The Storyteller’s Parable

April 27, 2018

With a twinkle in his eye, the Storyteller began his tale:

“There were two families that were very much alike — parents, children, a house, and many material blessings, but there was one very big difference.

The first family was very close to one another. Since the time the children were very small, a concerted effort had been made for the family to have time together. Meal times were special as each shared their day. Family outing were always eagerly anticipated. Certainly, each family member had his or her own interests. No two family members were exactly alike, but they had learned to enjoy one another’s company.

As the children grew, the stresses of busy and competing schedules were felt, but the family was resolute in setting certain when all were together. Sacrifices were made so that the whole family could have that togetherness.

The second family was not very close. They had not seen the importance of time together. In fact, as they grew up they found it increasingly hard even to have a conversation with one another, and what was worse, when problems came, it was hard to share the burdens for feel real support.”

Pausing, the Storyteller asked, “To which kind of family would you want to belong?”

“The close one, of course,” I replied, hardly thinking that it was much of a question.

As the Storyteller turned to leave, he said softly, “Your spiritual family has set aside times to be together, and they’ve requested your presence. Which kind of family do you want it to be?”


Suggestions for Public Scripture Reading

February 23, 2018

The basis for the public reading of scripture in our assemblies can be found in the New Testament. Timothy, an evangelist in Ephesus, is instructed by Paul: “Until I come, continue to devote yourself to reading, to exhortation, and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Most modern translations render reading as public reading. Although the word can mean either private or public reading, the public nature of the other two items in the series, exhortation and teaching, would cause us to think of the assembly. Other passages also indicate a public reading of the word (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, and Revelation 1:3).

The public reading of God’s word underscores its authority. It also gives opportunity for us to hear the message of scripture. Yet it must be done well. If we do it poorly, the hidden message may be that this is unimportant–the exact opposite of what we want to convey. Let me make some suggestions for public reading to help us achieve excellence.

  • Select a unit of thought to be read. Remember chapter and verse numbers are the later addition of editors. They may not always help in selecting a unit of thought. The reader may need to give some context to help the listeners. The goal is that the scripture selected will convey the same message to the listeners as if they had read it in context for themselves. (Most of the time for us, the passage is selected to go with the preaching text. If you want to know the passage prior to Sunday, let me know.)
  • Check for pronunciation and words you may not understand. A Bible dictionary can aid you in the pronunciation of Bible names, so can the book, That’s Easy for You to Say: Your Quick Guide to Pronouncing Bible Names. The web sites, biblespeak.org and thebibleworkshop.com, provide audio pronunciations of some Bible names. An app called Biblical Pronunciation is also available for Android and iOS. Some Bible names have multiple acceptable pronunciations. But nothing hurts a public reading like stumbling over the pronunciation of unfamiliar words and names.
  • Watch for problems that may arise in public reading that might confuse the sense. Failing to pause at the right place or pausing in the wrong place may confuse the listener. Consider the example Luke 2:16: “So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger” (NRSV). If the reader fails to pause at the comma, it will end up sounding as if all three — Mary, Joseph, and the child — are in the manger.
  • Find the author’s meaning, place the stress and emphasis on the main point.
  • Read more slowly than you might speak but be willing to vary the speed and pitch to fit the tone of the reading. I once heard a comparison of audio books made by Audible.com with amateur produced audio books. The speed and pitch of the Audible books were well modulated. The amateur books sounded flat in comparison. And this difference effects the listener’s ability to pay attention and comprehend. No, I’m not expecting us to become professional readers, but it is something at which most of us can do better.
  • Communicate the emotion and tone of the passage with your voice if possible. Is there joy? Is there anger? Is there sarcasm? Is there humor?
  • Practice reading the passage aloud.

Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking

July 21, 2017

Speaking in public is not an easy thing to do. In fact, you may always get “butterflies” even if you do it well. The Book of Lists gives the fear of public speaking as the number one fear for most people. It comes in higher than the fear of death and disease. No wonder that most of us need a lot of encouragement to do it the first time.

Part of the fear of public speaking is the fear of making a mistake, but the truth is anyone who speaks in public will make mistakes. That’s not an excuse for poor preparation or failing to improve, but it is part of the reality of being human. Only God is perfect. One author notes that expecting perfection from ourselves will probably make us more anxious and likely to make a mistake. He goes on to write:

The essence of public speaking is this: give your audience something of value. … Even if you pass out, get tongue-tied, or say something stupid during your talk . . . they won’t care! As long as they get something of value, they will be thankful.1

I can vividly remember one such mistake. When I was a teenager, I was encouraged to lead singing. It was one of my early song leading experiences. I started the song, and we sang about two measures and came to a crashing halt. We were singing the same words, but the tune was very different. I tried again with the same disastrous results. I wanted to hide behind the pulpit. Fortunately, the preacher sitting on the first row figured it out.

My songbook was dog-eared. The page number I was announcing was actually for the page beneath the page I was on. Unfortunately, both hymns were based on the same Psalm so they had the same words. Once we were all on the same page, the third time trying the song worked. I was embarrassed by it, but that is a part of learning humility—another one of those lessons we don’t like, but that God wants us to learn. The people in the congregation were actually very kind and encouraging.

Almost anyone who appears in public can tell such a story. I remember in a gathering of preachers, one of them told the story of the first time he baptized someone. He was very uncertain of himself. He had the person being baptized put on the waders by mistake. You can imagine what happens when someone wearing hip high waders is lowered beneath the water. The waders filled. He really had to struggle to get the person back up. After all it wouldn’t be good for the first time baptizing someone to turn into a drowning! Most of these experiences can seem humorous…afterwards.

Overcoming the fear of public speaking is aided by doing it, and realizing the goal is not perfection but edification.

1Morton C. Orman, M.D., “How To Conquer Public Speaking Fear”


Are You Connected?

September 16, 2016

Psychiatrist, Dr Edward M. Hallowell, in his book Connect, argues that we all need connectedness to live more fulfilling and healthier lives. Connectedness is more than just human contact. It is to feel a part of something larger than yourself. It’s feeling close to another person or group. It’s feeling welcomed and understood.

To connect to other people is not just emotionally desirable—it affects us physically. He cites the Alameda County Study by Dr. Berkman. She and her team surveyed people between the ages of 30 to 69 to determine how they were connected or not connected. The group was followed over a period of nine years. Isolated people were found to be three times more likely to die in that nine-year period than those with stronger social ties. The statistical advantage of living longer was evidenced in every age group. Even those with poor health at the beginning of the study or whose life style posed greater health risks lived longer if they had strong social ties.

Being connected gives meaning in life. It provides emotional resources in times of crisis and the physical benefits noted in the Alameda County Study. Yet modern life often frustrates these important relationships. Hallowell comments: “But many things get in the way of people reaping these benefits, stumbling blocks like too many daily obligations, or shyness, or time, or fear.”

This research shouldn’t surprise the reader of the Bible. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” which resulted in the creation of woman and the family. Through history, God has also desired a people to worship and serve Him—the families of the patriarchs, the assembly of Israel, and now the church of Christ. Hallowell certainly argues that connectedness can be found in many different ways, and he is primarily dealing with emotional and physical health benefits. But it is obvious that the church provides this connectedness with its emotional and physical benefits, plus a spiritual benefit.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19–25, ESV)

The stumbling blocks to connectedness in general can also be stumbling blocks to connectedness in the assembly—“too many daily obligations, or shyness, or time, or fear.” For emotional, physical, and spiritual health, we need one another. Are you connected?