A half dozen years ago I was invited to dinner by a local pastor and his wife, who I deeply respect and know well. They were expecting a child, who they knew to be a boy.
“We would like you to be our son’s godfather,” they said. I was honored, but I knew almost nothing about this practice, so I obviously I had a lot of questions. While godparenting is well-known in Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican and other ethnic circles, it’s relatively unknown in the Protestant world.
The purpose of this blog is to introduce you to this wonderful practice, which if done well could be an unbelievably valuable gift to your child, if they’re not too old, or yet unborn. And, if you’re a grandparent, or expect to be, this may be an idea you may want to share with your adult children, for their children.
The Origins of Godparenting
By the 2nd century, infant baptism had become accepted as a ceremony of commitment by the parents and the church, to do everything possible to raise a child as a Christian. The child was expected to confess their faith when they were old enough to understand what they were doing. However, the church came to expect that each child would have a sponsor when that time came – an adult who knew the young person well enough to be able to testify on their behalf that they in fact loved God and had every intention of serving him. Until the 5th century, these witnesses were generally the child’s parents. Augustine then suggested that sponsors could be other godly individuals, other than their parents. Quickly things changed and within a century almost all sponsors (godparents) were non-parents.
After the Reformation
Calvin, Zwingli and other reformers stressed the role of natural parents as sponsors because they believed parents knew best the spiritual condition of their child. However, Lutherans, Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox Churches and others still encourage the practice, but its role has evolved into assisting the parents to raise their child to be serious about living as a Christian. However, in some circles godparents are chosen more for their power or influence, than for their spirituality. (Tony Blair is the godfather to Rupert Murdoch’s child.)
The role a godparent isn’t biblical – that is, neither the term nor the role is found in scripture. However, I believe godparents chosen for their love for God and godliness can be a valuable resource for parents and their children, especially if a child’s natural grandparents are not strong believers. Godparents can help parents carry out the following command of scripture.
“We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. So the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.” Psalm 78:4b, 6, 7
What do godparents do?
The role of a godparent is to participate in the life of a child enough to be able to encourage their spiritual, moral and relational maturation. Godparenting is a form of mentoring.
A Godparent is expected to assist a child and the parents in the following ways:
• Establish and maintain a relationship with the godchild often enough (at least twice a year), so that a relationship of trust and friendship can develop.
• Talk openly with their godchild about faith and the journey of faith and provide opportunities for this child to come to know Christ and to grow in their Christian faith.
• A godparent continually grows in their own Christian faith and seeks to be conformed to the image of Christ, so as to model for the godchild, genuine Christian behavior.
• Purposefully share stories and life experiences with a godchild with the goal of passing on Christian values and practical life skills.
• Pray regularly for this child almost as you would pray for your own child.
• Provide support, encouragement and accountability to the parents in their raising of the child, all the while recognizing that the final responsibility and authority for the spiritual upbringing of the child rests with the child’s parents.
• In the event of the death of the child’s parents, if they’ve left no instructions, to participate in the process of helping decide where the child is to go and to ensure, as much as is possible, that the child is placed in the situation that is best for the child’s spiritual development and care.
What do godparents do practically?
My godson is almost four, so I go to all his birthday parties. Occasionally my wife and I will have dinner with the family and we’ve had our godchild and his family out to our cottage. I’ve also taken him for a few hours on walks and to lunch simply to build trust in presence.
I’ve begun an album in which I’m keeping photos and mementos of events. I’ve written a letter to my godson in which I’ve expressed my hopes and aspirations for him. Someday when he’s older, I’ll read my entries in this album to him and when he’s 18, I’ll give it to him.
As he grows, I intend to attend some of his sporting and school events, go out occasionally for meals and attend events at church in which he’s participating. I also intend to help him think through the moral and spiritual questions he may have and give him godly counsel. Like my own grandchildren, I plan to tell him stories of people I respect, pass on things I’ve learned about God and life and I’ll plan on sharing my own failures, at age-appropriate times and pass on what I’ve done when I’ve disappointed God, others or myself.
My goal is that I would be one of the first people he’d think to call if he needed advice, beside his parents. My godson’s grandparents are very godly, but one set of grandparent’s lives several states away and the other grandparents are aging, so I expect that more and more, I’ll become a surrogate grandfather.
The parent’s responsibility to the godparent? They agree to:
• Facilitate the relationship between their child and a godparent through visits, letters, phone calls and invitations to events, etc.
• Be willing to accept advice, rebuke, and encouragement concerning the spiritual development of the child, whether asked for or not.
• Keep a godparent up-to-date on the happenings in the life of the child, including bad behavior or attitudes.
• Pray regularly for the godparent so that they can carry out their role in the life of their child, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The community of faith is an amazing gift from God that we often do not think about enough when it comes to the raising of our children. Parents need all the help they can get and having a godparent, who in practice is a spiritual and life mentor for your child can be an important tool in your arsenal to raise your children to love and serve Jesus.
Question: Are you presently a godparent or do you have one for your child (or children) and if so, what can you add to this brief, description of this role?
Following Jesus in Real Life
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Have you ever had a family member or close friend come to you repeatedly needing just one more, “temporary loan”?
It seems that almost every family has a brother, daughter, cousin or someone who always seems to be a little short. I’m not talking about a generally responsible person who’s fallen on some hard times due to a job loss, divorce, long term illness or underwater mortgage. That can happen to anyone.
I’m talking about a generally irresponsible, lazy or simply foolish relative who doesn’t save or plan properly. Then, when predictable problems arise they have nothing – no resources and they’ve come repeatedly to various family members for help. And, you know full well this won’t be the last time. What should a Christian do? How does a follower of Jesus live in the tension between these verses?
“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” I Timothy 6:8
“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” II Thessalonians 3:6, 10
“Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:42
The balance of this blog is a sample letter I helped one family write to some family members (a couple) in an attempt to provide this couple with all the resources they truly needed to dig their way out of their problems – hopefully once and for all. Until this time, there had not been a coordinated, family-wide effort to help them other than providing a few thousand dollars every year for years.
We have four goals in writing this letter to you. The first is to make sure you know how much we love and care for you. We’re not only family, you’re our brother and sister in Christ. We’ve all watched you struggle over the years financially, spiritually and emotionally. The great news is that it’s obvious to all of us that you still love each other very much. When you’re going through these kinds of difficulties, that’s often enough to give us hope.
Secondly, while this letter might feel like we are intruding into your life, we haven’t sought out this role and frankly, it scares us a bit as to what your reaction might be. Each of us has given advice or money in the past, but we feel they’ve been nothing more than Band Aids. For the first time, we would like as a family to present a coherent plan to address a number of elements that may be contributing to your difficulties that makes sense to us. Whether it makes sense to you or not, will have to be determined.
Our third goal is to provide the resources to you to meet your long term goals of being emotionally, spiritually and financially healthy. And our final goal is to present you with a map for achieving that goal. We need to say on the onset, the ideas we are going to be presenting are not an attempt to control your life, but rather to allow you to regain control of your own life. They are recommendations we’ve thoughtfully and prayerfully discussed and hope you will do the same.
Here’s our proposal:
1. We propose the two of you select two family members from all of us, who will represent the family and help coach you through these options. This way the family speaks with “one” voice.
2. We’d like the two of you to select a common Christian counselor, a psychologist or psychiatrist, who will help both of you deal with any emotional issues or choices you need to make to be more emotionally and relationally healthy. That counselor does not have to report back to the family about specific issues that are confidential, but the family representatives must be able to discuss with the counselor regarding his/her progress and recommendations. We will pay for this counseling up to $2,000, which should be adequate for 10 to 15 sessions. We will consider helping with additional counseling, if we sense progress.
3. We would like you to meet with a financial counselor. We have been given names of several people who have been trained by Crown Ministries, who can sit down with you and review your assets and liabilities, your personal finances and help develop a realistic budget and a plan to achieve it. Our hope is that this person would give you some specific recommendations on all these issues. If there is any cost associated with this service, we’d be willing to help up to $500.
4. We strongly recommend that each of you select a personal mentor. This would be someone who you respect spiritually and whose character and heart you trust. Our strong recommendation would be that this person not be someone you might look to, to provide financial help, for it seems to us that it would be very difficult to build trust in a relationship if your mentor believed your motive for meeting was financial.
5. We recommend that both of you have a complete physical to make sure there are not any health problems that have not gone undetected as you have not had health insurance for so many years. Again, we’ll be happy to help you out up to $500.00 for each of you for this.
6. We recommend you consider some career counseling. We realize how scary it is to think about changing careers at age 48. However, given your struggles vocationally for so many years, unless you consider that possibility, we are not hopeful. It may very well be that in the course of your meetings with a psychologist or psychiatrist, you might get into some career or vocational testing. But, if not, we are willing to pay for up to $500 for this service from a licensed professional.
7. We would recommend that you get engaged in some physical exercise, perhaps even some basketball or other sports. Membership at the YMCA is $1,080 per year for a couple, plus a joining fee of $150. We are willing to pay for memberships for both of you for one year, if you will use those services.
If you receive these recommendations and respond positively to most of them, we are willing to help with an additional $1,000 per month for a maximum of six months. We’re just assuming that you, (Name), will continue to earn some income from your current job and that (Name), you will be able to work at least half time.
I hope you get a sense for how much we love both of you and are offering you a holistic plan to address a number of areas in your life that hopefully will lead to the life you want and one that pleases God.
Finally, we would like the name of a deacon at your church and permission to talk with them about our proposal. We want them to know that your family is willing to help and that they’re free to talk with us anytime if you approach them with a financial need.
However, if you choose to disregard our proposals and don’t really offer any concrete alternatives of your own, then we are really at a loss as to how to help you, now and in the future. The one solution we all agree which is not acceptable, is lending you $15,000 – $25,000 for your business. Given your current emotional state and past business history, it appears to us that doing that would be throwing good money after bad. However, if we see significant healing and wholeness, confirmed by professionals, that may be a possibility. However, we make no promises at all about any future investment in your business.
We prayerfully await your reply. Please call anyone of us, if you wish to discuss this letter further, but we’ve all agreed that two of us should always be present when you do.
Your family who loves you,
(Signed by all of the people sending this letter.)
The Rest of the Story
The good news is that this couple agreed to almost all of these suggestions and made significant progress. They still struggle and have needed help from time to time. However, the family was impressed enough with their efforts and progress that now when requests come, there is genuine compassion and less frustration. The lesson? Be prayerful and proactive, rather than reactive if your goal is the long term spiritual, physical and emotional health of those you love.
By the way, perhaps God is calling you to convene a meeting of another person’s family who you know to be struggling. That’s how I came to help this family. Sometimes God uses someone outside of the family with a fresh, biblical perspective to help others who’ve simply grown weary with a family member. Take time today to pray about your possible ministry to a family member or a family you know.
Question: What has been your experience handling family members like those I described and what’s worked?
Following Jesus in Real Life
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If you’ve ever been involved with another person in a business, partnership, lease, a loan or joint investment, it always starts out with great hope and expectations. Everyone is good willed, excited and optimistic. This is going to be great!
However, here are two truths about these business relationships that every person, especially Christians need to consider:
1. Every joint venture will end. Either it will end in death, dissolution, sale or disagreement. But, it will end. And most investors have no written plan for dealing with those inevitabilities.
2. Almost every venture will encounter unforeseen, serious difficulties for which no written provision for a resolution has been made. That’s fertile soil for most personal lawsuits.
So, before you enter into any joint venture, or if you’re in one presently but have not yet encountered these difficulties, a wise person will plan now for how they’ll resolve them, if and when they occur. Binding arbitration is my preferred method. It’s essentially a plan for dealing with serious, specific disputes that can’t realistically be foreseen.
The primary benefits of having a binding arbitration agreement is that parties can, in advance establish a mutually acceptable method for resolving future disputes. It makes it less likely you will have to go to court or sue someone, it’s speeder than the judicial system, less expensive and private. While this method is not found in the Bible, its intent is to live at peace with one another and to pursue justice. It’s affordable and honorable.
I apologize for the formal, legal language in the following text, but its language that has been suggested by a variety of Christian attorneys with whom I’ve worked, chosen for their precision and clarity on behalf of other attorneys you may work with.
The following are the basic elements, which ought to be considered if your desire is to incorporate binding arbitration into a partnership agreement, lease or other legal documents.
(a) Any dispute or disagreement arising out of or relating to this Agreement, Lease, Notes, the Collateral Documents of the Loan Documents, or relating to any breach or interpretation thereof, shall be resolved by binding arbitration, and only binding arbitration as set out below, with the exception of those described in section(b).
(b) This shall not, however, limit the right of any party to seek any summary, provisional or ancillary remedies (such as but not limited to summary eviction proceedings, injunctive relief, attachment or the appointment of a receiver) from any court having jurisdiction before, during or after the pendency of an arbitration proceeding, nor shall the institution or maintenance of any such action or proceeding constitute a waiver of the right of any party to submit a dispute to arbitration.
(c) Any party may begin the process of resolution by arbitration, by notifying the other party with whom they are in dispute, in writing by registered mail or courier requiring a signature by the recipient.
(d) Within thirty (30) days after the written notice has been received by one of the parties to this Agreement, each party, or their attorney will submit a written list of acceptable arbitrators and together shall mutually agree on one arbitrator. If all parties fail to mutually agree on an arbitrator, then each party will submit three names, written on separate and identical pieces of paper and one name shall be drawn, blind from a container and that person, if willing, shall be the arbitrator. Two other names will be drawn at the same time as number one and number two alternates.
(e) The arbitration shall be conducted on a date selected by the arbitrator which shall be at least ten (10) days and no more than sixty (60) days, if possible, after the arbitrator has agreed to serve, unless mutually agreed upon by all parties. Neither party, their representatives nor attorneys shall have any independent contact with the arbitrator, or attempt to inform or influence the arbitrator prior to the arbitration, except to arrange the arbitration.
(f) Each party will have no more than two hours to present their case, or such additional time as the arbitrator decides.
(g) Such arbitration shall be informal, in accordance with procedures to be established by the arbitrator, and need not conform to the rules of the American Arbitration Association or any other established procedures. The arbitrator should be someone who is deemed to be impartial, with some expertise or experience with the issues in dispute.
(h) The arbitrator shall have no more than seven (7) days from completion of such presentations to render its decision, including any damage awards, payment methods and dates of payments are to be made and other applicable decisions required for full compliance of the decision, including penalties for non-compliance.
(i) Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, arbitration shall take place in (the name of your city or county) at a place selected by the Trustee, and the fees and direct out-of-pocket expenses of the arbitrator will be shared equally by the parties. The arbitrator will set a preliminary budget and prior to the actual arbitration hearing, each party will deposit their proportional share to cover these expenses. Unspent funds will likewise be returned to all parties.
(j) Any award, order or judgment made pursuant to arbitration shall be deemed final and may be entered in any court having jurisdiction over the enforcement of the award, order or judgment. Each party agrees to submit to the jurisdiction of any court for purposes of the enforcement of such award, order or judgment.
(k) The arbitrator shall have the power to award recovery of costs and fees, (including reasonable attorney fees and expert witness expenses) among the parties as the arbitrator determines to be equitable.
(l) The arbitrator shall be fully protected and indemnified with respect to any action taken.
Note: Clare De Graaf, the author of this sample document is not an attorney. Any final document should be reviewed or written by an licensed attorney. This document is intended only as a sample template for the basic elements which may want to be considered in any future document.
What about Christians?
The language I’ve suggested is obviously very legal and not spiritual. However, it does establish a mechanism for dealing with a wide range of potential issues. My strong preference is that two Christians in dispute use a Christian arbitrator, perhaps even the leadership of the church they may both attend, or leaders of a third church they both respect. “If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?” I Corinthians 6:1
In some cases partners have actually chosen ahead of time, mutual acceptable Christians they both admire, as arbitrators and have named them in the document, with second and third choices also named. I’ve also helped Christians use binding arbitration to resolve issues even when they had no prior agreement to do so.
My wife and I own investment real estate and we use binding arbitration in all our commercial leases. Even our non-Christian tenants hate the idea of courts and I’ve never had an objection.
I’ve used binding arbitration a number of times to resolve other significant investment disputes and it works well. However, it’s also been my experience that whoever ends up writing the largest check rarely thinks it’s fair.
Binding arbitration is particularly helpful in partnerships to settle disputes regarding the evaluation of a business, or practice for the purposes of a buyout. Almost no partnerships have a plan for resolving those issues if all parties cannot agree on a fair price and terms. A binding arbitration provides a pre-agreed process for how those issues will be handled. If you’re currently in a partnership or investment it’s not too late to adopt this method to resolve future issues, or to resolve current, serious problems.
At the end of the day, Paul’s words in Phil. 2:4 should be our guiding principle in all these endeavors, “Not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Question: Have you ever used binding arbitration and how has it worked?
Following Jesus in Real Life
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Last week I blogged on lawsuits. This week, I’d like to get right to the issue of how I and others have resolved financial issues outside of the courts, using the principles of Matthew 18:15-17, which reads:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
What follows is an actual letter I’ve sent to someone in my church who owed me money. Obviously, I’ve changed some details to protect the identity of this individual, but you’ll get the point.
My Letter to a Fellow Christian
I have made nearly a dozen phone calls leaving messages with your secretary on your voice mail and I’ve even emailed you. You promised to call me two weeks ago with an offer. This dispute has gone on for nearly one year without resolution.
When I began trying to settle this matter with you in this way because you were a brother in Christ and a member of my church. I was confident that with those things in common we could come to an acceptable solution. Your failure to communicate with me in a constructive way is exasperating. I’ve offered to meet with you one-on-one or with (name) and myself. I’ve offered to meet with you and an elder to resolve this issue. Always you need more information, someone’s on vacation or you’ll get back to me and don’t.
Wanting to be faithful to the scriptural teaching for resolving a dispute with a brother in Christ according to Matthew 18:15-17, I’ll be asking (I named a fellow Christian we both knew) to go with me to your office to meet with you. Failing to reach agreement by May 15, I’ll write the Board of (the name of our church) to ask them to appoint an elder to help us resolve this issue.
The new total is $_______. I’m no longer interested in a settlement. If you owe the money then let’s work out a reasonable repayment schedule. If you don’t owe it then I wouldn’t want it. It’s more of an integrity issue for me now than a financial one. According to the agreement you signed, you should be paying interest. If we get so far as going to the elders, then I will want them to consider as well, which I had previously agreed to waive.
If you truly need time to pay this amount, I’d be happy to receive it over the next few months, or even much longer, if you really have no ability to pay me now. I’m even willing to totally or partially forgive the debt, if you can show me how the payment would harm your family’s welfare. If that’s the case, I’d like to meet with you and your wife. My interest is in simply getting this resolved fairly. My other motive is to show the other people involved, some of whom are not Christians, how Christians settle their disputes. What a testimony it would be if you and I, without a court, could resolve this issue.
I have not had any business dealings with you before and I’m sorry about this situation, but my conscience is clear that my claims are fair. If the elders feel differently, I’ll gladly accept whatever they determine is fair. In that sense, I’m willing to submit to binding arbitration by the church, if you will also.
I’d be happy to meet with you on (date). If I’ve not received a response and a check for at least one fourth of the amount and a note promising to pay monthly over the next year, I’ll stop by on the 10th or the 11th with (the name of a fellow believer) and try to get this resolved. If you call when I’m out please do not leave a message to call you. Please speak with my administrative assistant, as to exactly what you are proposing to do or set a time with her for us to meet on either (date). If this letter and my proposal fails, then I’ll write to our elders and ask them to intervene. I’d not done so already because I have no interest in making them aware of this issue, unless all else fails. Thank you.
In His Service,
Some Practical Considerations and Advice
• Yes, I got paid in full. Of the half a dozen others I’ve helped, who’ve used this process, five out of six have been paid.
• Humanly speaking, I believe the reason this method often works is that most people do not want the leaders of their church to know how unethical they are. That’s one reason I recommend writing a letter before contacting the church and give them a specific window of opportunity to save themselves from this embarrassment. Once the leaders of the church know the situation, often a difficult person will simply go into a defense mode and will do whatever it takes to regain their dignity.
Ironically, it’s also a check on me. I don’t want my elders to think I’m greedy or hounding the poor. That causes me to think and pray before I open that Pandora’s Box.
• I’ve helped people write a variation of this letter even to Christians attending other churches. My church has a history of helping resolve these kinds of issues, but most churches do not. In fact, I’ve had several churches refuse to get involved. When that’s happened, the person I’m helping and I have called the pastor and asked to meet with them with the goal of helping that church better understand what I believe is their responsibility. The majority of the time I’ve done this, the church has chosen to get engaged at some level.
• I also believe it’s important to discern whether or not a person can pay what’s owed. I believe it’s contrary to scriptural justice to demand payment from someone who can’t pay or for whom it would be a great hardship. However, I believe the burden of proof lies with that person to demonstrate their hardship.
• It’s also critical that you or I not gossip about this issue to anyone who doesn’t need to know. Gossip isn’t a lie. It’s truth inappropriately told.
• Once all is settled, then we’re required to do whatever we can to reconcile with a brother or sister in Christ.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
• Because of Paul’s teaching in I Cor., I have a policy that I will not sue Christians, ever. However, when dealing with unethical Christians, I find it helpful to not disclose my conviction. But, in the end, Paul’s command trumps everything.
“If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.” I Corinthians 6:1, 8
Question: Have you ever resolved these kinds of issues this way or other biblical ways?
Next Week: I’ll address the wisdom of using binding arbitration in partnerships, leases and other agreements to provide a mechanism for resolving future disputes, outside of the legal system.
Following Jesus in Real Life
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