Broken Zipper, Hidden Fly

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There’s nothing quite so humbling, or humiliating, than to be in church with a broken zipper in your fly.

I had just finished my business in the bathroom and I must have gripped the pull tab of my zipper a little too hard. I zipped up but nothing came together. The glorious unity displayed in the joining together of the metal tangs in my zipper did not take place. My pants were undivided permanently, despite my begging and pleading in the moment.

So, I fastened the top of my pants, praising God there was a button that worked, untucked my shirt and pulled it down as far as possible in the front.

My wife was coming to pick me up on the other side of the church building from where I was, so I had to walk through the crowded common area. I tried my best to be inconspicuous, which is hard to do when you’re the campus pastor walking through a crowd in the church building. I noticed a couple of people looking at me strange and wondered if I was not sufficiently covered. That’s when I realized I was walking all hunched over, trying to give the front of my shirt the slack it needed. So I pulled on my jacket, even though it had turned warm, and zipped up the front to help my situation.

I had just made it to our meeting point when my wife sent me a text telling me she was going to be late.

Sigh.

I quickly found an out of the way chair to sit and wait for her to arrive. I placed my backpack in my lap as if it were a shield. I pulled out a book, and pretended to read, hoping people would catch the understanding that I wasn’t interested in conversation. Suddenly, I was surrounded by friends and church members who desperately needed to talk. One of them even needed prayer. I tried to act casual and asked them to sit across from me so we could informally talk.

Finally, everyone left, and my wife finally arrived.

“Hi,” she said. “Would you like to go out to eat?”

“Ah, no,” I replied.

We read in Proverbs 11:2 that Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

I can say that in the moments of my humility (or humiliation) I was very much aware of my every appearance and interaction with others. I considered every step I took and every word I said with precision and accuracy. I thought more about what the other person heard (and saw) and kept direct eye contact with them as much as possible.

I learned two valuable lessons that day.

  1. Wisdom does come from humility.
  2. I’m keeping an extra pair of pants in my office from now on.

Second-Hand Smoke at the Dollar Store

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I wasn’t planning on talking to anyone, but he made himself impossible to avoid. He laid on the sidewalk near the Dollar store entrance, his lighter and pack of Marlboros next to him. As I began to gag on second-hand smoke, he shot me a piece sign.

“Hey, man,” he asked, “Can you spare some money? Anything would help. I’m hungry.”

Living in New Orleans, my wife and I encounter the hungry and the homeless on an almost daily basis. We do try to help when we are able. However, something about the audacity of this man to beg for money as he blew smoke produced from his $5.44 pack of cigarettes pushed me across the line.

“Why don’t you trade your cigarettes for some food?” I asked.

“What?” he replied. “You want one?”

“Nevermind,” I said as I pushed past him and entered the store, shaking my head.

As I walked through the store in my self-righteousness, I prayed, “Can you believe that guy, Lord? He’s begging for food when he obviously has money for cigarettes.”

In that moment, I sensed the Lord speaking to me. “Do you mean you’ve never wasted the resources I’ve given you and then begged Me for help?”

Ouch. Gut punch. Game over. End of discussion.

I didn’t have much money, but I bought the guy a Snicker’s bar on my way out.

“The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” Matthew 7:2

 

*photo courtesy of Unsplash and Quinten-de-Graaf

Early On: A Response In Story Form

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“Well,” he said, “You’re here early, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “I am. I’m not really sure what happened, but here I am.”

The man smiled pleasantly.

“Is that ok?” I asked. “Can I still join you?”

He swallowed hard and looked into my eyes.

“Absolutely!” he stated. “We’re glad you’re here. Don’t ever doubt that.”

I stretched out my hand to shake his. He grabbed it tightly and pulled me in for a big bear hug. It took me by surprise, but in a good way. Something told me I could trust him.

“Thanks for having me,” I said, still caught in his embrace.

When he finally released me, I awkwardly said, “Again, I’m sorry I’m here so early.”

“You shouldn’t worry about it,” he replied. “We all know it wasn’t your fault.”

“Thanks for understanding,” I said. “I just hope it won’t ruin anything.”

He paused, then said, “Things here will be just fine. Now, let’s get you settled in, Michael. I think you’re going to like where we’ve put you.”

“Michael?” I asked. “Why are you calling me Michael?”

He patted my back and said, “Because that’s your name.”

“I’ve never heard it before.”

“What did your parents call you?”

“Well, they never really called me by name. They usually just referred to me as the kid. You know how parents are. They say things like ‘I don’t know what to do with this kid,’ ‘I wish that kid was coming at a different time,’ ‘That kid’s just not going to be worth the effort.’”

“You heard your parents say all of that?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m saddened that you heard that. I’m sure it really hurt your feelings.”

“It did, but I turned out ok, I guess.”

“You look fine to me now, Michael.”

“So I’m really Michael, huh?”

“Yeah, you are. You know, your grandma wanted to call you Michael if…”

“I know,” I said. “If I had been born.”

“Yeah,” he said.

“You know,” I said. “I thought I was being born. I saw a light and then, darkness again, and then I was here…”

He put his hands on my shoulders and said, “Michael. I wish you could have lived the life I planned for you. You would have loved it.”

Tears streamed down my face and I hugged him once again. I could feel his heart beating in rhythm with mine.

“I love you, Michael,” he said. “I want you to live with me here forever.”

I smiled and said, “Thank you, Jesus. I love you, too.”

 

*photo courtesy of Drew Patrick Miller and Unsplash

20th Century Classic Book Impacts 21st Century Ministry

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On August 29, 2005, the flood waters of Katrina destroyed my copy of Robert Coleman’s book, The Master Plan of Evangelism. Recently, I overheard a few of my younger ministry colleagues talking about how much the book had meant to them, so I found a copy and devoured it within a days. I had read it decades earlier, but don’t remember it having the same impact on me as a younger man.

Robert Coleman uses the life and ministry of Jesus as his example, demonstrating to the reader that the master plan of evangelism is really discipleship. The author, in the preface, states: “This is one of the marvels of his (Jesus’) strategy. It is so unassuming and silent that it is unnoticed by the hurried churchman. But when the realization of his controlling method finally dawns on the open mind of the disciple, he will be amazed at its simplicity and will wonder how he could have ever failed to see it before.”

I’ve heard it said that many methods of evangelism focus on people rather than on Jesus. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I do know that when we focus on making disciples, we keep Jesus as the center. One person even remarked to me that Robert Coleman should have titled his book The Master Plan of Discipleship. I beg to differ. I think he should have titled it The Master’s Plan of Evangelism.

Robert Coleman breaks down Jesus’ plan for world evangelization into eight parts:

  • Selection – Jesus planned to use His disciples as His method of reaching the world.
  • Association – The disciples learned from Jesus by doing life and ministry with Him.
  • Consecration – The greatest understanding of truth is learned through a life of obedience.
  • Impartation – Disciples of Jesus must have the Holy Spirit within them to follow Jesus completely.
  • Demonstration – Jesus demonstrated to His disciples His method of evangelism. He was the method and He wanted them to be as well.
  • Delegation – Disciples of Jesus must be given practical work assignments with the expectation that they be carried out.
  • Supervision – When discipling people, the leader or mentor must supervise and guide the disciple to minister as Jesus did.
  • Reproduction – Jesus expects His disciples to produce other disciples.

Sounds pretty simple, yet brilliant at the same time. Where else but from Jesus Himself can you find a plan for one on one mentoring, personal ministry and leadership development, and lifelong friendship resulting in a changed world. Simply amazing.

However, for this to work for most people, things have to change.

First, Christian leaders must be willing to invest in people rather than in programs. Jesus called people to serve Him and emulate Him. Programming is important but secondary to this investment.

Second, Christian leaders must be patient as new disciples develop into new creatures of Christ. There is no instant Christian maturity pill people can take. True Christian growth that lasts often takes years of trusting and following Jesus with guidance from other Christians.

Finally, Christian leaders must be willing to invest in others for the long haul, even if ministry positions change. It doesn’t matter if your job (or ministry calling) leads you across the country, to follow this example, you must continue to disciple your mentee as he grows into the image of Christ.

I don’t know about you, but this challenges me, a lot.

In the foreword to The Master Plan of Evangelism, Billy Graham states that “Few books have had as great an impact on the cause of world evangelization in our generation as The Master Plan of Evangelism.” Even though that statement was referring to those doing ministry in the 20th century, the book has the potential to impact us in the 21st century as well.

I highly recommend this book.

master plan of evangelism

The above is a review of: 

The Master Plan of Evangelism

Copyright 1963, 1964, 1993 by Robert E. Coleman

Revell Books, A Division of Baker Publishing

Grand Rapids, Michigan

*Opening photo courtesy of Raghu Nayyar and Unsplash

 

An Unlikely Christmas Carol

Joy to the World

For years, Joy to the World has been a favorite Christmas carol of millions. Ironically, it was originally written as a poem (not a song) about the second (not the first) coming of Christ.

Here’s how it happened:

In 1719, Isaac Watts published a book of poetry based on the psalms. In the collection, he adjusted each psalm to reflect the work of Jesus in the New Testament. Joy to the World was his adaptation of Psalm 98. Isaac Watts interpreted the psalm as a celebration of Jesus’ role as King of both His church and the entire world.

Isaac Watts, however, did not write the melody of Joy to the World as we sing it today, but instead, instructed the reader/singer to present it in common meter to the common tunes of the Old Psalm Book of his day. Over the next 130 years, various melodies were written by several composers. Finally, in 1848, Lowell Mason published his version of Joy To The World with its current melody in The National Psalmist. It was his 4th revision of the song, sampling the opening melody from the chorus Lift Up Your Heads from Handel’s Messiah. Ironically, many today, when listening to The Messiah, believe that Handel utilized snippets of Joy to the World in His work to make it more recognizable and Christmasy.

So now we have a Christmas Carol which is written about the second coming of Jesus and was never even meant to be a song that is now a Christmas favorite for many around the world.

Merry Christmas

Related Posts: New Verses to Away In A Manger

Why I Don’t Shop On Black Friday

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As a general rule, I don’t shop on Black Friday.

I know lots of people who do and that’s fine with me (for the most part), but I just can’t bring myself to participate. 

Let me explain. Years ago, I spent an extremely satisfying Thanksgiving with my wife. The weather was beautiful, we spent time talking with family members and friends, we walked in the park, and we ate an enormous amount of food.

Then came Black Friday.

We awoke to the news that we had lost someone very close to us. We took it pretty hard in a way that you never really get over but simply learn to live over time.

As I’ve gotten older, I realize that this is more common than I once knew. Holidays are meant to be spent with those we love the most. So what do we do when they’re no longer with us? How can we be expected to go on as normal? This day has become a remembrance day of sorts for me, and I’m certainly not going to spend it fighting crowds and spending money for things I don’t even want with money I don’t even have.

Holidays magnify our losses in life. Sadness feels sadder, anger grows stronger, regret gets bigger, and loneliness goes deeper.

So how do we deal with it? How do we continue? I’ve learned that I can’t avoid the feelings associated with grief. The only way I can avoid the pain is to walk through it intentionally.

In Matthew 5:4, Jesus said, “God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” 

If you’re dealing with grief today, as I am, let me encourage you to dedicate some time to walking through it. Write them a letter. Look through old photos and laugh. Allow yourself to cry. Show honor to the one you miss by sharing your thoughts and feelings with the Lord. He is always there waiting to hear what you have to say ready to extend mercy and grace to help in your time of need.

The Anthropians: A Fun Missions/Community Interaction Learning Experience

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Several years ago, I was a participant at the Missionary Learning Center in Rockville, Virginia. While there, we participated in a large group experience where some of us were missionaries and others were members of an unreached people group. I don’t remember the details of the experience, but I do remember that I left feeling like I had a better understanding of relating cross-culturally.

Earlier this week, I was tasked with training the Celebration Church staff on community interaction. I put together a short learning experience based on what I remembered from my time at the Missionary Learning Center. It turned out good for us. I hope it blesses you as well.

The Anthropians 

STEP ONE:

Select six people from the group and send them into another room where they cannot hear what is happening in the large room.

STEP TWO:

Explain to both groups of people that they now have a new identity.

  • Those in the large group are members of the Anthropian Tribe.
    • The Anthropian tribe members only wear one shoe.
    • The Anthropians speak English but only in whispers.
    • The Anthropians applaud whenever anyone says “thank you” or “good-bye.”
    • It is considered polite in the Anthropian culture to hiss and look repulsed whenever someone greets them. ONLY if someone responds in a similar fashion, will they smile and whisper to them.
    • The Anthropian leaders wear funny hats. They only speak to non Anthropians when they are introduced to them by other Anthropians. If someone is introduced to a leader by an Anthropian, the leader hisses and looks repulsed. If the new person responds in kind, the Anthropian leader smiles and speaks to them in a whisper. Every so often the leader says “thank you” for no reason, causing those Anthropians around him to applaud.
    • There is an Anthropian Ruler who sits on the raised level who never speaks or acknowledges anyone, ever, no matter who they are or what the reason. 
  • Those now in the “small sent out group” are the missionaries.
    • They wear matching shirts
    • They speak English in a normal speaking volume
    • Their mission is to learn how to interact with the Anthropian Tribe so they can impact their community for the better.
    • The mission team consists of:
      • A leader who directs the team
      • Four team members who carry-out the directions of the leader
      • One scribe who takes notes on the what he sees and reports his findings to the group.

STEP THREE:

  • In the large group, have the Anthrops gather into circles of 10 with a leader for each group. Give each leader and hat then lead them to practice being Anthrops.
  • In the small group, have the missionary leader and team develop a strategy for interacting with the Anthropians.

 

STEP FOUR:

  • Bring the missionaries into the presence of the Anthropians and have them begin their missionary journey. The leader directs, the missionaries engage, and the scribe takes notes.

STEP FIVE:

  • The action ends. The missionaries de-brief for 2 minutes while the Anthropians return to their seats. Then, the scribe takes the stand and reports to the whole group the findings of the team.

Large Group Questions:

  • Do the Anthropians Need Jesus?
  • Why is doing a little anthropology on the Anthropians important to understand their culture if we’re trying to impact their community? 
  • How can understanding the culture of the communities surrounding our campus help us in impacting them?

*Photo courtesy of Re.zin of Unsplash

Simple Psalm 27 Worship Service Outline

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Here’s an outline we used at Celebration for our October Night of Worship. If you’re hoping to plan a similar service, I hope it helps you.

Psalm 27 Worship Service Outline

Opening Worship Song Set

Greeting and Prayer

SECTION ONE – LIVING UNDER THE PROTECTION OF THE LORD

Scripture Reading: Psalm 27:1-3 – “The Lord is my light and my salvation, so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble? When evil people come to devour me, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid. Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident.”

Sharing – Expounding on Psalm 27:1-3 and what it means to live under the protection of the Lord.

Prayer – Acknowledging our Dependence on the Lord. Mention His greatness and how we can be confident that He will take care of us no matter what is happening.

Suggested Song –

  • I Need You – 

SECTION TWO – LIVING IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD

Scripture Reading: Psalm 27:4-6 – “The one thing I ask of the Lord-the thing I seek most-is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in His temple. For He will conceal me there when troubles come; He will hide me in His sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock. Then I will hold my head high above my enemies who surround me. At His sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.”

Sharing – Expounding on Psalm 27:4-6 and what it means to live in the presence of the Lord.

Prayer – Thanking God for His presence and for the confidence we can have in the midst of diversity because of His daily presence in our lives

Suggested Song

  • Here As In Heaven – 

SECTION THREE – LIVING WITH THE PLEDGE OF THE LORD’S FAITHFULNESS

Scripture Reading: Psalm 27:7-10 – “Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me! My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” Do not turn your back on me. Do not reject your servant in anger. Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me, O God of my salvation! Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.”

Sharing – Expounding on Psalm 27:7-10 and what the faithfulness of the Lord means to each of us.

Prayer – Thanking God for His faithfulness in our lives and for the assurance that He will always be faithful to us.

Suggested Song

 

  • Do It Again – 

 

SECTION FOUR – LIVING WITH THE PROMISE OF A FUTURE WITH THE LORD

Scripture Reading: Psalm 27:13-14 – “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”

Sharing – Expounding on Psalm 27:13-14 and what it means to live with the promise of a great future with the Lord, both in this life and in the next.

Prayer – Thanking God for the promise of a great future with Him.

Suggested Song

 

  • Yes and Amen – 

 

ConclusionExpound upon the faithfulness and protection of the Lord in these uncertain times. Share about how we can always trust in the Lord because we can be certain of His love for us.

Closing Song

 

  • Upbeat Closing Song 

*Photo courtesy of Unsplash

 

 

Stranger Than Fiction

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I’ve heard it said that truth is stranger than fiction, but I was never certain as to whether or not I could really believe it. Truth and Fiction are so similar that it’s hard to distinguish between them. Many times, in either classification, people are simply telling stories.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love stories. I always have. There’s something about the ebb and flow of the introduction of characters, the unfolding of the setting, the emergence of conflict, the buildup of relational tension, and the joy of resolution that grips me down deep.

Stories teach. Stories heal. Stories whisk us away to other lands and somehow through the mental break and moral lessons they provide, we emerge as better people, much of the time at least. Stories impact our lives and change us.

When I was eight years old, a preacher came to my house and shared with me, what I heard, was the greatest story ever told. If that was so, he should have put more effort into telling it. Knowing it was only a story, I repeated his prayer and two weeks later I was baptized.

Suddenly, my story changed, at least in theory. For you see, to the world I was a Christian, living a life dedicated to my Lord Jesus and striving to be free and separated from sin.  The truth however, is that even though I was a member of a church, I was living a lie. I was telling a story. I thought that the Bible stories that I heard at church and at home were simply stories, no different than the stories of Curious George, Spiderman, Santa Claus, and the Engine That Could. I loved all of these stories, but understood that honestly, they were simply moral lessons designed to teach me to be a good boy.

But then, as a teenager, a conflict arose within me. Suddenly, I became both protagonist and antagonist making major plot decisions in how my life’s story was going to play out.  I realized I was standing at a major crossroads. The decisions I was about to make would not only determine the next chapter of my life, but it would be instrumental in defining my journey’s end.

Honestly, I thought about abandoning stories altogether. It didn’t matter if it was Truth or Fiction. Both seemed to be getting stranger by the day. A whirlwind of stress and confusion caused the tension within me to swell to the point of explosion, when I realized I was wrestling with an unseen character.

This new character was dynamic and powerful yet peaceful and controlled. This character had the power to transform my story forever. This character was the Author Himself. He stepped into my story and helped me realize that it was His story all along.

That’s when I realized that the stories I had learned as a child about the Lord weren’t stories at all. They were real.

It was then that I joined His story as a willing participant, honored to be included as a character in His book forever.

I’ve heard it said that Truth is stranger than Fiction. That may be true, but at least it’s real.

She was Staring Right into Me

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I left the college talent show audition with my head down and walked across the crowded conference center. Not really wanting to see anyone I knew, I found a secluded patio and decided to lay low and nurse my wounds. I had never done well with rejection.

Trying to work through my feelings, I sat on one of the benches, leaned my head back, and closed my eyes. After a couple of minutes, I sighed heavily and opened my eyes. To my surprise, an older woman was right in front of me, staring right into me.

“I’m sorry if I startled you,” she said with a British accent, “May I sit for a moment?”

“Sure,” I replied, wondering if that was the best course of action.

She sat and smiled. “There’s something God wants you to know.”

“Ok,” I replied cautiously.

“You are unique and loved by God. He has very special plans for your life.”

She smiled once again, stood, and walked away.  Suddenly encouraged, I left to find my friends.

That evening, while sitting with 2,000 college students, I watched as that same lady was introduced as the main speaker for the evening.  Slowly she walked to the front of the stage, looked slowly across the audience, and said, “I am here tonight to tell you something very important. You should never forget it. You are unique and loved by God.”

I have long since forgotten the name of the woman, but her words remain. I think of them often when I feel discouraged. They’re true for me and true for you as well.

You are unique and loved by God.

Photo by Averie Woodard, courtesy of Unsplash