Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Battles of Encounter

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

-- Ephesians 6.10-12
In the history of warfare, there is something called a “battle of encounter.” That is, there are times (especially in the days before sophisticated intelligence gathering) when great armies collide unexpectedly and have not had time fully to prepare offensive or defensive strategies. The most significant battle on U.S. soil is such a “battle of encounter.”  On July 1, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by the lesser known General George Meade, collided at the little Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg.  Lee had invaded northern territory, and Meade was attempting to lure Lee into battle a little south of the Pennsylvania state line in Maryland. It did not work out that way as advance parties of both armies encountered each there at Gettysburg.
In such a situation, everyone has to think fast; everyone has to react on instinct. Battles of encounter tend to foster many moments of improvisation and acting “in the moment.” Such battles in many cases start unexpectedly and continue to present the unexpected.

Part of what turned the battle of Gettysburg into a Union victory (and turned the war in the Union’s favor in the East) was a series of people thinking well—and acting responsibly based on their training and what was needed—at the critical, unanticipated moments of encounter.

Here is but one critical example:

On July 2, the second day of the battle, the Army of the Potomac’s Chief Engineer, a man named Gouverneur Warren, noticed that the Rebel attack had found a lightly defended spot on the extreme left end of the Union line, at a place called Little Round Top. If the Rebel attack succeeded in taking Little Round Top, they would be in a position to “roll up” the Union line; in other words, battle over. It would be a resounding Confederate victory. Warren immediately sent one aide to Gen. Meade to let him know the situation and then sent another aide to find troops to reinforce Little Round Top (in a sense, he was acting without authorization…but was certainly in line with what Gen. Meade would want). Warren’s second messenger found a Corps commander who then sent out a courier to one his division commanders to see if he could help. That courier shortly ran into a brigade commanded by a Colonel named Strong Vincent. The courier told him who he was looking for and why. Immediately Vincent, realizing the gravity of the situation, told the courier, “I’ll take my brigade there,” bypassing the chain of command. “I will take the responsibility,” he emphatically said to the surprised courier. Vincent then led his brigade just in time to Little Round Top, into fierce and bloody and ultimately successful fighting. He led them into one of the many moments like that at Gettysburg that may well have saved the Union. (You never hear about Col. Vincent in the history books, do you? Actually, not much about Gen. Warren, either. And yet, without the initiative of these two men who acted responsible and instinctively in the moment…)

Blah, blah, blah with the obscure history lesson, Greg; is there a point to this?


As the reading from Ephesians at the top of this entry notes, we, too, are in a war. And, we will have many battles of encounter with the enemy. There will be moments when we will have to react based on our training and developed instincts.

How will we perform in our “battles of encounter” with the enemy, with sin? And those “battles of encounter” are not “ifs,” they are “whens.” They will come, both in the form of temptations to sin and in the form of opportunities to serve God’s purposes.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of “…the mature… those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5.14).
Are we well-trained?
Certainly this is about how we do morally – do we do what is right when faced with temptations to sin?

Do we get better at doing what is good because we practice doing good? Are the “habits of our heart,” the things we have learned to do almost instinctively, habits consistent with God’s character?
But being well-trained is also about how we do missionally – do we act when we are in a position to put in a good word about Jesus? Do we act responsibly when we are in a position to represent Jesus? Do we have to wait for someone to give us permission to talk about the difference Jesus Christ makes in our lives, or do we take on ourselves the responsibility to do that? Are we prepared to serve God’s purposes at a moment’s notice?
Seems like that is what Peter is getting at in 1 Peter 3.15b-16a: Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence 

Always be ready.” Not sure I’m always ready. What’s my excuse for that? A lot of times it’s that I’m just not paying attention, just not expecting opportunity.  

I’m pretty good at coming up with ways to “seize the moment”…after the fact. What I need to get better at is seeing and acting on the opportunity to do good in the moment. 

This blog is primarily supposed to be place where Southeastern’s leaders have a chance to talk about spiritual growth. So, here’s my point for that purpose: Maybe our spiritual maturity, individually and as a community of believers, is measured by our ability to act well in the moment, whether to avoid sin or to seize an opportunity to serve God’s purposes. 

By that measure, the measure of my “battles of encounter,” how mature am I really?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What Does it Mean to be a Friend?-Health Ministry Newsletter-June 2014 by Lisa Fleetwood

What does it mean to be a friend?
A happy, healthy, and fulfilled life must include friends. Some people have a propensity to make friends easily and therefore they have many who they count as close friends. Other dispositions are more reserved, carefully selecting only a few for their inner circle. Regardless of your personality, friends are an essential part of a Christian’s life. How do we know that? Because Jesus was our example. Jesus had much to do in his short 33 years of life, yet he took the time to make deep, personal connections with a group of men and women. He spent his last years bonding with his friends as they walked and talked, as they sang, and ate. He loved them, cared for them, taught them, and inspired them. He admonished them, challenged, and encouraged them. We know that he would often be astounded by them and was occasionally disappointed with them, but was a loyal companion throughout. What might we learn from his example and other inspirations from God’s word?

Friends tell it like it is (even when we don’t want to hear it). Jesus was on mission for God and his disciples signed up for the trip. It hadn’t been easy and things were about to get much worse. Jesus shared with his friends some of what was to happen to him. He wanted to prepare them and no doubt, wanted their support as he neared the day he would be sacrificed. Peter; however, became angry and told Jesus, “Never, Lord.” Matthew even says Peter “rebuked” Jesus. Matthew 16:22-23 (NIV) “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’” Jesus knew that Peter was in the wrong, thinking of himself and not submitting to God’s will. Jesus also knew that Peter would struggle again with his own agenda and was trying to set him on the right path, the path of obedience that Jesus travelled. I have often thought how Jesus’ admonishment must have hurt Peter, yet he was aware that this was exactly what Peter needed to hear. He knew his friend well enough to know this wasn’t an isolated outburst and that if left unchecked, may lead to spiritual derailment. Do you have that type of relationship with your friends? Is your love deep enough to be able to share concerns, even if those concerns are difficult to hear? Do you accept and even encourage your friend’s transparency with you as well? Honesty in friendship is essential. True friendship provides the safety to share freely with the mutual goal of pleasing God through selfless living.

Be encouraged with Proverbs 27:5-6

Friends insist on doing the things that need to be done. John 13: 3-5 (NIV) “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” This gesture was so surprising that Peter, at first, said no! He should be washing Jesus’ feet and not the other way around! Jesus; however, wanted his friends to see that there was nothing he would not do for them and that even though he was God’s son (and the “Father had put all things under his power”), he would put their needs above his own. True friendships are the ideal place to show this kind of Christ-like humility. What do your friends need? We live in a world that encourages autonomy, independence, and self-reliance. That is not what Jesus modeled. He saw a need and addressed it. He didn’t wait. He got up from his meal and did the job. Real friends know each other well enough to see the need and love each other enough to stop what they are doing and help.

Friends always love. The first verse my youngest daughter committed to memory was Proverbs 17:17. “A friend loves at all times,” she would recite as she walked around the house. At only four, she epitomized childhood love and acceptance and fully believed in Solomon’s charge. On her last birthday, a lifelong friend gave her a handmade card that read, “from your one true friend.” However, later that year, this same friend decided to stop talking to her, cutting off all communication and even avoiding her at school. Do true friends really love at all times? The situation prompted a renewed discussion with our daughter about Proverbs 17:17. What do you do when a friend disappoints you (or you disappoint a friend)? Jesus provided countless examples of living Proverbs 17:17. He showed love, compassion, and loyalty beyond the grave to his friends, even with their many shortfalls. He continued to be in relationship, encouraging and directing, despite their confusion, their denials, and doubts. Do you have a friend that has disappointed you?Consider it a golden opportunity to model Christ in forgiveness and love? Don’t ever forget, love is what sets Christians apart. Love regardless of circumstance, hurt, or betrayal. Love is not just for our friends, but also our enemies. The next time a friend lets you down, love them anyway. The next time your heart is broken, mend it with unconditional love. Is this difficult? Incredibly difficult but also incredibly rewarding. Never forget, a friend LOVES at all times. John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Friends Affect Health! Did you know?
A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. A large 2007 study showed an increase of nearly 60 percent in the risk for obesity among people whose friends gained weight. In 2008, Harvard researchers reported that strong social ties could promote brain health as we age. In a six-year study of 736 middle-age Swedish men, attachment to a single person didn’t appear to affect the risk of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease, but having friendships did. Only smoking was as important a risk factor as lack of social support. In 2008, researchers studied 34 students at the University of Virginia, taking them to the base of a steep hill and fitting them with a weighted backpack. They were then asked to estimate the steepness of the hill. Some participants stood next to friends during the exercise, while others were alone. The students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the steepness of the hill. And the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared.
*Source NY Times

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NIV)
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who
falls and has no one to help them up.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

I Want to Be Moved Again by Mike DeCamp

I am very much looking forward to next weekend when I will be attending the second Williamstown Bible College reunion.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, WBC was a small college located in Williamstown, West Virginia that was dedicated to the purpose of training and sending out preachers and ministers into service wherever God might want them to go.  It was founded in the early seventies by David Powers and the Williamstown Church of Christ.  I attended there from the fall of 1980 until the summer of 1982.  The institution held its last class in 1983.

As I mentioned, this will be the second reunion.  The first was held five years ago, and for many who attended, it was the first time they had been together in somewhere between 25 and 30 years!  Their various life courses had taken them in many different directions.  Most did not end up in preaching ministries.  Some did enter the ministry, but subsequently left it after some circumstance caused them to change course.  At the time of that reunion, only a handful were still working in full-time ministry.  For some, this seemed to be a bit of an embarrassment as they traveled back and reunited with their old classmates and instructors.

But, that embarrassment soon passed.

I have seldom been so overwhelmingly impacted by a single event as I was that reunion.  Many times in the past, I’ve been encouraged to attend some conference or another with the promise of a “life-changing” experience.  They never seem to live up to that high billing.  However, this event, which was pitched simply as an encouraging time for us to reunite in friendship and fellowship turned out to be one of the most impactful I have ever attended. 

Let me explain why.

It wasn’t the messages.  In fact, I don’t recall any of them.  Frankly, it was the sheer joy of the worship!  There just is something special when a group of people get together…want to be together…and sing.  And, I’m not talking about mumbling some religious songs, but really belting out heartfelt praises to God!  Not just some of us either….everyone!

The brothers and sisters who attended this event, while they shared the commonality of having been at WBC in the past, had not actually sung together in decades.  Some had gone on to other faith communities and were no longer members of a church of Christ.  But, the one thing they wanted to do together was SING  And sing they did!

There were only about a hundred in attendance.  That’s about a third of what Southeastern might have in the auditorium on a good Sunday.  But, let me tell you, they lifted the roof!  And, the joy of the songs was evident on their faces.  In the last five years, that event has become my gold standard for what heartfelt worship looks like.

And, now I’m headed back for the second reunion, and I find myself a bit anxious about whether I’ll find the same spirit of praise.  It didn’t hurt that last time we had Keith Lancaster as our worship leader, but that wasn’t the reason we sang so well.  We sang well because we wanted to sing well…wanted to pour our hearts out…together
It moved me.  And, I want to be moved again.

So, in light of what made that event special, I think we could translate that into our worship at Southeastern.  Let me give you some questions to consider:

A.       Do we want to be together?  To sing together?  If the answer is “yes,” why do we sit so scattered in the auditorium?  Is that seat you’ve staked out really that important to you?  More important than being close with your fellow Southeastern church family members to join your voices in unison?
B.      Do we sing because we want to pour out our praises to God, or because it’s just something that the church does on Sundays?  Is it obligation or true praise from the heart?
C.      Are we “making music in our hearts”?  If so, we should be able to see it in the smiles on our faces.
D.      Do you realize that part of why we sing is to encourage one another? sing praises to God TO ONE ANOTHER?  As you sing, look around…smile at one another…sing to one another!
Let the message of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  Colossians 3:16

…speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.  Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.  Ephesians 5:19

The purpose of our singing is not just vertical (us to God), but it is also horizontal (to one another).
Brothers and sisters, when we sing with our hearts, it makes a huge difference.  We not only tell God just what we think about Him, but we also tell one another about the love of God, and how much we love being together.  The last couple of Sundays, we have sung very well, and it encouraged my heart.  We can build on that base and keep it going.  If we do, I think we will all find ourselves being “moved” right here…at home…with our church family at Southeastern.

It will truly be life-changing!  

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Family Camp or Camp Run by Paid Staff by Craig Hill

About twenty years ago Regina, my wife, asked me to go to Spring Mill Bible Camp with her and my children, Rachel and Zach. I was raised going to Boy Scout camp and immediately frowned and said, “No, I don’t think so.” And I didn’t go. I thought how fun could that be? I loved going to Scout camp and being in the outdoors and doing Scout things.
When they came back from Spring Mill that first year, they were alive with the place. They were full of stories, how they enjoyed it, and were walking around singing camp songs with love in their hearts. And I knew immediately that I missed something very special.
So next year I went. Zach was 8 years old and in the Hebron cabin. Paul Short was the head counselor. We had a schedule with just enough to keep you busy, but there was time built in for fun – for playing basketball, ping pong, tetherball, and having fun with everyone.
There were classes about God, great singing, and chapel talks, and 3 great meals per day together with everyone. We went creek stomping at the Spring Mill State Park. We went cave exploring and had contests to see how long someone could immerse themselves in the frigid water.  There were many people I knew because I had been worshipping with them for years. There were some that I did not know very well, but by the end of the week everyone is well acquainted.
At night we had to get the kids to sleep in the Hebron cabin. I thought. “How on earth are we going to get these 12 to 15 kids to sleep?” They are having too much fun. We are going to be up all night. But Paul pulled out a book and read to the kids. I thought that is smart, because I watched the kids settle down and listen to the story. And after a hard day running around, playing, learning, singing and eating well, they were ready to go to sleep. But their brains didn’t know they were tired, because they wanted to run around the cabin and jump on the beds. But now they were listening to the story, and their heart rate was settling down. Pretty soon they were dropping off, one by one, to sleep.  Soon they were all out!  Paul Short in my eyes was a brilliant man!
It was about 10 years later that I learned that Spring Mill Bible Camp is actually run by a paid staff all summer except for one week: the week of the 4th of July when Southeastern church of Christ comes and runs a “family” camp. Evidently years ago, someone at Southeastern, or some people, decided that they’d take all their kids to Spring Mill Bible Camp, and the parents would staff the whole camp. The parents would be the counselors in each cabin (I think of myself as a “Cabin Dad”). The parents would be the teachers, the activity coordinators, the crafts person, the nurse, the cooks, run the canteen, and be the camp director. No paid staff! Wow! These people had to be staunch, formidable people to decide to take on that responsibility. What a great idea. And here I thought the whole summer long at Spring Mill was run by the parents of one congregation. I had no idea that the rest of the summer was run by a paid staff.
And so I’ve gone to Spring Mill Bible Camp every year except for one or two, for the last 14 years or so. Regina stayed in the “Family Cabin” when Rachel was too young to be in the “Regular Cabins”.  Micah has been at camp since he was two years old.  He stayed in the cabin with me, Zach (10 years difference), and the other boys. I told the boys he was our mascot, and we had to all watch out for him and take care of him. At that age, Micah was hard to get to sleep, and I was again dreading how to get all these boys to sleep and get Micah to sleep. To top it off, the first night was the 4th of July, and people in the next property shot off a bunch of fireworks. It was noisy, the fireworks were going off, and these middle school boys had a mind of their own.
I had adapted the book reading that Paul taught me, to read different Christian books like Jonathon Livingston Seagull, Point Man, or the Bible (boys love the battles of Joshua and King David.) But the boys didn’t fall asleep during the story, and Micah was still awake, and I was worried. But all of the sudden Cameron said, “Let’s sing some devo songs.” And Ryan Draper jumped right in and started signing. And all the boys were singing, and I was singing, and fireworks were shooting off.  I looked over and Micah amongst all the noise and singing was asleep!  I smiled and thought, “Am I in an incredible place, blessed by God, or what!?”
My kids are dunked in love and Jesus all week with me and other families at Southeastern and it is great! They have been sad to leave camp and look forward to it every year. They come home and we all sing devo songs for no particular reason for a week. And the numbers of baptisms that happen in the weeks after camp are noteworthy.
But it has changed in the last few years. There are fewer families at Spring Mill. There are more and more volunteers who come and give their week, their vacation days, to love and teach the children. We have had volunteers that did not have any children there at camp, but are dedicated to keeping this wonderful tradition going strong. Last year over half the boys in my cabin did not have a regular father figure in their homes, so it was a lot more work and a lot more discipline to provide, and I had to build a relationship with them in short time. So it has turned into more of a mission trip for me. But I still love it, and it is rewarding to hear the boys tell their parents when they get home how much fun they had and how much they want to come back again next summer. That is what camp is about! We are there so kids can experience the “aroma” of Christ in a beautiful outdoor setting away from the distractions of our busy lives.
Every year we are blessed to have young adults that were once campers, to give back to the younger generation. It is a blessing to see the tradition being passed on. If you have children of school age or even younger, I encourage you to come to Spring Bible Camp this year. You won’t regret it. Your kids will love it! It may change your life and the life of your children! Really.