Self-Centered, Self Reliant, and Just Plain Selfish

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The night I gave my life to Jesus, I joined with hundreds of young people at a camp singing:

Take my life, Lead Me Lord,

Take my life, Lead me Lord,

Make my life useful to Thee*

I meant those selfless lyrics with all of my heart. I went home determined that my life would be focused on and useful to the Lord, so I dug into prayer and Bible study. One of the stories I read was Jesus’ story of the Lost Son in Luke 15. In the story, the younger of two sons was totally self-centered. He had the audacity to go to his father and ask him for his inheritance early. He basically said, “I’m tired of waiting for you to die so I can get my shot at what’s coming to me.”

As I read about how self-centered the young man was, I vowed, “That will never happen to me! I’m going to do great things for God no matter who I have to run over. I’m going to make the best of my life for the Lord. I’m going to go to a Christian college, I’m going to major in some kind of ministry degree, I’m going to achieve great things, I, I, I, I….

The story of the Lost Son continues with his father miraculously giving his younger son his inheritance early. The young man is filled with a spirit of self reliance and is determined that he can manage his inheritance better than his father or older brother. He leaves his father’s house and goes to a far off land where he squanders his inheritance in riotous living.

As a young man, I read that part of the story and said to myself, “That will never happen to me! I will never be as self reliant as that young man. I’m going into the ministry. I’m going to take the gifts the Lord has given me and make something of them. He’s going to be amazed when He sees what I have done!

Jesus’ story continues with the Lost Son, a young Jewish boy, having to take a job feeding pigs, an animal detestable to Jewish people, for a farmer in the distant land. He had lost his fortune and with it all of his friends. He was hungry and no one gave him anything. As he looked down at the slop in his bucket that was meant for the pigs, even that looked good to him.

As I read that part of the story, I vowed, “That will never happen to me!” I will never be so selfish that I find myself without anything. I’m going to live a holy life! I’m going to seminary and to the mission field and I’ll use the brain God gave me to get out of tough situations.

In the story, the young man came to his senses, and remembered that even his father’s servants had food enough to spare. He made a plan to go to his father, fall at his feet, confess his sin, and ask to become a servant in his household. And the young man began his journey. As he neared his father’s house, his father sees him, runs to him and embraces him. The young man tries to get his speech out, but his father commands his servants to kill the fattened calf and prepare a feast, for his son was lost and now is found. So the party began.

The older brother, who had remained faithful to his father, came home while the party for his younger brother was taking place. He learns what has happened and becomes angry. His father tries to lure him inside to celebrate, but the older son, responds, “I don’t believe this. You give my brother his inheritance, he goes out and wastes it, doing God knows what with God knows who, and when he’s broke, he comes back here and we’re celebrating! I’ve served you faithfully for all of these years, working hard before the sun comes up and continuing after it goes down, and you’ve never even considered giving me anything for a party like this!”

For many years, I vowed that I would never become the older brother, but I’ve seen myself morph into him time and time again. I’ve seen that my life, which I thought was self denial, has often been self-centered, self reliant, and just plain selfish. And wow, as I read that story again after so many years, I’m not making any vows. Have I been the Lost Son or have I been the Older Brother?

The answer is yes. I’ve been both.

The way I feel can be summarized in the lyrics of the late Rich Mullins.

I’ve gone so far from my home,

I’ve seen the world and I have known so many secrets I wish now I did not know.

For they have crept into my heart, they have left it cold and dark, and bleeding,

bleeding and falling apart.

I’ve seen silver turn to dross.

I’ve seen the very best there ever was,

and I tell you, it ain’t worth what it cost.

And I remember my Father’s house,

what I wouldn’t give right now just to see Him

and hear Him tell me that He loves me so much.

And when I thought that I was all alone, it was Your voice I heard calling me back home,

and I wonder now, what was it that made me wait so long?

And what kept You waiting for me all that time?

Is Your love stronger than my foolish pride?

Will you take me back, take me back and let me be Your child?

Cause I’ve been broken now,

I’ve been saved.

I’ve learned how to cry and I’ve learned how to pray.

And I’m learning, I’m learning even I can be changed.

And everybody used to tell me big boys don’t cry,

but I’ve been around enough to know that that was the lie

that held back the tears in the eyes of a thousand prodigal sons.

We are children no more, we’ve sinned and grown old,

but our Father still waits, and He watches down the road,

to see the crying boys come running back to His arms.

And be growing young.**

 

Photo courtesy to Ant Rozetsky of Unsplash

*Take My Life, Lead Me Lord by P. Mains Rawls

**Growing Young by Rich Mullins

 

You’re Never Too Old To Try Something New

Guadelupe Palacios
Guadelupe Palacios was born in a small Mexican village in the state of Chiapas. She grew up without the opportunity to go to school, so she worked at home in the kitchen and garden and then later in the fields. As a young woman, she married and raised six children. For money, she sold chickens, learning math along the way. Years later, after her children were grown and her husband had passed away, she decided it was finally time for her to learn to read and write, so Guadelupe enrolled in a locally sponsored literacy program.
She was 92.
When asked why, after all these years, she wanted to learn to read and write, she replied, “Now I can write notes to my boyfriends.”
Guadelupe did learn to read and write, but she didn’t stop there. Within 4 years, she successfully completed the course work through Middle School. She still wasn’t satisfied.
She searched for a high school equivalency program but found none in Chiapas that were convenient and inexpensive, so in 2018, at the age of 96, she enrolled in the local high school in Tuxtla Gutierrez. She has a goal of graduating by the time she turns 100. She dreams of continuing her education and becoming a Kindergarten teacher.
You’re never too old to learn something new.
Guadelupe isn’t alone in her late bloomer efforts:
  • Susan Boyle was 47 when she entered Britain’s Got Talent.
  • Julia Child didn’t publish her first cookbook until she was 50.
  • Vera Wang didn’t enter the fashion industry until she was 40.
  • Colonel Sanders didn’t franchise Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was 62.
  • Stan Lee didn’t publish her first comic book until he was 39.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish her first novel until she was 65.
  • Grandma Moses didn’t begin painting until she was past 75.
What about you? Do you have a desire (or need) to take a course, learn a new skill, travel to a new place, or study a new language? Have you ever thought, as I have, “That’s crazy. I’m too old to try that. Why would I even let a foolish notion like that enter my mind?”
I can almost guarantee that 99% of us reading this blog are not as old as Guadelupe Palacios.
You’re never too old to try something new.

Remedy For The Funk

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Every so often, I get into a funk.
Not the kind of funk where someone says, “Oh, look at his dance moves.” I’m talking about a dark, dank mood filled with thoughts of despondency.
You know what it’s like. You start off fine and before you know it you’re completely consumed in the miry muck of self-pity. You try to pull yourself out but then, before long, you realize you’ve grown accustomed to your self-created sea of dejection.
When that happens, I abandon everything that’s important. I lose sight of how much I love my wife, my family, my work, and my life. And often, I clean forget about the grace, mercy, and direction of the Lord.
And then, I come across a story and poem like this one and I remember Jesus. I remember what’s He’s done for me and who I am in Him. It awakens my gratitude for the Lord, for others around me, and helps me takes steps toward an acceptable mood.
Six week old Fanny Crosby lost her sight in 1820 due to a doctor’s mistake. As she grew, she learned to function as a child and she later thrived as an adult, eventually became well known for her writing of poetry and hymns.
One day, she was in desperate need of $5.00, so she prayed. Shortly thereafter, a stranger came to her door and handed her the exact amount she needed.
She told others, “I have no way of accounting for this, except to believe that God, in answer to my prayer, put it into the heart of this good man to bring the money. It is so wonderful the way the Lord leads me.”
That same day, Fanny Crosby wrote the following:
All the way my Savior leads me
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His faithful mercies?
Who through life has been my guide.
Heavenly peace, divinest comfort
Ere by faith in Him to dwell
For I know whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
All the way my Savior leads me
And He cheers each winding path I tread
Gives me strength for every trial
And feeds me with the living bread.
And though my weary steps may falter
And my soul a-thirst may be
Gushing from a rock before me
Though a Spirit of joy I see
And all the way my Savior leads me
Oh, the fullness of His love
Perfect rest in me is promised
In my Father’s house above
When my spirit clothed immortal
Wings it’s flight through realms of day,
This my song through endless ages
Jesus led me all the way.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash

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