Friday, October 28, 2016

Testimony as Idol

One of the subtlest roadblocks to a progressing maturity in Christ is an initial testimony.

And by testimony, I mean testimony as I have witnessed it practiced by the evangelical community.

That testimony goes to great lengths to build the case for how bad an individual was before Christ, and how the initial salvation in Christ saved them from all that. I call this the “Bad-A” testimony (you know what the “A” stands for).

The lead-in to salvation during these testimonies usually takes up 90% of the presentation, with the brief remainder dedicated to the freedom experienced in Christ. All in all, the general take-away is, “I’m not the Bad-A I used to be, praise God!”

This is unfortunate, since, with so much emphasis on the rascal we used to be, we can lose the listeners whose struggles are not remotely like our own, and who thus sit and listen to these testimonies as nothing other than really fascinating stories.

Or, there’s someone who does relate--all too well--so that they say to themselves, 

“Yeah, that dude was really messed up, but he doesn’t come near to where I’m messing up! Glad that worked for him.”

So there’s the first risk in testimony: too much baggage in front and not enough unpacking of Christ Himself and the specifics of what a post-conversion life looks like.

The second potential problem with testimony as I’ve witnessed it is that I've heard individuals give the same exact testimony year after year after year. Whether it is a positive testimony about how meeting their future spouse was a  God thing,” or a cutting edge testimony about life in the gutter 25 years ago, the testimony never changes, and is, in fact, their only testimony.

And repeating that same front-loaded attestation, especially to a youth group where the same student may hear it more than once, could cause a student to idolize the personal sharing to the point that they want a dramatic testimony too. 

I have heard of students who embellish their conversion accounts for this very reason. I call it the Curse of the Bad-A Testimony.

To the person who is still giving a play-by-play of their first testimony as their only testimony, to an audience of mostly saved Christians, I would ask, 

“What has God done lately?”  

The third danger in testimony is that the continual slapping of ourselves on our Christ-saved backs for that one big initial victory may blind us to sin that remains.

Sometimes people think that since they have been freed of a major sin in their life, they are off the hook for what in comparison may seem to be smaller, inconsequential sin. They cut themselves some slack because they feel as though they’ve practically attained Sainthood for no longer being homeless, a drug addict, or an adulterer!

Yet resting on the laurels of a first, albeit tremendous victory in Christ, is not God’s will.

I believe that the current state of testimony borders on idolatry: the recounting of an experience has become bigger and more important than Christ Himself, and thus, an idol.

That's not to say that testimony itself is a bad thing. Everyone has a testimony. Hopefully more than one, and hopefully one that isn’t limited to the 1980’s. 

But it's not a one-time portrayal. 

And the before isn't more important than the after. 

And whether current or more dated, whatever we are imparting needs to be handled and conveyed with humility and sensitivity to the particular audience at hand. We do not just whip out our same-old testimony like a worn out deck of cards before poker.

Yes, we must never forget what Christ did for us in initially rescuing us from the fiery furnace of dysfunction. Yes, we must give Him credit and praise for our salvation.

But when we are dying to self every day, there is salvation, and thus, "testimony." 

When we are victorious over sin every day, there is rescue, and thus, "testimony." 

We can still discuss how we were initially saved, but on a more selective, need-to-know basis (perhaps one-on-one), divulging only the personal details relevant to the person we are sharing with. 

But we mustn’t stop there. The person listening must come away with the truth that Christ is still at work in our lives today, and that what He did back then was just the tip of the iceberg. 

They must see the follow-through, the staying power—the today of Christ. But we must see it first.

copyright Barb Harwood

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2a

Friday, October 21, 2016

Willy Wonka: "Don't. Stop. Come Back."

When I enter daily life following my bucolic morning quiet
time with the Lord, I often find myself quickly forgetting Him and everything
I’ve just read and meditated upon. 

For instance, as soon as I'm on the phone with the
business personnel of my local health clinic, “discussing” why the
powers-that-be won’t honor my insurance discounts, or when I log on to Google
News and begin reading about how, in my estimation, the world is going to hell
in a hand-basket, or when I react (instead of thoughtfully respond) to a
statement made by my husband, it’s as if I had never spent time in relationship
with the Triune God at all.

Time and time again, I am disingenuous as to how I could possibly, yet again, allow--completely, voluntarily and of my own
volition—my thoughts to go down an ungodly path: thoughts that, when not
taken immediately captive under the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians
10:5) materialize into ungodly words and/or actions.

Now, thanks be to God for His indescribable gift of Himself,
I don’t always forget Him, nor
forsake Him. But any time that I do
forget Him is one time too many.

Saying “I’m only human” doesn’t cut it anymore, since, as
born again Christians we’re no longer “only” human: we are in the world as the
people of God’s kingdom, not of the world’s kingdom.

Yes, it’s true that “all have sinned and fall short of the
glory of God” (Romans 3:23), but that doesn’t mean we accept that truth as a determiner and excuser of our actions!

One of the joys of our salvation is that God now makes us
aware of sin, and in fact warns us of
its imminence. But we have to listen to His voice in order to not act on our
own inclinations. I liken this process to the scenes in the original 1971 motion picture
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:

“Stop. Don’t. Come back.”

That is what God will say to us when we decide to dwell on ourselves (or on other people in the context of ourselves) instead of on Him.

Philippians 4 is pretty straightforward:

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good
repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you
have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and
the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

Not difficult to understand during our reverent commitments
to God to “do His will,” but very difficult to remain steadfastly and
unwaveringly dedicated to when the rubber hits the road. 

Why is that?

I think it’s because, instead of dwelling on the glass half
full components of Philippians 4—within a right understanding of the fear of
the Lord—in which we humbly acknowledge that, outside of the Lord, all have
turned aside and become useless, and
there is none who do good, not one (Romans 2:12), we dwell on anything and everything else.

Even Christians can step
outside of the Lord, not salvation-wise, but self-wise. It all depends on what
we choose to dwell on.

So whatever is truenot
imagined, supposed, expected to happen, surmised, feared, speculated, desired—is what
we dwell

Whatever is honorablenot
lusted after, vengeful, levels the playing field, gets even,
disrespectful, coarse, vulgar, shallow, hurtful—is what we dwell on.

I think we get the picture: whatever is not of God is
what we eradicate,
beginning with our thoughts. 

God is always present,
always warning, always re-directing, always guiding. 

We have to want Him, not more than our anger, but instead of. Not more than our need to defend our rights (or desire to be
right), our need to be the parent, our need to be
understood, our desire to have people commiserate with us, our desire to dig in our heels, our need for human affirmation, our desire for popularity, our obsession for a million “likes” on
Facebook, our desire to prove others wrong, our compulsion to find
fault, our habit to be critical, our wish to be pretty, our wish to be handsome, our need or desire to be______________________ (ill in the blank) but instead of.

We have to want Christ, not more, but instead of. 

Christ has given us His kingdom in which to thrive. And yet,
we so often go our own way and do our own thing, perhaps not living terrible
lives, but incurring struggles, stress, conflict and victimhood where Christ’s
peace and contentment could reign, even in the midst of catastrophes, tragedies
and confusions beyond our control. 

There is one thing with Christ that leads to
all else and it is this, Christ Himself:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will
give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Sometimes it helps to have a man-made hook on which to
initially hang our trainee hat. So with the caveat that this is an entirely
secular portrayal, I do find value in the Wonka movie, often hearing Gene
Wilder’s voice corroborating that of the Holy Spirit when the Holy Spirit says, “Stop. Don’t. Come back.”

The ending of the Willy Wonka movie also contains rather
close parallels (albeit cute and sentimental) to obedience to Christ, heavenly attributes and joy in the journey. And while I’ve never been a fan of
“happily ever after” I am a fan of having life, and having it to the full (John

I think that’s what Willy Wonka is talking about, and I know it’s what
Christ is about.  

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Can We Really "Do Anything We Set Our Mind To"?

This quote from Dr. Kathy Koch appeared in the article Children of the Kingdom by Jamie A. Hughes in the June, 2012 edition of In Touch magazine:

"...success is being obedient and glorifying God rather than ourselves. I always tell people, 
'You were created on purpose with a purpose,' 
which is to become who they were designed by their Creator to be and to have a dynamic relationship with Jesus. That's the definition of success we should be instilling." Dr. Kathy Koch

At the end of the movie Finding Dory, Dory's mom says, 

“It means you can do whatever you put your mind to."

This, I believe, is a sad, misleading and false teaching which is the current downfall of many people--children and adults alike. 

I was raised in the floodlights of the self-esteem movement. Not only did I come away with the admonition that I absolutely and unequivocally can do "whatever I set my mind to," I came away with an even stronger sense that "whatever I set my mind to" had to be something "different," "famously great," and "worldly significant."

But by whose standards? 

The standards of the experts, which, for me being a woman, were the women's liberationists who collectively shunned the choice to be a wife and mother. Oh, they were okay with a girl wanting to get married and have children, and they were okay with getting married and having children. They just weren't okay with, and would never endorse choosing to be a wife and mother as a first choice that came before and in place of all other choices

So unless I went into a career previously open only to men, or unless I pursued an occupation outside of the home, I was anathema, a sell-out, and short-changing not only myself, but everything women have attained to this date. 

But in reality, I always wanted to be an at-home mom. And I always wanted to find a man to share my life with. And when that happened, I carried the warring factions within me for several years: the battle between my innate, pure desire to choose the career of creating, building and guiding a family and the opposing force of feeling "less-than" as a woman because of that desire. 

See, for the women's liberationist ideology that permeated my formation into adulthood, "you can be whatever you put your mind to" does not include being a wife and mother first

When I became a Christian, I discovered the high calling of God in being a wife and mother, and in fact, gained more sense of personhood than the women's movement could ever give (a movement which, in reality, completely obliterated any sense of self).

There are other results of the "you can do whatever you set your mind to" propaganda: failure and recklessness.

Failure, because when we attempt to “do anything and everything” and fail, we become frustrated, angry, depressed, disenfranchised and demotivated. Meanwhile, what we are truly inclined towards; what we would be good at and become better at and what we enjoy, spoils on the counter of ignorance. 

The "whatever you put your mind to" mantra is reckless in the same way that faith healers blame the absence of healing on a person's lack of faith: "If you would have just believed it, it would have happened."

The same goes for leading a young person on that they can be an astronaut when in reality, they don't have the math aptitude to pull it off. Or pumping up an interest to pursue opera singing when a person just doesn't have the vocal chords. 

At what point does “don’t give up” become foolishness and unnecessary risk? Is stopping the doing of something always “giving up?” Is deciding it's better to not continue to proceed in a certain direction always “giving up?” Is deciding it's better to not even begin going down a certain path "giving up"

What is so wrong with accepting normal, healthy limitations: limitations that will direct us to what we are naturally gifted towards? Why set people up for failure, not to mention the endless wading through potential options? 

If "the sky's the limit" of what we can do, how do we begin to narrow down the options? How much of our time and money do we invest indulging our every whim because we were reassured every step of the way that "we can do it!"

It's time to stop giving credence to this ideology. 

Especially if we are raising, teaching or mentoring children and students, we do best to heed the truth of 1 Peter 4:10:
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

And if that gift is being a wife and mother, faithfully administering that office, then that is as legitimate as administering the gift of science, art or business. 

When God is at the helm, and we are in the dynamic relationship with Jesus mentioned above, we and our children will navigate our choices with the clarity of heart and mind that only God can give. And although the world may not see it as success, it doesn't matter, because God has made known to us what true success is. 

"So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, 'If you continue in my Word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.'" John 8:31-31