5 Posts from November 2010

Let Them See the Cracks

One of the greatest privileges of my early ministry was to become acquainted with a man named Jim Petersen. Through his capable leadership and sterling character, the ministry of the Navigators expanded greatly in São Paulo, Brazil, where he and his wife, Marge, served for more than twenty years.

Cynthia and I first met Jim and Marge at Glen Eyrie, the Navigators’ headquarters in Colorado Springs. I was new to ministry at the time—and far too naive—and I was looking for some type of formula for success in God’s service.

“How do you do it, Jim?” I asked him. “Tell me the secret of ministering to people.” I expected him to say, “Always set the pace,” or, “Be strong no matter what,” or, “Model the truth, and stand against the adversary as he attacks you.” I got none of that.

Jim just smiled in his inimitable, casual way and answered, “Chuck, let people see the cracks in your life, and you’ll be able to minister to them.”

That’s it. That’s the distilled essence of all he told me.

As we left their cabin that cool evening, I felt somewhat like the deflated, rich young ruler, who had just asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17). Like Jesus’s surprising answer to the ruler, Jim’s reply was not what I expected. Frankly, it convicted me. I was looking to minister from my strengths. Jim challenged me to serve in weakness.

He made that statement to me over fifty years ago, and it remains one of the greatest lessons I have learned in ministry. I have never forgotten it.

I never will.


Replacing Your Frown

Too often, we pastors tend to wear our smiles upside-down.

The burdens of ministry—especially during the busy holidays—often cause our joy to droop into deep-wrinkled frowns. The remedy? We need to reflect on God’s good gifts to us. And often!

In case you need a little help with this assignment, read through this psalm . . .

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
The LORD performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed. (Psalm 103:1–6)

The psalmist lists several benefits to prod our thinking. As we reflect on God’s gifts to us, it’s helpful to be specific. Do you have eyesight? It’s a gift. Do you have a sharp mind? It’s a gift. Do you have the ability to teach and preach effectively? How about leadership skills that cause others to follow? Again, these are gifts. Has God given you a family? Has He provided you sufficient clothes? How about a nice, warm, soft bed on cold winter nights or a comfortable place to live in the hot summer? These are more gifts from God’s gracious hand.

Here’s the kicker: you and I get paid to study and preach the Word of God! I have never recovered from that fact. Talk about a blessing! As Paul asked: “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). It’s all from God.

Reflect on the Lord’s numerous gifts to you—“forget none of His benefits.” It will increase your joy. And a smile will soon replace that frown.


A Servant, Not a Celebrity

Exactly what does our heavenly Father want to develop within us?

Well, rather than getting over my head in tricky theological waters, I believe the simple answer is found in Christ’s own words. Read His declaration of His primary reason for coming:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

No mumbo jumbo. Just a straight-from-the-shoulder admission. He came to serve and to give. It makes sense, then, to say that God desires the same for us. After bringing us into His family through faith in His Son, the Lord God sets His sights on building into us the same quality that made Jesus distinct from all others in His day. God is engaged in building into His people the same serving-and-giving qualities that characterize His Son.

Nothing is more refreshing than a servant’s heart and a giving spirit, especially when we see them displayed in a person many would tag as a celebrity. Years ago, my wife and I attended the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Washington, D.C., where one of the main speakers was Colonel James B. Irwin, a former astronaut who was part of the Apollo 15 crew that had made the successful moon walk. He spoke of the thrill connected with leaving this planet and seeing it shrink in size. He mentioned watching earthrise one day . . . and thinking how privileged he was to be a member of that unique crew. And then he began to realize en route back home that many would consider him a “superstar,” an international celebrity.

Humbled by the awesome goodness of God, Colonel Irwin shared his true feelings, which went something like this:

As I was returning to earth, I realized that I was a servant—not a celebrity. So I am here as God’s servant on planet Earth to share what I have experienced, that others might know the glory of God.

God allowed this man to break loose from the small cage we call Earth, during which time God revealed to him a basic motto all of us would do well to learn: a servant—not a celebrity.

Caught up in the fast-lane treadmill of the twenty-first century—making mad dashes through airports, meeting deadlines, being responsible for big-time decisions, and coping with the stress of people’s demands mixed with our own high expectations—it’s easy to lose sight of our primary calling as Christians, isn’t it?


Pastoral Laughter

I know, I know—“ministry is serious business.” If I hear that one more time, I think I’ll gag.

I fully realize that too much humor can be irritating, even offensive. I recognize that it can be taken to such an extreme that it is inappropriate. But doesn’t it seem we have a long way to go before we are guilty of that problem? The final result of a joyless existence is sad—a superhigh-level intensity, borderline neurotic anxiety, an absence of just plain fun in one’s work, a lack of relaxation, and the tendency to take ourselves much too seriously.

Each of us may be a conservative minister, but do we really have to look like one? Always so serious? We need to lighten up! Yes, spirituality and fun do go well together.

Scripture speaks directly to this issue, you know—especially the Proverbs:

A joyful heart makes a cheerful face,
But when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken. (Proverbs 15:13)

Amazing how that proverb goes right to the heart of the problem (no pun intended). We’re not talking about a person’s face here as much as we are about the heart. Internal joy goes public. We can’t hide it. The face takes its cue from an inside signal.

A well-developed sense of humor reveals a well-balanced personality. Maladjusted people show a far greater tendency to miss the point in a funny remark. They take jokes personally. They take things that are meant to be enjoyable much too seriously. The ability to get a laugh out of everyday situations is a safety valve. It rids us of tensions and worries that could otherwise damage our health.

It’s also a healthy part of your pulpit ministry. Take it from one who knows: your congregation wants to hear you laugh more often!

As you enter the pulpit this Sunday, take a smile with you. Better still, a laugh. You think I’m exaggerating? If so, maybe you’ve forgotten another proverb:

A joyful heart is good medicine,
But a broken spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)

Isn’t that eloquent? Literally, it says, “A joyful heart causes healing.” What is it that brings healing to the emotions . . . and healing to the soul? A joyful heart.

And when the heart is right, a joyful countenance accompanies it!


Blah Attacks

In the ministry, monotony and mediocrity often mesh like teeth in gears. One spawns the other, leaving us yawning, bored, and adrift.

In referring to monotony, I do not have in mind a lack of activity as much as a lack of purpose. Even as pastors, we can be busy yet bored, involved yet indifferent. Ministry can become tediously repetitious, dull, humdrum, pedestrian.

In a word, blah.

Look into the faces of fellow pastors when they’re not in the pulpit. Talk to other ministers on their day off. Those on the mission field are equally susceptible. Show me an individual who once soared, whose ministry was characterized by enthusiasm and excellence—but who no longer reaches those heights—and I’ll show you a person who has probably become a victim of the blahs.

A blah attack may sound harmless, but it can leave us in an emotional heap, seriously questioning if ministry—and at times, if life—is worth it.

Yet even during your drab and seemingly meaningless assignments of the pastorate, God is there! From your yesterday to your tomorrow—God cares. From the little involvements to the big ones—God knows. From the ministerial duties that will never make the headlines (which seem to be mere busywork), all the way to those things that gain international attention—God is engaged!

So the next time you feel those clammy, cold fingers of the blahs reaching around you, you can pray along with me: “From yesterday until tomorrow, You, O Lord, are there. You care!”