5 Posts from May 2011

Can You Name Five?

Time once was when our homes and offices buzzed with loud laughter. As family members and coworkers, we interacted with each other in houses and hallways, by the water cooler, in the kitchen, at the fireplace, sitting on front porches, or in a plaza. Ideas were shared, and gestures were freely expressed. Feelings of affirmation were punctuated through smiles and handshakes. Hugs, frequent touches, and arms around each other’s shoulders were commonplace.

No longer.

Today, walk into most office areas and you’d think you are entering the local public library! Instead of noses in books, each person is glued to his or her own personal computer or staring at a handheld phone and writing with thumbs . . . and never looking up.

In days gone by, we’d jog with a good friend several days a week and stay caught up. We’d visit with a neighbor while working in the yard. We’d get acquainted with the stranger in the next seat on the plane. Not now. The ever-present headset connected to one’s own iPod, communicates in clear terms, “Don’t talk to or interrupt me—I have 3,500 songs I’ve downloaded that I need to listen to!” Eye contact is a thing of the past.

Yesterday, we knew numerous people—deeply. Today, we’re hard-pressed to know what anyone is struggling with or who might be facing a life-and-death issue. Most of us could not call the first names of someone else’s kids. Yesterday, we would chatter with close friends. Today, we “Tweet” with them. Isn’t it strange? We’re more in touch with some acquaintance on Facebook or a high-school grad from yesteryear living across the country than the person occupying the next office or that lady who lives two doors down. The Lone Ranger, once a fantasy hero, is now our model—mask and all. (With emphasis on the word, Lone.)

Our computer files are filled with multiple columns of names—called our “contact list.” But truth be told, some of us would be embarrassed to admit that if we really needed a “close companion” (I mean, someone who would come and be with us without ever asking why), we would find it difficult to name even five people in that category.

Can you name five?

Don’t you occasionally wonder who the eight will be who will carry your coffin? And one final question: will their grief over your loss cause them to sit through the entire memorial service without once checking their mobile phone?


Cultivating Friends

We’re living in a day when most people are focused on one thing: economic survival. While that is certainly an important pursuit, it’s easy for that single objective to make us ignore something far more valuable.

Hard times often lead to lonely times—when we bear down on simply making ends meet . . . at the expense of no longer spending meaningful times with others. What good is simply surviving if it leads us into the barren flats of isolationism? Furthermore, by keeping the goal of getting more money in the crosshairs of our scope, what often gets shot down are those we once enjoyed as our close friends. It’s time we openly admitted that such collateral damage is too great a price to pay.

My words today are meant to sound an alarm. As important as it is for us to endure these uncertain times, we dare not diminish the value of cultivating enduring companions. No matter how bad the times may get, we need friends. Close friends. Enduring companions. They are the secret of our making it through dark and desperate times without our becoming dark and desperate people.

Are you cultivating some close friends? Even one?


Sing New Songs . . . with Old Truths

Without wanting to be misunderstood, let me say—without shame or embarrassment—that I love the grand old hymns.

Throughout my Christian life, I have treasured their historic statements of the church’s faith. I have committed many of them to memory. They have been my dearest companions in dark hours of loneliness and discouragement. They are also my greatest encouragers in times of celebration and adoration.

I’ll be the first to admit that while there’s nothing holy about a hymnal per se, hymns remain an important part of our longstanding Christian heritage. Why? Because the theology of hymns is far too rich and beneficial to lose. The hymn writers were wordsmiths and musicians (seldom the same person) who knew how to weave theology and melody together into splendid compositions. They gave us words for worship and marvelous music. One of the benefits of music—whatever style you choose—is that it helps cement truth in our brains more strongly than the memorization of words alone. We remember words easier with a tune attached. Hymns bring to mind deep and practical truths, not only for times of worship, but also for times of trial and distress. When we sing them it’s like we’re standing on the shoulders of great lives who have now gone on before us. We deepen our roots.

However, let me quickly add that the canon isn’t closed on music for worship. In addition to hymns, each new generation must continue to compose fresh choruses of worship, new songs of praise, and majestic hymns rich in theology. And that is as it should be—it’s biblical!

Those churches who are so traditional they believe we should only sing hymns have forgotten the words of David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, who wrote:

I will sing a new song to You, O God;
Upon a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You.
(Psalm 144:9, emphasis added)

The prophet Isaiah and the apostle John later used similar words (Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5:9). The worship of our Creator should stay fresh, creative, and ever new!

There is everything right about singing new songs. But we must be certain that the songs we compose and sing express sound doctrine rather than man-centered philosophy. Simply claiming, “The Lord gave me this song,” doesn’t qualify it for public worship. (There have been times I had wished the singer would give the song back to the Lord!) Even Christians in the first century were urged to “test” the words they heard (1 John 4:1–6). Furthermore, a good melody should never override our critical thinking. Harmony doesn’t excuse or eclipse heresy. Lyrics take on significance only when they are filtered through the inerrant text of the Holy Scriptures.

The music can be new . . . but the truths the music proclaims must not be.


My Interview with LeadershipJournal.net

This week I want to recommend that you spend a few minutes reading a recent interview I had with LeadershipJournal.net. In the brief conversation, I shared a number of my passions for today's pastors—especially for those younger than me. (Yes, I'm sure that includes most of you!)  

I urge you to do more than read the interview. I hope you'll ponder the words with all seriousness . . . evaluate what I say against the Scriptures . . . and then determine to apply what the Spirit of God impresses upon you. 


God’s Word—It Never Returns Void

When I served overseas in the Marines many years ago, I had a bunkmate named Eddie. When he found out I was a Christian, he told me in no uncertain terms: “Hey, I want to tell you something, Swindle. I didn’t come over here to Okinawa to be evangelized. So just back off, okay?”

“Sure, that’s no problem,” I answered. So, I’d lie up on my top bunk and I’d try to figure out how I could get Eddie interested in the Lord Jesus. One day I said, “Hey Eddie, can you help me with some of these words?” I dropped down about forty of my verse cards, and I said, “Let’s see if I can do these.” They were verses like John 3:16 and other verses on salvation. So I began: “For God, uh . . .”

“SO,” Eddie added impatiently.

 “Oh, okay,” I’d reply, “For God so . . . uh . . .”


“Yes, yes, that’s it. For God so loved the world.” We went through dozens of verses just like that.

Fast-forward thirty years . . . and the phone rings one day in my study.

“Hey, Swindle!”

I said, “This can only be a guy named Eddie.”

 “Yeah,” Eddie answered, “Hey, you know that trick you played on me in Okinawa? Well, it worked! I’m loving Jesus now.”

Isn’t God good? The power of the Word of God never fails to amaze me. It’s just as the prophet Isaiah recorded:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”
(Isaiah 55:10–11)

God’s Word will never return empty. It will always serve a purpose—primarily in the lives of those of us who digest it, who apply it, who memorize it, who meditate on it, who ponder it, who declare it, and by God’s grace, who live it out.

That’s our calling. God’s Word will never return void.