Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Surround Sound by Dale Robinson

Surround Sound

Eugene J. Polley died of pneumonia a couple of Sundays ago at the age of 96. He was an engineer for Zenith Electronics and is best known as the inventor of the first wireless remote. His ray gun-shaped Flash-Matic remote touched off a revolution that affected millions of lives, including my own. But I must admit, last Monday I found myself thinking it was a shame that his invention didn’t die with him.

The owner’s manual on our new speaker system promised “EZ Setup.” I should have known better. Actually the setup wasn’t that difficult. Once I familiarized myself with the nomenclature, pairing the speakers with my wife’s mobile phone (via Bluetooth technology) went smoothly. But getting all of the television/dvr/dvd/speaker remotes to play together nicely was an entirely different matter.  Let’s just say the whole experience brought out my “inner child,”  but I’ve matured enough to realize that hammers don’t work well on electronics.  I expressed my frustration. Loudly. Given all my antics, at one point Dana threatened to put me in time-out.   

I’m pleased to say that the “honey-do” item was completed, and Dana can now stream her iTunes to the speakers in the family room. Although the sound bar only “simulates” surround sound, music has once again returned to the Robinson home. I must say it sounds great.

The whole experience reminds me of a conversation that had taken place the day before around our dining room table. Last Sunday, we invited several people over for lunch. During the meal, I was struck by the diversity of our backgrounds, even within our own restoration movement. But even more amazing was the maturity being expressed.

One commented that there was a time in his life when he would not have set foot in the Southeastern building. But things were different now, and rather than striking discordant notes, he was learning what it means to live in harmony.  He said he had grown more over the past several months than at any similar period of time. 

I am reminded that relationships aren’t plug-and-play, even within the church. Living in harmony requires distinguishing one’s personal preferences from the core of the gospel so we can keep the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3). As difficult and frustrating as the process might be at times, the end result is worth the effort—enabling us to stream the music of the gospel to the world.

Only the music isn’t “virtual” or simulated.  It’s the real deal.  It’s unity as opposed to uniformity—the full, rich, and robust surround sound that God intends to catch the ear of those desperately wanting a good tune (Ephesians 3:10). 

Perhaps remotes aren’t such a bad thing. Perhaps they can be programed to play nicely together.

“May our God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all.  Then we'll be a choir--not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!” (Romans 15:5-6, The Message) 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Excuses, Excuses by Chris Kirby

Excuses, Excuses. 

Have you ever read one of those “Christian living” books that make you put it down feeling completely inadequate, hopeless, and more confused than you were before?  Over the last year or so I have been through a few of them.  They are almost always challenging and sometimes really insightful, but I often walk away frustrated and maybe even a little mad at the author.

In turn, I start looking for excuses that allow me to disregard content of the book rather than transform the content of my life.  I will needle through the book and find something rather trivial with the author and take issue with it hoping that I can excuse away the overall message and conviction that is being presented.  For example, many of these books generally have a passage of scripture or two that are really stretched to make a point.  So, I surmise that I can write off the entire message of the book because the author stretched a passage of scripture.  Or, the author and I disagree on some doctrinal or theological issue that may not even have anything to do with the book I’m reading.  So, the entirety of his or her argument can’t really be valid. 

The excuses and critiquing can go on and on.  But, here’s the real question: Why do I tend to find excuses to give myself a pass rather than implementing the challenges from the messages in my life?  At the heart of it….I guess I really don’t want to admit the weakness that I have within my faith when they are presented to me or to do anything about it when those weaknesses are made apparent. 

·         I don’t want to explore the nagging that hits me on occasion about entering a foreign mission field. 

·         I don’t want to give up some of the things I really enjoy in order to save money and have more to give to others in need, church, and other organizations.

·         I don’t want to teach certain things in class, even if I have conviction about them, because of what others might think about me.  

·         I don’t want to give up any more of my free time or money to serve the homeless or nurture those who are in desperate need of compassion and love.

·         I don’t want to give up certain “pet sins” that creep in and out of my life.   

·         I don’t want to make more space for the Spirit to work in ways that I don’t understand. 

·         I don’t want to…

Wait.  Wow.  All those statements really had a lot in common.  My personal desire is right at the heart of each of them.  It takes a lot of selflessness to change my desires.  It’s takes total submission of every part of my life to really live out what God calls me to.  It definitely sounds easier for me to dismiss an author about a theological difference or misused scripture than have to hand these things over to God. 

So, problem solved.  The authors of those books must be off their rockers and I don’t have to pay attention to any conviction that may have hit me during my reading.  Shew! What a relief!  I’m off to watch TV.  It usually doesn’t make me think too much.  

But, here’s the problem.  The concept of being transformed and led by the Spirit isn’t some *Radical idea created by contemporary authors about showing *Crazy Love in order to prove that I am *Not a Fan, but part of an *Irresistible Revolution.  Being transformed and sacrificial is something Jesus taught when people came to follow Him. Peter showed us the ups and down of learning to live completely dedicated to God.  It’s a profession of dedicated faith that Paul was inspired to write about to the early church as they navigated a culture that they boldly faced with an alternative approach to life and hope for eternity.  In Romans 8 he writes about the battle between us (flesh) and God (Spirit) and the call to give my life, every part of it, over to Jesus.  Later in chapter 12 he continues the push for submission.  He uses words about becoming living sacrifices for God by giving over our lives and minds to be transformed into Christ-like disciples, even when that requires yielding my own desires and forces me to change my actions. 

You know, I’ll never reach perfection.  And, I don’t have to.  Jesus provided the grace to cover my failures.  Paul wrote about that in Romans as well (Chapter 3).  But he didn’t stop there.  He went on to talk about what it meant to receive that gift and live it out.  So, I guess what I hope for today is that I look just a little bit more like Christ than yesterday by handing everything over to him as I live through His grace….whether I ever pick up another “Christian living” book again or not. 

*All are good books that I recommend you read for a challenge to your faith. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Unforeseen Humility by Terry Gardner

Last week I was enjoying the magnificent scenery of Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.  Their annual lectureship program was in full swing.  I was staying on the campus along with Connie and our friend Phil Stoops.  Friday dawned bright, clear and sunny.  It was a good day to be alive.  That morning I received a text message from work complimenting a recent project.  I then headed to a classroom to make a presentation on the remarkable life of Austin McGary.

There was an excellent turn out for my McGary presentation.  Lots of friends and new acquaintances.  John Wilson, the Dean of Pepperdine was present and Tom Olbricht, former head of the Pepperdine Religion Department gave me a very kind introduction.  I gave one of my better speeches on McGary's life and character.  Lots of very kind and encouraging comments after the talk was over.  I was feeling very good and perhaps a bit too pleased with myself.

Not long after my talk, as I left another speech, I made a hard right hand turn directly into a floor to ceiling plate glass window.  If you've ever seen a bird fly into a window you have some idea of my reaction to being stopped cold by a barrier I never even saw.  The impact points were my face and my right knee.  I was walking but still fell to the ground ... stunned!  As I sat there for a moment or two I was trying to discern how badly I had injured myself.  My right knee was bruised but not too badly.  The skin inside and outside my nose was broken and bleeding but not profusely.  I made my way to Lectureship central doing my best to keep from bleeding on people.  I picked up several band-aids and made my way to the restroom happy that at least I had not seen anyone I knew.  As I washed blood off my nose Robert Hooper, a friend and a long time history teacher from Lipscomb University came into the men's room, looked at me rather quizzically and inquired if I needed any assistance.  "No," I replied.  "I am fine."  We'll not exactly fine, but not in need of any assistance.

Solomon reminds us that "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."  (Prov. 16:18).  It is good to remember that we are all human, we all sin and we all need the love and mercy of Jesus.  God loves the humble and he resists the proud.  It also helps to watch where you are going.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Day by Day (by Greg York)

Day by Day

The prayer attributed to Richard of Chichester has been used and adapted for almost eight centuries, because the desire it expresses is timeless:

O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know You more clearly,
Love You more dearly,
Follow You more nearly,
Day by day.

How can I partner with God so that I know him, love him, follow him “day by day”? That’s a question that has occupied me for pretty much all of my adult life.

Everyone is wired differently in how we best “fund” our spiritual lives. In this post, I just want to share two of the practices that work for me in funding my (very imperfect) desire to know, love, and follow God “day by day.” These may not even be the most important of the spiritual disciplines I try to practice (maybe only God knows that), but the two below are my takes on the “right answers” we learn to give early on in church when asked what it takes to grow your faith. I do think the “right answers” in this case are in fact good answers—it’s putting content on that outline, though, that makes the difference for growth. (Anyway, perhaps in later posts I can unpack some more of the practices I find helpful.)

The first is a regular regimen of Bible reading (I know; there should be a “duh” immediately after that statement). There are so many approaches to reading the text devotionally.  I tend to mix two approaches.

Reading whole books of the Bible, so that I understand their message as a whole, resisting the urge to see the Bible as a collection of loosely related verses, has been very helpful. (If you only read a line here or there in an email, do you really understand the message or know the heart of the one who sent it?) Now, as one who is committed to following in Jesus’ steps, while I attempt to read (over time) through every book of the Bible, I try to “weight” my reading of whole books so that about every other one is one of the gospels.

The other Bible reading approach I use is to follow the Lectionary “Daily Office.” That’s probably something many in our tradition have not heard about (although it is not terribly different from one of the Bibles that divide the whole up into 365 doable readings; for some reason, those have just never “worked” for me—if it works for you, just file it under other ways in which Greg is weird and keep reading). The “Daily Office” includes multiple readings from the Psalms (after all, it’s the prayer book of the Bible), from an Old Testament book, from the Gospels, and from another New Testament book. In other words, you’re getting a pretty good sampling from around the whole Bible, and if you follow the “Office” regularly, you’re reading through (praying through, if you’d like) the whole book of Psalms each month. (I access the “Daily Office” online: , by the way.) 

I’m not slavish about either reading approach. So, sometimes if I’m reading through a book and it’s really catching my attention and driving me deeper, I’ll not worry about the “Daily Office” during that time. Sometimes, I’ll just do the “Daily Office” readings for weeks. One of the things I like (well, no, really, I should say, “One of the things I need”) about doing the “Daily Office” readings is that there’s a certain discipline, a certain submission, to reading what someone else has selected. When I self-select, I may end up just going back to the same set of texts over and over. That’s not bad, but I’d like to hear as much of what God has to say as I can.

The second practice is adding what some call centering prayer to my “diet” of prayer. Certainly, I have things to say to God, things to ask of him, but I find making it a regular practice to just be quiet and still in the presence of God is also vital to my spiritual health. Not just to be quiet, but as a way of saying, by being physically still in body and mind, that I submit to God’s agenda, not mine. Our minds are always flying about in so many directions. This is a way I may consciously show that my thoughts, my mental plans, my desires—all the things that fill my head—are not what I really want to drive my life.

Is this easy? No, because the chatter in my head is constant and so difficult to ratchet down. But it is exactly that chatter that crowds out my awareness that I live each moment in the presence of God. So, it may not be very easy, but it is very important.

Is it difficult to find time and a quiet place? Absolutely (I figure moms with small children have been laughing hysterically through the last couple of paragraphs…). But I have discovered that if I can just find even a few moments to just be still as an act of submission to God, to calm down the flow of “Greg thoughts” just enough to be aware of God’s presence, it is more than worth the effort to find that time.

A critical part of “Growing Our Hearts toward God,” learning to love God, being trained by Jesus, and allowing the Spirit to lead us, is having something to draw on. We can’t run, let alone mount up on wings like eagles, if our spiritual account is overdrawn. Two of the ways I’ve found to fund my account are reading the Bible holistically and praying without words.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

JOYful Priorities by Mike DeCamp

A long time ago,…in a city not too far away,…I grew up without a church; without a sense of spiritual direction in a dysfunctional family wrought with selfish attitudes.  That all began to change, however, when I started riding the Joy Bus. 

It all started with the influence of a neighbor.  You see, my mother had a number of health issues which led to a number of stays in the hospital back in the 1970’s, and our neighbor had her minister visit my mom.  After a while, the minister and my mother conspired to have the youth minister invite (bribe) me to ride the JOY bus.  I say “bribe” because he enticed me…a 7th grader…with trips to Kings Island, Cincinnati Reds games, and summer camp.  Thankfully, it worked.  (I heard “Reds games” and I wanted to sign up on the spot.)

The church that sponsored that bus ministry was the Fairlawn Church of Christ in Muncie, Indiana.  And, one of the key things that they focused on was defined by the acronym J-O-Y.

Jesus first
Others second
Yourself last

That’s why they were called Joy Buses.  It was a simple way to teach children (mostly from non-member homes) the most important and most basic set of priorities that they would need to lead a life in step with God.

Jesus first

“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”  Matthew 10:37-38

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Matthew 16:24

Others second

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.  Philippians 2:3-4

Yourself last

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  Matthew 20:25-28

As a pudgy, insecure, self-conscious, and socially awkward middle-school kid, it was just the message I needed to hear.  I needed someone to define my spiritual priorities in a way that would lead me to maturity as a man and a child of God, and this simple acronym gave me that necessary direction.

Now, compare that message with the one communicated in a new acronym I came across on someone’s Facebook page this past week:  F-L-Y.


I’m sure the motivation behind this phrase is sincere.  So many people are burdened with a poor self-image and a sense of self-loathing, and this message is likely designed to help them pull themselves out of the depths of that valley.  However, I believe it is a misplaced idea.  The answer to a poor self-image is not to try to love yourself more, but instead to allow God to love you more.  To gain more confidence, you need to embrace how God loves you; how God has given to you out of that love; even more so how He gave everything for you.  On top of all that, God has a purpose for your life and a mission for you to accomplish.  The Creator of the universe desires a relationship with you, and that makes you incredibly worthwhile and important.

Today, I’m a successful industrial salesperson.  I am comfortable speaking or preaching in front of sizeable audiences.  I am confident in accepting leadership roles and responsibility.  I can tell you that the pudgy, self-conscious, socially awkward kid of 1974 didn’t grow out of that by being more FLY.  He did it by adopting the priorities of JOY.

Jesus first.  Others second.  Yourself last.

I’d say we need more of that….wouldn’t you?