Thursday, February 24, 2011

Let's talk it out:

I recently read this story that’s attributed to Reagan; it’s about having good intentions:
"There's a story about a young fellow riding a motorcycle. He had good intentions too. The wind was kind of chilly and coming through the buttonholes on his jacket, and so he got this idea. He stopped and put his jacket on backward and that eliminated the chill factor through the buttonholes, but it kind of restricted his arm movement. And down the road, his motorcycle hit a patch of ice. He skidded into a tree. When the police got there, a crowd had gathered. And they elbowed their way through and they said, 'What happened?' And one of them said, 'Well, we don't know. When we got here he seemed to be all right, but by the time we got his head turned around straight, he was dead.'

That story reminds me of the old joke about the two doctors taking comfort in the success of a surgery, though the procedure ended the patient’s life. Sometimes, when we see another person we think we have them figured out, and, we think we can fix them...

I learned a valuable lesson this week about the dangers of stereotyping. I learned that perceptions which feel “so accurate” can be wrong, even my own... I learned this week that I had someone all wrong, my way of seeing this person was skewed. Though I didn’t jump to conclusions, or pass judgments, I was nevertheless mistaken.

After a wonderful conversation of give-and-take and genuine dialogue, I came away with a renewed-deeper-respect, and more importantly, a more accurate understanding of this person. I’m thankful I didn’t let my fear of offending, interfere with a relationship building opportunity.

If we rarely take the much needed step of asking another person for clarification, we could draw the wrong conclusions without having all the facts. Sadly, our relationships suffer.

I understand the fear that paralyzes us though. If I open my mouth and I’m wrong, then what? But, ask which is worse to you: holding on to a mistaken opinion, or risking the embarrassment by asking for clarification? One shows my self-protection means much more to me than maybe it should; the other shows respect for the other person.

Jesus sagely said: Get the log out... And Paul said: Speak the truth in love. May I grow into the type of person who does both, well.

Monday, February 21, 2011


I don't think I've reblogged anyone's blog before.
But, the blog post I'm sharing here is one I simply have to pass on.
So, if you are a communicator, then you'll be interested in what White says below...
Great Communicators

There has been a fair amount of reflection on the life and legacy of Ronald Reagan of late, generated by the centennial celebration of his birth on February 6, not to mention Presidents Day on February 21.

Reagan was the 40th President of the United States (1980-1989). From “Reagonomics” to “Morning in America,” Reagan was known for many things, but perhaps chiefly as the Great Communicator.

And it was because of his abilities as a communicator that he is so widely heralded as a leader and an agent of cultural change.

The truth is that anyone wishing to influence culture should aspire to become a master communicator, for it has marked most of our world’s shaping personalities – for better or worse. From Martin Luther King, Jr. to Abraham Lincoln, Hitler to Hussein, communicators affect culture more than non-communicators.

It’s true for those who wish to impact the culture for Christ as well. C.S. Lewis was arguably the greatest apologist for the twentieth century. He had this to say about his efforts to communicate:

“People praise me as a ‘translator,’ but what I want is to be the founder of a school of ‘translation.’ I am nearly forty-seven. Where are my successors? Anyone can learn to do it if they wish...I feel I’m talking rather like a tutor – forgive me. But it is just a technique and I’m desperately anxious to see it widely learned.”

Lewis is right. Effective communication is not difficult. So what does it entail? Let’s assume that what you wish to say is biblically based. Let’s also assume you have something prophetic to say to the culture in which we live. What’s next on the agenda?

I would argue for the following:

First, that you are relevant. I know the word is tired, and is often a whipping boy for those who feel that contemporary communicators are swapping relevance for orthodoxy. But in truth, relevance has nothing to do with watering things down. It simply means that you avoid giving a 19th or 20th century message to a 21st century audience, particularly in regard to application, vocabulary and illustrations.

A good communicator is also practical. For a talk to be practical simply means that the listener can apply it, and is not left wondering how. Credibilityalso looms large for communication. You have to be believed to be heard. Credibility will include such things as accuracy and personal integrity.

Good communicators also use stories, pictures, images, analogies, props or media to help convey their points. People think visually, and they craft their thought in terms of images.

Another mark of effective communication is engaging in a way that feels dialogical, and builds bridges of identification. A good communicator will pause every now and then and say, “Now right about now, you’re probably thinking...”, or “If you’re like most people, this instantly raises the question of...”, or “Ever felt like that?” I believe it was Arthur Miller, who wrote such plays as The Crucible and Death of a Salesman, who said that success for him is when someone could sit in the audience, watch one of his plays, and say, “That’s me up there.”

Good communicators are also simple. Not shallow, mind you, but simple. They put truth on the bottom shelf. C.S. Lewis was brilliant, and could have spent his career writing for fellow academics. Instead, he wanted to write for the average person. As a result, his influence was ten-fold.

Few communicators have captured the attention of an audience as dramatically as Winston C. Churchill, and one of his defining marks was simplicity. He believed that a speech should sound the way you talk, simple and conversational. His entire philosophy of public communication was to have a strong beginning, express one theme, use simple language, have lots of illustrations, and end emotionally.

Once after he spoke, an individual confronted him and self-righteously stated, "Prime Minister, I was very shocked that in your speech you actually terminated a sentence with a preposition." Churchill replied, "That is pedantic nonsense...up...with which...I shall not put."

Mark Twain made a similar point by telling of a Missouri farmer who ran five times for the state legislature without a single victory. In his speeches he referred to himself as "your humble aspirant," his audiences as "my enlightened constituents," and his vision as "obtaining a mandate" for his "legislative mission." Then one day his cow kicked him in the teeth, knocking his front teeth out, forcing the farmer to speak words of only one syllable. As a result, he won his next election and continued getting reelected.

A final mark of effective communication is that you are authentic. Authenticity is no more - and no less - than being a person who can be believed, accepted, trusted, and relied upon to be that which is as presented. I recently talked with a woman who had been unchurched for seventeen years before coming to Meck. I asked her what it was about our team of communicators that had impacted her. I was surprised that she did not even have to pause. She said, "I never felt 'preached to.' Instead I felt 'talked to.' I could identify with you as people. You shared your struggles, your life experiences, in a way that I could relate to. You didn't come pretending to have your act together, talking down to everybody."

So if you want to improve as a communicator, be relevant, practical and credible; tell stories, be dialogical, simple and authentic.

Then, listen to great communicators who do this. Get five or six speakers who you sense know what they’re doing, and go to school on them. Listen to how they manage material, how they open and close their talks, the manner in which they admonish and confess, illustrate and inspire.

Because while we celebrate great translators like Lewis, he was right; the more pressing issue is where are his successors?

James Emery White


Peggy Noonan, When Character was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan.

Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis.

James C. Humes, The Sir Winston Method: The Five Secrets of Speaking the Language of Leadership.

Editor’s Note

To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Finding forgiveness, rediscovering a lost art...

This week’s sermon is on protecting our marriages. One of the most powerful forces that drive marriages to destruction is the inability of many couples to forgive each other. I’ve spent thousands of hours counseling couples of all ages, and many times their root issue is an unresolved offence.

We’ve all been effected by divorce. Divorce is perhaps the ultimate means to resolve your arguments, but it won’t solve your problems. I’m positive that if people learned how to forgive and reconnect, we would have fewer divorces. There’s one thing worse than divorce though, that’s harboring an unforgiving heart.

What motivates you to forgive? Besides the fact that God’s Word warns us, if we don’t forgive, we won’t be forgiven, do you really want to go though life carrying the burden of hatred and bitterness that refusing to forgive dumps on you? More than likely, you’d like to be able to forgive, but maybe you’ve never learned how? Maybe you don’t want to make the effort to forgive; it’s hard after all. Maybe your pride tells you, you can’t forgive till the other person grovels and begs for forgiveness? Or, perhaps you can’t forgive because being a victim has become your identity, and therefore letting go of the offence would be like losing yourself...?

Nobody can present a “how-to” forgive in a few paragraphs.
I won’t try here, I’m smarter than that... Here’s what I will offer:
#1. Until you forgive, you’re giving the past control over your today/tomorrow. Since you can’t change the past, why let it prevent you from changing for the good, today?
#2. Forgiving isn’t the same as endorsing. Some people think if they forgive someone, that they’ve put their stamp of approval on the offence. That’s simply not the case. You can still communicate you’ve been hurt, reject the action/attitude, but make a stand that you won’t let that hurt separate you from the other person.
#3. Unforgiveness is usually a cycle you’ve learned from your parents. When it comes to handling marital fights, we practice what our parents modeled for us; good or bad. Give your children/grandchildren a gift, and break that cycle. Do the hard work it takes to learn how to forgive, read up on it, seek out mentors who can guide you, pray like your life depended on it, but do whatever it takes to learn to forgive as you’ve been forgiven.

I have a gift from God: When my head hits the pillow at night, I drop grudges. I forget about the past. I let it go. What helped me find this kind of peace of mind? I wish I could say with certainty/clarity. I’ve studied the subject of forgiveness, I’ve read a few books on the topic, and I taught a class on it too. I think more than any of these experiences, seeing the pain that people carry when they can’t forgive and watching several personalities ruined from not forgiving, has taught me plenty about MY need to forgive...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Modern Ministry or slaking off?

Do you think church staff communicating with church members, and people we are trying to reach, via Facebook is a valid method of ministry? Is Twitter a legitimate form of ministry?

I stay in touch with ppl, and stay updated, through Facebook and Twitter quite a bit actually. I know what some of our folks are doing solely because of these social networks. Non-members "message" me questions about all sorts of issues they're facing too. To me, FB seems like a valuable tool, but, I wonder if I'm alone in holding this view?

This past year we've really utilized the NE Facebook page to inform everyone about all kinds of events: Posting blogs... Promoting upcoming sermons... Reminding people of youth lock-ins.... From funerals to fellowship activities; we also post updates on Blood drives and the status of the parking lot in bad weather...

While social networking is not exactly brand-new, it's new enough to "church-life" that I wonder what "our" people think about its place in serving people? When you see a church staff member posting comments on people's Facebook pages throughout the day, what do you think? Do you think they are wasting time, or making the best use of the technology?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Prepared to Praise

If you think about it, worshiping God is central to our faith. Worshiping God, also, goes on into eternity. Worship requires a wholehearted commitment. Worship is more than our assemblies, but not less than our corporate services either. Our worship, in our assemblies, prepares us to worship throughout the week. If you'd like to be better prepared to worship as we gather on Sundays, here are a few thoughts off the top of my head:

1. Read the Text that drives the sermon/songs, before showing up. We post (at the end of my bulletin article) the title, text and the focus of our upcoming sermons one week ahead of time, so that you can be thinking about these before time. For example, you can read LK 16:19-31 this week. The sermon this Sunday is, "What ever happened to Hell?" and our focus is: Turning up the heat on an unpopular topic.

2. Resolve your conflicts, and help other people find closure with any issues they have with you. As Jesus says, "So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23-24 ESV) Think about how harmony and peace enhances our time together :-)

3. Humbly open your mind and your heart to God's moving. Worship is more, much more, than hearing a Scripture read or listening to a sermon. When we take the Lord's Supper, we are practicing unity with each other, and with God together. When God shows up in the Bible, people are different, people are moved. If you don't plan to be transformed during worship, you don't plan to worship: "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." (II Corinthians 3:17-18 ESV)

I remember talking with a lady where I used to preach, she was well into her eighties and remembered well how she prepared to worship as a child... She told me about how as a child her family began preparing for Sunday's worship on Saturday night. They would lay out their dresses, comb their hair and get to bed early so they could be ready to meet God. In the winter time they would warm up bricks in the fireplace, and set those warmed bricks in the floorboards of their wagon. No snowstorms ever prevented them from attending services. What impressed me more than their determination to beat the bad weather was their dedication to meet God, by being ready the night before...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Forgetting about Hell

Forgetting about Hell

Hell isn’t some medieval fairytale. Hell isn’t a marginalized concept, referenced once or twice in the Bible. Hell is real, and the idea of Hell is spread throughout the Bible. Hell can be looked at and thought of as a reason believers modify their behaviors. Avoiding sinful choices, proactively serving in acts of kindness, ect. Forget about the personal motivation Hell offers to the believer, to stay on the straight & narrow and to be a good neighbor. Think for a moment of what those who have no hope, what they have to look forward to: damnation. And, those are real people that we have an obligation to.

At one time our movement was known for explosive numerical growth. After WWII, we were reportedly the fastest growing movement in America. We reached national recognition for our evangelistic efforts. By the 1980’s, though, statisticians and church-growth experts noticed our numbers plateaued, and ever since the turn of the century we’ve entered a continual decline. What happened?

I don’t know all of the reasons why, along the way, we went from being the fastest growing movement in America to a movement that is in decline. I have a hunch part of the reason we don’t reach-out to lost people as we once did, is because we we’ve lost sight of Hell. If we, in the Churches of Christ really believed there was a Hell, and that definitive doctrine of an eternal lake of burning fire exits, we would be focused wholeheartedly on persuading people to become followers of God. What else would matter?

Since we aren’t as evangelistic as we used to be, I see only two possibilities: A. Either we are cold-hearted people who could care less that countless multitudes of faceless people will burn forever (not to mention the people know at work, school, or our next-door-neighbors). B. Or, we don’t believe Hell exits. I see no alternative.

Most people will simply ask, Aren’t we really just complacent? No. Complacency is a byproduct of a bigger problem; so mere complacency simply isn’t it. Others might ask, Aren’t we simply being “seeker-sensitive” taking the sting out of the message to be more appealing? No, because we rarely adapt our congregational-setting to meet the “cultural” needs of those we want to reach; our comfort-zone hasn’t stretched too much through the years. Since we aren’t cold-hearted people; I see too many examples of caring concerned believers serving & extending love, we must have concluded that Hell isn’t real.

But, I don’t really think as a movement we’ve totally lost the belief that Hell is real. Instead, when it comes to talking about Hell, there’s a troubling perspective I’ve noticed that really bothers me. I think we’ve exchanged the names on the docket for who’s going to Hell from those who we don’t share our faith with, to those who we disagree with.

I hardly, if ever, hear fellow believers talking about how sad it is that “lost people” will suffer in Hell. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard someone claiming to be brokenhearted over the fate of lost souls. I hear more about Bible believing people we disagree with being in danger of Hell far more often than I ever hear about the dangers awaiting the unevangelized. In other words, when “we” talk about Hell, we forget about lost people we have a responsibility to, who have never tasted salvation. No, instead, whenever I hear about Hell, the conversations are typically restricted to other Christians who are going to Hell because of (you fill in the blank).

So, I think we still believe in Hell, but I fear we are forgetting about Hell. I also believe we are authentically a loving people, who if we thought about it, we wouldn’t want anyone to suffer in a lake of fire for eternity. We are forgetting about our responsibility; we’ve been entrusted with the truth and we are supposed to distribute it freely...

If you think I’ve gone off the deep-end so far, then sit down for this last point: Hell is a unifying doctrine. Hell reminds us as believers that God is Holy and sin has consequences. Hell reminds us we are partnering with God to help snatch people from the fire and that our role in helping God reach people here on earth is bigger than the petty disagreements we bicker over in our auditoriums or conference rooms.

I remember visiting a family member who had two bluetick coonhounds. I noticed that they would snap and growl at each other when they were caged up in their pen. I went coon hunting one night with him and his dogs. I saw those two coonhounds, outside that pen, doing what they were bred for, and that made all the difference. That night I discovered that the “hunt” brought out the best in those dogs as they joyfully worked together. The next day though, when they were locked up in their pen again, those dogs were right back at it, growling, snapping, and fighting. I’m sure there’s a lesson in that dog pen, somewhere...?