Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Using Simple Words by Greg York

Using Simple Words


"Yes." "Yes." "Yes." "Yes."

—Lance Armstrong, in an interview aired on January 17, 2013, when asked, in succession, whether he ever took banned substances, whether he doped through blood transfusions, whether he used other banned substances such as testosterone, and whether he took banned substances during all seven of his Tour de France victories.


"I lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer."

—Manti Te'o, in a pre-Heisman ceremony interview on December 8, 2012, two days after he now says he learned the girlfriend had never existed

We’ve recently been treated to two national shows of deception, thanks to Lance Armstrong’s confession to years of deception and denial, and the discovery that Manti Te’o’s late girlfriend never actually existed.  And we still don’t know whether or not Te’o is a colossally deceptive young man or a colossally gullible young man.


These two cases seem to just beg to be treated as “morality plays,” with a neat little conclusion tagged on the end, some moral for us to all emulate.


The problem with that is that we could all walk away feeling really good about ourselves – after all, I’ve never used PEDs during a big sermon series and I have actually seen most of the people I have close relationships with at least once.


That’s too easy.


There are, in fact, valuable lessons illustrated for us in these events.  But they might not be so easy for us to hear and feel good about.


First, in the case of Lance Armstrong’s blatant, bullying lying for years about his use of PEDs…


Listening to his interview with Oprah, he offered the most tread worn, lame excuse of them all: “Everyone else was doing it.”


The reason I know it’s a tread worn, lame excuse is that I’ve used it myself as a rationale for words or behaviors before.


To his credit, if I understood him correctly, what caused him to “come clean” and reverse years of angry denials was when it hit him that his teenage son was one of his staunchest defenders.  His son completely believed the lies and denials.


Apparently, it was not the publication of overwhelming evidence, the sworn testimony of former friends, colleagues, and co-conspirators that was the tipping point for Armstrong, but an epiphany that he was crafting a legacy for his son that would include deceiving his own flesh and blood.  Finally, that was too much. Finally, he realized that his real legacy was not in victories at the Tour de France or even in using his celebrity to do charitable good (which he has certainly done).  His real legacy was in his son.


I’m not sure that’s a bad reason to come clean.


And it calls me to ask, what will be the “true” legacy my sons inherit from me?  Will it be substantive or will it be merely an image?  Which legacy do I want them to have?


For the sake of others, especially those closest to me, am I willing to be a person who tells the truth and who lives the truth?


Second, in the case of Manti Te’o’s situation, whether he in the final analysis he is deceiver or deceived…


Let’s say we accept Te’o’s current iteration of events, that he only lied about the relationship at the end.  It all smells to me then like a bad prank that spun out of control.  It was supposed to be a private humiliation, but it went “viral” and now what do you do?  Have to keep spinning the tale, can’t back off now.  Lies begetting lies.


Or, let’s say we assume Te’o is involved from the get go, and that it’s all about creating Heisman buzz.  Then it all smells to me like…well, let’s just say it completely stinks if that’s the case.  You’ve got a case of words creating an alternative reality, a world (complete with loving, understanding, globe-trotting, leukemia-fighting girlfriend) that otherwise does not exist.  But because of mere words, many were led to act as if it did.


Either way, what a parable about the power of words!


And it’s precisely because of that legacy-shaping, world-creating power of words that Jesus calls us to be careful with words.  To be people whose words (and lives) have integrity:


…you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.”  But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5.33-37).


Simply tell the truth, Jesus says.  And just tell it simply.


That’s where we get into trouble.  We forget that little statement there at the end: anything more than this comes from the evil one.  Just keep your words true.  Simply true.


We could feel some sense of moral superiority if we ended this by asking: Are you listening Lance Armstrong?  Are you listening Manti Te’o?


But that’s too easy, and besides, we can’t control other people, only ourselves.  So we need to end this way:


Are you listening to Jesus Southeastern Church?  Are our words simply true?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Revisiting the Great Commission by Mike DeCamp

Revisiting the Great Commission
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:18b-20—Jesus

I don’t know about you, but I was so very encouraged as I watched the baptisms of Jason and Tanya Larrabee last week.  Their baptisms on top of the baptisms of the three young people in the few weeks before just iced the cake and made me feel like we are truly making a difference in some people’s lives.  And, isn’t that what it's really all about…the reason we “continue to meet together with glad and sincere hearts”… the reason we develop our various ministries and hire our various ministers and hold our various classes and worship times…don’t we want to make a difference in the lives of folks around us?  Don’t we want to make a difference in each other’s lives?

The scripture I’m quoting above is known as “The Great Commission.”  It was the last great set of instructions that Jesus gave his followers just before he ascended back to Heaven.  It has been the call to action for His church for the many centuries that followed; right up to the present day.  “Go.”  “Go make disciples.”  “Go make disciples of all nations.”  “Baptize them.” 
And then, to paraphrase: “Teach them to GO.” 

It seems to me that it is time for Southeastern to revisit that call.

In early December, we had our financial presentation.  Numbers.  Ministries.  Giving.  Budgets.  We listened to a bunch of stuff that could make our eyes fog over.  However, to all our joy, near the end of the service, a young woman came forward to be baptized.  To close out that service, I stood up for the closing prayer, but before I prayed I pointed at the baptistry and said: “That is why we have our budgets.”  My heart was warmed by the enthusiastic response that the church gave as I heard “Amen!” being shouted in the room.

I know our congregation loves to see lives changed.  I know we want to regularly use that rectangular pool of water behind the curtain.  I know we believe in evangelism.

We DO believe in The Great Commission! 

I just know we do!

The question really comes down to What are we each willing to do about it?   Are you willing to put yourself out there?  Are you willing to involve yourself in the process of helping a friend, co-worker, neighbor, family member, or even a stranger to find their walk with God?

Or, do we only believe in Evangelism by Osmosis?

Evangelism is a dirty-hands kind of thing.  You have to get down into it with people.  You have to be willing to invest yourself.  You have to challenge folks to be open with their lives and their hearts, and apply the scriptures to themselves to bring about personal change…and it really helps when you model that for them.  (And, that modeling starts with the leadership.  We, the elders and ministers need to challenge ourselves to model this for the church!  We need to get our hands dirty too.)  But, I get ahead of myself….

Evangelism really all starts with an invitation.

We have to be willing to invite someone.  Invite them to church.  Invite them to study God’s Word.  Or, maybe just invite them to be our friends.  Be outward.  Be loving.  Be giving.  Share the faith that God has provided us.  Can we do that?  Will you do that?  I think that was what Mike & Lisa Fleetwood did with the Larrabees.

Imitate and repeat!

But, let’s initiate this with the question of desire.  Do you want to help change someone’s life for God?

DO you?


If you do, and in response to this article, I want to challenge you to find your nearest elder or minister and tell them so. 

Walk right up TODAY and say:

“I want Southeastern to evangelize, and I want to help.”

I hope to hear from you!


We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  2 Corinthians 5:20—Apostle Paul

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Read the Bible Through by Craig Hill

Last Spring in our family room in our house in Carmel, I sat with the other elders and the ministers of Southeastern church of Christ.  We decided we’d write these articles to share our personal approach to being devoted to God in love, which is the first part of our Vision Statement[1].

This past Fall the same group met at Frank Black’s house and we decided we need to meet with people and ask them how they can help us accomplish the Vision Statement.

So about 3 weeks ago I met at Panera Bread with a young man from our church to get to know him better and to ask him how he can help us accomplish the Vision.  He wanted to be trained better on the Word of God.  He said, “I don’t think I can evangelize effectively without knowing the Bible better.  What if I run into an atheist and they know the Bible better than me.  I’d like to know the Bible as well as I know what I am studying at college.  I’m going to know that material authoritatively.  I’ll be an expert.”  Our meeting for coffee ended up being a 3 hour visit.  It was great.

So we talked about the best way to go about that.  He decided that he should read the Bible cover to cover this year, and he wanted to do it with someone.  I volunteered.  So I now have the pleasure of being committed to reading a portion of the Bible each week: 7 days worth out of a daily study Bible.  And I have the pleasure of getting to know him better.  We meet up each Saturday at 10am.  I haven’t read the Bible cover to cover in about 10 years.

So far we are 2 for 2.  That is, we have met both of the first two Saturdays so far this year.  We hope to keep it going all year and finish a complete read through the Bible in 2013.

The first week we ended up meeting for over 2 hours.  We got it down to 1 ½ hours today.  We are trying to get it down to a one hour study each week to review what we’ve read in the Bible, because we don’t want to take so long that we avoid meeting up on Saturdays.

It’s been great because we are both competitive guys and we don’t want to fail to accomplish our reading each week.  And it’s been great because we learn from each other.  Like Proverbs says, “One man sharpens another like iron sharpens iron.”  He’s reading scripture he hasn’t ever read.  I’m remembering facts and concepts that I’d forgotten.

What are your plans for helping us, or you individually, accomplish our vision?  Think about it, pray about it, write it down, and take action.  This young man I am studying with is thoughtful, sincere, and is willing to dedicate himself to do what he thinks is necessary to help him be the Christian he wants to be.  I encourage you to do the same.

[1] Our Vision Statement: Devoted to God in love, Trained by Christ for life, Led by the Spirit to serve.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Welcome to a Heart of Singing by Mike DeCamp

The following is the "Welcome & Shepherd's Prayer" message that I presented to the church on January 6, 2013.

1.        Good morning everyone!  It is great to be together on this fine morning to worship our Lord.

2.       Please fill out an attendance card.  If you are visiting with us, we welcome you wholeheartedly, and there is a special card for you in the slots on the pews or chairs in front of you.  Also, if you are here for the first time, please stop by the Welcome Center for more information and a tasty gift.

3.       Brothers and sisters, I have some special thoughts to share with you this morning as we begin our worship.  It has been so encouraging and inspiring to witness the young people who have been baptized of late.  Three out of the last four weeks, we have been able to enjoy the reunion of young souls with their creator.  Isn’t that a marvelous thing?  Isn’t it both inspiring and encouraging to us?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could witness those reunions every week?  Perhaps even every day?  It can be done, you know.  I have been in churches where that has happened.  But, for us to do it, it will take some intentional changes on each of our parts.  We will have to do some things differently, and we will each have to make some personal decisions to change.  I want to share now about one of those steps or changes that we can make…a change we could even make this morning…that will put us on that road.

4.       A few weeks ago, Ray Carter shared with me that his girlfriend, Melissa had been brought to tears by Craig Hill and I.  It was in a good way.  She was inspired.  The thing was, all Craig and I had done was to briefly look at one another, smile, and sing to one another during our worship time.  She was sitting way up top and we were way down there, but she saw it and it inspired her.  YOU SEE, THE WAY WE SING CAN HAVE AN IMPACT ON THOSE AROUND US!  You can make a difference in someone else’s life by how you give your heart to your praise!

5.       Last year, my daughter brought me a book home from Harding University called Pilgrim Heart by Darryl Tippens.  There is a passage in the chapter on singing that I want to share. Chapter 12, Singing: The Way to Heaven’s Door.

In her highly original autobiography, Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott tells the story of how she came to faith.  In a period of despair, when she spent long, lonely days in a fog of alcohol, speed, and cocaine, spiraling towards destruction, something utterly unexpected occurred.  During this dark time she visited a flea market in Marin City, California; and there she passed by a small, sad, ramshackle church from which she heard the most remarkable music.  She called it “glorious noise.”  At the time, Lamott was hostile to Christianity.  She could not bear to hear a sermon, but the music drew her in, and she returned for more in the following weeks. The singing, she said,

was furry and resonant, coming from everyone’s very heart.  There was no sense of performance or judgment, only that the music was breath and food.  Something inside me that was stiff and rotting would feel soft and tender.  Somehow the singing wore down all the boundaries and distinctions that kept me so isolated.  Sitting there, standing with them to sing, sometimes so shaky and sick that I felt like I might tip over, I felt bigger than myself, like I was being taken care of, tricked into coming back to life.

One Sunday in April, 1984, Lamott attended the church again.  She stayed for the sermon that day, which she found unimpressive, but the music was mesmerizing:

The last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape.  It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling—and it washed over me.

According to Lamott, “it was the music that pulled me in and split me wide open.”  That day she decided she would become a Christian.

·         Primary passage taken from:  Pilgrim Heart—The Way of Jesus in Everyday Life by Darryl Tippens.  Leafwood Publishers.  Copyright 2006

·         Anne Lamott passages used by Pilgrim Heart taken from:  Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott.  (New York: Pantheon, 1999)

You see, by singing from the INSIDE out, we can touch people’s hearts.  We can help them be inspired to make changes that otherwise they would ignore.  The heartfelt joining of our voices in praise to God can break through the hardened casings of a troubled person’s soul.

6.       I have some challenges for you to consider.  When was the last time YOUR singing was of such heart-level intensity that it could make a difference in someone’s life?

a.       Young people—Teens—Young Adults:  Lead us with your enthusiasm!  Sing out!  Sing strong!

b.      Older folks—Folks who have been here 30, 40, 50 years or more—You are our anchors in the faith.  Show us how a lifetime of faithful service can overflow into a joyful heart of praise!

c.       Those of you in between—Throw off the inhibitions, those fears that are keeping your mouth quiet!  Throw off the distractions!  Throw off the lukewarm blanket of comfortable religion!  And give your heart to God in song!  If nothing else, make a joyful noise!

A Congregational Prayer—Adapted from Psalm 51

Please consider and pray along with these words.  At the end, I will say “and the church said.”  If at that point you are moved to commit to the sentiments of this prayer, then I want you to say a resounding “AMEN” out loud, together, as a congregation.

Have mercy on us, oh God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out our transgressions.  Wash away all our failings and cleanse us from our sin.

For we know our transgressions, and our sins are always in front of us.  Against you we have sinned and done evil in your sight; so you would be right and justified in a calling us guilty.

It seems like we have been sinful all of our lives, from the time we were very little, but still you have desired our faithfulness from our earliest days.  You have taught us spiritual wisdom from our birth.

Cleanse us and we will be clean; wash us and we will be whiter than snow.

Father, let us hear joy and gladness; let our crushed hopes be turned to joyful expectations.

Hide your face from our sins, and blot out our failures.

Create in us a pure heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within us.  Do not give up on us, but infuse your Spirit within us.

Restore to us the joy of your salvation!  Grant us a willing spirit to keep us going!

Then, we will teach the world of your ways, so that sinners…your prodigal children…will turn back to you.

Do not let us be responsible for anyone’s spiritual death, oh God, dear God our Savior, but let our tongues sing of your righteousness. 

Open our lips, Lord, and our mouths will declare your praise!  You do not delight in mere money, or we would be satisfied with weekly giving.  You do not take pleasure in our outward, physical gifts.  But our true gift to you is our broken pride, Lord.  It is our broken and humble heart, dear God, that you truly love.

May it please you to prosper Southeastern, to build up the spiritual walls of this congregation.

Then, you will delight in our true sacrifices, our acts of spiritual righteousness, in our offerings given from the heart, and ultimately the souls that we will present at your altar.

In Jesus name,

And the church said:  AMEN!

And now, let us SING!  Let us sing to make a difference!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Grace the Final Frontier by Mike DeCamp

Grace the Final Frontier

If you happen to be a fan of the Star Trek franchises, then you’ll recognize the following phrases: “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise” and “…to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before!”

I discovered Star Trek when I was in middle school. I loved the adventure, the mystery of space, and the little social lessons that were mixed in to every episode. As a young man, I imagined that I was James T. Kirk, the invincible captain who wins every battle of wits, every fight, and always got the girl (even if she did happen to be green). However, I think what I loved most about Star Trek was where it took me. Through imagination, it took me beyond the realm of the normal and carried me off to someplace amazing with every installment.

I discovered something else in middle school. Church, and by extension the concept of Grace. Church I understood pretty quickly, but Grace is something I’m still coming to understand. Grace to me, is the real final frontier!

Grace is an amazing thing. It is what allows us to boldly go before the throne of God. It is what puts an end to the judgment that awaits us because of our own shortcomings. It is the overriding concept that brings us into a relationship with God Himself. He thought it up. He brought it about. He planned all of history so that at just the right time we could be brought close to Him through that trail He blazed with His own blood.

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t think we really understand it. First of all, I think it is quite impossible for human beings to completely understand the full height, depth, and breadth of God’s Grace. It is beyond our reasoning. It is a God thing. But, even further, I think we have trouble even just accepting it. We keep messing it up! (At this point, I’m asking myself why I’m even trying to express my own thoughts about it. I’m bound to be wrong in some respect.) On the one hand, we take it too far and pretend that nothing we do or say matters because of God’s grace. In that view, we can sin all we want and God is just going to look the other way. In essence, we’re saying: “Go ahead. Spit in His face. He won’t mind.” On the other end of the spectrum, we better be awful careful because if we aren’t just the most perfect Christian, we will be condemned for falling short of God’s Grace. We put more and more spiritual starch on our lives until we’re so stiff that we can’t enjoy even the simple act of worship. Further, if we promote Grace in people’s lives, then nothing will get done because nobody will feel any obligation to work. Both views are extreme, and I think both are out of line with the POINT of Grace, which is a RELATIONSHIP with a FATHER that LOVES us and has orchestrated all of history to allow us to have a relationship with Him.

It is interesting to me that we can think we understand it, and still miss it. When I was a young Christian, I used to read my bible every night before I went to bed. I enjoyed it. I wanted to do it. I loved God and I wanted to know about Him and what He wanted of me. I didn’t feel an obligation to do this. I just wanted to. However, over the years, something changed. People began to impose on me an EXPECTATION that I needed to read my bible everyday in order to be “right with God.” There is no command of scripture to read it everyday. This was a rule made by man, and its effect on me was significant. Soon, what I did everyday out of a sense of wonder, joy, and love for God became drudgery. I had to do it. I was expected to do it. Soon, I didn’t want to do it at all. When I moved away from a relationship based on Grace to a sense of legalistic obligation, the joy of being a Christian began to disappear.

When we really embrace His Grace, then we are motivated by God’s love rather than a fearful expectation of His wrath.

Grace is what makes us able to stand before God with confidence despite our sinful shortcomings. It brings salvation through Christ to the murderer and the liar, the adulterer and the thief, and to the pride-ridden and the hateful. We all find ourselves somewhere in the list of sins. If you say otherwise, then you deceive yourself.

Another interesting thing: The very concept that most religious folks would say allows the murderer and rapist to stand forgiven before the Father in heaven somehow doesn’t apply to the person who disagrees with them on some point of doctrine.

What if Grace does trump doctrine?

Roll that one around for a while.

None of us have it all together. We don’t walk around with a perfect understanding of God. We all fall short doctrinally in some respect. But, somehow we seem to think it is okay to make ourselves the standard by which God’s Grace is applied. As long as a person’s doctrine is aligned with our own, then they are good, but if they disagree with us, then they are in danger of being lost. Who do we think we are? Who died and left us in charge. You know what….NO ONE! Someone did die though,…and He’s still in charge.

I don’t know where the lines are drawn. I don’t know how far God’s Grace will be extended. I have a suspicion that it is farther than we really understand. That said, it really isn’t my business, is it? Drawing lines is God’s role. The Judgment Seat still belongs to Someone else. It’s not my chair, and I’m not going to sit down in it.

Grace, is the final Frontier! We can find new life and boldly go where no man or woman could go before! I know, it’s a cheesy illustration, but hey, give me some Grace!