Thursday, October 23, 2014

You're Welcome - No Problem

I’ve noticed an interesting cultural shift in America that has taken place in just the last decade or so.  It’s a simple thing, really.  It involves what has always been a very natural exchange that two people have when one thanks the other.  In fact, most parents consider this a key area of training when it comes to teaching their little ones how to respond to kindness.  Soon after teaching them the P-word, some would even call it the magic word…“please”, we teach them to say thank-you and you’re welcome.  But it is this last phrase, you’re welcome, that has increasingly fallen on hard times, if not completely been kicked to the curb for its more modern counterpart.  And what’s that, you say?  No problem.

Whether it’s at the drive-through window or a five star restaurant, dropping off your clothes at the cleaners or picking up your brand new Lexus, the simple phrase thank you is, more and more, being acknowledged by No problem!  At first, I didn’t even notice it, but the more its usage increased, the more I began to wonder how it came to replace you’re welcome.

The welcome in you're welcome is a statement saying: “I would do this for you again, if asked." (as in,  “You're welcome to ask me again.”) Now, this may or not be a true statement. If someone thanks you for donating a kidney, for instance, and you casually say you’re welcome, I do not believe that anyone would think you would happily donate the other kidney.  But the response you’re welcome is much more akin to its usual substitute “it’s my pleasure” than the currently popular “no problem.”  My initial response to someone saying no problem (admittedly under the breath) was “Really? I didn’t think it was a problem…you getting me my cheeseburger or fetching my suit which I paid you to dry clean.  Are you suggesting that under normal conditions that would be a problem?”

You might be thinking, seriously, what’s the big deal? At least the person is trying to be polite and responding to you in a positive manner.   That is true, but that is not my point.  Think about it this way.  When someone greets you for the first time, or for the 100th time, really, would you rather hear them say, “You are welcome here” or “Your being here is no problem.”  We even sang it in a worship song last week, addressing the living God, no less.  The song was entitled (note this) Here for You and included the lines “We welcome You with praise”, and “be welcomed in this place.” I doubt a song with the lyrics “You’re no problem, God” would have gained as much traction in the contemporary Christian music industry.

What may be at the heart of this is an increasing focus on self in our culture, a society of me-ism (sometimes to the point of narcissism) which has, as its starting point, what’s in it for me.  If it’s all about me, then the way I show you I am doing you a favor is to say no problem.  But if you (the other person) are the focus, than saying you’re welcome can affirm your willingness, even eagerness, to serve that person. 

As the musicians at our church begin our preparations for a Christmas event, our thoughts often turn to outsiders…those outside our ministry, our church, perhaps even outside the faith.  It is at these very times when I try to challenge those inside the circle to be welcoming of those outside the circle.  I don’t think a no problem attitude will quite cut it.  For openers, it states a positive with a negative.
I try to remind my veterans to think back for a moment to the last time they joined a group for the first time:  What were their hopes at that first meeting? Any fears? What made that experience such that they wanted to return? Or what, perhaps, happened that kept them from going back?  Recently, some of our newer members voiced apprehension at first, wondering “am I in someone else’s seat” (officially or unofficially), “do I bring my music home?”, “what line should I be reading in the music?”, “where are the bathrooms?” (OK, I made that one up.)  More than anything, they want to know that they are OK…and that we’re glad they’re here…not just that they’re not a problem.

As worship leaders, let me encourage you.  Opening our doors to new folks is, indeed, part of our mission!  This is also part of our worship!  As we welcome them, we welcome Jesus into our midst!  (Whatsoever you have done to the least of these brothers and sisters, You have done to Me, Jesus says). 

So treasure your choir buddies, but don’t forget to make new ones.  Community is in; cliques are out.  I appeal to you!  Be on the lookout for unfamiliar faces, and take a risk by initiating a conversation.   Try talking to some folks you are not that familiar with, perhaps whose name you might not even know.  Don’t forget what it took for you to brave joining a new group for the very first time. I believe how we handle the little things of creating a safe and welcoming place qualifies us to be entrusted with the much larger task of leading Christ’s body in worship.  If I witness that over the next several months, I will be the first to say thank you.  And I better not hear…no problem!


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Under Construction

Here’s a challenge for all you married couples out there—especially those of you who have endured some bumps and bruises along the way in your relationship.  On your next date night (and I pray for your sake that they are regular and frequent) have the lyrics to this song in front of you and listen to We Build by Nicole Nordeman (

It's bigger than we thought; it's taller than it ought to be— 
this pile of rubble and ruins.
 The neighbors must talk--it's the worst yard on the block;
Just branches and boards where walls stood.

Did it seem to you like the storm just knew
we weren't quite finished with the roof when it started?

So we build, we build;
we clear away what was and make room for what will be.
If you hold the nails, I'll take the hammer.
I'll hold it still if you'll climb the ladder. 
 If you will, then I will…build.

On any given day we could simply walk away
 and let someone else hold the pieces. 
The lie that we tell says it's better somewhere else,
as if love flies south when it freezes.

What I'm trying to say in some clumsy way 
 is that it's you and only you for always.

Every year that goes by brings a deeper appreciation for this song’s honesty and this songwriter’s insights.  Nothing is more difficult, perhaps, than achieving the goal of a happy and healthy marital relationship, able to endure all the pitfalls that await it.  After all, the “two becoming one” are always two sinners, fallen and fractured, if not broken, human beings who, on their best days, are still capable of hiding and hurting, disappointing and dashing the hopes and dreams of another.  And as Christian couples, we discover all too soon that relational discord between a husband and wife becomes pretty obvious over time.  The use of the metaphor of a house that has grown increasingly dilapidated in full view is particularly poignant.  It only adds to our shame when we fear our failure is on display for all to see, and we often incorrectly conclude that our conflicts are unique to us.  We might even think that if we were “truly Christians” we wouldn’t be having these problems.

The chorus to this song provides, I believe, the key to moving through the pain and problems to better days and an even deeper relationship.  It suggests that we must repeatedly look each other in the eyes and “re-up.” 

What I'm trying to say in some clumsy way is that it's you and only you;
 Not just for now, not just today, but it's you and only you…for always.

We must go back to our original vows and recommit to staying, to listening, and to working through or overcoming whatever chasms we believe have begun to separate us.  And, like any builder knows, we must start with a firm foundation.  There is limitless help—God with us—for those days we are tempted to “simply walk away and let someone else hold the pieces.”

Don’t wait for the next “storm” to appear to begin preparing for it. Trials and setbacks are part of being human. Resolve together right now to attend to the details, the issues which make you most vulnerable to the attacks of the evil one. Resist the natural tendency to let your love grow cold through neglect or taking one another for granted.  Find other couples to be totally honest with about your struggles.  Talk to a counselor, a pastor, or a trusted, but also grounded, friend. Whatever you do, recognize the signs when outside help is needed. And never be too proud to admit that yours is a marriage still under construction.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Statues or Support Beams?

As a leader in the worship arts ministry of our church, I often find myself revisiting a fundamental question—why do I do what I do?  In fact, why do any of us so-called upfronters do what we do?  I like to think of our role as primarily prophetic, not aesthetic.  We are called to prophesy, not merely beautify.  The use of arts in public worship should go well beyond merely helping to provide window dressing, so to speak.  Nor is it our role to merely “set up” the pastoral message for the day—the sermon. 

This is not a universally held value, however.  Many churches, traditional and contemporary alike, continue to see the role of the arts as an end in themselves, rather than just a means to a greater end.  I tell my musicians that we are the frame of the picture, never to be confused with the true work of art—our glorious Christ, whom we worship.

King David spoke of participating in public worship as going to “the house of the Lord,” a prospect which made him glad (Psalm 122:1). Metaphorically speaking, if we can imagine corporate worship as entering the temple (or presence) of God, then those who lead others in worship are actually more like the pillars or columns supporting the structure than the artifacts which merely provide artistic beauty.  Personally, I’d rather be a support beam than a statue or a stained glass window any day.
While not specifically addressing worship leaders, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah established one of the foundational roles they can have in our corporate life together. In the 35th chapter he reminds us that one primary function we have in whatever we do is to build up or support one another. Imagine this as your weekly, if not daily, job description:

Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come,
 he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.

In the New Testament, the writer to the Hebrews gives instruction specifically for public gatherings with these words from chapter 10: 

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith,
having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience
 and having our bodies washed with pure water. 
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,
but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

I believe one reason God originally established the rhythm of a seven day week with a Sabbath rest was because we need regular, systematic refueling. Our spiritual computers need a reboot routinely to clear out all the junk that makes its way into our minds and hearts. 

God understands this human dilemma.  He also knows that left alone, we will lose this battle every time. The idea of meeting together with others of like mind has been around since the beginning of time.  It suggests our need for accountability, mutual encouragement and to experience certain aspects of God’s goodness en masse.  Sure, I can enjoy listening to a symphony on my iPod or CD player all by myself.  But how much richer is the experience when I sit in a larger auditorium listening to live players surrounded by other symphony lovers who can join me in the experience.

Enter the need for leadership in this experience we call corporate worship.  Traditionally, this team of gifted artists was required to be prepared, honed in their skills, strong of faith, and outwardly focused. In other words, they understood worship was not about them.  It is exactly these traits which the contemporary church still needs today from its upfront leaders.  Not just excellent musicians.  Not just trendy dressers or hip talkers.  In following in the footsteps of those who went before them, worship leaders need to be willing to lead the people into battle against seen or unseen enemies (2 Chronicles 20), to speak and sing faith into the lives of those assembled, and to be concerned about supporting other upfronters, such as pastors, teachers, etc., as well as the people in front of them, all needing a touch from God.

One of the most powerful images I ever heard used to describe the role of the worship leader was…a donkey.  More specifically, the donkey used by Jesus on Palm Sunday, when he rode through the streets of Jerusalem to the accompanying cries of Hosanna—Lord, save us!  How are we to be like a donkey? We’re not the big deal.  But we do have a big role.  As we lift Jesus up (perhaps not all that high atop a donkey, but the image is still there), others can see and focus on him, not his mode of transportation. As artists, this is so counterintuitive to the way many of us were raised—to see our “talent” as a means of gaining attention, if not our own self-worth.  But when we begin to accept this function as a high calling, indeed, a privilege, then Jesus is glorified and His people can be edified.

As a worship leader, do you know your job description?  Do you comprehend the high calling to which you have been called?  I, for one, can’t wait to join you and others around the globe in fulfilling our role the next time God’s people gather. So what’ll it be? A work of art or a source of support?  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Promises to Keep

Have you ever found yourself feeling a bit hypocritical while singing a song or hymn in a time of worship?  Maybe it was during a phrase like, “all to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give” or “take my life and let it be consecrated”, “take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold, or “break my heart for what breaks yours.”  If you are anything like me, these invitations to God’s activity in our lives can feel pretty drastic, if not downright impossible to live up to.  I give ALL to Jesus?  Really?  Has that ever been true?  Even within a 24 hour day? 

So what do we do with this language of ours?  What can we rightfully say in times of worship that won’t discredit us right out of the gate before an all-knowing God?  Think of the words to this familiar contemporary worship song, From the Inside Out.

A thousand times I've failed, still Your mercy remains
And should I stumble again still I'm caught in Your grace
Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades 
Never-ending, Your glory goes beyond all fame

Your will above all else my purpose remains
The art of losing myself in bringing You praise
Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades
Never-ending, Your glory goes beyond all fame

In my heart in my soul, Lord I give You control
Consume me from the inside out, Lord
Let justice and praise become my embrace 
To love You from the inside out

Joel Houston (© 2005 Hillsong Music Publishing Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing)

We are drawn in by the utter honesty of the opening verse:  God, I’ve failed you a thousand times, only to run headlong into your mercy.  And when I stumble again, Your arms of grace are sure to catch me. Who wouldn’t want to worship this God?  But then it begins to get a bit more dicey.  My highest purpose remains to do your will; to lose myself in living a life of worship.  And then, as any good prayer will do, it takes us still deeper:  From the deepest place and part of me, God, I relinquish control of my life.  Do whatever it takes, to the point of consuming whatever remains impure or ill-conceived in me.

Is what we say and sing in worship really such a big deal?  After all, aren’t they just songs? Centuries ago, King Solomon wrote this caution when contemplating the discourse of our worship:

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.  As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.  When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.  It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.  Do not let your mouth lead you into sin.  Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.   Ecclesiastes 5

Solomon is not saying never make a vow.  He is saying weigh what you say.  God takes it seriously.  Whether you’re praying or singing, say what you mean.  Mean what you say.  But sometimes when responding to the virtues of God, we are tempted to quickly rush in with promises, using words to write checks that our hearts can’t cash, so to speak.  This is a natural part of falling deeper in love with someone.  As feelings intensify, so does our love language.  But vows move us beyond contemplation or even good intentions.  They are a commitment to action.  Solomon’s caution: less is more.

The business world, in fact, prods us to move from theory and idea to an action step or a business plan.  Peter Drucker said it this way:  “There is no correlation between potential and performance.”  In other words, what we are capable of doing and what we actually do are not the same thing.  That may be true in the marketplace, but when it comes to the interactions between fallen sinners and a Holy God in worship, God starts with the heart.  Thank God!  The Psalmist says, “The Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. He knows how we are formed and remembers that we are dust.” (Ps. 103:13, 14) 

When we offer ourselves to God, we are stating our great desire to give ourselves completely.  And we ask for His help in fulfilling those vows.  Our Maker knows that every habit we develop began with an action, and every action began with an intention, and every intention began with a conviction.  So long before our making a vow, the Holy Spirit is at work to inspire or convict us to want to change and then to help us begin taking steps along that journey.

At the end of the day, the heart of worship is not our passion, not our music, not even what we promise to do. The heart of our worship is also the Object of our worship—Jesus, our great Redeemer. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”(1 Jn 4) May you love God publically this week as you sing, and pray, and vow to give yourself completely to Him.  “The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.” (1 Thess. 5:24) Now that’s a promise.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   tad

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Kids say the darndest things…so listen to them

Who knows what lurks in these little minds?  Recently, my wife Debby had a conversation with one of our grandchildren.  Because of a severe disability, Debby’s speech is impaired to the point that it is often difficult to understand her.  My young granddaughter, not knowing that this had nothing to do with grandma’s ability to think or reason, asked her very simply:  “You’re not very smart, are you, Mimi?”  My wife painstakingly attempted to reassure her that though she had speech problems, her mind was otherwise still quite sharp.  “OK”, retorted the child, “What’s a 100 plus a 100?!??

I recently came across some equally funny interactions from kids with some standard test questions. Check out these Children's Science Exam responses. I did not make these up. These are real answers given by children.  I should be so creative…

Q:           Name the four seasons.
A:           Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar.

Q:           Explain one of the processes by which water can be made safe to drink.
A:           Flirtation makes water safe to drink because it removes large pollutants                  like grit, sand, dead sheep and canoeists.

Q:           How is dew formed? 
A:           The sun shines down on the leaves and makes them perspire.

Q:           How can you delay milk turning sour?
A:           Keep it in the cow.

Q:           What are steroids?
A:           Things for keeping carpets still on the stairs.

Q:           What happens to your body as you age?
A:           When you get old, so do your bowels and you get intercontinental.

Q:           What happens to a boy when he reaches puberty?
A:           He says good-bye to his boyhood and looks forward to his adultery.

Q:           Name a major disease associated with cigarettes.
A:           Premature death.

Q:           How are the main parts of the body categorized? (e.g., abdomen.)
A:           The body is consisted into three parts—the brainium, the borax and the                  abdominal cavity. The brainium contains the brain; the borax contains                    the heart and lungs, and the abdominal cavity contains the five bowels,                  A, E, I, O, and U.

Q:           What is the fibula?
A:           A small lie.

Q:           What does "varicose" mean?
A:           Nearby.

Q:           Give the meaning of the term "Caesarean Section" 
A:           The Caesarean Section is a district in Rome.

Q:           What does the word "benign" mean?'
A:           Benign is what you will be after you be eight.

Make some time this week to truly listen to a child…anyone’s child.  You’ll be surprised what you might learn, and they, in turn, will know that they matter to someone.  In doing this, you might just be following in Jesus’ footsteps.  The Gospel Matthew includes this short, but significant incident when Jesus had opportunity to listen or ignore some little ones.  Chapter 19: 13-15 records this:

One day children were brought to Jesus in the hope that he would lay hands on them and pray over them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus intervened: “Let the children alone, don’t prevent them from coming to me. God’s kingdom is made up of people like these.” After laying hands on them, he left.

What little ones will you “lay hands on” this week?  Who will encounter the grace of God through you?  Don’t let a busy schedule or dismissive attitude “shoo them off.”  Where God reigns, these little people are kind of a big deal.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican
Luke 18:9-14 NIV (New International Version)

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable:

"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' 

"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

The Parable of the Phari-Sing and the Probably-Can 
(Loosely based on) Luke 18:9-14 and I Corinthians 13:1

To some who were confident of their own artistic pedigree and overall superiority in all things artsy-fartsy and who looked down on everybody else, a parable was told: “Two men went up to the temple to sing, one an arrogant musician and the other a simple mirth-maker. The Phari-sing stood up and prayed about himself:

 'God (actually GAWD), I thank thee that I am not like other people—you know, the little people, the “no-counts,” the ones I must endure sitting next to in choir—those of untrained ear, those whose vowels bespeak a dialect formed in southern Georgia or, perhaps, Arkansas; men and women who mistake a Coda for a common illness and a crescendo for a large butter roll; those of squeaky voice, shallow air supply and ill-placed diphthongs—or even like this lowly choir wannabe, who sings through the repeat signs and believes fine is an editorial comment on his performance thus far. 

Unlike him, I attend every rehearsal (including the monthly fellowship meals), arrive having vocalized in my car for the twenty minute drive to church, then carefully arrange my music in its proper order, scan any new music or worship materials for repeats, alternate endings, editor’s comments or anything else which might give me a “leg up” when the actual rehearsal begins.  I remain properly hydrated throughout the entire rehearsal or worship service, keep my sharpened number two pencil at the ready and vigorously mark my score as directed by the conductor, making sure to press lightly in the unlikely, but occasional, event of his changing his mind.

I stay seated in an “upright and locked position” throughout the duration of the rehearsal (even, and most importantly, during the ritualistic prayer time so as to leave no doubt as to just how upright and Godly I am); I never forget my music and encourage others to do the same. I do this by refusing to share my score with them or, God forbid, my plethora of musical knowledge.  As we enter the sanctuary prior to the Sunday service, I always make sure to place my offering in one of the little boxes located in the lobby. Inside my clearly marked envelope is a check for at least a tenth of all I get (gross, not net).’

But the lowly Probably-Can sat slumped in his chair at a distance. He did not have proper singing posture.  He had no water bottle, and had left some of his music in his car.  What music he had remembered to bring had coffee stains on it and pages stuck together from an encounter with a jelly donut he was eating in the car on the way to practice.

He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'It’s me again, God, HELP!  I admit it, Lord, I love to sing and I love to worship, but after all these years I still don’t know the difference between a descant and a dischord, D. S. al fine or day-old linguine.  I am tired and don’t bring much to this choir, but what I have, I give to you.  With enough patience and a supportive, safe environment, I’d like to hang in there and try to make a difference in some small way.  With Your help, I probably can encourage someone else.  Please use me.'

I tell you that the prayer of the simple Probably-Can was like music to God’s ears, while the ramblings of the Phari-Sing were like fingernails on a chalkboard—audible but not very edifying. The moral of the story: "Though I [sing] with the tongue of men and of angels, but have not love, I am like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Moving beyond our own little world…

The famed confessional booth.  If you haven’t experienced it as a Roman Catholic, you have certainly seen it in a myriad of movies, TV shows, or read about it in the print media.  In this tight little space designed to protect one’s privacy, the priest sits on one side and the confessor on the other, separated only by a screen.  This allows the particular confession and words of pardon to be shared back and forth without the awkward aspect of face to face dialogue or direct eye contact.  The liturgy of this interaction usually begins with the congregant saying, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” The first confession is generally an admission of how many days (weeks, months) it has been since one’s last confession.  This is then followed by a list of transgressions, including remembered sins of thought, word, and deed. 

I recently was reacquainted with songwriter Matthew West’s incredible sung confession articulated in the song “My Own Little World”  I wondered how often priests hear admissions like this:

In my own little world it hardly ever rains
I've never gone hungry, always felt safe 
I got some money in my pocket, shoes on my feet
 In my own little world: population -- ME

I try to stay awake during Sunday morning church
I throw a twenty in the plate but I never give 'til it hurts
 And I turn off the news when I don't like what I see
 It's easy to do when its population -- ME

What if there's a bigger picture? What if I'm missing out?
What if there's a greater purpose I could be living right now
Outside my own little world?

Stopped at a red light, looked out my window I saw a cardboard sign said, 
 "Help this homeless widow"
 And just above that sign was the face of a human I thought to myself,
 "God, what have I been doing?"

So I rolled down the window and I looked her in the eye
Oh, how many times have I just passed her by? 
 I gave her some money then I drove on through
 And my own little world reached population TWO

What if there's a bigger picture? What if I'm missing out?
What if there's a greater purpose I could be living right now
Outside my own little world?

Father, break my heart for what breaks Yours
Give me open hands and open doors
 Put Your light in my eyes and let me see
That my own little world is not about me.

Speaking for myself, when my prayers include confession, I often lead with what the church calls sins of commission, that is, things I’ve done wrong—at least if memory serves.  Remembering what I have omitted or neglected to do is usually further down the list, if at all.  That’s why I think a lyric like West’s can be helpful.  It reminds me that while God wants me to be on the watch for sin in my life, He is equally if not more concerned, that people who don’t yet know Him are on my radar.  Perhaps God is trying to reorient our thinking.  If we are to allow God to “break our heart for what breaks His“, we have to know that as much as our doing bad things hurts Him (and us), so does ignoring or overlooking people He died to save.  And like Jesus himself, we must be willing to enter their world by embracing them where they are, as they are.

This is a clearly taught value throughout scripture, both for us individually and as local communities of faith.  The apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the church at Corinth that “though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I become like a Jew, to win the Jews.  To those under the law, I become like one under the law, so as to win those under the law.”  (1 Cor. 9:19, 20)

Twenty years ago, your idea of how to introduce a lost person to Christ might have been to share the “four spiritual laws” with anyone and everyone who would give you the time.  Or maybe you were encouraged to ask a couple of probing questions, like “If you died tonight, where do you think you would go?” and “If God were to ask you, ’why should I let you into my heaven,’ what would you say?” With our post modern culture becoming more and more secularized and increasingly skeptical of authority, biblical or otherwise, we followers are being forced to look at different entry points to the discussion. 

Rather than the approach of “I know something you don’t” being the opening salvo to a total stranger, Paul suggests we start by identifying empathetically with the culture in which we find ourselves.  For some that could be your work culture, your neighborhood, your family, even your recreational buddies.  But the bottom line—start with something you share in common, NOT what separates you.  Jesus did it constantly in his ministry.  He hung out with sinners, told stories to which they could easily relate, asked lots of questions, and demonstrated that he understood their inner longings before trying to meet them. 

A perfect example was his conversation with the woman at the well in John 4.  He could have begun with, “What’s a (bad) girl like you doing in a place like this? Don’t you know that you’re talking to the holy Son of God?”  My guess is the temple scribes were not into publishing religious tracts back then, but even so I doubt that would have been Jesus’ method of choice in this encounter either.  Instead, He found the common ground.  Not of ethnicity, not of age, not even of religious pedigree. He started with what unites us all—we get thirsty.  “Will you give me a drink?”  He started by admitting He needed something from her!  Simple, but it provided Him entry into her world.  And he took time to listen.

When the word confession among Jesus followers refers as much to telling others of God’s goodness as it does us telling Him of our badness, we just may be getting somewhere.  Beyond our own little world.