribution time" of the service. I am never quite sure what to do. I try to think about Jesus and His sacrifice, but my mind tends to drift. Is there anything that would preclude us from singing a song of praise and thanksgiving or even giving testimonies about our salvation as the trays travel through the rows? Shouldn't these services have more of a celebratory feel to them? I guess I just feel as though we could pursue more of an atmosphere of realism rather than ritualism in our observances of Communion.

Not sure what the answers to these questions are. I guess I will have to give it some more thought.

What about you? What do you think?

By the way--I didn't drop any of the trays, so the solemnity of the service went uninterrupted.

In the meantime,
still looking for the genuine...

Sunday, March 21, 2010


First, let me make it clear that this article has nothing to do with the TV series on NBC. If that is what you are looking for, you will be sorely disappointed.

Now that I've settled that issue, I will begin...

At a recent meeting of my Toastmaster's Public Speaking Club, I was called upon to participate in the Table Topics portion of the meeting. This involves the Topics Master posing a question to the club, and someone answering the question in a 2 minute impromptu speech. Sometimes the topic questions are a bit vague, but the question I received on this particular occasion was very specific and very good.

"If you could spend the evening with any movie character of your choice, which character would it be?"

I was thrilled to receive this question for two reasons: 1) I love watching and talking about movies, and 2) I knew immediately how to answer. Almost without hesitation I answered, "Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird." Coincidentally, Danielle and I had just watched the movie for the 2nd time a week and half prior. In my speech, I proceeded to tell the other club members that I would choose Mr. Finch because he is, to me, the archetype of a genuine hero. (The American Film Institute agrees with me on this point. Several years ago they selected Atticus as the Greatest Film Hero of the last 100 years.)

Why is this character such a hero? Well, if you haven't seen the movie or read the book most of the following discussion will be irrelevant. I suggest you either watch it or read it then come back to this post. Atticus is such a remarkable character because he is genuine (and I am not just saying that because it is the theme of my blog). He is a single-father raising two boisterous kids in the Depression-era South. He is a small town lawyer to whom is given the responsibility of defending a black man charged (falsely) with the rape of a white girl. He is soft-spoken and gentle, but principled and unwavering in standing for what he believes to be right. Within the world of the story, he is neither rich nor famous. In short, he is an ordinary guy living an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. He is...a hero.

We live in a world where many that are given the title of "hero" eventually prove themselves unworthy of such accolades (a la Tiger Woods), and even our fictional heroes are sometimes forced to dabble in darkness in order to overcome it (a la Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight). Atticus Finch stands in stark contrast to these. Is he perfect? No. Is he real? No. Does he create a more realistic example of what true heroism should look like? I think he does. The challenge I take from his story (fictional though it may be) is simple--I want to be an Atticus in the eyes of my kids. I want to take the circumstances of my life (as mundane as they may seem at times) and handle them with dignity and poise. I want to be reliable, approachable, followable, and honorable. I want to stand on my convictions without being disagreeable in the process.

So...who is your hero?

Before closing, I feel compelled to say one more thing. I mentioned Tiger Woods' name in this context only as an example of one who was viewed by many as a hero when the facts of his life prove differently. I am not trying to vilify the man. We all have dark corners in our hearts, but, in Tiger's defense, not all of us have our dirty secrets displayed for the world to see. Tiger has made mistakes, but I think he could once again stand worthy of hero status. This, of course, will depend on the genuineness of his "rehabilitation," and that is something that is very difficult to judge in someone with such a high profile.

For what it's worth...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why the Torture?

Okay, so it's been nearly three months since I established this new blog, and I have produced all of two entries. Here I sit, on an evening when I am feeling particularly motivated, and I am gonna give it another go. The question you may be asking--indeed, the question I am asking myself is this--Why? Why do I even try this blogging thing? I have never been very good at it. Obviously, my life progresses on a predominately normal trajectory without it. Why torture myself with yet one more thing to do?

Well, I actually do have some reasons for attempting to write entries on a regular basis. I am going to enumerate them here in the hope that they will spur me on to blogging greatness--or at least motivate me to update more than every three months! With that in mind, here are my reasons:

1. Nary a week goes by when I don't think to myself, "That thought you just had would make a good topic for a blog entry." I don't know why, but I tend to think of things in terms of how it would sound in a paper, book, or article. I want to take some of these thoughts and actually transform them into something. Whether or not the "something" will be of any value--I don't know, but, hey, if every other lame-brained yohoo out there can have a blog then so can this one!

2. I want to learn to articulate myself more clearly and concisely. I am a teacher, and I have no problem talking. I am engaged in some form of public speaking at least half-a-dozen times per week. I find, however, that much of what I say is 1) somewhat trite and banal, and 2) wordy and repetitive. In an era of IMing, texting, and emailing, we are not forced to articulate ourselves through writing the way generations in the past have been. I think this is, in many ways, not for the better. I want to take some of my thoughts (ideally, the best ones), and formulate them into several paragraphs that are clear, original, and thoughtful. I think it will be good for me.

3. I want to stick with something that I want to do. I have a lot of things on my list. You know, the mental list we all carry of things we like, things we want to do, things we feel should be a part of our life to make us a better person? That list? Well, for some unknown reason, blogging is on my list. I really want to do it! (Although I obviously haven't wanted to do it badly enough in the last three months to actually do it!) So, I am going to try again because...I want to. I want the satisfaction of knowing I have set out to do something and I have followed through.

So...there you go. I am gonna give it the "ole' one-two"! If it's any consolation (to you or me), I think I have figured out one of the reasons why I am so inconsistent with my posting. I have never really established a recurring time for blogging. I have always tried to do it "when I can." This approach does not work. Instead, I will attempt to post a new article every Sunday afternoon/evening. That is my designated blogging time. We'll see how I fare.

Until then...

Keep looking for the genuine!