Drive By

ben-neale-O4OF07E23II-unsplash

I participated in my first drive by this week. 

My wife and I drove down a street and waved to a family we know.

After using so many different forms of communication recently, it was a welcome change.

In the past week alone:

I went to meetings on Zoom, Google Hangouts, and What’s App,

I spoke with friends over Skype and FaceTime 

And left video texts for my nephew on Marco Polo.

I got messages on Facebook Messenger and Twitter,

And I posted photos and left likes and hearts on Instagram.

I learned the difference between Facebook Live and Facebook Premiere, 

And chatted with people on both when I wasn’t on GroupMe.

I hosted a Life Group on Free Conference Call.

I did this when I wasn’t busy reading email, sending emojis, and liking texts.

Or, finally, talking voice to voice over my phone.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone because I see more people outside than ever,

Taking walks, playing catch, enjoying the day and each other.

In this busy time of social distancing, take time for some real communication

Even if it is only a drive by wave.

 

This blogpost is posted on WordPress.

*Photo courtesy of Ben Neale and Unsplash

Come Together As We’re Staying Apart

sven-brandsma-RUo6p124tRQ-unsplash

I was wrong.

I thought this pandemic would cause most people to unleash their inner hermit. I’ve seen that some, but I’ve also witnessed the opposite.

Neighbors who never speak are checking on each other (from a distance).

Couples and families are spending time together “at home.”

Senior adults are learning social media.

And leaders everywhere are asking people to pray.

The pandemic is terrible, but let’s become better people through the struggle. Let’s care for others, cherish our children, honor the elderly, and whatever else we do, let’s not forget to pray.

I once heard a wise man say that if two people work at getting closer to God, they naturally get closer together. I think that’s true for all of us during this time. If we all strive to grow closer to the Lord, we can come together as we’re staying apart.

Photo courtesy of Sven Brandsma and Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Passover, Communion, and Covid-19

neal-e-johnson-oQC81OHcl4Q-unsplash

Strangely, Covid-19 makes me think of Jesus at the Last Supper. 

Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, ate the Passover meal with His disciples. At that meal, He instituted the ordinance of Communion, still practiced by Christians worldwide today. We learn from Matthew 26:30, “Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.”

In the Passover Celebration, a collection of Psalms, called the Hallel, is sung throughout various parts of the meal. The closing Psalm is often Psalm 118 beginning with “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” 

This was possibly the last song of worship sung by Jesus before His crucifixion. And yet, He still chose to sing.

He sang knowing what was about to happen,

  • He knew He would be betrayed that very night.
  • He knew Peter would deny Him three times.
  • He knew He would go through a mockery of a trial.
  • He knew the crowds would cry out, “Crucify Him!”
  • He knew about the crown of thorns that would be placed on His head.
  • He knew He would be flogged, beaten, ridiculed, and crucified.
  • He knew He was going to die.

But He continued in faith, knowing and believing and demonstrating that the faithful love of the Lord endures forever.

No matter what.

I wish I had that kind of faith. 

I have to admit, my first thought regarding this pandemic is not the love of the Lord. Instead, it’s worry. I worry about whether or not I’m going to run out of toilet paper. I worry about whether or not we have enough food for two weeks, or four weeks, or eight weeks, or more. I worry about the health of my wife and I, about our parents and family, about my church family and friends, about my city and state and frankly, the whole world. 

I’m not alone. 

I see worry everywhere, on the faces of people, young and old. I see it in posts and tweets and newscasts and in articles. It’s everywhere.

How different would it be, though, if we tried to approach what’s happening with the faith demonstrated by Jesus as He sang the Hallel?

It’s going to stretch me, but today I choose to live by faith. 

I will give thanks to the Lord. I will remember that He is good. His love endures forever.

Care to join me?

Photo courtesy of Neil E. Johnson and Unsplash

With the Lord’s Help, She Did It

taylor-smith-C44h1ZmlFF0-unsplash

Carol was in the top ten of her high school graduating class, but some life setbacks prevented her from enrolling in college. Four years later, she took a job cleaning restrooms at the local hospital. She never thought of herself in that line of work, but she needed the money. She prayed, then looked in the mirror and said, “With the Lord’s help, I can do this. Who knows? Maybe I can make a difference.” 

Carol learned her job quickly and worked hard. Her supervisor noticed Carol’s strong work ethic and the care she showed patients as she entered their rooms. She encouraged Carol to complete the training to become a Nurse’s Assistant. Carol had never thought of herself in that line of work, but helping patients sounded good to her. She prayed, looked in the mirror and said, “With the Lord’s help, I can do this. Who knows? Maybe I can make a difference.”

Within a year, Carol had completed the training, and began working directly with nurses and patients. She learned her job quickly and worked hard. After two years on the job, Carol’s supervisor called her into her office. 

“Am I in trouble?” asked Carol.

“Not at all,” replied her supervisor. “In fact, I’ve noticed your strong work ethic. I’ve seen your interaction with the patients and staff as you clean. You treat everyone with respect. I think you would make an excellent LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse). You can keep your job here while in school and when you’re finished, I would love to hire you.”

Once again, Carol gave her supervisor’s suggestion consideration and prayer. She looked in the mirror and said, “With the Lord’s help, I can do this. Who knows? Maybe I can make a difference.”

It wasn’t easy to balance work, family, and school, but Carol finished her LPN training in two and a half years. She learned her job quickly, and worked hard. She took advantage of every training and continuing education opportunity. It paid off. In a couple of years, Carol’s supervisor once again called Carol into her office.

You can probably guess what happened. Carol was encouraged once again by her supervisor to learn and grow. Once again she prayed, looked in the mirror, and said, “With the Lord’s help, I can do this. Who knows, maybe I can make a difference.” Four years later, Carol graduated once again as an RN (Registered Nurse). 

A few years later, with more encouragement from her superiors, more prayer, and more time in front of the mirror, Carol realized she wasn’t finished growing. She went on to earn a PhD in Nursing. She is now the Chair of Nursing Department in her alma mater. She is often asked to speak to nursing students at pinning and graduation ceremonies. She tells the students to learn their job quickly and work hard. She encourages them to take advantage of every training and continuing education opportunity that comes their way. She tells them to pray about every decision, then look themselves in the mirror and say, “With the Lord’s help, I can do this. Who knows, maybe I can make a difference.”

*Photo Courtesy of Taylor Smith of Unsplash

Something I Hate

ben-white-9O1oQ9SzQZQ-unsplash

I hate being sick. 

I hate doctor’s visits, uncontrollable coughing, sickness fatigue, the inability to concentrate, and forced rest. But more than any of those, I hate the feeling that everything is not right with my body. It makes me feel incomplete, somehow lacking, and worthless.

I hate it when I cough and someone asks me if I have the Coronavirus. It’s not funny.

I really hate it when the sickness lingers. That’s when I get anxious and wonder to myself, “Maybe I’m never going to get better.”

This happened to me years ago when I was serving as a missionary in Central Asia. I’d lost my voice and felt like I would never get better. I began to envision my life without the ability to speak. I felt alone, lost, and scared. 

Then the Lord thrust the following scripture right in my face. I read it in the Bible, I heard it as a song, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Sometimes I find that scripture comforting. However, both then and now, I find it convicting. How is it that I can dedicate my life to God’s will, serve Him with all that I am, but then forget Him when sickness strikes and worry beds down in my house? How can I work to share the love of Jesus with people and help people grow in Him and then forget Him when I am in need? Do you ever have that problem? It doesn’t make sense, does it?

So, join me as I remember Him:

He is Almighty.

He is our Creator.

He is Beautiful.

He is our Savior.

He is Eternal.

He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

He is our Peace.

He is Good.

He is our Healer.

He is Holy.

He is Love. 

He Knows all things.

He is Faithful. 

He is Kind. 

He is Lord. 

I’ve been reminded, once again, that me being sick doesn’t change His identity or His characteristics. He is God no matter what happens to me. I don’t have to worry. I can go to Him and ask for His help. But first, I must repent.

Father, forgive me. I’ve forgotten Your goodness in the midst of serving You. I’ve misplaced Your love and mercy while focusing on my own need. I’ve forgotten Your grace. Forgive me for worrying and not coming straight to You. You are my God, my Healer, My Rock, and I will ever praise You. Amen.

*photo courtesy of Ben White of Unsplash.com

The Shepherds and the Savior – Interactive Christmas Sermon for Children

gareth-harper-dABKxsPTAEk-unsplash

(The following is an interactive children’s sermon for the Christmas season)

This year, I’m going to need some help in telling my Christmas story. Can I count on you all to help? Great…let’s practice first. When I say these words, I want you to follow my instructions. And every time you hear me say them in my story, you go ahead and respond…

SHEPHERD/S – Raise your hand and say (that’s me!)

ANGEL/S – Shake both hands back and forth over your head and say (Praise God!)

SHEEP – Fluff your hair and say (Baaaaaah)

GOOD NEWS – Make a fist and pump it shouting (Hooray!)

Let’s practice one more time…

SHEPHERD/S – Raise your hand and say (that’s me!)

ANGEL/S – Shake both hands back and forth over your head and say (Praise God!)

SHEEP – Fluff your hair and say (Baaaaaah)

GOOD NEWS – Make a fist and pump it shouting (Hooray!)

Ok – you think you have it?  Let’s begin:

I want to tell you a story – and YOU have a very important part to play.  Listen now as I share.

Many, many years ago, in the town of Bethlehem, there were some SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) guarding their SHEEP (Baaaah) at night in the field. 

It was like any other night. The sky was clear and full of stars. The SHEEP (Baaaaah) were quietly resting and the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) were quietly talking.

When suddenly, out of nowhere, right in front of the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) came an ANGEL (Praise God!)

“Ooooooooo!” said the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) looking so frightened!

“Don’t be afraid” said the ANGEL (Praise God!) I’m here with GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) for you; 

“GOOD NEWS (Hooray) which will make everyone very happy!”

“I’ve come to tell you that a Savior has been born. His name is Jesus. You’ll know who he is because you’ll find him wrapped up in blankets, lying in a manger!” said the ANGEL (Praise God!)

“The Savior has been born!” said the SHEPHERDS! (that’s me!) That was very GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) The whole world had been waiting for the Savior to be born!

And with that the whole sky was filled with ANGELS (Praise God!) They sang “Praise God in heaven! Peace on earth to everyone who pleases God!”

Then it was quiet again, and all that was left in the field were the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) and the SHEEP (Baaaaah).

“Let’s go and see if we can find this Savior named Jesus!’ the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) said to each other.

They hurried off, leaving their SHEEP (Baaaaah) who were now fast asleep.

The SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) found Mary and Joseph in the manger, just like the ANGEL (Praise God) had said. With them, lying in the manger, just like the ANGEL (Praise God!) said, was Jesus.  

Mary and Joseph were hardly expecting any visitors that night; they certainly weren’t expecting to see any SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) come to their stable.

But the SHEPHERDS (that’s me) knew they had to tell someone! They just couldn’t go back to their SHEEP (Baaaah). They couldn’t keep GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) like this to themselves…they had to tell EVERYONE!

This kind of GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) was too special to keep quiet about – the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) had to go and tell others. So off they went to Bethlehem, telling everyone about the birth of Jesus.  That was great!!! Thank you so much for helping me tell the Christmas Story – (give yourself a hand!)

But remember, when I told you that you had an important part to play in my story. The important part doesn’t stop here. It’s just beginning.  That first Christmas might have been over 2,000 years ago, but the GOOD NEWS (Hooray!) is something we still need to tell others about today, like the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) did that first Christmas.

That’s right – all of us have a part to play…we all need to tell others about our Savior, Jesus. 

If you would be willing to tell others about Jesus, like the SHEPHERDS (that’s me!) did, raise your hand and say (“That’s me!).

Awesome! I knew I could count on you!

Merry Christmas.

(Photo courtesy of Gareth Harper of Unsplash)

Nativity Maturity

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

tajmia-loiacono-jvC_OVe97TA-unsplash

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

alvaro-uribe-P6ZWe1NjoC8-unsplash

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