5 Posts from September 2010

Pastoral Temptation

May I remind you of four of the most powerful perils that can level even the mightiest? They are fortune, fame, power, and pleasure. Each works overtime to win a hearing, to gain a foothold, to woo us in. Not even pastors are immune to these temptations.

Whether subliminal, subtle, strong, or supreme, these messages search for chinks in our armor as they appeal to our natural appetites. “Get rich!” (fortune). “Become known!” (fame). “Gain control!” (power). “Be satisfied!” (pleasure). Each of these attractive snares invites our attention, holds out a juicy carrot, makes beautiful promises; yet, each is an enemy always crouching and ready to plunge.

Being masters of deceit, these messages employ one favorite method throughout our lives—temptation.

Let me mention a very practical thing about temptation. I have found that if I can stop the process fairly early, I’m safe. But if I leave my hiding place and venture toward the bait, there is a point of no return. I cannot turn around. If I go that far, I’m sunk.

So how can we have victory over temptation? First, our natural focus must be counteracted. Openly confess your weakness to a trusted friend. Hide nothing. Use Scripture memory to replace sensual thoughts with spiritual thoughts.

Second, our leisure time must be guarded. Cultivate a plan, perhaps an exercise program, an intensive reading program, a hobby, a series of practical projects to occupy your time. (You might even brush up on your Hebrew or Greek.) Watch out for those movies! If necessary, keep the television off. And stay away from any activity on the internet that has no accountability.

Third, our close companions must be screened. Take a good look at your circle of friends. Do an honest evaluation of those with whom you spend personal time. I can offer you a principle you can bank on: until you clean up your companionships, you’ll never clean up your life.

Fourth, our vow to God must be upheld. Just as jealously as we would guard the marriage vows, we’re to guard our promises to God and our commitment to purity.

Excellence—moral, ethical, and personal excellence—is worth whatever it costs. Pay the price. Start today!

Nothing less will ever satisfy you or glorify God.

—Chuck

Excellence

Mediocrity is fast becoming the by-word of our times. Every imaginable excuse is now used to make it acceptable, hopefully preferred. Budget cuts, time deadlines, majority opinion, and hard-nosed practicality are outshouting and outrunning excellence.

Those forces seem to be winning the race. Even for pastors. Incompetence and status quo averages are held up as all we can now expect. The tragedy is that more and more people have agreed. Why worry over the small stuff? Why bother with the genuine now that the artificial looks so real? If the congregation buys it, why sweat it?

To make it painfully plain, why think clearly since many in ministry want someone else to think for them? Why live differently in a society where it’s so much easier to look the same and swim downstream? Why fight fiercely when so few seem to care? Why stand courageously if it means risking ridicule, misunderstanding, or being considered a dreamer by some and a fool by others?

Why, indeed? To quote young David just before he took on that Philistine behemoth in the Valley of Elah, “Is there not a cause?” Must we wait for someone else to establish our standard or to set our pace? Not on your life! It is my firm conviction that those who impact and reshape the world are the ones committed to living above the level of mediocrity. There are still too many opportunities for excellence, too much demand for distinctiveness, to be satisfied with just getting by.

Excellence in the pastorate is a difficult concept to communicate because it can easily be misread as neurotic perfectionism or snooty sophistication. But it is neither. On the contrary, it is the stuff of which true greatness is made. It is the difference between just getting by and soaring—that which sets apart the significant from the superficial, the lasting from the temporary, the engaging from the entertaining.

A commitment to excellence is neither popular nor easy. But it is essential. Excellence in integrity and morality as well as ethics and scholarship. Excellence in physical fitness and spiritual fervor just as much as excellence in relationships and preaching.

Since it is the living Lord in the final analysis who appraises our excellence, it is He whom we must please and serve, honor, and adore.

—Chuck

Hope

Can you remember a recent “gray slush” day? Of course you can. So can I. (For us pastors, it’s often a Monday.) On such days, the laws of fairness and justice are displaced by a couple of Murphy’s Laws.

Your dream dissolved into a nightmare. High hopes took a hike. Good intentions got lost in a comedy of errors; only this time, nobody was laughing. You didn’t soar; you slumped. Instead of “pressing on the upward way,” you felt like telling John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, to move over as you slid down into his Slough of Despond near Doubting Castle, whose owner was Giant Despair. Discouragement is just plain awful.

One of the greatest benefits to be gleaned from the Bible is perspective. When we get discouraged, we temporarily lose our perspective. Little things become mammoth. A slight irritation, such as a pebble in a shoe—or a congregant’s critical comment—seems huge. Motivation is drained away and, worst of all, hope departs.

God’s Word is tailor-made for “gray slush” days. It sends a beam of light through the fog. It signals reassurance when we fear we’ll never make it through. Such big-picture perspective gives us a hope transplant, and within a brief period of time, we have escaped the bleak and boring and we’re back at soaring.

God has an ultimate goal in mind for us: that we might have hope. And what leads to such a goal? Two things: perseverance and encouragement from the Scriptures (read Romans 15:4). Again, the goal is hope. God has not designed a life of despondency for us. He wants His people to live in hope—especially those of us who preach about hope! And He says such hope comes from the teaching of the Bible.

Through “perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures” we can gain hope (Romans 15:4). He promises us hope—relief from discouragement.

Yes, it’s available.

And we can actually stand firm through discouraging times but only if we apply His instructions. Hard as it may be for you to believe, you will be able to walk right through those “gray slush” days with confidence. The One who gives perseverance and encouragement will escort you through the down days, never leaving you in the lurch.

Discouragement may be awful, but it is not terminal.

—Chuck

Determination

When Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God,” the very word seek implies a strong-minded pursuit (see Matthew 6:33). J. B. Phillips paraphrases the idea with “set your heart on.” The Amplified Bible says, “Aim at and strive after.”

The Greek text of Matthew’s gospel states a continual command: “Keep on continually seeking.” The dominating thought is determination, which I define as “deciding to hang tough, regardless.”

All of this urges us to keep in mind the difference between natural sight and supernatural vision. When we look at life with vision, we perceive events and circumstances with God’s thoughts. And because His thoughts are higher and more profound than everyday horizontal thinking, they have a way of softening the blows of calamity and giving us hope through tragedy and loss. They also enable us to handle times of popularity and prosperity with wisdom.

I’ll be frank with you. I know of no more valuable technique in the pursuit of successful living than sheer, dogged determination. Nothing works in ministry better than persistence—persistence in godliness, determination to stay diligent in study, perseverance in the priorities of ministry, and commitment in working with people.

I often remind myself of those familiar words in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.” That’s a nice way of saying, “Hang tough! Do it when it comes naturally and when it is hard to come by. Do it when you’re up; do it when you’re down. Do it when you feel like it; do it (more often) when you don’t feel like it. Do it when it’s hot; do it when it’s cold. Keep on doing it. Don’t give up.” That is persistence and determination in seeking the kingdom of God. That is hanging tough with dogged discipline.

Take it from one who has been in the ministry for almost fifty years. In times when you get whipped, or even when you win, the secret is staying at it.

—Chuck

The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal

For this post I’m going to do something I rarely do.

I want to share with you why I’ve written my newest book, The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal. Truth be told, part of the reason I wrote the book is because of you, my fellow pastors.

The Church Awakening Ours is a whole new world, and nothing has been more adversely affected by postmodernism than the church and its relationship to God’s Word. When the Bible loses its central place in the church’s worship—even if good things replace it—the fallout is biblical ignorance. The longer substitutes replace the preaching of the Word as the centerpiece of Christian worship, the more we will witness the intensifying drift into ignorance. Over time, a congregation that is distant from the Word of God seeks more entertainment and less biblical truth.

The slumbering evangelical church has now bought into this way of thinking. I have worked hard to explain why and how in this book. But let me add that I have not written this volume just to point out all that’s wrong. That is not my intention. My writing has always had an emphasis on grace, which is God’s emphasis in the Bible. Each chapter addresses solutions—not just problems—and points to the hope that God offers in His Word.

I have written The Church Awakening primarily to two groups of people. First, to serious-thinking churchgoers, who know there is a better way. In the Bible there was a group of clear-thinking, tough-minded men called the “sons of Issachar” (1 Chron. 12:32). They were those who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” We need that same clear-headed discernment today in the church. And along with discernment, we need an equal supply of courage. My aim is to ignite that passion within those who are willing to think seriously.

I am also writing to you pastors, especially to those who are on the fence, who need a voice of permission to buck the tide and to put the preaching of the Word of God back in its central place of the church’s worship.

In my almost fifty years in ministry, I have never been more passionate, or hopeful, for The Church Awakening—that is, for the church to wake up, to see how far it has drifted, to begin walking with God, and to engage the culture for Jesus Christ.

It is my hope that God will use this new volume in a powerful way to contribute to the master plan Jesus is building. He was the One who promised: “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18).

—Chuck

P. S. If you want to pick up a copy of the book, I have asked Insight for Living to extend a 40% discount to you pastors who call in (800-523-6959) and mention that you regularly read my blog. (The discount expires 10/31/10.) You might also enjoy watching the video below.