jasonbwatson

January 25, 2017

Authentic Christianity

Recently my family and I visited Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. I had been there before but my children had not. I had explained to my son ahead of time that there was something unique about the exterior of the house. It appears to be made of stone, but it is actually wood. Through a process called rustication, the wooden plans that side the house are cut with beveled edges periodically and then, while the white paint is still wet, fine sand is thrown onto the wood. The result is that it gives the appearance of stone blocks. This is both creative and effective, and for the purposes of architecture there is nothing wrong with it. However, it got me thinking about other things that are not what they appear to be–and specifically about the times that I cause myself to appear to be something other than what or who I am. As I pondered this I began to consider what it means to practice authentic Christianity.

If you google that phrase you will find plenty of hits. There are books and sermons by that title as well as plenty of blog posts and articles. I found a number of thoughts that were particularly helpful for me.

In one such message, titled “Authentic Christianity,” Steven Cole tells a story that was contained in a 1984 issue of Reader’s Digest. A bishop who had just had a cup of tea with a parishioner commented, “I’m glad to see in what a comfortable way you are living.” The churchgoer replied, “Oh, bishop, if you want to know how we really live, you need to come when you’re not here.”

That is funny, of course, but it is also true. How many times do I straighten things up and do my best to create the right appearance when there will be company coming over–particularly company whom I want to impress? Maybe that is no big deal really, but it is a big deal when we do the same thing with our lives, living differently at different times depending on who is around and whom we are trying to impress.

In that same message Cole said, “Unfortunately, a lot of Christians live that way, keeping up a good front to impress others with their spirituality. But if you knew how they really live, you’d find that they are faking it. They don’t live as authentic Christians.”

Several years ago Megan Hill wrote an article in Christianity Today about authenticity, with the subtitle “Do we Christians even understand what the buzzword means?”

In that article she suggested five principles for being an authentic Christian:

  1. Authenticity proclaims the reality of the Gospel – “Being authentic means that God and His Word define what is real,” she wrote.
  2. Authenticity doesn’t excuse sin. She writes:

Elizabeth Gilbert’s phenomenally popular Eat, Pray, Love was the memoir of a woman seeking an authentic life. Its first page bears the motto: “Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.”

But for Gilbert, living authentically includes adultery, hedonism, blasphemy, and so on.

Gilbert’s type of authenticity is easy for Christians to reject. Her sins are “obvious.” But are we on guard against more subtle sins? …

Selfishness, love of men’s praise, lack of joy can all lurk, undetected, around our authentic edges.

  1. Authenticity seeks the good of the Body. “We live transparently, not to unload our own burdens and thus walk more lightly alone, but to intentionally share the burdens of others and carry them to the same grace that liberated us.”
  2. Authenticity honors wisdom. “Christians seeking to be authentic rightly value humility. We recognize that we are broken. But sometimes, in our quest to avoid the appearance of pride, we question our God-given ability to shine the light of wisdom.”
  3. Authenticity points ahead to a perfected future.

John Piper once said in an interview,

Here is the big issue: How do you go about living the Christian life in such a way that you are actually doing the living, doing the acting, doing the willing and yet Christ, or the Holy Spirit, is decisively doing the living and doing the acting and doing the willing in and through your acting and willing and doing? …

[W]hen I stood behind that pulpit, I wanted to preach by the Spirit. I wanted to preach in the strength that God supplies. I wanted to preach in a way so that I could say: “Not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (I Corinthians 5:10). I didn’t want to get up there and do nothing. It is my job. I am supposed to preach. I must preach. And yet the devil can preach. People can preach without the Holy Spirit. But that is not the Christian life.

Someone has said, “Sincerity is the key to success. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made!”

But we have no business faking Christianity. The Bible is full of passages that tell us what authentic Christian living really is and looks like. Consider the Sermon on the Mount, the fruits of the Spirit or Paul’s writing about the new life in Christ in Ephesians 4 and 5 for starters.

So, food for thought from two perspectives:

First, am I examining myself and striving to live an authentic Christian life? We are not “playing a role.” I recently read a dual-biography of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts. When I finished I told my wife I enjoyed it but if she wanted to continue to think of them as the lovable characters from The Andy Griffith Show I would not recommend reading it. Both men were tortured individuals with deep personal demons. They were, of course, actors–and very talented ones. That is what they were paid to do and they did it well. But we, Christians, are not to be actors. We are not to “play the part” of a Christian at certain times or put on certain appearances. We are to be like Christ.

Second, are we teaching our students, our own children, our co-workers and colleagues, friends and fellow church members, to pursue authentic Christianity? We do not want them to throw sand in wet paint, so to speak. We want them to be genuine, authentic Christians.

August 19, 2016

Would you like a receipt?

I have a pet peeve. More than one probably (like most people), but one of my biggest is when I use the “pay at the pump” feature at a gas station, select “yes” when it asks if I want a receipt, and then there is no paper to print the receipt. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes the screen says something like “Clerk has receipt.” Either way, the result is that I have to walk into the gas station if I want my receipt. And I almost always want my receipt–either because I used a debit card and I need to remember the amount to deduct it later and/or I want to make sure the charge was correct. The entire purpose of paying at the pump, however, is avoiding having to go inside. In the grand scheme of life, this is really not a big deal, but it does irritate me.

One day not too long ago I had one of these experinces at a local gas station. I think I may have already been perturbed about something else anyway, but when the machine failed to print my receipt I was walking toward the building to get it, muttering to myself and vowing that I was going to let my irritation be known. “You know me having to come in here comepltely defeats the point of having a pay at the pump option!” I planned to say. “Would it be that hard to go out there and put mor ereceipt paper in the machine?!”

When I walked inside, though, I took one look at the lady working behind the counter and recognized her as someone who attends the same church I do. Immediately my irritation and planned tirade was replaced by the realization that I had to smile, ask how she was doing and say thank you when she handed me the receipt–for two reasons. One, she knew who I was and knew other people I know, so I had to be civil lest she tell other people what a jerk I was and what a rotten attitude I had when I came into the store, thus damaging my reputation. Two, she also knows I profess to be a Christian, so I needed to maintain decent behavior in order to avoiding tarnishing my reputation and/or the reputation of the ministry where I serve.

All of this went through my head in less than a second but I pondered it more later and realized how absurd it is to straighten up and behave myself because I am interacting with someone I know, yet I was fully prepared to unload both barrels if the person behind the counter was a stranger to me. For one thing, it would be quite possible that they knew who I was even if I did not know them; I have found this to be a regular phenomenon in the samll community in which we live. I am recognized frequently, either by name or by my position at the school. So, the two reasons identified above were still possibilities.

Even if the worker did not know me, though, my responsibility as a Christian is to show love, kindness, patience, gentleness and self-control to everyone I meet. I may, frankly, be even more important when interacting with non-Christians, since my attitude and behavior, if they find out I am a Christian, could taint their opinion of all Christians–and of Christ. Jesus made it clear in Matthew 5 that His followers are to be salt and light. When I act in a way that is not consistent with how Christ has called me to live I lose my saltiness, I hide my light under a bushel or a bowl. Jesus said such salt is good for nothing butto trampled under foot. I am to let my light shine so that others can see my good deeds and glorify God. My interactions with others–every one of them–are opportunities to spread salt and light in a dark and rotting world. Being polite-even kind–to a strenger may make his or her day, may provide some encouragement, may be the only posiitve interaction they have that day (especially if they work at a gas station and the pump printer is out of receipt paper and there are other customers who get as irritated by that as I do!). Too, being kind and polite may not do any of those things. The stranger may not even notice, or may be grumpy in response for whatever reason. It really doesn’t matter. We are not called to be salt and light only to other Christians or only when there is paper in the pump printer (in other words, only when things are going our way). Instead, we are called to be salt and light, to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit, all the time to everyone–because that is what Christ calls us to do.

April 9, 2014

Do Not Grow Weary

It’s fairly common for teachers to begin to feel weary around this time of the year. The end of the school year is in sight, the weather is getting warmer, the students are ready to be done, all of the year-end activities are piling up…these are the ingredients for weariness! Christian school teachers are by no means exempt from this feeling. The Bible, however, has something to say about that. Specifically, Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (ESV). This instruction/admonition is not targeted at Christian school teachers. The thoughts I am going to share here were originally shared with the faculty and staff of a Christian school, but I trust it will be encouraging to anyone who is tempted to let weariness creep in.

This verse contains a promise – we will reap if we do not give up. But it also contains a warning – it is possible to grow weary in the work of the Lord and possibly even give up and stop our ministry if we allow weariness to overtake us. Why might we grow weary? After giving it some thought and reading a few messages and commentaries on the subject I came up with a list of several possible reasons…

Sometimes it could be caused by a lack of devotion to the Lord. If you look at Revelation 2:2-5, you see that the church at Ephesus was commended for its work, its labor and its patience – but its passion and fervor for Christ had become cold. They were doing all the right things but it was just mechanical – they were just going through the motions. It is possible for us to be doing things for the Lord but to let our motivation die.

It could be a lack of prayer – Luke 18:1 says, “Men ought always to pray and not to faint.” If we neglect our prayer lives we are ignoring a vital ingredient of the successful Christian life.

It could a physical matter – a lack of proper nutrition and rest. Our physical well-being is essential to effective Christian service. We are not going to be able to serve the Lord effectively if we are too tired to see clearly or if our diet is unhealthy. Many individuals in Christian service just keep giving and doing. None of us, though, are the Energizer bunny and we cannot keep “going and going and going….” Eventually we will become exhausted if we do not maintain proper diet and get enough rest.

It could be the apathy and/or idleness of others. Sometimes it seems like we’re doing more than our fair share and we grow tired of it – especially when it seems like others are not pulling their weight or are simply sitting around doing nothing.

It could be criticism. That can certainly make anyone weary. No one likes to be criticized. I find that effective servants and leaders are receptive to constructive criticism, but if all we ever hear about are the things we are doing wrong or the areas we need to work on we will surely become discouraged.

It could certainly be our own expectations. I cannot tell you how many times I have had my own idea of how something should go or how something should turn out. More often than not those are probably purely a result of my own selfishness, of wanting things done my own way. When they do not go according to my plan I might get miffed. I might be tempted to “take my ball and go home,” so to speak.

Finally – and I think this may be the biggest challenge of all – it could the lack of observable results. In almost any endeavor in life we can see how we’re doing. In sports you have the scoreboard. In painting you can see what you’ve put on the canvas. In cooking you can smell, see, touch and taste what you’ve made. You get the point. When it comes to working with people, though, there are not always evident results of our efforts, and that can be frustrating.

The reality is that we are called to sow the seed; eventually we will reap, but we do not know when. Only the Lord knows. Our task is to remain faithful to His call and to continue doing what He has asked us to do.

On that note, by the way, I do not consider it coincidental that Galatians 6:9 comes very shortly after the list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Those fruits are what we are to be living out and demonstrating in our lives; they are no small part of the good that we are to be doing. It is not enough for us to do good when things are easy, when others are also doing good to us or when we “feel like” doing good. That would, quite frankly, make us no different from most of the rest of the world. Instead, we must persevere and continue to do good always.

Persevere means “to persist in anything undertaken; to maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles or discouragement; to continue steadfastly.” That does not happen by accident. It takes intentionality and persistence. We live in a day of instant gratification; we want what we want and we want it now. As a result, very few people persevere when the going really gets tough. Farming is a great example. At the risk of sounding like I am criticizing the Bible, though, I do not think farming is a perfect example because even in farming the farmer has an idea of when the harvest will come. He may not know how bountiful the harvest will be, but he is not left wondering, “Will it be this year or next year when we see results?” With people, though, you truly have no idea. The observable results may be years down the road – or they may never been seen this side of heaven.

I actually like the way The Message presents the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:

But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart…. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

That is exactly what we need to be doing. That is how we can avoid growing weary in doing good. Let us seek to develop that willingness to stick with things and to direct our energies wisely in a way that honors the Lord.

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