Friday, October 26, 2012

Can You Hear Me Now? by Dale Robinson

Can You Hear Me Now?

Dale Robinson

Your approach matters. *

Remember when, as a child, you wanted something?  Over time you learned by trial and error which parent to ask, when to ask, how to ask, and how much to ask for.  

As an adult, isn’t it much the same? Whether you are talking to your child, your spouse, your boss or your neighbor, you still have to consider how best to approach them with a delicate subject. Being right isn’t enough.  The approach often makes all the difference. Choose the wrong approach, and you create unnecessary resistance. Choose the right approach, and your audience will be more receptive to the message.

“Your approach is as important as the message itself.” This point was hammered repeatedly last week during a one-day preaching conference I attended in Nashville.  The “Preach Better Sermons” conference was focused on helping ministers better connect with and engage our audiences. 

Of course, content matters. God working through the message of the gospel is the power that transforms lives (Romans 1:16-17). But as his representatives, we have an obligation to consider also our approach to those we are trying to reach for Christ.

Notice the interplay between Paul’s goal of reaching as many people as possible (“win”), with his willingness to adjust his approach (“became”):  

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. (1 Corinthians 9:19-22, emphasis mine) 

We were challenged at the conference with a number of tough questions: 

“Does your current approach support your goal of preaching, or work against it?”

“Would you be willing to change, or even abandon, your approach in order to win all possible?”

“Who is helping you become a better preacher?”

Yikes! That’s a lot to think about.  But I have come to realize that the message I heard last week isn’t as much about preaching as it is about living.  After all, we’re all ministers, aren’t we? So, even as I wrestle with the implications of the conference as a public speaker, allow me to reframe the questions for your consideration: 

“Does your current approach support your goal of living (for Christ), or work against it?”

“Would you be willing to change, or even abandon, your approach, in order to win all possible?”

“Who is the person helping you become a better minister?”

You see, approach really does matter. That’s why Christians must be concerned with living in such a way that “no one will malign the word of God,” but “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Titus 2:5, 10)

What’s stopping you from making the necessary adjustments to capture the attention of those around you? There’s only one answer. It’s the third word in the question: 


*Andy Stanley shared this principle (and illustration) at the conference, taken from his latest book, Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Faith of a Child by Chris Kirby

The Faith of a Child

As some of you know by now, Jill and I are expecting another baby in May.  While we are only about three months along, it is already exciting (and intimidating) to think about the way our lives will change in a big way a few months from now. 

We already have two kids who fill our house with craziness, laughs, stubbornness, feistiness, tears, and moments that are completely unexpected.  Jack and Tatum are different in a whole lot of ways, so that makes the thought of adding yet another personality to the mix a little overwhelming at times.  But, they love, and even like, each other more than I could have ever hoped for and I’m sure they are going to be fantastic siblings to our new baby.   

One of the cool things that we are witnesses of right now is how quickly Jack is learning to write, draw, and express himself more fully.  The other morning he did so in a really powerful way.  Last Friday night before bed he told us that he was going to have a “Praise Time” with his stuffed animals first thing on Saturday morning.  We thought that was a great idea.  Nothing is better than starting your day with Jesus.  A side perk is that would also mean a few extra minutes of sleep for mommy and daddy!

Well, Saturday morning Jack came and got us up first thing.  However, he did return to his room for a “Praise Time”.  During that time, he put his maturing writing/spelling skills to good work and wrote out this awesome prayer to God: 

Talk about a powerful moment for a dad.  It is so inspiring to see your five year old calling God his savior and telling him that He rocks today!   It brings me incredible joy to know that he is willing to use his abilities to honor God as they blossom and develop. 

Every time we sit down at the table, Tatum insists on praying as a family.  She sticks her little hands out for us to grab and says “bay”.  After the prayer, she gets really excited about pronouncing “me-men” very enthusiastically (unless of course she is really hungry and is already stuffing her face with mac-n-cheese).  On the nights that she’s really “spiritual”, we may go through this process 3 or 4 times in the same meal.  One night I think we prayed 6 times.  I realize that Tatum doesn’t really comprehend what we are doing, but how awesome is it that she is developing a habit that will help her love God in her life? 

My hope is that as parents, Jill and I will be able to create an environment in which our kids feel like they can constantly express their love for God in different ways and help them grow in their faith to look more and more like Jesus every day.  At the same time, I really hope that our kids’ fresh love for God and enthusiasm rubs off on us and keeps us full of life and joy for the Lord!  May we never stop growing in our Father and using what we have to honor him.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thoughts on the Death of My Friend by Terry Gardner

Thoughts on the death of my friend, Julia Schroeder (1961-2002)

Ten years later

By Terry Gardner


Julia was the daughter-in-law of Angie Schroeder who was for several years a member at Southeastern.  Julia died of breast cancer almost ten years ago.  At today’s Colts-Packer football game the focus was on breast cancer awareness and the color of choice was pink.  This stirred thoughts within my spirit of my friend and of ten years ago when I tried to speak words of truth and comfort at her funeral.


Solomon tells us “It is better to go to a house of mourning, than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.”  Eccl. 7:2.  The wise man would rather be with us at a funeral than at the most wonderful party.  Why?  Because it makes us THINK.  It forces us to reflect upon our own mortality and death.  When reflecting thus, I examine my own life and I know that as Julia is I soon will be.  What were the qualities in Julia’s life that were refined by the trials of life and glistened like gold in the noonday sun?  Four qualities come to mind.


First, Julia was a very direct person.  You did not need to guess at what she was thinking nor study to uncover some hidden meaning.  She said what she meant and she meant what she said.  American culture does not often appreciate directness.  We want it sugar coated and we are often so fearful of hurting someone’s feelings that we do not tell them the truth … even when their very souls are at risk.  John the Baptist saw the religious leaders of his day come to his baptism and said this to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matt. 3:7).  This did not mean the Julia was unloving, anymore than John the Baptist or Jesus were unloving.  But love requires that I am direct in calling people to repentance and the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that there is NO SIN that God will not forgive immediately if we will repent and turn from it.


Second, Julia was a good student of the Scriptures, the Bible, God’s Word.  Her faith in God was complete and it rested, not upon the faith of some one else, but it was her own faith developed from a careful study of the Scriptures and the application of Scriptural principles to her life.  The Apostle Paul tells us that the people of Berea were nobler than those of Thessalonica because they searched the Scriptures daily to see if what they were being taught was true.  Julia understood that, “the Scriptures … bear witness” of Jesus himself.  (June 5:39).  Paul tells us that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.  (Rom. 10:17).  Most people claiming to be religious, claiming to be Christians, have no real knowledge of what God’s Word teaches.  The idea has gained currency that it matters not what you believe, just so you are sincere in your belief.  Such a view would place a premium upon ignorance and it is not taught anywhere in the Bible.  If I was sincere in my belief that what Bernie Madoff was selling was a good buy and I demonstrated my sincerity with large deposits, would that sincerity save me from financial ruin?  If I married a woman who solemnly promised to love me in sickness and health and she was not true to me, would the sincerity of my belief save me from ruin?  Yet in matters of religion, we want to think that sincerity will save us from our lack of interest in studying the Scriptures for ourselves … too often we listen to preachers, pastors, priests who have their own agendas when God has plainly told us what we need to do.  Jesus, in referring to the religious leaders of his day, called them blind guides … and added, “they are blind guides of the blind.  And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”  (Matt. 15:14).  The sincerity of those following the blind matter not one bit!


Third, Julia was a sacrificial person.  She had enormous talent and ability.  She could have been successful in many professions.  However, she chose to work in the field of special education.  This allowed her to help those in distress and maximized time with her own family.  Julia was supportive of her husband through many jobs and career changes.  This included a move to Lexington so that her husband could further his education and career.  Many women of such strong disposition and ability would not have been willing to sacrifice in such a way for their family.  At Julia’s funeral her husband told me, that Julia was a “pillar of support … she was my rock.”  Julia gladly sacrificed for her husband and for her beloved son, Zane.


Fourth, Julia was prepared to Meet God.  Finally, Julia was prepared to meet God.  In Amos 4:12-13, the prophet wrote, “Therefore, thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I shall do this to you.  Prepare to meet your God, O Israel.  For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind and declares to man what are His thoughts, He who makes dawn into darkness and treads on the high places of the earth.  The LORD God of hosts is His Name.”  The challenge to prepare to meet God is battle imagery.  By Israel’s conduct God had been challenged—and God returns the challenge to Israel to come out into the field of battle and meet him on the things that constituted Israel’s rebellion and defiance.  It means before deciding to engage in battle, take a look at the opponent, estimate the opposition—his name the “LORD God of hosts.”  The designation the God of hosts means the God of battle.  The word hosts in the Old Testament meant armies; The God of Hosts is the God of Armies.  So it is a military imagery; it is the prophet’s appeal to Israel not to array themselves against God, not to get on the opposite side from God, not to fight against God.  The lesson is the same to us; it means the same thing and has the same application today—that is, never get on the opposite side from God.  After all, God’s power is without limit and “The LORD God of hosts is His name.”  He is the God of battle; it is terrible mistake to choose God for an opponent or in any situation to be on the opposite side from God--- all-powerful, all knowing and present in all places at the same time.   The God in whom we live and breathe and have our very being.


Ten years ago I did not say good-bye to my dear sister and friend, but until we meet again.  I said “till we meet again” much sooner than I wished as she was just 41 years old, but as Foy E. Wallace, Jr., reminds us, “It is not the length of the life that necessarily counts.  It is not the length of the story that makes it worth reading.  The greatest stories ever written are the parables of Christ; and the greatest life that was ever lived was the life of the Son of God—just thirty-three years.  It is how we live, not how long we live, that counts in the great Day of Reckoning, for ‘it is appointed unto man once to die, and after that the Judgment.’” 


Julia Lynn [nee Martin] Schroeder was born 9 July 1961 and died on 29 November 2002.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Role to Play by Greg York

A Role to Play


One of the things that came with being around Michelle was volleyball (six-person, indoor variety). First as an exceptional player, then as a truly gifted, award-winning coach, her association with volleyball at the collegiate, high school, and club levels has made volleyball a constant part of our lives. Now, I’m absolutely not an athlete—I never had more than three speeds (slow, slower, and slowest) and for some reason my brain works even slower than its normal snail’s pace on a field/court. So, my knowledge of volleyball was virtually nil when I started going to watch Michelle’s matches. I’m still not that knowledgeable (slow learner, remember?), but over the years and the matches too numerous to count, I’ve come to appreciate many aspects of the game of volleyball that go beyond scoring points and winning matches. I’ll just highlight three…


For one, everybody on the court has to contribute for the team to be successful. It’s not an option. On every play, if you are on the court, you have a task that is yours to perform.


Every player, directed by the coach, has a responsibility on every play.


For instance: If the other team is on the attack, when their outside hitter goes up to hit the ball, the middle blocker needs to move over to join the right side player to put up a block. Maybe they don’t block the attack back, maybe they don’t even get a touch on the ball, but to avoid their block, that opponent has to hit away from the block. There is now another player in the back row that is in the position where that hitter will most likely have to hit it if she is to avoid the block. Another player has moved into position in case the opponent tries to “tip” the ball just over the block. Another player has moved to a position adjacent to the block in case the blockers get a touch on the ball, but not sufficient to block it back into the opponents’ court. My description may not be technically precise (remember…slow learner…), but it serves to set up this question:  Which is the more important defender on that play? Trick question: Everyone on the court has to do her part for the court to be properly defended, to keep the opponents’ attack from scoring.


We could flip that scenario to a play on offense, but the point remains the same: on any given play, for that play to be successful, everyone on the court has a role to play, everyone on the court contributes, even if they do not touch the ball.


It seems so easy in other sports for “stars” to dominate, and there are stars in volleyball, to be sure, but the nature of the game is such that, for instance, a star hitter has standing “behind” her on every play a setter and a passer who did their jobs so that she was in a position to get the kill that brings the fans to their feet.


How many of us Christ-followers feel responsible to contribute in some way to the health of this church in our efforts to be an outpost of God’s kingdom? How many of us spend too much time worried about how everyone else is doing? (There is no spiritual gift of “spectating,” by the way, and no listing in the New Testament for a gift of “griping and criticizing.”) How many of us, if we’re unsure where we can contribute seek out someone in leadership to help us find a place to begin?


Second, a successful volleyball team is deeply, emotionally invested in each other and in the success of the team.


But when I use the words “success” and “successful,” I’m not just talking about wins and titles. Those are hardly the only standards by which success is measured. Wins and titles do not usually come to teams that are not sold out to do their best, but neither do some more subtle things come to “casual” teams: discipline, the ability to sacrifice for the sake of a greater good, the ability to work well with others toward a goal.


And when you are deeply, emotionally invested, you value the contribution of everyone on the team and you seek to help them be successful in making that contribution.


As Christ-followers, how emotionally invested are we in this project God has called us into—his kingdom, his rule over this world? Is this just another aspect of our lives, or is it at the core of our being, the reason for all else that we do?


Third, over the course of a match, a player who keeps working, who keeps focus, can find a way to make an important contribution.


One recent match found Michelle’s Heritage Christian Eagles in a tight contest with a team that had beaten them earlier in the season in embarrassing fashion. Varsity matches are best 3-out-of-5 sets, the first four sets played to 25 points (have to win by 2), the final set only goes to 15 (again, have to win by 2), making each point of great value. This match went into the fifth set. Intense is an understatement.


One player had had a less than stellar night—a number of passing and hitting errors littered the stats sheet. But, that would not be the final word. In a long rally at a critical moment in that intense fifth set, she’d already had a couple of digs, but then a set came sailing out towards her, a bit wide and off the net. The kind that all night she’d had a tendency to hit long. But not this time. Buried it. Middle of the court. Point Eagles. Momentum Eagles. And a few points later, match Eagles. Now the night is defined not by the rough patch, but by a critical contribution at a crucial moment that made a big difference.


And for us Christ-followers, isn’t the real issue not those rough spots where I messed up “back there,” but how I’m looking to represent Christ well where I am right now, in this moment? Doesn’t looking back just keep our focus off the good we could be part of right here, right now? “…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes in Philippians 3.13b-14.


I’m sure most of you are way ahead of me, but I’ll just go ahead and point out anyway that all of this is incredibly consistent with what Paul tells that fractured group of early Christ-followers in Corinth. 1 Corinthians 12-13 called them—and calls us—to see “church” as a community in which we each have a role to play, a contribution to make, and Christ-imitating love to give. Maybe we could sum it up this way: Working hard to make our contribution is an act of Christ-imitating love.


What’s your contribution? What’s your level of commitment to this “team”? What’s your focus?