Generational faith formation makes a difference

coffee-and-bibleI once had an Old Testament professor who was reading through his grandmother’s Bible.  He had read through the Bible many times before, but this one was special because it had all of his grandmother’s hand-written notes and reflections throughout.

He cherished those notes and found that it helped him experience Jesus in a fresh, vibrant way.

Ever since then, I have been intentional about writing in my Bible, not only to keep track of sermon prep and Sunday School notes, but to make a sort of spiritual record to pass on to my children.

It was several years ago that I found out I was buying too many new Bibles to do this.

I, like so many others in our consumerist society, came under the misunderstanding that buying a new Bible would somehow get me to read it more.  I had to decide on one Bible–one made well, that could travel with me to both pulpit and prayer closet–and start the journey of writing, and to do so with my children and (eventual) grandchildren in mind.

I told this to a colleague who is an associate pastor in the city.  She, too, had a professor who stressed the importance of writing in one’s Bible–in fact, he allowed his students to bring notes for tests to class, as long as they were written in a Bible.  He felt that the notes would be accessible to students well after graduation, as well as build an heirloom of learning for future generations.

There is something about a Bible that is passed on to others that symbolizes the power of generational faith education.

Sociologist, Vern Bengston, writing for The Christian Century (“Families of Faith,” 25 December 2013), argued that a child’s religiosity, or lack thereof, is directly influenced by the faith of his or her parents, especially that of the father.  He also wrote that the faith of a child’s grandparents is just as influential, even if the parents are not religious at all.

Several weeks ago, I held a Bible study at a retirement home in Decatur.  We had a new participant in the class, so I made sure to get to know her a little bit.

She told me that she did not grow up in a Christian household.  She did, however, have a grandmother who was always reading or telling stories from the Bible.

Passing on the faith–sometimes in the form of passing down a Bible–is a significant way to teach the next generation the importance of Christian living.

The Bible explicitly commands that we, as God’s people, have an obligation to do this one way or another.

In Deuteronomy, Moses gave Israel instructions related to this command, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise” (6:4-7).

Teaching children faith–and the Bible–is so very important in our culture today.  A few weeks ago, the Barna group released statistics showing that Atlanta ranked 29 among the most “Bible-minded” states.  That means there are 28 states whose population knows the Bible better than we do.

Can you be counted among the “Bible-minded” in our state?  How do you get your children and grandchildren involved in engaging their faith and learning about the ways and Word of God?  Is it by telling the “old, old story;” or by having a Bible to leave with loved ones after you have gone to be in glory?  Whatever the case may be, God commands us to teach our faith, and we would do well to listen.

Seek to integrate all aspects of life under the lordship of Christ

According to author Robert Mulholland, the goal of spiritual formation is to be conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.  Many folks think that when we are conformed to Christ, we act, look, and talk differently.  In many cases this is true, especially after a conversion experience.

For others, being conformed to Christ seems to make them turn into someone they are not.  Eventually, those who wear the mask of Christian conformity tire of the theatrical act and wonder whether or not “playing Christian” is even worth it.  Christianity is not a masquerade ball, and faith founded on pretense is flimsy at best.

When the Spirit conforms us into the image of Christ, we are actually called to shed our masks.   Jesus makes us fully human and forces us to live into who we are as unique individuals made in God’s image.  Jesus does not require us to be something we’re not; we can accept who we are just as we are.

One of the ways to live into a life of abundance and acceptance is to align all of who we are under the lordship of Christ.  There is no aspect of our being, from the intellectual to the physical, which escapes God’s transformative engagement in our life.  And those who live in the Light have nothing to hide, even if their life is a total sum of repeated failures and fragility.

As a typical guy, one of my strengths (and, inevitably, my weaknesses) is that I am able to compartmentalize many aspects of my life.  For instance, if I make a mistake at work, it does not necessarily affect who I am or who I intend to be when I am at home.   Each facet of my life fits into a separate box, neat and tidy.

This is different from how my wife goes about life; she sees everything as interconnected.  If I say something when we are at Wal-Mart on Monday that hurts her feelings, she will remind me on Friday that I have yet to apologize.

My wife reminds me that my actions, much less my Christian life, influence every part of who I am.  The person I am on Sunday should be the same person I am Monday through Saturday.  The Christian that I appear to be in church is supposed to be the same Christian I claim to be in my relationships, career, and personal life.

Though I can separate the stresses of work and family into neat compartments, God wants me to understand that every facet of my life plays a part into a dynamic and integrative whole.  Being conformed into the image of Christ means that I connect these loose threads and weave my life into a tapestry that reflects God’s glory and honor.

As you work, play, and relate this week, ask yourself several questions: Do I see Christ as a participant in everything I do?  Do I still hide some parts of my life from God?  Am I a Christian because Christ has a claim on my whole life, or am I only wearing a mask of Christian religiosity?

In the Old Testament, the Shema stresses: “Listen, O Israel!  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.  And you must commit wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today” (Deut. 6:4-5, NLT).

Only when we take off our masks and align all of who we are under Christ’s lordship can we discover our true, authentic selves—the very people that God intended us to be.