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.

Monday, August 24, 2009

It Is Well

I broach the deep subject of well water, and the need to raise it up from the grasp of gravity. During the last decade my property has become increasingly parched. The water table has dropped, and my well cannot produce the flow to green up my acre. The installation of a holding tank, years back, only delayed the dehydration. When, this August, the water dribbled into the tank as slow as slobber I knew it was time to dig deeper for the precious liquid.

Thus began the drain of our precious savings. We hired men to drill a 300 foot cylinder of space into the earth’s crust beside our driveway. Now I need to dangle the submersible pump in the abyss to draw the slurpy from the depths.

I’m hoping for a happy ending to my water woes. But deeper meanings can be plumbed here. I am reminded of the story of Jesus beside a deep well in the dry region of Samaria. It was here that Christ told a promiscuous woman about the spiritual water of the Holy Spirit. He said, ”Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

In today’s culture of easy belief and casual Christianity, I suspect that many souls continue to thirst. Multitudes have crowded around the dry fountain of man-centered, seeker-friendly, religion, instead of being filled by the power and presence of Almighty God. Playing church does not a Christian make. Being chosen by God, in Christ, before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4) to be born again of water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5) does.

Is there living water in your life?

Jeremiah 2:13 "For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water."

1 Corinthians 10:1-4 "For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ."

Revelation 21:6b "To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment."

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Speech Driven Life

Last year I began writing a practical workbook for beginning speech students, hoping to finish smartly and in due time. But as I labored away, new ideas kept creeping in to make it a larger work. I considered speech for all of life.

Now I fear it may take all of my life to finish it. So I include an excerpt below, salving a sense of tardiness, and tossing out crumbs as from a piece of toast, so to speak. Here's to the speech driven life.

Born To Speak

Imagine life without speech. There would be no words, no sentences, no greetings, and no good-byes. Life without speech would mean no stories, no songs, no sermons and no jokes. Bo – ring. Fortunately, the world is full of speech. It is a speech driven life.

I noticed right off that all five of my drooling and toothless offspring were hard wired to speak. As infants, they spoke in burbles and bubbles. They wailed their vowels before nap nap, and they sputtered out their consonants while slurping from their sippy cup. They grunted like daddy did when he tried to fix the plumbing under the sink. They shrieked like mommy did when she watched spaghetti sauce get splattered onto the off white carpet. In short order, too, our wee ones babbled out discernable utterances like “momma” and “dada.” “Good job,” I’d gush, “now can baby say ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’?”

The Science of Speech

Man has an amazing capacity for language. While other creatures on the planet might be able to communicate with various sounds and calls, only man can tell jokes and recite poetry. Right from the start, the first man, Adam, demonstrated his language skills when he named all the livestock, all the birds, and all the beasts of the field. He did this on his first day of existence. Talk about high aptitude. Then, a bit later, after God performed rib surgery on him to create a special-order bride (Eve), Adam woke up to wax eloquent. He crooned, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Busy day. (see Genesis 2:18-24)

The Bible states that God spoke all of creation into existence, and that man was made in God’s image. It’s no surprise, then, that man was given amazing language abilities. Man’s brain is designed with regions of special function that enable him to speak, write, read, compute, reason and be creative in all manner of ways. Man was made to live in community with his maker and with his fellow man. God therefore equipped him with an exquisite neurolinguistic processor.

Scientists have determined that a region of the brain called the perisylvian, located in the left hemisphere of the frontal lobe, is the chief command center for speech and language. It is in around this region that cognitive thinking, abstract reasoning, and language comprehension are believed to take place. The perisylvian area kicks into gear when you try to have a conversation with your dentist while his tools and fingers are in your mouth. It helps you deal with tricky figures of speech without losing sleep at night, thinking about ridiculous contradictions. Read the following oxymorons (incongruous words) to see if your perisylvian area is working.

jumbo shrimp

random order

tight slacks

pretty ugly

rap music

federal budget

God has equipped us with the marvelous ability to process and produce language. We should be eager to use it in ways that are pleasing to Him.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Graduation Invocation

I was asked to publish the invocation I gave at a recent homeschool graduation ceremony. Here it is

O God , our Father,

You have called us to worship You in Spirit and in Truth.
You have called us to love You with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
You have called us to be fruitful and multiply and to fill the earth.
You have called us to receive children as a blessing, and to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
You have called us to diligently teach our children Your commandments, to talk of them as we sit in our homes, as we walk by the way, as we lie down, and as we rise up.
You have called us to obey Your Great Commission, to make disciples in our homes, in our cities, and in every nation.

Thank You, Lord, for the calling to homeschool.

Thank You for the strength to heed the call.
Thank You for the grace and power of Your presence to persevere in it.

We now ask Your blessing on this assembly.
We ask that You would continue to bless the fruit of our labor.
We ask You to preserve our freedom to educate our own children.
We ask You to sanctify and motivate our students.
We ask You to grow them in knowledge and faith, in love and good deeds.

We ask You to direct our graduates with wisdom, and discernment, and vision.
We ask You to raise them up into godly men and women, husbands and wives, churchmen and statesmen.
We ask You to bring restoration to our community and to our nation through them.
We ask You to renew their minds and transform them into bold and effective ambassadors for Christ.

O, God, we ask You to pour out Your Spirit upon us. Fill us with Your holy cause.
May Jesus Christ be known among us and to the very ends of the earth.
May we be changed more into the likeness of Christ by our gathering.

May this evening bring You glory and honor, for the furtherance of Your gospel and for the expansion of Your kingdom.

We ask these things in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Same Church, New Name

We've changed the name of our church from Coram Deo to Household of Faith.

Koran what? What kinduva church is that?

Quorum Deo? How many people do you need to hold a meeting?

I've heard such things over the last three years. Not from the folks who speak Latin, or read Ligonier Ministry's Table Talk Magazine, mind you. Just most of the people that I meet, or work with in Grants Pass, Oregon, including fellow evangelical pastors.

Coram Deo, in Latin, means "before the face of God," which is where we're prayerfully laying the new church name. I'm hoping the change is not merely a practical marketing strategy, but rather a clearer way to communicate our vision and purpose for restoring households of faith. Furthermore, we will be affiliating with a Portland area, church-planting consociation, called Household of Faith Fellowship of Churches, a partnership which we hope will invigorate our efforts to make disciples.

Household of Faith Community Church, Grants Pass (HOFGP) is a family-integrated fellowship committed to uniting church and home. We are a congregation of families in Southern Oregon who love Jesus and who desire to serve Him multi-generationally.

3-D Distinctives

Doctrine - We desire transformation by the renewing of our minds in Christ. We treasure the Bible as God's sure and sufficient Word for all of life and godliness. We strive to teach the Scriptures expositionally in engaging ways that include each member of our age-integrated congregation.

Devotion - We desire the power and the joy of the Holy Spirit to turn our hearts fully to Christ. We love to worship God in song and praise. Our sincere love for one another is evident in our prayers, in our joyful singing, in our time of sharing, in Communion, and in our fellowship meals which follow the teaching each Lord's Day.

Discipleship - We desire to be a congregation of action in the world, living out the gospel of Christ. We are passionate about making disciples in our homes and in the culture. We strive to equip men to be servant leaders and pastors in their own homes, which serve as household embassies of faith.

Our purpose is to equip each family to live the Great Commission lifestyle as a team of ambassadors for Christ.

We believe that God has strategically placed men in the crucial role of raising their children in the fear and instruction of the Lord.

We believe that the prophetic turning of the hearts of the fathers to their children (Malachi 4:5-6) is a spiritual prerequisite to the restoration of families in our community and in our nation.

Is God calling you into deeper discipleship? Contact if you'd like more information about being a part of the Household of Faith.

Household of Faith, Grants Pass web site:

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Preacher Feature

Training Men to Teach, Preach and Lead

Earnest men of sincere faith, I invite you to join me to sharpen your skills as gospel ambassadors for Christ. Starting in February I'll be spearheading a preacher feature in the Clarion Speech and Debate Club.

The goal is to equip men with an Accurately Informed Mind, an Artful Method of delivery and diplomacy, and an Attractive Manner of relating to others. Thank you, theologian and apologist Greg Koukl, for the inspiration. Consider this blog post an assignment for those interested in growing as teachers and disciple makers. Contact with questions or comments.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
1 Peter 3:15 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.

Eight Sessions – Tuesdays Nights, Grants Pass High School main bldg, 6:30-8:30PM

Book Study: The Supremacy of God in Preaching, by John Piper; also recommended Preaching The Cross, by Dever, Duncan, Mohler , Mahaney

Session One (2/3)
Introductions & overview of class
Intro. to TnT Format (exposition, application & discussion)
Intro. to Impromptu Speaking
Intro. to Apologetics Categories
Assignments: 1) Read prefaces & Ch 1 The Goal of Preaching: The Glory of God, 2) Write out & memorize your testimony of faith (3-5 minutes)

Session Two (2/17)
Impromptu Practice: Existence & Nature of God
Share Testimonies
TnT Practice
Book Discussion: Prefaces & Ch 1
Assignments: 1) Read Ch 2 The Ground of Preaching: The Cross of Christ, 2) Memorize scripture verses above

Session Three (3/3)
Impromptu Practice: The Scriptures
Share Memory Verses
TnT Practice
Book Discussion: Ch 2
Assignments: 1) Read Ch 3 The Gift of Preaching: The Power of the Holy Spirit

Session Four (3/17)
Impromptu Practice: Nature, Purpose & Destiny of Man
TnT Practice
Book Discussion: Ch 3
Assignments: 1) Read Ch 4 The Gravity and Gladness of Preaching, 2) Memorize the Two-Minute Gospel

Session Five (3/31)
Impromptu Practice: Salvation, or How to Know God
Share the Two-Minute Gospel
TnT Practice
Book Discussion: Ch 4
Assignments: 1) Read Ch 5 Keep God Central: The Life of Jonathan Edwards, 2) Conduct at least three Spiritual Surveys by 4/21

Session Six (4/7)
Impromptu Practice: The Person of Christ
TnT Practice
Book Discussion: Ch 5
Assignments: 1) Read Ch 6 Submit to Sweet Sovereignty: The Theology of Edwards

Session Seven (4/16) Meeting at Gateway Christian Fellowship
Impromptu Practice: All categories
Share results of Spiritual Surveys
TnT Practice
Book Discussion: Ch 6
Assignments: 1) Read Ch 7 & Conclusion - Make God Supreme: The Preaching of Edwards

Session Eight (4/23) Meeting at Gateway Christian Fellowship
Impromptu Practice: All categories
TnT Practice
Book Discussion: Ch 7 & Conclusion
Wrap Up