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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

How To Kill Dead Time

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Oxforddictionaries.com defines dead time as Time in which someone or something is inactive or unable to act productively.  

How does dead time affect worship services?

Dead time kills the flow of the service. It steals the connections between the service elements. It destroys meaningful moments in worship. It causes individuals to become disengaged from what is happening onstage.

Dead time is the devil.

People are used to seeing excellent presentations with quick, easy to understand transitions. The existence of dead time in services makes people think the worship leader, speaking team, and tech team aren’t prepared. This leads them to wonder if what we’re doing is worth their time.

Is there a way to kill dead time?

The best way to kill dead time is to be prepared and even over prepared for every transition taking place in a worship service. You do this by mentally and verbally practicing each transition yourself and then talking through the order of service with your onstage, tech and production teams. When this happens, the potential for dead time is drastically reduced, participants are better prepared for every element of the service, and people are more likely to stay engaged.

How To Simplify Any Problem

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It was the early 1970’s. 8-tracks, pet rocks, and waterbeds were all the rage. The Jackson 5, Led Zeppelin, and Bread were playing on the radio. And Irish Spring from Colgate-Palmolive, with its green stripe of freshness, was top of the soap charts. Meanwhile, the marketers at Procter and Gamble were working hard trying to create a copycat product with it’s own green stripe of freshness.

Irish Spring

After several failed attempts, creative manager Min Basadur suggested that his team at Procter and Gamble weren’t asking the right questions. Instead of asking, “How can we make a better green stripe bar than Irish Spring?” he asked the question, “How might we create a more refreshing soap of our own?”

 

This led the team to explore other themes of freshness including that which comes at the seacoast. From this came the coastal blue and white striped soap named “Coast.”

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Min Basadur went on to become a consultant who has taught the concept of How Might We to companies over the past four decades. The question is key in what has become known as Design thinking, which is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems and find desirable solutions.

Here are some steps we can use to help us better understand the question of How Might We?

Step 1: Define the area you want to explore, whether it is a current problem or an anticipated problem.

Example: This meeting is going to be boring.

Step 2: Reword the statement into a “How Might We?” question.

 

  • How suggests that we do not yet have the answer. It helps us explore a variety of possibilities instead of acting on what we suppose the solution should be. It pulls us out of inactivity and helps us begin thinking.
  • Might emphasizes that our responses are only possible solutions, not the only solution. It also allows for exploration of multiple possible solutions instead of merely settling on the first that comes to mind. It allows for any idea to be brought to the table, no matter how outlandish.
  • We immediately brings in the element of a collaborative effort. It suggests that the solution lies within our collective teamwork instead of within one person’s influence and creativity. 

 

Example: This meeting is going to be boring…How might we make this meeting interesting?

Using How Might We questions helps us take a negative statement and turn it into a positive question which helps us find a solution. 

Step 3: Use brainstorming techniques to come up with as many solutions that you and your team can imagine to your How Might We question.

Examples:

  • We might make the meeting more interesting by involving the attendees in discussion?
  • We might make the meeting more interesting by utilizing visuals in the presentations?
  • We might make the meeting more interesting by limiting the length to one hour?

Step 4: Prioritize the best ideas, build on them, and work them into next steps, sometimes involving their own How Might We questions.

Example: How might we actively involve the attendees in our meeting in interesting and lively discussion?

How Might We? is a question which can help simplify and bring clarity to almost any problem. Granted, it might simply bring more questions to the table, but most often, those questions are relevant questions.

So, next time you encounter what seems to be an unsolvable problem, try developing it into several How Might We questions. If you do, you’ll suddenly be thinking from a positive viewpoint, pointing yourself towards solutions instead of dwelling on the negative problem.

* For further study on How Might We, including the full story of Coast, see The Secret Phrase Top Innovators Use article by Warren Berger from Harvard Business Review.

 

My Last Drink of Alcohol

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My last drink of alcohol was New Years Eve, 2002. I was on a mission trip in Indonesia standing between a seminary professor and an international missionary in a worship service. Since I didn’t speak the language, I had no idea the church was actually using real wine for communion that evening. I was given a small piece of bread and a small glass of what I assumed was grape juice.
It wasn’t.
I realized as it was halfway down my throat.
Ironically, my last drink was also my first. That’s difficult for most people to believe, especially since I live in New Orleans. Let me explain.
As a child, I was never really around alcohol. My parents didn’t drink, so it was really a non issue for me. When I was in Middle School, we moved to a dry county in Arkansas where the closest alcohol for sale (legally) was across the Texas or Oklahoma line at, what my grandfather affectionately called, the beer joint. Even though it was popular, I never really had the desire to put forth the effort to get to one of these establishments. They were far away, I never had the money, and quite frankly, I would have rather had a Coke.
It was about that time that I began hearing about others I knew who had problems with alcohol. I even heard one of my relatives tell my dad, “I just can’t stop. It’s got a hold on me.” As a young teen, I vowed that I would never let alcohol or drugs control my life.
Then, at 16, I gave my life to Jesus and started reading the Bible seriously. I learned that the Bible actually doesn’t condemn drinking. Paul writes the following in Ephesians 5:18: Do not get drunk with wine. That leads to wild living. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. That floored me. Had I been wrong? Should I have joined the drinking crowd? I wasn’t sure.
 
This actually created a mental and moral crisis for me as a teenager. The Bible actually seemed to condone drinking in this scripture. As long as someone didn’t get drunk, what was the problem with drinking alcoholic beverages? Then, to make matters worse, Jesus changed water in wine at a party where scripture seems to share that a few of the people attending (not Jesus) might actually be a little hammered.
I wondered at the time, should my situation determine my convictions? I wasn’t sure if the right decision was found in a cultural thing or a context thing or something else completely.
Then, a friend showed me Colossians 2:16-17, where Paul writes: So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ Himself is that reality.
I told him that I understood his point, and that I would try not to condemn or criticize him if he chose to drink alcohol. However, I also to him that I didn’t think he was really concerned with this because of his relationship with Christ, but was trying to justify his life choices.
To my surprise, he agreed.
Later, I came across 1 Corinthians 10:23. In that scripture, Paul writes: You say, “I am allowed to do anything” but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything” – but not everything is beneficial.
 
I decided once again, as an older teenager, that for me, drinking alcohol was not beneficial. I’ve held that conviction now for 30 plus years. I understand that many others, probably most people, don’t share my personal conviction. That’s fine. I still want to be friends and won’t let this issue stop us.
However, since I’ve taken my last (and first) drink of alcohol, it’s time to move on to other dilemmas which can be spoken to from 1 Corinthians 10:23. Most of them have to do with what I put into my body (junk food, soda, cake) and what I put into my mind (certain movies, books, videos). As I wrote earlier, alcohol has really always been a non-issue for me. However, I don’t have quite the same tenacity when it comes to donuts, Coca-cola, and sit-coms.
Praise the Lord for His grace and mercy.

Loss

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I woke up this morning feeling a great sense of loss. This is something that happens at some point to everyone, I suppose. I tried to shake it off with prayer, activity, and even with strong wishing, but it’s still there.

So, I did some research on it.

Google describes loss as a noun and defines it as the fact or process of losing something or someone. That’s a pretty simple explanation. Unfortunately, dealing with loss is not quite so simple. It’s definition implies that loss ends once the object or person is gone. In my mind, that’s only the beginning of loss.

John Steinbeck, in The Winter of Our Discontent, wrote the following: It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.

I found that to be true after my wife and I lost our baby to miscarriage after ten years of marriage. A few people, while trying to comfort us, said, “This is a big blow. It must hurt so much to not have a child.”

I would often reply quietly, while screaming my lungs out inside my head, “We’re not sad because we don’t have a child. We’re sad because we once had a child and no longer do.”

So, what do I do this morning with my sense of loss? Do I squelch it? Do I try to think about something else? Or do I take the time to experience it?

C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, shared the following words: Aren’t all these notes the senseless writings of a man who won’t accept the fact that there is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it?

Something within in me fights against that kind of logic though. Something says, “Suck it up and be happy. You shouldn’t feel this way if you’re have Jesus as your Savior and Lord.”

But there’s a flaw in that type of thinking as well. Jesus experienced terrible loss, much greater than I will ever know. Isaiah 53:3 says He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

I think C.S. Lewis is right in what he is saying. There is nothing we can do with suffering except to suffer it. We can attempt to delay it or deny it, but we cannot destroy it. It’s going to find us in the end.

So, here’s my resolution for today. If I’m going to feel loss and grief today, I’m going to do it while holding the hand of the One who was acquainted with the deepest grief. He’s also the God who wants me to live life more abundantly and wants my joy to be full. He knows the way, not around, but through loss and I will follow Him.

Don’t You Dare Stop

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What’s the first thing we learn about God?

When we read the first five words of the Bible, we don’t learn that God is loving or forgiving or convicting or beautiful, even though He is all those things. Instead, we read:  In the beginning, God created…

He created the heavens and the earth. He made the plants and the sky and deepest of oceans. He made the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. And then, He made us in His image, a true work of art.

If we’re made in God’s image, then we are creative.

Most of us believed this when we were children. We created joyfully. But then something happened.

Someone laughed at our creations. We saw the creative work of others and thought we could never rise to their level. People started praising the creative efforts of younger people and forgot about us. Our friends gave up on their creative pursuits and pressured us to join them. We experienced loss and decided to set it aside for a few days. Then, of course, we were distracted by bills, tv, family, work, social media, traffic…  and suddenly, we quit trying to be creative. It became easier to just exist.

 

 

Then, years later, we look back at our creative desires and chuckle, wondering why we ever pursued creativity in the first place. However, somewhere, deep inside of ourselves, we don’t laugh. We ache and long for yesteryear, because we realize we’ve lost a vital part of who God made us to be.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

We can be creative again. It may be different from our earlier creative pursuits, but it’s time to take our first steps. It’s time to create something. It doesn’t matter if the creation is music, clay, words, paint, furniture, string, or bacon, it’s time for us to get out there and create.

 

Then, after we start, we can’t stop. We have to keep trying, keep improving, keep living, and keep creating. We can’t dare stop.

It’s who God made us to be.