Relying on GPS

who-is-mycenter-1Like most children there was a time I had to figure out how to learn directions.  This was long before GPS so we had to learn maps and compass directions. At some point the fact that the sun appears in the east and disappears to the west made sense to me.  I learned that the house I grew-up in faced east. The was to the Atlantic Ocean was out the front door and the Pacific Ocean was through the back yard. Canada would be to my left and I looked out the front window and the Gulf of Mexico would be to my right (growing up in Pensacola, Florida, I knew where the Gulf was).

I suppose you learned geography in a similar way. We place ourselves in the center of the world and measure everything from there.  GPS is no different.  When I am driving there is a little triangle that indicates where I am and displays a map of the roads around me.  The voice even tells me how far the next turn is from where I am. When I end the trip the voice pads my ego by telling me how awesome I am when he says, “You have arrived!” I feel quite accomplished when he says that.

We set ourselves at the center of our GPS.

By default, we become the center of our map, of the GPS, of the world. I begin with me and where I am and evaluate everything from my point of view. From this comes a great desire and ability to justify what “I” do. When someone criticizes my attitude, point of view, or choice, he is criticizing me. If you try to prove my opinion is wrong, my ego takes a punch and my inner Yosemite Sam screams, “Them’s fightin’ words!”

The real danger is when I begin to believe that I cannot be wrong. When I think that I know my opinions and values are the standard of what is correct. The bumper sticker from the ’80s and 90’s said, “Beam me up, Scotty. There’s no intelligent life down here.” As a Scott (and a Scot by heritage) I wanted to ask, “What makes you an exception?” We claim that we are not perfect, but deep inside we disclaim our imperfections.

Yet, we are not complete. I have limited knowledge. I have limited access to certain knowledge. Knowing that means that I may not have all the information I need to make and informed opinion and there fore my opinion might be wrong. This applies to politics, news reports, crime, violence, what is going on in your family or marriage, of in the coach’s office.

There is One who is truly the center of not only the globe, but the universe. He is God’s gift to mankind. He is preeminent. He is Creator, Sustainer, Life-giver, and Savior. Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. He is the True Standard. His instructions and example are right. His life and vicarious death give Him the right to instruction us in the way we should live. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the only way to God (John 14:6).

The Word of God is THE Standard.

His Word is the Standard, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (John 12:48). We compare ourselves to that central teaching, “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (Jas 1:25).

-Scott

Dear Father,

Help me remove myself from the center of my life. Help me to place Christ on that throne. I want my life to be Yours and Yours alone.

In Jesus Name,

I Could Be Kinder

The three most important things in life are as he told me:

  1. Be kind kind
  2. Be kind
  3. Be kind

Kindness.

We live in a world of political and moral divide. In this day when news networks are divisive editorials and not really news reporting agencies, when relationships break, and families hurt we could use a little – no a great deal of  – KINDNESS!

The psalmist describes God as kind, “Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
 Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117). The American Standard Version says, “For his lovingkindness is great toward us;”

Kindness.

Peter tells wives with unbelieving husbands that their kind disposition may lead their husband to Christ (1Pe 3:1-4). I know that the principles he lays out for wives apply to all Christians and the influence we can have on unbelievers. We need to learn kindness.

Ten Ways to be Kind – Today!

  1. Compliment others in a meaningful way.
  2. Hold the door open for someone.
  3. Clean up someone else’s mess.
  4. Pay for someone’s coffee or lunch.
  5. Send a care package or card.
  6. Really listen to someone tell their story.
  7. Donate your time.
  8. Let someone in line at the store or in traffic.
  9. Say, “thank you” often.
  10. Be encouraging in both your verbal and nonverbal communication.

How will you demonstrate kindness today?

-Scott

 

Life – Enjoy It

enjoy-life

The wise preacher says, “. . . there is nothing better than a man should rejoice in his work . . .” (Ecc 3:22). One of the lessons of Ecclesiastes is that we should enjoy life. Life is after all, all we have on this earth. A few verses earlier he says, “there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live.” (Ecc 3:12).

Enjoy Life

Through my years I have developed five keys to enjoying life. They are simple, yet not easy.  As I list them I think how easy they are to say and to suggest, but how difficult they are to always remember to put into practice.

Five Keys to Enjoying Life

  1. Decide to be happy. Yes, happiness is a decision. Sometimes it is a daily decision. When I get up in a bad temper or I find myself in a poor mood late in the day, I tell myself to choose happiness. I am making a choice to find simple pleasures to enjoy in the moment.
  2. Make the best of each moment. Your current circumstance may not be ideal, but make the best of it. Everyone has sorrow. We all have moments, days, or months of trouble. Look for ways to make the smiles outnumber the tears.  A few years ago I watched news footage after a tornado ripped through a poverty stricken area. One older gentleman talked about the mangled mass that used to be his mobile home. As I recall, he said something like this, “I didn’t pay much for it, and I slowly made it better over the last few years.  I just put down new floors, a painted inside and out.  It’s a good thing, I only paid a few thousand for it.  I guess, I’ll go find me another one and start over, I’d been wantin’  a newer one anyway. I think I can make it better than I did this one.”
  3. Remember you cannot please everyone. This is one of the more difficult concepts for me.  I like to see people happy and enjoying themselves and their life in general. That is why I am sharing these keys. But not everyone wants to be happy and not everyone will appreciate what I do and who I am. There will even be those that are miserable because I am happy. I cannot let critics ruin my life.
  4. Do what you can for those less fortunate than you are. Share your time, share what material things you can, share your food, share your abilities. Share a smile. Listen to their story over a cup of coffee and a muffin, scone, bagel, doughnut, or cake. Something simple may just make someone else’s day a little brighter.
  5. Keep busy. A person that is busy does not have much time to find misery. Do things in the house, in the yard, or in the garden. Learn a hobby. Go sit with someone lonely. Go for a walk with someone you care about.

One bonus key: Keep yourself in touch with God. The wise preacher is correct when he concludes that, ” . . . all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecc 12:13). In service to God we find fulfillment and the blessing of eternity with Him.

-Scott

Starting Over

I tried. I failed. I tried again. I failed again. I tried a third time, and this time – I failed. Maybe I should have quite while I was ahead. Yet my stubbornness prevailed and I did learn to jump rope. I did learn to ride a bike, I learned to say the alphabet backwards, as well as many other things I do.

Maybe you already know that success does not always come from a single effort. Maybe first grade was the best three years of your life. It could be that the storms destroyed your crops or your house, but you replanted and rebuilt.

In the words of Frank Sinatra, “That’s life!”

Victory does not always come in a single down, but by down after down after down. Plays may be won or lost, but the victory is to the one who wins the most set of downs.

As a child of God we will have times of discouragement, even ministers and elders have those times. There will be moments of despair in your Christians walk. Times when you feel like giving up. You are not seeing the results of your efforts in telling someone about Christ. You study and pray, but still find yourself struggling with the same temptation. Giving up is easy. Quitting is the smooth path when the going gets tough. But we must be victorious. We must overcome.

We must overcome.

Those who are victorious, those who overcome the world are the ones who try again and again and if need be again and a gain. They refuse to surrender. Conquerors go down fighting and stand back up one more time than they go down.

Consider the following words of encouragement and DON’T GIVE UP!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:26-27)

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:57-58)

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

-Scott

Bonus for reading all the way through – That’s Life!

The Letter

the-letter

Dear Friend,

I just wanted to write to tell you how much I love you and care for you. Yesterday, I saw you walking and laughing with your friends. I hoped that soon you would want me to walk along with you too. So, I painted you a sunset to close your day and whispered a cool breeze to refresh you. I waited – you never called- I just kept on loving you.

As I watched you fall asleep, I wanted so much to touch you. I spilled moonlight onto your face – trickling down your cheeks as so many tears have. You did not even think of me. I wanted so much to comfort you.

Today started with my brilliant sunrise, but you woke late and rushed off to work – you did not even notice. My sky became cloudy and my tears became rain.

Oh how I love you. Oh, if you would only listen. I really do love you. I try to say it in the quiet of the green meadow and in the blue of the sky. The wind whispers my love throughout the treetops and spills it into the vibrant colors of all the flowers. I shout my love to you in the thunder of great waterfalls and compose songs for birds to sing to you. I warm you with the clothing of my sunshine and perfume the air with nature’s sweet scent. My love for you is deeper than any ocean and greater than any need in your heart. If you would only realize how much I truly care.

My father sends his love. I want you to meet him – he cares too. Fathers are just that way. So, please call on me soon. No matter what may happen in your life I will be here for you – because I love you.

Affectionately your friend,

Jesus, the Christ, Lord, and Savior of The World

I first saw this letter in a bulletin from Atwood Church of Christ in November 1999. This is obviously a fictitious letter imagining how Jesus might express His love. God did really send a letter, a book actually, to tell us of His love in Christ. Take time to read this letter – it is called the Bible. Remember God’s Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Remember that obedient faith in that Word brings eternal life with the Father. (cf. Jn 1:14; 3:16; 14:6)

-Scott

You are Talking, but are You having a Conversation?

raxPlease allow me to start with a bit of self-disclosure. I can talk – a lot, no – quite a lot. Here is a for instance: Amy and I went on our first date in October of 1987 to get a chocolate chip milkshake at Rax on Atlanta Hwy in Montgomery. She listened to me talk the entire evening. I must have spoken 25 words to her 1 the whole evening. I am that person who could talk to the proverbial fence post.

But I learned, sometime ago, that even though I was talking, I was not always in a conversation. As a preacher, I still do a lot of talking, but am I always conversing? As a minister sitting in hospitals or in people’s homes, am I talking or having a conversation? When I am studying with an individual about Christ and the Church am I talking down to them or having a conversation about the story of Good News?

I recently purchased a book “Better Conversations” by Jim Knight, Ph.D. He writes to instructional coaches, school principles, and teachers about their conversations in coaching sessions, staff meetings, and classrooms. I am reading it to help me improve my conversations with other Christians, ministers, church leaders, those who want to “talk to the preacher,” and every conversation I have. I want to be a better conversationalist.

Fostering Dialogue

I recently read a chapter that  . . . well . . . convicted me. Chapter 4 is about Fostering Dialogue. Dialogue is more than talking and listening. Dialogue is to have a conversation that leads to all people involved to understanding each other, hearing each other, and shaping each other by each participant’s ideas and input. Dialogue then is a conversation where learning occurs. Dialogue is an open conversation that encourages people to say what they are thinking. Dialogue involves listening with empathy and respect. When you approach the person you are conversing with while having an attitude of “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves . . . (looking) not only to (your) own interests, but also the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4 – bold:BSMc) you foster dialogue. Dialogue is a to and fro conversation where we each hear, and learn what the other(s) are communicating and everyone shares their thoughts and ideas.

In his book, Dr. Knight identifies two parts to fostering better dialogue: Advocacy and Inquiry. As I read this chapter, I realized how understanding the principles of advocacy and inquiry would not only help  my writing, my preaching, the way I answer questions, my studies with searchers, but also my day to day conversations. Take a few moments to reflect on these two parts to dialogue with me.

Advocacy

Dr. Knight lists five strategies to articulating (advocating) our ideas:

  1. Consider the thoughts and feelings of others. Try to understand, as best you can, the needs and emotions of the person(s) as they relate to the topic at hand. As a minister, if I am teaching, preaching, or talking with someone about a sinful action, I need to consider what people who are joining me in the conversation might  know and feel about the topic. How can I make my thoughts known to them while remaining respectful of their understanding?
  2. Clarify the Meaning of Words and Concepts. Words are not perfect. Language changes and meanings evolve. Miscommunication occurs when we do not work from the same definition or meaning. The language of theology and certain “church words” are misunderstood by many and completely foreign to others. I might be able to talk all morning about the efficacy and the atoning nature of the blood of Christ and the concept of propitiation, but If I do not clarify the meaning of efficacy, atonement, Christ, or propitiation we may not make progress.
  3. Provide Contextual Information. Context is additional information that fosters our understanding of the topic at hand. Context might be societal setting, the experience that brought you to your understanding, or even your childhood. Context is the schema (understanding derived from experience) from which you work, think, and learn. The person(s) you are talking with may have a different schema. You may have grown up in a faith rich family, they may have grown up without any encouragement to faith.
  4. Identify Your False Assumptions. Do not assume you have a perfect and deep understanding of a topic or that you have perfectly communicated what you do know. Do not assume that the other person knows exactly what you know or has the same depth of knowledge you have on the topic. As a Christian, we may have learned a Biblical truth such a long time ago that we forgot that we never knew it and what it was like not to know.  We cannot assume that those we talk with are where we are. They may have more knowledge than we do.
  5. Use Stories and Analogies. Jesus was the Master Teacher. His knowledge base and His understanding of God, the Father, will never be surpassed. But the people – the common people – would say He taught like no one else. He used stories and analogies that we call parables to communicate deep truths in a way that they could understand. Stories connect to our lives and our emotions and help us make application to our own walk of life.

That brings us to inquiry. Whereas advocacy is speaking what you think and articulates where you are coming from, inquiry invites others to share so that you can learn and understand their possibly different point of view.

Inquiry

Knight lists four strategies to inquiry:

  1. Be Humble. Keep your pride and your ego in check. Enter the dialogue looking to learn. Listen for what others have to share that will help you.
  2. Listen with Empathy. Take time to pause and to consider what the other person is really saying, reflect back what you think you hear in order to fully understand. Listen deeply. Try not to think about your response until you fully understand what they are communicating.
  3. Open Yourself to Knew Ideas. You do not have the corner on wisdom, knowledge, ideas, or talents. Have a mind ready to learn something new. Consider the possibility that you might enter the conversation being incorrect or misinformed.
  4. Surface and Suspend Assumptions. Deeply held convictions can turn dialogue and learning into a closed argument. A true dialogue will help you to become aware of your assumptions so you can evaluate your opinions as valid or invalid. Accept that you might be right or you might be wrong. Instead of arguing, listen and ask questions for your own growth in understanding.

I am beginning to see where the strategies of both advocacy and inquiry will improve my conversations, my sermons, Bible classes, and my Bible studies with others. But only if I start putting them into practice.

Where do you see these principles helping you?

How will you apply them to you conversations?

How can I apply them to my public speaking?

-Scott

Do you love the Lord?

The Psalmist begins Psalm 116 with “I love the Lord” then list reasons why he loves God. What about you? Do you love the Lord?

Do you love God?

Do you love the Lord Jesus, the Christ?

Me? I love the Lord. I love my Lord and Savior, Jesus who is the Christ, the Messiah (God’s Anointed).  Why?  What would cause such enamor?

  • I Love Him because every time that Roman scourge tore His flesh leaving lacerations, they were not rightfully His, but He took them for me.
  • I Love Him because the pain from every thorn from the crown that pierced His head was not His, but He took it for me
  • I Love Him because every inch of flesh severed by the spikes nailing Him to the cross were not for His crimes, but mine.  He took them for me.
  • I Love Him because the ridicule he endured was not for His inconsistent living, but for mine.  He took it for me.
  • I Love Him because the blood that poured out from His spear-pierced side did not atone for His sins (for He had none) but for mine.  He took it for me.
  • I Love Him because He first loved me and on that rough-hewn cross, a man called Jesus, the Word of God that became flesh, took it for me.

I Love Him and I long to be near Him.  My favorite hymn expresses this desire clearly:

Biography of a Mentor / Hero

Dale and Jeff Jenkins recently published an online magazine ON Preaching and Ministry – My Hero in Preaching.  There was an error in the magazine attributing an article about Gus Nichols to me instead of Scott Harp.  I thanked Jeff and Dale for the mistake, the other Scott wrote a great article!

After reading, I thought about some of my preaching heroes.  A while back I wrote short articles about two of them from my childhood:

Jimmie Wisdom

Dale McCaleb

Today I want to tell you about a third. This one is from my college years and then again 10 years later until today. I had the opportunity not only to work closely with this hero as a minister with a neighboring church, but also in radio, television, and funerals from 1999 until 2014.  We still cross paths occasionally although I am an hour away from him now.  During my graduate work, I interviewed Levi Sides for a class project, this post is an edit of that interview.

LEVI SIDES

Notes from our Revival

Since the summer of 2004, Levi Sides has been serving as a minister with the Sixth Avenue Church of Christ in Jasper, Alabama, where his responsibilities include teaching Bible classes, preaching in the absence of the preaching minister, preaching on the Words of Truth radio program, Search the Scripture TV program, and working with the senior members of the congregation.  When describing his style of preaching, he says his goal is to “preach the Word with as little harm and as all the good that I possible can.”

Levi Jackson Sides was born to Andrew Jackson Sides and Myrtle Sides in the Blackwater area of Nauvoo, Alabama on February 10, 1942.  His parents were members at Blackwater Macedonia Church of Christ, where his father would serve as an elder. His parents named him after his Great-Great-Great Uncle whose grave marker behind the ‘Old Fifth Avenue’ building reads, “Levi Sides, Indian Fighter.”  The elder Levi Sides served under Andrew Jackson during the Creek Indian Wars.

“Preach the Word with as little harm and as all the good that I possible can.”

Brother Sides believes that the Church and the local school as the major influence in his life. At the age of 11 years, Levi Sides was baptized into Christ for the remission of his sins and became a child of God.  Four years later at the age of 15 he preached his first sermon.  During the final two years of high school, Bro. Sides preached for the Shiloh church of Christ, which is now one of the two congregations that merged to form the Midway congregation.  This opportunity to preach earned him the nickname of “preacher” with his fellow high school students.  When graduation came, Levi Sides preached the Baccalaureate Address to his fellow seniors. Bro. Sides mentioned  the late Paul Wylie, former school teacher, state education leader, and minister of the Goodsprings Church of Christ south of Parrish, Alabama. He also made mention of the late Gus Nichols, preacher at the Sixth Avenue Congregation, who encouraged his development as a preacher and motivated young Levi Sides to attend Freed-Hardeman College in Henderson, Tennessee.

Levi did attend Freed-Hardeman and received an Associate of Arts Degree.  He continued his education at Harding College and received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Religion.  He attended classes at Harding Graduate School of Religion, but did not receive a degree.  Other degrees include a Bachelors of Science in Secondary Education, a Bachelor of Science in History, and a Masters of Education.  These degrees would serve him as he worked in both church and school settings throughout his life.

In the communities surrounding Jasper, Alabama, Levi Sides busies himself performing funerals for members of the church and community. His compassion and care for people facing their own death and the death of a loved one gives him the reputation as an encourager and friend.  To go along with this reputation, Mr. Sides suggested that he would like to be known as a “Preacher of the Amazing Grace of God.”

-Scott

Note – Levi and I share the same birthdate (today) and same wedding anniversary (August 12). Happy Birthday, Levi!

 

Family Matters

fam-forward-logo-1This weekend at Central we are hosting a Family Forward Workshop.  As a congregation we are looking forward to a great two days with Rick and Mark Butts, Andrew Itson, and Kristin Van Der Pol.

With that it mind, here is a short blog thought about your family’s greatest three needs:

  1. Love.
  2. Commitment.
  3. Togetherness.

How are you as a family leader or member fulfilling these needs?

-Scott

 

Majors and Minors

Ecuador 2013

Majors and Minors.

No, not baseball! No, not the prophets either.

Yesterday, I watched a videoed sermon about major and minor things Jesus said. The speaker’s agenda was to get his audience to see that there are somethings Jesus says worth fighting over and somethings he believes that Jesus or the New Testament penman said that we can gloss over or even ignore completely. He surmises that we have majored in the minors and minored in the majors.

If I followed him correctly, he believes there are two major statements from Jesus that we read in the context of both Matthew 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-33. In these parallel passages Jesus answers a question about the greatest command. Jesus’ answer reveals that all the Law and Prophets depend on these two commands:

  1. The greatest command is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
  2. The second greatest commandment is similar stating that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

For the record, I cannot argue with Jesus. I will not argue with Jesus.

Loving God with our entirety and loving our neighbor are central to being a person of God, a follower of Christ. If you simply scan through the accounts of the Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Like, and John) you will see Jesus as an example of these two commands. Additionally, when you read the Law of Moses (or just the Ten Commandments) and the message of the Prophets, you quickly see how everything God demanded of His people depends on their Love for God and their love for those around them. Jesus is RIGHT!

JESUS is right!

But the speaker I was listening too missed Jesus’ point. The speaker was stating that what we do as and in worship as it applies to our praise in song does not matter as long as we love God and our neighbor. The logical conclusion of this speaker’s train of thought is that you can do ANYTHING as worship if you do it because you love God and you are living love toward your neighbor. (Admittedly, he did say this only applies if there is no obvious connection to the simple gospel message. But if his argument is taken to the logical conclusion anything is acceptable.) Yet, as I read Jesus’ statement, I hear Him saying that loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength means that God and His will come first over my desires and my preferences. Come to think of it, the same Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15).

If we truly love God with all that we are (our entirety), we will search His will to ensure that we are doing what He wants. We will check ourselves and we will set our desires aside for what He regulates as the worship He desires.  This is not majoring in the minors. This is majoring on loving God.

Look back to Jesus, the One who told us the greatest two commandments, the One whose life exemplifies these two great loves. He loved his neighbor (you and me) so immensely that He died for our sin, paying the penalty we owed (John 15:13). He loved God (the Father) enough to set aside personal desire to make that sacrifice. I recall His prayer in the Garden, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39). NEVERTHELESS!

Let us keep our focus on the standard of God’s will and always seek to please Him out of our love for Him.

-Scott