Drive By

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I participated in my first drive by this week. 

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

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

In the past week alone:

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

I spoke with friends over Skype and FaceTime 

And left video texts for my nephew on Marco Polo.

I got messages on Facebook Messenger and Twitter,

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

I learned the difference between Facebook Live and Facebook Premiere, 

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

I hosted a Life Group on Free Conference Call.

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

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

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

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

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

Even if it is only a drive by wave.

 

This blogpost is posted on WordPress.

*Photo courtesy of Ben Neale and Unsplash

Come Together As We’re Staying Apart

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I was wrong.

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

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

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

Senior adults are learning social media.

And leaders everywhere are asking people to pray.

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

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

Photo courtesy of Sven Brandsma and Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Something I Hate

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I hate being sick. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, join me as I remember Him:

He is Almighty.

He is our Creator.

He is Beautiful.

He is our Savior.

He is Eternal.

He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

He is our Peace.

He is Good.

He is our Healer.

He is Holy.

He is Love. 

He Knows all things.

He is Faithful. 

He is Kind. 

He is Lord. 

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

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

*photo courtesy of Ben White of Unsplash.com

The Shepherds and the Savior – Interactive Christmas Sermon for Children

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

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

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

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

SHEEP – Fluff your hair and say (Baaaaaah)

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

Let’s practice one more time…

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

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

SHEEP – Fluff your hair and say (Baaaaaah)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awesome! I knew I could count on you!

Merry Christmas.

(Photo courtesy of Gareth Harper of Unsplash)

A Big Liar

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I’ve never really thought of myself as a liar, but maybe I am.

Many years ago, I was living in post Soviet Central Asia. I walked into a department store of sorts and was suddenly greeted by the familiar voice of Whitney Houston.  

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong.” 

The music echoed down the aisles and drew me into a time of worship. At the time, I wasn’t attending a corporate worship service in English, so the music ministered to me deeply. My eyes teared up as I mouthed the words and wished it would last forever. 

There was a brief break between songs. I expected another familiar praise song or hymn of worship. Instead, she belted out another song.

“I got the stuff that you want, I got the thing that you need”

Yes, Jesus is all we need, but that wasn’t what she was implying.

My personal worship time ended and I felt myself, with self righteous indignation, thinking “Whitney Houston is a big liar. She didn’t mean what she was singing.”

I’ve come to understand two things about that day:

First, I had no reason to judge. I don’t know what’s in her heart.

Second, I’m the one who’s the big liar. I lie every week, sometimes multiple times a week, especially when I’m gathered together with the people of God. 

But I’m not alone.

A.W. Tozer once wrote, “Christians don’t tell lies. They just go to church and sing them.”

When I first heard that quote, I thought, “Surely that doesn’t mean me. How can it when I’ve given my life to serve the Lord, to praise Him, to make His name glorious and bring people into His kingdom.”

But have I really done that? I’m not sure. 

Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)

Have I honestly given up my own way? Have I taken up my cross and followed Jesus completely? 

I’ve sang “All to Jesus, I Surrender. All to Him I freely give” while never really surrendering everything. Sometimes, I’ve hardly surrendered anything.

I’ve sang “Jesus, be the center of my life” while making myself the center of attention.

I’ve sang “I will build my life upon Your love” while never showing love to anyone but myself.

Augustine of Hippo once said, “Christ is not valued at all unless He is valued above all.” 

Do I really value Jesus above all? Is He really the Lord of my life or is it just something I say and sing because it makes me sound spiritually important? When all is said and done, would I really choose Jesus over myself? I hope so, but my track record does give me reason to doubt.

Photo courtesy of Tajmia Loiacono of Unsplash

 

A Question We All Must Answer

Charles Plumb, young

Charles Plumb grew up on a farm outside a small town in Kansas. As a boy, he dreamed of becoming a pilot. His dream became a reality in the United States Navy. Charles graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland in 1964. In November 1965, Plumb earned his Navy Wings, becoming a Naval Aviator. In a move that would make Tom Cruise jealous, Plumb then reported to Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego, where he made his mark helping to develop the Navy Fighter Weapons School, more commonly referred to as “TOP GUN.”

Charles Plumb and others

Captain Charles Plumb was then sent to serve in Vietnam on the Aircraft Carrier Kitty Hawk. He had completed 74 successful combat missions and was shot down on mission #75. Charles ejected from his plane and parachuted into enemy hands, where he was captured and tortured before spending six years in a Vietnamese prison.

Years later, while dining with his wife in a Kansas City restaurant, a man approached his table and said, “You’re Captain Plumb!”

“Yes, Sir,” Charles replied.

The man energetically continued. “You flew 74 successful missions over Vietnam from the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier.”

“That’s correct. I did.”

“You were shot down over North Vietnam and spent six years as a Prisoner of War. 

Charles Plumb scratched his head and asked, “How in the world did you know all of that?” 

The man looked smiled and said, “Because I packed your parachute.” 

Captain Plumb, then a professional speaker, found himself speechless.

His parachute packer reached out, grabbed his hand, and shook it vigorously before saying, “I guess it worked!” 

Plumb laughed and replied, “Indeed it did, my friend, and I’ve given thanks in my prayers a million times for your nimble fingers. If the chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Captain Plumb looked at this man who had served him so well and wondered how many times he might have seen and completely ignored him because he was a fighter pilot and the stranger was just a sailor. He smiled at his parachute packer and asked, “What about you? Do you keep track of all of the parachutes you’ve packed? Do you know how many lives you’ve saved because of the excellence of your work?” 

The man smiled and replied, “No, I don’t keep track. It’s enough for me to know that I’ve served.”

Now, several years later, Captain Plumb inspires thousands of military and non-military personnel alike by asking one simple question: Who’s packing your parachute?

In our lives, be it personal or work related, we must realize that we are not alone in our endeavors. Others are always there, and have always been there, working faithfully to ensure our success.

It’s time we give them the thanks and the credit they deserve.

Charles-Plumb

To hear Captain Plumb’s story in his own words, click here.

Dear Propresenter Technician

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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

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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

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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

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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