Charles Plumb, a US Naval Academy graduate who flew jets in Vietnam, was shot down by a surface to air missile. He ejected and parachuted into the jungle where the Viet Cong captured him and held him prisoner for six years in North Vietnam. Today, Charles Plumb lectures on lessons learned from that experience. One day, he and his wife were sitting in a restaurant and a man from another table came over and said, “You are Charles Plumb who flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!” Plumb asked how in the world he knew that. This man told him, “I packed your parachute!” Plumb gasped in surprise. The man held out his hand and said, “I guess it worked!” Plumb assured him it did and said, “If your handwork had not worked, I wouldn’t be here today.” The pilot couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about the stranger. He wondered how many times he might have seen him and not spoken because he was a fighter pilot. After all, this man who packed his parachute was just a sailor. Plumb wondered how many hours the sailor had spent at a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute. He held in his hands the fate of someone he didn’t know. When Plumb lectures he asks his audience, “Who is packing your chute?”
Are you close to the people packing your parachute in your ministry? Are you spending time with them, appreciating and encouraging them?
W. A. Criswell used to tell the story about a brilliant attorney who had written several law books. He had a son who had been charged with a felony. The judge told him that he had read his father’s books and that he was one of his heroes. “Are you this author’s son?” This young man said that yes this was his dad. He asked him why he did not turn out like his dad. The young man looked up and said, “How could I do that? I don’t know what my dad is like.” This may be an indictment of America. Some of us are doing a lot of great things, but our own family and staff may not know what we are like. I have worked with hundreds of pastors and their staffs. Most of them don’t make life changes for financial reasons; they change positions because of a lack of encouragement.
Words of encouragement have transformation power. Emperor Frederick, who ruled the Roman Empire, was interested in languages. He wanted to know whether at birth people had a natural language that was suppressed when they learned their mother’s native tongue. He was an absolute monarch who had the power to find out. He ordered that a number of children be cast into the wilderness where they would grow up without human contact. These children did not hear any words from another person. The experiment ended when they all died. Why? Because I believe that the original language of mankind is encouragement.
My friend Joe Brown, a pastor in North Carolina, tells the story about a teacher in New York City who did an experiment in which she gave her students ribbons which had “You Make a Difference in My Life” written in gold. The students were instructed to give the ribbons away to those who have made a difference in their lives. They were to give that person ribbons to give away as well. A young man gave a ribbon to an executive that helped him on a project. He gave this ribbon plus several more. The executive thought it corny but he then went to the CEO of the company and explained to him that he had made a difference in his life. He gave the CEO a ribbon plus two to give away. Now the CEO thought this was definitely corny but thought he would pass the ribbons out in the company. He was thinking about his teenage son at home and decided to give a ribbon to him that evening.
When the man got home he went to his son who was watching TV and asked to talk to him for a minute. The dad told his son that most of the time he had been harping on him for the way he dressed, his hair, music, or friends, but the truth was that he really loved him and the reason he worked so hard was to provide the very best for his son. He told his son that the day he was born was a great day and that he had made a real difference in his life.
The man was not prepared for what happened next. His son began to sob and cried for a long time. Once his son regained his composure he told his dad that the year had been really hard and he thought that his father was disappointed in him. He had been very depressed lately, and after dinner he planned to kill himself. The ribbon gave him hope and a reason to go on.
You may never know how encouragement can affect people’s lives, but you do know how God’s encouragement has affected you. He entered our world and built a bridge; it was a cross. It is a ribbon of hope. This week give a ribbon of hope. You don’t have to use a ribbon. It can be a word, a hug, or some extra time. There are many different kinds of ribbons. It is God’s way, and it works.
When I close our Sunday Relationships Conference, I quote a song, written from the perspective of a wife whose husband has died, that says, “The greatest man I never knew lived just down the hall. We said hello but we never touched at all…” It goes on to say, “He was good at business but there was business left to do. He never said he loved me. I guess he thought I knew.”
During the Easter season, we celebrate the reality that Jesus made it clear He loved us. With outstretched hands on the cross He said, “It is finished.” Let’s finish our business—the business of loving others, especially the people in our family. The question for us is, “How’s business?”