HELPING LELAND’S GRANDMA

The house was small and dark inside, unkempt outside, slumped behind an overgrown hedge like a sleepy hitchhiker by a busy road. I delivered Christmas gifts to Leland (pseudonym), the 5th-grade boy I mentored, and his younger siblings. But his widowed grandma drew my attention. The elderly lady was cold, wrapped in a shawl, huddling near a little oil-fired heater, and wheezing badly.

I hate being cold. My heart went out to her.

It was an all too typical situation. The boy’s father was in prison, his sister and baby brother were children of two other men, his mother a classic example of chronic self-indulgence and irresponsibility. And everyone crowded into grandma’s little clapboard house, living off of food stamps and her meager social security.

The boy was my primary concern, my mentee from the Mentor Role Model program. We met consistently through about the first year of high school when he drifted away. I did everything I could to try and give him a leg up on a better kind of life. I guess the jury is still out on that. But his cold, sick grandma always comes to mind when I pass the now empty house. And the question always comes back: how could I have helped her without further enabling her debauched daughter?

The answer is, I could not.

You may have heard of toxic charity. Toxic charity does for others what they can and should do for themselves. It attempts to meet chronic needs with crisis-response methods and ends up incentivizing behaviors that created the condition in the first place. It also perpetuates the status quo between the rich and the resourceless. It makes the giver feel good while perpetuating dependency and fosters dishonesty to boot. It robs God’s image-bearers of the dignity that comes from the work God created us to do. That’s a bad situation. But recognizing it won’t keep grandma warm.

Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you.” I think what he meant was that, given our sin-nature, we will always have irresponsible people freeloading on their elderly parents. (I did confront the daughter, but that’s another story).

He also said, “You can do good to them anytime you want.” I think that means we cannot always solve the social pathologies that come from our systemic sin-nature, but we can, just for a little while, keep one or two widows warm and trust God to hold their sinning children to account.  

WELCOMING SINGLES HOME The Importance of Intentionality

WELCOMING SINGLES HOME The Importance of Intentionality

Note: I’m happy to welcome my daughter, Mikeala Skelton, as guest blogger today. Her thoughts on being single in the church give us food for thought as the holidays approach. D.S.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a rough Friday. I was worrying about my granny, who was experiencing health problems three hours away in my home state of Virginia. Earlier that morning, I had called my dad to see how things were going. He informed me that he was taking her up to a hospital in Lynchburg where they could run additional tests. They were checking for pulmonary embolisms.

The rest of the day was tense with the stress that I might be getting some bad news soon. The tests took all day and Dad had very little news to report. By the end of the workday, I realized that I was about to go home to an empty house. Suddenly, anxiety overwhelmed me, and I was sharply aware that, just like every other human being on this planet, I didn’t want to be alone.

This is the reality that many singles face. Some cope with it in healthy ways, some don’t, and many of us fall somewhere in the middle. We all need community, but sometimes, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. That afternoon, I employed a trick my oldest sister taught me: create a list, then reach out to every person from the top to the very bottom of that list until you get a response. It might not be exactly what you are looking for, but it’s a start. 

That isn’t easy for me to do. It feels like a cry for help and I cannot bear for people to see me as helpless, but what I needed that day overpowered my pride, so I went to work sending texts. Not surprisingly, no one was available. It was a Friday, after all. My mentor and her family were busy packing for the weekend’s youth retreat, my good friend and her husband were about to enjoy their first dinner date together in weeks, and my other friend was already at the movies.

Many assume the answer to a single’s struggle with loneliness is easy: a relationship. Get yourself a boyfriend or a girlfriend and all your problems and feelings of loneliness will go away, but that’s not the answer. Even happily married people experience loneliness and if we keep placing romantic relationships on the pedestal of perfection, we will continue to be unfulfilled. The assumption that we must act on our sexuality to be happy is wrong, and the Church has joined the rest of the world in saying that our identity is in our relationship statuses. How? By its lack of intentionality and dismissal of singles as well-rounded individuals.

My goal as I reached out to friends that evening was not to wind up in a sexual relationship. It could have been. I could have just as easily hopped on Tinder than reached out to my married friends. I know how easy it is to replace loneliness with sex, but I also know that real relationships take time and I wanted something real- to be part of a family, to be safe, to be loved. Romantic relationships are great, but they’re not a requirement for any of these things.

As we approach the holiday season, I encourage families of the Church to do more for the singles in their lives. It might seem intimidating, but as theologian Phylicia Masonheimer said, “You don’t have to be in the same relationship stage in order to learn from each other and to unite around a table.” 

A few years ago, I stood alone in a pew listening to the organist play the recessional at the end of a beautiful Easter Sunday service. My family was five hours away and deep loneliness pierced my heart as I watched the other families around me leave for Easter Sunday brunch. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Behind me stood an elderly gentleman and his wife. He was holding a folded twenty-dollar bill and had a shy smile on his face.

“You might not remember me,” he said, “but the Lord is telling me to treat you to lunch today.” 

I gratefully accepted with tears in my eyes. He had no idea what a blessing that twenty dollars was to me, but as I thanked him and tucked the gift in my pocket, I remember waiting for him to say that he and his wife would love for me to join them for brunch. That invitation never came. I don’t blame them for not offering, but I would have willingly paid well-over twenty dollars out of my own pocket just for them to invite me to a meal.

Couples and families of the Church must be willing to be intentional with singles. We’re not all the same. Some of us are divorced, some of us are widowed, and some of us choose singleness. We don’t need to be coddled. We don’t need special dinners or retreats. But think about this: we do everything ourselves. We take care of ourselves. Sometimes, it’s nice to be invited, to have someone be intentional with us, to be welcomed as part of a family. (And not just on Sundays.) The Church must begin intentionally welcoming singles as whole individuals, or we will go looking elsewhere for community. I will go looking elsewhere for community.

*Phylicia Masonheimer recently released an episode of her Verity podcast on singleness. If you’re looking to understand singleness and how the Church and Christians can help singles, I highly recommend it. It will help you better love the singles in your life.

Mikeala Skelton is the Digital Media Producer for Lenoir-Rhyne University.

HUNGRY FOR COMMUNITY?

HUNGRY FOR COMMUNITY?

I have a confession to make. I hunt for reasons to leave my office and run errands. I spend too much time on Facebook. I linger and chat with the grocery clerk and the guy at the gas station and just about anybody else I can find out in public. I like people. I don’t like being alone. AND I’M REALLY SICK OF SOCIAL DISTANCING! 

If you can identify, and I know most of you can, I want to encourage you to find a friend and bring them to our Alpha Course that begins September 15. Why? Alpha does four things that most of us need right now.

First, Alpha ignores politics. It seems that every four years, we find ourselves in “the most contentious political climate ever.” Politics is a necessary evil, but it need not consume all of our attention every day. Alpha is a beautiful break from the political storm.

Second, Alpha is not trying to sell you anything. Marketing expert Dr. Jeffery Lant developed something called The Rule of Seven. The Rule of Seven states that “to penetrate the buyer’s consciousness and make significant penetration in a given market, you have to contact the prospect a minimum of seven times within an 18-month period.”[1] My dad, who sold life insurance, among other things, summarized it thus: “It takes six NO’s to get a YES.”

Alpha is not a sales pitch of the gospel. It is a course, Christianity 101, if you will, founded instead on two fundamentals: Process and Community. Those two make up the third and fourth things Alpha does for us: create community and allow us to process some of life’s most profound questions.

Covid-19 is forcing many of us to sit still and ask serious questions, some for the first time in our lives. Questions like: Is this all there is? What is life about? Why do bad things like this happen? What’s my purpose? Where is it all headed? Am I ready to die? Alpha provides ancient wisdom on those topics as well as a safe space to process them.

And finally, friends! Alpha helps us meet that gnawing need for community. That is what makes Alpha so enjoyable and encouraging. No one will pressure you, and all questions are welcome in a fellowship of friends who’ve gotten to know one another through shared time and laughter.

Alpha is for everyone. If you’ve been a church member all your life, you will enjoy it. If you have never entered a church or considered Christianity, you will enjoy it and come away enriched with new understanding and new friends. Want to register yourself or a friend? Click here: FIND AN ALPHA.


[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/how-many-contacts-does-it-take-before-someone-buys-your-product-2011-7#ixzz3kaienRL6

LISTEN TO YOUR SQUEAKERS

LISTEN TO YOUR SQUEAKERS

“Dad,” my daughter sounded worried over the phone, “I hate to tell you this because I know you just checked, but my brake pedal just went to the floor when I was on the expressway.”

This kind of thing did not use to be a problem. As a former ASE certified service technician, I had always been able to repair the family cars, usually cheaper and faster than a local shop. But now my girl’s life was in danger because I had missed a critical diagnosis on her last visit. Not only that, but she was five hours away in a big city. What would have been a $300 job at home became a $750 repair bill. It stung my ego because I had missed the warning signs, but I was happy to pay it to make sure she was safe.

That mistake reminded me of a spiritual lesson from King Solomon that might save us all a lot of heartaches if we can hear it.

Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23 NKJ).

For many years, General Motors products equipped with disc brakes had “squeakers.” Squeakers are small flat wear indicators made of flimsy spring steel attached to one end of each inner disc brake pad in a set. When the pad wears down to within a few hundredths of an inch of the backing plate, the squeaker contacts the rotating disc and emits a high pitched squeal. When you hear the squeak, you know it’s time to replace the brake pads. If you don’t, you’ll soon have the stopping power of a greased bowling ball, and a simple $150 repair can rapidly become a $750 repair or worse, a car wreck.

King Solomon’s admonition, along with many other verses in Scripture,[1] is a reminder to pay attention to the state of our hearts, to listen to our spiritual squeakers. They’re warning us of little problems that can become big ones in a hurry. But they aren’t quite as noticeable as the ones GM uses, so I’ve listed a few below.

You know your heart is squeaking:

  • When gossip is easy, and prayer is hard.
  • When you’re spouse is annoying, but your colleague is alluring.
  • When conflict makes more sense than reconciliation.
  • When vengeance seems more logical than forbearance.
  • When fear and foreboding replace faith and courage.
  • When lust looks lovely, and purity seems pathetic.
  • When devotions are dull, but distractions are dynamic.

We could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

Listen to your spiritual squeakers. Put the brakes on runaway desires and ask God, “What’s missing? Where do I need a little soul maintenance? What has dulled my relationship with Jesus Christ and made me insensitive to his warnings?” He’ll help you replace the worn-out parts and keep your spirit healthy for the long haul.

[1] 1 Timothy 4:16a; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 5:8;

MAKE EVERY EFFORT

MAKE EVERY EFFORT

 

This is a solemn but a glorious hour. I only wish that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day. General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations. The flags of freedom fly over all Europe.

For this victory, we join in offering our thanks to the Providence, which has guided and sustained us through the dark days of adversity.

We can repay the debt which we owe to our God, to our dead and to our children only by work—by ceaseless devotion to the responsibilities which lie ahead of us. If I could give you a single watchword for the coming months, that word is—work, work, and more work.

Those words, spoken by President Harry S. Truman, 75 years ago this week, opened his speech marking VE Day. If that last line sounds gloomy, remember, the whole world needed rebuilding, and the Japanese had not yet surrendered. The task was huge, but America met the challenge.

Just as Americans met the challenge back then, we need to meet the challenge of resuming normal life now. We have work to do. The virus is not yet wholly defeated, and much requires rebuilding. It also means that no matter what we think about the coronavirus and our various responses, we must preserve our unity.

I’ve been thinking hard about this, as we consider exactly how and when to re-open our church building and resume regular worship. Ephesians 4:1-3 primarily occupied my mind.

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.[1]

“Make every effort,” sounds like Harry Truman’s exhortation, does it not?  Here’s a breakdown of what it will take to meet the challenge of maintaining our unity as we resume communal worship.

First, practice humility, the art of seeing ourselves as we are, not as higher or more important than others, but not as everyone’s doormat either. It just means, “Wake up and smell the coffee: the world doesn’t revolve around you.”

Second, practice gentleness. Meekness is the old word. An often-misunderstood concept, meekness is not “weakness,” not “milk-toast-ness.” It is not a lack of confidence or living in constant fear of hurting someone’s feelings. It is strength under control. It is the picture of a powerful horse responding to the merest nudge of his master’s knee.

I was born into a home with a big yellow tomcat named Amenhotep, “Teppy” for short. My parents bought the cat for my older brother, who was born six feet tall and 200 pounds so that he could learn how to be gentle with me.

Some of us are stronger than others. Be gentle with each other.

Third, practice patience.

A young father in a supermarket was pushing a shopping cart with his little son, who was strapped in the front. The little boy was fussing, irritable, and crying. The other shoppers gave the pair a wide berth because the child would pull cans off the shelf and throw them out of the cart. The father seemed to be very calm; as he continued down each aisle, he murmured gently: “Easy now, Donald. Keep calm, Donald. Steady, boy. It’s all right, Donald.”

A mother who was passing by was much impressed by this young father’s solicitous attitude. She said, “You certainly know how to talk to an upset child—quietly and gently.”

And then bending down to the little boy, she said, “What seems to be the trouble, Donald?”

“Oh no,” said the father. “He’s Henry. I’m Donald.”[2]

Patience is the ability to endure, putting up with things that make life a little complicated and just carrying on. Be patient with each other.

Fourth, forbearance. Patience emphasizes bearing up under a load; forbearance is about self-restraint, holding back from comments or actions which may be justifiable but ultimately undermine unity.

Everyone knows Winston Churchill, but not everyone remembers Lady Astor, the first female member of Parliament, who was also anti-Semitic and part of the appeasement crowd who opposed Churchill. The two were known for verbal jousting.

Astor is reported to have said, “If you were my husband, I would poison your tea,” to which Winston replied: “Madam if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”

That might be fun, but it isn’t the way to maintain unity.

Forbearance practices courtesy, “the oil that lubricates the fine machinery of civilization.” It recognizes that each of us is a fragile, imperfect creature. Forbearance fuels unity.

“There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all,”[3] wrote the apostle. Therefore, make every effort to keep that unity in the Spirit through the bond of peace.

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Eph 4:1–3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] John Huffman, “The Fruit of the Spirit Is Patience,” PreachingToday.com

[3] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Eph 4:4–6). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

7 KEYS TO LONG-TERM LOVE

7 KEYS TO LONG-TERM LOVE

“Dear Pastor,

Please help. My man has gone into a shell and I can’t get him out. He used to be attentive, warm, and affectionate, but now he lives in his own world.

Don’t get me wrong. I know he loves me. He works hard, pays the bills, and helps around the house. But he’s just, I don’t know, gone somehow. He is distant, civil, but not engaging, polite, but superficial. I long for the connection we once had. I don’t think he’s having an affair, but I don’t know what to do.”

That lover’s lament is fictitious, but close enough to similar stories I’ve heard to make the point: long-term romantic success isn’t easy. Worse, many women have no clue about the things motivating their man’s behavior.

Thus, seven keys to long-term love.

First, validate his need for masculine approval. “One motive … compels men like few others,” wrote Patrick Morely, “It is foundational, perpetual, and insatiable: A man’s need for his father’s affirmation.” Your approval is not enough. If your man has unresolved issues with his dad, gently encourage him to seek peace and reconciliation.[1] If his father is absent, encourage him to let God be his father and let men of the church be his mentors. He will love you for it.

Second, validate his need for accomplishment. Every man has “an intense desire ‘to do,’ to master his world, to shape the course of events. Every man has a desire for significance, meaning and purpose; to accomplish something with his life, especially in his work. [2]” Validate that. Pray for him to find his purpose, be his greatest cheerleader in it, and celebrate each step he takes toward fulfilling it. He will love you for it.

Third, validate the financial pressure he feels. The pressure to achieve a higher standard of living is relentless and stressful. Empathize with the pressure he feels to provide the best of everything and let him know that a used car is OK, that cheap dates are just fine, and that you can wait for that expensive honeymoon until you’ve been working long enough to afford it. Do that and he will dig for ways to spend money on you.

Fourth, be loyal. Men are notorious loners. They learn early to be guarded lest someone take advantage of a vulnerability. They need a partner in life that they can trust with their weaknesses as well as their strengths. That kind of trust takes time to build and is easily broken. Ridicule him or betray his vulnerabilities and you will lose him. Keep his secrets. Prove that he can trust you, that you will not take advantage of his vulnerabilities, and he will kill himself to show his appreciation.

Fifth, speak his love language. Most women are more verbal than men. It’s just the way we’re wired. Unsurprisingly, many women say that their love language is words of affirmation and many men—most in my counseling experience—that theirs is physical affection. Not necessarily sex, but simple loving touch. “Whatever there is of me resides in my body,” writes Gary Chapman in his bestseller, The 5 Love Languages. “To touch my body is to touch me. To withdraw from my body is to distance yourself from me emotionally.” You may have many reasons not to touch him, but he is only hearing one thing: “she doesn’t love me.” Whatever the language, learn to “fill his love tank” with it and he will reciprocate.

Sixth, feed him. But you knew that.

Seventh, let him lead. Laura Doyle, author of The Surrendered Wife, “used to think that communication was the key to a better marriage. But that wasn’t how it turned out … Even though I have a degree in communications, trying for years to “communicate” with my husband never got me the connection I craved, but the principles of surrender did. One of those principles is that a surrendered wife is trusting where she used to be controlling.”

Like many strong-willed, strong-minded women, Doyle realized she had to make a choice to let her man be in charge. For example, men will not prioritize a task list like women or do things in the same order as women. She wants it done her way right now so, she does it now. The man thinks, “OK, I’m not needed here. I won’t go there next time.” Soon, a pattern emerges and next thing you know the woman is leading and the man is disengaging from the relationship.

The Apostle Peter encouraged women to let their husbands lead and “do not give way to fear…[3]

If you’re in a relationship with an abusive man do not submit to it and do not make excuses for him. But if you’re destroying romance by over controlling your relationship, I encourage you to let go of your fear, trust God, and let him lead. You will be amazed at the results.

[1] Patrick Morley, What Husbands Wish Their Wives Knew About Men, p. 16 & 30.

[2] Ibid, pgs. 35 & 46.

[3] 1 Peter 3: 5-6

7 Keys to Successful Romance

7 Keys to Successful Romance

My senses were assaulted at Wal-Mart last night. I strolled in, minding my own business, looking for our favorite frozen desert, when the smell of flowers and candy and a huge splash of red and pink displays hit my eyeballs like a baseball bat.

“Oh, yeah! Valentines!”

Call me distracted, but don’t call me unconcerned about matters of the heart. I’ve been happily married for about 36 years and doing marriage counseling for almost that long. Those displays reminded me that flowers and candy, important as they may be, are only the icing on the cake of a robust romance.

Here men, are the top seven things you need to succeed in love.

First, make an all-out commitment to Christ. (See Rom. 12:1-2 & John 15:1-4). All of us bring the baggage of our sinful nature into every relationship. When the flames of passion dissipate, as they always do, the baggage remains. Our lovers often want to “throw the baggage out,” so to speak, but that creates conflict. Abiding in Christ, making our lives a constant sacrifice to God and conforming our minds to his frees him to take out the trash and replace it with real love before it begins to stink up the relationship.

Second, develop the heart of a servant-leader. (Matthew 20:25-28). Successful lovers lead through service. Begin by leading yourself. Your lady wants to be your wife, not your mamma, your co-laborer not your wet nurse. She needs you to grow up, maximize earning potential, use money wisely, and stay out of unnecessary debt. She needs you to take care of yourself physically and emotionally, learn how to make good decisions, and be strong in the challenges of life. Not superman. Not unwilling to take advice and counsel. Just strong, full of faith, trusting God, looking ahead, paying attention, adjusting to contingencies, pursuing a goal, refusing to wither in the face of adversity.

She also needs you to take out the trash, run the vacuum, do the dishes, change the baby and—if you can do it without poisoning her—cook from time to time. It boils down to this: study her like a good waiter watches his table and provide for her needs. You will be amazed at what this will do for your love life.

Third, commit to communicate.  Men who succeed in love don’t hide behind the strong-silent illusion of manhood. Learn to say what you need and ask for what you want. Make sure you know your love language and how to speak hers.

Fourth, develop conflict resolution skills. Few people grow up knowing how to resolve conflicts in romance. We leave them to fester at our peril. Successful lovers learn how to have a productive argument, and then have one. They learn how to say they’re sorry, and mean it. They even learn to say that they were wrong, sometimes ;-). After that, they celebrate with ice cream and … well, read the Song of Solomon and you’ll get the picture. Good conflict strengthens love. Poorly managed conflict leaves deep wounds.

Fifth, commit to commitment. Hollywood will tell you otherwise, but all loves ebb and flow, wax and wane. Remember this: it’s the promise that keeps the love, not the love that keeps the promise.

Sixth, practice the art of forgiveness. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that “love keeps no record of wrongs.” Romantic relationships are fragile flowers. They cannot bear the chill of resentment. They wither under a grudge. Forgiveness lets the sun in and keeps the life-giving water flowing.

Seventh, work at it like a gardener. Loving a woman is like keeping a garden, not like fixing a car. A car needs a timing belt once every 100,000 miles. Romance needs daily attention like a garden needs a gardener. Every day he’s there, feeding it with the sunshine of his affection, pulling the weeds of conflict, watering it with encouragement, and fertilizing it with affirmation. And every now and then, maybe when Wal-Mart reminds him, he feeds it the Miracle Grow of flowers and chocolate. A man like that will enjoy a fruitful garden of love. The guys who don’t get weeds.

Succeeding at love is not brain surgery men, but it does take humility, commitment and work. Trust God, practice these habits and you will succeed.

BEST ALPHA COURSE EVER

BEST ALPHA COURSE EVER

The church I lead ran its first Alpha Course in 2011. We’ve hosted it eight more times since then (twice one year and none in 2018) and 2019 was the best ever! The reason? Not because our team was any better than previous years. We had many of the same people. And not because the food was any better, although it was great. And not because the Alpha Course now features a high-quality video journey with two young hosts in fascinating global locations along with in-person interviews instead of just a guy giving a talk on a stage. We used the new videos in 2017. The difference was that the 2019 Alpha Course at our church had more prayer support than any previous year and it showed in at least five ways.

First, prayer preceded the partnership between the Task Force leader, me, and the Alpha Course Host, Jeff Good. Jeff and I went into this partnership after attending the Alpha Course National Leadership Conference in Arizona last winter. We prayed together in the hotel room and at other times during the conference and came away convinced that God would have us offer the course this year. After that, we agreed to meet weekly to pray for this year’s course.

If you’ve ever spent a long time praying for a specific project, you know what I mean when I say that many direct answers to prayer don’t seem all that spectacular. Things just occur or become obvious or apparent that weren’t apparent before. Things flow. For example, all we knew when we left Arizona was that we were going to offer the course and we needed to pray. We didn’t know who would lead the Task Force and who would be the Host. The Task Force leader oversees setup, meals, and clean up. The Host does PR and everything else. But over time it became apparent that, even though I’d been the host most years and I’m no cook, I should lead the Task Force and Jeff should be the Host.

Direct answers to prayer and evidence of its power appeared in other ways as well.

I realized we probably didn’t have enough budgeted to pay for all the food and the necessary advertising. We also needed a new catering plan that would involve the whole church. But before we even had the catering plan, someone donated $1,000 for the food. Then, a thought “occurred to me,” You dummy, Karen Schopen owns the best restaurant in town and has been in the hospitality business her whole career. Ask her! And voila! We had a new catering plan that included the whole church working together as a team.

But we still needed someone to massage the menus and recruit the cooks and select the right serving setup and make sure I kept everyone up to speed. Enter my excellent wife who, though she’s never cooked for fifty people in her life, knew exactly what to do and how to get it done. Almost the whole church participated. No one felt exhausted and burned out at the end. The meals were great! And the cost? We spent $942.04 on food!

Then there was childcare! Before we could even ask her, Karin Theo offered to do a children’s program concurrent with Alpha. Karin recruited helpers from the whole congregation, and we didn’t have to worry about this part at all. A big relief for me!

Technological problems overcome. We wanted this Alpha Course to feel seamless and high quality to our guests, but we also knew that, technology being what it is, glitches happen. We prayed about that and sure enough, about halfway through the course, the sound card went bad on the computer. One of our guests who is a whiz with technology had it figured out for us before dinner was over.

Finally, and most important, friends who are genuine seekers felt free and safe to ask their hardest questions and hear answers. People in the small groups developed great relationships, shared their deepest struggles, and grew closer to God. One, totally new to the area and our congregation, even joined the church.

With all that in mind I want to ask you to do three things. First, join us each week in prayer for the 2020 Alpha. Second, ask God to show you what part you can play in an Alpha Course near you. Third, begin praying and talking it up with your friends as God provides opportunity. Be ready to invite them when the time comes. I believe the 2020 Alpha Course will be the best ever!

Haven’t heard of The Alpha Course?Click here: The Alpha Course.

HOW TOUGH IS YOUR SOUL part 3

HOW TOUGH IS YOUR SOUL part 3

In 2003, my daughters had a funny lesson on the inevitability of change. Their uncle Mike had given them a whole box of VHS tapes containing 144 episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation. The videos dated back into the 1980’s so watching them was like being in a time machine for commercials. But what really tickled the funny bone was seeing an ad for a brand new 1989 Chevy truck on Tuesday night, and then standing at the bus stop Wednesday morning, watching that same truck with 14 years and 175,000 miles on it go by. “It’s a heap!” They cried. Talk about a lesson on change!

Change is inevitable. It’s how we meet it that matters. The one luxury we cannot afford is to assume it will not touch us and refuse to prepare for it.

The nature of the human animal is to be dominant and territorial. We like to set ourselves up in a good situation and stay there. We work hard at creating stability and predictability so that we can enjoy life with the least amount of hassle. We are control oriented. Unexpected change reveals our lack of control and makes us feel naked in the cosmos.

The Bible is full of examples of God’s people meeting unexpected change. Consider Moses’ successor, Joshua, and the changes he witnessed: Slavery in Egypt, miraculous escape across the Red Sea, the Ten Commandments, the wandering in the wilderness.

For 40 years Joshua witnessed change, but that paled in comparison to what he was about to do. He was about to lead the people of God into the Promised Land itself. He was facing the walls of Jericho and he was doing it without Moses.

God had two commands for Joshua as he took up the challenge of this change, commands that still apply today.

Be strong and courageous.

In the decade leading up to 9/11 the notion was spreading that the days of strong, forthright leadership operating from the courage of conviction were passé. The world – it was assumed – was becoming a kinder, gentler place and there was just no need for confrontation when therapy or diplomacy could do the job. This was just as true in the church as it was in geo-politics.

The Bible is much more realistic than that. It teaches us that evil and danger, deceit and treachery will be in the world until Christ returns. The only way to meet those things is with strength and courage.

Those manage change well who have the courage of their convictions. But what convictions?

Stick to fundamental principles.

Strength and courage are dangerous if they aren’t harnessed to core principles that honor God and respect people. But strength and courage in the service of those principles enable us to adjust our approach to meet the need at hand.

Thomas J. Watson Jr., founder and CEO of IBM from 1956 to 1971 wrote, “I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. And, finally, I believe [the organization] must be willing to change everything about itself except those.”[1]

Those manage change best whose principles are changeless.

Fear is the biggest hindrance to change. Change forces us to think, to adjust, to adapt. We prefer cruise control. When contemporary music first began to make its way in to worship many congregations rejected it. But that indicated more faith in the method than in the message. When new translations of the Bible began to compete with the KJV many churches rejected them. But that indicated more faith in the translation than the message.

As Chuck Swindoll wrote, “Extraordinary times will require of us extraordinary wisdom, vision, boldness, flexibility, dedication, willingness to adapt, and a renewed commitment to biblical principles that never change.”[2]

When the changes come—and come they will—go back to core principles and with strength, courage and wisdom apply them.

When change comes ask yourself: Am I operating with courage on core principles?

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.[3]

[1] Citation: Thomas J. Watson, Jr., A Business and Its Beliefs (1963); Bill White, Paramount, CA

[2] Swindoll, Chuck; Come Before Winter pg. 26.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jos 1:6–7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

WHY CAN’T WE COMMUNICATE?

WHY CAN’T WE COMMUNICATE?

“Are you listening to me at all?” My wife asked gently as we waited for our meal at Applebee’s.

Oops, I thought. You’re so busted! “Uhhh…No, I was trying to see who won the game last night,” I replied, still snatching glances at the wall-mounted screen over her right shoulder. Good thing she likes sports, or she would’ve really been mad.

Have you ever said something to someone and, having listened to their response, realized that they didn’t grasp the tenth part of what you were saying? Or felt like they weren’t listening at all?

Perhaps this is only common to preachers (and football widows). After all, preaching, as they say, “is just talking in someone else’s sleep.” But I have a feeling that you know what I’m talking about, that you’ve experienced communication frustration. Where does it come from? Why is communication, especially communication about spiritual things, so difficult? Well before you take a megaphone to the next person that doesn’t listen consider a few things.

A friend who is an engineer for a large utility company tells me that when he had to hire some new engineers, he required applicants to hand write sample repair instructions to a mechanic. Something like two out of ten could do it with any competence. Our education system is not what it used to be. More and more people are graduating from high school and even from college without the ability to make themselves understood.

We are also in a much denser communication environment than ever before. Commercials are shorter and faster, cell phones, Twitter, and text messages interrupt normal conversation, emails, pop-ups, dual screens – all of these technologies force feed us with hundreds more messages than earlier generations had to process, causing us to erect thicker message filters than we did forty or fifty years ago. We humans can only absorb so much information at a time. As a result, attention spans have shrunk. We are also becoming more reliant on pictures and music and less on words. We are a nation of receivers tuned to the elemental frequencies of image and melody. Language is becoming harder to digest.

But there is a third reason that people often cannot hear what we’re trying to say, especially if our message concerns the kingdom of God. Spiritual forces are at work. Consider Jesus and Paul’s comments on the matter:

Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. (Jesus in Mark 4:15 NIV)

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (Paul in 2 Cor 4:3-4 NIV)

The ability to communicate clearly and powerfully is a skill that can be learned. But in the end only God can penetrate the darkness, the spiritual veil that covers the heart of men and women. So, no matter whom you’re talking to or when, before you begin to speak, pray for the Lord of light to open the eyes and ears of the soul in your listeners. He alone has the power to make his light “shine in our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6).