Real or Right?

During the Billy Graham era, while the evangelical movement retained the flavor of modernism, the preaching emphasis seemed to my young adult mind to be “getting right” with God. During that time I became a Christian and then a Seventh-day Adventist. Everything felt right. I got right with God, began worshiping on the right day, and believing the right doctrines.*

As the decades rolled along I saw a shift in evangelicalism (my larger religious sphere), which affected Adventism (my smaller religious sphere). Adventism tends to track with Protestant culture in many areas, but at a safe distance so we can’t be accused of copying the “worldly churches.” We allow these mainstream churches to road-test for us things like contemporary music, relational preaching, and church growth programs. When they seem to work, we cautiously adopt them, carefully molding them around our cherished belief system, so as not to disturb anything central to our identity.

Thus the current trend of “getting real.”

The “getting real” phenomenon voices itself through the postmodern buzz words “authentic,” “passion,” “chill,” “sharing,” “praxis,” and, not surprisingly, “real.” It expresses itself in trends like casual attire at church, paraphrased Bible versions, and guitars instead of organs. It fuels much of the current boom in Christian counseling and paves the way for Every Man’s Battle-type books which admit the horrors of the heretofore unmentionable sin of pornography. It at times makes it okay for a pastor to admit before his entire congregation, including bewildered children and grossed-out teens, a litany of moral infractions that would make the Mafia blush.

At its worst, “getting real” places “getting right” at too low a rung of the priority ladder, in many cases entirely out of sight. Then, “getting real” seems to say that obeying God is optional as long as we’re honest about disobeying Him.

But in spite of all the baggage “getting real” brings, I’m committed to it.

You and I know that social trends over-correct one another, creating a self-perpetuating, reactive, pendulum swing. “Getting real” has over-corrected the excesses of “getting right.” But lets back up our pendulum a few miles to the center—which “getting real” blew right past in its flight from “getting right”—and see what “getting real and getting right” look like as a pair.

Getting real/right means swearing off, for once and for all, hypocrisy, which is neither real nor right. A double life projects a false image, of which God said, “You shall not make for yourself an idol,” Ex. 20:4. Don’t make an idol for yourself, especially not one of yourself, dismantled from your real self. You’ll wind up with an adoring public who doesn’t even know you. You’ll be lonely as hell, smiling for the camera.

Aren’t some things private? Yes. But ideally, nothing is secret. With the grossed-out teens listening to the pornography confession, I reject undiscriminating, thoughtless “getting real.” Sin and failure should be confessed selectively, first and foremost to those affected by it.

Okay, lecture over. Assignment time. Whatever your struggle, whatever your wound, write three versions of it: the one sentence version, the one paragraph version, and the one page version. The one sentence version you share with acquaintances—“Life is a struggle right now, please pray for me!” The one paragraph version goes out to friends and the one page version to loved ones. The book version share with God and anyone besides Him who would want to stay awake for that long.

Always express your hope alongside pain, so as not to make honest disclosure a downer for you and others: “I’ll get through this with God, but right now I don’t see how. . . “ In this way the real you and the projected you begin to match one another. The gap between the two closes, and you know you’re “getting real.” Which is, after all, right.



Real or Right? — 37 Comments

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful article. Jesus came to meet us where we are at and He experienced it in the flesh. He wants us to be real with Him. I like the paragraph on sharing our real struggles with others, we will not only find we are not alone, but will feel encouraged others are praying for us to see us through.

  2. I get your point, many christian songs have been adapted to rhythms that are meant for dancing and pretty much makes me think of dancing not worshiping when I hear such songs. On the other hand, I disagree with the organ vs guitar. I once visited a church who believes drums are from the devil, yet, in many places of Africa that is all their have and they worship with drums. At a huge church nearby a drum set and guitars are used for the worship service, they often accompany the choir. Nothing moves me more than to hear that music, they worship with all their hearts and you feel God's presence there.

    • Is it the instrument or how it is played? Not having been in Africa, I can't say how those drums are used in church there. But I have seen in the USA that the piano can be played in ways that move the listener toward either high thoughts or low. And I have seen both done in church, expressing the musical values of the musician. Oh, that all God's children would be fully committed to God and His high standards, and that we would shun the ways of the world!

    • I just wanted to say I disagree about the guitars also ~ I have an Uncle & cousin who play the most beautiful music !! Not the kind that makes ya wanta dance.....I could listen to them for hours !!!!

  3. Thank you for this article. I remember when I heard my first sermon where the pastor admitted his shortcomings in front of the whole congregation, it was very uncomfortable. We should not neglect the need to be honest about ourselves but we should not "glory" in our shortcomings. I believe that if the testimony is to demonstrate victory over said sin then maybe it's okay to an extent. Sadly most confessions lead to members that are not strong to fall because they have the "well he does it to" attitude. Let's pray for the body that we may all (including me) grow up to that measure of man that we are called to be.

    • Thank you, Jennifer, for bringing up this point. I'm sorry to say that I've seen it happen. On the other hand, the most upliftingly memorable sermons I've heard have been those in which the beauty of our Savior is so vividly presented that the speaker is hardly seen at all.

  4. Recently I went to a SDA church (small gathering) while on holiday in a Muslim country and there was no music. Guess what, it didn’t feel like anything was missing, I don’t think music is necessary. However, I always appreciate the people leading in singing and I see a lot of people that give glory to god in this way- so I am happy for that.
    The only time I heard a confession of a similar sort was from someone that had been through the struggle and offering a advice on overcoming temptation. The only reason I can think for such a public confession is driven by guilt.
    Sorry I haven’t commented on your main point of getting real, but I understand it and agree.

    Thanks! and God bless.

    • Because you didn't feel that anything was missing does not mean that others would feel the same way--neither does it imply that all others should think as you think.

      I say this because I think our denomination in many ways has struggled with differences--largely because of the "get it right" part.

  5. Could not have been said better. Well written and insightful article. My brother once had a conversation with me. "Often as a church when we correct the perceived 'too far left swing', we correct by swinging too far right and leave the hurting but repentant ones in the center' ".

  6. I did not seem to get it all right, just got into this web site after an invitation from a friend. Most of the times we get lost when the lyrics of the song is encouraging and positive. Fellow church members forget the act of worship in music

  7. Hello Jennifer. Not having grown up in the modern Adventist culture, I was always shocked by the big deal Adventist make of themselves. After leading revival work for years I have learned so me thing all to scary, this church worships itself. Not wanting to change things central to Adventist identity is literally costing us the lives of the people of this church. At this time, when the church is about to be spewed out of Christ's mouth, nothing could be more important than abandoning church traditions. Inf a or of returning to primitive godliness. This church worships its tradition almost as much as the Catholic Church does. Now that's something we need to "get real" about changing.

    • I learned a little saying from one of my mentors early in life that went like this: " Not all that is old is gold; Not all that is new is true." We need to do a bit of sorting out in our own mind, both individually and collectively, about what we need to keep and where we need to change. We sometimes keep traditions merely because it is easier than change. Likewise, we sometimes get caught up with the idea of change, simply for change's sake.

      I grew up in a three hymns and a pray together with a 40 minute sermon type of church. Today we have changed but I think what has happened is that we have simply developed a new tradition. Creative worship is much harder to do than simply singing a different kind of music, or reading from a different version of the Bible. It is something that affect us far beyond the couple of hours that we spend in church on Sabbath.

      The significant turning point in my understanding of worship and church life was when I realized that I needed to integrate my personal worship experiences with my church worship experiences in such a way that I can share and be shared with in our community worship. Now I seldom attend church without participating by being actively involved in the program.

      Sometimes we seek change in the form of great revivals with people weeping and praying. I have lived through a couple of those myself, but I think that the real revival comes to us personally when we understand that our contribution to the community of believers is important. It is not about music or liturgy once a week, but about living worship seven days with an opportunity to share that experience on Sabbath.

        • It really does take a person of faith, hope and love to lead creative worship. It DOES take MORE effort. But when you are in love with The Lord, you can't help but pour forth your loving service and praise. The reason we do not see more true worship, creative worship is that true faith, the essential ingredient of true worship, is unfortunately rare.
          "Much of the faith which we see is merely nominal; the real, trusting, persevering faith is rare." 5T 651.2

          The cool thing that inspires me is this; after the shaking comes the Latter Rain. I believe we are entering into the shaking now... Stuff like what happened with brother Shreven among many other things at a local personal level are leading people within the church to make decisions for or against Christ. Sadly, we are told that most will be shaken out and even the institution itself would appear to fall. But those of us who go on, like those who endured The Great Disappointment, who persevere in faith, we will recieve the outpouring of the Latter Rain. The sadness of the shaking is reassurance of the soon-coming of The Latter Rain.

    • Balam-Quitze,

      I was Roman Catholic before becoming Seventh-day Adventist. I am with you 100% when you stated, "This church worships its tradition almost as much as the Catholic Church does." That relentless adherence to tradition was one reason why I sought another church. I think Acts 5:29 would apply to Adventists as well as Catholics and other Protestants.

      I always hear a loud cry the need for revival. But, when it comes to reformation, I don't hear much about the major changes that need to be made. Tradition has a way of benumbing the motivation to make changes and bring about innovations despite evidence that some traditional methods may not be working effectively today, not 100 years ago. It is too often preferable to react than to be proactive or pioneering. Pioneering requires risk-taking. We might want to be reminded that God risked all for us despite our initial sin because if Jesus had failed in any degree to be a Perfect Sacrifice, we would be eternally without hope.

      It has been over 25 years ago but the Lord had given me an idea for the church to have a 30 minute radio program (a children's story). I brought this up to the elder and his reply was, "We need to stick with the more traditional means of evangelism." As a result, I transferred my membership to another SDA church about 70 miles south of my home. Driving 140+ miles every Sabbath was no issue; I had a turbo diesel pickup truck. The Lord did bless the program. "A little ol' lady" in the church gave the story weekly on the local radio station for about 13 years or so. She was even the first minority keynote speaker for a women's function of another denomination.

      So, in order to "get real" about changing tradition, some of us will have to take notes and from Luther, Wycliffe, Tyndale, EGW, MLK, Ghandi, etc. and move as God would lead us.

  8. This is quite a good article. I enjoyed reading this a lot. An hour had passed and I found myself still "turning over" the thoughts contained here...I think a person may discover that adopting such a disposition in all life's situations and challenges would handle whatever comes their way in the future a lot better than they had in the past.

  9. Q you made a bold statement and I am loving the discussion and I agree with your point. Seventh Day Adventist hold on to a lot of traditional beliefs, some questionable. It just might be high time this church comes out of its slumber and Luke warmness, that of the Pharisees whom we chastise, and be real. The world is indeed a real place and such should be our lives and beliefs

  10. Hi Jen,

    I am glad this was printed at SSNET. Having a significant amount of suffering in a person's life can help keep a person real. I haven't found people in the church to be able to communicate and share what's truly on the inside and then bond together. I think that day is coming. All pretense will be laid aside and I look forward to that day when unconditional love will be expressed. Thanks Jen!

    • My sister Jane my heart goes out to you. I know exactly what you mean, on both points. I don't think most Adventist realize what we are talking about. You have to remember something, they feel they have everything and are in need of nothing... You know what I mean. But the biggest Christ counsels them to do is to buy gold from Him, tried in THE FIRE (trials). I believe the reason is the we lack the warmth of the real genuine gold, real genuine love. And because true faith is rare, most Adventist Ive met seem confused by the notion of real brotherly love because they assume it was never lacking to begin with. You, and I, and many who have suffered greatly and shared in the sufferings of Christ, and have been humbled and abased, disciplined and rebuked... We are more inclined to think less of ourselves, to humble ourselves to love one another. It's our responsibility to demonstrate this love to the many within who do not know it.

  11. The Bible spotlights Truth. Being "real" or "right" should be only as it harmonizes with Truth. Confession should be only where it is relevant, and will effect atonement with those offended by that sin. It is not for the curious public or to relieve guilt. We are actually counseled to not reveal the details of sin as it will have a negative effect on those who hear it.

    King David's confession (Ps 51) was to God and did not contain the details. God knows the details but only wants contrition so that healing can follow. David only confessed the Truth; he was in need of cleansing and restoration, and he asked in faith for what God's Truth has promised.

    It's too bad that little of what is called religion follows the Truth. Jesus said many would come in His name, but not His character, but rather, being out of harmony with the Truth.

    As for forms of worship, mere form can take any form and each side(s) will often be critical of "those other folk". Worship is being Holy (Ps 29:2). God wants Holy people who worship in Spirit and Truth. Form is secondary and dependent often upon circumstances, except where holiness is lacking, then form seems to live in the spotlight and people will take pride in their form compared to others who are either too "cold and formal" or "too wild and irreverent".

  12. On the musical part. I have grown up in Africa where music is performed not by instruments but by vocal. If the church has a piano or organ, it would probably be played by a missionary. But in those churches worship is lively and uplifting.
    One thing that makes worship worth it is the presence of the Holy Spirit. If He is there, worship is rich and good. People will talk of it even later. But when he isn't there. The instruments will not necessarily cover the missing part.
    I personally think that at times we have dwelled and spent time on minors than the majors. If I had time, I would have written more encounters with what the Holy Spirit has done in places of worship.
    God bless you all.

  13. Why should an Adventist article start by quoting a non-Adventist minister. Its like we are telling the world we have something we know about the world and we want to prove it to our Adventist brethren. And I think music is not useful if the soul is not in direct contact with the source of music. It can play but it won't bring about any spiritual growth or acceptance, but just a gonging cymbal.

    • Bwaleza, Jesus prayed not that we be taken out of the world, but that we would be kept from the evil in the world. (I recommend reviewing the article A Tale of Two Churches, because you seem to recommend a fortress model of the church. I believe that a hospital model is closer to what our Lord had in mind.)

      But then, Jennifer did not even quote Billy Graham. She only shared something how the preaching at the time she became a Christian affected her. She lived in the world, as most of us do. And that's right where Jesus wants us to be, because we cannot influence the world if we keep ourselves totally separate.

      Did you know that the Pharisees tried to keep themselves separate from "the world"? It seems that all that work to keep themselves separate didn't keep them from crucifying Christ!

      Jesus set the example of "mingling with men" - associating with people on their level - and in our world that includes talking with people, reading what they have to say and responding to what they say and/or write, as Jennifer did here.

  14. Assignment time:
    My one sentence - I have really been made aware of my smallness and lack of wisdom through interpersonal problems lately, but amazingly God finds ways to bless others through me anyway.
    The book version? (I couldn't help smiling at the last part of the sentence.) I'm so very glad that God has been there to listen that long and that He is still listening as I'm still writing.

  15. Jennifer, Thank you for a thought-provoking, well-written, "real" article. As to some of the others who have commented regarding music - I cannot hold a tune, I do not play any musical instruments, yet music touches me more than the written or spoken word (and I am a writer). It seems I sometimes hold up a shield that the written or spoken word cannot penetrate but the word in song seeps above, below, beside that shield and hits me in the heart. Music for me is one of the most important parts of worship. I enjoy contemporary songs - not the ones that make me feel I'm at a rock concert - but songs that sound like they are directed to God in worship. Some of the older songs are about us, our experience, what we believe. Newer songs are speaking to God in worship and prayer.
    Again, thank you, Jennifer.

  16. Praise God, Dale. Me too. Music kills me in a good way. How can it be reigned in, really? No, I don't want to boogie woogie in church, but let's not stifle the contemporary expression God wills to give His children. As someone said, all music was contemporary when it was written.

  17. John Gilmore, thanks so much for your one-sentence assignment. I posted this in my blog as well ( and I was amazed at how many people actually did it! May God sweeten the bitter cup for you.

  18. Robert, just a little challenge for your statement that David confessed only to God. After quoting Psalm 51, the prophet says, "Thus in sacred song to be sung in the public assemblies of his people,--in the presence of the court, priests and judges, princes and men of war,--and which would preserve to the latest generation the knowledge of his fall, the king of Israel recounted his sin, his repentance, and his hope of pardon through the mercy of God. Instead of endeavoring to conceal his guilt, he desired that others might be instructed by the sad history of his fall." PP, 725. It seems this was "realness" at its finest. Two reasons for it that I can see: 1) Everyone knew. To say nothing would be to leave their imaginations to run riot; 2) Trust had been broken. Only confession and repentance can rebuild that trust.

    • Yes Jennifer, we have all read that beautiful Psalm many times before we understood what it was even about. There are no details of the sin, only that he is a sinner in need. It's worthy of being used to praise God for His incredible mercy for contrite sinners. There is no finer "hymn" of praise for any sinner needing to be encouraged to turn to the Forgiver of sins, encouraged to believe God will hear and forgive.

      I believe that Psalm is a lesson to every sinner on the nature of true repentance and confession. While some might question the confession that follows discovery, the language is too real and God is so highly praised that none can doubt the realness of David's contrition and faith in God and His promises to cleanse thoroughly and His ability to present David "faultless before the presence of His Glory with exceeding joy!"

  19. Jennifer,

    Regarding music.

    It would be interesting if there were more seminars about what actually makes music. Music is a science of producing sounds in addition to an art. I think that more people need to be aware of the science of music and music theory. Also, such seminars should focus on how the science of music operates in other countries and not just from a Western perspective. It might be dry and uninteresting for some but I think it would be a benefit overall. It might surprise some how much flexibility an organist or pianist has in playing the music.

    I know that I am going to wreak havoc on this post but music never made sense to me until I took organ lessons. Yes, I broke tradition by going straight to the organ without piano lessons. But, when my teacher (who played many years for Billy Graham, interestingly enough), showed me the connection between the mathematics (set theory) and creating chords, everything made sense. Improvisation while reading a "fake book" was easy and fun.


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