Thursday, October 11, 2018

Will Our Children Have Faith?

In the last forty years, out of all the books written in the field of spiritual development (or faith formation), few texts have exerted as great an influence as John H. Westerhoff III’s work, Will Our Children Have Faith? (Seabury, 1976). This seminal work, now in its third edition (2012), has been translated into six languages and studied by thousands of seminarians worldwide. Westerhoff’s concepts have guided many churches, parishes, religious conferences, seminaries, and universities in their Christian education programs.

During his illustrious career as a practical theologian in Christian education, Westerhoff offered two separate theories of faith development. His initial four-stage theory was later reduced to three stages in A Faithful Church (1981). In his original four-stage theory, Westerhoff describes faith as growing like the rings of tree, with each ring adding to and reshaping the tree while building on previous growth. The four proposed “tree” rings involved in the growth process include the following:

First, there is Experienced Faith
The core of a person’s faith is that which we experience from our early years of childhood (or through exposure and reorientation to a new faith system). We are beneficiaries who receive the faith of those who nurture, teach and indoctrinate us. At this stage we are very impressionable and moldable. It shapes us in a particular spiritual way, leaving an indelible impression on our faith core.

Second, comes Affiliative Faith
As an individual gradually internalizes and exhibits the various beliefs, values, and religious practices of his/her family, social group or faith community, another ring is formed. During this stage, the person mimics the characteristics of the nurturing individuals and receives acceptance as a member of that particular faith tradition. This participation and self-identification may be formalized through a religious rite/ritual such as baptism, confirmation, placing church membership, or may simply be understood. 

During this stage of faith development, the individual often experiences a time of testing as peer expectations may either converge with or diverge from that of the religious group. When traditions, practices and values are similar, there is generally a good match and the person will merge his or her identity with that of the church or faith community. Little room exists for personal differences or preferences due to the group’s persuasive power and emphasis on unity and conformity in theological beliefs (orthodoxy) and practice (orthopraxy). 

The deep psychological need to feel accepted, to belong, to feel secure, and to have a sense of power and identity that are derived from group membership are important factors in forming one’s faith during this time-period. It is usually during adolescence, at the earliest, that this level of faith is demonstrated.

Third, there is Searching Faith
The process of faith development reaches a pivotal juncture when an individual becomes aware that his or her personal beliefs or lived experience may no longer be consistent with the faith community, or when one starts questioning certain fundamental beliefs, doctrines or religious practices. This uncomfortable, albeit growthful, dynamic occurs as one becomes aware of the reality that one’s faith has been shaped by others perhaps more than by one’s own personal study and conviction. Therefore, a decision must be made whether or not to buy-in, live out, and accept responsibility for a personal interpretation of one’s faith rather than merely accepting the religious community’s interpretation. During this stage, there is often experimentation in which individuals explore viable alternatives or make commitments to other persons or causes that may be appear potentially promising in establishing greater personal conviction and active practice of one’s faith.

Fourth, and finally, there is Owned Faith
This stage represents the culmination of the faith development process, and it finds fulfillment in the authentic expression of a personal faith. The person is no longer merely convinced, but they are truly converted to a particular religious system. By this point, the individual has reoriented his or her life, is fully invested, and now claims personal ownership of and responsibility for beliefs and practices. They are committed to not only believing, but also practicing and sharing their faith in a mature, faithful manner.

From my own limited perspective, five important factors seem to coalesce that influence a person’s faith development:

(1)   Emotional climate (at home)
(2)   Exposure to religious teaching (education/catechesis) and spiritual disciplines
(3)   Examples set by parents, guardians and role-models
(4)   Experience of God (i.e., lived experiences of answered prayer or disappointment)
(5)   Engagement in a faith community and its mission

Clearly, these five factors are difficult to quantify and measure. Also two people may come from the exact same family of origin and end up in totally different places when it comes to their faith commitments. 

Spiritual formation is no doubt a challenging process. Let us fervently pray that our children will indeed develop a healthy and robust faith.

I'm proud to have contributed a chapter to a recent book on the general topic of spiritual formation entitled, Owning Faith: Reimagining the Role of Church and Family in the Faith Journey of Teenagers. The work is edited by Ron Bruner and Dudley Chancey, and it was published by Leafwood Publishers (2017). 

The book is "a road map for parents and other adults who want to walk alongside youth on their spiritual journey and experience the amazing ways God empowers teens and adults to shape each other spiritually." My particular chapter is entitled, "Adoptive Parenting: Coming to Understand the Heart of God."

The book is available here on Amazon!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Build Him Up! (Guest Post by Danielle Foisy)

I'm excited to introduce Danielle Foisy to you this week! It's a real blessing to have her as my special guest on HeartPoint. She has such a poignant and powerful message to share with individuals and families struggling with mental illnesses. I hope her wise suggestions will reach many people who need an extra word of encouragement and hope.

About Danielle Foisy
For years, Danielle worked in the secular workplace until God asked her to take a leap of faith and leave her career to start following God’s plan for her life. In the darkest and hardest times, while living with a husband who struggles with mental illness, she found there were not a lot of resources for the person who is supporting someone who is struggling. 

Her goal is to change that situation and start the conversation. She discovered writing to be a healthy coping mechanism to deal with the stress that comes with the role, and now she is using her platform to help others who are in the same role she is in. 

Danielle lives in Haliburton, Ontario with her husband and family. When she is not wrangling her monkeys, namely two adorable young daughters, a son and puppy, they are out exploring the world. She enjoys adventures like ice climbing, rock climbing, and other exhilarating sports that give you grey hairs. 

So, without any further ado, here's Danielle!

Build Him Up!

My husband struggles with a chronic depression and has been making such amazing progress. The other night I told him how much progress he had made and it hit me how long it had been since I built him up. That, my friends, for a successful marriage should not be a foreign feeling!!

What I believe is so important is to build up our spouses. No matter what; when they look back, they need to see you as their biggest cheerleader throughout life. They need to feel your support because yours is the one that matters.

The hardest part of this marital commitment is that there are many times they are undeserving of that support and praise, many times we are angry or fighting and the last thing you want to do is say something nice. But that’s Grace; that’s what we are called to do regardless of how we feel and regardless of how deserving they are. (I am by no means claiming to be good at this!)

I heard once that men’s deepest desire is to be respected and women’s is to be loved. And the command that Christ gives us is to give what they need even if we are not receiving what we need. What this means is Respect even if you are not feeling the love you need. (I wrote another post about going to God to get our needs met…this may help here.) I am not saying to go on with your needs not being met, but what I am saying is we as individuals in this marriage are called to do what is right regardless of the other person. That is where our character is defined.

So what are some practical ways we can tangibly do this? Here are a couple areas to start.

Always Support Their Dreams
One of the best pieces of advice I got from one of my mentors was this. She said 90% of them don’t come to fruition but they need to feel safe to dream around you, and supported by you while they do.

Try and compliment or build up your spouse ONCE per day at minimum.
It’s important to be intentional in your daily interactions with your spouse. The enemy will plant lies in your head and your spouses, but you building them up, it can squash those lies right in their tracks before Satan gets a real foothold.

Trust Him
As the leader of the home, we need to allow that leading to be supported. In our home, I have the strong personality and my husband is a lot more timid. It’s really easy for me to overshadow and take over that leadership role. I constantly have to humble myself and give back the reins. By trusting him, for example in decisions about our family, our finances etc. I can allow him to lead us, but also show him I trust where he will lead us. I’m not going to get into submission in this post because that is a whole other can of worms. I am just saying and asking that you give your husband opportunities to lead your family and show him you trust that leadership.

You are the opinion that matters most, your criticism hurts more than anyone else’s. Keep this in mind with your words, they have power especially to our spouses. There are many times I have said damaging things while angry to my husband that were not worth the pain they caused him during a moment of weakness I fell into. I encourage you to build up each area of your spouse and continually remind them.

Remember how important you are, remember your words matter and remember you have the power to build up or tear down but the choice is yours alone.

About Danielle's Book: The Other Side of the Struggle: Supporting a Spouse Who Struggles with Mental Illness or Depression

Danielle’s spouse battled an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness that was taking her family down and almost destroyed it. During this time, she started a blog where she wrote about their struggles and journey. Danielle found it to be therapeutic as well as it becoming a voice for so many silent sufferers of mental illness and their supporters. 

Since writing this book, they have learned more about mental illness and how to manage and control it, and believe God allowed them to go through such a difficult time to relate to others in similar circumstances and to bring people who are suffering back to him with their testimony. 

The goal of this book is not only to reach other supporters of those who struggle with mental illness, but to raise awareness that mental illness needs to start being talked about within churches and Christian communities. The goal is to challenge the church to be a safe place for those who are struggling or supporting those who are struggling, and to advocate for those face the shame and stigma within the church for struggling with mental health issues.

#TheStruggleIsReal Blog:

Friday, August 31, 2018

Self-Control: How to Get a Grip on Yourself

Have you ever totally lost your cool and flown off the handle? In the heat of the moment, you felt completely out of control. It was almost like a demonic force had taken possession of your body, mind, and mouth.

Perhaps you’ve struggled with self-control as it relates to an addiction of sorts or to some embarrassing excess in your life. Maybe it has felt nearly impossible to get a grip on yourself, because you struggle to muster up the necessary willpower and self-discipline, which seem to evade your reach.

It’s not uncommon as human beings to find ourselves saying and doing foolish things, which are obviously not very well thought through. We act both impulsively and compulsively. And when it’s over and too late, we sorely regret what we’ve done. It’s extremely exasperating, not to mention embarrassing.

We can often be our own worst enemies when it comes to holding back our tempers, maintaining proper sobriety, curbing our physical and sexual appetites, and avoiding impulse buys. Self-restraint is much easier said than done! So many times I’ve wanted to smack myself on the forehead and shout at myself, “What is the world ever possessed you to say/do that – you big dummy?!”

Many of my counseling clients confess various humiliating indiscretions and improprieties like affairs, pornography, gambling, drug and alcohol abuse, angry outbursts, or even shoplifting. Shame and remorse usually accompany these deep personal regrets and compunctions.

I’m not sure about you, but I can definitely relate to the apostle Paul’s frustration when he exclaims in Romans 7:15, 18-19 (ESV), "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing."

Self-control is mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5:23 as the final fruit of the Spirit. Perhaps he saved the most difficult one for last in his well-known list. He knew from personal experience and, no doubt, from observation of others just how difficult it is to achieve this Christian virtue in view of the inordinate amount of willpower it requires. 

During the late hours of the evening in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to his drowsy disciples, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matt. 26:41, ESV). 

In 2 Peter 1:6, the apostle Peter admonishes his readers to supplement spiritual knowledge with self-control. Knowing what is right versus doing what is right are two very different things. So how may we go about exercising better self-control in our lives?

First, consider the consequences of your actions. 
Think it through before reacting. How will speaking or acting in a certain way impact other people, and what might the eternal ramifications be for yourself? Hebrews 11:24-25 (ESV) says, "By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin."

Second, keep your eyes focused on Jesus, the founder and finisher of your faith (Heb. 12:2). 
Look to his perfect example of meekness and self-restraint when facing severe stress in his own life. He consistently said “No” to the devil and “Yes” to God!

Third, surround yourself by trusted friends who will help to hold you accountable to yourself. 
Confession and prayer are powerful tools that are good for the soul and efficacious (James 5:16).

Fourth, come up with a viable alternate strategy in advance. 
Preparation and practice make more perfect. Rather than being caught off guard in situations that bring out the worst in you, develop a playbook in your mind so that you are more likely to respond appropriately when you’re blindsided. Joseph ran from sexual temptation when it had him in its sordid grip (Gen. 39:12).

Fifth, and most importantly, put your faith in Christ and don’t rely on your own strength or insight. 
Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV) says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

The challenge to develop greater self-control and mastery over our depraved human urges and impulses is a never-ending quest. It is an important part of living a grace-filled, Christ-centered life.

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Power of Humility

In the past few years, humility studies have come into vogue in the field of psychology. Researchers have rediscovered the psychosocial benefits of humility in personal mental health and relationship satisfaction (

Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., says, "Humility has been linked with better academic performance, job performance, and excellence in leadership. Humble people have better social relationships, avoid deception in their social interactions, and they tend to be forgiving, grateful, and cooperative. A recent set of studies also shows that humility is a consistent predictor of generosity. People who are humble tend to be more generous with both their time and their money" (

The above findings should come as no real surprise to Christians in light of the teachings of God's Word. However, without a doubt, we live in a narcissistic world. Self-promotion and self-aggrandizement are part-and-parcel of our secular culture. Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, Pinterest and YouTube tend to perpetual this societal epidemic.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Finding My Oasis in Jesus

What comes to your mind when you think of the desert? Back in January, my wife and I were blessed to experience the Judean Wilderness first hand. It was amazing to see the Qumran community, Masada (one of Herod’s mountain fortresses) and the Dead Sea. But, wow, was it ever barren and dry there!

Usually, when I visualize the desert, the following things and images are conjured in my imagination: intense heat, endless sand dunes, surreal landscapes, mirages, carcasses, scant vegetation like cacti, camels, Bedouins living in tents, little water, venomous snakes, poisonous lizards, and death.

Although some people may consider deserts to be beautiful and mysterious places, those landscapes are dangerous deathtraps. As Christians, there are times it may feel like we’re stuck in and surrounded by a never-ending desert.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Calling All Dads!

As my children are growing older and becoming increasingly more self-sufficient and independent in their lives, I find my respective role to gradually be changing. For instance, these days it seems they need me less as a corrector and more as a confidante; less as guardian and more as a guide; less as a chaperone and more as a coach; and less as a manager and more as a mentor. While their needs are surely shifting, they still need me to be in their lives in different, though equally important, ways than when they were younger.

You see, dads never stop being dads no matter how old their children are. We must remain available to our kids as they grow older, hit important milestones, and experience various challenges and struggles in their lives. It’s a life-long commitment. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Making of a Family

God in his great love and infinite wisdom gave us families. In our families we are intended to discover our identity, strength, nurturance, and growth. However, there is no such thing as a perfect family. Because humans are flawed and sinful creatures, our families often struggle with many problems.
Let’s face it – living in families can sometimes be tough! Selfishness, stubbornness, and sin have a way of creeping into our homes and often taking over.
When I stand up to preach on Sundays, I’m looking at dearly beloved people in the congregation, despite the reality that they often come from broken homes resulting from divorce, single-parent households, blended/step families, and families in which grandparents are caring for their grandchildren.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Losing My Baby Girl, But Gaining a Son-in-Law

Ice-skating with Olivia in Michigan
I love being a dad. There is a pleasure to it that’s hard to describe. I’ve been a father for 20 years and have been blessed, along with my wife, with a couple of great children. I’m truly thankful.

About a year ago, as my daughter Olivia was getting ready to begin her college career, she talked to me about her anxieties of perhaps not being able to find a suitable future husband. At the time I reassured her that she would have many opportunities to meet good prospects and date Christian guys and also that she shouldn’t worry about getting married at such a young age. I told her that even if she didn’t meet and fall in love with her future husband in college, that—Lord-willing—the right guy would come along soon enough. I assured her that God would provide when the timing was right.

Looking back now, the ironic thing is that I had already met her future fiancé and just hadn’t realized it. He (Dalen Ledingham) had actually been an upper-division student of mine at Freed-Hardeman in my “Family and Individual Counseling” class during the spring semester of 2017, right before Olivia graduated from high school. In fact, he had been one of my very best students and sat attentively on the front row.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Spiritual Sensor Malfunction

I drive a slightly older F-150 Ford pick-up truck. It generally runs pretty good though it has a few quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Recently, I drove in it, along with a deacon from church, to the other side of Atlanta, Georgia, (to Duluth) to assist a husband and wife evangelistic ministry team as they transition to Tennessee to work under the oversight of our church’s elders. 

With a flatbed trailer in tow, the first leg of our journey from Selmer, Tennessee to Tupelo, Mississippi went relatively well. However, my engine temperature gauge began spiking whenever I exceeded 60 miles per hour. Of course, this warning was of concern to us. But we really got worried when the red low oil pressure warning light came on. We pulled over to the side of U.S. Highway 78 into a gas station to check it out and popped the hood. Strangely enough, everything looked okay: the engine coolant expansion tank was still full, the oil dipping stick revealed the oil to be just fine, and the motor didn’t seem to be running hot at all.