Category Archives: Mentoring

Are Christians responsible for making plans and making good decisions?

Here’s a wonderful post on decision making and the will of God posted on Neil’s blog. In his post, Neil explains the Biblical model for making good decisions.

Excerpt:

Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions.  Therefore you must look at other factors.  If it isn’t moral, don’t do it.  If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it.  If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.

Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine.  People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).

He has a helpful picture posted as well:

This is actually a very important topic for me, because I like making plans and making good decisions. I like being the quarterback or squad leader of my own life. I like to pick objectives and then make plans to achieve them. (Nothing too exotic, just simple stuff like saving money or reading more books)

Actually, I really oppose the idea that God has a magical fairy tale will for each person that will make them happy and fulfilled. For me, life isn’t like that. I don’t expect God to lead me along like a child at a scavenger hunt. I expect to survey the battlefield where I am and then do something to make a difference. There are lots of things you can do that will please God. Should you focus on your career and sponsor apologetics conferences? Or should you use your spare time preparing Sunday school lessons? There are lots of good things you could do to please God. Your job is to pick the one that will be the most effective. It doesn’t matter if it makes you happy, it only matters if it’s effective and if you are good at it.

Who is Rifleman Dodd?

A while back, I was busily working my way through the U.S. Marine Corps Official Reading List, and I came across a book by C.S. Forester called Rifleman Dodd, or alternatively titled Death to the French. It’s a work of historical fiction that takes place during the Napoleonic wars. The story is about a British marksman named Dodd, who is cut off from his own lines during a withdrawal maneuver. He is subsequently left to fend for himself behind enemy lines. An ordinary man might be full of despair and forget about his mission entirely. But Dodd is no ordinary man. Not only does he find a way to survive by finding food to eat, water to drink and places to sleep, but he also tries to remember his orders and to think about what he can do to advance the cause of his General, the Duke of Wellington.

Here’s an excerpt from a gritty book review:

It’s about a green-coated British infantry rifleman in the Napoleonic Wars, an age when rifles were a novelty and most of the army was red-coated and carried muskets. Private Matthew Dodd gets separated from his regiment during a retreat and finds himself stranded behind enemy (French) lines in Portugal. With the occasional aid of some natives, but mostly on his own, he harasses the French with his rifle and tries to prevent them from building a bridge across the Tagus River. It’s a remarkable tale of survival and solitary achievement, of a rank-and-file soldier who lives by his wits and slowly learns to make plans without orders, and shows leadership qualities and a knowledge of warfare.

I think we’re in the same situation as Dodd.

There is no point in us looking for breadcrumb trails to happiness at this point. That’s not the point of Christianity. The point of Christianity is friendship with God, imitation of Christ, honoring moral obligations, self-sacrificial love for your neighbor (and even your enemies!), and dedication to the truth – whether anyone else likes you or not. It’s not supposed to make you happy, and it’s not necessarily going to be a normal life like everyone else has. Things may not work out the way you’d like them to.

We seem to be making such a big deal about compassion and forgiveness in the Christian life these days – such a big emphasis on our feelings. Almost like we have forgotten that we have obligations to our friend. A relationship doesn’t mean that one person does whatever they feel like, completely disregarding the character and goals of the other person and then is automatically granted forgiveness whenever they want it. That’s not a friendship – that’s using someone else for your own ends.

For a lot of people today, Christianity only comes into play after you’ve made a mistake and you’re feeling guilty. For example, suppose you decide to go to a party with your secular friends, then you drink too much, and you do something sexual that you shouldn’t have done. Or maybe you watched some prosperity gospel preacher on TV, then made irresponsible business decisions thinking that God would bail you out and make you rich, and you went bankrupt. Most people think Christianity is for this situation: you’re a Christian so that you don’t have to feel guilty about sin. And so that you can tell people that God forgives you, so that they can’t think anything bad about you, either. You sort of get your idea about what you should be doing in order to feel good from the culture, and God is just there to forgive it all when it blows up in your face.

But in my case, putting myself in a situation like that is not even possible. I’m more likely to try to plan to do something for God. Like, I might try to mentor a young Christian by sending them books. Or, I might try to teach a class in apologetics at my church. These are things that are for God, not for me. I’m not just being dragged along by the culture, and trying to find happiness by feeling good (e.g. – with alcohol) or being liked by non-Christians. And if my plans fail because the mentoree doesn’t grow up into anything, or nobody comes to my apologetics class, that’s when I go to God and say “I screwed up. but can I still be in your army?” And God always says yes to that. You don’t have to be the best player on the team for the Coach to like you. He already likes you.

One of the great things about being a Christian is that you can never lose your identity as a Christian by failing to do something for him that you planned to do. That’s what forgiveness is for. If you set out to do something for God’s glory, and you mess it all up, that’s OK. But I do think that, like Dodd, our ambition should not be about just making ourselves happy, or making non-Christians like us. We should be trying to make plans and carry them out for God.

That’s how I understand forgiveness. It’s not just something that’s there for you to use to fix your feelings when you’ve been irresponsible while seeking your own happiness in secular ways. It’s also there when you’re trying to do something good for God, and you fail. A lot of times in life you try your best, but you fail, and then you lose something that you really wanted. With God, when you try your best for his glory, and fail, you don’t lose your identity as a member of his team. I think that not losing your identity in Christ is even more important than not feeling guilty about selfish decision making.

So, have you got a plan to serve your General? Let’s focus more on what operations we’re planning for God than on being happy and being popular with non-Christians. Your life should not be all about you, with God just there to make your bad feelings go away. Your life should be about God’s goals and God’s interests.

Courage under fire: Ronald Speirs and Easy Company at the Battle of Foy

I  try to occasionally post something that shows a particularly brave action from some time and place in military history. For example, I previously wrote about Medal of Honor winner Michael Murphy in 2011. Last year, his story was told more widely in the movie “Lone Survivor”, which I recommend to everyone. Today I want to highlight another hero: Ronald Speirs.

It is January 1945 and the famous “Screaming Eagles”, the 101st Airborne division, are about to turn the tide of the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne.

Let’s read about the Battle of Foy courtesy of a scenario description from the wargame “Flames of War”. (Note: LMG = light machine gun, in this case, a .30 caliber machine gun)

Excerpt:

E or ‘Easy’ Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, like the rest of the division, was ordered on to the attack on 9 January 1945 as part of a general offensive to drive back the Germans from Bastogne. In the following days the 506th Regiment, along with the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, cleared the forests around the town of Foy and pushed the Germans out. Their next objective was to take Foy to allow the 11th Armored Division to attack from Foy across the fields northeast towards Noville.

[…]At 0900 hours on 13 January Easy Company attacked along the western edge of Foy, along the road. The new year had brought heavy snow and the it blanketed the ground and had reduced temperatures to well below zero. 2nd Battalion commander, Captain Dick Winters, had two section of LMGs deployed on the edge of the woods facing Foy to give Easy Company covering fire while they crossed the 250 yards of open field between the forest and Foy’s buildings. There were just a few scattered trees and haystacks to give cover. As Easy Company advance the covering fire did its job, limiting the fire on the paratroopers to sporadic rifle shots. The approach on Foy made good pace under the cover of the LMG fire, but about 75 yards out from the edge of the village the skirmish line halted and the paratroopers hunkered down in the snow. Captain Winters stared in disbelief, wondering what was going on.

Lieutenant Dike, who was commanding Easy Company, had been overwhelmed with indecision. It became obvious to Winters that Dike didn’t know what he was doing, or had had a failure of confidence. His immediate impulse was to take command himself, but he noticed Lieutenant Ronald Speirs, a capable platoon commander from D Company, standing nearby. Winters ordered Speirs to take command of Easy Company and get the attack moving again. What Speirs did next amazed many of the paratroopers who witnessed it.

On receiving his orders from Winters, Speirs immediately ran at full speed down to where Dike and his HQ had taken cover behind a haystack and told Dike his orders, ‘I’m here to take over’. After quickly being told of the situation by the NCOs he ran off towards Foy. The men of Easy Company immediately followed. On reaching the outskirt buildings of Foy, Speirs immediately sought to link up with I Company of 3rd Battalion who, despite only having 25 men, were supporting the attack from the other flank of Foy. He set off running again, through the German lines, to find I Company’s commander. After consulting with its commander, Captain Gene Brown, he turned around and dashed back through Foy and the surprised Germans. Through all this the enemy fired on him with machine-guns, rifles and guns, but not a single shot hit its mark.

To be a good military leader, you have to know many things. A knowledge of strategy and tactics, a knowledge of military history, the ability to see the battlefield, knowledge of your opponent, knowledge of weapons, and so on. But surely the greatest of these is courage. As Von Clausewitz says in his famous book “On War”, “War is the province of danger, and therefore courage above all things is the first quality of a warrior.” Nothing inspires troops like a commander who is willing to take on the same risks that he asks his troops to take.

Take a look at this article from the Ivey School of Business journal, which talks about the characteristics of Canadian generals in Afghanistan.

Excerpt:

A leader must be in front of subordinates.  This takes courage.  Leadership from the front encapsulates the adage, never ask a subordinate to do something that you, the leader, wouldn’t do.  In Afghanistan, the leader must not only be in front, but he or she must be seen to be in front.  Subordinates seek this reassurance from their leaders at all levels.  Though they may be tentative, leaders must demonstrate character and moral strength.  Their credibility is inextricably dependent on their ability to do so..  During his frequent visits to Afghanistan, former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Rick Hillier, made a point of visiting troops that were situated in some of the most IED-laden areas of the Canadian sector.  Through his demonstrated courage, he inspired leaders of all levels.  “If the CDS goes there, so can I” was the resulting mindset.  The current CDS, General Walt Natynczyk, has successfully continued this practice.

[…]All leaders need courage. It is the lynchpin of effective leadership.  No one respects a wimp who will buy in to any idea no matter how inane it might be.  Courage is having the strength of character to persist and hold on to ideas in the face of opposition.  Here, I’m not restricting my treatment of courage as it relates to fear.  It’s also about strength of character and devotion to causes and ideas.

As Christians, we have a leader who led by example. We all need to learn to not be so concerned with looking out for ourselves and our happiness first, but to instead be willing to take risks and sacrifice ourselves to do the right thing. We Christians should all be courageous, because we are led by a courageous leader.

That doesn’t necessarily mean going halfway across the world, it can mean reaching out to someone right there next to you who needs your help and support. Maybe that person has been running on an empty tank for a long time, but still trying to do the right thing. You never know when the opportunity to do something amazing will arise, but you won’t take it if you keep thinking of how you might get hurt. You have to reconcile yourself that you are not here to avoid every possible kind of suffering. It doesn’t mean that you take unnecessary risks, but it does mean not letting fear stop you from doing the right thing.

Now get out there and take that attack on in.

Christian woman finds a way to discuss her faith with non-Christians

I found an interesting article where a Christian woman explains how she used to share her testimony with non-Christians. But that wasn’t working. So she decided to try something different.

She writes:

I’ll never forget the first time I shared my personal testimony with a non-Christian.

When the opportunity arose and I shared my story with an unbelieving friend, she replied, “That’s so cool. I’m so happy you found something that works for you.”

For me?

“It’s not about what works for me,” I said, trying to hide my discouragement. “It’s about what’s true for everyone.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” she responded. “That’s your experience, not mine. I had a similar revelation when I realized I could leave the church, and I’ve become a better person for my decision. Just as you were freed from your heaviest burdens by finding God, I was freed from mine by leaving God behind.”

I was devastated but I chalked it up to my friend’s hardheartedness. I decided to shake the dust off my feet and look forward to the next opportunity.

But time after time of sharing my testimony resulted in similar responses. People expressed enthusiasm that I was happy, that Christianity worked for me, and that I had “found my niche.” Yet no one considered my experience as anything more than just that—my own personal experience.

[…]I had been taught that sharing what God had done in my life was the ideal way to witness to non-Christians. A personal testimony was interesting yet non-confrontational, compelling but inoffensive. And yet, despite having shared my testimony with dozens of unbelievers, not a single person felt challenged to consider the truth claims of Christianity.

She noticed that her approach wasn’t actually in the Bible. There was a different approach being demonstrated by Jesus, and later by his disciples.

She writes:

When Jesus called his first disciples, he taught truth and provided evidence (miracles) to support his claims, then he asked people to follow him (Luke 5:1–11). In fact, this was his method whenever he went into new regions (see Luke 4:14–44; John 4:7–26). People decided to follow Jesus not on blind faith or a subjective feeling, but based on the evidence they had seen and heard.[i]

Jesus also used evidence to assuage the doubts of even those who had been with him a long time. John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin, who leapt in the womb during Mary’s visit (Luke 1:39–45), baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, heard God’s voice from heaven, and saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus in bodily form like a dove (Luke 3:21–22). Yet when John experienced unexpected suffering, he began to doubt.

Jesus didn’t respond as many do today, by insisting that John “just believe” or “have faith” or “prayer harder.” Rather, he responded with more evidence, saying, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matt. 11:2–6).

[…]At Pentecost, the apostle Peter offered signs and wonders, fulfilled prophecy, and relayed eyewitness testimony to persuade people from all over the Roman Empire that the most reasonable explanation for what they were seeing was not morning drunkenness, but a risen Messiah (Acts 2:1–41).

On his missionary journeys, the apostle Paul reasoned with the Jews from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that Jesus was the Messiah who needed to suffer and rise from the dead (Acts 17:1–3, 17). And he reasoned with the Gentiles from outside the Scriptures, making a case with their own accepted beliefs to convince them (Acts 17:17–34).

In fact, in describing his mission, Paul told the Philippians, “I am put here for the defense of the gospel” (1:7, 16). This word translated defense is the same word from which we get our English word “apologetics,” meaning to make reasoned arguments or to provide evidence as justification. Using this same word, Peter commanded believers to “always [be] prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”(1 Pet. 3:15).

So, she decided to dump the testimony approach, and try the Biblical approach. But she had to change it a little bit, since she couldn’t perform miracles herself:

We are not eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life and resurrection, but we have the accounts of those who were. We don’t typically see miracles, but we have millennia of biblical scholarship and archaeology that provide reasons to believe the accounts are trustworthy. We don’t often hear God speaking audibly or see him parting seas, but we have significant scientific evidence that shows the universe had a beginning, and millennia of observation to confirm the scientific principle that everything that begins to exist has a cause.

I think a lot of Christians never move on from approach she described that wasn’t getting results. And there’s a reason for that – studying evidence is hard work. But I can tell you from my experience as a software engineer, there is no better way to convince other people to adopt your view than to show them working code that produces results. If they have a prototype, they will adopt your design. Similarly with Christianity. If you have evidence, then you will be persuasive.

When talking about spiritual things with non-Christians, always remember the joke about the two men walking in the woods who meet a bear. One man starts to put on his running shoes. The other man says “what are you doing? you can’t outrun a bear!” And the first man says “I don’t have to. I only have to outrun you”. It’s the same with apologetics. You don’t have to be William Lane Craig to talk about your faith to non-Christians. You just have to know more than your non-Christian opponent knows about evidence.

The way things are going these days with the public schools and the mainstream news media, this is actually pretty easy to do. One or two introductory books on the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning for intelligent life, the origin of biological information, the origin of body plans, the historical reliability of the New Testament, the minimal facts case for the resurrection, etc. will do the job. You might need another one on philosophical challenges like evil, suffering, divine hiddenness, etc. But we’re talking no more than 5 books, and you’ll be effective in the vast majority of your conversations. If you can only get one book, I like Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow’s “Is God Just a Human Invention?” best.