Sunday, November 6, 2011

Yours, Mine, or Ours?

One of our human idiosyncrasies is the fact that we are very territorial.  This tendency is quite obvious to me as a parent of young children.  Children 6 and under have a very specific and complicated set of unwritten rules about possession and ownership.  Nowhere are these rules more evident than in the quintessential cry of the toddler, "THAT'S MINE!"

As we grow older, we leave many of the tendencies of childhood behind.  Our possessiveness, however, is not one of them.  Comedian Brian Regan touches on this in his routine about a child losing his balloon. (Look for it on YouTube if you haven't seen it.)  Adults have their own set of rules about possession and ownership.  We just have the tactfulness to refrain from saying "THAT'S MINE!" out loud--most of the time.

Christians are no exception to the previous comments.  I was thinking today about how possessive believers (including the one typing this) can be at times.  Here are a few examples for you to chew on:

1.  The United States of America - as election season heats up, you can almost hear the Christians of our country chanting, "THAT'S MINE!"  Any candidate who includes ideas about reclaiming America for God or restoring America to her Christian heritage is bound to receive enthusiastic support from the Religious Right.  There appears to be an underlying assumption in American Evangelicalism that this country is ours and that we need to win it back from the Left.  This assumption is most often predicated upon the idea that our nation was founded upon the Bible and Christian principles.  Even if this notion is granted (which I don't think it should be categorically), the fact is, our nation was constituted in such a way that we don't really have the basis for claiming the US for Christianity at the expense of other religions and beliefs.  Like it or not, the atheist has just as much a right to believe and share his faith as the Baptist.  The same could be said for a variety of lifestyles and religious persuasions.  I understand the desire to promote righteousness and absolute truth.  I just don't feel that the courtroom, the legislative chamber, or the public school classroom is the appropriate venue for doing so.  Even if the Religious Right is somehow able to reclaim this nation the way they want to (which is doubtful), I think they may find it in the long run to be a Pyrrhic victory.

2.  Churches - I am becoming more and more convinced that one of the most detrimental developments in the ongoing saga of the church is the idea of dedicated church facilities.  Whereas the earliest Christians probably met in homes, the ensuing centuries have brought about the idea of sanctuaries and church property.  Many a congregation has been guilty of shouting, "THAT'S MINE!" with regard to these facilities.  It's kind of funny if you think about it.  Most church buildings sit empty and idle for all but maybe 9 or 10 hours out of the 168 in a week.  Isn't there a more efficient approach to the stewardship of our buildings and possessions to be found?  Could many of our churches find ways to put their facilities to  use outside of the grid of the traditional ideas?  I think the answer here is, "Yes!"  Personally, I like the idea of churches having a Gymnatorium or Multi-Purpose Room over the idea of a Sanctuary.  I think it helps us keep the right perspective about our facilities (and it's more doctrinally accurate--I Peter 2:5).  I remember a friend of mine from seminary talking about starting a church in a building that could be used as a restaurant during the week.  He would pastor the church and run the restaurant.  Although many believers might scoff at such an idea, I think he just might be onto something.

3.  God - Believing in a Higher Being is something inherent to our human nature.  Cultures and people groups throughout history have developed their individual ideas about God and religion.  These ideas about the Divine are as diverse as those who hold to them.  Over the last several years, I have come to recognize that many Christians are very possessive about God and will vehemently proclaim, "THAT'S MINE!" when confronted with ideas outside of the scope of their beliefs about Him.  This possessiveness manifests itself in two ways.  It comes out in the way we relate to people of other religions and beliefs.  I feel compelled to say that I am not advocating a relativistic, "all-roads-lead-to-heaven," "it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you are sincere" approach.  I do believe there to be only one way, one truth, and one life.  Anything outside the scope of this truth is not valid, no matter how heartily it is believed.  This, however, does not mean we as Christians have the prerogative to take the beliefs of others lightly or dismiss them with a cavalier attitude.  Many Christians do not understand the beliefs of others or the comfort others take from their beliefs about God.  We are very possessive and even arrogant about "our God."  Handling this idea with balance is a tricky proposition, to be sure.  The other way our possessiveness about God reveals itself is in how we relate to others who live under the big umbrella of Christendom.  By this, I am simply referring to those who believe in the God of the Bible, but hold differing views about some of the specifics of His workings and His word.  Again, I am not saying that any belief or teaching that comes down the pike is valid.  Some ideas about God are non-negotiable and mutually exclusive to other opposing ideas.  Yet, the fact remains that so much of the disagreement between denominations and segments in Christianity relates to the non-essentials of the faith.  The territorial immaturity that comes out in these debates is, for the most part, useless and unhealthy.  The longer I live, the more I am coming to see that God is so much bigger than the boxes we have created for Him.

To conclude, I think believers would do well to loosen their grip and evaluate how their possessiveness may be hindering their ability to shine in the darkness.  When all is said and done, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it!" (Psalm 24:1)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What If?

Have you ever played the "What if?" game with yourself?  You know, it's when you run different scenarios through your mind and try to figure out what the result would be if things were different.  Usually, we play this game (or put ourselves through this torture, as the case may be) when looking backward to the past.  We are particularly prone to do this when looking back on something negative such as a personal failure or tragedy.  We wonder things like, "What if I had gotten there 5 minutes later?" or "What if I had gotten that text message sooner?"  It's natural to do this, although I don't know that it is particularly healthy.

Lately, I have been playing the "What if?" game in the other direction.  I have been trying to figure out what the results would be in the future if things were different now.  Specifically, I have been pondering my Christian walk and my relationship to God and those around me.  As I have been growing in grace over the last months and years, I find myself wondering how our homes, our churches, our communities, our nation, and our world would be different if Christians thought differently and acted differently.  I am not claiming to know all of the problems and/or solutions of modern Christianity.  I am just wondering..."What if?"  Several ideas have come to mind.  Many of them are based on specific passages of scripture.  Some of them are just my own conjecture and theory.  All of them, at the very least, are interesting to think about and ponder...

So, I am going to do my best John Lennon impression and ask you to imagine.  Imagine what it would be like.  Imagine how our lives might be different.  Imagine how our impact on the world might increase.  Imagine how much more glory and honor God might receive. (It's easy if you try.)

What if...

We were truly convinced that God Himself is the highest and greatest good to which mankind can aspire?

We lived on a daily basis in full recognition of and appreciation for the finished work of Christ in our lives?

We viewed every person around us (friend or foe, believer or not) as a soul created by God in His image and infused with value and worth?

We allowed our brothers and sisters in Christ the freedom to be themselves in their walk with Christ?

We reached the conclusion that there are relatively few things in the scope of Christianity for which it is worth separating from other Christians?

We stopped trying to produce spiritual fruit (in ourselves or in others) through external, artificial means and started allowing Christ to live His life out through us?

We stopped viewing our nation as a battlefield to be conquered through political activism and radical separatism and started viewing it as a mission field to be lived in and exposed to the power of God's love in the Gospel?

We began to believe that every perfect gift is from God and that, for a Christian, there is no such thing as sacred or secular?

We stopped trying to define our spirituality in terms of all that we do or don't do?

We related to others the way God relates to us?

We all were honest with ourselves and others about how dark our hearts really are?

We truly understood that God views each Christian through the lens of Christ and that His love and acceptance for us are completely independent of our actions?

We came to accept that grace really is as good as it sounds?

What if?

Can you imagine?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why I Love Working With Teenagers

I just arrived home several hours ago from our annual Back-to-School Retreat.  At South Merrimack Christian Academy, we call this 3-day event RENEW.  Although I have enjoyed the previous two retreats that I have attended with this school, I felt (for many reasons) as if there was an especially powerful spirit amongst those students and faculty who were there this year.  After spending these days with 70 high-schoolers, I was reflecting during my drive home.  (I had plenty of time to reflect because I was driving the luggage van and, consequently, my only companions were duffel bags and guitar cases.)  I was reflecting on how much I enjoy working with teenagers.

I have worked with teenagers in some capacity ever since I was one.  I must admit I don't always enjoy working with teenagers, but, for the most part, I relish the opportunities I have been given over the last decade or so.  As I and my silent van-mates flew down I-93 this afternoon, I enumerated in my mind several reasons why I enjoy these young adults with whom I spend most of my time and for whom I expend most of my energy.  As I thought of teens, four words came to my mind:

1. Energetic - Speaking of expending energy, I am thoroughly sore and exhausted as I type this.  I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon careening down an extra-large Slip n' Slide on my stomach or skipping across the waters of Newfound Lake at 30 mph on a motor-boat propelled tube.  Literally, I could have gone to bed at 7 o'clock and been asleep within 5 minutes.  I didn't have the chance to do that, however, because I had to go sit in a bush for 15 minutes so we could play "Capture the Counselor" after the evening session.  Indeed, working with teens is a tiring exercise because of the exorbitant amounts of energy they seem to have.  This, however, is not a bad thing. It actually makes teenagers endearing.   I can't prove this scientifically, but I think exposing myself to their energy may actually reverse the effects of aging in my own life.

2. Curious - One thing that I have discovered as a Bible teacher is that teens have questions.  Usually, they have lots of questions.  Many times, they have very deep, penetrating, and thought-provoking questions.  Although they may not be as curious as your typical five year old, teenagers usually haven't grown up so much that they don't still have that innate thirst for knowledge.  I love this about them, because I haven't yet grown up so much that I don't still thirst for answers.  One of the things about their curiosity that has been so amazing to me is the fact that God has used it to further my own growth in grace.  I try to learn as much from the teens as they do from me.  I think this is a nifty little arrangement.

3. Potential - I count it a real privilege to be able to play a moderately significant role in the lives of young people as they reach their Junior and Senior years of high school.  It is truly exciting to witness the beginning of their adult lives as they prepare to graduate and move on to "what's next."  The thing that is so cool is the diversity of talents and personalities that I find in the students.  It's fun to picture how they will be able to use their gifts to impact their world.  I can only imagine that it's all the more fun to look back and actually see how they've impacted their world.  I anticipate this eagerly as I continue logging in years as a teacher.

4. Genuine - As someone who is learning the value of true genuineness, I have to say that this is one of my favorite things about teens.  Although there are exceptions, of course, I really believe that teenagers (especially the teenagers of the current generation) are some of the most genuine, un-hypocritical people you can find.  For the most part, teens haven't learned the finely-nuanced art of "putting on airs."  What you see is what you get.  I find this quality to be very compelling.  Even when "what you see" is disheveled, undisciplined, or just plain odd, it's refreshing to work with people who don't really know how to play the "Good Christian Game."  This quality is also very convicting, because I am discovering that I have to be just as genuine with them in order to have any hope of having a lasting impact on their soul.

Someone asked me yesterday when I was groaning from the Slip n' Slide-induced pain in my ribs if it was worth it.  I replied, "If it allows the kids to see me as a real person who enjoys being with them and is genuinely interested in their life, then, yeah--it's worth it."  I'm not completely sure if sliding or tubing or hiding in the bushes shows the teenagers all of those things, but I can honestly say...It's worth it and I love it! (Most of the time! :-)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

What The Promise Is For

The following post is based upon a testimony I gave at the beginning of my Sunday School lesson to the Young Marrieds Class at our church on June 5, 2011--my 31st birthday and the 7th anniversary of my marriage to Danielle. I received several bits of positive feedback about the testimony, and so I thought it might be helpful and encouraging to those of you out there in the blogosphere.

Every time we drive out to visit my in-laws in Francestown, New Hampshire (which is about once a month or so), we drive right past the white church building where Danielle and I were married on June 5, 2004. As we pass that 200-year old building with our 3 children in the back of our Honda Pilot, I almost always think back to that Saturday morning when my bride and I exchanged vows.

In the months approaching our 7th anniversary, I thought quite a bit about that day. In particular, my thought patterns about my marriage went something like this:

"If someone had asked me in the weeks before I got married to describe my expectations about marriage in one word, I wonder what I would have said?" (My thought patterns tend to be quite specific at times.)

As I pondered this question, several possible answers sprang to mind:

Love?
Companionship?
Adventure?
Sex?
Acceptance?
Romance?
Commitment?

I put the question mark after each because I am not really sure what answer I would have given. Honestly, as much as I was looking forward to getting married, I don't think I really knew what to expect. I just knew I wanted to be married.

I may not know what I would have said in answer to the preceding question, but I am quite confident about one thing I would not have said. There is one word I most certainly would not have used to describe my expectations about marriage at that point in my life. Do you want to know what that one word is?

Difficult

In the entire scope of my thinking as I was preparing to marry the love of my life, I never really thought of marriage as being difficult, hard, or even exhausting. Now, please understand this--Danielle and I did all of the things good, Christian engaged couples are supposed to do before they get married. We read the books about preparing for marriage. We talked about finances, family, and conflict resolution. We participated in the obligatory pre-marital counseling. We tried to prepare ourselves for the fact that the honeymoon would eventually end and that the reality of day to day life would set in. I thought I knew what I was getting into, but the truth is--I didn't have a clue. I had no idea how hard it is to be married and to form a family. That is not to say that I regret marrying Danielle and forming a family with her. I wouldn't go back and change anything even if I could. Sometimes, I look at her and I still can't believe that she agreed to be my wife. Sometimes, it does still seem like a fairy-tale. None of that changes the fact, however, that marriage is, at times, just plain difficult.

I realize now that I did not realize this then. (Did that sentence even make sense?) To some extent, I don't think I could have really understood beforehand the pressures of the crucible of marriage. It's like going to Disney World. People can tell you what it's like, but you really have to go there yourself to truly understand. The same is true with marriage. People can tell you it's hard, but...

Until you've had to face the reality of having more bills and needs than money, you don't understand.

Until you've walked into a room and had your wife sobbingly tell you that she's had a miscarriage, you can't know what it's like.

Until you've felt the subtle hand of lust trying to pull you apart from your spouse, you can't really identify.

Until you've had a loved one snatched violently and unexpectedly away, leaving both of you reeling, you can't empathize.

Until you've experienced how beautiful, amazing, fun, frustrating, exhausting, and stressful children can be, you don't really know.

Until you've felt as if your marriage has been "hijacked" by your kids, your job, and your life...

Until you've laid in bed feeling hundreds of miles apart from someone whose is only 3 feet away...

Until you've asked yourself, "Can I do this anymore?" or even "Do I want to do this anymore?"...

You can't really see how difficult marriage can be.

(By the way, I don't want to sound as if I am complaining. I understand that many couples have traversed waters much deeper and situations much more painful than we have. We have been very blessed in our seven years together. I am simply pointing out some of the difficulties that have surprised me personally along the way.)

About two months ago, someone gave me a CD called "Counting Stars" by a Christian singer-songwriter name Andrew Peterson. I had never heard of him, but I always enjoy discovering new music so I gave the CD a spin. Track number 2 on that disc changed my life. The song is titled "Dancing in the Minefields." Andrew wrote the song to his wife. In it, he talks about how their marriage has been "harder than they dreamed." When I first heard that, I teared up thinking, "So I am not the only one who has felt that way!" Then Mr. Peterson includes a line that shot straight into my heart and soul. He says, "But I believe that's what the promise is for."

I heard those words, and I realized something after 7 years of marriage that I had never really understood before. (Forgive me--I can be quite oblivious at times.) Why do we make vows at our weddings? Why do we include words like "for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse"? We say those things, not because we're all going to be rich, healthy, and happy all the time. We say those things because there will be times of poverty, times of sickness, times of unrest and unhappiness. That's what the promise is for--it's for the times when marriage is hard and exhausting. The key to navigating the "minefield" is to hold fast to that promise and refuse, by the grace of God, to give up. That was something I needed to hear after a very difficult 6-month stretch in our marriage. It changed my perspective dramatically.

With all this in mind, I decided to put together a short video using the song and some pictures. I would like to include it at the end of this lengthy post in the hope that it will encourage you as it has encouraged me.

I would also like to dedicate it to my wife, Danielle. She daily reflects the love and grace of God to me, and I love her dearly. "Sweetheart, I am in it for the long haul! :-)"

To the rest of you reading, I echo the words of the backup singers on the song...

"Don't give up!"


video

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Benefit of the Doubt

I can remember swinging back and forth on the playground outside our church building as a boy. I must have been around 9 or 10 years old. I don't remember any other details of the context, but I can, to this day, remember very clearly pondering a sobering question. As far as I know, it was the first time in my short life that this thought penetrated my mind:

"What if the whole thing is just a story?"

The "whole thing" to which I was referring was the Gospel, the Bible, the story of Jesus, the very fabric of everything I had been taught about the truth up to that point.

"What if there is no god? What if there is no heaven or hell? What if it's all made up?"

I remember thinking those thoughts, and I remember feeling very small and scared.

Since that time nearly 2 decades ago, that question (along with countless others) have reverberated through my mind many times. I have always been fairly curious about life and the world around me. I have always loved encyclopedias, dictionaries, documentaries, and websites like howstuffworks.com In some cases, my inquisitiveness has not been a positive thing as it has gotten me into trouble. For the most part, however, I think my desire for knowledge has proved beneficial.

In the realm of spiritual truth and my relationship with God, I have gone through stages. Growing up in conservative Christianity, my early years were marked by a simple and genuine acceptance of all that I was taught. (Most of which, by the way, was accurate and Biblical.) During my teen years, I went through a period of several years in which I really struggled with doubt. My doubts related not so much to the validity of Christianity as they did to my own position in Christ. It took me several years to come to a confidence that I am a child of God. In my later teen and early college years, I went through a sort-of "preacher-boy" phase in which I was learning a lot about the Bible and was fairly confident that I had most of life's biggest questions figured out and could share those answers with anyone who would listen. During my Junior year of college, however, things began to change. I can't really point to one cataclysmic event in my life that modified my thinking. I just started...to wonder...and to question. As the years have progressed since my college graduation (both of them), I am finding that the more I know...the less I know. The ebb and flow of life has effectively stripped me of the arrogance of those early college years and replaced it with a sense of uncertainty and a sense of thirst...for answers. Although I still have confidence that I am a child of God, my opinions and convictions about many aspects of life, Christianity, and the Bible are in a period of fluctuation. At times, I even wrestle with that old question,

"What if the whole thing is just a story?"

In recent years, I have discovered (much to my surprise) that many of the Christians around me wrestle with the same questions and doubts that I do. I suppose this shouldn't be to my surprise, but it has been. The speakers, authors and musicians I find myself most drawn to these days are the ones who openly admit that they "don't have all the answers" and even verbalize some of their doubts and fears. For some reason, I find this vulnerability comforting. I find my patience growing rather thin with those who who constantly project an air of confidence and self-assurance. I find this attitude unsettling because I think it is disingenuous. Nobody has it all together all the time.

Now, our tendency might be to view all of this uncertainty as a bad thing. As Christians we tend to view doubt as a sign of weakness. While it is true that doubts and fears can become so monumental in our minds that they paralyze and debilitate us, I have reached the opinion that a healthy dose of doubt can actually be a good thing for a Christian. To borrow wording from the title of a book a friend of mine wrote, living with questions may not be such a bad thing after all.

Here are some reasons why...

1) Doubts and questions cause us to reevaluate our convictions. In preparation for a Sunday School class I am conducting on the Life of Christ, I have given much thought to the Pharisees recently. I am convinced that the root problem that caused these Jews (who were very much sincere in the love for God and their desire to please Him) to miss the very One for whom they were looking and waiting was simply a refusal to consider anything outside of their religious paradigm. In most cases, they refused to even examine their own beliefs and interpretations in order to determine their accuracy. They were a product of their heritage and their education, and they never looked beyond the confines of either one. Doubt that is not blindly extinguished can be beneficial because it can prompt us to be sure that our beliefs and interpretations are true to God's Word and change the ones that are not.

2) Doubts and questions cause us to be more gracious and empathetic to those around us. Those who've "got it all together" often find it difficult to understand how someone else does not. In the same way that a parent might find their child's fear of the dark or the boogieman irrational and foolish, a doubtless Christian can view a fellow believer's questions as petty, simplistic, or even indicative of major spiritual problems. On the other hand, when you have or are wrestling with doubts of your own, you are much more likely to understand the uncertainty for what it really is--the natural product of living as an individual in a vast and complex universe. In the same way, a Christian who understands doubt and lack of conviction will find it much easier to relate to and dialogue with an unbeliever who is working through their questions.

3) Doubts and questions remind us that our Christianity is faith-based. When you get right down to it, the whole thing just might be a story. We as Christians might be wrong. As much as we might want to think that we can prove our faith, we cannot. The reason for this is obvious. Our faith is just that...it's faith. Faith is the conviction about things unseen. God has chosen to reveal Himself, but He has done it in such a way that there is room for uncertainty. I am a Christian because I have chosen to believe the set of propositions about reality and eternity that Christianity provides. My faith is as strong as that on which it rests. (For the record, I feel that it rests on sure footing.) If, however, those propositions are wrong...then I am wrong as well. Those nagging doubts, those unanswered questions, those enigmatic portions of scripture--they all serve as a powerful reminder that those who come to God must do so by faith. Some might see this as a sign of weakness and unreliability. I see it as evidence that our relationship with the Father is not a safe, calculated, and confined ritual, but a grand adventure that scares us, comforts us, and fascinates all at once.

So...if you find yourself staring out at the night sky and asking some of those big questions. If you look in the mirror and your uncertainty is staring starkly back at you. Do yourself a favor. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

IFB...R.I.P.

So it all comes down to just three letters--three letters and all that they represent.

It's amazing how drastically a three-letter label can impact your view of a person or organization. For instance, reading the words "Andrew D. Doan" may bring certain thoughts to your mind (hopefully they are positive thoughts). If, however, we attach the three-letter label "CIA" to the name "Andrew D. Doan" this creates a completely different perception in your mind about the person behind the label--which just so happens to be me. The point is--labels matter. They create an understanding in the minds of those who hear or see them. The understanding they create may or may not be accurate, but labels do their work nonetheless.

That's why I am writing this post that, essentially, can be boiled down to three letters--a three letter label:

I...F...B...

What understanding is created in your mind when you read these three letters in conjunction with one another? Of course, there are many different words these letters could represent in the acronym, but in this instance I am using them as follows:

Independent
Fundamental
Baptist

I grew up in IFB churches and considered myself to be an "IFBer" for most of my life. The vast majority of my experiences in this religious movement were positive in nature. I am thankful for my religious heritage as it was through IFB churches and related ministries that I was given the truth of the Gospel. (No less important is the fact that I met my wife at an IFB college.) I consider myself to be fairly well-versed in the culture and inner-workings of a typical IFB church. Many of my friends and former college-mates are either pastors of or working in an IFB ministry. Let it suffice to say that the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement has played an integral role in the first 30 years of my life.

Over the last several years, a number of events and personalities have wormed their way into the media (and, consequently, the attention of the masses) that have cast a pall over the IFB label. These events range from Koran-burnings in Florida to funeral protests in Kansas. Most recently, the IFB label has come under scrutiny through an ABC News investigation and report about an IFB church in Concord, NH. While not all of these examples come from IFB churches, they seem to have affected the popular perception of churches in general and independent churches in specific. The increasing hostility and suspicion that many Americans hold toward IFB churches and similar organizations have left moderate "IFBers" all wondering the same thing:

"How do I disassociate myself with all of the negativity about IFB while maintaining my religious identity before the world?"

In other words, many moderate (often young) Fundamentalists are trying to figure out how they can salvage the IFB label and restore it to a position of respect. This post is my opinion on and answer to that question. Are you ready? Here it is...

Don't.

That's it. Just don't. Don't even try. I am not a certified medical examiner, but I am gonna step out on a limb and officially declare the IFB label to be deceased. Well, at least it should be deceased. We can hold a memorial service and have a few nice eulogies about it, but the reality is that we should retire its number and a hang a commemorative jersey from the rafters. Yes, I know I am mixing my metaphors, but the point I am trying to make is that I believe the time is approaching (it may have already come and gone) when we should cut the IFB label loose...for good.

The reason for this is simple. It's just not worth it. There is too much other important work to be done for Christ's kingdom. There is no sense in stubbornly holding on to a label that has become too much of a loose cannon to be redeemed. Ask any major corporation that has had to do PR resuscitation for a particular brand. Ask the Catholic Church. Changing the popular perception of a label once it has been soiled in the public eye is a very costly and time-consuming process. Independent Fundamentalism does not have the resources to accomplish such a feat. The fact is--it doesn't need to. "IFBers" can still believe what they believe, preach what they preach, and do what they do without having to be know as an "IFBer". Personally, I think there is much about what they believe, preach, and do that needs to be refined, but that is not the focus of this article.

I am arguing here for more than just keeping the IFB label quiet. As in, keep it but don't make a big deal about it. I don't think that is good enough. The fact is, carrying that label before the public can actually harm the cause of Christ. I am of the opinion that IFB ministry leaders should take active measures to disassociate themselves with IFB. As in, change the name of your church. Withdraw your membership from IFB organizations. Do all that you can before the public to NOT be know by this increasingly-toxic label.

In reality, this should come quite easily to a movement that has, from its inception, been characterized by separation. Fundamentalists have always been more than willing to separate from any person, organization, or label that has been deemed unworthy of the cause. (The near-paranoia about Billy Graham and "New Evangelicalism" is a case in point as is the attitude about Rick Warren or Willow Creek.) What is stopping the current generation of Fundamentalists from separating from the IFB label? I really don't know. Maybe they are ignorant (either willingly or unwillingly) of all the baggage the label brings with it. Maybe they feel that to drop the label is a form of compromise (which is a cardinal sin in IFB). Maybe they just want to pay homage to the great Fundamentalists of the past. Whatever the reason, I think IFB ministry leaders need to give serious thought to where this label will take them in the next 10 to 15 years.

Here's an illustration of what I am trying to say. Think about the word "gay" for a minute. With what do most (if not all) Americans associate this word? You are probably familiar with the fact that this word used to refer to a feeling of happiness and bliss or a carefree attitude. Over time, however, the popular perception of this word has changed. How foolish would it be for someone to claim the word "gay" as a label to describe themselves and insist that it means "happy or carefree" instead of "homosexual"? The individual might mean it in the older sense, but that is NOT how people will perceive them when they hear the term. Words and phrases evolve in their meanings and connotations over time. To refuse to recognize such changes is just silly. There comes a time when a certain label's connotation has evolved to such a point that you just have to separate from it.

Personally, I have already reached this point of separation. I have come to terms in my relationship with IFB. I have said my goodbyes. I am not a Fundamentalist nor do I care to be known as one. Do I believe the fundamentals? Yes. Am I independent? I suppose so. Am I a Baptist? For the time being. Do I want to put those three names together and smack the IFB label on my forehead? Not on your life.

The question, of course, will be raised by some, "What label would you have us use instead?" This is not easily answered. Truthfully, I don't know. Every label is going to carry some baggage with it. No label will perfectly portray to a hostile world exactly who and what you are. That is why I used to jokingly tell my fellow seminary students that I was going to start a church and just call it "Church." Unfortunately, even that label has its problems.

No, there is no ideal alternative to IFB. Maybe you can think of one. In the meantime, however, I stand by my assertion that the Independent Fundamental Baptist name (particularly the Fundamental part) should be laid to rest and given a decent burial. Stubborn refusal to do so may just be another example of the Fundamentalist penchant for defending mountains that aren't worth dying on. We've all got bigger fish to fry.

In the meantime,

Rest In Peace, IFB.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gotta Give?

I have been thinking on and off over the last several months about Christian giving. For some reason, the subject has come up on several different occasions recently.

It started a few months back when I was covering II Corinthians with my 11th and 12th Grade Bible class. Using chapter 9, verse 7 as my basis, I made the statement to the group of 24 teenagers that I do not believe that tithing (in its truest sense of giving 10%) is required of New Testament believers. I told them that, as far as I could tell, the primary requirement for NT giving is a willing heart. This was a novel idea to many of them and several were quite skeptical of this strange, new doctrine. One student in particular talked with me personally on several occasions with questions about my view. Apparently, he had mentioned our class discussion to one of his mentors who did not agree with my estimation of the Biblical teaching about giving. As I always try to do when confronted about a particular point of my belief system, I spent the next several days re-evaluating my position.

From there, it seems that giving (and the larger discussion of stewardship) has come around for discussion and meditation again and again. Our Sunday School class talked about it last week. I jumped into a Facebook thread about giving the week before. Even today, I found myself thinking about these ideas as I shoveled 14 inches of snow off of my driveway.

As you might have guessed, I have a few questions and opinions about this important topic.

Question 1 - "Why do so many Christians accept the axiom that believers are required by God to tithe?"
In the minds of many, questioning whether believers must tithe is akin to questioning whether the earth is round. "What do you mean?" they exclaim, "Of course we have to tithe! That's what committed Christians do! After all, it's in the Bible." I concur that many committed Christians do give at least 10% of their income. (We won't go into the question of whether we must figure 10% of the gross or net income.) I also agree that tithing is in the Bible. My questions relate to whether God requires those Christians to give their 10% and where in the Bible tithing is found. From what I have been able to find (thanks to my handy-dandy new Logos Bible Software), tithing is an old covenant (aka-Old Testament) stipulation. Even when tithing is mentioned in the NT books, I have been unable to find any context where it is levied as an expectation upon the church. What I find instead is wording such as the following, "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." I find no mention of 10% here. Is that a reasonable amount for most Christians to give regularly? How would I know? It seems like it is, but the only financial situation I am familiar with is my own...and that's none of your business! (Insert smiley emoticon here.)

Question 2 - "How do we determine what qualifies as giving to God?"
I use a financial software program on my laptop that helps me keep track of our money. One of the line items in my checking account is called "Giving to God." (I gave it this moniker.) Sometimes, I wonder to myself, "Should the money from that fund be given exclusively to my church or another 'ministry'? Can I or should I use that money for other non-church-ifed giving? For instance, on a recent lunch excursion to Olive Garden with my family, I decided to give my server a rather substantial tip. (That is--substantial in terms of percentage.) I did this because she was extremely helpful in the service of our meal. I also did this because she mentioned that she had just graduated from college and had only recently gotten a job after an extended time of looking. I felt as though I might encourage and help her in a small way by increasing the amount of her gratuity. "Nothin' wrong with that," you say. I agree. My question is, does this "count" as giving to God? Should I pull the money for that tip from the aforementioned line in my budget? (I will let you, the reader, guess as to whether I did or not.) What about donations made to the Red Cross, Meals-on-Wheels, or other such charitable organizations? If I give my money in a spirit of gratitude and worship, does the Almighty view my donations as gifts to Him? I know what I think, but I wonder how other believers feel?

Question 3 - "Is it wise to view our giving and our stewardship as Christians in terms of investments and returns?"
Mutual funds, investments, 401(k)s, and day-trading seem to be all the rage these days. (Thanks in part to those silly E-Trade babies!) It seems that this "Charles Schwab" mentality has crept into our thinking as Christians. We want to give, but we only want to give to people or organizations that are "safe." Our churches have food pantries, but the resources therein are only available to church members or individuals who agree to come to church first. (In truth, I have been pondering much of the typical church philosophy regarding resources, and I have several questions about this area.) We may give our money to help the poor and underprivileged, but only if we can guarantee that the funds are used "wisely." A corollary of the "investment mindset" is the idea that the more we give the more we will get in return. Truthfully, the Bible does talk on several occasions about reaping bountifully when we give bountifully. Do you think this implies only physical, material reaping? I am not so sure. There's no doubt that God wants us to be wise stewards with all that He has given us. I know I still need to do some searching on this particular question, but I just can't help feeling like many Christians (including the one writing this post) and churches are sitting on their nest eggs and missing incredible opportunities to serve others through cheerful, open-hearted giving--even to those who don't necessarily deserve it.

For the record, I do believe Christians should be giving regularly. I also believe that believers bear the responsibility of meeting the needs of those who labor in the Word as the elders of the church. Beyond that, however, I wonder if maybe our giving (and the motives driving it) may need re-examination and refinement. I, for one, will continue to seek God's guidance in this important area.