FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Fire-Testing from a Loving Father

with Gary Thomas | April 10, 2006
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On today's broadcast, respected author Gary Thomas explains the difference between authentic faith and cultural Christianity.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • On today's broadcast, respected author Gary Thomas explains the difference between authentic faith and cultural Christianity.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Gary Thomas explains the difference between authentic faith and cultural Christianity.

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Fire-Testing from a Loving Father

With Gary Thomas
April 10, 2006
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Gary: The world is filled with gifted Christian leaders who have the voice, the manner, the force of personality that impress us to no end.  But for every thousand of those, there is one who directly communicates the very presence of Jesus so that you're not impressed by them so much as you just felt like you've met your Lord.  What do we think the world needs more – people who translate us into the presence of Jesus Christ or people that just impress us with their manifold gifts?

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 10th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Today we're going to try to dig past the Christian clutter and understand a little more about authentic faith.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  Have you ever been given what you would refer to as a "severe gift?"

Dennis: Mm-hm.

Bob: You don't usually think of gifts as being severe and, certainly, when you open the box and go, "What kind of gift is this?"

Dennis: Some of our listeners, Bob, do not know what a severe gift is.

Bob: Well, that's true.  I'm thinking back to a book I read a number of years ago, which was called "A Severe Mercy," and the author of that book talked about the death of his wife being a gift from God for his own spiritual growth.

Dennis: Right.

Bob: And that's what we're talking about when we talk about a "severe gift."  I'm just wondering – with that kind of subject, why do we want to talk about this on the radio?  Can't we talk about something happy today?

Dennis: Well, I'll tell you why we want to talk about it, because we all receive severe gifts.  Many of our listeners right now have either or are about to receive a time of being tested, and our faith if, indeed, it is going to grow, I think must have some fire applied.

Bob: I think of what we talk about at the Weekend to Remember conference – on the first night we talk about one of the things couples don't do in marriage is they don't anticipate the severe trials that are going to come into every marriage.

Dennis: Well, we have someone here who is going to help folks not only anticipate some of those trials, some of those storms, but also equip you to be able to handle it.  Gary Thomas joins us again on FamilyLife Today.  Gary, you've been on FamilyLife Today a number of times.  It's good to welcome back an old friend.

Gary: Well, it's a highlight of my life to be here, thank you.

Dennis: Gary is an author of a number of books, popular books – "Sacred Marriage," "Sacred Parenting," and a book called "Authentic Faith," which won the Gold Medallion Award, which is – I want to tell you, they don't pass those out.  That's for excellence in writing, and anyone who has ever read any of Gary's work knows he is an excellent writer.  He is a speaker, a teacher at Western Seminary, a husband and a father, has three children and lives in the state of Washington, and this book, "Authentic Faith," really does talk about these gifts, Gary.

 I wanted to ask you a question here at the beginning – what is authentic Christianity?  I do a little program called "Real FamilyLife," because I want to talk about authentic FamilyLife, not some kind of pie-in-the-sky, and I think, many times, Christianity, for a lot of folks who go to church, looks like a pie-in-the-sky – something that's unachievable, unattainable.  But I want to know right now, today, what is real Christianity?

Gary: It's God working in the soul of a man or woman, conforming them into the image of Jesus Christ. 

Dennis: You know what?  That's simple, but I can understand that, and I'll tell you what else – I've experienced it.  And I think what a lot of people haven't experienced who sit in the church pews of America is they've sat there, and they've nibbled around the edges of real Christianity, but they've never experienced the Lord God Almighty, the Creator of a billion galaxies, they've never experienced His work in their souls.  We have a soul.  The problem is we don't feed it, we don’t exercise it, we don't see it grow and so, many of us, I think, give up on it.  But what you've written about here is you're trying to give us some nourishment for our souls so we can grow in authentic Christianity.

Bob: And when it comes to the care of our souls, there are some things we can do.  We can be active in what are commonly referred to as the spiritual disciplines – fellowship and evangelism and prayer and solitude and all of those things.  Those are soul-enriching activities.  But in your book, "Authentic Faith," you're talking about the things we can't do – the severe gifts – the things that God comes along and does that we sometimes don't like, but it's really part of His design to make us more like Christ.

Gary: And for us to cooperate with that, I think we need to improve our hearing, and that's really what led to the idea of authentic faith for me, because my youngest daughter, Kelsey, is a delight to live with.  Some years ago I was speaking at a church, and it was a local church that I could drive to, and Kelsey was young enough to where when she'd ask me when I'd be home, instead of giving her a time, I would have to tell her an event.  So I told Kelsey, "Kelsey, I'll be home in time to tuck you in."  She said, "Great."  She was happy I was going to be there to tuck her in.

 And so as I was going home, I realized, looking at my watch, that by the time I got into Bellingham where we live, I wouldn't be home in time to tuck her in, so I called my wife.  I said, "Hey, Elise, please keep Kelsey up a little bit late.  I'm going to be about half an hour late."  And she said, "Actually, Kelsey is spending the night at her best friend's house."

 And so I said, "Well, give me the address.  I want to surprise her.  I want to go to that house and tuck her in."  So my wife took care of all that.  She called me back, I got the directions.  I went straight to the Figgies' [ph] house.  They saw me pull up, so they silently opened the door, I didn't have to knock.  I walked down the hallway, opened up the door of the room that Kelsey was in, fully expecting to completely surprise her, and she said, "Hi, Daddy."  And I said, "Kelsey, did somebody tell you I was coming here to tuck you in?"  She said, "No, but I heard your footsteps walking down the hall, and I thought you must have come to tuck me in because I remember you said you were going to do that."

 And it dawned on me that she'd become so familiar with her father's footsteps that even in a house where she wouldn't expect it at a time when she wouldn't expect it, she heard those footsteps, and she said, "That's my dad, and he's come here to take care of me."  And what hit me as I was driving away is I thought, you know, sometimes God's footsteps come in surprising places – things that we don't expect, things that can seem very severe, and I remember praying, "Lord, help me to hear Your care in those footsteps to know that even if it's in a hallway that I might not like, the hallway of difficulty, the hallway of suffering, the hallway of persecution, the hallway of sickness, let me know if it's Your footsteps; You're coming here to take care of me and to recognize those footsteps."

Dennis: Jesus said, "My sheep know me, and they know My voice, and they follow Me."  And I think it's a tragedy if a Christian, a true follower of Christ doesn't recognize those footsteps and keeps the door shut.  Now, you had a friend who not only experienced a severe mercy, but he went through a very, very difficult time where he'd learned what those footsteps sounded like, didn't he?  Mike Ditman [ph]?

Gary: He did.  Mike Ditman is an amazing man.  He had a huge impact on me in college.  He was one of those guys where – he just seemed to have everything going for him.  He was a great athlete, a great musician, very gifted worship leader, even a gifted teacher in his early 20s.  I just remember the way that God used him in my life.  In fact, back then, if I was honest, I would have told you I want to be like Mike.  That was before the Michael Jordan days.  This was "be like Mike" meant be like Michael Ditman.

 He was at a church one time, though, and some godly men who cared for Mike pulled him aside, and they said, "Mike, you're very gifted, you're charismatic, you're dynamic, you're a credible speaker, but you have a tendency to be a little harsh.  You're wounding people, you're leaving some victims in your wake."  And Mike, being a godly man, really considered what they had to say, and it dawned on him that every strength that they mentioned was a human quality, and he found himself praying, "Lord, I wish I was a little less dynamic and a little more compassionate.  I wish I was a little less charismatic and a little more understanding."

Dennis: Those are interesting prayers to pray.

Gary: Well, they can be dangerous prayers to pray almost, as Michael found out.  It wasn't all that long after that, he was playing basketball in the morning.  After the game was over, his body dropped to the floor.  A brain aneurysm exploded in his head, and there was an emergency medical technician who was there playing basketball with him that was able to keep him alive, but it was a very different Mike that left the hospital weeks later than the one that dropped onto the floor. 

 For starters, part of his face fell.  One side was pulled tight, the other one was pushed up, and mouth was moved over, so it isn't fully in the center of his face.  So the Hollywood handsome looks were gone.  He couldn't play the guitar – still, to this day, is not able to do that again.  And giving up music was a huge sacrifice for him.  And even with his speech, he had to go through months of therapy to learn how to talk again, and even now when he gets tired, you can start to hear some of the lisp come back in.  In short, he was humbled in about every way it's possible for a young man to be humbled.

 But it's amazing what happened out of that.  Going in, everybody thought he would have this dynamic ministry to the crowds and now he's a close personal friend of Larry Crabb, many of the listeners will know, and he's told Larry, he said, "Look, you go talk to the crowds.  God sent me to the individuals," and he started a ministry in Philadelphia – a counseling ministry where he built a counseling department out of nothing at the school where he works, and I was very privileged to get together with Mike a couple of years after the aneurysm had happened, and we got to spend a couple of hours together and just talking with him.

 There was a difference in his ministry that really struck me.  I remember calling my wife that night from the hotel room and talking to her, and I said, "You know, Elise, I remember back when I was in college I'd say "I want to be like Mike."  I said, "But I met with him for a couple of hours tonight, and I left him, and I didn't say I want to be like Mike.  My prayer was, 'Lord, I want to be more like Jesus.'"

 And, you know, the world is filled with gifted Christian leaders who have the hair, the voice, the manner, the force of personality that impress us to no end.  But for every thousand of those, there is one who directly communicates the very presence of Jesus so that you're not impressed by them so much as you just felt like you've met your Lord.  That doesn't come about easily.  We have to die for that to happen.  In some ways, God has to strip everything away until we can have that one-on-one ministry, and I just challenge people – what do we think the world needs more – people who can almost directly translate us into the presence of Jesus Christ or people that just impress us with their manifold gifts?

Bob: You know, I've never forgotten interviewing Chuck Swindoll a number of years ago, and he quoted – I think it was Tozer he was quoting, who said, "God does not greatly use the man He does not first greatly wound."  And we've talked about this before – when Chuck said that on our program, my immediate reaction was "Well, then, I don't want to be greatly used."  I mean, who was saying, "Lord, greatly wound me.  Lord, I want to have happen to me what happened to Mike?"  I mean, that's not – you're talking about this gift from God in Mike Ditman's life, and all of us are thinking, "Lord, I hope that never happens to me."  There is a paradox here – we do want Christlikeness, but who wants what it sometimes takes?

Gary: Bob, I remember when I was a seminary student, I have grown up on the Christian classics, I've loved reading the Christian classics, which are just the great books that people still read, hundreds or even thousands of years after they were written, and I got so into them, I started to read the biographies of the people who wrote these books, and I got scared, literally scared, because there wasn't a single life of theirs that I would want to have – the illnesses, the persecution, the difficulties they faced, and I could understand when Theresa of Avila, who wrote a classic on prayer called "The Interior Castle," finally prayed one time, she said to the Lord, "If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so many enemies." 

 And yet they talked about the precious nature of these wounds.  It sounds terrifying before you go into them, but when you go out of them, and you're looking back at what happened, it's amazing how people treasure them, even people who aren't of faith.

 I've always been amazed at Lance Armstrong with the Tour de France.  Hearing Lance talk about, of course, going through cancer, and then hearing him say in his book, "It's Not About the Bike" – "If I had to choose between winning the Tour de France and going through cancer, I'd choose cancer because it taught me so much more."

Dennis: Gary, you know, as you were talking, I was reflecting upon some of the things God's been teaching me, and Bob knows I just recently, in the past few months, got cable.  We had chosen, with our children, not to have that as an option.  But here is what I've been learning – all those cable channels – yeah, there's a few religious broadcasters on there, but the major networks, the place where most of the sheep go, there just isn't any programming that speak to the needs of the soul.  They're speaking to the needs of the flesh and the needs of the mind and the needs of the will and people wanting to be God, not recognizing God as God, and I remember flipping through and finally, on one of the major networks, there was a light on a hill, and guess who it was?  Billy Graham.

Gary: There you go.

Dennis: He was stooped over the podium in one of his last crusades, and there he was, speaking faithfully to the needs of the soul.  And I think in America today, more than ever, I think we are ignoring the soul.  I think we are a nation that has become so preoccupied with our toys, pampering our flesh, all the catalogs that give us options.  I mean, we are a nation of enormous prosperity and yet souls that live in poverty.  And authentic faith – what authentic faith is all about is calling an individual – calling them, "You know what?  There's more to life than just material.  There's more to life than just what you see.  There's an invisible component of your life that must be fed and cared for, and if you don't address it you're not going to live life on a plane that you were designed by the Lord God Almighty to live."

Bob: I remember having the thought almost two decades ago – we'd been having a Bible study in our home, and it just occurred to me as I looked around, I said, "Probably the greatest thing that could happen today to help purify the church would be for us to go through another economic depression like we went through in the '30s."  And as soon as I thought that, I thought, "Oh, Lord, please, no."  Now, it addresses that tension, Gary, that we talk about – I want to be like Jesus, but I don't want the chisel, I don't want the hammer, I want to go there gently.  Is that possible?

Gary: One of the challenges, Bob, that I think we face is that we look at the sacrifice apart from what it gives us.  Intimacy with Jesus is real – soul satisfaction is deep and it's profound.  It might not be as loud or as exciting as infatuation and the exhilaration sometimes that the world offers, but you were mentioning Billy Graham.  I listen to souls like that, and there is something there.  He shot Larry King one time during an interview.  I saw him on television, and it's when he was discussing facing Parkinson's disease, and as he's getting older, and Larry King asked him, "Well, you prayed to be healed haven't you?"  And Billy Graham shocked him by saying, "No."

 Now, the Bible tells us we can pray to be healed so, certainly, that's biblical, to pray to be healed but, for whatever reason, Billy Graham said at that point he hasn't.  And then Larry followed up by saying, "Well, you pray not to be in pain, don't you?"  And again Billy shocked him by saying "No, I pray for God's will, and if He has something else to teach me, I want to learn it."

 Now, here is a man in his 80s that God has used.  Certainly, he would admit he's in the winter of his life, and he's still saying, "I want to become more like Jesus, and if the lesson has to be painful then bring it on."  And what that tells me, Bob, is there is something there.  He is getting something.  He's experiencing an intimacy and a character that he's not comparing the pain to his comfort, he's comparing the pain to what it's giving him in a different light – to his soul, as Dennis was talking about.  It's not just his body, it's doing something to his soul, and he thinks it's a good trade.  And so I think we have to look at it that way or we are going to be too afraid. 

 But you know what?  Whether we're afraid or not, if we love the Lord, it's going to come, because He's going to perfect us.  He doesn't have to ask our permission.  When we said, "Lord, you're my Savior," we also said, "You're my Lord," and that means he gets to call the shots.

Bob: And when it comes, God gives the grace to walk through it so that it does not destroy you.

Dennis: That's right, and the Scriptures are the guide as you walk through it.  I think we'll let the Apostle Paul summarize what we've been talking about here today.  He said this in Romans, chapter 5 – "And not only this, we also exult in our tribulations."  Now, I want to ask you a question.  When is the last time you exulted, you rejoiced, you gave thanks in your tribulations?  It goes on – "Knowing that tribulations bring about perseverance and perseverance proven character and proven character hope, and hope does not disappoint because" – and here is what motivated Paul – "Because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." 

 You and I can ignore the needs of our soul, but there is a God of Heaven who doesn't.  He's after us, and the Holy Spirit is chasing us.  The question is, will we recognize His footsteps and open the door and let Him come in and minister to us and give us that hope.

Bob: The question is, do we long for the authentic faith that Gary is talking about in his book?  Do we really want to be more like Jesus or are we addicted to pleasure, happiness, this life, this world, that we'd rather pursue those things than Christlikeness?  And our good and gracious God is going to continue to press us toward what really matters, which is a relationship with Him and a life that is lived for His purposes and for His glory.  And I want to encourage our listeners to get a copy of Gary's book.  I think they will find it spiritually profitable.  The book, again, is called "Authentic Faith," and you ask a provocative question here on the front cover – "What if life isn't meant to be perfect but we are meant to trust the One who is?"

 We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and we would love to get a copy to you.  Go to our website,  In the middle of the home page, you will see a red button that says "Go," and if you click that red button, it will take you right to the page where you can get more information about Gary's book and other resources we have available to help challenge you in your walk with Christ. 

 In fact, we've come across a wonderful book by our friend, Elisabeth Elliot, called "Faith That Does Not Falter."  It really reinforces a lot of the themes, Gary, you talk about in your book, "Authentic Faith," and any of our listeners who are interested in getting both of these books together, we'd be happy to send along at no additional cost the CD audio of our conversation this week on this subject.

 Again, go to our website, and click that red button that says "Go" in the middle of the screen.  More information is available there about resources in our FamilyLife Resource Center to help you in this area, or you can call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we've got folks on our team who would be happy to let you know how you can have these resources sent to you.

 You know, one of the things our family has enjoyed doing during the Easter season is watching movies that remind us of the life, the death, the burial, the Resurrection of Christ – classic movies like "Ben Hur," and "Quo Vadis," the movie, "The Robe" – those movies were made in the '50s and the '60s, and we've enjoyed watching those.  And then more contemporary movies like the Jesus film.  I don't know if you're aware, that is the most viewed movie.  It has been viewed by more than 5.5 billion people all around the world, and one of the reasons for that is because it's been translated into a number of different languages. 

 Recently, our team was thinking about a way that we could say thank you to those of you who are able to help with our financial needs here at FamilyLife by making a donation of any amount, and we decided we would love to send you a DVD that has the Jesus film, and has it with a variety of different languages dubbed in.  It has it in English, of course, but also in Spanish and German, Arabic, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tagalog.  There is also on the DVD a special feature for children called "The Story of Jesus for Children," and it's designed for elementary-age students.  We would love to send this DVD to you, and we'll send it this week when you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today. 

 If you're donating online, you can simply write the word "Jesus" in the keycode box as you fill out the donation form, and we'll know that you'd like to have the DVD sent to you, or if you call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation just mention that you'd like the Jesus DVD, and we'll be sure to get that to you and, again, let me say thank you for your ongoing financial support of this ministry.  We appreciate your partnership with us.

 Tomorrow we're going to continue to look at how God uses events and circumstances in our life to press us toward an authentic faith.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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