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

 

I’ve Had It With This Guy

fares-hamouche-Xe9vkCD7_5g-unsplash

I’ve had it with this guy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And not just at work. 

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

I have a plan to exercise everyday. 

He always finds something else for me to do. 

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

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

He thinks his whims are more important.

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

This guy is my greatest resistance.

I’ve had it with him.

He must be dealt with.

I have to tell him.

Somehow.

 

*Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash

Miscast in a Bad Play

alberto-bigoni-1279372-unsplash

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

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

Think about it.

Our parents have plans for us.

Our teachers and professors have plans for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Lord really does have the perfect role for you.

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

But in Him, there is fulfillment.

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

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

Don’t let that happen to you.

Sing your song.

Let your music out.

Live out the plans God has for you.

And never, never, never quit.

 

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

 

Self-Centered, Self Reliant, and Just Plain Selfish

ant-rozetsky-143665-unsplash

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

quinten-de-graaf-643125-unsplash

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

raghu-nayyar-454320-unsplash

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

alex-42193-unsplash

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

averie-woodard-122274-unsplash

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

ben-white-292680

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.