Schooled by a Preschooler

Nativity

A week or two ago, my wife invited a mom and her preschool daughter to our home, to decorate for the upcoming holiday and for Christmas cookies. She asked the young girl if she would place the Nativity scene pieces in a small stable that was sitting on an end table near the sofa. 

The girl looked carefully at the figures and at the stable, then began by placing the Baby Jesus figure, lying in a manger, in the center of the stable. Then, she placed Mary and Joseph, the animals, the shepherds, the wise men, and finally, the angel.

Sounds pretty normal, right? Most adults would do the same thing.

Except… 

The little girl placed all of the figures facing inside the inside center of the stable instead of facing outward.

When I saw the Nativity scene, I thought, “What is this? No one can see the characters because they’re all looking at Jesus.”

Then, I realized that the little girl had it right. Jesus is the center of the story. It’s all about Him. Why would anyone look at anything or anyone else?

Lord, this year, help us to fix our eyes on Jesus. Help us make the Christmas season all about Him. 

A Big Liar

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I’ve never really thought of myself as a liar, but maybe I am.

Many years ago, I was living in post Soviet Central Asia. I walked into a department store of sorts and was suddenly greeted by the familiar voice of Whitney Houston.  

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong.” 

The music echoed down the aisles and drew me into a time of worship. At the time, I wasn’t attending a corporate worship service in English, so the music ministered to me deeply. My eyes teared up as I mouthed the words and wished it would last forever. 

There was a brief break between songs. I expected another familiar praise song or hymn of worship. Instead, she belted out another song.

“I got the stuff that you want, I got the thing that you need”

Yes, Jesus is all we need, but that wasn’t what she was implying.

My personal worship time ended and I felt myself, with self righteous indignation, thinking “Whitney Houston is a big liar. She didn’t mean what she was singing.”

I’ve come to understand two things about that day:

First, I had no reason to judge. I don’t know what’s in her heart.

Second, I’m the one who’s the big liar. I lie every week, sometimes multiple times a week, especially when I’m gathered together with the people of God. 

But I’m not alone.

A.W. Tozer once wrote, “Christians don’t tell lies. They just go to church and sing them.”

When I first heard that quote, I thought, “Surely that doesn’t mean me. How can it when I’ve given my life to serve the Lord, to praise Him, to make His name glorious and bring people into His kingdom.”

But have I really done that? I’m not sure. 

Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

Have I honestly given up my own way? Have I taken up my cross and followed Jesus completely? 

I’ve sang “All to Jesus, I Surrender. All to Him I freely give” while never really surrendering everything. Sometimes, I’ve hardly surrendered anything.

I’ve sang “Jesus, be the center of my life” while making myself the center of attention.

I’ve sang “I will build my life upon Your love” while never showing love to anyone but myself.

Augustine of Hippo once said, “Christ is not valued at all unless He is valued above all.” 

Do I really value Jesus above all? Is He really the Lord of my life or is it just something I say and sing because it makes me sound spiritually important? When all is said and done, would I really choose Jesus over myself? I hope so, but my track record does give me reason to doubt.

Photo courtesy of Tajmia Loiacono of Unsplash

 

A Question We All Must Answer

Charles Plumb, young

Charles Plumb grew up on a farm outside a small town in Kansas. As a boy, he dreamed of becoming a pilot. His dream became a reality in the United States Navy. Charles graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in 1964. In November 1965, Plumb earned his Navy Wings, becoming a Naval Aviator. In a move that would make Tom Cruise jealous, Plumb then reported to Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego, where he made his mark helping to develop the Navy Fighter Weapons School, more commonly referred to as “TOP GUN.”

Charles Plumb and others

Captain Charles Plumb was then sent to serve in Vietnam on the Aircraft Carrier Kitty Hawk. He had completed 74 successful combat missions and was shot down on mission #75. Charles ejected from his plane and parachuted into enemy hands, where he was captured and tortured before spending six years in a Vietnamese prison.

Years later, while dining with his wife in a Kansas City restaurant, a man approached his table and said, “You’re Captain Plumb!”

“Yes, Sir,” Charles replied.

The man energetically continued. “You flew 74 successful missions over Vietnam from the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier.”

“That’s correct. I did.”

“You were shot down over North Vietnam and spent six years as a Prisoner of War. 

Charles Plumb scratched his head and asked, “How in the world did you know all of that?” 

The man looked smiled and said, “Because I packed your parachute.” 

Captain Plumb, then a professional speaker, found himself speechless.

His parachute packer reached out, grabbed his hand, and shook it vigorously before saying, “I guess it worked!” 

Plumb laughed and replied, “Indeed it did, my friend, and I’ve given thanks in my prayers a million times for your nimble fingers. If the chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Captain Plumb looked at this man who had served him so well and wondered how many times he might have seen and completely ignored him because he was a fighter pilot and the stranger was just a sailor. He smiled at his parachute packer and asked, “What about you? Do you keep track of all of the parachutes you’ve packed? Do you know how many lives you’ve saved because of the excellence of your work?” 

The man smiled and replied, “No, I don’t keep track. It’s enough for me to know that I’ve served.”

Now, several years later, Captain Plumb inspires thousands of military and non-military personnel alike by asking one simple question: Who’s packing your parachute?

In our lives, be it personal or work related, we must realize that we are not alone in our endeavors. Others are always there, and have always been there, working faithfully to ensure our success.

It’s time we give them the thanks and the credit they deserve.

Charles-Plumb

To hear Captain Plumb’s story in his own words, click here.

Dear Propresenter Technician

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Dear Propresenter Technician,

We have three things to say to you.

First, you are important.

  • You are vital to the success of every portion of the worship service or event. 
  • You serve as a technical worship leader throughout the musical and sermon portions of the worship service.
  • You are proclaiming scripture and solid theology to scores of people who desperately need it. 
  • You are actively participating in worship, discipleship, edification, and evangelism without leaving your seat.

Second, we’re sorry.

  • We’re sorry for everyone who’s ever reduced your role to running lyrics. Thank you for helping them even when they unknowingly downgrade your position.
  • We’re sorry for the weird stares from congregation members when things go wrong. For the record, most of them have no idea what’s happening.
  • We’re sorry for every speaker who’s asked you to display something to hundreds (or thousands of people) that wasn’t in the playlist. 
  • We’re sorry for every worship song when the leader was feeling it and repeated the bridge 37 times, hoping you would be feeling it as well.
  • We’re sorry when unusual people mistake you for the sound technician and ask you to adjust the volume.

Third, please don’t forget.

  • Please don’t forget to prepare. Listening through unfamiliar songs, reviewing the sermon presentation, and rehearsing with the team goes a long way toward service excellence which in turn helps to accomplish the purpose of the service in worship, discipleship, and evangelism.
  • Please don’t forget to ask questions. When you’re uncertain as to the purpose of a picture, the sequence of a song, or the translation of a scripture passage, please ask questions of the worship leader or preaching pastor or service producer for clarification. It shows that you care enough to ask.
  • Please remember to fire the next lyrics slide when the congregation is singing the last (or next to last) word on the current slide. Not doing so can cause worshipers to disconnect from the worship song and possibly from the entire worship service.
  • Please don’t forget that you are appreciated. Much of what happens within the worship service wouldn’t happen smoothly without you. Thank you for serving.

Sincerely,

All of Us

P.S. Thanks for confirming on planning center.

Photo courtesy of Alvaro Uribe and Unsplash.com

 

I’ve Had It With This Guy

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I’ve had it with this guy.

Yesterday, when I had work to finish, he distracted me.

“Excuse me,” I said, “But I really need to finish this.”

He didn’t catch the hint. He just kept right on diverting my attention.

In the end, I finished the project, but it took me twice as long, all because of his insensitivity.

I have to tell him he’s being a nuisance. 

It’s going to crush him, but he has to know.

As I look back, I realize that he’s been doing this to me for years.

And not just at work. 

Yeah, you read that right, he follows me home. 

I have a plan to exercise everyday. 

He always finds something else for me to do. 

He prevents me from going to bed at night so I can be well rested.

The dude even has the audacity to interrupt me when I’m reading the Bible.

He thinks his whims are more important.

He blocks solid communication between my wife and I, causing strife between us.

This guy is my greatest resistance.

I’ve had it with him.

He must be dealt with.

I have to tell him.

Somehow.

 

*Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash

Intruder In My House

fear

I woke early this morning and decided to go for a walk. As I reached for my keys, I sensed something strange and suddenly realized I was not alone. 

Then I saw him. An intruder had entered my home.

He shook his long pointed finger in my face. Surprisingly, I recognized him. How could I possibly forget that face?

We first met when as a child a bully threatened to beat me up after school. Later, he sat beside me in college while I took my exams, causing me unfounded anxiety. He visited me as an adult, right before I made a bold career move.  Sometimes, he stops by and I don’t see him, but I see what he’s left behind: broken dreams, forsaken promises, hopelessness, and even despair.

He showed up again this morning in my home unannounced.

I looked him right in the eye and said, “Hello, Fear.”

He rolled his eyes and asked, “Just where do you think you are going?”

“For a walk.”

“You’re not going anywhere.”

“What?”

“I’m telling you right now, if you walk out that door, you’ll never come back alive.”

“What do you mean?”

“You step outside, you die. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“It doesn’t matter if you believe me. I said it and that settles it. It’s going to happen.”

“You can’t frighten me.”

“I’ve been paralyzing people for thousands of years. You think you can avoid me?”

I looked down at the floor and held my keys tightly. For a moment, I thought I should just wait until tomorrow to walk.

“You know,” he said, “I’ve kept you in my power since you were a child. I made you lie to keep from getting in trouble. I’ve caused you to run from family and friends and opportunities and experiences. You have no choice but to do what I say.”

I paused. He had manipulated me in the past and even now I was frozen. 

He watched me suffer in silence.

“What did I tell you?” he said. “You’re my servant.”

“No,” I said faintly.

“Silly man, I have you under my control even now.”

“I’m not your slave,” I said in a stronger tone.

“You must serve me,” he said, “I will be like God to you.”

“No, you won’t,” I replied, suddenly defiant. “I already have a God and His grace is sufficient. He doesn’t give me a spirit of fear. He gives me a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.”

Fear raised an eyebrow.

“You are weak” he said. “You will fail and come running back to me.”

“I may be weak,” I answered. “But He is strong and He loves me. The Bible tells me so. Get out of my house and stay away from me. I’m going for a walk. You can’t stay here and you’re not welcome to join me.”

What If This Is It?

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Everywhere you look, people are searching for what’s next. 

What’s the next career for them where people will pay and respect them like they deserve? Where’s the next place for them to live that will suit them perfectly? Who might they meet next who will become their perfect mate for life? What next step might they take personally that will equal God’s will for them in the future?  What person, place, or career might be next for them and be the ultimate thing that will finally give them the fulfillment they are looking for?

People everywhere want to know what’s next. But what if it doesn’t work that way. 

What if what’s next is right in front of you? What if the next step for you is not found in searching the world to see what it might hold for you? What if the secret for your success and contentment is found in what you can bring to the world right where you are? 

What if this is it? 

What if the perfect job for you right now is the one you currently have? What if the home you’re living in is the one that can be perfect for you? What if you’re already serving the organization that will propel you to greater heights of success? What if you’re currently married to the person who is right for you now and will still be right for you in 50 years? What if God’s will for you is to be right where you are?

Think about it. If you knew for sure that where you are right now is exactly where you should be and is the catalyst that will launch you to greater things in your relationships, career, happiness, satisfaction, heck, your whole life… If you knew this for sure, what would you do differently? How would you treat people? How would you invest in yourself and others around you? How would your habits and attitudes change?

What if this it – your shot, your chance, your destiny, your opportunity to do and be something in this world? Whether you believe it or not, acting as if this IS it will move you forward in all of these areas because it will change your actions, your behaviors, and your results.

It’s your move. It’s your turn. You’re up to bat. It’s your big break. 

What are you going to do about it?

Bad Things Happen

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Bad things happen. 

Terrible, awful things that make your stomach turn and tears come to your eyes. Things that make us question God and His motives. 

Why does the Lord allow bad things to happen, especially to good people?

I don’t know. 

Oh, I’ve heard the pat answers from speakers and preachers and I’ve read what both Christian and secular authors have to say. Even though they’ve published books, some of them with their own picture on the front, most of their answers haven’t helped me so far. They’ve just brought more questions. I know they are good people and they mean well, but when the worst happens, I often feel like their answers are just trying to make me shut up.

But I have learned one thing for sure: Bad things happen.

They happen to Christians and non-Christians. 

No one is immune to bad things. Even those who love God and try to follow Him have to deal with bad things in life: Angry people, bad traffic, sickness, theft, natural disasters, car problems, unwanted children, cancer, broken homes, fatal accidents, infertility, drunk drivers, suicidal thoughts and actions, hurtful words, domestic violence, spoiled food, broken relationships, accidental death, scarred lives, and shattered dreams.

Bad things suck.

C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, wrote the following: Nothing will shake a man-or at any rate a man like me-out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.”

Honestly, I’m not sure I understand everything he’s trying to say in that quote or in his book, but I do agree that it often takes something terrible in our lives to remind of the reality of God and us.

God is God and I am not. 

And neither are you.

I love Him and I know that He’s good.

Bad things still happen.

I still don’t get it.

But I know that He does.

That’s all I know.

 

*Photo courtesy of Alessio Lin of Unsplash

Pastor Claude Williams Was Wrong

Claude Williams

Pastor Claude Williams was wrong.

He was a loving husband, caring father, faithful pastor, and my friend, but he was very wrong.

Many years ago, before Hurricane Katrina, before Pastor Claude became Pastor Claude, we were in life group together. One night, our group gathered around a picnic table outside a local hamburger restaurant. Claudes sons, yet to be born, were mere dreams, but his love for Twila was quite real. At the time, she was serving in children’s ministry and Claude had accompanied her on several children’s ministry projects. I had seen him enjoying himself as he interacted with the kids, and I mentioned to him at the outing that he seemed to be good with kids. Claude had always been very precise and eloquent with his speech, so his humorous response took me by surprise.

He said, “I don’t know nothing about no children.”

But Claude Williams was wrong.

When I shared the news of his passing with a friend and co-worker, she said, “I ran out of gas in the middle of the road three months ago. It was Claude who showed up and pushed my car out of the street and then on to the gas station.”

Pastor Claude was always giving of himself to others, but as I think back on his response to me 15 years ago, I realize that he was still wrong.

I watched him love his wife, raise three sons, give himself to children’s ministry, youth ministry, and then care for and lead a congregation filled with the children of God.

But he was wrong. You see, Claude knew all he needed to know about children, both young and old. 

If he were here today, if he could read these words and hear me speak to him, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, thank him for being my friend, remind him of our conversation, and tell him how wrong he was.

Miscast in a Bad Play

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Ever feel like you’re playing a part you weren’t meant to play. I know I have. I must admit I’ve been confused at times when I’ve read Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

I know the Lord’s plans are good. I believe they are for my good. I have sung that His promises are “yes and amen,” but I think, like many others, I confuse them with other plans. The plans others have for us.

Think about it.

Our parents have plans for us.

Our teachers and professors have plans for us.

Our bosses have plans for us, often to give them a hope and a future.

Credit card companies and car dealerships have plans for us as well.

McDonald’s wants us to supersize. Burger King wants us to King Size.

But have you seen the Burger King in the last several years? He’s creepy.

Do you think he really wants us to have it our way?

But the Lord does know the plans He has for us. They are good. They are for our good and for the good of His kingdom. But I often confuse it with what I do. Solomon felt the same way in Ecclesiastes 2.

I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. And who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? Yet they will control everything I have gained by my skill and hard work under the sun. How meaningless! So I gave up in despair, questioning the value of all of my hard work in this world… Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless.

In the world of Shakespeare, MacBeth felt this same way as he spoke to Danforth in Act 5 Scene 5. Upon hearing that his wife had died, MacBeth expounds on his own surprise at his indifference to her departing. He refers to death as if it might be the dreadful ending of a very bad play in which he is forced to act out a part of which he was never meant to be cast. 

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,          To the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools, the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow. A poor player, who struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Sometimes I’ve felt like MacBeth. Sometimes I’ve felt like Solomon. I learn and work and try and work some more and then do it again over and over before I stop and belt out “Who am I and what am I doing? Why am I playing a part I was never meant to play?”

I’ve met some people who even wish their play was over so they could rid themselves of their role.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Lord really does have the perfect role for you.

It may be hard. In fact, it will be. Everything worth doing is hard in one way or another.

But in Him, there is fulfillment.

Seek the Lord. Learn His will for your life. Don’t play a role you were never meant to play. Don’t end up playing the lead role in a very bad and terribly long play designed to end tragically.

Henry David Thoreau is credited with saying, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation, and die with their song still inside them.”

Don’t let that happen to you.

Sing your song.

Let your music out.

Live out the plans God has for you.

And never, never, never quit.

 

*Special thanks to Alberto Bigoni and Unsplash for the picture above.