jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

stories have a future

On Saturday I went to the Resurrection Breakfast put on by my church. I was surprised to see one of my good friends there. He had been asked to come and play along with the band that was there. The reason that I was surprised was that this friend of mine, as well as many of my childhood friends (and myself for a long time), had been running hard from the Lord (please excuse the church-speak) for quite a while. The last time that he and I talked about God his beliefs fell somewhere in between agnosticism and deism. Basically, that there might be a God out there, but even if there is He’s not really involved in anything. He just sort of set things in order and then stepped back. Anyway, I was excited to see him there.

The theme of the breakfast was the verse in Revelation that reads “And they overcame because of the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (12:11). Seven of us had been asked to share out testimonies, and I was the last to go. I could have felt nervous about my friend being there, but I had already determined that I was not going to try to “stir something up” long before I got there. So I stayed focused on that and simply told the story. Afterwards when my friend and I were talking and joking around he commented that he really enjoyed my talk, that it touched him, and that it made him happy. I wasn’t really sure what to think about that. I thought maybe he wasn’t sure what “the standard procedure” for complimenting a speaker at a church function was, and that he was trying his best to offer something up. I really didn’t want him to feel the need to do that, but I still appreciated it.

A couple of hours later he called me on my cell phone. He just wanted me to know that he was serious about what he said. That he had really been touched, and that he wanted to get together. I didn’t know what to think the first time, but this time I knew that something was going on. I cannot fully express what a huge step this is for my friend. He has always done his thing, and always done it his way. For him to take that initiative was a REALLY big deal. So, I was really enjoying hearing what he had to say, it made me feel happy. And it’s had me kind of giddy for the last two days.

All of that has had me thinking about how we do things. We try to “stir things up” all the time. We feel a need to compel people to respond. We have little “altar call tricks” that “encourage” people to come down and do something really, really serious. That is, dedicate their entire life to the Lord. My real estate agent knows that I’m going to need some time to think about it before I do something as big as buy a house. Yet, we expect people to be ready to give their whole life away at the drop of a hat! Isn’t that crazy? I remember being at a Youth Camp as a child (it was actually a camp for teens, I was there because my parents were overseeing things), and the evangelist had everyone bow their heads and close their eyes. I guess he wanted everyone to know how serious this was, so he repeated, “I want EVERY head bowed and EVERY eye closed!” Then he added, “Lord, I pray right now that if anyone opens his or her eyes that you would strike them blind!!” I’ve shared that story with lots of people of the years, and you’d be surprised how many times people start rattling off similar stories. I’m talking about shocking stuff. Stuff that you’d get sued over today. Stuff that was NEVER (not in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s or anytime) age appropriate.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve done my fair share of this stuff. I think a lot of it flows out of pressure a speaker feels about being perceived as “good” and “effective.” But I’m doing that stuff. I think it actually gets in the way. We try to do this stuff and we don’t leave room for the Lord to do the work that only He can do. I think this tendency of ours is very deeply rooted. It’s not something that will go away easily. My therapist says that we like to create a bunch of unnecessary drama in our faith tradition. I think she’s right. She even suggests that I like to do that on this blog. But she’s not right about everything! Either way, I’m done with all the manipulation stuff when it comes to people giving their life to Jesus. In fact, I’m not sure that I won’t try to talk some people out of it. “Are you sure you want to do this Bob? I mean this is a really big decision! Do you think you should sleep on it or something?” And I think I might be done with altar calls too. I’ll do a prayer meeting. But altar calls? I don’t know, it just seems so…well, unscriptural or something.

Maybe I’m alone in that, but here’s what I’m really getting at: when did we lose sight of the simplicity of what it is that we’re suppose to be doing? Deut. 6:20 says something like, “When your children ask you what’s the meaning of these laws, rules, decrees, and regulations, tell them you were slaves in Egypt, and God delivered you with a mighty hand.” In other words, when your kids ask you about all this religion stuff, tell them your testimony…give them your story. They don’t need your best theology. They need your most authentic testimony. The holy seed is in the story, may we cast our seeds generously, and may some of them find fresh soil (the right conditions) and take root!

11 comments on “stories have a future

  1. Emily
    March 24, 2008

    In our faith tradition, it seems to me, that we focus our attention on the GIFTS of the Holy Spirit rather than on the FRUIT of the Holy Spirit…kind of like getting the cart before the horse and all that. And let’s be real: the gifts of the Spirit are, at the onset, more exciting…or, dramatic. The ones we seem to focus on (from 1 Corinthians) are speaking in tongues, prophecies, healings, miracles, interpretation of tongues, words of knowledge, and words of wisdom. These things seem to bring immediate, dramatic, gratifying results.

    The fruit of the Spirit, on the other hand, includes fairly mundane, daily, nitty-gritty stuff like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, and gentleness.

    Gifts uplift, encourage, and edify others, but “you will know them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:16), not by their spiritual gifts.

    “Many will say to me on that day ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophecy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you: depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:22-7:23)

    Every day I pray for my two daughters, Eloise and Lillian. Among other things, I pray every single for one thing: “Lord, cultivate in their lives and within their self the fruit of Your Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience…”

    Although I have prayed and will pray for spiritual gifts, too…what is NOT on my list of priorities for every day prayer: spiritual gifts.

    I would rather us bear fruit. Every thing else passes away. Everything else is for the sprint. I want the nourishment to finish a marathon.

    “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8).

    How will they ever taste if we do not give them fruit to bite into?

    There is still much tilling that needs to take place in my own heart.

    From: Emily, AKA your wife and “your therapist”

  2. Jonathan Stone
    March 24, 2008

    Uh-huh, and that, my friends, is exactly why she is my therapist! ;~)

  3. Emily
    March 24, 2008

    Constant drama, by the way, is a symptom of a personality disorder. Both Borderline Personality Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder carry strong elements of drama. We all fall on a continuum when it comes to these issues, meaning that we all have some of these traits because we are human. However, I wonder how our faith tradition lines up with the other symptoms…Again, we all carry some of these traits, but when we are aware of them and look at them in the face we are more empowered to do something positive about what may be unhealthy patterns. No one (not even an institution!) is a lost cause! God is still Healer!

    But, we do have to be willing to explore the roots of our symptoms and bring those unhealed parts to God for healing.

  4. Jonathan Stone
    March 24, 2008

    See what I mean!

  5. Dennis J. ADams
    March 24, 2008

    How do you follow suit with a family blogosphere discussion? I don’t know myself but

    1. I will say one thing, Emily is much smarter and prophetic than Jon.

    2. Summarizing years of altar calls takes real guts!

    3. Your testimony is what makes a difference in teh 21st Century.

    4. Using Gifts is up to the Holy Spirit and the person obeying what He is saying to do!

    5. Bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit is the responsibility of the persons daily activity of every “real” Christian.

    6. Don’t give up altar calls. Jesu don’t make it a rigid format taht only brings people to an instant decision.

    7. Evangelism is defined as bringing someone one step closer to receiving Christ as Savior.

    8. I am really glad that your friend called you!

    9. Today is a new day (how is that for a cliché?) Do whatthe the Lord leads you to do!

    10. Sowing is a great way to bring a harvest.

    11. I am sitting here listening to “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd. Thinking this song is a great anthem for the Church toady!

    12. Give your therapist a hug! She needs one!

  6. steve wright
    March 24, 2008

    You simply make me smile. Great words and please continue to take care of Big J for us. We all know he needs it.
    Love you guys.

  7. Phil Hoover, Chicago
    March 24, 2008

    Or as my buddy Paul Conn said in a sermon not too long ago, “It seems like every Sunday night some teenager was leaving church and dying in a car accident, according to all the sermon illustrations that I heard..”

    Jon, I love you dude!

  8. Johnny Taylor
    March 25, 2008

    I agree with Emily about the significance of spiritual fruit and the way that a gift-seeking church is missing the point of true spirituality.

    I would like to add, that if we were truly focused on the kind of intimacy that brings fruit (John 15) then we might see more “gifts” operating in the church, and by “in the church” I do not mean in the service on Sunday morning.

    However, I think these gifts would look very different then what they look like now. I think they would operate in the daily life and serve more to mature people spiritually than to be an esoteric-momentary-cathartic-experience.

    Dennis, great sum-up, I agree.

  9. Dennis J, Adams
    March 25, 2008

    I typed so fast on the last comment, that I made so many “typo’s” it was horrendous, “buoy”, do I fell like an “edoit” LOL


  10. Jonathan Stone
    March 25, 2008

    Phil, I love you too man!

    Steve, I need all the help I can get!

  11. Jonathan Stone
    March 25, 2008

    Dennis, great points. “Edotiral mistekas” and all!

    Johnny, I like what you added, and the way that it attempts to get to the deepest, most central elements of what it really means to be church in the first place!

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This entry was posted on March 24, 2008 by in faith, intergenerational, issues, missional.
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