Thursday, October 16, 2014

Examine Yourself

When was your last spiritual examination? Most of us are familiar with physical exams. They are often required for sports and various professional licenses.  A physician had to inspect me to declare I was of sound mind and body in order to get a teaching license in Alaska.  You may be familiar with the routine: stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, bright light in the eyes, probe in the ear, mallet to the knee, awkward cough.  

But what about an inspection of our spiritual condition. How can we know if we have a soft heart and a transformed mind?  How can we avoid becoming plank-eyed pharisees who criticize the sin specks of others while excusing our own faults and failures?  How do we know that the grace that has saved us is operating in us, circulating, and flowing out of us?  

We likely we need an examination.  A self-examination. If we are bold, we might even ask for a second opinion on the matter. Some caring friends may offer an honest appraisal of our spiritual and moral health if we are humble enough to ask them. 

And if you find, as is likely, that your spiritual health is impaired by sin, I can recommend an exceptional doctor. Jesus is the great physician.  Take your condition to him for healing and restoration. 

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (1 Corinthians 13:5)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Best Youth Ministry in America: Homeschool Speech & Debate Clubs

A subtle, spiritual revival has been stirring in the United States for over two decades now. It is the Christian Homeschool Movement. More and more parents are catching the vision for biblical discipleship, for evangelism, and for servant leadership. And from within this movement has arisen, in my opinion, the best youth ministry in America today: speech and debate clubs. That’s right, I said speech and debate clubs.

Speech and debate clubs are popping up around the country like dandelions in a summer lawn. These clubs are an expression of a percolating passion for biblical apologetics, for persuasive speech and for skillful argumentation. They provide a potent blend of academic rigor, engaging peer relationships, and high-amp, adrenaline experiences that come from public speaking. They are Christ-centered, Bible-enriched, skills-oriented, age-blended, and parent-supervised. They are family-integrated and multi-generational. I just had to throw in a couple more hyphenated combos. Homeschool speech and debate clubs are superior to the average Christian youth ministry model in almost every way. Perhaps I’m a bit biased.

My family has been in involved in speech and debate for six years now. Each of my five children has been a competitor in the NCFCA League (National Christian Forensics and Communications Association) and loved it. They have benefited from the research, writing, revising and rehearsing that goes into preparing and delivering a speech. They have also benefited from getting to know other Christian homeschool families from around the country who attend the tournaments.

We started our own club, Clarion Forensics, back in 2005 with just four families. By 2007 we had grown to over twenty families. That’s when we began hosting our own tournaments. Then, in 2009 we divided into two separate clubs, and began meeting in different towns. And next year a third club will begin meeting in yet another town nearby.

When I hear young Christians speak articulately on issues of interest and importance, my worldview opinions turn a shade brighter. My optimism in the future of my country is restored. From such as these will arise the husbands and wives, the fathers and mothers, the businessmen, churchmen and statesmen to lead our communities and our nation in the next generation.

If you’re not quite ready to join a speech club right now, then hear me out for another few hundred words of pointed persuasion. Below I offer six essential reasons, along with some scriptural encouragement, for why your family should get involved in a speech and debate club.

1. For Christ – You will purposefully join with others to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17).

2. For Communication - You will be coached to speak articulately and effectively.

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

3. For Companionship – You will develop close friendships with other individuals and families of like mind.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil” (Ecclesiastes 4:9)

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20).

4. For Competition – You will work hard to sharpen your communication skills through engaging contest.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

“The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” Proverbs 18:17).

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).

5. For Character Development You will learn to be an example to others, growing in humility and gaining the ability to give and receive instruction.

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

6. For the Great Commission – You will serve as a disciple-making ambassador for Christ.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13).

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

In conclusion, start homeschooling your children and get them involved with the nearest speech and debate club. Link up with other disciple-making, world-changing ambassadors for Christ. Be an active participant in America's best, family-integrated youth ministry. You'll be blessed to watch your children learn to speak the truth with skill and grace. You'll make memories that will last a lifetime.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Love to Work

I’ve been pondering the works of mankind again. What gives us such drive to work, I wonder? Why do we strive to create, and produce, and evaluate what we do? Now that I have begun this post, for example, I detect the urge to finish what I have begun. I will revise my work, too, hoping that the finished product is worthy of my crafting and worthy of your reading.

I confess I love all manner of work. I love the work of designing and building, of planning and organizing, of producing and sharing, of developing and improving. I spot this love of work in many other people, as well. I observe that the love of work makes us learn and grow as we pursue knowledge and new experiences. Love of work makes our homes hum with harmony as we produce health, happiness and hope in the loving relationships born of faith. Love of work makes the economy buzz as we exchange goods and services for mutual benefit. Love of work helps us refine human government as we weigh and advance competing ideas by point and counterpoint.

Where does this love of work come from? I believe that our Heavenly Father has wired it into us. We are, after all, made in the image of our Creator who worked for six days to make all that is. It is no surprise then, to detect similar impulses in man the creature. The Bible says it nicely in two verses: For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colssians 3:17).

I’d like to ponder the idea of good works further, but the weather is fine, and there is much work to do on my acre of property. Thus will I bring to a close one endeavor to engage in another.

May God bless you as you pursue the good works that He has prepared for you.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Caroling the Culture

I am amused by the culture skirmishes that erupt each December over religious expressions in the public square. Thanks to an organization called I can now know which retail businesses are most friendly, or most hostile, to my Christian faith, measured by whether their clerks greet customers with “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” informs me that it’s still legal to put up a crèche in a public park if the display conforms to the “Three Reindeer Rule.” This Rule requires a municipality to place a sufficient number of secular objects in close enough proximity to the crèche to render the overall display sufficiently secular.

I find this state of affairs tragically funny. The culture permits us to have our Merry Christmas as long as the Christ Child is wedged into in a group hug with Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Does the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who has called Himself Jealous, and who has zero tolerance for idols and pagan practices (read the Ten Commandments), wink at the sight of His Son reduced to a plastic manikin in a park flanked by fantasy figures? Christians should laugh at themselves if they think they are engaging the culture for Christ by maintaining the right to say "Merry Christmas" and to put up manger scenes.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying Christians should roll over and play 'possum in the cultural wrestling match of ideas and expressions. To the contrary. By every lawful, appropriate and charitable means we should stand up for our rights and for the preservation of our religious freedoms. But we should not be satisfied with merely engaging the culture and preserving our rights. We should be transforming the culture by seeding the Gospel of Peace throughout its core and substance. We should let the dazzling truth of salvation in Christ alone be on display in the Children of God, through a rejoicing Church. A caroling Church, if you will.

Let’s review the historic facts about our cause to sing. In the Christmas story we see the Lord God set the stage for His dramatic appearance on earth. He employs prophecies, signs and circumstances to reveal His divine redemptive plan for saving mankind from eternal damnation. An angel appears to a virgin and delivers a prophecy. A child is conceived by the Holy Spirit. A moving star hovers over the birthplace of the child, attracting wise men, bearing gifts, from the east. In Bethlehem the Ancient of Days becomes a baby. The God, upon whom no one can look and live, is cuddled by His mother and is nursed at her breast. The High King of heaven leaves His throne to lie helpless in a manger. The Immortal, Invisible grows up in a family, working hard to please his earthly parents and His Heavenly Father. The infinite Almighty walks the earth and grows with age until He is 33 years old. Then the Creator of life experiences death. The Perfect, Holy and Sinless One is executed, suffocating and bleeding on a cross for the crime of stating who He truly was, the Son of God.

The Christmas story is breathtaking. It is magnificent mercy. The magnitude of limitation that God ordained for Himself to come to us in human form is staggering to the mind and heart. Jesus came to die for us, to secure peace for us with God the Father. Yet He rose, and He lives, and He reigns. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

I think this is something worth jumping up down and singing about. This is the kind of good news that displaces the gloomy darkness in the culture. Martin Lloyd Jones has said, “The greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful Church...Unhappy Christians are, to say the least, a poor recommendation of the Christian faith.” I heartily agree. A church that effectively engages the culture should be a rejoicing church.

We must not think that the Gospel will be received with joy in all quarters, of course. In the same way that a flashlight sends cockroaches scurrying in the shed, the light of Christ sends wicked men ducking for cover. The Gospel is a blessed beacon of hope to the repentant, but it is a blinding beam of exposure to the recalcitrant. Men who love darkness rather than light will be repelled by it. I know this from experience. I was a mocker of Christians until Jesus, the light of men, broke through to reveal my spiritual blindness and to save me by grace. Soon my friends began to mock me as a Christian. This, too is amusing, ironic, yet glorious.

Sing on, I say. Carol the culture. Sing songs about Jesus being born in a manger. Sing words of hope and joy for a troubled world held captive by dark deceit. Let the light of the Gospel do its wonders among men, penetrating and purging cancerous sin wherever it festers. Let the rejoicing church be known for Who it loves more than for its disdain for darkness. Let Christ draw men unto Himself as He did with the wise men from the east, who came to worship Him. Let the rejoicing church be known for its Merry Christians, who are Light-hearted, filled with the illuminating love, joy and peace of Jesus.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent 2009

In the fullness of time

God sent His Son to earth

To free the captives

From unbelief, and sin and fear

He arrived as a child of low estate

Born of a virgin under a star of promise

He grew in grace and power

Though tempted, He knew no sin

He healed the sick, and fed the hungry, and raised the dead

The masses followed Him seeking show and gain

They cheered His triumphal entry

Then within a week they cried "crucify him!"

Though He came to His own, they received Him not

Jerusalem chose a cross for her king instead of a throne

All this was done in the fullness of time

According to the prophecies of old

According to the will of the Father

Now the advent of Christmas marks time's onward charge

Today the children of God rest in salvation by grace through faith

We are nourished by the Word and the Spirit and the promise of eternal life

We are citizens in a heavenly kingdom that is already, but not yet

Ours is a calling and a knowing, not of this world

Our King is at once apart from us, yet with us and in us

We are drawn to trust Him enough to obey His commands

We are moved to serve Him by serving others

We live in hopeful longing with eyes toward tomorrow

We view the best things in this life as but a foretaste

Of even better things to come

We wait with joyful expectation

For our King to return in glory

In the fullness of time

Sunday, November 29, 2009

To Tree, Or Not To Tree

To tree, or not to tree? That is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the den to suffer the needles of outrageous ornamentation, or to leave trees outside (where they grow), and by opposing end them (indoors). The conscience, which makes cowards of us all, has caused me to sickly o’er with this pale cast of thought: Why have I allowed a Christmas tree to dominate my living room, yet again?

I love Christmas. I love Christmas music. I love Christmas decorations. Do I love Christmas trees? I wonder.

Beside me stands a monstrous, decorated intrusion into the order of my life. As tradition dictates in the Sleadd home, the furniture gets rearranged from Thanksgiving weekend until New Year’s Day to accommodate a coniferous guest. Thus, the measured juxtaposition of my arm chair, book stand, and reading lamp has been set awry by the merry boughs of imposition.

I grow contemplative and cautious. If I make room for a tree in my house and den, will I next make room for blatant idolatry in my life and habits? And what’s a Christmas tree got to do with the birth of Christ anyway? I don’t recall the gospel of Luke mentioning an evergreen tree stuffed into the stable in Bethlehem to crowd out the cattle.

I’ve heard stories about Martin Luther finding deep symbolism in a spruce tree he saw one night when he was feeling spiritually frisky. But I suspect that some German tree farmer found a way to sell more trees if he added holiday appeal, like a printer proclaiming a special day for the purpose of selling more greeting cards. It seems dryly ironic to claim an evergreen tree represents eternal life in Christ, then to chop it down and set it in one’s house to whither into a parched, fire hazard.

For the record, my Christmas tree is artificial, so it probably won’t burn the house down. And it’s actually quite pleasant to look at. It is perfectly conical and uniformly green. Its wire branches are evenly distributed with factory precision, and stiff enough to hold up the heaviest ornaments China can make. Few real trees look so good, or require so little care.

But herein lies a typological quandary, which tests the native hue of resolution: What are we to make of Christmas tree symbolism when the specimen is a hypocrite, a plastic phony, a green-washed Pharisee stuck in a tree stand. Must give us pause. Maybe that’s why a rash of American governors, and the president himself, recently couldn’t decide whether to call them Christmas trees, or Holiday trees.

I've not delved into the Christmas tree's alleged pagan past, nor will I. Research the subject yourself and find enough ambiguity to also give one pause. Alas, you must decide for yourself what to do about such trees. I recommend you enjoy holiday liberty as you practice whatever is God honoring and beneficial.

Me thinks I'll let my Christmas tree remain standing in the house, as usual. Though if the Christ of Christmas has not returned by next December I'll probably have to think it all through again, to tree, or not to tree.

Have a Merry Christmas this year.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

First Impressions In the Speech Driven Life

Today I post a page out of my book-in-the-works, The Speech Driven Life. I began the book to help equip students to speak the Truth with sincerity, skill and grace. While it is intended to prepare students for competitive public speaking, I think it's practical enough to be of benefit to every ambassador for Christ.

How to Make a Positive First Impression

It has been said that within ten seconds after entering a room most people will make a snap judgment about the social environment. In short order they’ll decide whether or not the people there are friendly. It’s called a first impression. Likewise, when you walk into a room you’ll be sized up in a matter of moments. People will notice your clothing, your hair style, the expression on your face, your posture, and your body movements.

When you speak, people will notice the quality of your voice. They will notice your pitch, your tone, your rate, your accent (if you have one), and your enunciation. They will make judgments about your emotional state based on your tone and style of delivery. Lastly, perhaps, they will notice what you have to say, which they will interpret by the first impression they have already made of you.

As a speaker you are essentially performing for an audience of judges. This is literally true if you are involved in formal speech competition. The more intentional you are about making a positive first impression, the easier it will be to establish the trust and credibility it takes to effectively communicate your message.

Here are some essential components for making a good first impression. These tips apply to the professional looking attire you would wear in speech competition, and they are good to consider for personal appearance in general.

1. Smile

Your face is your most important means for making a positive first impression. Wear a smile that can be seen in your eyes. It communicates friendliness and confidence. A grumpy disposition is a poor representation of a faith that brings joy. Avoid chewing gum or eating when you speak. Check to make sure you don’t have parsley stuck in your teeth or food smeared on your face. It’s distracting.

2. Dress to Feature Your Face and Hands

Wear clothing that directs people’s attention to your face. Dark suits allow your face to stand out in contrast. Include attractive colors in your attire (shirts, neck ties, scarves) to add warmth and personality. Dress modestly. Avoid clothing that directs undue attention to parts of your body other than your face. Avoid wearing colors and patterns that clash. Wear a hairstyle that keeps your hair out of your face and makes you look respectable. Keep jewelry to a minimum so that your eyes are the main focus. Temperatures permitting, wear long sleeves so that your hands stand out in contrast to your clothing and are easy to see.

3. Use Good Posture and Natural Movements

Good posture and smooth hand movements also help make a positive first impression. Take deliberate steps when entering a room. Let your hands swing naturally at your sides when you walk. Keep your hands visible and out of your pockets. Don’t slouch or look off balance. Let the impression you make show that you enjoy being with the people there, and that you look forward to communicating with them.

4. Sound Confident and Personable

The first words you speak will make an impression. Speak them loudly and clearly, in a calm, controlled voice. High-pitched, rapid speech indicates nervousness. Try to make your voice sound confident and friendly, generally in the lower part of your vocal pitch range. A greeting or welcome is a good way to be personable with your audience and put them at ease.

5. State a Clear Purpose and Preview Your Points

Let your audience know why you are speaking to them. State your topic clearly and give a preview of your main points. Hint at your conclusion to keep them tracking with you.

6. Have a Strong Beginning and Ending

Audiences tend to remember the beginning and end of a presentation the most. Make your opening and closing strong and memorable.

7. Keep Things Short, Sweet and Simple

Be enthusiastic. Be sincere. Be brief. People will appreciate it. Show gratitude to your audience for their attention.